" The Greek myths of ancient times teach us a lot about what makes a good story. Not every cultural tall tale remains in circulation for thousands of years after it was originally told, so one can definitely learn something from any set of stories that have such exceptional staying power. Above all else, I would say that the most apparent thread of success common to most of the Greek myths is the presence of poignant emotion and sadness, and even sad endings to tales that otherwise would just be a rollicking good time watching the heroes defeat the bad guys. Stories laced with deep sadness remain with us for a long time because we human beings tend to remember with our emotions, and the most powerful and lasting of our emotions invariably are those tied in to the fact of our mortality and the mortality of the ones we care about, the sad poignancy that comes with the knowledge that we will one day be gone from this earth. It's the potency of that raw emotion that allows stories to move us and become embedded deep within our souls, and those are the stories that we recall most easily and ultimately end up passing down from generation to generation long after the original authors have passed away. I believe it is for this reason that the Greek myths have stayed so relevant in modern-day culture, thousands of years after the lives of Virgil, Homer and the other great Greek storytellers.
From most official descriptions of The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles, one might believe this to be a retelling of the story of Jason and his quest to win the Golden Fleece. While that is the main narrative contained in this volume, the book as a whole is really a hodgepodge of almost all of the most famous Greek myths. We get the story of Prometheus and how he brought fire to the human race; the twelve labors of Heracles, each one purposely designed to be impossible, but all successfully completed by the most powerful Greek hero of them all; Theseus and his noble offer to go and be sacrificed to the minotaur, and how he turned the tables and slew the vile creature that had threatened his father's kingdom for so many years; Perseus and his quests to kill the deadly gorgon, Medusa, and free the princess from the horrible sea monster to whom she was being sacrificed to appease the wrath of Poseidon. The majority of the most captivating Greek myths ever told have found their way into this book in one form or another, and I doubt that any reader will be completely unaffected by the emotion of at least a few of them. There is a good variety of more obscure myths in this book, as well, and as much as I've studied Greek mythology through the years, there were a number of stories here that I'd never previously heard.
In the end, I think that what really keeps us on the edge of our seats while reading the stories of the great Greek heroes is that there's never a guaranteed happy ending; in fact, most of the time you can count on at least one element of deep tragedy occurring right at the end of the story. We never become lulled into a false sense of security in believing that the characters we're reading about are somehow owed a happy ending, and so we remain glued to the page until the final word in hopes that joy will at least mostly win out over sorrow. Sometimes it works that way and sometimes it doesn't, but in the Greek myths in this book we can never be sure which way it's going to go until it's over. It's a realistic variety of heroism, comedy and tragedy, the way the Greeks always told their stories, and is undeniably similar to the rhythm of real life as we've lived it down through the ages. Happiness and despair, grappling with each other forever and neither one taking the upper hand for very long.
Author Padraic Colum does a nice job letting the emotion of the myths that comprise The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles shine through, not afraid to maintain the sometimes disturbing authenticity of the original tales just because his main audience is a younger crowd. This book would be a good starting point for any age to learn about the history of Greek mythology or what it truly means to tell a good story, and I guess that's why it still occasionally goes back into print so many years after it was initially published in 1921. I can definitely see this as a book worthy of the Newbery Honor symbol that it bears, and I would probably give it two and a half stars. "
— Josiah, 2/19/2014