Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Wisdom of the Myths

Wisdom from the Myths: How Greek Mythology Can Change Your Life
© 2014 Luc Ferry
416 pages

Well over a year or so ago, in a mood to read about the classical tradition, I happened upon Wisdom from the Myths: How Greek Mythology Can Save Your Life. Well, that seemed serendipitous, to say the least, despite the fact that the last time I read Ferry he was rather underwhelming.  That mood passed, but it's come round again, and so this weekend I enjoyed Ferry's introduction to the Greek mythos. Wisdom from the Myths is two things;  Ferry retells the major stories of Greek mythology, patching them together from Homer and the dramatists, but brings them together to argue that they constitute a coherent worldview.  This is one of an orderly  universe in which man has a definite role as a member of a polis. (Odysseus' journey is read then as a spiritual one, with the hero confronting the death of his identity when tempted by Calypso. He may remain with her as an immortal, but in so doing would destroy every aspect of what makes him human -- his identity as a father, a son, a husband, a king...a mortal, whose glory is in living well in the face of death.) The cosmos' order is nearly self-correcting in that most negative behavior results in self-destruction, though it does seem to require the occasional hand from Zeus through his agents, Heracles and those who are aware of this unitive order.  As in A Brief History of Thought, Ferry turns again and again to Stoicism, which he views as the fulfillment of this worldview.  Ferry is not a Stoic, but quite sympathetic. He's unusual in that he champions a secular worldview but takes mythology and philosophy seriously, as more than just-so stories and naval-gazing.  He manages to go almost the entire book without overly arcane references, a triumph for an academic.   I enjoyed this far more than A Brief History of Thought, at least as a recap of Greek mythology with a Stoic bent, but the title is overblown.


  1. I can strongly recommend: A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong (FP: 2005). I picked it up in hardback when it came out and still remember it as being very good indeed.

    ISBN 1 84195 644 9

  2. Ooh! my university library carries that. It'll be May, though...April will be exclusively England's.

  3. Thanks for highlighting this title; ancient myths constantly remind me that those folks were so much wiser than me.

    All the best from R.T. (Tim) at new address:


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