Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Greek Mythology: Greek Gods, Goddesses, Heroes, Heroines, Monsters, and Classic Greek Myths of All Time by Lance Hightower

An adequate overview, but poorly written
When I saw Lance Hightower’s 2015 book Greek Mythology: Greek Gods, Goddesses, Heroes, Heroines, Monsters, and Classic Greek Myths of All Time offered as an inexpensive Kindle Daily Deal, I figured I could use a refresher course on the subject. A cursory glance at the contents satisfied me that it would be worth the low price at which it was being offered. Once I actually started reading the book, however, I found it disappointing for the most part. It adequately covers the topics it promises, but it fails to inspire much enthusiasm in its subject matter.

Hightower seems knowledgeable on the subject of Greek Mythology, but the way in which that knowledge is delivered to the reader is frustratingly amateurish. It is obvious this book was neither edited nor proofread, because the text is littered with typographical and grammatical errors that are not only annoying but at times also hinder the reader’s understanding of what’s being said. One god is described as having three parents, until you figure out that one of the “and”s is supposed to be an “an”. A distraught mother “began to cream with grief.” A heroic prince returns to his homeland to reclaim his “thrown.” Alexander the Great (around 300 BC) was apparently at the Trojan War (about 1200 BC). Hightower also doesn’t seem to know the difference between who and whom. It seems as if every screen of this ebook contains two or three such errors. Much of the text is printed between quotation marks, in a stilted syntax that indicates Hightower is translating from some ancient text. Rarely, however, does Hightower actually tell you what work he’s quoting from, so the book is full of these free-floating unattributed quotations. Even when Hightower is writing in his own voice, the prose is clunky and difficult to follow. In an effort to be brief, he often dispatches the myths hastily, resulting in paragraphs loaded with proper nouns that may or may not have been discussed previously in the text, under the assumption that the reader will just figure it out.

The book is at its best when Hightower is simply relating the information in list form, classifying the gods into various categories and ascribing to each his or her defining characteristics and spheres of influence. What Hightower really does well is establish a genealogy of the gods, beginning with the elemental beings present at the creation of the universe and tracing their lineage through the titans and gods down to mortal man. One concept I had never encountered before is the stratification of the mythological characters into “Classes of Immortals,” forming seven or eight different levels like steps of a pyramid. I’m not sure if this is an established convention in classical studies, or if this is Hightower’s own creation, but it is a helpful way to think about the hierarchy of beings in Greek mythology. The book is structured quite well overall; it is a shame that the storytelling used to flesh out that structure is less than successful. Given Hightower’s writing style, if the book had been arranged as a series of charts it probably would have been more effective.

For those seeking an overview of Greek mythology, I would suggest looking into the writings of Bernard Evslin. I remember his book Gods, Demigods, and Demons as being a really helpful reference on the subject. Though it is arranged alphabetically like an encyclopedia, the tales and descriptions in each entry are more complete, vivid, and clear than what Hightower delivers here.

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