Rachael Wass

Stephen Fry’s ‘Mythos’

Across three nights, a single studded leather armchair sits centre-stage encircled by five draping panels illuminated with the word ‘Mythos’.

Mythos: A myth or mythology.

Myth: A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people.

Mythos: A Trilogy suggests a marathon of stories that span the entirety of Ancient Greek history, and what do the world’s greatest stories need? One of the world’s greatest story tellers.

Esteemed storyteller and presenter, Stephen Fry is the genius behind the stage show based on his 2017 book Mythos – The Greek Myths Retold: a Sunday Times bestseller that reimagines classical tales of gods, heroes and men.

The retelling of the mythologies that shaped the earth’s early society is key to understanding them. Goodness knows how many myths and legends I’ve read and forgotten about because they simply didn’t appear accessible or memorable. Yet, with Fry sat comfortably on stage, full of the intrigue he held when he was eight years old and reading the stories for the first time, every member of the audience was filled with child-like awe and paid utmost attention to Fry, the very legend himself.

Fry commences Heroes, the second evening of three, with Zeus and Hera: the linchpins of Greek mythology where every great story starts. And rightly so, since Fry guides the audience through mythological history, blending the stories and characters so they become inseparably entwined. He presents each new myth in response to the previous one, creating a community of gods and heroes that finally become understandable in their context.

Audience members are led through the stories of Perseus, Medusa, Pegasus, Andromeda, Atlas, Theseus, Icarus and Heracles: all names, which two days ago, I would have been unable to tell you of their importance in Greek mythology. Yet now I can safely say I know their origins, purpose and even this very impressive party fact:

Heracles was born a demi-god to Zeus and Alcmene, alongside his mortal twin brother Iphicles, and taken up to Zeus’ wife, Hera, in the hope that her goddess breast milk would make him an even stronger demi-god. However, Heracles’ aggressive bite on Hera’s breast, caused her to throw him off her chest and spray her breast milk into the sky in the process. The droplets of milk materialised into stars and thus became the origins of the milky way.

Yes, this appears a rather tenuous connection until it is explained by Fry that the Greek word for milk is ‘gala’ and its main form, in the term ‘galactis’, is also the etymological foundation for the astronomical term ‘galaxy’.

A stellar fact, right?

Other etymological facts suitable for impressing your pals were scattered throughout the show, most heavily in a section of ‘Mythical Pursuit’ named “Lexis”. Fry revealed the genesis of many words – including one which encompasses his unwavering attitude present across the two and a half hours he spent on stage. Fry manifested enthusiasm: an English phrase meaning “intense and eager enjoyment” yet derived from the Greek ‘entheos’ meaning “possessed by a god with poetic frenzy”.

With British accents attributed to each god and brief personal interactions with the audience, Fry crafts Mythos into an intimate environment in which complex mythology is translated into real-life circumstances. The trilogy is an intense crash course in the understanding of ancient history, especially for those who wouldn’t normally be exposed to such knowledge, making a subject often viewed as high-brow, accessible to the public.

However, for the sake of my student peers who longed to see the show, I just wish that the ticket price bracket was a bit more accessible too.

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