Would you like to find out more about Atalanta and The Calydonian Boar Hunt? What about the story of Jason & the Argonauts, and their quest for the Golden Fleece? Are you interested in discovering more about Theseus and the Minotaur? What if I told you there was a book which looked at all of these stories, and so many more?
I recently finished reading “Heroes” by Stephen Fry, Fry’s second book on Greek Mythology and absolutely loved it! Mythology is a subject which I have always loved delving into to find out more about. To help commemorate finishing “Heroes”, today’s blog is going to be looking at my thoughts surrounding the book!
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Heroes is the second book on Greek Mythology written by Stephen Fry, as a follow on from his first book “Mythos”. Although you do not exactly have to read “Mythos”, before going through “Heroes”, I would say it really helps when looking at them chronologically. “Heroes” takes a look at the tales and tribulations of the human heroes of Greek Mythology, compared to “Mythos” which was more focused around the Gods and the Titans, and their stories.
I am a massive fan of Mythology, it is a subject that I have always loved reading about, and is one of the reasons why I really enjoyed this book. In today’s blog, we’ll be taking a look at my thoughts of “Heroes”.
The first story that we follow in the book is Perseus, and his quest to slay the Gorgon Medusa. The story starts off with Perseus’s mother Danaë, who was a princess of Argos, which was a city in the Argolis in Ancient Greece. We learn about the union between Danaë & Zeus, where Zeus turned himself into a Golden Shower, the result of which was the birth of a young boy, who was called Perseus.
Danaë’s father, King Acrisius, was terrified of a prophecy that he was destined to be killed by his daughter’s son, so he put them both in a wooden chest and set them off to sea. We follow the story of how they are retrieved by Dictys, where Perseus grows up on the island of Seriphos.
We then see Perseus get challenged, by Polydectes, to get the head of the Gorgon Medusa and see him set off on his travels. Fry does a great job in visualising Perseus’s journey, how he meets Andromeda, and succeeds in his mission to get the Medusa’s Head, thanks to the help he got from his half-siblings, the Gods Athena and Hermes.
The next hero who we find in the book is Heracles (AKA Hercules to the Romans). We meet Heracles right from his birth, where he kills the two snakes that were sent to kill him and his brother, by the Goddess Hera. Hera completely hated Heracles, as Zeus, Hera’s husband and the King of the Gods, had an affair with Alcmene, resulting in the birth of Heracles and Iphicles. We continue learning about Heracles’s journey, up until the point of where he kills his wife and children, after being induced in a fit of madness by Hera.
To make amends for the death of his wife, Megara, and their children, Heracles is forced to complete 12 labours, each set by his cousin, Eurystheus. These labours range from slaying the Nemean Lion to stealing the Mares of Diomedes, from obtaining the Girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, to capturing Cerberus. We see how Heracles completed each of these tasks, as well as many more, such as freeing the Titan Prometheus from his curse.
We do also learn about Heracles’s part in “The Gigantomachy” and the course of action which led to his death, and how his immortal side was raised to Olympus by Zeus to marry the Goddess Hebe.
We next learn about the life of the hero Bellerophon, son of either Poseidon of Glaucus. The book takes us through Bellerophon’s unfortunate incident where he accidentally kills his brother while hunting, so is forced to go into exile. Here we follow his story from when he rejects Anteia, to his taming of Pegasus, the winged horse, his slaying of the dreaded Chimera and his fight with the Amazons, among many more.
Unfortunately for Bellerophon, his ego got the best of him, when he thought that he had the right to go to Mount Olympus, the Home of the Gods, but in doing this, he angered Zeus. Zeus sent a gadfly to sting Pegasus, which caused Bellerophon to fall off the horse, and straight back to Earth.
The next story that we learn of is of the legendary musician, poet and prophet that is Orpheus, who was able to charm all living things with his music. Orpheus was an Argonaut, alongside Jason, but the large focus of his story is of his adventure to recover the love of his life, Eurydice, from Hell. On the night of Orpheus & Eurydice’s wedding, she was set upon by a Satyr, and as she tried to escape and run away, she unfortunately met her death.
