In addition to their famous gods and goddesses, the ancient Greeks also worshiped deceased human beings, including child and baby heroes. Although these heroes played an essential role in Greek religion, Corinne Ondine Pache's Baby and Child Heroes in Ancient Greece is the first systematic study of the considerable number of Greek babies and children who became enduring myths, objects of worship, and the recipients of sacrifice.
Examining literary, pictorial, and numismatic representations, Pache opens up a vast territory once occupied by children such as Charila, Opheltes, Melikertes, and the children of Herakles and Medea. She elegantly argues that the stories, songs, and sanctuaries honoring these heroes express parental fears and guilt about children's death. Pache further demonstrates that while the myths and rituals articulate basic human anxieties, their emphasis is ultimately on the beauty that transcends the gruesomeness of the narrative, turning their dread into poetry. By showing the continuity of child heroes in Greek religion, she is able to throw new light on iconographies that have previously defied explanation.
"Somehow I woke up one day and found myself in bed with a stranger." Meant literally or figuratively, this statement describes one of the best-known plots in world mythology and popular storytelling. In a tour that runs from Shakespeare to Hollywood and from Abraham Lincoln to Casanova, the erudite and irrepressible Wendy Doniger shows us the variety, danger, and allure of the "bedtrick," or what it means to wake up with a stranger.
The Bedtrick brings together hundreds of stories from all over the world, from the earliest recorded Hindu and Hebrew texts to the latest item in the Weekly World News, to show the hilariously convoluted sexual scrapes that people manage to get themselves into and out of. Here you will find wives who accidentally commit adultery with their own husbands. You will read Lincoln's truly terrible poem about a bedtrick. You will learn that in Hong Kong the film The Crying Game was retitled Oh No! My Girlfriend Has a Penis. And that President Clinton was not the first man to be identified by an idiosyncratic organ.
At the bottom of these wonderful stories, ancient myths, and historical anecdotes lie the dynamics of sex and gender, power and identity. Why can't people tell the difference in the dark? Can love always tell the difference between one lover and another? And what kind of truth does sex tell? Funny, sexy, and engaging, The Bedtrick is a masterful work of energetic storytelling and dazzling scholarship. Give it to your spouse and your lover.
W. Y. Evans–Wentz, great Buddhist scholar and translator of such now familiar works as the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, spent his final years in California. There, in the shadow of Cuchama, one of the Earth’s holiest mountains, he began to explore the astonishing parallels between the spiritual teaching of America’s native peoples and that of the deeply mystical Hindus and Tibetans. Cuchama and Sacred Mountains, a book completed shortly before his death in 1965, is the fruit of those explorations.
To Cuchama, “Exalted High Place,” came the young Cochimi and Yuma boys for initiation into the mystic rites for their people. In solitude they sought and received guidance and wisdom. In this same way, the peoples of ancient Greece, the Hebrews, the early Christians, and the Hindus had found access to inner truth on their own holy mountains: and in this same way must the modern person find the path to inner knowing.
Surveying many of the most Sacred Mountains in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, Evans–Wentz expresses the belief that the secret power of these high places has not passed away but only awaits the coming of a New Age. This new age, in accord with the oldest prophecies of our continent, will be a time of renaissance, the long–waited era of harmony and peace among all peoples.
This renaissance shall be uniquely American, a renewal based on the values so long honored by the Americans before Columbus, and so ruthlessly trampled by the “civilized” Europeans who overran them. No other race of people has been as spiritual in their way of life than the original Americans, notes Evans–Wentz. Perhaps none other has known such martyrdom. Yet the secret greatness of the Indian religion still lives, ancient as the Earth itself, yet ageless in its power to renew.
Culture and Enchantment
Mark A. Schneider University of Chicago Press, 1993 Library of Congress GN357.S36 1993 | Dewey Decimal 306.01
Max Weber viewed modern life as disenchanted, an arena from which scientific inquiry had banished magic. In contrast, Mark Schneider argues intriguingly that enchantment—the sense that we are confronted by inexplicable phenomena—persists in the world today, although it has shifted from the natural to the cultural arena. Culture and Enchantment shows that students of culture today operate in social and intellectual circumstances similar to those of seventeenth-century natural philosophers. Just as Newton was drawn to alchemy, scholars today are fascinated by ghostly and mercurial agents thought to account for the meanings of cultural entities.
For interpretive disciplines, Schneider suggests, meaning often behaves behaves as mysteriously as the apparitions pursued by centuries ago by natural philosophers. He demonstrates this using two case studies from anthropology: Clifford Geertz's description of Balinese cockfights and Yoruba statuary, and Claude Levi-Strauss's analyses of myths. These provide a basis for actively engaging disputes over the meaning and interpretation of culture.
Culture and Enchantment will appeal to an interdisciplinary audience in anthropology, sociology, history, history and sociology of science, culture studies, and literary theory. Schneider's provocative arguments will make this book a fulcrum in the continuing debate over the nature and prospects of cultural inquiry.
Frogs are worshipped for bringing nourishing rains, but blamed for devastating floods. Turtles are admired for their wisdom and longevity, but ridiculed for their sluggish and cowardly behavior. Snakes are respected for their ability to heal and restore life, but despised as symbols of evil. Lizards are revered as beneficent guardian spirits, but feared as the Devil himself.
In this ode to toads and snakes, newts and tuatara, crocodiles and tortoises, herpetologist and science writer Marty Crump explores folklore across the world and throughout time. From creation myths to trickster tales; from associations with fertility and rebirth to fire and rain; and from the use of herps in folk medicines and magic, as food, pets, and gods, to their roles in literature, visual art, music, and dance, Crump reveals both our love and hatred of amphibians and reptiles—and their perceived power. In a world where we keep home terrariums at the same time that we battle invasive cane toads, and where public attitudes often dictate that the cute and cuddly receive conservation priority over the slimy and venomous, she shows how our complex and conflicting perceptions threaten the conservation of these ecologically vital animals.
Sumptuously illustrated, Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder’s Fork and Lizard’s Leg is a beautiful and enthralling brew of natural history and folklore, sobering science and humor, that leaves us with one irrefutable lesson: love herps. Warts, scales, and all.
If, as a child, you conducted conversations with beloved dolls, or if, as an adult, you have entered virtual worlds inhabited by digital humans who inspire devotion in real people, you have participated in one of humanity’s most potent yet least explored traditions. Falling in love (and out of love) with statues, George Hersey reveals here, has been an instrumental practice since antiquity in our efforts to understand, improve, and empower ourselves.
