30-Second Mythology: The 50 Most Important Classical Myths, Monsters, Heroes & Gods, Each Explained in Half a Minute
Edited by Robert A Segal
Ivy Press
159pp, 63 colour illustrations
Paperback, £9.99

Many of us know the compelling, haunting narratives of the great Greek and Roman myths. Who can forget Theseus, braving the dark labyrinth and slaying the terrifying Minotaur, or Odysseus and his epic journey home from the Trojan war, or the unfort-unate Prometheus, bound and tortured daily for angering mighty Zeus, or the enraged Medea, killing her offspring to avenge her betrayal by Jason? Now Robert A Segal, Sixth Century Chair in Religious Studies at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, in conjunction with an impressive array of six colleagues, has provided us with a handy quick fix to revive our memories and re-acquaint us with the essentials of 50 of these myths.

Segal starts by reminding us that there is no agreed or uniform definition of myths and a myth may not even be a story. Yet many of them are, and since the Classical myths are the best known of them all, they form the subject matter of this book. As Segal points out, we may no longer believe in these great myths literally, as most ancients did, but they remain important to us. We still embrace them as symbols and references to them abound in our lives. We also find them continually in the theatre, in films and books, in psychology, in art and in our everyday language.

The myths are presented under seven subject headings: Creation, Olympians, Monsters, Geography, Heroes, Tragic Figures and Legacy. Each section starts with a two-page glossary of terms relevant to the subject with a profile of a figure linked to the topic, such as Hesiod, Homer and Ovid. Each person or event is presented in short paragraphs, soundbites of 300 words that can be digested in 30 seconds, along with a picture, over two pages. Those two pages also contain what is called a '3-second muse', which is an even briefer description of the person or event, along with a '3-minute odyssey', another paragraph that fleshes out the 30-second soundbite with an explanation of the origins or symbolism of the subject. There are also brief references to related myths and biographies with imaginative colour illustrations that complement the drama of the text.

Expertly focused and taken all together, more information is conveyed than you might imagine in a short space of time. Living up to its claims, the book is a handy reference work. If you need to brush up on mythology in a hurry, or just want to remind yourself in an easy, enjoyable way of ancient myths you may have become hazy about, then this is the book for you.
Diana Bentley

 

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