"Oh My Gods is almost like an encyclopedia... it's a great reference book for the bare bones stories of what happened to the goddesses and gods. If you think about it, such an overview without a lot of detail regarding each story is good, because there's so much to Greek mythology that a lot of readers get bogged down in even one tale."
"Freeman goes into enough detail to keep it interesting. The glossary in the back listing all of the goddesses and the gods, and their essential actions, is really helpful. It would be especially helpful to anyone teaching a class on Greek mythology, since it covers so much territory."
While covering all the major topics and many lesser known ones, Freeman doesn't tone down outrageous behavior.
While a child, I read the stories of the rape of the Sabine women and Persephone, but although the word "rape" appeared, there was no overtly sexual component to the "seizing" of the women. Freeman does not insert unwarranted sexual assault into those particular stories, but he does put it where it belongs. In other modern mythologies, more concerned with being family friendly than faithful, it may not be so explicit.
Freeman puts the lack of romance back into the stories about the amorous escapades of some of the gods, especially Zeus. Zeus, not only king of the gods, but the great patriarch in the lineages of the Greek heroes, has a well-developed, multi-faceted personality in Freeman's version. He seduces all the beautiful virgins in his family, threatens the non-compliant fathers of beautiful maidens with annihilation of their families, lashes out at his nagging wife one moment, and then, burning with desire, tells Hera that she's more beautiful than all his other conquests, and later worries about keeping a promise to Achilles' mother Thetis.
The description of the depraved behavior of Hercules* is likewise stripped of any sugar-coating. "His bloodshot eyes rolled wildly in his head, drool dribbled into his heard, and then he screamed out with manic laughter: 'Why should I sacrifice before I slay Eurystheus....' Hercules grabbed his bow and club, then climbed an imaginary chariot and whipped invisible horses to a gallop.... His children were now terrified and cried out, catching the attention of their father.... He chased the boy around the yard and caught him at last, then stabbed him through the heart with the sacrificial knife. The blood of the young child spurted from his small body as he collapsed into his mother's arms...." But then, Freeman says that although Hercules may be hard to take seriously as a hero for his comic behavior and madness, in the end, "he always comes out on top, either through a clever trick or by dogged determination."
Freeman's mythology isn't just about over-the-top behavior. It includes a selection of love stories: about the couples Baucis and Philemon and Pomona and Vertumnus, with happy endings; Alpheus and Arethusa, Endymion and Selene, and Orpheus and Eurydice, with less than happy ones; and chapters on each of the major gods. Oh My Gods ties the mythology of the Romans neatly into the Greek system via the Trojan War survivor Aeneas.
I quite liked Freeman's take on Jason, as a brooding, cowering, spineless young man, nonetheless eager to prove himself, helped first by divine intervention in the form of a love arrow aimed at Medea, and then by the witch herself. Without such help he seems helpless. Medea even has to kick Jason to make him take down the golden fleece.
One of the most useful features of the book is the glossary where you'll find a line or two about a couple of hundred of the main figures in Greco-Roman mythology. There are also genealogical charts focusing on the main figures, a list for further reading, and great, supplementary notes on each of the chapters. Some notes link to sources, others, to excursus on related topics. In the notes for the love stories, he writes:
"Regardless of the word used, it would be an understatement to say that Greek love stories have a distinctly tragic element about them. The phrase 'and they lived happily ever after' is scarcely found in any of the ancient myths. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, both die a horrible death is more the norm."About the story of the Trojan War, he writes in the notes:
"For schoolboys from Sparta to Athens, studying Homer's poetic account of that was was a foundation of their education. Everything a boy needed to know about being a man was found in Homer's Iliad. And yet, read carefully, the story is much more a tragedy than a glorification of combat."
* For sticklers about Herakles vs Hercules, Freeman explains his actions when he writes:"The proper Greek name for Hercules is Herakles, but since the hero is known today via popular books, television, and especially movies as Hercules, I have used that name in this book. Herakles is Greek for 'the glory of Hera' -- an odd name for someone the goddess is always trying to kill."
Oh My Gods: A Modern Retelling of Greek and Roman Myths
By Philip Freeman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster: January 2012
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.