Truth or myth, that’s the question | Daily News

Truth or myth, that’s the question

“It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” - Chinese proverb

Robert Graves (1895 – 1985) is known as an English poet of fame who was highly influenced by Greek ideologies in his creative process. He is also more known for the same creativity in narratives set in Rome such as I, Claudius (1934) and Claudius, the God (1934). He is also known for his biography titled Goodbye to All written in 1929, describing his experiences in World War I, and the interwar activities in his work The Long Weekend.

He was also once the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University from 1961 to 1966. But Graves is remembered by the English readers and scholars for his splendid collection of Greek tales, legends and myths explaining the birth of Greek gods and goddesses as retold material. This collection is titled Greek Myths, first published in two volumes by Penguin in 1955. As the collection became most known and wanted, several editions came out with illustrations culled from various museums such as National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Indexed division

The contents of Graves’ illustrated edition of 1991 (published by Quality Paperbacks Direct in London) are subdivided into seven sections that indicate as an index: In the Beginning, The Olympians, Of Heroes, Gods and Men, Minos and Theseus, Thebes and Mycenae, Heracles and Argonauts and Medea. Graves’ collection paves the way for the reader to know the origins and qualities of Grecian gods, goddesses, kings, queens, heroes, miracle makers, warriors of fame, references of known and unknown places as indicated in several other works linked to Greek history and social order from its earliest allusions.

A reader may know more about a Greek play of fame, poem or chronicle. Perhaps the titles given to some characters had not been referred to. Graves undertakes this function in the revelation.

The division of contents into segments makes the reader feel that he or she is living in the ancient Greek cultural milieu, along with the well-known characters. The first that goes as In the Beginning revolves around several myths pertaining to the myths of creation as the genesis of several significant gods or goddesses such as Athene, Aphrodite, Zeus and Hera as well as Dionysus and Eros. The compiler leaves no stone unturned in his source material that varies from the beliefs, available museum material, legends, parables and historical references.

All in all, the section referred to as In the Beginning is more like a preface to the work that goes on extending into a journey of more and more findings. The second section is titled The Olympians, opening up areas such as deeds and nature of selected characters including Poseidon, Hermes, Aphrodite, Artemis, Apollo and Athens. These are followed by the presentation of a pantheon of underworld gods. Some myths are indicated as written perhaps for the first time in any document. This indication shows the extent to which Graves had been dedicated to the function of the collection of material that goes into the making of the entire work.

Known and unknown characters

The third section, Of Heroes, Gods and Men include selected myths from various sources. They include the legends and myths on some of the known and unknown characters that appear in Greek culture and literature. In this section, the reader encounters characters such as Orpheus, Helius, Leda, Sisyphus, Midas, Narcissus and Aron who are more known as they appear in more popular literary works such as Greek folktales and parables.

Section four, Minos of Theseus, encircles characters and events in the life of Daedalus, Theseus, Phaedra and several others. They deal with events they have encountered and the deaths that followed that enabled them to be so significant for the onlookers. The character of Oedipus and his way of life is revealed at length in section five of the work titled Thebes and Mycean. The play of the title Oedipus by Euripides, a Greek writer comes to one’s mind as the account given by Graves is perused with care. The miracles, as well as realities in the life of Oedipus, come to be retold by Graves reminding a discerning reader to feel the extent to which a tale could be retold in a manifold manner of expression.

Respective activities

Examples could be drawn from the characters of Oedipus, Narcissus, Midas and Sisyphus. Each of these stories could be reckoned as ancient as well as more modernistic in their respective activities. Perhaps it could be seen that Graves had undergone the ordeal of not only the collection procedures but also the meaningful manner in which the selected material is organised for posterity.

As such, the entire work, though similar to an encyclopaedic work, it is also a masterpiece of interpretation for all times in the field of research. A discerning reader may find that the methodology is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. In the most sacred manner of being true to the conscience, Graves is seen as a dedicated scholar to his heartfelt need to find the values behind Greek myths.

The way the materials pertaining to Greek Myths are collected and arranged surpasses the mere boundaries as lined up in the subject of included in Social Sciences and Humanities. One cannot easily divide or classify the material embedded into narrow segments for quick references. Instead, a reader has to undergo perhaps the task of being patient, devoid of embracing the outer surface layer of each myth included in the entire work. These Greek Myths retell the history of human heritage, values, attitudes and beyond all the behaviour patterns of rulers as well as power-driven individuals who ruled that subjects embracing all the delightful blessings in the short span of life they led with faults and frailties. This is a remarkable pioneer effort in research indeed. 

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