Hersey’s history of statue love begins in Cyprus, home of the legendary sculptor Pygmalion, who famously grew enamored of his own creation. Examining the island’s prehistoric images of Aphrodite—the love goddess who brought Pygmalion’s sculpture to life—Hersey traces the origins of statue love back to the Cypriot followers who adored her terra-cotta likenesses. He goes on to explore ideas about human replicas in the works of Empedocles, Aristotle, Lucretius, and Ovid, whose definitive account of the Pygmalion myth introduced the notion that statues have the potential to induce physical responses in their viewers. Finding avatars of Ovid’s living image in everything from pagan idols and early Christian statuary to eighteenth-century painting to modern action figures and marionettes, Hersey concludes by investigating the concern that these automata will eventually replace humans.
In the process, he narrates a powerful history of artificial life at a moment when—with the development of robot soldiers, ever more sophisticated genetic engineering, and a continually expanding digital universe—it seems more real than ever.
As nationalism spread across nineteenth-century Europe, Russia’s national identity remained murky: there was no clear distinction between the Russian nation and the expanding multiethnic empire that called itself “Russian.” When Tsar Alexander II’s Great Reforms (1855–1870s) allowed some freedom for public debate, Russian nationalist intellectuals embarked on a major project—which they undertook in daily press, popular historiography, and works of fiction—of finding the Russian nation within the empire and rendering the empire in nationalistic terms. From the Shadow of Empire traces how these nationalist writers refashioned key historical myths—the legend of the nation’s spiritual birth, the tale of the founding of Russia, stories of Cossack independence—to portray the Russian people as the ruling nationality, whose character would define the empire. In an effort to press the government to alter its traditional imperial policies, writers from across the political spectrum made the cult of military victories into the dominant form of national myth-making: in the absence of popular political participation, wars allowed for the people’s involvement in public affairs and conjured an image of unity between ruler and nation. With their increasing reliance on the war metaphor, Reform-era thinkers prepared the ground for the brutal Russification policies of the late nineteenth century and contributed to the aggressive character of twentieth-century Russian nationalism.
Zeus, Medusa, Hercules, Aphrodite. Did you know that these and other dynamic deities, heroes, and monsters of Greek and Roman mythology live on in the names of trees and flowers? Some grow in your local woodlands or right in your own backyard garden.
In this delightful book, botanist Peter Bernhardt reveals the rich history and mythology that underlie the origins of many scientific plant names. Unlike other books about botanical taxonomy that take the form of heavy and intimidating lexicons, Bernhardt's account comes together in a series of interlocking stories. Each chapter opens with a short version of a classical myth, then links the tale to plant names, showing how each plant "resembles" its mythological counterpart with regard to its history, anatomy, life cycle, and conservation. You will learn, for example, that as our garden acanthus wears nasty spines along its leaf margins, it is named for the nymph who scratched the face of Apollo. The shape-shifting god, Proteus, gives his name to a whole family of shrubs and trees that produce colorful flowering branches in an astonishing number of sizes and shapes.
Amateur and professional gardeners, high school teachers and professors of biology, botanists and conservationists alike will appreciate this book's entertaining and informative entry to the otherwise daunting field of botanical names. Engaging, witty, and memorable, Gods and Goddesses in the Garden transcends the genre of natural history and makes taxonomy a topic equally at home in the classroom and at cocktail parties.
For almost seven hundred years, the Havasupai Indians, who call themselves People of the Blue Water, have lived in an area that includes the depths of the western Grand Canyon and the heights of the San Francisco Peaks. Here they inhabited the greatest altitude variation of any Indians in Southwestern America.
Written in consultation with some of the last Havasupai shamans, this book details their religious beliefs, customs, and healing practices. A second section presents legends of the Havasupai origin, the first people, and tales of Coyote, Gila Monster, Bear, and others.
One of the great documents of colonial Mexico, the Codex Chimalpopoca chronicles the rise of Aztec civilization and preserves the mythology on which it was based. Its two complementary texts, Annals of Cuauhtitlan and Legend of the Suns, record the pre-Cortésian history of the Valley of Mexico together with firsthand versions of that region's myths.
Of particular interest are the stories of the hero-god Quetzalcoatl, for which the Chimalpopoca is the premier source. John Bierhorst's work is the first major scholarship on the Codex Chimalpopoca in more than forty years. His is the first edition in English and the first in any language to include the complete text of the Legend of the Suns. The precise, readable translation not only contributes to the study of Aztec history and literature but also makes the codex an indispensable reference for Aztec cultural topics, including land tenure, statecraft, the role of women, the tribute system, warfare, and human sacrifice.
The Jealous Potter
Claude Lévi-Strauss University of Chicago Press, 1988 Library of Congress E59.R38L6313 1988 | Dewey Decimal 398.208997
As Lévi-Strauss freely explores the mythologies of the Americas, with occasional incursions into European and Japanese folklore, tales of sloths and squirrels interweave with discussions of Freud, Saussure, "signification," and plays by Sophocles and Labiche. Lévi-Strauss critiques psychoanalytic interpretation and defends the interpretive powers of structuralism.
"Electrifying. . . . A brilliant demonstration of structural analysis in action. . . . Can be read with pleasure and profit by anyone interested in that aspect of self-discovery that comes through knowledge of the universal and timeless myths that live on in all of us."—Jonathan Sharp, San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle
"A characteristic tour de force. . . . One remains awed by him."—Colin Thubron, Sunday Times
"With all its epistemological depth, the book reads at times like a Simenon or a Lewis Carroll, fusing concise methodology with mastery of style."—Bernadette Bucher, American Ethnologist
"[An] engagingly provocative exploration of mythology in the Americas. . . . Always a good read."—Choice
"A playful, highly entertaining book, fluently and elegantly translated by Bénédicte Chorier."—Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, New York Times Book Review
Landscape is a powerful factor in the operation of memory because of the associations narrators make between the local landscape and the events of the stories they tell. Ancestors and mythological events often become fixed in a specific landscape and act as timeless reference points.
In conventional anthropological literature, "landscape" is the term applied to the meaning local people bestow on their cultural and physical surroundings. In this work, the authors explore the cultural and physical landscapes an individual or cultural group has constructed to define the origins or beginnings of that cultural group as revealed through shared or traditional memory. The cultural landscapes of origins in diverse sites throughout the Americas are investigated through multidisciplinary research, not only to reveal the belief system and mythologies but also to place these origin beliefs in context and relationship to each other. In a continual interaction between the past, present, and future, time is subordinate to place, and history, as defined in Western academic terms, does not exist.
A new edition of Dave Marsh's classic work on the three-chord song that rocked the world
"A tale as compelling as any John Grisham thriller."
