Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton

Back when I was in high school I loved it when we studied Greek Mythology. It’s been a while since I took the time to read any sort of mythology…that is, until recently.

I understand that this book is often required reading for many high school students as an introduction to mythology. I’m sad to say that it was never required reading for me; however, I recently had the good fortune to pick this up second hand and discovered Edith Hamilton’s Mythology for the first time.

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Edith Hamilton’s interest in the classics started at a young age. She would later study both Greek and Latin and go on to earn her Masters degree before taking a job at Bryn Mawr. Although primarily an administrator, I understand that she was also a wonderful teacher. When she retired she started writing and this is just one of the books she wrote during her retirement. This book is a collection of various stories from Greek Mythology with a very brief section at the end on Norse Mythology. It has the major epics such as the adventures of Odysseus, the fall of Troy and The Quest of the Golden Fleece as well as minor myths like Midas, even brief myths, most of which I had never heard of, in which someone often turns into something else like an insect! It really is a wonderful introduction to mythology. She provides a list of the gods with a brief bio on them; she points out early heroes; heroes of the Trojan War; love stories and minor myths.

I enjoyed reading this book. I felt like she gave me a good foundation of who the gods were, their powers and their interactions with men and women. Sadly, when a god decided to involve himself or herself into the affairs of mortals, it usually led to pain and difficulty for the mortals.

Ms. Hamilton begins each chapter by telling the reader which poet or poets created the myth. She will often use a few different sources as she retells the story. For example, part of a story may come from Apollonius, another part from Ovid and perhaps a third from Hesiod. She tells the reader which parts of the story she took from which poet. I feel like the end result was a more interesting and complete story than the original…unless of course one has time to read all of the poets mentioned!

I found it interesting the way the stories evolved. For instance, Zeus was originally a rain-god but later became a god with human form and “…protector of the weak.” Later, the Furies become the Benignant Ones. This was also done by creating an alternate ending, such as Agamemnon’s death. She tells us early on that these changes arose “…as men grow continually more conscious of what life demanded of them and what human beings needed in the god they worshipped.” As society’s views changed so did some of the stories.

The stories of Theseus and Hercules show how societies shaped their heroes. Theseus was the Athenian hero and he reflected their ideals. Athens valued intelligence and their hero was brave, compassionate and intelligent. Hercules, however, was different. He is known for his strength, but I was surprised to learn that he was all braun and no brain. Apparently most of Greece admired strength and so Hercules became a popular hero.

There were many stories that I enjoyed reading; some I found troubling and others I will not see the same way again. It was interesting to read the two creation accounts. What was interesting was just how different they were and that there were no women! Apparently Zeus created the first woman, Pandora, as “…a great evil for men…” later on. Well, that speaks volumes about how they viewed half of the human race! Besides this, I thought the story about Dionysus was both interesting and troubling. I was surprised to learn that he was a dying and rising god, but there were also some pretty terrible actions associated with the god of wine. In other stories I learned that burial rites were extremely important to the Greeks.

However, I do have a criticism for this book: the section on Norse Mythology was way too short! I loved everything I read in this section though! Ms. Hamilton chose the poems that best captured the beliefs of the Norse and this is a very different outlook on life. What I did not realize was how depressing Norse Mythology is. I did not realize that the gods lived knowing defeat was inevitable. It does not end well, and there is not much they can do about it, but they will go down fighting against evil and in the process reveal who they are by how they die. Theirs was a harsh reality in which good doesn’t necessarily conquer evil and this sentiment extends to the world of their gods as well.

Why did she include such a short section on Norse Mythology? She concludes her book by saying, “Norse Mythology and Greek Mythology together give a clear picture of what the people were like from whom comes a major part of our spiritual and intellectual inheritance.”

If your interested in reading different stories mostly from Greek Mythology then this book is a good place to start. As for me, I now want to read more about Norse Mythology.

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Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! Really, it should be Earth Day everyday! I might be biased, but then again, this is the only home we have. When thinking of Earth Day, or just trying to be more eco-minded, my focus isn’t only on what we can do to protect the environment, but it’s also about learning and realizing just how amazing nature is!

This poem by Walt Whitman seems perfect for today. It reminds us of how the earth creates beauty and life from death and decay. As he says, earth takes our “sour dead” and “It distils such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor”. She gives back life. Beautiful, nourishing and amazing. Nature “grows such sweet things out of such corruptions”.

What a chemistry, indeed!

