How Stephen Fry’s Mythos jolted me out of my lockdown lethargy

This retelling of the Greek myths has lessons for us as we live through the coronavirus crisis.

Book of the Week: Stephen Fry's Mythos
Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

Get up, eat, commute to dining room, work, eat, work, eat, go for a walk, sleep. The days have taken on a never-ending sameness in lockdown, confined as many of us are to limited indoor spaces. Even my regular walks, my chance to get out of the house, see me taking in the same sights each day. It's become, and this seems a facetious complaint given what's happening in the world, boring.

The thing which would usually provide me with an escape, reading, has also been much harder than usual, as it has been for many people. I've found it virtually impossible to begin new books, yet have also found old titles – even much loved ones – unable to keep my attention in the way they usually would.

But, as I've discovered, the answer lies in reading something that feels familiar but is also completely new, and that for me came with Stephen Fry's Mythos which, like a bolt of lightning sent by Zeus, cracked open my lockdown world. 

'AI didn't think there was any new lens through which my feelings about what's happening could be described'

Many of the tales in Fry's Mythos – from Athena being born through the cracking open of Zeus' head to Pandora opening her jar of torments and Persophone eating six pomegranate seeds, leading to the creation of the seasons – are familiar to to me as someone who can't resist any retelling (book, TV or film) of the myths and legends of Ancient Greece.

But his genius lies in the freshness of his telling; Fry's wry tone, his pithy observations, his dropping of factoids, and the way he sometimes speaks directly to the reader all combine to create a book that is genuinely exciting and lively.

It's not just Mythos' humour that shunted me out of my lockdown lethargy. At this point in the coronavirus crisis, I didn't think there was any new lens through which my feelings about what's happening – my futile anger at the government's actions, the feeling of time both speeding by and seeming to last forever, my hope that a vaccine will be found, my fear that this will last forever, my desire to just give up and my faith that we can overcome this – could be described.  

Listen to an extract from Stephen Fry's Mythos

And then I read the story of Sisyphus in Mythos. The king who cheated death multiple times and then chose to (at least in Fry's retelling) spend eternity pushing a boulder up a hill in the hope of gaining immortality might not seem like someone to turn to at these times. But Fry's description of the things that 'painters, poets and philosophers' have seen in the myth of Sisyphus struck a chord:

"They have seen an image of the absurdity of human life, the futility of effort, the remorseless cruelty of fate, the unconquerable power of gravity. But they have seen too something of mankind's courage, resilience, fortitude, endurance and self-belief. They see something heroic in our refusal to submit."

It might seem cheesy to say, and maybe even naively hopeful, but in Mythos I saw a lesson about not letting the hugeness of this coronavirus crisis overtake my life, and about the power of human resilience. And that's inspiring enough to jolt me out of my boredom. 

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