A Short Introduction to Classical Myth

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9780130258397: A Short Introduction to Classical Myth

An essential reference for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of classical mythology, this unique guide offers original source material on the social and historical background, interpretation, and commentary on major literary books on Greek myth—such as Homer, Hesiod, the tragedians, the historians, Ovid, Vergil, and in Greek art. Written in a clear and lucid manner, the book offers fresh and original interpretations based on the latest scholarship, and comes organized into three distinct parts: I: Definitions and Interpretations (devoted to theoretical issues); II: Background (to fill in information essential to understanding myth); and III: Themes (chapters directed toward specific topics in the study of myth). For general readers of English literature and/or classical mythology.

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In this brief book, Barry B. Powell provides the historical and theoretical background necessary to understand classical myth as it is found in its primary sources: the works of Homer, Hesiod, the Greek tragedians and historians, Ovid, and Vergil. Part One examines the origin of the concept of "myth" and the many approaches to interpreting myth that were put forward by ancient theorists and their more recent successors. Part Two describes the cultural context in which classical myth developed. Part Three examines a number of prominent themes in classical myth, exploring its relationship to the art, politics, society, and history of the ancient world. The book is designed as companion reading for students or others who are studying myth through original sources.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CLASSICAL MYTH IS A BIG TOPIC, made unruly by the richness of original sources in Greek and Latin, and sometimes in ancient Near Eastern languages. In this short book, I hope to guide the reader in understanding the origin of the concept myth in the ancient world and to describe the plethora of interpretive approaches applied to myth, which had begun already in the ancient world almost before the concept myth had taken a firm hold. I attempt to fill in the social and historical background essential to understanding classical myth, without which literary classics hang in a void. Finally, I attempt to provide in brief compass the historical and theoretical background necessary to understand classical myth as we find it in its primary sources in Homer, Hesiod, the tragedians, the historians, Ovid, Vergil, and in Greek art. While I am always deeply indebted to earlier commentators on myth, much material is original to this book, especially observations on myth and folktale and myth and art. In studying classical myth, we are studying the roots and history of Western civilization. For this reason there is no topic more compelling or rewarding, but the topic is complex and often bewildering. I hope that this book will assist the student or general reader to find a way through the forest of classical myth.

I wish to extend my thanks to the following reviewers who made invaluable suggestions for the improvement of this book: Susan Prince, University of Colorado; Rachel Kitzinger, Vassar College; Peter Struck, University of Pennsylvania; William C. West III, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; and David Engel, Penn State University. I have cited by name various translators who have provided the English translations (usually modified) of excerpts from ancient works. Either I or my colleague Herbert M. Howe translated all other passages. I would like to thank above all J. Philip Miller of Prentice-Hall, who saw the need for a book of this kind and who has stood behind me every step of the way. My wife Patricia has endured the arduous labor of assembling permissions and finding the best illustrations. Every effort has been made to contact the copyright holders, but should there be errors or omissions, the publisher will be happy to insert appropriate acknowledgment in any subsequent edition.

I gratefully acknowledge these sources for permission to use figures in Chapter 15: Archaeology Receipts Fund (TAP), Athens, Figures 3, 6, 11, 13; British Museum, Figures 1, 2, 5, 7, 10; Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Figure 12; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Figure 9; Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, Figures 8, 14; Superintendent of Archaeology of Basilicata, Policoro, Figure 15; Superintendent of Archaelolgy for Etruria Meridionale, Rome, Figure 4; University of Wisconsin Photo Archive, Figure 16.

B.B.P.
Madison, 2001

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