Classical Mythology: A Very Short Introduction
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From Zeus and Europa, to Diana, Pan, and Prometheus, the myths of ancient Greece and Rome seem to exert a timeless power over us. But what do those myths represent, and why are they so enduringly fascinating? Why do they seem to be such a potent way of talking about our selves, our origins, and our desires? This imaginative and stimulating Very Short Introduction goes beyond a simple retelling of the stories to explore the rich history and diverse interpretations of classical mythology. It is a wide-ranging account, examining how classical myths are used and understood in both high art and popular culture, taking the reader from the temples of Crete to skyscrapers in New York, and finding classical myths in a variety of unexpected places: from Arabic poetry and Hollywood films, to psychoanalysis, the Bible, and New Age spiritualism.
suffering and the failure of Promethean resistance to Zeus’ despotism across the centuries and the world: Whoever looks into the golden eyes of Prometheus set in the cremated sockets sees the early hope of the world and knows its late despair. The spirit of Prometheus is embodied in a former Yorkshire coal miner whose dialogues with Hermes, Zeus’ cruel henchman, are brilliant articulations of oppression and deﬁance. The image of Prometheus is that of a colossal gold statue, made from the bodies
mythic narrative preserved the memory of a real parricide and incest that took place when 71 On the analyst’s couch Freud’s relationship with Oedipus was intense and empathetic. He even, on occasion, called his daughter Anna by the name of Oedipus’ daughter, Antigone. Today’s visitor to his beautifully preserved rooms in what is now the Freud Museum at Berggasse 19, Vienna, is given a powerful sense of how Freud must have worked, as the writer Hilda Doolittle (H. D.) put it, ‘like a curator in
proposal for legal reform, there are also problems with her treatment of myth, problems that are shared by many of the feminist appropriations. It is based on the belief that universally men and women have different, and naturally distinct, sexual identities: an idea many feminists reject as ignoring the role of culture in forming our identities. The view that women are all maternal and non-violent is just the sort of stereotype that many ﬁnd unhelpful. Rather than writing our way out of
goes on to list the names she is given by different peoples, including Minerva, Venus, Diana, Proserpina, Ceres, Juno, and Hecate. But the Ethiopians and Egyptians, she says, worship her by her true name of Isis. Lucius then becomes initiated into her religion. Apuleius’ novel is so enigmatic as to make its reader feel uninitiated, left without the key to unlock its mysteries. So we should be careful about using it straightforwardly as ‘evidence’ for anything. But its representation of Isis is
also despises women ‘and teaches woman to despise herself ’. He is emphatic that women should not be poets, at least not in the sense that men are: ‘woman is not a poet: she is a muse or she is nothing.’ She has the choice ‘either to be a silent Muse and inspire the poets by her womanly presence, as Queen Elizabeth and the Countess of Derby did, or she should be the Muse in a complete sense: she should be in turn Arianrhod, Blodeuwedd, and the Old Sow’. This latter option takes care of Sappho,