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Oh My Gods, by Philip Freeman

Reviewed by Marguerite Johnson

Philip Freeman must be thanked for his contribution to the process of keeping the Classics alive in the modern world. His biographies of Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, for example, not only stimulate the scholar but also entice the newcomer to matters ancient. His volume of myths, Oh My Gods is another contribution to the enlivening of antiquity and like his other works this collection is a thoughtful and essentially well-written work.

There is a short Introduction (xiii-xx) that situates the project in terms of its personal and pedagogical inceptions, its historical background (from the Mycenaean era to the Imperial age), and its structure. While the staunch scholar may quibble at a few statements, overall this is a clear outline designed to assist the reader with the project at hand.

This introduction is followed by a thematic series of tales: Creation (1-12), Gods (13-67), Goddesses (68-86), Heroes (87-115), Lovers (116-35), Hercules (136-60), Oedipus (161-74), Argonauts (175-200), Troy (201-29), Mycenae (230-39), Odysseus (240-66), Aeneas (267-86), and Rome (287-95). Freeman sometimes combines a series of sources and the results are usually seamless transitions, as evidenced by his incorporation of Plato’s myth of the spherical people from the Symposium in the chapter on Creation. This keen awareness of continuity is also successfully executed in some of the chapters that pick up from where a previous one left off (the chapter on Odysseus following on from the one on Mycenae, for example). Others begin with a stark yet effective break from previous ones, such as the opening of ‘Troy’: ‘It all began with an apple.’ (the previous chapter being an account of the Argonauts).

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