Stephen Fry on rewriting ancient myths for modern times
The author and actor Stephen Fry’s fascination with Greek mythology began when he was a boy. While his friends were indulging their obsessions with football, or World War II aeroplanes, he was learning all there was to know about the myths. Tonight’s conversation, with Hay Festival founder Peter Florence, was streamed into the festival tent in Mantua’s Piazza Sordello.
How did he get from there to deciding to write books about it? His childhood passion was almost forgotten, the author said, until one day he got talking about creation myths with a group of friends. He began to tell them the story of Zeus’ birth. At one time, everyone knew these stories, he said, but he realised that his friends were hearing this tale for the first time. Greek myths provided a foundation to many works of English literature, and they are still relevant to today’s world. They speak to something fundamental in the human experience and their timelessness allows them to speak to us even now. “We think Homer didn’t write,” said Fry. His was an oral tradition, and this would have also shaped the work. Descriptions, rhyme and rhythm were used as memory aids, to facilitate recitation.
In the darkened tent, the audience listened, captivated, as Fry told the story of Zeus and Prometheus, how humans were created, how Zeus feared the consequences of giving them fire. The quest for digital superintelligence is a re-enactment of this story, Fry said. “At some point we will face the same dilemma.” Some people will think, like Zeus, that the consequences are too great. Others, like Prometheus, will argue for going ahead and giving the gift of fire to our superhuman machines.”