A MYTHICAL HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN ONE CHAPTER
The myths of some cultures seem to occur in a timeless limbo, like the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime-a period which is at once then, now, and always, in which normal laws of succession and causation are suspended. Classical mythology is very different. The Greeks saw their myths in a historical context, stretching from the ancient myths of the creation down to the Trojan War and the borders of recorded history, and held together by an elaborate (if at times contradictory) web of chronology and genealogy.
Ancient summaries of mythology, like Apollodorus's Library,
are organised around the genealogies of heroic families and the histories of the great city-states that they ruled. For modern readers interested in the myths as they appear in English literature, such a framework is less relevant; and I have tried in this summary to focus on the stories that are interesting for their own sake, and to keep catalogues of kings and lists of 'X begat Y' to a minimum. Nevertheless, my account naturally falls into the framework of a mythological history of the world, in four broad periods:
|• Myths of origin: stories of the origins of the world, the gods, and the human race. |
|• Gods and mortals: stories of the early interactions between gods, demigods, and mortals, in both love and enmity. |
|• The age of heroes: the sagas of great heroes and their families in the generations preceding the Trojan War-especially the stories of Perseus, Hercules, Jason, Theseus, and Oedipus. |
|• The Trojan War and after: the last and greatest of the heroic sagas. |
Inevitably such a one-chapter summary is skeletal and oversimplified, skipping over significant details and omitting most of the variant versions which proliferate around every story. For fuller and more complex accounts, readers should turn to the works listed in the Bibliography, or, even better, to the classical sources noted in the course of the chapter.