Classical mythology came west from Greece, bearing the thoughts, feelings, and distilled experiences of ancient peoples that have, in turn, been formed by the skilled hands of artists into tangible creations of beauty and significance. Before there were records to preserve significant events, these stories were passed down in tales and songs. Adapted and embellished by successive generations, they were later written down and used to create art from many different materials in different mediums. Within these stories and the creations they inspired was an impulse either to recover the secrets of something that had been lost or to create something new from the old material.
Young examines nine legends-Perseus and Andromeda; Demeter and Persephone; Pyramus and Thisbe; Pygmalion and Galatea; Daedalus and Icarus; Atlanta and Hippomenes; Philemon and Baucis; Echo and Narcissus; and Pomona and Vertumnus-explaining the legends themselves and tracing their dissemination through centuries and civilizations and across various art forms. In Young’s view, classical mythology, through expressing humanity’s enthusiasms, visions, and talents, might well be considered the “skilled midwife” of human civilization, proof of our constant effort to possess life symbolically and express it through arts.