This Compost

By Walt Whitman


Something startles me where I thought I was safest;
I withdraw from the still woods I loved;
I will not go now on the pastures to walk;
I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover the sea;
I will not touch my flesh to the earth, as to other flesh, to renew me.

O how can it be that the ground does not sicken?
How can you be alive, you growths of spring?
How can you furnish health, you blood of herbs, roots, orchards, grain?
Are they not continually putting distemper’d corpses within you?
Is not every continent work’d over and over with sour dead?

Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations;
Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat?
I do not see any of it upon you to-day or perhaps I am deceiv’d;
I will run a furrow with my plough I will press my spade through the sod, and turn it up underneath;
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.
Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form’d part of a sick person Yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noislessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings, while the she-birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch’d eggs,
The new-born of animals appear the calf is dropt from the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato’s dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk the lilacs bloom in the door-yards;
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead.
What chemistry!
That the winds are really not infectious,
That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of the sea, which is so amorous after me,
That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,
That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves in it,
That all is clean forever and forever.
That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard, and of the orange-orchard that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.
Now I am terrified at the Earth! it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas’d corpses,
It distils such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks, its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

Ocean Echoes by Sheila Hurst

I rarely win things, but when I do, they’re worth mentioning! Last November, I won a signed copy of Ocean Echoes by Sheila Hurst, author and fellow blogger. This is her debut novel and her book was a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Way to go, Sheila!

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As she watched and filmed, she felt the amazement grow within her, that amazement that came through whenever she observed life in all its forms and sizes and colors. Here is an animal hidden within the sea, pulsing with life and light. It is its own entity, yet it is part of the ocean, while all other species living within the ocean are also part of it. The ocean hummed with life. So many forms of life, so much variety, there was so much life everywhere creeping and crawling, swimming and flying. Ellen could only watch and wonder.

The story is about Ellen Upton, a marine biologist who studies Jellyfish, who needs to make a significant discovery in order to keep her funding. So, she sets out on a research cruise to the Atoll Islands to see what she can find. There, she makes an amazing discovery, but this discovery is troubling and, ultimately, leads to even more questions.

I enjoyed this book. It was well-written with some beautiful descriptions of marine life. I would describe this story as a good ocean mystery, with some history mixed in and a dash of science fiction added to get your attention. It also ties in Ellen’s own personal journey of discovery and offers a look at the life of our oceans that has me wanting to read and learn more about it.

It opens with a mystery and as the story progresses, it taps into that mix of curiosity, fear and excitement scientists must feel at possibly discovering something new.

The story seemed to really move once they set sail on the cruise ship. I liked her developing friendship with fellow scientist Michael Holbrook, and, as intellectual equals, they could really challenge one another, especially on the topic of climate change. These two characters saw climate change differently and often debated the issue.

For a while there, I thought Ellen was being illogical and irrational as she was trying to figure things out. She may have simply been overwhelmed, but it may also reflect her need to break out of her mold and open herself up to new ways of seeing the world. She did eventually see things more clearly and I liked how the scientific pieces came together along with some interesting history.

This book focuses on ocean life and there was a figurative view of the ocean portrayed. It was interesting to read about some of the local legends as well such as calling the sea turtles with song and there was a magical butterfly experience that many people would treasure. I was pretty certain that her drink was spiked in order to create such a moment, but Sheila didn’t take it in that direction. Instead, she makes way to appreciate the magic and mystery of the ocean, and with it, respect for nature. It was interesting that Ellen would come back to the song of the sea turtles and wondered if the people of the islands had more respect for nature because of their belief in the magic and mystery. It’s an interesting question and for the most part I agree. There is mystery in the vastness of the ocean and that so much is still undiscovered and unknown. And the more we learn the more in awe we are. There is also magic and mystery in the very miracle of life. Look at the ecosystems that exist and flourish without human intervention. In the book she mentioned a type of jellyfish that survives by allowing algae to live in its tentacles. Or the fact that some species of eels start out as males and later become female. Weird, yet fascinating! There is a great deal of mystery and magic in life which encourages curiosity and respect. However, sadly, this is not always the case.

The author is concerned about the state of our oceans and is doing her part to raise awareness. In her Author’s Note, at the end, she shares some headlines from 2010 (when the story takes place) that were both cause for concern and that showed hope for the future. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go towards non-profit groups working to protect the ocean and it has made me want to learn more about ocean advocacy.

Thank you, Sheila! Winning a copy of Ocean Echoes was a good thing worth mentioning. 🙂

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

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This is the first book I’ve read as part of Doing Dewey’s Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2018. This book has been on my radar for a while now and I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner.