"Dave Marsh's Louie Louie is part rant, part rock criticism and part cultural analysis, with a good dose of Ripley's Believe It or Not! thrown in."
-The New York Times Book Review
"Marsh keeps the story of one trashy song interesting by revealing how 'three chords and a cloud of dust' contains within it the history and future of rock 'n' roll."
"What you don't know about 'Louie Louie' probably won't hurt you. But everything you need to know is in Marsh's book, including the lyrics-the real ones and the ones people thought they heard. If there is a better measure of your pop-cultural IQ, I don't know where to find it."
Since his days as the original editor of Creem, Dave Marsh has been revered as one of rock's greatest critics. During the 70s he was record editor at Rolling Stone, and in 1983 he founded Rock & Roll Confidential. His other books include Glory Days: Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s (1987), and Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who (1983).
In 73 A.D., legend has it, 960 Jewish rebels under siege in the ancient desert fortress of Masada committed suicide rather than surrender to a Roman legion. Recorded in only one historical source, the story of Masada was obscure for centuries. In The Masada Myth, Israeli sociologist Nachman Ben-Yehuda tracks the process by which Masada became an ideological symbol for the State of Israel, the dramatic subject of movies and miniseries, a shrine venerated by generations of Zionists and Israeli soldiers, and the most profitable tourist attraction in modern Israel.
Ben-Yehuda describes how, after nearly 1800 years, the long, complex, and unsubstantiated narrative of Josephus Flavius was edited and augmented in the twentieth century to form a simple and powerful myth of heroism. He looks at the ways this new mythical narrative of Masada was created, promoted, and maintained by pre-state Jewish underground organizations, the Israeli army, archaeological teams, mass media, youth movements, textbooks, the tourist industry, and the arts. He discusses the various organizations and movements that created “the Masada experience” (usually a ritual trek through the Judean desert followed by a climb to the fortress and a dramatic reading of the Masada story), and how it changed over decades from a Zionist pilgrimage to a tourist destination.
Placing the story in a larger historical, sociological, and psychological context, Ben-Yehuda draws upon theories of collective memory and mythmaking to analyze Masada’s crucial role in the nation-building process of modern Israel and the formation of a new Jewish identity. An expert on deviance and social control, Ben-Yehuda looks in particular at how and why a military failure and an enigmatic, troubling case of mass suicide (in conflict with Judaism’s teachings) were reconstructed and fabricated as a heroic tale.
There is no Classical Yucatecan Maya word for "myth." But around the close of the seventeenth century, an anonymous Maya scribe penned what he called u kahlay cab tu kinil, "the world history of the era," before Christianity came to the Peten. He collected numerous accounts of the cyclical destruction and reestablishment of the cosmos; the origins of gods, human beings, and the rituals and activities upon which their relationship depends; and finally the dawn of the sun and the sacred calendar Maya diviners still use today to make sense of humanity's place in the otherwise inscrutable march of time. These creation myths eventually became part of the documents known today as the Books of Chilam Balam.
Maya Creation Myths provides not only new and outstanding translations of these myths but also an interpretive journey through these often misunderstood texts, providing insight into Maya cosmology and how Maya intellectuals met the challenge of the European clergy's attempts to eradicate their worldviews. Unlike many scholars who focus primarily on traces of pre-Hispanic culture or Christian influence within the Books of Chilam Balam, Knowlton emphasizes the diversity of Maya mythic traditions and the uniquely Maya discursive strategies that emerged in the Colonial period.
This book will be of significant interest to Maya scholars, folklorists, and historians, as well as students and scholars of religion, cosmology, and anthropology.
Malcolm Peet’s Medicine, Mysticism and Mythology: Garth Wilkinson, Swedenborg and Nineteenth-Century Esoteric Culture explores the life and cultural milieu of the nineteenth-century Swedenborgian James John Garth Wilkinson (1812-99), whose largely forgotten influence touched a diverse range of intellectual fields and social reform movements. In the early chapters, Peet offers a brief biographical sketch of Wilkinson and a concise history of Swedenborg’s reception in England, touching on the involvement of such figures as John Clowes, Robert Hindmarsh, Manoah Sibly, Ebenezer Sibly, and Charles Augustus Tulk.
Subsequent chapters go on to explore Wilkinson’s early role in publishing the poetry of William Blake; his dealings with Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson; his lifelong friendship with Henry James, Sr; his association with Daniel Dunglas Home, Thomas Lake Harris, and Andrew Jackson Davis; his homeopathic practice and its influence on James Tyler Kent; and his engagement with such causes as utopian socialism, environmentalism, women’s suffrage, antivivisectionism, and the deregulation of medicine. The book concludes with a broader study of Wilkinson’s interest in mythology, psychology, and Christian spiritualism.
Ever since Herodotus declared in Histories that to preserve the memories of the great achievements of the Greeks and other nations he would count on their own stories, historians have debated whether and how they should deal with myth. Most have sided with Thucydides, who denounced myth as "unscientific" and banished it from historiography.
In Mythistory, Joseph Mali revives this oldest controversy in historiography. Contesting the conventional opposition between myth and history, Mali advocates instead for a historiography that reconciles the two and recognizes the crucial role that myth plays in the construction of personal and communal identities. The task of historiography, he argues, is to illuminate, not eliminate, these fictions by showing how they have passed into and shaped historical reality. Drawing on the works of modern theorists and artists of myth such as Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, Joyce and Eliot, Mali redefines modern historiography and relates it to the older notion and tradition of "mythistory."
Tracing the origins and transformations of this historiographical tradition from the ancient world to the modern, Mali shows how Livy and Machiavelli sought to recover true history from uncertain myth-and how Vico and Michelet then reversed this pattern of inquiry, seeking instead to recover a deeper and truer myth from uncertain history. In the heart of Mythistory, Mali turns his attention to four thinkers who rediscovered myth in and for modern cultural history: Jacob Burckhardt, Aby Warburg, Ernst Kantorowicz, and Walter Benjamin. His elaboration of the different biographical and historiographical routes by which all four sought to account for the persistence and significance of myth in Western civilization opens up new perspectives for an alternative intellectual history of modernity-one that may better explain the proliferation of mythic imageries of redemption in our secular, all too secular, times.
Edited by Yves Bonnefoy University of Chicago Press, 1991 Library of Congress BL311.D513 1991 | Dewey Decimal 291.1303
With 395 original articles written by leading scholars, it is a remarkable encounter with the mythologies of cultures past and present—the web of stories, traditions, rituals, practices, beliefs, divine figures, sacred objects, and great themes that define civilization.
