There are few lessons from my school days that I remember with as much pleasure as when I first learned about Greco-Roman mythology. They held much of the same charm as the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales I had previously enjoyed: frightening monsters, unlikely heroes, and lessons packaged in compelling and memorable ways.
But there was something that set the myths apart from the tales: people believed in them. They didn’t just recount the stories to entertain or to instruct. They actually sacrificed cattle to appease angry gods and built temples to worship them. While I did not share their belief, my own religious devotions at the time helped me appreciate the import these stories had for a part of the world at a specific time.
Not only that, but the imagery developed in the myths were pleasurable to savor: ruby red pomegranate seeds; the silhouette of a winged boy soaring towards the fiery sun; gorgons with their reptilian hair; fleet ships; the wine dark sea; slavering maws of monsters; intricately detailed shields; finely honed bodies; and narcissi nodding over mirror-like ponds.