He travelled to the Underworld, where his music softened Hades & Persephone and led to them giving Orpheus the chance to win Eurydice’s soul back. All he had to do was walk back to Earth, with Eurydice walking behind him, and not look back at her. In an act that can only be defined as a Greek Tragedy, as soon as Orpheus set foot back on Earth he turned to look at his love, not thinking that she had not yet passed the line, and so she was sent straight back to Hades.
This was the tragic tale of the oh so talented Orpheus.
The next hero to talk about is the one and only Jason and his Argonauts. Jason was raised by the immortal satyr Chiron, and set on his quest to claim the throne that was rightfully his, from his uncle Pelias. In order to prove himself worthy of the throne, Pelias challenged Jason to retrieve the Golden Fleece, which Pelias thought was an impossible task. I would go over the origins of the fleece, but fear that the blog will get far too long if I do!
We follow Jason through his quest, as he meets the Amazons, ass he saves Phineus of Salmydessus from Harpies, as he navigates through the Clashing Rocks and eventually arrives in Colchis. Here Jason was challenged by King Aeetes of Colchis to complete 3 tasks, and if he won each of them, he could leave with the Fleece.
It was at Colchis where Cupid has shot Medea, Aeetes daughter, with an arrow and led her to fall deeply in love with Jason. Medea was a proud worshipper of the Goddess Hecate and practised magic/witchcraft. Medea helped Jason complete each of his tasks and then aided him in fleeing from Aeetes and Colchis, to return with his crew.
After another series of tests and obstacles, Jason finally made it back home. Here we watch as Medea tricks Pelias’s daughters to kill their father, and consequently Jason and Medea are sent into exile. The couple move to Corinth, where Jason plans to marry Creusa, for political reasons. Medea, is a fit of rage kills Creusa and her father Creon, as well as 2 of the kids that she had with Jason and leaves on a chariot of dragons, sent by her grandfather Helios.
This is a small summary of the story of Jason.
The book then goes on to talk about the heroine Atalanta. Atalanta is largely known for her victory at The Calydonian Boar Hunt, where she killed the Calydonian Boar, which was terrifying the region of Calydon. After this enormous success, Atalanta was rediscovered by her father, but she vowed to only marry a man that could beat her in a race. Atalanta was known to be incredibly fast, so she thought that she would be free from every marrying by saying this.
She went on to beat hundreds of men in races, until she was eventually beaten by Hippomenes, a grandson of Poseidon, who tricked her with golden apples. They later got turned into lions by Aphrodite, for not honouring her enough, Greek Gods could be like that at times.
Perhaps one of the most tragic stories in Greek Mythology is of Oedipus, who we learned about next. Oedipus was abandoned on top of a mountain by his birth parents, after a prophecy foretold that he was to go on to kill his father and marry his mother. He got rescued by a travelling shepherd who went on to give him to King Polybus and Queen Merope, who could not have children.
Oedipus went on to hear about the prophecy that was set for him, and afraid of bringing any pain to who he thought were his parents, he set off to go to Thebes, far away from them. On his way there he encountered an older man who had tried to whip him, and went on to kill him and his guards, not knowing that that old man was his father Laius.
Oedipus went on to kill the Sphinx, who had been causing a great deal of bother to Thebes, and bested the monster by answering its riddle correctly. Oedipus marched on forward to Thebes, where he met Jocasta (his mother, although he didn’t know it) and ended u marrying her. They had several children and then in a trial into Laius’s death, the horrible truth emerged.
Jocasta, unable to live with herself, hung herself in her chambers, and Oedipus went on to blind himself. Oedipus then went into exile and was aided by his daughter Antigone.
The last of the heroes that we read about in Heroes is the one and only Theseus. Theseus’s story is a fairly common one, with him being the person who conquered the Labyrinth and slayed the Minotaur. Due to the popularity of his story, I will not go into too much depth with it, but would like to pick up some parts of it.