Drawing on a breathtaking array of sources, from the history of religions to anthropology, archaeology, literature, and linguistics, the contributors define a new approach to the understanding of myth in society.
For this first English-language edition, the articles have been rearranged by region or culture. Together they comprise an exceptionally broad, stimulating introduction to the religious and mythical traditions of the world—from the idea of death in Ancient Egypt to the ideology of nationalism in modern Europe. Greeks and Romans are here in force, naturally, but so too are the Bantu, Dinka, and Dogon of Africa and the Armenians, Mongols, and Turks of Asia.
Readers of Mythologies will discover a wealth of fresh primary sources on such little known traditions as those of the Vietnamese—and bold, provocative new interpretations of well-studied traditions, such as those of classical Greece.
In this book, Katherine Spencer examines Navaho cultural values by studying a specific subset of Navaho mythology: chantway myths, part of ceremonies performed to cure illness. She begins with a summary of the general plot construction of chantway myths and the value themes presented in these plots, then discusses “explanatory elements” inserted by the narrators of the myths. She continues with a deeper analysis of the cultural value judgements conveyed by these myths. At the end of the book, Spencer includes abstracts of the myths she discusses.
In 1931 Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote his famous Remarks on Frazer’s “Golden Bough,” published posthumously in 1967. At that time, anthropology and philosophy were in close contact—continental thinkers drew heavily on anthropology’s theoretical terms, like mana, taboo, and potlatch, in order to help them explore the limits of human belief and imagination. Now the book receives its first translation by an anthropologist, in the hope that it can kick-start a new era of interdisciplinary fertilization.
Wittgenstein’s remarks on ritual, magic, religion, belief, ceremony, and Frazer’s own logical presuppositions are as lucid and thought-provoking now as they were in Wittgenstein’s day. Anthropologists find themselves asking many of the same questions as Wittgenstein—and in a reflection of that, this volume is fleshed out with a series of engagements with Wittgenstein’s ideas by some of the world’s leading anthropologists, including Veena Das, David Graeber, Wendy James, Heonik Kwon, Michael Lambek, Michael Puett, and Carlo Severi.
The German art historian and critic Carl Einstein (1885-1940) was at the forefront of the modernist movement that defined the twentieth century. One of the most prolific and brilliant early commentators on cubism, he was also among the first authors to assess African sculpture as art. Yet his writings remain relatively little known in the Anglophone world. With A Mythology of Forms, the first representative collection of Einstein’s art theory and criticism to appear in English translation, Charles W. Haxthausen fills this gap. Spanning three decades, it assembles the most important of Einstein’s writings on the art that was central to his critical project—on cubism, surrealism, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Paul Klee, and includes the full texts of his two pathbreaking books on African art, Negro Sculpture (1915) and African Sculpture (1921). With fourteen texts by Einstein, each presented with extensive commentary, A Mythology of Forms will bring a pivotal voice in the history of modern art into English.
The Lenape, or Delaware, are an Eastern Algonquian people who originally lived in what is now the greater New York and Philadelphia metropolitan region and have since been dispersed across North America. While the Lenape have long attracted the attention of historians, ethnographers, and linguists, their oral literature has remained unexamined, and Lenape stories have been scattered and largely unpublished.
This catalog of Lenape mythology, featuring synopses of all known Lenape tales, was assembled by folklorist John Bierhorst from historical sources and from material collected by linguists and ethnographers—a difficult task in light of both the paucity of research done on Lenape mythology and the fragmentation of traditional Lenape culture over the past three centuries.
Bierhorst here offers an unprecedented guide to the Lenape corpus with supporting texts. Part one of the "Guide" presents a thematic summary of the folkloric tale types and motifs found throughout the texts; part two presents a synopsis of each of the 218 Lenape narratives on record; part three lists stories of uncertain origin; and part four compares types and motifs occurring in Lenape myths with those found in myths of neighboring Algonquian and Iroquoian cultures.
In the "Texts" section of the book, Bierhorst presents previously unpublished stories collected in the early twentieth century by ethnographers M. R. Harrington and Truman Michelson. Included are two versions of the Lenape trickster cycle, narratives accounting for dance origins, Lenape views of Europeans, and tales of such traditional figures as Mother Corn and the little man of the woods called Wemategunis.
By gathering every available example of Lenape mythology, Bierhorst has produced a work that will long stand as a definitive reference. Perhaps more important, it restores to the land in which the Lenape once thrived a long-missing piece of its Native literary heritage.
Once, work was inextricably linked to survival and self-preservation: the farmer ploughed his land so that his family could eat. In contrast, today work has slowly morphed into a painful and meaningless ritual for many, colonizing almost every part of our day, endless and inescapable.
In The Mythology of Work, Peter Fleming examines how neoliberal society uses the ritual of work—and the threat of its denial—to maintain the late capitalist class order. Work becomes a universal reference point, devoid of any moral or political worth, transforming our society into a factory that never sleeps. Blending critical theory with recent accounts of job-related suicides, office-induced paranoia, fear of relaxation, managerial sadism, and cynical corporate social responsibility campaigns, Fleming paints a bleak picture of a society in which economic and emotional disasters greatly outweigh any professed benefits.
Myths of the Dog-Man
David Gordon White University of Chicago Press, 1991 Library of Congress BL443.D64W45 1991 | Dewey Decimal 291.212
"An impressive and important cross-cultural study that has vast implications for history, religion, anthropology, folklore, and other fields. . . . Remarkably wide-ranging and extremely well-documented, it covers (among much else) the following: medieval Christian legends such as the 14th-century Ethiopian Gadla Hawaryat (Contendings of the Apostles) that had their roots in Parthian Gnosticism and Manichaeism; dog-stars (especially Sirius), dog-days, and canine psychopomps in the ancient and Hellenistic world; the cynocephalic hordes of the ancient geographers; the legend of Prester John; Visvamitra and the Svapacas ("Dog-Cookers"); the Dog Rong ("warlike barbarians") during the Xia, Shang, and Zhou periods; the nochoy ghajar (Mongolian for "Dog Country") of the Khitans; the Panju myth of the Southern Man and Yao "barbarians" from chapter 116 of the History of the Latter Han and variants in a series of later texts; and the importance of dogs in ancient Chinese burial rites. . . . Extremely well-researched and highly significant."—Victor H. Mair, Asian Folklore Studies
Nietzsche: Attempt at a Mythology
Ernst Bertram. Translated by Robert E. Norton University of Illinois Press, 2008 Library of Congress B3317.B4513 2009 | Dewey Decimal 193
First published in 1918, Ernst Bertram's Nietzsche: Attempt at a Mythology substantially shaped the image of Nietzsche for the generation between the wars. It won the Nietzsche Society's first prize and was admired by luminous contemporaries including André Gide, Hermann Hesse, Gottfried Benn, and Thomas Mann. Although translated into French in 1932, the book was never translated into English following the decline of Nietzsche's and Bertram's reputations after 1945. Now, with Nietzsche's importance for twentieth-century thought undisputed, the work by one of his most influential interpreters can at last be read in English.
