Book Review – Women of Classical Mythology

by Erin on November 25, 2011

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I have a fair number of mythology books in my personal library. One of these books is Women of Classical Mythology by Robert E. Bell. It sits, sandwiched on the shelves between my trusty Oxford Classical Dictionary and a dogeared copy of Who’s Who in Classical Mythology, waiting to be consulted.

Women of Classical Mythology describes itself as a “biographical dictionary”. Indeed, the vast majority of the book is organized into an A – Z format of some of the famous (and infamous) names in Greek and Roman myth. From favorite females, such as Aphrodite and Athena, to more obscure names, such as Natalis and Numeria, Women of Classical Mythology covers the topic well. And each entry shows its source. This is something I value and appreciate enormously. Being able to locate the specific citation is quite helpful when I want to research a character in more detail.

One of the main appeals of this book for me is the limited scope of the subject. Sure, I have plenty of books devoted to revealing information about the characters of Greek and Roman mythology. The aforementioned OCD and Who’s Who are good examples. I appreciate the depth and breadth of the content in Women of Classical Mythology though. Take for instance the entry about Ariadne. Not only can I read her story, but there are references to some considerably more contemporary interpretations of the myth, including a comment about Ariadne’s role in Mary Renault’s novel The King Must Die.

There is also a section devoted to what is termed “The Men in Their Lives”. So say I want to know with whom the hero Odysseus was involved. I simply find his name on the alphabetical list, and voilà!, a plethora of females (by the way, it’s safe to assume that Odysseus really got around, considering all the names that are linked with his). This is a pretty darn useful part of the book.

Who’s Who in Classical Mythology is a comprehensive, fascinating glimpse at the sometimes neglected role that mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, and other female figures played in ancient Greek and Roman legend. I highly recommend it for students and scholars, as well as anyone who has an interest in learning more about mythology.

This book is available at Amazon.com:

Women of Classical Mythology: A Biographical Dictionary

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