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Have you ever had a watch that glowed in the dark? My husband tells me that he once had a compass that did. He no longer has it, but it was his father’s old Army compass. I don’t know when that compass was made, but it was probably painted in the 1920’s or 1930’s by dial-painters. These were young girls in their late teens and early twenties who painted watch dials with a luminescent paint; this paint would even cause the girls themselves to glow in the dark!

The scary thing is that the girls wanted to work as dial-painters because they wanted to glow in the dark. The job was lucrative as well as glamorous. It allowed these girls to buy not just clothes–but furs too!–and, the girls enjoyed glowing green in the dark.

However, years later, there would be a terrible cost to being exposed to this paint.

The whole problem stemmed from how they painted the watch dials. Painting the numbers on a dial required detailed work and so the girls used a method called lip-pointing. They would dip their brush in the paint, shape the brush with their mouth into a point and then paint… “lip… dip… paint.” As a result, they were slowly ingesting radium into their bodies, which would have a cumulative effect with devastating consequences.

At that time radium was considered beneficial to our health. It was a cure all for almost any ailment and there were all sorts of radium remedies available depending on the need. The average person was unaware of the hidden dangers of radium, and those who knew about it were not telling others, especially those who worked at the factory, otherwise.

This would be part of their battle years for to come: getting those who knew about the dangers of radium to speak up.

This book is powerful. It tells the story of dial–painters who suffered radium poisoning through the paint they used to paint watch dials and their battle for justice.

Kate Moore does a wonderful job of bringing these girls and their stories to life. Told from interviews with family members and various archived material, she tells their story as if it were happening now. We are introduced to the girls when they start work as dial-painters, young and full of life, and follow them from their initial stages of poor health– which started with tooth pain– through mounting medical bills, misdiagnosis, and worsening health; we also read about their attempts to fight the well-funded companies responsible and, sadly, for too many, we read about their horrible, senseless deaths.

Throughout the book I could not believe how heartless the people at the United States Radium Company and Radium Dial were. Worse yet were the doctors involved. How could these doctors see the pain and suffering of these young women and not speak up? Money. There were certain doctors involved in this fight who worked for the company– and didn’t have the girls best interests at heart. At one point they were testing the girls’ blood, however, they never shared the test results with the girls. The company was more interested in keeping the girls calm and productive than accepting any responsibility and possibly saving lives. The company doctor even went so far as to tell one woman that she didn’t have a “…single trace of radium in her body. She later died from radium poisoning.” (P. 183). It was just so wrong–they were lied to at almost every turn! And, these companies exhibited a pattern of deceitfullness from the very beginning in order to protect its profits with little regard for the sick women involved. Not only was it heartbreaking, but it should have been criminal!

The book is filled with stories showing both the dishonesty and underhandedness of the company and the strength and fortitude of these women who put up a brave fight even when the odds were against them. Margueritte Carlough, who suffered terribly before she died, used all the strength she had in her body to bring a suit against the company; others would soon follow. And, Catherine Donohue fought the company with every fiber of her being, even testifying from her couch in her home because she was so weak. These women were incredibly brave; they fought through pain and, often, terminal illness, but they were fighting for a purpose: their families and to benefit others.

These women really did not receive the justice they rightfully deserved, but because they did fight, they were instrumental in bringing attention to the dangers of radium and laws were enacted that protected future workers. In the end, their efforts did benefit others.

This book was so sad. These women fought so hard with very little support, but because of them, safety standards now exist and we have a better understanding of the effects of radium on human health. This a story that needs to be told and Kate Moore does a wonderful job of telling this story from the girl’s side. We see their pain and struggle, their fear and frustration, their perseverance and will to live both for themselves and for their families.

This is not a happy read, but in my opinion, this book is a must-read.

Les Miserables chapter-a-day Read-along: Initial thoughts

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Hello, All!

The read-along for Les Mis is going very well. I have caught up to speed and am staying on schedule. (Once I caught up, I only fell behind once). Nick @ One Catholic Life is hosting this event and his weekly posts are worth taking the time to read. I read one chapter everyday of Les Miserables and I am really enjoying the slow read. Were moving on to Book III, but I wanted to take a moment just to get some initial thoughts out about the first two books.

Just a head’s up: This post turned into an unusual one for me with lots of quotes. But, Victor Hugo’s beautiful and descriptive words compelled me to do so.