Employing a perspectival technique inspired by Nietzsche himself, Bertram constructs a densely layered portrait of the thinker that shows him riven by deep and ultimately irresolvable cultural, historical, and psychological conflicts. At once lyrical and intensely probing, richly complex yet thematically coherent, Bertram's book is a masterpiece in a forgotten tradition of intellectual biography.
When Oedipus met the Sphinx on the road to Thebes, he did more than answer a riddle—he spawned a myth that, told and retold, would become one of Western culture’s central narratives about self-understanding. Identifying the story as a threshold myth—in which the hero crosses over into an unknown and dangerous realm where rules and limits are not known—Oedipus and the Sphinx offers a fresh account of this mythic encounter and how it deals with the concepts of liminality and otherness.
Almut-Barbara Renger assesses the story’s meanings and functions in classical antiquity—from its presence in ancient vase painting to its absence in Sophocles’s tragedy—before arriving at two of its major reworkings in European modernity: the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud and the poetics of Jean Cocteau. Through her readings, she highlights the ambiguous status of the Sphinx and reveals Oedipus himself to be a liminal creature, providing key insights into Sophocles’s portrayal and establishing a theoretical framework that organizes evaluations of the myth’s reception in the twentieth century. Revealing the narrative of Oedipus and the Sphinx to be the very paradigm of a key transition experienced by all of humankind, Renger situates myth between the competing claims of science and art in an engagement that has important implications for current debates in literary studies, psychoanalytic theory, cultural history, and aesthetics.
Most readers think that superheroes began with Superman’s appearance in Action Comics No. 1, but that Kryptonian rocket didn’t just drop out of the sky. By the time Superman’s creators were born, the superhero’s most defining elements—secret identities, aliases, disguises, signature symbols, traumatic origin stories, extraordinary powers, self-sacrificing altruism—were already well-rehearsed standards. Superheroes have a sprawling, action-packed history that predates the Man of Steel by decades and even centuries. On the Origin of Superheroes is a quirky, personal tour of the mythology, literature, philosophy, history, and grand swirl of ideas that have permeated western culture in the centuries leading up to the first appearance of superheroes (as we know them today) in 1938.
From the creation of the universe, through mythological heroes and gods, to folklore, ancient philosophy, revolutionary manifestos, discarded scientific theories, and gothic monsters, the sweep and scale of the superhero’s origin story is truly epic. We will travel from Jane Austen’s Bath to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars to Owen Wister’s Wyoming, with some surprising stops along the way. We’ll meet mad scientists, Napoleonic dictators, costumed murderers, diabolical madmen, blackmailers, pirates, Wild West outlaws, eugenicists, the KKK, Victorian do-gooders, detectives, aliens, vampires, and pulp vigilantes (to name just a few). Chris Gavaler is your tour guide through this fascinating, sometimes dark, often funny, but always surprising prehistory of the most popular figure in pop culture today. In a way, superheroes have always been with us: they are a fossil record of our greatest aspirations and our worst fears and failings.
The Origin of the World is a revealing, intimate, and ultimately liberating study of female sexuality at its heart: the vagina. Working from the assumption that sex is pleasurable and fulfilling insofar as its participants fully understand how it works, sexologist Jelto Drenth gives readers a guided tour of the complex, challenging, and often misunderstood "origin of the world."
Drenth describes the workings of the vagina in simple language, enriching his description throughout the book with the imagery, mythology, lore, and history that has surrounded the vagina since the Middle Ages. The Origin of the World moves from basic physiognomic facts to the realms of anthropology, art history, science fiction, and feminist literature-all in the service of mapping the dark continent. Drenth's journey takes him from Renaissance woodcuts to vibrators, clitoridectomies to "virginity checks," fears of the vagina (the vagina dentata) to its celebration. Part medical exposition covering the function of female genitalia from orgasm to pregnancy and part cultural history discussing contemporary and historical views of such aspects of the feminine as pubic hair, Freud's theories of coitus, and slang terms for the vagina, The Origin of the World is encyclopedic in its breadth, fascinating in its content, and familiar in its subject.
This lightly written exploration can be seen as both an owner's manual and a guide for the perplexed. Women and men alike will benefit from its entertaining erudition and from its fundamental mission of demystifying sex and sexuality in the service of greater understanding and, from that understanding, greater pleasure.
Our Divine Double
Charles M. Stang Harvard University Press, 2016 Library of Congress B526.S73 2016 | Dewey Decimal 126
What if you were to discover that you were only one half of a whole—that you had a divine double? In the second and third centuries CE, Charles Stang shows, this idea gripped the religious imagination of the Eastern Mediterranean, offering a distinctive understanding of the self that has survived in various forms down to the present.
In the first comprehensive treatment of Classic Maya patron deity veneration, Joanne P. Baron demonstrates the central importance of patron deity cults in political relationships between both rulers and their subjects and among different Maya kingdoms. Weaving together evidence from inscriptions, images, and artifacts, Patron Gods and Patron Lords provides new insights into how the Classic Maya polity was organized and maintained.
Using semiotic theory, Baron draws on three bodies of evidence: ethnographies and manuscripts from Postclassic, Colonial, and modern Maya communities that connect patron saints to pre-Columbian patron gods; hieroglyphic texts from the Classic period that discuss patron deity veneration; and excavations from four patron deity temples at the site of La Corona, Guatemala. She shows how the Classic Maya used patron deity effigies, temples, and acts of devotion to negotiate group membership, social entitlements, and obligations between individuals and communities. She also explores the wider role of these processes in politics, arguing that rituals and discourses related to patron deities ultimately formulated Maya rulership as a locally oriented institution, which limited the ability of powerful kingdoms to create wider religious communities.
Applying a new theoretical approach for the archaeological study of ideology and power dynamics, Patron Gods and Patron Lords reveals an overlooked aspect of the belief system of Maya communities.
Pythagoras, the ancient Greek mathematician, did not himself eat fava beans in any form; in fact, he banned his followers from eating them. Cultural geographer Frederick Simoons disputes the contention that Pythagoras established that ban because he recognized the danger of favism, a disease that afflicts genetically-predisposed individuals who consume fava beans. Contradicting more deterministic explanations of history, Simoons argues that ritual considerations led to the Pythagorean ban.
