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The Song of Orpheus by Tracy Barrett

The Song of Orpheus

The Greatest Greek Myths You Never Heard

by Tracy Barrett

Pub Date: July 7th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-5351-4450-6
Publisher: CreateSpace

Seventeen lesser-known Greek myths get energetic retellings in this collection for readers 12 and up.

Many YA readers are familiar with the immortals of Olympus from works like D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, but the same tales tend to get repeated, leaving out variations, contradictions, or plots with less appeal to modern audiences. Barrett (On Etruscan Time, 2015, etc.), a prolific writer of YA fiction, returns to the classical setting she employed in books like King of Ithaka (2014) to explore these less-told tales. Her framing story, which she uses to good effect, is that Orpheus has been turned into a rock after failing to bring his wife, Eurydice, back from the land of the dead, having broken the proscription to turn and look at her. He can see her again, and apologize for his stupidity, only if he can tell 300 stories (that the listener has never heard) within 3,000 years. And right now, he explains, there are just 17 more to go. These are grouped in four main categories: “Where Things Come From”; “Life’s Big Moments: Birth, Love, Death”; “Gods and Humans”; and “Creatures You Never Knew About.” Two appendices and a glossary supply helpful background information. Orpheus’ narration adds a welcome contemporary note to these 17 wide-ranging tales. They include (for example) the stories of two mischievous brothers who tease Hercules for his sunburned bottom and are transformed into the world’s first monkeys; a handsome farmer who tricks a beautiful girl into marriage through a message on an apple; a giant bronze robot; and a goddess who grants her idea of immortality to a mother by killing the woman’s sons while they’re still “young and beautiful and admired by all.” Orpheus sometimes deftly reflects on these tales for today’s audience, as with the last: “Did Kydippe thank the goddess? Or did she curse her and refuse to worship her again? Herodotus…doesn’t say.” Barrett, too, adds comments after some of the engaging tales that provide further information, food for thought, or acknowledge modern viewpoints.

Accessible and entertaining, these stories provide a thoughtful, fresh take on a classic subject.