The Greek Myths
The Greek Myths is a mythography
A mythographer, or a mythologist is a compiler of myths. The word derives from the Greek "μυθογραφία" , "writing of fables", from "μῦθος" , "speech, word, fact, story, narrative" + "γράφω" , "to write, to inscribe". Mythography is then the rendering of myths in the arts...

, a compendium
A compendium is a concise, yet comprehensive compilation of a body of knowledge. A compendium may summarize a larger work. In most cases the body of knowledge will concern some delimited field of human interest or endeavour , while a "universal" encyclopedia can be referred to as a compendium of...

 of Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, by the poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

 and writer
A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

 Robert Graves
Robert Graves
Robert von Ranke Graves 24 July 1895 – 7 December 1985 was an English poet, translator and novelist. During his long life he produced more than 140 works...

, normally published in two volumes.

Each myth is presented in the voice of a narrator writing under the Antonines, such as Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 or Pausanias
Pausanias (geographer)
Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece , a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical...

, with citations of the classical sources. The literary quality of these retellings is generally praised.

Each myth is followed by Graves' interpretation of its origin and significance, following his theories on a prehistoric Matriarchal religion
Matriarchal religion
The concept of a Matriarchal religion is a concept forwarded in second-wave feminism since the 1970s, based on the notion of a historical matriarchy first developed in the 19th century by J. J...

 as presented in his White Goddess
The White Goddess
The White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth is a book-length essay on the nature of poetic myth-making by author and poet Robert Graves. First published in 1948, based on earlier articles published in Wales magazine, corrected, revised and enlarged editions appeared in 1948, 1952 and 1961...

and elsewhere. These theories and his etymologies are rejected by classical scholarship. Graves dismissed such criticism, arguing that by definition classical scholars lacked "the poetic capacity to forensically examine mythology".


Graves interpreted Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 Greece as changing from a matriarchal
A matriarchy is a society in which females, especially mothers, have the central roles of political leadership and moral authority. It is also sometimes called a gynocratic or gynocentric society....

 society under the Pelasgians, to a matrilineal one, to a patriarchal one, under continual pressure from victorious Greek-speaking tribes. In the second stage, local kings came to each settlement as foreign princes, reigned by marrying the hereditary queen, who represented the Triple Goddess
Triple Goddess
The Triple Goddess is the subject of much of the writing of Robert Graves, and has been adopted by some neopagans as one of their primary deities. The term triple goddess is sometimes used outside of Neopaganism to refer to historical goddess triads and single goddesses of three forms or aspects...

, and were ritually slain by the next king after a limited period, originally six months. Kings managed to evade the sacrifice for longer and longer periods, often by sacrificing substitutes, and eventually converted the Queen, priestess of the Goddess, into a subservient and chaste wife, and in the final stage had legitimate sons to reign after them.

The Greek Myths presents the myths as stories from the ritual of all three stages, and often as historic records of the otherwise unattested struggles between the Greek Kings and the Moon-priestesses. In some cases, Graves conjectures a process of "iconotropy" or image-turning, by which a hypothetical cult image of the matriarchal or matrilineal period has been misread by later Greeks in their own terms. Thus, for example, he conjectures an image of divine twins struggling in the womb of the Horse-Goddess, which later gave rise to the Trojan Horse
Trojan Horse
The Trojan Horse is a tale from the Trojan War about the stratagem that allowed the Greeks finally to enter the city of Troy and end the conflict. In the canonical version, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside...


Pelasgian creation myth

Graves' imaginatively reconstructed "Pelasgian creation myth" features a supreme creatrix
Creator deity
A creator deity is a deity responsible for the creation of the world . In monotheism, the single God is often also the creator deity, while polytheistic traditions may or may not have creator deities...

, Eurynome
Eurynomê was the Titan goddess of water-meadows and pasturelands, and one of the elder Oceanides, that is, a daughter of Oceanus and Tethys...