In his fascinating and thorough new study, Simoons examines plants associated with ritual purity, fertility, prosperity, and life, on the one hand, or with ritual impurity, sickness, ill fate, and death, on the other. Plants of Life, Plants of Death offers a wealth of detail from not only history, ethnography, religious studies, classics, and folklore, but also from ethnobotany and medicine. Simoons surveys a vast geographical region extending from Europe through the Near East to India and China. He tells the story of India's giant sacred fig trees, the pipal and the banyan, and their changing role in ritual, religion, and as objects of pilgrimage from antiquity to the present day; the history of mandrake and ginseng, “man roots” whose uses from Europe to China have been shaped by the perception that they are human in form; and the story of garlic and onions as impure foods of bad odor in that same broad region.
Simoons also identifies and discusses physical characteristics of plants that have contributed to their contrasting ritual roles, and he emphasizes the point that the ritual roles of plants are also shaped by basic human concerns—desire for good health and prosperity, hopes for fertility and offspring, fear of violence, evil and death—that were as important in antiquity as they are today.
“It dazzles as a piece of scholarship.”—Daniel W. Gade, University of Vermont
An ambitious reinterpretation and defense of Plato’s basic enterprise and influence, arguing that the power of his myths was central to the founding of philosophical rationalism.
Plato’s use of myths—the Myth of Metals, the Myth of Er—sits uneasily with his canonical reputation as the inventor of rational philosophy. Since the Enlightenment, interpreters like Hegel have sought to resolve this tension by treating Plato’s myths as mere regrettable embellishments, irrelevant to his main enterprise. Others, such as Karl Popper, have railed against the deceptive power of myth, concluding that a tradition built on Platonic foundations can be neither rational nor desirable.
Tae-Yeoun Keum challenges the premise underlying both of these positions. She argues that myth is neither irrelevant nor inimical to the ideal of rational progress. She tracks the influence of Plato’s dialogues through the early modern period and on to the twentieth century, showing how pivotal figures in the history of political thought—More, Bacon, Leibniz, the German Idealists, Cassirer, and others—have been inspired by Plato’s mythmaking. She finds that Plato’s followers perennially raised the possibility that there is a vital role for myth in rational political thinking.
In this provocative and necessary work, Roland Boer, a leading biblical scholar and cultural theorist, develops a political myth for the Left: a powerful narrative to be harnessed in support of progressive policy. Boer focuses on foundational stories in the Hexateuch, the first six books of the Bible, from Genesis through Joshua. He contends that the “primal story” that runs from Creation, through the Exodus, and to the Promised Land is a complex political myth, one that has been appropriated recently by the Right to advance reactionary political agendas. To reclaim it in support of progressive political ends, Boer maintains, it is necessary to understand the dynamics of political myth.
Boer elaborates a theory of political myth in dialogue with Ernst Bloch, Theodor Adorno, Alain Badiou, Jacques Lacan, and Slavoj Žižek. Through close readings of well-known biblical stories he then scrutinizes the nature of political myth in light of feminism, psychoanalysis, and Marxism. Turning to contemporary politics, he examines the statements of prominent American and Australian politicians to show how the stories of Creation, conquest, Paradise, and the Promised Land have been distorted into a fantasy of Israel as a perpetual state in the making and a land in need of protection. Boer explains how this fantasy of Israel shapes U.S. and Australian foreign and domestic policies, and he highlights the links between it and the fantasy of unfettered global capitalism. Contending that political myths have repressed dimensions which if exposed undermine the myths’ authority, Boer urges the Left to expose the weakness in the Right’s mythos. He suggests that the Left make clear what the world would look like were the dream of unconstrained capitalism to be realized.
Eighteen essays provide an accessible, entertaining look into a system of millennia-old legends and beliefs.
Mythology is one of the great creations of humankind. It forms the core of sacred books and reflects the deepest preoccupations of human beings, their most intimate secrets, their glories, and their infamies.
In 1990, Alfredo López Austin, one of the foremost scholars of ancient Mesoamerican thought, began a series of essays about mythology in the Mesoamerican tradition, published in México Indígena. Although his articles were written for general readers, they were also intended to engage specialists. They span a divers subject matter: myths and names, eclipses, stars, left and right, Méxican origins, Aztec incantations, animals, and the incorporation of Christian elements into the living mythologies of Mexico. The title essay relates the Mesoamerican myth explaining why there is a rabbit o the moon’s face to a Buddhist image and suggests the importance of the profound mythical concepts presented by each image.
The eighteen essays in this volume are unified by their basis in Mesoamerican tradition and provide an accessible, entertaining look into a system of millennia-old legends and beliefs.
"Lévi-Strauss is a French savant par excellence, a man of extraordinary sensitivity and human wisdom . . . a deliberate stylist with profound convictions and convincing arguments. . . . [The Raw and the Cooked] adds yet another chapter to the tireless quest for a scientifically accurate, esthetically viable, and philosophically relevant cultural anthropology. . . . [It is] indispensable reading."—Natural History
Re-Creating Primordial Time offers a new perspective on the Maya codices, documenting the extensive use of creation mythology and foundational rituals in the hieroglyphic texts and iconography of these important manuscripts. Focusing on both pre-Columbian codices and early colonial creation accounts, Vail and Hernández show that in spite of significant cultural change during the Postclassic and Colonial periods, the mythological traditions reveal significant continuity, beginning as far back as the Classic period.
Remarkable similarities exist within the Maya tradition, even as new mythologies were introduced through contact with the Gulf Coast region and highland central Mexico. Vail and Hernández analyze the extant Maya codices within the context of later literary sources such as the Books of Chilam Balam, the Popol Vuh, and the Códice Chimalpopoca to present numerous examples highlighting the relationship among creation mythology, rituals, and lore. Compiling and comparing Maya creation mythology with that of the Borgia codices from highland central Mexico, Re-Creating Primordial Time is a significant contribution to the field of Mesoamerican studies and will be of interest to scholars of archaeology, linguistics, epigraphy, and comparative religions alike.
As the site of several miracles in the Jewish and Christian traditions, the Jordan is one of the world’s holiest rivers. It is also the major political and symbolic border contested by Israelis and Palestinians. Combining biblical and folkloric studies with historical geography, Rachel Havrelock explores how the complex religious and mythological representations of the river have shaped the current conflict in the Middle East.
