Classical Myth

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9780137167142: Classical Myth

Featuring fresh new translations, this second edition of Classical Myth differs from other texts by putting the divine myths and principal legends of the Greeks and Romans in the contexts - anthropological, historical, religious, sociological, and economic - from which they emerged, including their debt to the ancient Near East. Barry B. Powell presents the classical myths as told by authors from Homer to Vergil, then analyzes and interprets them. Interspersed are short essays on the later history of the myths and their importance to writers, artists, film-makers, and philosophers down to our own times. The many photographs of ancient works of art show how the myths were visualized. The book concludes with a history of later theories about classical myth, demonstrating their continued importance for us today.

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Comprehensive and scholarly, yet lively and easy to read, this attractively designed and class-tested survey of classical Greek and Roman mythology presents synopses of the major stories. It is highlighted by fresh translations of ancient authors, generous illustrations (ancient and modern) of classical myths and legends, and commentary that emphasizes the anthropological, historical, religious, sociological, and economic contexts in which the myths were told.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


What does our great historical hunger signify, our clutching about us of
countless cultures, our consuming desire for knowledge, if not the loss of
myth, of a mythic home, the mythic womb?
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, The Birth of Tragedy, 1872

The category "classical myth" exists more in the minds of contemporary teachers than it did in the ancient world itself, but it has nonetheless come to serve a useful pedagogical purpose. For some time now, courses bearing this or a similar title have been a vehicle for introducing college students to the cultures of the ancient Greeks and Romans, hence to the roots of Western civilization. Studying the myths of the ancients primarily through the literary works in which they have been preserved, students are exposed to important classical authors, as well as to stories and figures which have sustained interest and kindled imaginations throughout the history of Western culture.

The present text began as a modern introduction to classical myth, a comprehensive and flexible resource for college-level courses that would reflect the best recent scholarship in the field. The fact that the first and second editions were used in many such courses throughout North America, by instructors with different academic backgrounds teaching in a wide variety of educational settings, has been a gratifying confirmation of my sense that a book of this type was needed. In this third edition, I have made improvements to the book based on suggestions from instructors who have used the first two editions in their classes, as well as on my own experiences in teaching with it. But the central goals of the book remain unchanged. I have again included a large number of translations from ancient literary sources, organized around mythical figures or themes. I have again provided substantial background information and interpretive commentary to accompany these selections. And again, in both the translations and the background material, I have sought to take account of the needs of today's students as well as of the many new perspectives on the ancient world opened up in recent years by scholars working in various areas of classical studies.

The first two editions were unique among texts in classical myth in the extent to which they emphasized the context in which the ancient stories were told. In this emphasis I believe I was reflecting the direction of much contemporary scholarship, and in the third edition I have once again sought to place the myths in their anthropological, historical, religious, sociological, and economic contexts. Where possible I have extended and improved the coverage of these topics. In this edition I have grouped the male and female gods in separate chapters, whereas earlier they were organized according to family relation. In this way it is possible more easily to explore issues of gender and sexual identity that have preoccupied commentators in recent years. In a new chapter, "An Introduction to Heroic Myth" (Chapter 12), I use the Mesopotamian story of Gilgamesh as a model for understanding the complex myths of heroes in Greece, whereas the earlier editions did not single out the topic of the "hero." The other chapters have been compressed and revised, and new comments on context have been added to the discussion of specific myths in various chapters.

The first and second editions were also unique in the emphasis they placed on the historical development of classical myth. Only when we see how myth changes over time, yet somehow remains the same, can we grasp its essence. For this reason I included in the first editions an extensive discussion of the Mesopotamian antecedents of classical myth, but in this edition I discuss such myths at the same time as their later expressions in classical civilization, so that their relation can be better understood.

In the third edition, as in the first two, I have included as many passages from ancient literary works as space permits. Many of these are from well-known sources, but I have not hesitated to present lesser-known passages rarely seen in books of this type, when that seemed appropriate. Whenever possible I have used Greek sources rather than Latin ones, but I have nonetheless included selections from Ovid's highly influential Latin retelling of the Greek myths when the myth is found in no other ancient literary source. The complete text of the Metamorphoses will form a natural, though not necessary, adjunct to this text, as will complete translations of Greek tragedies, or modern works which reflect ancient patterns of myth or similar concerns.

Most translations of these selections, which were prepared specifically for inclusion in this volume, are largely unchanged in this edition. Translations of most Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Italian sources were prepared by Herbert M. Howe; I did some of these, however, and am also responsible for translations of the Akkadian, Egyptian, and modern Greek passages. In our translations we have sought a modern idiom, unrhymed, with a regular beat in the poetic lines; poetry, then as now, has its own rules of expression, and the translator can only try to recreate in modern tongue thoughts and manners distant from our own. Those who wish to examine the original Greek and Latin sources should consult the exhaustive references given in Pierre Grimal, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology (Oxford, 1986) and in Keith Aldrich's translation and commentary on Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology (Lawrence, Kansas, 1975).

I believe that ancient works of art can play a valuable role in helping students visualize mythical figures and events as the ancients themselves did, and therefore I have included many additional illustrations from classical sources: some one hundred ninety-seven reproductions of vase paintings, sculptural works, architectural monuments, and other works of art from the ancient and modern worlds.

Like the first two editions, the third stresses the importance of interpretation in the study of myth, though without relying exclusively on any one interpretive perspective. No single approach to interpretation can ever be adequate to the enormous range and complexity of classical myth. The subject of interpretation is briefly introduced in Chapter 1, and throughout the text I offer interpretive comments on individual myths as they are examined—comments that I know will be used as a basis as much for objection as for agreement. The subject of interpretation is dealt with most extensively, however, in Chapter 23, "Theories of Myth Interpretation." I am fully aware that some instructors will prefer to deal with theories of interpretation early on in the course, and even though this chapter is placed at the end of the book, it can be introduced at any point, without loss of coherence.

The third edition remains committed to the principle that when we study classical myth, we also study the roots of Western culture. Like the first two editions, therefore, it includes in most chapters one or more "Perspective" boxes that examine the uses of classical myth in the medieval, Renaissance, or modern periods. Many of the Perspectives incorporate excerpts from or reproductions of the literary and artistic works discussed. My intent is to help students see how stories and figures from classical myth were appropriated and interpreted at later stages of history, often for purposes very different from those of the ancient world itself.

The study of classical myth inevitably presents students with hundreds of new and unfamiliar names. To assist students with the pronunciation of these, I have provided an English pronunciation guide the first time each difficult name appears in the text. (The pronunciation guides are repeated in the index.) I have also used bold letters to highlight the names that are of greatest importance, those which one really ought to know to claim competence in the topic. These names are repeated in a list of important terms at the end of each chapter, with page numbers of where the term first appears. I leave names of lesser importance in ordinary type, though in many cases I give pronunciations for these as well. Finally, in the index I have included a capsule identification for important names.

This edition is accompanied by a Companion Website located at which provides up-to-date links, organized by chapters in the text, to a vast array of resources relevant to the study of classical myth, including electronic texts, fine art images, and background information on Greek culture and society. It also offers a comprehensive interactive study guide, complete with self-scoring quizzes and other resources designed to assist students in mastering the course material.

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Barry B. Powell, Herbert M. Howe
Published by Prentice Hall College Div (1997)
ISBN 10: 0137167148 ISBN 13: 9780137167142
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Powell Barry B.
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ISBN 10: 0137167148 ISBN 13: 9780137167142
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