Book Review - Art and Myth in Ancient Greece

by Erin on December 6, 2011

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When I was in college, the book Art and Myth in Ancient Greece was considered essential reading for anyone who wanted to understand the sometimes complicated relationship between Greek mythology and art. And reading the book has been a worthwhile investment for me, since I continue to use it as a resource and guide here on Mythography.

Author Thomas H. Carpenter has divided the subject into ten chapters, each covering a specific mythological theme. In the chapter “Portraits of the Gods”, for example, the symbols of various Greek gods and goddesses are explored. We learn about the symbols of important Olympians, such as Dionysos, Demeter, Aphrodite, and Zeus. Other divine figures are also featured, including Iris, the Horae (Seasons), and Amphitrite.

This informative chapter is followed by in depth examinations of some famous Greek heroes, such as Perseus, Bellerophon, Herakles, and Theseus. Indeed, an entire section is reserved for the hero Herakles (or Hercules) alone. Incidentally, I find it especially fascinating to read about how the labors of Herakles were depicted by different ancient Greek artists.

Chapters 8 through 10 are devoted to specific events from Greek legend. It is here that we learn about the expedition of the Argonauts, the Calydonian Boar Hunt, and the aftermath of the notorious Trojan War. Vase paintings are a particularly good source for images of these events, and the author has selected some excellent examples to illustrate his points.

All of these subjects - from gods to heroes to mythological themes - are investigated in relation to Greek art and iconography, with over 370 illustrations that feature scenes from Classical myth. And while the images are all in black and white, they still manage to offer a compelling glimpse of works that demonstrate the importance of ancient Greece’s contributions to the history of art.

In addition to the abundance of images and information, Art and Myth in Ancient Greece has some other noteworthy features. In the section called “A Selected List of Further Reading”, the author recommends some excellent books on related topics. And in what is perhaps my favorite part of the book (called “Index of Common Attributes”), the author lists symbols of many Greek gods and heroes.

As I noted previously, this book has been, and continues to be, and invaluable guide to Greek myth and art. And while I admit that it’s a bit on the scholarly side, I recommend it to anyone who is serious about studying the subject in depth.

This book is available at Amazon.com :

Art and Myth in Ancient Greece

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