Greek mythology, while a fascinating subject, can also be pretty complicated. Since many of the stories were orally dictated thousands of years ago, it can be confusing to remember which god or goddess did what and which mortals' lives were ruined in the process. Liv Albert, host of the podcast Let's Talk About Myths, Baby!, is looking to boil it all down in her debut book, Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook, which serves as an introductory guide to this ancient world for a modern audience.
Though it may seem like these stories about deities from long ago might not be relevant today, many modern versions of these myths have gained popularity over the past decade, including Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson book series and Madeline Miller's New York Times bestselling books Song of Achilles and Circe. Even Rachel Smythe's webtoon series Lore Olympus has generated a large cult following and will be made into a book soon.
But Albert isn't putting a new, fantastical spin on the material—instead, she's taking what we know about these myths and is concentrating on contextualizing them for today's audiences. "People are coming at [these myths] in so many different ways and so many different places that I think it's important to have a resource out there that isn't fictionalized," Albert tells Mental Floss.
For Greek Mythology, Albert hand-selected standout stories for each of the characters to give more insight into who they were. Even though there were always only 12 Olympians, this book covers over 60 top personas from ancient Greek mythology. Of course, the Olympians have their own section, but the largest section covers all the heroes and mortals the gods, goddesses, and deities interacted with. Characters like Heracles, better known by his Roman name Hercules, and Perseus are featured alongside lesser-known figures like Atalanta and Phaethon, so they all get their time in the sun to reveal stories many might've forgotten over the centuries.
Since there are so many versions of these stories, Albert compares and contrasts these different interpretations to show how characters can be seen in multiple lights, while never ignoring the problematic aspects of the past. Chief among these parts are the issues of misogyny and sexual assault, which were usually glossed over in many earlier interpretations of Greek myth. This is especially true when it comes to Zeus, king of the gods, who was potentially the worst offender.
"The [myths] that have survived the test of time were written down by men who existed in a patriarchy where women were property. And so they are told like that. The women are property [and they] were 'carried off,' and that was it. Meanwhile, it's like, 'No, she was fully abducted,'" Albert says.
But Albert notes that viewing myths through a contemporary lens can actually empower characters beyond the problematic parts of their story. She cites the story of Hades abducting Persephone as a prime example. "Ultimately how [Persephone] got [to the Underworld] is tragic, but she really took on her role and was like, 'No, if I've got to be this goddess is in the underworld, I'm going to be the dread goddess Persephone, and I'm going to be more powerful than my husband,'" Albert says.
To punctuate the grandeur of these Greek myths, the book features illustrations by award-winning artist Sara Richard, who brilliantly reimagined the characters. "Not only is [Richard] so talented, but I do love that [the illustrations are] so stylized and creepy and weird, and they're not at all traditional. They're very unique, and I couldn't love them more," Albert says.
For her podcast fans, Albert is most excited for them to see the illustrations, especially of characters that have become well-known in the podcast, like Medea, Circe, and Medusa. "[These characters] are really sort of misunderstood in terms of reception of them," Albert says, "I told the story of Medusa very specifically because there's this really bizarre showing of people who refuse to believe certain versions of her and stand by it in a really, almost the vitriolic way on the internet." In the book, Albert describes a side of Medusa that is sympathetic, not monstrous. And in a way, it's a microcosm of what the entire book aims to do with these centuries-old tales.
Liv Albert's book Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes is now available to purchase on Amazon.