Havrelock contends that the intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from the nationalist myths of the Hebrew Bible, where the Jordan is defined as a border of the Promised Land. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim the Jordan as a necessary boundary of an indivisible homeland. Examining the Hebrew Bible alongside ancient and modern maps of the Jordan, Havrelock chronicles the evolution of Israel’s borders based on nationalist myths while uncovering additional myths that envision Israel as a bi-national state. These other myths, she proposes, provide roadmaps for future political configurations of the nation. Ambitious and masterful in its scope, River Jordan brings a fresh, provocative perspective to the ongoing struggle in this violence-riddled region.
This volume of papers presents studies by individual authors on topics relating to Roman history and mythology, such as the myths of Hercules, and the place of Roman law in ancient culture and society.
Russia: The Story of War
Gregory Carleton Harvard University Press, 2017 Library of Congress DK18.C37 2017 | Dewey Decimal 303.660947
Outsiders view Russia as an aggressor, but Russians see themselves as surrounded by enemies, defensively fighting off invader after invader, or called upon by history to be the savior of Europe, or Christianity, or civilization itself, often at immense cost. As Gregory Carleton shows, war is the unifying thread of Russia’s national epic.
A landmark book, David Pan’s Sacrifice in the Modern World seeks to explain the continuing emphasis, in modern times, on sacrifice. Pan specifically turns to the culture of sacrifice—ritualized and sanctified death—in Nazi Germany, showing how that regime co-opted an existing discussion of sacrifice and infused it with its own mythology. Pan suggests that sacrifice is a key value in every society but that there is a preponderance of association of sacrifice with Nazi culture and therefore a largely pejorative treatment of sacrifice.
Surveying the arguments of philosopher Alfred Baeumler and other symptomatic Nazi texts, Pan shows how the Nazis’ reactionary intellectual culture unraveled much of the Enlightenment project. In so doing, he is able to offer a compelling new perspective on basic theoretical concepts in the work of Kant, Nietzsche, Adorno, Bataille, Girard, and others. He posits that it is only by clearing our way through the Nazis’ misuse of sacrifice that we can understand the durability of sacrificial structures that—following several of the theorists he discusses— establish the fundamental values by which we live our lives.
Rather than condemning the Nazi appeal to sacrifice itself, this book looks at the particular ways in which sacrifice was distributed and structured within that society. All cultures must grapple with the existential violence of the human condition, and they frequently do so through aesthetic treatments of sacrifice, rooted in myths and traditions. Pan argues that our task is not to eradicate these traditions but to engage them by carefully evaluating the commitments and values that they imply.
Louise M. Pryke Reaktion Books, 2016 Library of Congress QL458.7.P79 2016 | Dewey Decimal 595.46
No creature has quite the sting in our mythology and folklore as the scorpion. From the dawn of human civilization they have been a dangerous figure in our imaginations—poisonous, precise, and deadly quiet—but as Louise M. Pryke shows in this book, their bad reputation has overshadowed many exceptional qualities. Scurrying across hundreds of millions of years and across every continent except Antarctica, this book gives the scorpion its due as one of nature’s longest lasting survivors.
Indeed scorpions are older than dinosaurs. An ancient arthropod, their form—notable for its pair of pincers and an elegant tail that holds a menacing stinger high in the air in a permanent striking position—hasn’t changed since prehistoric times, though today there are some 1700 different species. Throughout our existence scorpions have served as a powerful cultural and religious symbol—sometimes dangerous, sometimes protecting—from the Egyptian goddess Serket to Zodiac astrology to folk medicine. A fascinating tour that takes us from the art of North Africa to the American Civil War to the markets of Beijing, Scorpion is an homage to one of earth’s oldest residents.
This thirtieth anniversary edition of Sound and Sentiment makes Steven Feld's landmark, field-defining book available to a new generation of scholars and students. A sensory ethnography set in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea, among the Kaluli people of Bosavi, Sound and Sentiment introduced the anthropology of sound, or the cultural study of sound. After it was first published in 1982, a second edition, incorporating additional field research and a new postscript, was released in 1990. The third edition includes all of the material from the first two editions, along with a substantial new introduction in which Feld discusses Bosavi's recent history and reflects on the challenges it poses for contemporary theory and representation.
Katarzyna and Sergiusz Michalski Reaktion Books, 2010 Library of Congress QL458.4.M53 2010 | Dewey Decimal 595.44
Both fascinating and frightening, the spider has a rich symbolic presence in the imagination. At once a representative of death, due to its fangs and dangerous poison, the spider can also represent life and creation, because of its intricate web and females who carry sacs of thousands of tiny eggs. In this wide-ranging book, Katarzyna and Sergiusz Michalskiinvestigate the natural history and cultural significance of the spider.
From ancient Greek myth to Dostoyevsky, the authors explore the appearance of spiders in literature and their depictions in art, paying particular attention to the sculptures of Louise Bourgeois. Horror stories, science fiction, folklore, and children’s tales are also investigated, as well as the affliction of arachnophobia and the procedures used to cure it. The association of the spider with women or mothers is explored alongside the role of the spider metaphor in Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis, and the Michalskis’ in-depth account concludes with a look at the unfavorable portrayal of the sinister spider in film.
A thorough and engaging look at the natural and cultural history of the spider, this book will appeal to anybody who admires or fears this delicate yet dangerous creature.
Hindu and Greek mythologies teem with stories of women and men who are doubled, who double themselves, who are seduced by gods doubling as mortals, whose bodies are split or divided. In Splitting the Difference, the renowned scholar of mythology Wendy Doniger recounts and compares a vast range of these tales from ancient Greece and India, with occasional recourse to more recent "double features" from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Face/Off.
Myth, Doniger argues, responds to the complexities of the human condition by multiplying or splitting its characters into unequal parts, and these sloughed and cloven selves animate mythology's prodigious plots of sexuality and mortality. Doniger's comparisons show that ultimately differences in gender are more significant than differences in culture; Greek and Indian stories of doubled women resemble each other more than they do tales of doubled men in the same culture. In casting Hindu and Greek mythologies as shadows of each other, Doniger shows that culture is sometimes but the shadow of gender.
The Story of Myth
Sarah Iles Johnston Harvard University Press, 2018 Library of Congress BL783.J64 2019 | Dewey Decimal 292.13
Sarah Iles Johnston argues that the nature of myths as gripping tales starring vivid characters enabled them to do their most important work: sustaining belief in the gods and heroes of Greek religion. She shows how Greek myths—and the stories told by all cultures—affect our shared view of the cosmos and the creatures who inhabit it.
