Greek Mythology: A Traveller’s Guide

Thames and Hudson

HB, 272 pp, 70 illustrations plus map  

The Greek myths have a universal appeal, reaching far beyond the time and physical place in which they were created. But many are firmly rooted in specific settings: Thebes dominates the tragedy of Oedipus; Mycenae broods over the fates of Agamemnon and Electra; Knossos boasts the scene of Theseus’ slaying of the Minotaur; Tiryns evokes Heracles, who set out from its citadel on each of his twelve labours.

This engagingly written new approach to Greek mythology takes the reader on a tour of twenty-two destinations in Greece and Turkey, from Mount Olympus to Homer’s Hades, recounting the classic tales and the history associated with each and highlighting features that visitors can still see today.

Both evocative and informative, the book provides an account of all the major gods and stories from ancient Greek mythology, with the myths presented in the sequence in which most Greek writers imagined them, beginning with creation and the coming of the gods and ending with the return of Odysseus from Troy – and his visit to Hades.

Drawing on a wide range of Classical sources, with quotations newly translated by the author and freshly illustrated with specially commissioned drawings of landscapes, statues and vase paintings, this book is both a useful companion for modern visitors to the famous sites of Greek mythology and an enthralling imaginative journey for the armchair traveller.

The book is also available in South Korean.

Reviews and Comments

We should never underestimate the power of myths - both ancient and modern: As a species we are motivated not by systems but by stories. David Stuttard does the smart and enticing thing of taking the best - and strangest - of the Greek myths and helps us to both unpack them, and to live them, as the ancients themselves did...enchanting and life-enhancing.

Bettany Hughes

A wide-ranging survey of one of the most popular aspects of ancient Greek life – mythology. Ordered geographically, this is a friendly and intelligent guide, which serves well as a general introduction to Greek mythology. It would also make for a gratifying travel companion, offering easy on-site access to beautiful and relevant quotations from ancient literature.

Lucia Marchini, Minerva Magazine

This book is the result of wide-ranging research into the mythology and history of the sites described and brings together these two components in an original and entertaining way. The style is easy going and accessible, and the subject matter is treated with considerable humour.

Judith Swaddling, British Museum Magazine

If you’re planning a visit to Greece, Turkey or Crete, and even if you are not, this guide would be most useful, linking myth, history and sites.

Mature Times

The major achievement of this book is to have woven disparate material into a coherent presentation of the myths in their Greek context. Both philhellenes and readers new to the subject will find much to delight and amuse. The copious drawings, based on original sources and uniform in colour and style, illustrate both myths and sites and enhance the presentation and unity of the book.

Alan Beale, Classics for All

This informative, literary traveler’s guide introduces Greek mythology geographically through 22 chapters dedicated to specific locations from Mount Olympus and Delos to Athens and Mycenae. After setting the scene for each destination, David Stuttard dives into the corresponding myths, illuminating the great legends alongside beautiful color illustrations.

Mixing travelogue with history and (of course) the myths themselves, Stuttard reveals Greece in a new light. The book provides excellent background for traveler, especially those who want to learn more about history and culture while also enjoying a thrilling tale. Book of the Week.

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On the fertile plain between the sea and Mount Olympus, Dion thrums with life. Tall clumps of trees – oak, ash and poplar, cypress, plane and agnus castus – chitter with the busyness of birds that flit between the branches with a sudden chirr of wings before alighting on a cluster of bamboo. Doves murmur in the tree-tops. Distant crows abrade the air. Iridescent dragonflies hover over the flat surface of the lake or dance around the pillars of a sunken temple, where water flows clear over weathered stones and tortoises loll, lazy in the sun. Straight paved streets stride off with an initial confidence, only to be overcome by lush vegetation, distracted by wild roses and entangled in a sea of asphodel. Elsewhere, anemones and poppies stud the rippling meadows as they flow towards the theatre. And rising up behind the ranks of benches – so close and yet remote, at once forbidding and apparently benign, its high peaks crowned with clouds, its slopes already burgeoning with grapes – is Mount Olympus, the legendary dwelling place of Greece’s gods.

In the Beginning…

For the Greeks, Mount Olympus was the ultimate seat of power. The gods whose home it was controlled the earth and skies, and all that lived there. Theirs was an extended ruling family, often beset by arguments and egos, sometimes capricious, sometimes fiercely loyal, but always jealous of their own authority and merciless against any who opposed it.

But the Olympians did not always rule the cosmos. Nor was there always a cosmos to rule. At first there was only Chaos, a yawning void, infinite and empty, a lifeless place of endless darkness. Hesiod described the process of creation:

In the beginning came Chaos; next full-bosomed Gaia [Earth], an ever-safe foundation for all the deathless gods, who live on snowy Mount Olympus; and misty Tartarus in the bowels of the broad-pathed earth; and Eros [Desire], the most beautiful of all the deathless gods, who loosens limbs, seducing even the most clever minds and spirits of both gods and men.