Critical Analysis of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology
Edith Hamilton’s Mythology is regarded as the long-awaited popular exposition needed for classical mythology. This book reflects the author’s interest and fascination in Greek and Roman myths. She regarded mythology not as dead antiquity, but rather as living fables that still have relevance to our present context (Cournos, 4). After all, Greek and Roman mythology, although highly focused on gods and goddesses did not refer to religion. Rather, mythology is something that people created to explain something in nature, how the universe, and its components came to existence (Ellis, 259). One of the most dominant figures in the book, of course, is Zeus or Jupiter. In mythology, he is the chief of all gods, the supreme ruler. Throughout the book, Hamilton points out various insights about Zeus. And, Zeus is not the kind of god that we expect.
Zeus is considered as the Lord of the Sky, the cloud gatherer, or rain-god. His power is way above the powers of all gods gathered together. However, despite all these powers, Zeus is not without vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Even if Zeus is worshipped as a god, even by his fellow gods, he is far from being a perfect God. Hamilton points out that Zeus is neither omnipotent nor omniscient. Other gods, like Poseidon and Hera can deceive him in order to get what they want. Furthermore, like other mortals, Zeus is also bounded by Fate. In Greek mythology, fate is proven to be stronger than him (Zeus, 20). With these characteristics, Zeus can serve the purpose of mythology better. He becomes a closer moral authority with whom people can relate to.
One of the most notable characteristics of Zeus is being a womanizer. He is oftentimes represented to be falling in love with one woman after the other. He also devises various tricks to hide his infidelity from his wife, Hera (Hamilton, 27). In mythology, Zeus changes the idea of love. In the story of these gods, love is forced. Zeus rapes and destroys the lives of women he “loves.” He takes mortal women for his own pleasure, but creates different plots to cover up his infidelity, only to make the lives of these women even worse. Zeus is able to have various children from different mothers. Having children from different women seemed to have changed Zeus. Even the Greeks themselves eventually grew tired of the extra marital affairs involving Zeus so the course of the mythology changed over time.
Hamilton recognizes different personalities of Zeus. Like most heroes in literature, Zeus undergoes transformation from being an imperfect hero into an ideal one. She states, “…back of the stories of an amorous Zeus and a cowardly Zeus and a ridiculous Zeus, we can catch sight of another Zeus into being…what human beings needed in the god they worshipped (Hamilton, 20).” He becomes the standard of moral and giver of justice. He begins the rule Olympus and the earth with greater regard to peace and order, justice, and harmonious relationship between the gods, demi-gods, and the mortals.
In the book, Hamilton points out the image of Zeus as an imperfect god, who is not all knowing and powerful. Despite being a god, he remains to be ruled by fate. In fact, he was selected to rule the sky and earth because he and his brothers drew lots to decide who rules what part of the universe. Moreover, Zeus’ portrayal of having affairs with various women makes mythology closer to reality, where people can be blinded by their desires. Nevertheless, like most heroes, Zeus managed to change his ways and transformed into a kind of god that satisfies people’s expectations. These characteristics and change in Zeus makes the mythology relevant in present times because like the gods, people can also change for the better.
Cournos, John. “Mythology’s value for moderns.” New York Times. 24 May 1942.
Ellis, Richard. Imagining Atlantis. New York: First Vintage Books Edition, 1999.
Hamilton, Edith.Mythology. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2013.