Myths of the Greeks and Romans - Michael Grant
I bought this book because I hoped it would be a good summary of up-to-date points of view on the Greek myths, but it turns out to be no such thing; despite its deceptively updated cover, it was first published in 1962. It sorely feels the lack of half a century of archaeological and historical research, and of theoretical and literary perspectives.

This is a pity, because the conception of the book, as a way of organizing the vastness of its material, is a good one: choose a number of ancient literary sources, summarize a myth or myth-cycle taken from each one, and discuss the history, background, alternate versions, and continuing literary legacy of that myth. Grant finds opportunities at various points in these discussions to introduce the layperson to an array of the theories that had been applied to myth by the mid-twentieth century: the etiological, the ethnological, the psychoanalytic, the search for traces of history, various poetic theories, and so forth. (Incidentally, the book entirely omits footnotes for the scholars and works mentioned, and most of them are not even in the bibliography; though I realize that this is a conscious decision to avoid intimidating lay readers, I think it's a poor one.) Grant's eminently sensible insistence that "no single theory, however valuably suggestive, will suffice to explain the whole range of Greek and Roman mythology, or even a major proportion of its content" leads to some good passages, such as the section of the chapter on Demeter where his discussion of the relation between ritual and myth presents arguments for the primacy of the one and the other and points out that it's not necessary to choose between them. I also appreciated his discussions of tragedy, particularly Prometheus Bound and Oedipus.

Nonetheless, in a number of chapters, he doesn't quite succeed in subsuming the work of other scholars into a well-constructed, comprehensible organization. Furthermore, Grant's summaries of literary works are written with mediocre style themselves, and his work is full of a certain mid-century stodginess; his praises of the universal qualities of the myths come from a cultural perspective just different enough from mine to make it obvious that he's mistaken in what he thinks is universal. Perhaps no suitable replacement for this good, but far from perfect, book has yet been written; but I hope it has.