Stephen Fry’s Greek Heroes

February 16, 2022

After the success of Mythos, Stephen Fry has put together a new set of epic tales. However, if you think this book will give you cozy romances and happy fairytales, think again. Stephen Fry’s Greek Heroes are anything but gentlemen and I’m sad for any woman who ever crossed their paths. These heroes aren’t exactly the smartest bunch either. While their muscles may scare monsters and their beauty may buy followers, they are constantly getting into trouble. Often it’s just by saying the wrong thing or acting on impulse rather than thought. One might paint a picture of a group of kindergarten boys who won’t share their toys and push the other kids around to show dominance. It wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

There are definitely a few bad things we need to talk about. Fry tries to map out the heroes’ stories chronologically but this is truly impossible. Some characters are featured in stories when they have already passed away – or haven’t even been born yet. Confusing, right? He does a good job at constantly reminding us not to linger in the details. Which brings us to another troublesome element. Trying to keep track of everyone’s heritage and current family relations is such a pain. Again, we are warned multiple times of this phenomenon throughout the book. I really appreciate the sense of humor and emphasis on “don’t overthink it“. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s confusing though and makes for a slow reading pace.

A final negative point I will mention is that the stories are very repetitive. If I was reading a book only about Hercules or Theseus, it probably would have been more entertaining. The same events just happen over and over again. A hero discovers his strength, does something wrong and must make amends under a vicious king who gives him trials. Then he makes some god angry and another happy, marries, get a crappy ending. The only elements that really change are names, shapes of monsters and family relations (which are still confusing).

It’s incredibly hard to rate this book since it’s a collection of eight stories. While main events might be very similar, each story focus on a different hero who becomes famous for different journeys. One story features an interesting romance while another focus on war and yet another on family. A great element in the book is the writing style itself, which is pretty simple. When everything else seems overly complicated, this is a life saver!

Overall, I would recommend this book to people who are already into Greek mythology. Especially if you enjoy reading different accounts of famous tales. If not, this might seem like a heavy book with way too many details to keep track of and content that is quite repetitive.

If you are tired of reading from the same male perspective but love the drama of Greek mythology, here’s a few alternatives. The Silence of the Girls tells the story of Troy from different female perspectives. In Pandora’s Jar, we see famous events take shape through the eyes of women who were nothing but decorations. Focus is on Medea instead of Jason, Helen instead of Paris and so on. Finally, Ariadne also tells the story of the Minotaur’s labyrinth from the perspective of a girl who both helped and was abandoned by Theseus. Such heroes indeed, these men..

Here are a few random thoughts written down while reading the book:

1. The amount of repetition… ancient storytellers either copied one original story and called it a day or creative juice wasn’t a thing yet.

2. The Greek gods are the best excuse mankind has ever had. Cheating, killing, abandoning children, acting crazy, poisoning – the list goes on. All crime comes down to “I’m innocent, the Gods made me do it.”

3. I would rather read 8 full novels in a series about the heroes. It would make for better engagement and entertainment.

4. Thank god I wasn’t a woman in Ancient Greece. If you’re not raped by a god or a king you’re expected to pop out 5 kids. Oh and hang yourself if your husband does something unethical.

5. No one is that dumb (but everyone is)? Everyone is constantly being tricked. It’s like their brains haven’t evolved since their poor mothers popped them out.

Page count: 476
Goodreads rating: 4.3/5

That’s it for now guys! I have been vague in my description of events and characters on purpose so you can go ahead and be “surprised”. Mostly by how awful women were treated. Ahem, anyway. While this was a somewhat disappointing read, I still hold tons of love for Greek mythology. If you are also on a quest to read epics with more female perspectives, hit me up on my socials below and let’s talk about fierce, ancient women!

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