We start off right when Theseus was young and watch him grow up. From here, we are there when Theseus learns of his royal parentage and then sneakily sets off for Athens, from his home town of Troezen. The next couple of chapters refer to the 6 Labours of Theseus, which follow all of the monsters and creatures that he meets on his journey to Athens.
Theseus succeeds in besting Periphetes the Cyclops, of which he steals his club, Sinis the Pine Bender, who would tie his victims to two pine trees and stretch them, Cercyon who Theseus beat with the invention of wrestling and more. These labours really tested Theseus’s ability to think on the spot and pay homage to his quick wit and intelligence.
It is after these 6 labours, that Theseus arrives in Athens, and eventually meets his father, King Aegeus, after capturing and sacrificing the Marathonian Bull. Aegeus is delighted to learn that he has a son, and starts to get to know him. Theseus soon learns of the debt that Athens have, where they must send seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls to Crete, to be fed to the Minotaur, and volunteers to be one of the 14.
Theseus goes to Crete with the other sacrifices, and after meeting Ariadne, who helps him navigate the maze with string, he ends up killing the Minotaur, freeing it from it’s life of torture. After leaving Create with the other sacrifices and the crew, Theseus is urged to leave Ariadne on the island of Naxos by Athena, as she is meant for Dionysus, so regretfully he does so.
On Theseus’s return journey, we lay witness to the story of Icarus, the son of the inventor of the Labyrinth, Daedalus. The father and son duo escape the wrath of King Minos of Crete, who discovers that Daedalus aided Ariadne in helping Theseus navigate through the maze, by making wings out of feathers and wax. Daedalus tells his sun not to fly too close to the Sun, as that would burn his wings, but in the heat of the moment Icarus forgets this, and his wings burn up.
Before Theseus set off to Crete, his father asked that if he survived the Minotaur, to change the returning ships sails to white. Sadly Theseus forgets this and they stay black, which leads King Aegeus to believe his son is dead, so he jumps into the sea, which is called the Aegean Sea in his honour to this day.
Theseus goes on to take part in “The Titanomachy”, he kidnaps Helen of Troy, intending to marry her, but before doing so is asked by his friend Pirithous to travel to the Underworld with him so that Pirithous can kidnap and marry Persephone. Helen of Troy gets saved while Theseus and Pirithous are in the Underworld, and they get captured for their attempted kidnap.
Theseus was lucky to be rescued by his cousin Heracles, Pirithous was less fortunate however.
Theseus does marry Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, who does unfortunately pass away, but not before having a son with Theseus called Hippolytus. Theseus remarries Ariadne’s sister Phaedra, and they have 2 kids. Phaedra falls deeply in love with Hipplotyus, but after he rejects her, she tells Theseus that he raped her, before hanging herself. Theseus, out of rage calls upon Poseidon to kill his son. After Hippolytus’s death, Theseus learns of the deeply sad truth from the Goddess Athena, and enters exile to pay remorse.
Theseus was later thrown off a cliff by Lycomedes, after an unknown argument.
This is the tragic tale of Theseus.
I absolutely loved reading this book, and really enjoyed the consistent narrative that Stephen Fry used throughout the heroes. The book told the story of each hero so well and in a level of detail which is commonly hard to find. I cannot wait to start reading his third book on Greek Mythology now, all about the Trojan War!
Today’s blog is a lot longer than my usual length blog, but I felt that writing a small little review would not do the book any justice, and really enjoyed summarising each of the heroes’ stories. If you are a fan of mythology, or would like to find out more about any of the heroes I have talked about in the blog today, I highly recommend reading this book!
That’s all for today’s blog, thank you all for reading! What do you think? Do you think you would like to read “Heroes”? Are you a fan of mythology? If so, which mythos is your favourite (Greek, Egyptian, Mayan, etc)? What sort of blogs would you like to see on the page over the next few weeks? Have you got an idea for a blog you would like to see?
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