Presenting the stories of Zeus and Europa, Theseus and Ariadne, the birth of Athens and the fall of Troy, in all their variants, Calasso also uncovers the distant origins of secrets and tragedy, virginity, and rape. "A perfect work like no other. (Calasso) has re-created . . . the morning of our world."--Gore Vidal. 15 engravings.
That Greco-Roman mythology should shape a contemporary novel is hardly unusual, but the way this breath-takingly ambitious work shapes--and reshapes--classical mythology is remarkable indeed. Calasso, publisher of the intellectual Milanese house Adelphi, revisits the theogonies set forth by Hesiod, Homer, Ovid et al. and then recasts them for a postmodern audience. Gods and men enact the cosmic mysteries as the narrator comments aphoristically on the progress of ancient and divine history (``With time, men and gods would develop a common language made up of hierogamy and sacrifice . . . . And, when it became a dead language, people started talking about mythology''). Calasso presents the abduction of Europa by a bull, analyzes the Trojan war, discusses the meaning of the word ``tragedy'' and charts the fall of classical Athens. Into this elegant chronology he also interpolates quotations from and allusions to a pantheon of classical writers, in the same weightless manner in which those writers made use of standard formulaic tropes; he extends his territory by planting modern points of reference (``Jason would have preferred to live a bourgeois life at home, just as Nietzsche would have preferred to be a professor in Basel, rather than God''). Readers who don't know their Theseus from their Thyestes shouldn't be discouraged--Calasso's work bridges the perceived distance from the origins of Western culture. Illustrations not seen by PW. BOMC alternate.