The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology

By Robin Hard | Go to book overview

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Three good dictionaries of classical mythology are currently available in English. The oldest is that of Pierre Grimal, which was first published in Paris in 1951; it has been issued in two English editions, as The Dictionary of Classical Mythology (Blackwell, Oxford, 1986, a full translation with references to ancient sources) and as The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology (1991, abridged with some alterations, without references). It is useful and generally reliable, if perhaps somewhat dull. An edition of Edward Tripp’s Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology has recently been published in Britain as Collins Dictionary of Classical Mythology (2002). It concentrates for the most part on myths from the more accessible sources and main ancient anthologies, but is broader in its range of reference than the other two dictionaries in some other respects, for it includes entries on peoples, places and authors. Readers who have no special knowledge of the ancient world may find it particularly helpful for that reason. Jenny March’s Cassell Dictionary of Classical Mythology (London, 1998) is scholarly and accessible, a model of its kind; it is both enjoyable to dip into and useful as work of reference. Various other dictionaries have been published. William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography (3 vols, London, 1844) is an old war-horse that deserves an honourable mention; and Richard Stoneman’s little dictionary, Greek Mythology (London, 1991) departs from the common pattern by including entries on post-classical legend and folklore. We must next turn to two authors who have produced well-known surveys of Greek myth in two volumes. Carl Kerényi’s Gods of the Greeks (London, 1951) and Heroes of the Greek (London, 1974) are works of strong individual character founded on an exhaustive knowledge of the ancient sources. Robert Graves’s Penguin guide, The Greek Myths (first published in 1955), makes attractive reading and conveys much solid information, but should be approached with extreme caution nonetheless. Although Graves was certainly well acquainted with the relevant ancient sources, he tended to run together material of diverse origin and value when constructing his summaries of the various bodies of myth, and the resulting narratives are by no means free of eccentric errors and arbitrary fancies. As for the explanatory notes, they are either the greatest single contribution that has ever been made to the interpretation of Greek myth or else a farrago of cranky nonsense; I fear that it would be impossible to find any classical scholar who would agree with the former diagnosis.

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