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The New YorkerYou wait thousands of years for a family tree of all the Greek gods, and then two come along at once. The first, A Genealogical Chart of Greek Mythology, began in 1964 as the hobby of the late Harold Newman and was recently completed by Jon O. Newman, his son. An enterprise of Daedalian complexity, the complete chart spreads along seventy-two huge pages and contains 3,673 mythological figures, all interrelated and ultimately descended from Chaos, a primal force mentioned by Hesiod who is the great-great-grandparent of Zeus. The sexual activity of classical deities does not lend itself to neat tabulation; Zeus and Apollo, notoriously promiscuous, appear with alarming frequency. Undeterred, the Newmans (both lawyers) list alternate kinships in the index and maintain that there is a "high degree of generational consistency," so that, for instance, many of the participants in the Trojan War seem to be "within just two generations of each other."
A less forbidding version appears next month in the form of The Genealogy of Greek Mythology, by Vanessa James (Gotham). James eliminates some of the more arcane characters and includes illustrations and short explanatory paragraphs alongside the names. Printed on one long concertinalike page, the table can be read like a book or unfolded into a seventeen-foot-long frieze -- gods on one side, mortals on the other. Simplification has its benefits; the knotty ways of Greek heredity can ensnare even the most organized mind. As James comments with tactful understatement, "The Greek practice of marrying nieces to their uncles further confuses strict distinctions between generations."( Leo Carey)