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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

"Heroes" by Stephen Fry

This book was a birthday present from my wonderful step-daughter Alexa. It is a sequel to Mythos, which it often references.

Fry tells the story of the key Ancient Greek heroes: Perseus, the Labours of Heracles, Bellerophon, Orpheus, Jason and the Argonauts not to mention the wicked Medea, Atalanta, Oedipus and Theseus and the Minotaur. Fry writes with a beautifully simple, indeed elegant, narrative style and yet he brings an utterly alien world, in which the gods regularly intervene, to our modern sensibility by casting his heroes as real people with real personalities. Thus:

  • “Perseus had never believed his mother's wild story about Zeus coming to her as a shower of golden rain. He had taken it for granted that his real father was some itinerant musician or tinker whose name she had never discovered.”
  • Heracles "was, as we might say today, far from the brightest pixel on the screen.”
  • “Orpheus was the Mozart of the ancient world. He was more than that. Orpheus was the Cole Porter, the Shakespeare, the Lennon and McCartney, the Adele, Prince, Luciano Pavarotti, Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar of the ancient world.”

At the same time Fry brings his customary erudition to bear with knowledgeable and insightful comments:

  • “Twins were forming in her womb, two sons - one fathered by Zeus and the other by Amphitryon. This phenomenon of polyspermy is common enough in littering mammals like cats, dogs, and pigs, but is rare in humans. Rare, but not unknown. It rejoices in the name heteropaternal superfecundation.”
  • “It is your fate to be Heracles the hero, burdened with labours, yet it is also your choice. You choose to submit to it. Such is the paradox of living. We willingly accept that we have no will.”
  • Hymen was the half brother of Orpheus. “A minor deity of song (he gave us the word ‘ hymn’) Hymen served as one of the Erotes (the young men in the love god Eros’s retinue), with a special responsibility for weddings and the marriage bed. Our words ‘hymen’ and ‘hymenal’ also derive from him.”
  • “Love came to peasants, kings and even gods. Love made all equal. Love deified, yet love levelled.”
  • “Human sacrifice, especially involving the young, was now looked on as barbaric, an unwanted legacy from the days when gods and men were crueler. But gods and men never lose their cruelty.”
  • “In a fight, do not do what you want to do, but what you judge your enemy least wants you to.”
  • “Their heroism, perhaps, derived from their ability to bring their mix of the human and the divine to bear against the grinding pressures of fate.”
  • “He may have been the first cruel, abusive and unfit parent to reclaim a child once they became famous or rich, but he would certainly not be the last.”
  • “Oedipus is a detective who employs all the fields of enquiry of which the Athenians were so proud - logic, numbers, rhetoric, order and discovery - only to reveal a truth that is disordered, shameful, transgressive and bestial.”

Heroes, like Mythos, has been a joy to read and I hope that Fry is hard at work preparing a third volume in the series, about the Trojan War and the Voyages of Odysseus. Please.

Brilliant perfection. March 2019; 415 pages

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