There are four myths in The Thief, told by Gen and the Magus. I think they work a little differently than the myths in the other books do. There is some connection between the characters (especially Gen) and the characters in the myths, but their primary purpose seems to be worldbuilding. They also show Gen in a different light than the persona he is trying to project through most of the book.
It’s also the only book in which the myths are given official titles, as well as pulled out of the main text with italics.
The first myth in The Thief is “Earth’s Creation and the Birth of the Gods,” which is told by the Magus, although it’s also prompted by Sophos. At the very beginning is a phrase that gets picked up and used later in the series, “the moon’s promises.” These are fickle and can’t be trusted. It’s echoed in the myth of Klimun, although it’s reversed there, and also during The Queen of Attolia. (“Better to trust in the moon’s promises than in the word of the Thief of Eddis. He was famous in three countries for his lies.”)
It’s also interesting to note that this myth is set up as specifically Eddisian. Sounis has a different creation myth, one closer to the standard Greek pantheon. It’s one of the things that ties Gen to Eddis and provides a hint that he’s not quite what he seems.
The myth also shows Gen’s initial of the myths and the gods. After the story ends, he says, “It’s just religion. They like to go up to the temple on feast days and pretend that there is some god who wants the worthless sacrificial bits of cow,and people get to eat the rest.” He defends the myths, pointing out that the Magus left out part, but it’s more because he’s loyal to Eddis and his mother’s version than because of any belief in the gods.
This myth is also, significantly, about genesis. It comes towards the beginning of the book, the beginning of Gen’s story, and what would eventually become the beginning of the series.
The second myth is called “The Birth of Eugenides, God of Thieves,” and it is, appropriately enough, told by Gen. In it, the gods give gifts, but the gifts have consequences which the humans who receive them cannot always foresee and which are not always benign. The Earth’s gift to the woodman and his wife results in the destruction of large portions of the world.
It also establishes Hephestia’s power, the first strong female ruler in the series. Here, she manages to bring about peace between her warring parents and is only behind them in worship from the people.
In the worldbuilding category, this myth establishes the rough pantheon: the Earth, the Sky, Hephestia, and Eugenides. The book will add other characters, Moira and Aracthus, but the most important are preserved in the myth.
Finally, the telling of the myth reinforces Gen’s connection to Eddis and again hints at the possibility of his being something more than he seems. As Sophos notes, “You sound very different when you are telling a story.”
Interestingly, although I’ve been talking about a distinction between the preserved myths of the Magus’s books and Gen’s oral tradition, Gen’s versions of the myths are much more set in stone. He tells them the way his mother would have and objects when things are left out. The oral tradition is given flavor by the teller, but it’s not necessarily more flexible.
The third myth is called “Eugenides and the Sky God’s Thunderbolts,” and it’s told by the Magus, who was prompted by a strained silence. There’s another thread that will get picked up later–the coleus leaf which the Sky God gives Eugenides and which Attolia used to poison her first husband.
In this story, we really encounter the character of Eugenides-the-god, who turns out to be both a trickster and the one who is tricked. He steals the Sky God’s thunderbolts, successfully pulling off a simultaneous bird and mole reenactment (that’s talent, right there). But he also is tricked by the Sky God, who promises to make his life bitter. This theme occurs several times in the myths and may be an interesting insight into Gen himself.
There’s a question here which also could apply to “The Birth of Eugenides”–how is power used? When it’s too powerful, how is it balanced? In “The Birth of Eugenides,” Hephestia mediates a peace between her parents which effectively gives her some of their power and returns them to balance. Here, the Sky God rewards Eugenides’ cleverness, but also curses him with a bitter life. I think this is another important strand to trace through the books–how much of QoA is driven by the need to balance Attolia’s power and potential instability?
The last myth in The Thief is called “Eugenides and the Great Fire,” and is told by Gen, prompted by the magus who “wants to compare it with the version he knows.” The story concerns the misuse of hospitality, of family. Once again, Eugenides-the-god is both the trickster, successfully stealing the Sky God’s thunderbolts AGAIN, and the tricked, trapped by Lyopidus and the Sky God. And Hamiathes tricks the river into giving up the thunderbolts
It’s also specifically an Eddisian story, a nation-myth to explain the relationship between the God of Thieves and Hamiathes. For that matter, it’s a myth that helps to explain Gen. For that reason, it’s more intensely personal, I would argue, than the others, although Gen certainly cares that all of them are told correctly. He says that it’s not his favorite story, but I think it’s because he sees too much of himself in it. And it will shortly become even more personal, when he cannot help but believe in the god’s reality.
It’s interesting to note that all four of the myths in The Thief build on each other. They start wide, with the creation of the world, and slowly narrow, till they are focused on the character of Eugenides. Because they’re so connected, they could almost be read as a separate narrative, except that the point of them is that they’re not separate at all. They’re intimately involved in Gen’s journey across Sounis, Attolia, and Eddis, and his journey from unbelief to faith.