Today’s post from the Circulation Services division is courtesy of John Livecchi, who takes us to Greece.
Two of my favorite things are travel and Greek mythology. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to combine them with a few excursions to Greece, but it’s rare to find a book that does the job almost as well as a trip would. When it’s a book that also helps you look at everything you thought you knew in a new way, you’re in for really special treat. This is why I was surprised and delighted by Tom Stone’s new book, Zeus: A Journey Through Greece in the Footsteps of a God. Stone creates such a wonderful world in this book that, once in, you’re reluctant to leave. Just so, I found myself going back and re-reading sections and lingering over the last pages, unwilling for the book to end.
The first thing Stone does so well is to set up the world in which the reader will travel. Words often fail to adequately describe the light in Greece. Some photos capture it, but the spectacle of the Acropolis in moonlight, Delphi at sunrise, or simply coming into Santorini harbor by ship is difficult to express verbally. But Stone shows real power in words. He paints dazzling word pictures that carry the reader along on a perfect armchair odyssey.
And what odyssey would be complete without the gods? The gods could be a complicated bunch—as lofty and stately as they were lusty and capricious. Chief among them, of course, is the book’s central character Zeus. Widely celebrated in the myths for his countless infidelities, Zeus was also the most powerful and magnetic of the Olympians. He fathered most of mythology’s favorites. His mortal children include Minos, Europa, Perseus, Herakles and Helen of Troy. Even gods were his children. Ares, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Dionysus and Athena all called him father.
What Stone does with the stories is to lift them from dry, historical retellings to vibrant entertaining narratives. He places each of Zeus’s many stories into an historical perspective and thus achieves what most mythologies fail to show—the progression or evolution of the god. He creates not just a story, but a lifeline that traces changes and development from impetuous youth to glorious middle age to fading relevance and finally to an amazing re-birth in Christian Constantinople.
Stone invites us to go along with him as he re-traces the god’s footsteps, showing how Zeus’s influence grew in every part of ancient Greece. Accompanied by his Iranian wife, Farzaneh, Stone helps us see the historical conflict between east and west in a new dimension. Some of the book’s most amusing scenes show Stone interacting with his aptly named travel agent, Pericles. Having encountered such appropriately named characters myself, I found those encounters most enjoyable. Stone takes us on journeys to Greece’s most sacred places. We visit the cave where Zeus was born, Olympia where he ruled supreme, and even Mount Olympus itself where the changeless gods reveled—and he and his wife Hera often quarreled.
As we travel along, Stone combines myth, history, travel, and even a little marital tension. His witty insights and his wife’s often discerning counterpoints challenge any reader to rethink traditionally held beliefs. This book will delight anyone who already loves Greece and its great stories and might make a new philhellene out of those newer to the subject.
Check the WRL catalog for Zeus: A Journey Through Greece in the Footsteps of a God