Posted in books

Heroes by Stephen Fry

I am currently reading Heroes, an Entertaining and often tragic retelling of the Ancient Greek Myths by Television presenter, Broadcaster and Author Stephen Fry. It Features the exciting and often dangerous tales of Greek heroes such as Perseus, Heracles, Bellerophon, Jason and the Argonauts, Atalanta, Oedipus and Theseus as they battle the odds and a variety of monsters including the Graeae-three cannibalistic witches who have the gift of foresight but only have one tooth and one eye between them, the snake haired Gorgon Medusa whose gaze turns people to stone and her immortal sisters Stheno and Eurayle, Cerberus the three headed dog who guards the underworld, the seven headed Hydra, the Harpies, the monsterous Chimera, the Sphynx, the Nemean Lion, The Clashing Rocks and the Minotaur of Crete, to name but a few


The first part concerns Perseus, the son of Zeus and Danaë, the daughter of Acrisius, King of Argos. Acrisius is warned by the oracle at Delphi that he would one day be killed by his daughter’s son. So In order to keep Danaë childless, Acrisius imprisons her in a bronze chamber, open to the sky, in the courtyard of his palace: However Zeus came to her in the form of a shower of gold, and impregnated her. Soon after, their child was born; Perseus

Fearful for his future, but unwilling to provoke the wrath of the gods by killing the offspring of Zeus and his daughter, Acrisius cast the two into the sea in a wooden chest. However Danaë and Perseus are eventaully washed ashore on the island of Serifos, where they were taken in by the fisherman Dictys who raises the boy to manhood. The brother of Dictys was Polydectes the king of the island.

Polydectes fell in love with the beautiful Danaë. However Perseus disliked Polydectes, and protected his mother from him, So Polydectes plotted to get rid of Perseus by giving him the seemingly impossible task of obtaining the head of the only mortal Gorgon, Medusa, whose gaze turned people to stone. Medusa had once been a beautiful but vain woman, who was raped by Poseidon in the Temple of Athena. In retribution for the desecration of her temple, Athena had changed Medusa’s hair into hideous snakes.

Athena tells Perseus to find the Hesperides, who had the weapons needed to defeat the Gorgon. Following Athena’s guidance, Perseus sought the Graeae, sisters of the Gorgons, to demand the whereabouts of the Hesperides. From the Hesperides he received a knapsack (kibisis) to safely contain Medusa’s head. Zeus gave him an adamantine sword (a Harpe) and Hades’ helm of darkness to hide. Hermes lent Perseus winged sandals to fly, and Athena gave him a polished shield. Perseus then proceeded to the Gorgons’ cave to confront Medusa. He then visit King Atlas, then  the kingdom of Aethiopia which is ruled by King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia. Unfortunately Cassiopeia, upsets Poseidon, so in revengs he sends the sea serpent, Cetus, which destroys everything. The oracle of Ammon tells King Cepheus that in order to stop Cetus he must sacrifice his daughter Andromeda, however Perseus intervenes….


Part two concerns Heracles who accidentally kills his son, daughter, and wife Megara after being Driven mad by Hera (queen of the gods), After recovering his sanity, Hercules deeply regretted his actions; and traveled to Delphi to inquire how he could atone for his actions. Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, advised him to go to Tiryns and serve his cousin King Eurystheus for twelve years ad penance, performing whatever labors Eurystheus might set him; in return, he would be rewarded with immortality.

Eurystheus ordered Hercules to perform ten labours including Slaying the Nemean lion, Slaying the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra, Capturing the Ceryneian Hind, Capturing the Erymanthian Boar, Cleaning the Augean stables in a single day, Slaying the Stymphalian birds, Capturing the Cretan Bull, Stealing the Mares of Diomedes, Obtaining the girdle of Hippolyta, Obtaining the cattle of the monster Geryon, Stealing the apples of the Hesperides and Capturing Cerberus.

