This book takes you on a short journey—a weekend cruise, if you will—through ancient Greek myth, leading you up to Homer’s doorstep. It proceeds chronologically but it’s not dominated by chronology. It’s important to know when events occur but mainly in relation to one another, not because the numbers are themselves important. We’ll be stopping off at the ports I find most intriguing, primarily from the standpoint of how myth informs various aspects of Greek culture. Many more trips remain to be taken, however, and this book is intended to be a launch-pad for your own. The ancient Greeks lived in a world before the Internet, before airplanes, before trains, before the telegraph. They had only myths to transmit through writing and images on vases and sculptures and buildings. Myths were their only mode of transportation and communication combined. There were no TVs, no newspapers. Just traveling bards singing songs so enthralling that their myths were absorbed by the bloodstream unconsciously, as the collective assumptions of society. Sometimes words and images were used to try to explain things, sometimes they served the interests of those who commissioned them to be propagated. How did everyone in Greece know to worship Zeus and Heracles? Myths. Myth linked otherwise disparate communities through the shared currency of the Greek language. Myth is a fungible cultural technology: its ability to be disseminated via various artistic media made it the most feasible way for distant poleis to communicate with each other in something like the way we do more efficiently today via the mass media. The myths, then, had to captivate their audiences as quickly and powerfully as possible. Hence the sensationalistic imagery they inspired, the outrageous actions perpetrated by larger-than-life characters. It all seemed so outlandish, so unrealistic, so overtly fictional. And yet, Theseus was both a king and a hero, Zeus was both a god and a king. There was overlap between these worlds. And there still is today.
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