Stephen Fry has had a go at the Greek myths, in a competitively priced hardback, just in time for Christmas. And he has done it jolly well, actually, so lower that collective eyebrow, please, all of you purists who think entertainers ought to stay away from the classics, and remember that as one of our top TV deities, Fry can do what he likes.
Born wearing tweed, he was dipped by the heel in the River of Wisdom (though some say it was only the Trickle of Cleverness) and ascended via the Cambridge Footlights into the Equity-approved pantheon. He is loved, as the Greek gods were loved, not only for his talents, but for his failings and vulnerabilities too. He could get away with anything, except perhaps denim.
In Mythos, he is clearly enjoying himself. The goddess Hesta reminds him of Aunt Agatha. The infant Hermes is ‘a cocky little squirt’. Death himself, Thanatos, he gifts a pantomime evil laugh: ‘Mwahahaha.’ The backcloth and scenery is all two-dimensional clichés — Persephone ‘chasing butterflies as they flitted from blossom to blossom in a sun-dappled meadow’ just before she is stolen by Hades, for example. But the characterisation and dialogue is super. Sisyphus leaps off the page as a Hellenic Larry David, patting down his pockets when asked to pay the ferryman Charon: ‘No, nothing doing.’
Fry does not shun the trickier parts of the canon, such as the child-eating Sky Father Ouranos, and his graphic genital dismemberment: ‘Kronos had flung the Sky Father’s junk, if you recall, far across the sea.’ Fry’s wry primness of tone is comforting, given all the gory incest — like Miss Marple narrating a chainsaw massacre or Dumbledore doing Medea.
From the beautiful silvery-gold liquid called ichor that ran in the veins of the gods, to talaria, the proper name for winged sandals, this book is full of satisfying detail.