Mythology is that realm of literature where flights of fancy take on a whole new level. Greek mythology is no exception. Teeming with gods, demi-gods, nymphs, sirens, monsters and heroes, it’s as enthralling as any modern-day fantasy fiction, if not more. It’s what we call ‘mythological fiction’.
There have been several western scholars who have ‘explained’ Hindu mythology, but hardly any Indian scholars who have attempted to explore–let alone explain–western mythologies. While Devdutt Pattanaik isn’t a scholar, he has dabbled extensively in mythology. Having written several retellings of Hindu epics, Pattanaik has now attempted an Indian retelling of Greek myths. Olympus offers an Indian perspective to understanding Grecian culture, rather than Greek mythology in isolation.
From the author’s notes to the epilogue and everything in between, Olympus has a wealth of cultural, philosophical, and of course, mythological knowledge for the reader. Pattanaik has the reader hooked right from the prologue. It opens with the legendary Greek King Alexander meeting an ascetic in ancient India. The ascetic asks Alexander of the land he hails from and its tales. The entire book is the resulting narration by Alexander.
The book itself is segregated into chapters dedicated to the stories of various Greek gods–Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo, Dionysus and many more. The stories not only tell the tales of the birth of these gods, but also of Grecian beliefs regarding intelligence, justice, fertility, worship, fate, and time among others.
Pattanaik ensures his reader feeds on profound food for thought, sometimes by drawing analogies between Greek and Hindu myths, and at other times by contextualising the stories with the Grecian worldview.
While Pattanaik’s take on these stories is certainly fascinating, the stories themselves might not be suitable across age demographics. Anyone who’s read the Greek mythology would know that the references are often explicit. Though the title of the book says ‘An Indian retelling of the Greek Myths‘, it’s certainly not censored for the conservative Indian reader.
However, beneath all the explicit references in these stories, there are several underlying philosophical and cultural themes. Pattanaik ensures his reader feeds on profound food for thought, sometimes by drawing analogies between Greek and Hindu myths, and at other times by contextualising the stories with the Grecian worldview. He does this using bullet points at the end of each story; they’re hard to miss and the reader is bound to extract deep knowledge from these fantastical stories.
One of the stories is regarding the concept of the three worlds. According to a Greek myth, the three brothers Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades–sitting atop Mount Olympus–divided the cosmos between them. With that, Zeus became the ruler of the sky, Poseidon of the sea, and Hades of the underworld. Pattanaik draws a parallel between this concept in Greek and Hindu mythologies. He points out the puranas too speak of the earth (Bhuloka of the mortals), the heaven (Swargaloka of the gods), and the subterranean realm (Patalaloka of the demons). He also notes that Mount Olympus serves as the central axis of the world in Greek mythology, just as Mount Meru or Mount Kailasa does in Hindu mythology.
This way, Pattanaik offers a fascinating glance at the Grecian culture and philosophy through his take on Greek myths. By bringing Alexander into the picture, Pattanaik manages to grab the attention of the average Indian reader. After all, Alexander is a Greek hero many have read about. Moreover, using comparisons with Hindu mythology, Pattanaik makes Greek myths palpable for the reader. Olympus not only makes for an interesting read, but it is also educative for anyone who enjoys mythological stories.