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The Complete Dictionary of Symbols

7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0811847674
ISBN-10: 0811847675
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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 9 Up–This dictionary is both too modest and too boastful: it condenses hundreds of myths and includes deities, heroes, saints, historical figures, animals, etc., with connections to art and literature, yet it is hardly exhaustive. Double the length of Tresidder's Dictionary of Symbols (Chronicle, 1998; o.p.), it preserves that work's format and adds a brief bibliography. Most of the author's Symbols and Their Meanings (Sterling, 2000) is also found here. Marginalia include primary-source citations and cross-references. Violet backgrounds distinguish 60 short articles on such diverse topics as Trojan War heroes, the Buddha, angels, avatars of Vishnu, dance, liberty, the jaguar, and more. The book includes many non-Western myths and symbols, but a broad perspective in some articles is lacking. The features on architecture, chastity, the ages of man, and religious orders are entirely European in focus. Many articles–e.g., on music, floods, fish, dragons, death, creation–are culturally broader. Africa deserves better coverage. Small black-and-white and/or violet graphics–useful, if not compelling–appear on most pages. Clare Gibson's Signs & Symbols (Grange) and Miranda Bruce-Mitford's Illustrated Book of Signs & Symbols (DK, both 1996), though less complete, will attract browsers with their color photos. Hans Biedermann's Dictionary of Symbolism (Facts On File, 1992) is better illustrated, more detailed on Western symbols, less global; Tresidder's volume offers high value for cost, if there is a myth/symbol gap on the reference shelf.–Patricia D. Lothrop, St. George's School, Newport, RI
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From Booklist

This is the first symbols source to be labeled complete, although the introduction does not specify the qualities that make it so. Its 2,000 entries are twice the number found in other resources on the topic, such as Tresidder's 1998 Dictionary of Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Traditional Images, Icons, and Emblems (much of which is duplicated in the newer book). The alphabetically arranged entries focus on classical and Christian symbolism but encompass other traditions worldwide. In addition to traditional symbols (e.g., objects, animals, flowers, shapes), the volume includes legends, themes, or concepts important for understanding systems of symbols and historical, mythological, or religious figures. It also includes brief references to the use of the symbol in art. For example, the entry alchemy is identical to that in the Dictionary of Symbols except for a reference to the depiction of alchemists in Vasari's painting The Alchemist's Laboratory. The Complete Dictionary's articles range from a few sentences to one-page panels on more comprehensive topics (Colours; Elements; Music, musical instruments). Its format is similar to Dictionary of Symbols, with see references and sources placed awkwardly in the margins, where they might be missed. Bibliographical references are minimal; most cite only basic sources such as Psalms 42:1 for Stag or Pliny the Elder's Natural History for Phoenix. A geographically arranged bibliography at the end of the volume includes a good selection of older, classic texts on art, mythology, and religion. Illustrations are in-house drawings from original artifacts rather than actual photos. The Complete Dictionary of Symbols is an acceptable reference book for home and small libraries and for public libraries that need a symbol source for general readers. It overlaps very little with the fascinating, graphically oriented (a free Internet source). It is unnecessary for larger collections that already have scholarly sources such as Carl G. Liungman's Dictionary of Symbols (Norton, 1994), Hans Biedermann and James Hulbert's Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meaning behind Them (Facts On File, 1992), and Anthony Stevens' excellent, thematically arranged Ariadne's Clue: A Guide to the Symbols of Humankind (Princeton, 1999). Christine Whittington
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books (February 24, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811847675
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811847674
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Paul Seaman on March 17, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have bought several books on symbols recently and this is by far the best. It is well laid out with featured articles, good cross-references and, esp. impressive, footnoting of sources. While no book, especially of the encyclopeidic kind, can be "Complete" -- an admittedly pretentious title -- this book comes close. That's just marketing (like all the new cars and shaving cream advertised as the "ultimate" this or that . . .) The illustrations in this book, mostly line drawings, are attractive and well chosen. Whereas, the illustrations in other symbols books (such as Biedermann's "Dictionary of Symbolism") seem arbitrarily chosen, perhaps for their lack of copyright (!) or just for dramatic effect.

For what it is, unless you've got your own private Wikipedia, I don't see how anyone could be disappointed by this book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By HC on August 27, 2006
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The layout of the book and the information it includes is well put together. It reads like an encyclopedia with diagrams and is quite thorough with explaining the significance of the symbols throughout the world's history and in mythology.

I refer to the book more often than I anticipated that I would. I use it for referencing symbol origins and their meanings of course, and surprisingly I find that using the book for dream interpretation works excellently.

For anyone who regards symbolism as important, I give the book my highest recommendation.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Virginia Allain on March 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
"This accessible reference guide presents more than 2,000 themes, figures, and symbols that appear in the arts, literature, and religion. It draws on classical mythologies, Biblical themes, and traditional symbols from cultures worldwide. The Complete Dictionary of Symbols has entries on plants and animals, gods and goddesses, supernatural creatures, heroes, saints, and hundreds of other subjects." (summary by South TX Library System)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alexandra Ruiz on February 20, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I expected it to be smaller and thinner but it's so big and has all sorts of symbols! Stuff I didn't even think of!
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