Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
That Greco-Roman mythology should shape a contemporary novel is hardly unusual, but the way this breath-takingly ambitious work shapes--and reshapes--classical mythology is remarkable indeed. Calasso, publisher of the intellectual Milanese house Adelphi, revisits the theogonies set forth by Hesiod, Homer, Ovid et al. and then recasts them for a postmodern audience. Gods and men enact the cosmic mysteries as the narrator comments aphoristically on the progress of ancient and divine history (``With time, men and gods would develop a common language made up of hierogamy and sacrifice . . . . And, when it became a dead language, people started talking about mythology''). Calasso presents the abduction of Europa by a bull, analyzes the Trojan war, discusses the meaning of the word ``tragedy'' and charts the fall of classical Athens. Into this elegant chronology he also interpolates quotations from and allusions to a pantheon of classical writers, in the same weightless manner in which those writers made use of standard formulaic tropes; he extends his territory by planting modern points of reference (``Jason would have preferred to live a bourgeois life at home, just as Nietzsche would have preferred to be a professor in Basel, rather than God''). Readers who don't know their Theseus from their Thyestes shouldn't be discouraged--Calasso's work bridges the perceived distance from the origins of Western culture. Illustrations not seen by PW. BOMC alternate. (Mar.)
A reconsideration and recombination of Greek mythology, this scholarly tome--which is being billed as both fiction and mythology by the publisher--reaches back extensively through the works of Plutarch, Ovid, Homer, and Plato, to name only a few of the classical writers referenced here. This interweaving of gods and goddesses and of their actions moves back and forth in time, with many comments from Calasso about both the action and its interpretation by scholars. The storytelling style is interesting, but novices of Greek mythology will soon find themselves awash in names and places and activities that are exceedingly difficult to keep straight. An extensive ``family tree'' of characters, an index, and even chapter titles, none of which are included, would have served as useful guideposts. Students of Greek mythology will be intrigued. Primarily for academic collections.-- Olivia Opello, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
A stunning journey back to ancient Greece with Italian author Calasso, who, in a first US publication, takes apart the old myths to discover the birth of history and modern thinking amid timeless patterns of behavior. Ranging as widely as one of the peripatetic Olympian gods he describes, Calasso moves effortlessly between the legends and the poets and writerslike Homer, Ovid, and Sophocleswho gave their own spin to the old stories. He begins with the rape of Europa, and ends with the marriage of Cadmus to Harmony. The first story reveals the Olympians under Zeus, already withdrawing from the world, manifesting themselves only in forcible interventions like rape; the last marks the final occasion when the gods and men had "been on familiar terms; after that remote time, to invite the gods to one's house became the most dangerous thing one could do, a sign of the now irretrievable malaise between heaven and earth." As Calasso recounts the classic stories in between these two events, he not only divides the relationship between man and the gods into three stagesthe third being the modern one of mutual indifferencebut also gives accessible lessons on ancient history, religion, and philosophy. Central to the narrative is the death of Odysseus, which ends the "long chain of stories that predate history. After Odysseus, our life without heroes begins; stories are no longer exemplary but are repeated and recounted. What happens is mere history." Action, the hurly-burly of man encountering gods in extraordinary ways and stranger places, is ended with Cadmus' gift of the alphabet to the Greeks. Henceforth, religionthe gods"will be experienced in the silenceof the mind, no longer in the full and normal presence." But the meanings of the myths linger ona myth, Calasso asserts, "is the precedent behind every action, its invisible, ever-present lining." Here, the past not only comes vibrantly alive but connects to the present in a virtuoso display of scholarship and insight. A remarkable feat.
From the Publisher
"The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmonyerudite, clear, amusing, beautifully writtenis essential reading." The Globe and Mail
"Extraordinary...learned but also daring...brilliant, dazzling to read, a labyrinth lit by fire." The New York Times Review of Books
"Beautifully written...Calasso reminds us with eloquence that, in this terrible world, we will come closer to perfection by knowing how to meditate on the calamity of our nature than we will by denying it." The Toronto Star