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Bulfinch's Mythology (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – August 11, 1998
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Top Customer Reviews
Today we lament that people have little time for the classics and even less for mythology. Bulfinch, writing in 1855, said much the same, "To devote study to a species of learning which relates wholly to false marvels and obsolete faiths, is not to be expected of a general reader in a practical age like this."
And yet without some familiarity with Greek and Roman mythology we not only have little understanding of Greek and Roman civilization, we also limit our appreciation for some of the greatest English literature and poetry. Shakespeare, Keats, Milton, and other English writers have assumed that readers are acquainted with mythology. And more basic, we also deprive ourselves of some fascinating and enjoyable stories and tales.
In writing "The Age of Fable" Bulfinch focused on "mythology as connected with literature", not just the fables themselves. He created a book that has remained easy to read and as well serves as an amazingly useful reference when reading 16th, 17th, and 18th century literature and poetry. I have repeatedly found that what was an obscure and murky reference to mythology took on meaning and significance by a quick visit to Bulfinch. I particularly appreciate his index of names: it really helps me track down those prolific deities.
I sometimes pick up "The Age of Fable" and simply browse a few pages, exploring a new tale, a new adventure by powerful deities with magnified human frailties. Buy a copy, you won't be disappointed.
There's no question he loved these stories, but I can't say I'm left with the feeling that he has been truly struck by the Myth, that the Myth has truly destabilized him the way it has Frazer, Jung or Joseph Campbell.
And no doubt this collection would not have been published at all at that time were he not willing to leave out significant facts that the book might be readable by well-bred ladies. Any castrations are left out or (worse) revised. Cronos was deposed. Theseus slays the Minotaur, but the part about how the Minotaur came to be in the first place is omitted. Attis comes across as a romantic story. You find neither the factual story behind it as laid out by Herodotus nor any intimation about the nature of the fantastical cult which arose around it as described in Frazer.
At the same time, although most major bookstores now have whole sections devoted to mythology, and hundreds of anthologies have come out, I've never quite found anything that takes the place of Bulfinch, and so I keep it on my shelf.
I'm not a classicist, a theologian or a philosopher. I'm not an expert in ancient Greek or Latin. What I am is a lover of great literature and it pains me when I come upon a mythological reference I don't recognize or remember.
I tried using a classical dictionary, but found this created one problem while failing to solve another. The problem is that it is annoying to interrupt the flow of one's reading to look up an allusion in a dictionary. I'd almost rather skip the reading than do that. And, even after looking up an allusion, at least in a dictionary, we usually still don't understand the poetry and the full meaning of the myth.
"Bulfinch's Mythology" solves this problem. With this book, anyone can learn about the gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman antiquity, of Scandinavian, Celtic and Oriental fable and of the Age of Chivalry, in a readable and entertaining manner.
With "Bulfinch's Mythology," we certainly won't learn as much as a scholar, but we will learn enough to enjoy and appreciate the references to mythology we encounter in literature, painting, sculpture and music.
The stories in "Bulfinch's Mythology" are divided into three sections: The Age of Fable, The Age of Chivalry and The Legends of Charlemagne.Read more ›