I remember being into Greek mythology when I was in junior high school and reading Iliad and Odyssey with great enthusiasm.
I can't really point the finger at what fascinated me back then. Was it the incredible stories, the depth of the characters, or maybe the bravery of heroes confronting their constant fear of divine wrath?
Almost three decades later, I rediscovered with an adult perspective a narrative universe that has mesmerized people for millennia. I believe I understand better my early fascination. The myths are not about gods and heroes. They are about us, our desires, flaws, and the fragility of our lives.
Mythos, Stephen Fry
As a comedian and witty commentator with an unparalleled breadth of knowledge and command of the English language, Stephen Fry needs no introduction.
Not surprisingly, he happens to be a talented author with exquisite style.
An avid defender of freedom of Speech, Fry is an atheist and considers himself an empiricist. Empiricism is the idea that what we can know about the world is bonded to what we can observe. We sometimes see patterns within our observations and derive hypotheses that help us describe and, hopefully, predict natural phenomena. Empiricism is also about accepting that reason alone cannot explain everything; there are many things that we can predict with incredible accuracy but which still elude explanation.
So how can an empiricist like Fry explain his devotion to Greek mythology?
Because myths are narrative metaphors that teach us about human nature. They show us who we are at our worst and how we can be at our best.
Midas teaches us about the unintended consequences of our decisions;
Sisyphus's story is a masterclass in hubris, vanity, and the meaningless arrogance of believing that one can escape fate;
Prometheus' punishment is a symbol of the price of free will.
Speaking of metaphors, Greek gods are metaphorical archetypes.
They are not the perfect, idealized, all-powerful beings one can find in Judeo-Christian religions. They are divinely flawed and profoundly human, which makes them relatable. By any standard, they are a bunch of a**holes. Loudly proud, petty, envious, unreasonably vengeful, and with a very nasty sense of humor, they painstakingly render our lives miserable and futile.
I guess that is one important lesson we can learn from Greek mythology; we may have free will, be decent people and work hard toward happiness, we will always be at the mercy of selfish gods (misfortune) and their agenda (entropy).
Fry's enthusiasm is palpable in his prose and will put a smile on your face.