Stephen Fry revisits the world of the Ancient Greeks in Heroes

by Lauren Buckeridge / 21 January, 2019
Stephen Fry. Photo/Alamy

Stephen Fry. Photo/Alamy

RelatedArticlesModule - Stephen Fry heroes book review

In his delightful way, Stephen Fry dips back into the ancient world with more stories of tests, quests and feats of old.

The Greeks are up to their old tricks again: “If they weren’t casseroling their children they were sacrificing them; while those who made it to adulthood, if they weren’t committing incest with their parents were murdering them.” Stephen Fry revisits the Ancient Greeks in Heroes, a companion to his best-selling Mythos. In his delightful manner, Fry tells of the tests, quests and feats of famous Greek heroes and the Gods who meddle in their fates – particularly the scorned Hera in revenge against philandering hubby-brother Zeus.

Much of Heroes is dedicated to the poster-boy Heracles (Romanised as Hercules) and his Twelve muscle-flexing Labours. Perseus, whose bloodline gave Persia its name, is also widely covered, being both the great-grandfather and half-brother of Heracles. Fry rejoices in the many adventures of Jason and his Argonauts on the quest to capture the Golden Fleece. There’s also self-made hero Theseus, who created his own labours, and Oedipus, too, has his tragic tale recounted.

Fry also draws attention to lesser-known heroes, such as Bellerophon, son of Poseidon, and his obsession with the winged-horse Pegasus, and Orpheus, “Mozart of the ancient world”, with his lyre. There’s also Atalanta, raised by bears and unmatched in speed and hunting, the Amazons and their unfortunate end and the intolerable Medea.

Fry frequently refers to Mythos in the footnotes and declares in the foreword that it isn’t necessary to have read the first volume to understand the second, although the reader would benefit from a contextual understanding of the cosmos. As with Mythos, the endless names and places can be overwhelming, especially as many Greek names look alike. Fry understands. “A lot of names will come at you now. I am aware of how complicated and forgettable such divagations into the family tree may be.” The non-linear timeline can also make comprehension tricky, as events overlap and weave through multiple storylines. Fry warns, “Don’t think too hard about timelines and the relative ages of Theseus and Heracles or we’ll all go mad.”

There are illustrative plates, but unique to Heroes are the references to works by playwrights Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles and Apollonius Rhodius, as well as lost texts. At the end, Fry alludes to a further instalment, so we can expect to meet figures from the Trojan War and the Odyssey soon.

HEROES: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures, by Stephen Fry (Penguin Random House, $37)

This article was first published in the January 12, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the age of the machine?
102434 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the…

by Jenny Nicholls

Complacently relying on algorithms can lead us over a cliff – literally, in the case of car navigation systems.

Read more
IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computing
102458 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computin…

by Peter Griffin

The Q System One, as IBM calls it, doesn’t look like any conventional computer and it certainly doesn’t act like one.

Read more
James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth gap
102456 2019-02-15 14:54:45Z Politics

James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth…

by RNZ

The week before a major tax report is released, Green Party co-leader James Shaw has again challenged his government partners to back the tax.

Read more
Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma Chand
102448 2019-02-15 10:28:12Z Crime

Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma…

by Anneke Smith

Arishma Chand was just 24 when she was murdered.

Read more
Top wine picks from Central Otago
102233 2019-02-15 00:00:00Z Wine

Top wine picks from Central Otago

by Michael Cooper

Tucked into small corners, Central Otago vineyards offer nuggets worth digging for. Wine critic Michael Coopers offers his top picks.

Read more
Ivanka and her tower of crumbs
102404 2019-02-14 10:33:12Z Arts

Ivanka and her tower of crumbs

by Preminda Jacob

For two hours each evening, an Ivanka Trump lookalike has been vacuuming a hot pink carpet at the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Read more
Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing to keep up
102393 2019-02-14 09:52:16Z Social issues

Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing…

by The Listener

The introduction of a free youth mental-health pilot for Porirua, and later the wider region, is welcome news, but it's far too little, far too late.

Read more
Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensive crouch
102387 2019-02-14 09:21:07Z Politics

Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensiv…

by Guyon Espiner

For a government promising 'a year of delivery' it has begun in something of a defensive crouch.

Read more