Depicted in popular films, television series, novels, poems, and countless media reports, Sylvia Plath's women readers have become nearly as legendary as Plath herself, in large part because the depictions are seldom kind. If one is to believe the narrative told by literary and popular culture, Plath's primary audience is a body of young, misguided women who uncritically—even pathologically—consume Plath's writing with no awareness of how they harm the author's reputation in the process.
Janet Badia investigates the evolution of this narrative, tracing its origins, exposing the gaps and elisions that have defined it, and identifying it as a bullying mythology whose roots lie in a long history of ungenerous, if not outright misogynistic, rhetoric about women readers that has gathered new energy from the backlash against contemporary feminism.
More than just an exposé of our cultural biases against women readers, Badia's research also reveals how this mythology has shaped the production, reception, and evaluation of Plath's body of writing, affecting everything from the Hughes family's management of Plath's writings to the direction of Plath scholarship today. Badia discusses a wide range of texts and issues whose significance has gone largely unnoticed, including the many book reviews that have been written about Plath's publications; films and television shows that depict young Plath readers; editorials and fan tributes written about Plath; and Ted and (daughter) Frieda Hughes's writings about Plath's estate and audience.
Historians know a great deal about how English thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the "documentable" past, but relatively little about how they perceived times stretching back beyond history. Arthur B. Ferguson shows in this elegant essay that prehistory had great meaning in Renaissance England. Commentators of various sorts—from poets to antiquaries—looked to the most distant past for the vanishing point that would perfect their historical perspective and orient them in an age of increasing change. In this pursuit they had often to let imagination serve the purposes of interpretation. Though largely speculative, their efforts reveal much about the intellectual life of Renaissance England. Since the Bible left little room for speculation on prehistory—in fact no room at all for the concept itself—Utter Antiquity concentrates on myth and legend outside of the biblical context and on those who conjured prehistory out of these sources. A subtle conflict between belief and skepticism emerges from these pages, as Ferguson reveals how some Renaissance writers struggled with ancient explanations that flouted reason and experience, while others sidestepped such doubts by relating prehistory to man's social evolution. By isolating and analyzing topics such as skepticism, rationalism, and poetic history, Ferguson illuminates the development of historical consciousness in early modern England. His accessible and eloquent study contributes significantly to an understanding of the Renaissance mind and intellectual history in general.
Originally published in Spanish in 1970, Watunna is the epic history and creation stories of the Makiritare, or Yekuana, people living along the northern bank of the Upper Orinoco River of Venezuela, a region of mountains and virgin forest virtually unexplored even to the present. The first English edition of this book was published in 1980 to rave reviews. This edition contains a new foreword by David Guss, as well as Mediata, a detailed myth that recounts the origins of shamanism.
When people go looking for hell, they go underground. Dante, Aeneas, and Odysseus all journeyed beneath the earth to find the underworld, a place where the dead are tortured according to their sins. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had to deal with a huge underground pit infested with demons below her high school called the Hellmouth. And when Homer Simpson ate the forbidden donut for which he’d sold his soul to the devil, he was sucked through a fiery hole in the ground. Though humans actually haven’t gone more than 7.5 miles into the earth, we associate this mysterious underground realm with darkness and death, and the depths of the earth’s interior remain an inspiration for writers and artists trying to imagine hell.
Why Hell Stinks of Sulfur uses subterranean mythology as a point of departure to explore the vast world that lies beneath our feet. Geologist Salomon Kroonenberg takes us on an expedition that begins in Dante’s Inferno and continues through Virgil, Da Vinci, Descartes, and Jules Verne. He investigates the nine circles of hell, searches a lake near Naples for the gates of hell used by Aeneas, and turns a scientific spotlight on the many myths of the underworld. He uncovers the layers of the earth’s interior one by one, describing the variety of gasses, ores, liquids, and metals that add to the immense variety of color that can be found below us. Kroonenberg views the inside of the earth as a living ecosystem whose riches we are only beginning to discover, and he warns against our thirst for natural resources exhausting the earth.
From the underground rivers and lakes that have never seen the light of day to the story of Saint Barbara—the patron saint of mineworkers—Kroonenberg’s pursuit of the geological foundations of hell is a fascinating journey to the center of the earth.
If you told a woman her sex had a shared, long-lived history with weasels, she might deck you. But those familiar with mythology know better: that the connection between women and weasels is an ancient and favorable one, based in the Greek myth of a midwife who tricked the gods to ease Heracles’s birth—and was turned into a weasel by Hera as punishment. Following this story as it is retold over centuries in literature and art, Women and Weasels takes us on a journey through mythology and ancient belief, revising our understanding of myth, heroism, and the status of women and animals in Western culture.
Maurizio Bettini recounts and analyzes a variety of key literary and visual moments that highlight the weasel’s many attributes. We learn of its legendary sexual and childbearing habits and symbolic association with witchcraft and midwifery, its role as a domestic pet favored by women, and its ability to slip in and out of tight spaces. The weasel, Bettini reveals, is present at many unexpected moments in human history, assisting women in labor and thwarting enemies who might plot their ruin. With a parade of symbolic associations between weasels and women—witches, prostitutes, midwives, sisters-in-law, brides, mothers, and heroes—Bettini brings to life one of the most venerable and enduring myths of Western culture.
Feet, bras, autopsies, hair—Peggy Shinner takes an honest, unflinching look at all of them in You Feel So Mortal, a collection of searing and witty essays about the body: her own body, female and Jewish; those of her parents, the bodies she came from; and the collective body, with all its historical, social, and political implications. What, she asks, does this whole mess of bones, muscles, organs, and soul mean? Searching for answers, she turns her keen narrative sense to body image, gender, ethnic history, and familial legacy, exploring what it means to live in our bodies and to leave them behind.
Over the course of twelve essays, Shinner holds a mirror up to the complex desires, fears, confusions, and mysteries that shape our bodily perceptions. Driven by the collision between herself and the larger world, she examines her feet through the often-skewed lens of history to understand what makes them, in the eyes of some, decidedly Jewish; considers bras, breasts, and the storied skills of the bra fitter; asks, from the perspective of a confused and grieving daughter, what it means to cut the body open; and takes a reeling time-trip through myth, culture, and history to look at women’s hair in ancient Rome, Laos, France, Syria, Cuba, India, and her own past. Some pieces investigate the body under emotional or physical duress, while others use the body to consider personal heritage and legacy. Throughout, Shinner writes with elegance and assurance, weaving her wide-ranging thoughts into a firm and fascinating fabric.
Turning the category of body books on, well, its ear, You Feel So Mortal offers a probing view of our preoccupation with the body that is both idiosyncratic and universal, leaving us with the deep satisfaction of our shared humanity.