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The Greek Myths That Shape the Way We Think

Richard Buxton


A sophisticated look into the eight Greek myths that remain the most relevant to us today, exploring their powerful cultural impact from their ancient origins to the present


The Greek myths seem to speak to us universally, their deities tantalizingly human – often indulging in behaviours morally ambiguous at best and obscene at worst – and their heroes dealing with dilemmas and destinies that echo, if exaggeratedly, conflicts in our own lives. The dramatic choices that such figures as Prometheus, Medea and Oedipus face have resonated with audiences over thousands of years.

These legends have been retold countless times, first by the conquering Romans, then through the medieval and Renaissance eras of Europe, and finally finding new expression in masterworks of art, literature and cinema on the global stage. Richard Buxton explores the stories at the heart of this ancient mythology and how they have come to influence our society today. Each chapter focuses on a mythical character and the powerful stories and interpretations that surround them. Yet the myths’ relevance has not been uniform; they shift with the cultural tide. They have endured moments of censure, criticism and even ridicule, but now their influence can be recognized almost everywhere, from opera to psychology, from fashion to contemporary art. How is it that these tales have retained their power to connect with our own fascinations, fears and desires, though they came from a world very different from our own?

Buxton charts their cultural impact through a rich variety of re-imaginings, examining the many guises they have taken through the ages and the profound truths that they continue to illuminate.

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'Promethean and "Herculean": everyday words in our English language but they evoke a wealth of mythical associations when one delves back - as Richard Buxton does so brilliantly - into their ancient Greek origins. Buxton's adroit selection of ancient myths to re-tell is perfectly suited to explaining as well as narrating these stories' enduring charm'
Paul Cartledge, A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture emeritus, University of Cambridge

'‘[A] bountiful, beautifully illustrated guide to eight Greek myths … packed with fascinating curios, intriguing asides and spiralling sub-plots'
The Spectator

'A stunning survey and a convincing argument for myths’ continuing ability to speak to us, this masterly and insightful work should inspire students and general readers alike'
Library Journal

'This is simply the best lucid and scholarly guide available … very well written, with a romping sense of irony and fun, and rapid but very comfortable pace. If there is a body of mythology which really has shaped our lives, along with the whole of Western civilisation, then this is it, and if there is a book on the stocks at present which most effectively and enjoyably shapes an appreciation of why that is, then this one is it as well'
Ronald Hutton

'In his exquisitely written and beautifully illustrated new book, Professor Buxton takes us on an enchanting journey through three millennia of the lives and afterlives of Greek myths, of telling and retelling, appropriation, subversion and reinvention. No-one has better conveyed these stories' bearing on our XXIst century minds, whether we debate our origins or futures, relationships between genders or between species, or the dilemmas of love, politics and choice. With great passion, humour and empathy, Buxton has made these eternal tales his own and in the process made them ours all over again. A must-read for all ages'
Kalypso Nicolaïdis, Professor of International Relations, University of Oxford

History Revealed

'[Buxton] is an academic and a skilled communicator who does justice to the mysterious otherness of the mythic world'
The Church Times

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 304 pp

Publication date: 24 March 2022

ISBN: 9780500518809

Contents List

Introduction: An inexhaustible resource
1. Prometheus
2. Medea
3. Daedalus and Icarus
4. The Amazons
5. Oedipus
6. The Judgment of Paris
7. The Labours of Heracles
8. Orpheus and Eurydice
9. Conclusion

About the Author

Richard Buxton has been researching and writing about Greek myths for over forty years. He is Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of Bristol and author of numerous books, including The Complete World of Greek Mythology, Myths and Tragedies in their Ancient Greek Contexts and (with Mercedes Aguirre) Cyclops: The Myth and its Cultural History.