First, I enjoyed getting to know the good Bishop. It surprised me to read that he wasn’t always a priest, in fact, he married when he was young. We are told that he fled to Italy– where his wife died– at the beginning of the Revolution and that his family lost everything. We are given little insight into what happened in Italy, we are simply told that “… when he returned from Italy he was a priest.” So, something happened to him during that time.

What took place next in the fate of M. Myriel? The ruin of the French society of the olden days, the fall of his own family, the tragic spectacles of ’93, which were, perhaps, even more alarming to the emigrants who viewed them from a distance, with the magnifying powers of terror–did these cause the ideas of renunciation and solitude to germinate in him? Was he, in the midst of these distractions, these affections which absorbed his life, suddenly smitten with one of those mysterious and terrible blows which sometimes overwhelm, by striking to his heart, a man whom public catastrophes would not shake, by striking at his existence and his fortune?

Its hard to say, but he is now a man completely dedicated to helping the poor.

It seems to me that Hugo wants not only to look at society, but he also wants to look at the history and conflict of the French Revolution. This is powerfully communicated in a dialogue between the Bishop and a former member of the convention.

The conventionary says:

Louis XVII! let us see. For whom do you mourn? is it for the innocent child? very good; in that case I mourn with you. Is it for the royal child? I demand time for reflection. To me, the brother of Cartouche, an innocent child who was hung up by the armpits in the Place de Greve, until death ensued, for the sole crime of having been the brother of Cartouche, is no less pitiful than the grandson of Louis XV, an innocent child, martyred in the tower of the temple, for the sole crime of having been the grandson of Louis XV.

The conventionary later says:

You have mentioned Louis XVII to me. Let us come to an understanding. Shall we weep for all the innocent, all martyrs, all children, the lowly as well as the exalted? I agree to that. But in that case, as I have told you, we must go back further than ’93, and our tears must begin before Louis XVII. I will weep with you over the children of kings, provided that you will weep with me over the children of the people.

And still later:

Sir, sir, I am sorry for Marie Antoinette, archduchess and queen; but I am also sorry for that poor Huguenot woman, who, in 1685, under Louis the Great, sir, while with a nursing infant, was bound, naked to the wrist, to a stake, and the child kept at a distance; her breast swelled with milk and her heart with anguish; the little one, hungry and pale, beheld that breast and cried and agonized; the executioner said to the woman, a mother and a nurse, ‘Abjure!’ giving her her choice between the death of her infant and the death of her conscience.

This is a powerful chapter whose focus seems to be on providing justification for the French Revolution. Were these Hugo’s thoughts as well? He changed his political views several times, but I’m thinking, that Hugo’s views are expressed by this conventionary. Interestingly, the Bishop left the conventionary seeing things differently than when he first arrived because of this conversation. I think this chapter serves to give us a glimpse of the harsh and oppressive world that existed prior to the French Revolution and, in doing so, to justify the Revolution. However, it doesn’t appear that society was any less severe post-revolution and it is into this world that the bishop returns. What caused Monsier Muriel to become an advocate for the poor? There had to become something that he saw or experienced or, perhaps, both. Whatever it was, his society was broken and he gave himself to support the people, specifically the poor, and to be a positive instrument for change in his own way.

And, the good Bishop continues his support for the poor and the outcast. When we meet Jean Valjean he has spent 19 years in prison. He was sent to prison for stealing bread to feed his starving family. Many years were added to his sentence for repeated attempts to escape and we read how prison changes a man and for the worse.

The peculiarity of pains of this nature, in which that which is pitiless–that is to say, that which is brutalizing–predominates, is to transform a man, little by little, by a sort of stupid transfiguration, into a wild beast; sometimes into a ferocious beast.

He goes on to say:

Jean Valjean’s successive and obstinate attempts at escape would alone suffice to prove this strange working of the law upon the human soul. Jean Valjean would have renewed these attempts, utterly useless and foolish as they were, as often as the opportunity had presented itself, without reflecting for an instant on the result, nor on the experiences which he had already gone through. He escaped impetuously, like the wolf who finds his cage open. Instinct said to him, “Flee!” Reason would have said, “Remain!” But in the presence of so violent a temptation, reason vanished; nothing remained but instinct. The beast acted alone. When he was recaptured, the fresh severities inflicted on him only served to render him still more wild.

And, had it not been for the Bishop’s intervention, he would have returned to prison. In an act of mercy and love, he frees him and sends him off with these words:

Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.

Powerful words. Words of support. Words of hope.

What the Bishop gives Jean Valjean extends beyond the value of silver. He saw past the wild beast driven by instinct, to the man inside, and gave him freedom and hope for a better life.

