OH MY GODS by Philip Freeman


A Modern Retelling of Greek and Roman Myths
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Capsule bios of classic gods and heroes, with lots of detail but little poetry.

Admitting that his aim is more “modest” than a thematic exploration or a work of cultural criticism, Freeman (Classics/Luther Coll.; Alexander the Great, 2011, etc.) writes, “I simply want to retell the great myths of Greece and Rome for modern readers while remaining as faithful as possible to the original sources.” In scope, style and organization, the work is encyclopedic, whether profiling the gods or condensing epics (“Argonauts,” “Odysseus”) into separate chapters. The structure disrupts any possibility of flow and results in occasional repetition. Zeus naturally begins the section on the gods, but he can hardly be contained there, as he continues to reappear in subsequent sections on goddesses, heroes, lovers, etc. Some readers may find it difficult to keep straight who’s related to whom and how, while the accounts of rapes, murders, incest, seductions, sacrifices and transformations lose power when there are so many per page. More interesting are the etymological illuminations, the connection between the playful and sexually goatish Pan and the “uncontrollable fear” he inspired in some, “better known as pan-ic.” Or the fact that the alternate name for Orion is Urion, or “urine boy.” All of the greatest hits of classical antiquity are here—Hercules and the labors, Orpheus and Eurydice, Oedipus and his mother—but the prose rarely rises above matter-of-fact pedestrian, except through literary allusion (“Hell hath no fury like a witch scorned”). Only at the end, after the transition from Greek myth to Roman, do we get some sense of what it all might mean: “The long age of monarchy stretching back to Aeneas and the Trojan War, to the Greek tradition and the earliest tales, had at last come to an end. The classical world now entered the age of history, though the ancient myths that so shaped their lives—and still shape ours—were never forgotten.”

A collection of classical stories that could provide source material for a series of vivid graphic-literature adaptations.

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-0997-4
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2011


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