Hercules accomplished these tasks, However Eurystheus refused to recognize two: the slaying of the Lernaean Hydra, as Hercules’ nephew and charioteer Iolaus had helped him; and the cleansing of the Augeas, because Hercules accepted payment for the labour. So Eurystheus set two more tasks (fetching the Golden Apples of Hesperides and capturing Cerberus), which Hercules also performed, bringing the total number of tasks to twelve.


Part three concerns Bellerophon who was born at Corinth and was the son of the mortal Eurynome by either her husband Glaucus, or Poseidon. “. Bellerophon was asked by King Polyeidos to slay the Chimera a monster that Homer depicted with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail: “her breath came out in terrible blasts of burning flame. King Polyeidos told Bellerophon in order to slay the Chimera he would need Pegasus the untamed winged horse. So Bellerophon sets out to tame Pegasus before setting off to confronting the Chimera…


Part four concerns the legendary Greek musician, poet, and prophet Orpheus.  He lived in the Odrysian city of Bisaltia and had the ability to charm all living things and even inanimate objects with his music.  Orpheus was venerated as the greatest of all poets and musicians; it was said that while Hermes had invented the lyre, Orpheus had perfected it. Poets such as Simonides of Ceos said that Orpheus’ music and singing could charm the birds, fish and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and divert the course of rivers. Orpheus sailed with Jason and the Argonauts and used his skills to aid his companions. Chiron told Jason that without the aid of Orpheus, the Argonauts would never be able to pass the Sirens—the same Sirens encountered by Odysseus in Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey. The Sirens lived on three small, rocky islands called Sirenum scopuli and sang beautiful songs that enticed sailors to come to them, which resulted in the crashing of their ships into the islands. When Orpheus heard their voices, he drew his lyre and played music that was louder and more beautiful, drowning out the Sirens’ bewitching songs.

Orpheus also went to great lengths to rescue his wife Eurydice after she was set upon by a satyr and fell into a nest of vipers while escaping suffering a fatal bite on her heel. Her body was discovered by Orpheus who, overcome with grief, played such sad and mournful songs that all the nymphs and gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus travelled to the underworld. Where His music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone, who agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world.


Part five concerns Jason and the Argonauts. Jason’s father Aeson was rightful king of Thessaly but was usurped by his half brother the power-hungry Pelias who killed all the descendants of Aeson that he could. He spared his half-brother for unknown reasons. Aeson’s wife Alcimede I had a newborn son named Jason whom she saved from Pelias Fearing that Pelias would eventually kill her son, Alcimede sent him away to be reared by the centaur Chiron,

Pelias, fearing that his ill-gotten kingship might be challenged, consulted an oracle, who warned him to beware of a man wearing only one sandal. Many years later, Pelias was holding games in honor of Poseidon when the grown Jason arrived in Iolcus, having lost one of his sandals in the river Anauros

Jason, was aware that he was the rightful king, When He entered Iolcus (present-day city of Volos). Pelias replied, “To take my throne, which you shall, you must go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece.” So he embarks on a perilous journey to Colchis aboard his ship The Argo. to try and retreive the Fabled Godlen Fleece with a crew which included Orpheus and Heracles.

Part six features Atalanta. She was the daughter of Iasus, son of Lycurgus, and Clymene, daughter of Minyas. She is also mentioned as the daughter of Mainalos or Schoeneus, according to (Hyginus), of a Boeotian (according to Hesiod), or of an Arcadian princess (according to the Bibliotheca).

Her Father King Iasus wanted a son; however when Atalanta was born, he left her on a mountaintop to die. Some stories say that a she-bear suckled and cared for Atalanta until hunters found and raised her, and she learned to fight and hunt as a bear would. She was later reunited with her father. Having grown up in the wilderness, Atalanta became a fierce hunter and was always happy. She took an oath of virginity to the goddess Artemis, and slew two centaurs, Hylaeus and Rhoecus, who attempted to ravish her.

