cover image A GIFT FROM ZEUS: Sixteen Favorite Myths

A GIFT FROM ZEUS: Sixteen Favorite Myths

Jeanne Steig, , illus. by William Steig. . HarperCollins/Cotler, $17.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-06-028405-3

Kudos to the Steigs (A Handful of Beans), who employ colloquial prose, agile rhymes and art brut imagery to retell Greco-Roman myths. But beware: Like Ovid's The Metamorphoses, this zesty volume is a Pandora's box of hubris, lust and homicide. It opens with Prometheus, whose brother receives curvy, nude Pandora and her "baggage" from Mount Olympus. "Think twice, brother," Prometheus says. "A gift from Zeus is not likely to be a bargain." In a scrawled ink drawing, jack-in-the-box dragons pop out of a golden trunk. Elsewhere, lewd Zeus makes trouble by seducing Europa (as a bull) and doing a swan-dive on Leda (fully clothed but smiling blissfully): "He could never resist a mortal woman, especially one so agreeably sprawled on a bed of myrtle under the Spartan sky." Besides amorous gods, ravished virgins and incestuous parents, the collection recounts the weaving duel between mortal maiden Arachne and wrathful goddess Minerva, and the tragic love of Orpheus and Eurydice. Jeanne Steig admirably distills the famous stories, which she spices with euphemism and mordantly witty verse; only the knotty sagas of Theseus and Perseus contain a surfeit of complications. William Steig provides an antidote to mundane neoclassical art, sketching voluptuous nymphs and bloodthirsty boars in an earthy hand. An iconic drawing of the key element in each story appears as a chapter opener (e.g., a golden goblet for Midas). These racy myths will raise eyebrows (e.g., Daedalus fashions a cow suit for bull-besotted Pasiphaë), along with a curiosity for the originals. All ages. (June)