Book Club

“Mythology” by Edith Hamilton, a.k.a the only nonfiction book I will willingly reread

Grace Schutte

More stories from Grace Schutte

May 10, 2023

What started out as a random book thrift in Vancouver, Canada turned into one of my favorite reads of the year.

This summer, I had the great honor and privilege of working at Barnes & Noble. It was a bookworm’s dream come true: I received innumerable recommendations at check out, knew the store like the back of my hand and — most importantly — got a 40% discount on books. 

Reader, wipe your chin — I see you drooling over there. 

But, when I wasn’t writing titles down on the sticky note I left behind the cash register or dusting the shelves like the main character I wished I was, there were times where I’d give recommendations to shoppers. 

Sometimes they would ask straight up, “Hey, what do you recommend?” But others would be minding their own business, peacefully flipping through a potential love-match, unbeknownst to the gremlin in corduroy (me) lurking a few shelves down, strategizing how I should go about recommending this other book. 

“Ah,” I’d start, “that’s a good one you have there,” pointing innocuously toward the book in their hands. Depending on the customer, they would strike up a conversation or nod sheepishly, wanting to be left alone.

As an introvert, I understand their pain, but it’s “Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller they have clutched to their chest — this is the perfect opportunity, and I can’t let it pass me by. 

“I had to put two spoons in the freezer the night I finished that one so I could depuff my eyes the next morning,” I’d say — which is true, in case anyone was wondering. 

Hopefully, they’d laugh — either in pity or recognition, I’m not sure — and then I’d make my move. 

“If you’re a fan of that one, have you read ‘Mythology’ by Edith Hamilton?” 

Any chance I got, I would promote this book. It had been required reading for my AP Literature class back in High School, and it changed my life, not to be dramatic.

Essentially, “Mythology” is a summary of all your favorite Roman and Greek myths stuck into one collection, except, now throw in all the ones you’ve never heard of that are still incredibly relevant and crucial to the mythology narrative in there as well.  

Now, make each of these stories incredibly detailed and include explicit notes depicting where the plots differ depending on who was doing the telling when and where. 

Usually, when it comes to Greek mythology, the well-known versions are from Homer, Aristotle, and such; however, Hamilton includes Ovid and Virgil, too — less well-known, but not lesser in terms of their contributions to mythology. These are just a few of the “underground” storytellers Hamilton includes. 

I learned more through this one book than… You know what, I’m not sure, but I do know I learned a lot from it. After reading it just once, I could tell you Hestia’s holy tree (the Chaste tree) and the bird that represents Zeus (an eagle, if you can believe it) and so much more. 

In addition to the fact sheets, there were many figures I read about that I’d never heard of before. One of my favorites is the story of Atalanta

Raised by a bear after being left for dead as an infant, Atalanta is a skilled huntress, comparable to Artemis — the goddess of the hunt — in talent. In other words, she’s the real deal. 

Recognized as a fearsome and skilled hunter, she participates in the famous Calydonian boar hunt, where she is the first to strike the boar and draw blood. Other famous hunters allegedly present during the hunt are Castor, Jason, Nestor, Peleus and Theseus, if that helps put her awesomeness to scale. 

She was so fearsome and independent that she challenged her suitors to a race, stating she’d marry anyone who could beat her; however, those who lost she was allowed to spear down. 

Through some trickery and the help of the gods, one racer does beat her through deception and some golden apples (what’s with mythology and golden apples?!), and they are later married. 

I had never heard of Atalanta or her story before reading “Mythology,” and I am inexplicably glad I was able to stumble across this collection of goodness and wisdom. 

Found within are more heroines, love stories worthy of rekindling your hope in humanity, tragedies to tear them down again, the classics and looked-over pieces as well. If you grew up reading “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” by Rick Riordan, this is the next step for you and your edu-myth-cation. 

Schutte can be reached at [email protected]