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Mythologica – Greek Gods, Heroes and Monsters

An illustrated encyclopedia of Greek mythology like no other, Mythologica features startlingly beautiful and exquisitely otherworldly portraits of mythological characters in eye-popping colour from artist Victoria Topping and authoritative text from Classics scholar and Greek mythology expert Dr Stephen Kershaw. Uncover the colourful lives of 50 powerful gods and goddesses, earth-dwelling mortals and terrifying monsters as you journey back in time to ancient Greece.

Wide Eyed Editions

This book is absolutely stunning. Victoria Topping combines photography, painting and cut-paper collage to create fantastical images. Listed alphabetically, the 50 figures from Greek mythology are presented with a striking image and a page of information, while interspersed with the profiles are summaries of famous mythological tales and historical events, like the Odyssey, the Trojan War and the story of the Argonauts. The writing is wonderfully clear and concise (although perhaps sometimes a little small – but so much to fit in!), and if it is a young person’s first encouter with these legends then they will definitely want to read more…

Aphrodite, in Mythologica, illustrated by Victoria Topping

The author, Dr Steve Kershaw, wrote a piece for TeenLibrarian about how his fascination developed, and who remain his favourite Gods, Heroes and Monsters!

To me as a Classicist, spending lots of my life in the world of dead languages and the people who don’t speak them anymore, receiving the fantastic opportunity to collaborate on Mythologica was a dream come true. I now teach Greek mythology for Oxford University, but I’ve loved the stories ever since I was a kid myself. Here was a chance to go back to the powerful gods and goddesses, fascinating earth-dwelling mortals, and terrifying monsters who had fired my enthusiasm in the first place.

I become gripped by the world of the Greek myths at the lovely Salterhebble County Primary School in Halifax in Yorkshire. There, our teachers would read to us from wonderful books for the last 20 minutes of each day. This was enchanting and inspiring. Then one day a new young teacher appeared – a Classics graduate doing teaching practice, I think – and he read to us from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. I thought this was totally amazing! Gods, monsters, heroes, fighting, astonishing adventures… I was completely smitten!

It was a turning point in my life. I don’t remember doing it, but I must have gone home and enthused about these story-readings to my Mum and Dad, because my Grandpa bought me a copy of the Iliad. Like a good ten-year-old should, I read it with my torch under the bedclothes, and was completely drawn into the world of ‘Swift-footed’ Achilles, Polydamas ‘of the Stout Ashen Spear’, Thetis ‘of the Silver Feet’, ‘Lovely-ankled ‘Nymphs, and all the other brilliant characters. They became my friends, my enemies, my role-models, and my warnings.

Then I followed ‘Wily’ Odysseus on his incredible journey home from Troy in the Odyssey, marvelling at the grisly one-eyed cannibal Cyclops, imagining the song of the Sirens, and loving the cunning tricks that Odysseus played. From there I moved on to Virgil’s Aeneid, travelling with Trojan prince Aeneas and his band of refugees, and listening to his moving account of the fall of Troy, watching him break lovely Queen Dido’s heart, and accompanying him on his visit down into the Underworld.

In real life, I then went to Heath Grammar School in Halifax, an excellent institution where they made us learn Latin, and lots of grammar. But I was ready for it! I loved it, and when they offered me the chance to do Ancient Greek, I grabbed it with both hands. Now I could read about my heroes in their own language, and I did a lot of that when I studied Classics at University, before gravitating to Oxford, where I’ve been a Classics tutor for over 30 years, travelling in the world of the Ancient Greeks, both physically and intellectually.

So who are my favourite mythological god(desse)s, monsters and humans? Well, making a choice between any of the twelve Olympians is just impossible. Should I choose Zeus, who, can blast even the most awesome of giants into oblivion with his thunderbolts? Athena, his daughter, born from his head, with her mesmerising grey-eyed beauty and fearsome intelligence? The blacksmith Hephaestus, who, even though he was severely disabled, was still physically powerful, not to mention married to Aphrodite, the most beautiful female in the universe? Or someone else? They all command the utmost respect, but they can also be extremely jealous: if I were to show favouritism to any one of them, the others would simply ruin my life in the most horrible mythological way imaginable. So I love them all!

The mortal options bring people with amazing stories, staggering achievements, and brilliant skills that excite admiration, fear, love, hate, laughter, and/or pity. They can do things that we ordinary humans could never dream of – face unimaginable dangers, make terrible mistakes, and possibly win eternal glory. However, my favourite has to be Trojan Hector ‘of the Shining Helmet’. He was a mighty, noble, good-looking, horse-taming, godlike warrior, but he wasn’t a mindless fighting machine. He was certainly a badass on the battlefield, although in the end he was no match for the younger, stronger, and more violent Achilles, but Hector was also a good son and a loving husband and father, who gave everything for his family and city, sharing tender moments with his wife and their baby son, cuddling the boy when he was terrified by the horse-hair crest on his helmet, and caressing his spouse as he told her that he would rather be die than hear her being dragged away into captivity. Knowingly fighting against hopeless odds, he really embodies true heroism.

When it comes to choosing a monster we have the biggest, baddest, weirdest, wildest, snakiest, fire-breathingest, flesh-eatingest, turn-you-to-stone-est, set of colourful, hybrid creatures that we possibly imagine. As a dog lover – our English Springer Spaniel is called Hero, a girl-dog, named after the heroine Hero rather than any male hero – I’ve always been captivated by the ‘Death-Demon of the Darkness’, Cerberus, the multi-headed guard-dog of the Underworld. This terrifying, shameless, greedy canine monstrosity was so massive that he had a cave for his kennel; his tail was like a serpent; his hackles bristled with snake heads; and his triple throated barks of frenzied rage terrified even the ghosts of the dead. He would wag his tail and both his ears for anyone going down into Hades, but eat anyone who tried to get out. His favourite food was raw flesh, after all, although you could sedate him with treats made out of wheat and honey laced with soporific medicine.

I’m the end, I’m so grateful to those inspiring teachers and those magical books for letting me meet the wild and beautiful goddess Artemis and her brother Phoebus (‘Shiny’) Apollo, sail with the brave and bold Jason on his journey to capture the Golden Fleece, and wrestle with the Nemean Lion. They gave me the opportunity to read, write and teach about them, and because of them the world of Greek mythology is still very much alive, at least in my world.

Orpheus, in Mythologica, illustrated by Victoria Topping

MYTHOLOGICA: An encyclopedia of gods, monsters and mortals from ancient Greek
Dr Steve Kershaw (B.A. (Hons.); Ph.D.) with illustrations from Victoria Topping

Publishing 3 September in hardback from Wide Eyed Editions, £20. For 8+ readers and all who love Greek mythology.

Thank you to Wide Eyed Editions for a review copy!