When the god Artemis was neglected by King Oineus, Atalanta sent the Calydonian Boar to ravage the land, men, and cattle and prevented crops from being sown. Atalanta joined Meleager and many other famous heroes on a hunt for the boar. Many of the men were angry that a woman was joining them, but Meleager, though married, lusted for Atalanta, and so he persuaded them to include her. Several of the men were killed before Atalanta became the first to hit the boar and draw blood. After Meleager finally killed the boar and gave the hide to Atalanta. Meleager’s uncles, Plexippus and Toxeus, were angry and tried to take the skin from her. In revenge, Meleager killed his uncles, Which had tragic repercussions.

After the Calydonian boar hunt, Atalanta’s Father wanted her to be married, but Atalanta, uninterested in marriage, agreed to marry only if her suitors could outrun her in a footrace. Those who lost would be killed. King Schoeneus agreed, and many young men died in the attempt until Hippomenes came along. Hippomenes asked the goddess Aphrodite for help, And Hippomenes won the footrace and came to marry Atalanta. Eventually they had a son Parthenopaios, who was one of the Seven against Thebes.


Part seven concerns Oedipus, the was a mythical Greek king of Thebes who was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta. Laius wished to thwart a prophecy, so he sent a shepherd-servant to leave Oedipus to die on a mountainside. However, the shepherd took pity on the baby and passed Oedipus to King Polybus and Queen Merope to raise as their own. Oyedipus learned from the oracle at Delphi of the prophecy that he would end up killing his father and marrying his mother but, unaware of his true parentage, believed he was fated to murder Polybus and marry Merope, so left for Thebes. Along the way Oedipus encountered the Sphinx and killed the stranger. Upon arriving at Thebes, he found that the king of the city (Laius) had recently been killed and that the king’s widow, and (unbeknownst to him) was his mother Jocasta And he accidentally fulfilled a prophecy which brought disaster on Thebes and himself.


Part eight features Theseus Who was the mythical king and founder-hero of Athens. Theseus was raised in his mother’s land and grew up to become a brave young man. Theseus learnt that his father was a King who was usurped by King Aegeus and that he must take the sword and sandals back to king Aegeus to claim his birthright.

To journey to Athens, Theseus had a choice, to either go the safe way by sea or to follow a dangerous path around the Saronic Gulf. Of course being Young, brave, and ambitious, Theseus decided to go alone by the land route encountering many dangers. He first arrived at Epidaurus, which was sacred to Apollo and the healer Asclepius, and encountered the chthonic bandit, Periphetes, the Club Bearer. Then At the Isthmian entrance to the Underworld Theseus encountered a robber named Sinis, often called “Pityokamptes” (Greek: Πιτυοκάμπτης, “he who bends Pinetrees”). Sinis captured travellers, tie them between two pine trees that were bent down to the ground, and then let the trees go, tearing his victims apart. Then at Crommyon, Theseus encountered an enormous pig, the Crommyonian Sow, bred by an old crone named Phaea. Next Near Megara, Theseus encountered an elderly robber named Sciron who forced travellers along the narrow cliff-face pathway to wash his feet before kicking them off. Theseus next encountered Cercyon, king at the holy site of Eleusis, who challenged passers-by to a wrestling match and, when he had beaten them, he killed them. Next Theseus encountered a bandit named Procrustes the Stretcher,

When Theseus arrived at Athens, Aegeus was suspicious of the young, powerful stranger’s intentions. Aegeus’s wife Medea recognised Theseus immediately as Aegeus’ and tried to have him killed by the Marathonian Bull. Then Theseus learnt of King Minos of Crete who had an arrangement with the Athenians whereby they would send seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster that lived in the Labyrinth created by Daedalus. Theseus volunteered to stop the Minotaur And took the place of one of the youths meanwhile Ariadne, King Minos’ daughter, fell in love with Theseus and helped him. So Theseus entered the Labyrinth and with Ariadne’s help eventually confronted the Minotaur with exciting results.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.