, "The Goddess of All Things", who arose naked from Chaos
Chaos (cosmogony)
Chaos refers to the formless or void state preceding the creation of the universe or cosmos in the Greek creation myths, more specifically the initial "gap" created by the original separation of heaven and earth....

 to part sea from sky so that she could dance upon the waves. Catching the north wind at her back and, rubbing it between her hands, she warms the pneuma
Pneuma is an ancient Greek word for "breath," and in a religious context for "spirit" or "soul." It has various technical meanings for medical writers and philosophers of classical antiquity, particularly in regard to physiology, and is also used in Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible and in...

and spontaneously generates
Spontaneous generation
Spontaneous generation or Equivocal generation is an obsolete principle regarding the origin of life from inanimate matter, which held that this process was a commonplace and everyday occurrence, as distinguished from univocal generation, or reproduction from parent...

 the serpent Ophion
In some versions of Greek mythology, Ophion , also called Ophioneus ruled the world with Eurynome before the two of them were cast down by Cronus and Rhea.-Sources:...

, who mates with her. In the form of a dove upon the waves, she lays the Cosmic Egg
World egg
A world egg or cosmic egg is a mythological motif found in the creation myths of many cultures and civilizations. Typically, the world egg is a beginning of some sort, and the universe or some primordial being comes into existence by "hatching" from the egg, sometimes lain on the primordial waters...

 and bids Ophion to incubate it by coiling seven times around until it splits in two and hatches "all things that exist... sun, moon, planets, stars, the earth with its mountains and rivers, its trees, herbs, and living creatures".

In the soil of Arcadia
Arcadia is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the administrative region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas. In Greek mythology, it was the home of the god Pan...

, the Pelasgians would spring up from Ophion's teeth, scattered under the heel of Eurynome who kicked the serpent from their home on Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece, located on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia, about 100 kilometres away from Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city. Mount Olympus has 52 peaks. The highest peak Mytikas, meaning "nose", rises to 2,917 metres...

 for his boasts of creating all things. Thereafter, Eurynome, whose name was "wide wandering" set male and female Titans
Titan (mythology)
In Greek mythology, the Titans were a race of powerful deities, descendants of Gaia and Uranus, that ruled during the legendary Golden Age....

 for each wandering planet: Theia
In Greek mythology, Theia "goddess" or "divine" , also called Euryphaessa "wide-shining," was a Titan...

 and Hyperion
Hyperion (mythology)
Hyperion was one of the twelve Titans of Ancient Greece, the sons and daughters of Gaia and Ouranos , which were later supplanted by the Olympians. He was the brother of Cronus. He was also the lord of light, and the Titan of the east...

 for the Sun; Phoebe
Phoebe (mythology)
In Greek mythology "radiant" Phoebe , was one of the original Titans, who were one set of sons and daughters of Uranus and Gaia. She was traditionally associated with the moon , as in Michael Drayton's Endimion and Phœbe, , the first extended treatment of the Endymion myth in English...

 and Atlas
Atlas (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Atlas was the primordial Titan who supported the heavens. Although associated with various places, he became commonly identified with the Atlas Mountains in north-west Africa...

 for the Moon; Metis
Metis (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Metis was of the Titan generation and, like several primordial figures, an Oceanid, in the sense that Metis was born of Oceanus and Tethys, of an earlier age than Zeus and his siblings...

 and Coeus
In Greek mythology, Coeus was one of the Titans, the giant sons and daughters of Uranus and Gaia . His equivalent in Latin poetry—though he scarcely makes an appearance in Roman mythology— was Polus, the embodiment of the celestial axis around which the heavens revolve...

 for Mercury; Tethys
Tethys (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Tethys , daughter of Uranus and Gaia was an archaic Titaness and aquatic sea goddess, invoked in classical Greek poetry but not venerated in cult. Tethys was both sister and wife of Oceanus...

 and Oceanus
Oceanus ; , Ōkeanós) was a pseudo-geographical feature in classical antiquity, believed by the ancient Greeks and Romans to be the world-ocean, an enormous river encircling the world....

 for Venus; Dione
Dione (mythology)
Dione was a Greek goddess primarily known as the mother of Aphrodite in Book V of Homer's Iliad. Aphrodite journeys to Dione's side after she has been wounded in battle protecting her favorite son Aeneas. In this episode, Dione seems to be the equivalent of the earth goddess Gaia, whom Homer also...

 and Crius
In Greek mythology, Crius, Kreios or Krios was one of the Titans in the list given in Hesiod's Theogony, a son of Uranus and Gaia. The least individualized among them, he was overthrown in the Titanomachy. M.L...

