Post 51: Myths and History of Ancient Greece

My last attempt to familiarize myself with Greek myths didn’t go too well. Robert Grave’s book on the topic was written in a rather affected style and contained interpretations and footnotes that could best be described as a bit mental. After a bit of a break, I recently made a new attempt with Paul Vincent’s Myths and History of Greece and Rome podcast.

It’s not a bad idea for a topic, and I can picture a series that works to tell the stories dramatically while dropping out now and then to explain them. How should we interpret these myths? How do they relate to other aspects of ancient Greek culture? How did they change over time? What impact have they had since? It would be fascinating to hear answers to these, preferably while staying well away from Robert Grave’s mushroom hallucination trip. It was disappointing then to find this series a bit ‘no thrills’.

Vincent simply tells the stories without any reference to wider scholarship. This could still work with a better delivery, but I think this to be quite stripped down as well. He is clear, upbeat and very occasionally drops in a change of tone – but it’s all delivered in a breathless rush and, for me, that tone never quite strikes the required level of humour or drama. The structure is vaguely chronological but again I find problems here, there are no clear breaks before, during or after episodes. These problems may work themselves out as the presenter gains more experience – they often seem to – but the style would still be a very straight forward telling of the stories.

By now, the new episodes are on Roman history. Quite a brave topic for a show, given the huge success of Mike Duncan’s podcast, but again the again the story is rushed through relatively quickly with few flourishes. That brevity does mark it out as quite a different podcast and indeed it does stand out as different from many of the History of X-style shows, but that difference isn’t necessarily a positive for me. I’d prefer a bit more time to digest things and immerse myself in the world.

Paul Vincent also produces a podcast series on the Arthurian legends, as well as occasional pieces for the History Podcasters website. Unfortunately, I don’t think his style is quite what I’m looking for and so my (rather half-hearted, tbf) search for a good, general representation of the Greek myths will continue.

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