Does the Bishop represent the love and mercy of Christ? Expressed through an uncorrupt priest, serving the people with a right heart? Probably. But, does he not also represent the difference one person can make in someone’s life? Sometimes all it takes is one person, one kind word, one word of encouragement that helps us to see that we are more than our present situation dictates.

I don’t know if we will see this Bishop again as the story continues, but, I’m sure his influence will remain, beautiful and radiant, in Jean Valjean. Is the message of love, mercy and hope a key point in this book? Time will tell…and I’m reading slowly, taking in as much as I can.

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My edition is

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Barnes and Noble 2017 collectible edition by Sterling Publishing Co.

Les Miserables Chapter-a-Day Read-along Sign Up Post

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Hello, Book Lovers!

I only recently found out about a wonderful read-along that is taking place when I read Ottavia’s sign up post for this event. Nick @ One Catholic Life is hosting a year long read-along of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. The goal is to read one chapter a day for a whole year; read it slowly and absorb as much as possible from this book. I’m late in finding out about it and late in signing up for this event, so I’m a bit behind schedule, but since they are reading one chapter a day, I should be able to catch up quickly.

If your interested in participating, hop on over to Nick’s blog to sign up. He has a link to the schedule in his post as well that you can check out. He also has some interesting weekly posts which you may enjoy reading even if your not participating.

The reason I want to participate so late in this read-along is because I got this book for Christmas as a gift from my Dad. He told me before Christmas that he got me something that was on his father’s bookshelves while he was growing up. It was this book.

At first, I wasn’t sure when I would start reading this book. It’s so huge! This book would definitely require a commitment. Then, I found out about this read-along. Serendipity!

My grandfather loved to read and was very intelligent. My dad tells me that he loved big, thick books (this certainly fits the bill) and he loved reading about history. Sadly, while I was growing up, my grandfather was often sick. I never had a chance to discuss books with him. This book now has a sweet connection for me to my grandfather–and my Dad, too– and will be a special addition to my library. When I told my Dad that I was going to read this book slowly, over the course of the year, he smiled and was pleased. I am going to embrace this slow reading and remember my grandfather and appreciate my Dad as I do.

I have never read this book before. I have only seen the musical version a few years ago with Hugh Jackman–which I loved! I am looking forward to reading this slowly, to absorb all the humanity, philosophy and poetry which I understand run strongly throughout the novel.

I will be reading the Barnes & Noble 2017 Hardback edition by Sterling Publishing Co.

This read-along, with the discussions and Nick’s weekly posts seem like they would only add to my reading experience of Les Miserables. So, I’m looking forward to participating…now I just have to catch up!

An American Family by Khizr Khan

An inspiring story and a definite must read.

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There is more to this man and this family than what unfolded after the 2016 DNC speech. In this book, we learn more about Mr. Khan, his upbringing, and how and why he came to America. This is his story.

It started with our Declaration of Independence which inspired him as a young college student. Then, he had the good fortune to work with warm and generous American co-workers who represented the best of American values to him. American values that he felt were shaped by a country who valued equality; a country whose people created and held to the ideals of a document such as our Declaration of Independence.  It was because of these people that he decided to pursue his higher education in America–at Harvard! Impressive.

His story details the journey from Pakistani immigrant to American citizen.  It is a story of hard work, to provide for his family, and sacrifice to earn his Harvard degree. Not only his sacrifice, but, Mrs. Khan’s as well. I found myself wishing I could hear from Ghazala. I would love to read her story. She has a rich family history and I would like to know more about her upbringing and what drew her to Khizr Khan. She is an intelligent and educated woman, what sacrifices did she make for her family and for her husband, so he could further his education? She may choose to guard her privacy, which I understand, but, I believe her voice would be heard and if she ever chose to share her story, I’m sure many, myself included, would love to read about it.

This is not a political book, this is a memoir, as the subtitle states “…Of Hope And Sacrifice” and their sacrifices extend beyond an education. We all remember that their son, Captain Humayun Khan, sacrificed his life to save others. They are a Gold Star family…  “An American Family”.

I didn’t share too many details of his story because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read this book yet, but it’s a story worth taking the time to read. For Khizr Khan, America is not just a land of opportunity, it is a land of freedom and equality because of our laws–laws based on our Constitution, which he holds in high esteem.

I found this book to be an emotional and inspirational read and it has moved me to set a personal challenge for myself to read more Immigrant Experience Literature in 2018.