 for Mars; Themis
Themis is an ancient Greek Titaness. She is described as "of good counsel", and is the embodiment of divine order, law, and custom. Themis means "divine law" rather than human ordinance, literally "that which is put in place", from the verb τίθημι, títhēmi, "to put"...

 and Eurymedon
Eurymedon was one of the Athenian generals during the Peloponnesian War.In 428 BC he was sent by the Athenians to intercept the Peloponnesian fleet which was on its way to attack Corcyra...

 for Jupiter; and Rhea
Rhea (mythology)
Rhea was the Titaness daughter of Uranus, the sky, and Gaia, the earth, in Greek mythology. She was known as "the mother of gods". In earlier traditions, she was strongly associated with Gaia and Cybele, the Great Goddess, and was later seen by the classical Greeks as the mother of the Olympian...

 and Cronus
In Greek mythology, Cronus or Kronos was the leader and the youngest of the first generation of Titans, divine descendants of Gaia, the earth, and Uranus, the sky...

 for Saturn.


Graves' retellings have been widely praised as imaginative and poetic, but the scholarship behind his hypotheses and conclusions is rejected as idiosyncratic and untenable.

Ted Hughes
Ted Hughes
Edward James Hughes OM , more commonly known as Ted Hughes, was an English poet and children's writer. Critics routinely rank him as one of the best poets of his generation. Hughes was British Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death.Hughes was married to American poet Sylvia Plath, from 1956 until...

 and other poets have found the system of The White Goddess congenial; The Greek Myths contains about a quarter of that system, and does not include the method of composing poetry.

But The Greek Myths has been heavily criticised both during and after the lifetime of the author. Critics have deprecated Graves' personal interpretations, which are, in the words of one of them, "either the greatest single contribution that has ever been made to the interpretation of Greek myth or else a farrago of cranky nonsense; I fear that it would be impossible to find any classical scholar who would agree with the former diagnosis."
His etymologies have been questioned, and his largely intuitive division between "true myth" and other sorts of story has been viewed as arbitrary, taking myths out of the context in which we now find them. The basic assumption that explaining mythology requires any "general hypothesis", whether Graves's or some other, has also been disputed. The work was called a compendium of misinterpretations. Robin Hard called it "comprehensive and attractively written" but added that "the interpretive notes are of value only as a guide to the author's personal mythology". Michael W. Pharand, quoting some of the earlier criticisms, rebutted, "Graves's theories and conclusions, outlandish as they seemed to his contemporaries (or may appear to us), were the result of careful observation."

H. J. Rose
H. J. Rose
Herbert Jennings Rose is remembered as the author of A Handbook of Greek Mythology, originally published in 1928, which for many years became the standard student reference book on the subject, reaching a sixth edition by 1958...

, and in this he is supported by several of the other critics cited, finds the scholarship of the retellings questionable. Graves presents The Greek Myths as an updating of William Smith
William Smith (lexicographer)
Sir William Smith Kt. was a noted English lexicographer.-Early life:Born at Enfield in 1813 of Nonconformist parents, he was originally destined for a theological career, but instead was articled to a solicitor. In his spare time he taught himself classics, and when he entered University College...

's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology is an encyclopedia/biographical dictionary.- Characteristic :...

(originally published 1844) and calls it still "the standard work in English", never brought up to date; Rose finds this deprecable, and sees no sign that Graves has heard of the Oxford Classical Dictionary
Oxford Classical Dictionary
-Overview:The Oxford Classical Dictionary is considered to be the standard one-volume encyclopaedia in English of topics relating to the Ancient World and its civilizations. It was first published in 1949, edited by Max Cary with the assistance of H. J. Rose, H. P. Harvey, and A. Souter. A...

 or any of the "various compendia of mythology, written in, or translated into our tongue since 1844." He finds many omissions and some clear errors, most seriously ascribing to Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

 the argument to his Ajax
Ajax (Sophocles)
Sophocles's Ajax is a Greek tragedy written in the 5th century BC. The date of Ajax's first performance is unknown, but most scholars regard it as an early work, circa 450 - 430 B.C....

(Graves §168.4); this evaluation has been repeated by other critics since.


  • Robert Graves, The Greek Myths. (Penguin books; 1026, 1027) 2 vols. (370, 410 p; maps; index in vol. 2) Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955 ISBN 0-14-001026-2
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