ALTHOUGH Roberto Calasso explains the background of almost every character he introduces in "The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony" (see review, above), a guide to classical literature can be a handy reference tool - and a nice place to go browsing.
The Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology, by Pierre Grimal, edited by Stephen Kershaw and translated from the French by A. R. Maxwell-Hyslop (Penguin, 466 pp., $10.95 paper), is an abridgment of a major work of French classical scholarship. It is devoted exclusively to mythological characters: gods, goddesses, heroes, kings, queens, nymphs, monsters, and other creatures - from famous folks like Apollo and Agamemnon to such delightfully recherche minor figures as Fornax: "The goddess of the oven in w hich bread is baked."
The "Penguin Dictionary" includes many characters you won't find in another fine reference book, The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, edited by M. C. Howatson (Oxford University Press, 640 pp., $45 cloth). A condensed paperback version will be published this June. The "Oxford Companion" ranges beyond mythology to include entries on classical authors and statesmen (you won't find Homer, Virgil, or Pericles in the "Penguin Dictionary"), as well as more general subjects of classical culture, includ ing comedy, maps, religion, philosophy, oracles, and weights and measures.