BMCR 1995.06.03

1995.06.03, Brooks, Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece

, , , , Gods and heroes of ancient Greece. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. 1 wall chart : color ; 89 x 122 cm folded to 23 x 31 cm. ISBN 9780807865002 $16.95.

This beautifully executed genealogical wall chart was originally published overseas in 1991, and is now available for the first time in the U.S. through the University of North Carolina Press. Compiled by the late Robert A. Brooks, lavishly illustrated by Patrick Kirby, and designed by Anne Taute, the chart is as decorative as it is functional. The chart provides short biographies and familial associations of more than 250 gods, demi-gods, heroes, and their various spouses, lovers, and offspring, and includes lists of the Muses, Graces, Seasons, Fates, and Pleiades. Each personage’s name is given in both English (Latinized Greek spellings) and in Greek. One legend lists symbols which serve to explicate the relationships between those profiled, indicating divine status, Olympian status, marriage, heterosexual liaison, homosexual liaison, and an asterisk indicating additional involvements elsewhere on the chart. Another legend provides short descriptions of common exploits of the heroes, identified in the chart by icons: a ship signifies the voyage of the Argonauts; a boar’s head signifies the Calydonian Boar Hunt; a brick wall denotes the war of the Seven Against Thebes and the Epigoni; two crossed clubs indicate the exploits of Heracles; and a horse represents the Trojan War and the Nostoi of the heroes. Thus, for example, the listing for Amphiaraus indicates that Eriphyle is his wife and that Alcmaeon is his son, and it begins with three icons: the ship, the boar’s head, and the brick wall. The concise entry provides the following information:

Argive seer. Took part in expedition of Argonauts and the Calydonian Boar Hunt. Persuaded by Eriphyle joined [sic] the Seven Against Thebes though he knew he and his companions would be killed.

The copious and detailed illustrations are what really distinguish the chart. Patrick Kirby has chosen 27 representations from red and black figure vases to enliven the genealogies (though the original artworks are not identified in the chart), and they are positioned as much as possible next to their appropriate entries. Red figure representations are rendered primarily in gold, while black figure scenes are rendered in black with gold and red contrasts. The wistful representation of Achilles and Ajax playing a game during a break in battle, from an amphora by Exekias, is placed near the chart entries for the two heroes. The climactic moment of the Calydonian Boar Hunt, from a scene depicted on the François vase, is positioned directly above the entries for Oeneus and Althaea. Students should enjoy identifying the sources of these figures from well-known artworks, and the combination of the verbal and visual elements in the chart should help them to identify not only the relationships between the gods and heroes, but also the fundamental connection between the myths and art itself.

I would recommend this chart to anyone who teaches mythology, enjoys mythology, or is fascinated by genealogies of the most intricate sort. Lexicon lovers will find a veritable thesaurus of arcane detail, and students of the classics and mythology alike will find the chart’s easy-to-read lineages a lifesaver when trying to figure out who begat whom. My colleague had her chart dry-mounted at a local frame shop, and it looks splendid on her office wall. I’m planning to do the same with mine, and I have ordered the chart as a supplement to my Classical Mythology course in the fall.