From the Savannah Morning News:

One of the cornerstones of any college survey course is the study of classical literature. The ancient Greeks and Romans produced prose and poetry that both shaped and influenced the history of Western civilization and whose body of ideas still holds sway.

To learn about the ancients, it was important to be familiar with the Greek myths - those tales of gods and heroes that provided insight into what made Hellenic culture tick.

For decades, the book that most consistently offered that insight was Edith Hamilton's "Mythology." First published in 1940, "Mythology" was praised for being a book that popularized the stories of yore. Sophisticated and urbane, the book's aims were primarily pedagogical, intent on reinforcing the importance of Greco-Roman tradition and its key place in Western civilization.

"Mythology," like the Scholastic Aptitude Test, was also meritocratic. It hoped to bring the high ideals of antiquity to the masses, which would in turn, it was thought, level the playing field of American society and defy, or at least challenge, the privileges of the upper classes.

And like the SAT, "Mythology" was something we bore bravely, instead of anticipating with shudders of delight. By reading Hamilton, you got the idea that the Greeks were a kind of rarified people living among the ethereal mists. You hardly felt they were real human beings - people who thought about sex (or Eros), much less wove the act into the tapestry of their myths and legends.

In fact, the art of ancient Greece and, indeed, the whole of Hellenic culture was saturated with reminders of human sexuality and behavior. Columns were cut in the shape of phalluses. Sex was graphically represented in painting, vases and sculptures. That includes, by the way, gay and straight sex.

Moreover, a professor of mine once scandalized his class by announcing that the Greeks statues - those paragons of classicism - were not originally made to appear as they do in pure platonic white. Instead, they were painted, with a rainbow of vivid colors that only with the passing of time took on their virtuous gleam.

The scandalous question my professor asked was this: What color do you paint certain parts of the body? What is the right shade, say, for a man's nipples or for that matter other more pronounced parts of his body? How about a woman and her anatomy? What color for that?

Hamilton's "Mythology," it goes without saying, avoided that side of Greek culture. Important as it was, it was still kind of boring. Though she writes with elegance and erudition, she did more for draining the blood out of Ancient Greece than she did for making it crackle. In today's world, in which we know more about the intimacies of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes than we do about the U.S.A. Patriot Act, Hamilton's prose does not snap like the tabloid verbiage we have grown accustomed to.

Enter Nigel Spivey's "Songs on Bronze: The Greek Myths Made Real." The tales in this new rendering jump off the page, featuring in no small amount greed, revenge, love, incest, murder and, of course, sex. It's a valuable addition to the canon of mythology. And it's one tailor-made, it seems, for American audiences. Our culture is so knowing of the ways of the flesh that Hamilton's tome seems almost quaint by today's standards. We want grit, authenticity and realism.

In a word, it's time for a more explicit retelling of the Greek myths.

Which is what you get with Spivey's "Songs on Bronze." It is a fast read. It features language rich in color and texture. It also contains a vernacular that pops with juicy TV dialogue, not unlike what you might find on "Sex and the City." In Spivey's hands, you feel dread and loss when Pandora's box is opened and all the evils of mankind are unleashed. Prometheus inspires respect and awe as the titan who first gave fire to man. Hercules, called here Herakles, is the doomed warrior, the hero who can save everyone but himself.

Theseus is the abandoned son whose defeat of the monstrous Minotaur wins him the title of king. And the young boy Perseus, my favorite, cuts off the head of Medusa - the snaked-haired Gorgon - not for fame and glory but for a little bit of wisdom.

In the story of Jason and the Argonauts, you realize for the first time that Jason was really a cad. Who was he to think that Medea, the woman who not only loved him but saved his life, would be OK with his marrying another woman?

There's more, much more. The war over Troy, the wrath of Achilles, the homeward journey of Odysseus and the tragedy of Oedipus - these all get space in this slim volume.

"Mythology" allows us to the see the ancient Greeks not as idealized figures, but as real people, like us, with real fears and desires, and a real yen for good entertainment. Spivey's fresh take on these still-riveting myths deserves a warm welcome.