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Greek mythology is a fascinating, dense topic to study although it’s a favorite among many people around the world. While the best way to learn about Greek mythology is to visit the country and see the history, the next option is to learn everything you can about it from books. However, it’s often quite difficult to find sources that tell the stories accurately.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at 15 of the best Greek mythology books on the market, some of which were written thousands of years ago.
The Iliad – Homer, translated by Robert Fagles
The Illiad by the Greek poet Homer tells the epic story of the ten-year Trojan War. It explores the facts of war from the beginning when Achilles confronted the King of Mycenae, Agamemnon, to the tragic fall of the city of Troy.
While the main part of the story only covers several weeks in the last year of the war, it’s told in explicit detail and alludes to many famous Greek heroes and the legends surrounding the siege. It brings to life the destruction of war and outlines the devastation of war on the lives of everyone it touches.
The Iliad is typically thought of as one of the first works of European literature and many call it the greatest. The translation by award-winning author Robert Fagles is considered one of the best, maintaining the metric music and the forceful drive of Homer’s original.
The Odyssey – Homer, translated by Emily Wilson
The Odyssey is often called the first great adventure story in Western literature. It tells the story of the Greek hero Odysseus on his quest to return home after the victory of the Trojan War. Odysseus faces many challenges on his journey back home, a voyage which ends up taking over 20 years.
Over this period, Odysseus and his men face the wrath of Poseidon, are captured by Polyphemus the cyclops, escape the island of the Lotos-Eaters, and many more giving us some of the most unforgettable characters in literature.
Matching the same number of lines as the original Greek poem, and full of verve, rhythm and verse, Emily Wilson’s translation sails along at a smooth, swift pace similar to Homer’s. Wilson’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey is an excellent piece of work that captures the beauty and drama of this ancient poem.
Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures – Stephen Fry
This Sunday Times best seller is packed with bold, heart-stirring adventures, vengeful gods, Greek heroes and monstrous perils, making it one of the most popular books on Greek mythology.
Although Greek mythology is quite convoluted and can be rather difficult to understand at times, Stephen Fry retells the classic myths in an easy to understand way, targeting a younger audience but also making it suitable for any age.
The Greek Myths – Robert Graves
The Greek Myths by writer Robert Graves consists of some of the greatest stories ever told in Ancient Greece. Graves weaves together the tales of the great Greek heroes like Heracles, Perseus, Theseus, Jason, the Argonauts, the Trojan War and the adventures of Odysseus bringing all these stories together into one unforgettable tale. Its single page-turning narrative makes it a great choice for a first time reader. It also comes with a comprehensive index of names of the famous characters in Greek mythology, making it easier for anyone to find what they’re looking for. Regarded as a classic among classics, The Greek Myths is a treasure trove of brilliant and extraordinary tales for all ages.
Metamorphoses – Ovid (Translated by Charles Martin)
Ovid’s Metamorphoses is an epic poem that’s considered one of the most valuable texts of Western imagination. Charles Martin translates the poem beautifully into English, capturing the liveliness of the original which is why it became one of the most popular translations for contemporary English readers. This volume consists of a glossary of places, people and personifications as well as endnotes, and is perfect for anyone interested in an easy-to-understand version of Ovid’s classic work.
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes – Edith Hamilton
This book by Edith Hamilton brings to life the Greek, Norse and Roman myths that are an important part of Western culture. It contains many stories of heroes and gods that inspired human creativity from the ancient past to the modern times. Some of myths in this book include the famous Trojan War, the story of Odysseus, Jason and the Golden Fleece and King Midas who turned everything he touched into gold. It also educates the reader on the names and origin of constellations.
The Complete World of Greek Mythology – Richard Buxton
This collection of Greek myths by Richard Buxton combines a retelling of the well-known myths with a comprehensive account of the world in which their themes were developed, as well as their relevance to the Greek society and religion. The book contains numerous illustrations that are beautiful to look at and is an excellent option for anyone that’s interested in the classic tales of Ancient Greece.
