This essay first appeared in the September 2023 issue of Choice (volume 61 | issue 1)
From centaurs in the Harry Potter series to modern retellings of Homeric stories, myths continue to fascinate, serving as a vehicle for artistic creation. Approachable and compelling on many levels—to audiences ranging from the child fascinated with stories of Hercules to the theorist delving into the origins and meaning of sometimes bizarre stories—mythology is probably the best known and most loved of all areas of Greek and Roman antiquity. Additionally, more than any other field in classical antiquity, mythology has presented itself afresh in artistic renditions including novels, paintings, operas, movies, and even comics.
As one would expect, there is an array of printed and digital sources on the topic. On the scholarly level, researchers continue to try to formulate theories of how and why myths developed, an attempt that goes at least as far back as Euhemerus in the third century BCE. Developing theories of myth became especially popular starting in the nineteenth century, when research into myth and folklore began to be better appreciated. In trying to find the roots of myths, scholars continue to look for links between myths of the Greeks and Romans and those of neighboring regions, especially the Near East. Researchers also try to evaluate what myths would have meant to those who told and heard them and to examine retellings of myths in visual and theatrical forms. Myth, as both an object of study and an area of creativity, also helps shape and give voice to contemporary cultural opinions and values. Like other fields, classics has continued the trend begun in the twentieth century of giving greater attention to those whose voices have been silent or underrepresented in the past. Accordingly, there are many studies of women in myths and an increasing number of works that give attention to nontraditional views of gender and sexuality. This trend toward diversity applies to creative works relating to mythology during the twenty-first century, as is evidenced by numerous contemporary novels.
Focusing on books but also including materials born digital, this essay assesses the most important works connected with classical mythology. Journal articles and book chapters are mentioned (and footnoted) only in passing. All the titles considered are available in English, and almost all have been published since the year 2000. Because of the great number of sources, this essay does not treat topics on classical literature as such, though it does include important new translations of authors associated closely with mythology. (These are listed in the works cited under primary resources.). Also avoided are works dealing strictly with Greek and Roman religion. There will of course be some overlap, since there is a close connection between myth and religion. Our selection of sources is intended for a variety of readers. In keeping with Choice’s mission and audience, the likely readers for this essay will be librarians who want to ensure coverage of this important and popular topic. But this guide will also interest scholars and general readers. When context does not suggest the audience for a particular resource, guidance is provided.
Scott Goins, PhD, is the director of the Honors College and professor of classics at McNeese State University. His research specialties include epic, tragedy, and late antiquity. He has published on Boethius, Virgil, and several other authors.
Barbara H. Wyman, MA., MFA., is associate director of the Honors College and assistant professor of classics at McNeese State University. She, along with colleague Scott Goins, is co-translator/editor of the “Ignatius Critical Editions” of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. She has published on George Herbert, John Henry Newman, and Thomas More. Her special area of research is form and theory of poetry, especially translation theory.