The Library of Greek Mythology – Apollodorus (Translated by Robin Hard)
The Library of Greek Mythology by Apollodorus is said to be the only literary work of its kind to have survived from antiquity. It’s a unique and comprehensive guide to Greek mythology, covering many tales from the creation of the universe up until the Trojan War.
It’s been extensively used by classicists as a source book from the time it was first compiled (1-2nd century BC) to the present and has influenced many writers. It contains the stories of the great heroes in Greek mythology and has been called an ‘indispensable book’ by those interested in classical mythology.
Abandon – Meg Cabot
This one’s a little different to the other books on our list, but it’s definitely worth a read. New York Times #1 bestselling author Meg Cabot introduces a fantastical, dark story about two worlds: the one we live in and the Underworld. Her book, Abandon, is a modern retelling of the myth of Persephone who was abducted by Hades, the god of the Underworld. The story is well told and has a nice modern twist to it since it’s written from a 21st century teenager’s point of view. It’s ideal for teenagers who love light romance/adventures stories and retellings and is a fun way to learn about the world of Greek mythology.
A Thousand Ships – Natalie Haynes
A Thousand Ships was written by classicist Natalie Haynes and retells the story of the ten-year Trojan War from the perspective of Creusa, the daughter of the Trojan King Priam and his wife Hecuba. The story begins in the dead of night when Creusa wakes up to find her beloved city completely engulfed in flames. Haynes’ powerful storytelling from an all-female perspective gives voices to all the women, goddesses and girl who have remained silent for so long.
The King Must Die – Mary Renault
Mary Renault’s A King Must Die retells the myth of the famous, legendary Greek hero Theseus from antiquity, spinning it into a thrilling, fast-paced story. It begins by focussing on the early years of Theseus’ life when he discovers his missing father’s sword under a rock and sets off on a journey to find him. Renault’s version remains true to the key events from the original myth. However, she’s also added bits and pieces from archaeological and geological discoveries into the story. The result is a novel that grips its readers with adventure, suspense and drama.
Persephone: The Daughters of Zeus – Kaitlin Bevis
Another book for the romantics at heart, this one by Kaitlin Bevis is a modern take on a popular Greek myth – the story of Persephone and Hades. It’s the first book in a trilogy that tells of an ordinary teenage girl who works at her mother’s flower shop in Georgia and discovers that she’s actually a bonafide goddess. She’s whisked off to the realm of Hades for protection from Boreas the god of winter and soon finds herself falling in love with the god of the Underworld. The storytelling is excellent, and Bevis keeps all the elements of the original myth while making the story romantic, thrilling and modern.
The Trojan War: A New History – Barry Strauss
For a more academic coverage of the Trojan War, this book by Strauss is an excellent option. The Trojan War, a series of battles waged over a period of ten years over the beautiful Helen of Troy, is one of the most famous conflicts that occurred in history, with hundreds of books and poems written about it. It’s been a source of inspiration for artists around the world for over 2,000 years. In this book, classicist and historian Barry Strauss explores not only the myth but the reality behind the Trojan War all the way from the events in The Odyssey and The Iliad to the discovery of the ancient city by Heinrich Schliemann. It turns out that this pivotal moment in Greek history is a lot different than what we thought.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths – Ingri D’Aulaire
Here’s an excellent book with beautiful illustrations that retells the stories of the most prominent characters in Greek mythology. The book is ideal for kids, especially those who are at the age where they need something that will grab and hold their attention. It’s also a great choice for teenagers or adults who appreciate beautiful art. The writing itself is easy to read and not too detailed, covering only the important incidents in each story.
Theogony / Works and Days – Hesiod (Translated by M.L. West)
The Theogony is a poem written by Hesiod, one of the oldest known Greek poets in around the 8th-7th century BC. It describes the origins and genealogy of the Greek gods from the very beginning of the world and accounts of the violent struggles they experienced before the present order of the universe was established. This new translation of Theogony by M.L. West throws a fascinating, unique light on the Greek society, superstition and ethics. This masterpiece by Hesiod is said to be the oldest source for the now well-known myths of Pandora, Prometheus and the Golden Age.