Synopses & Reviews
Hercules, Zeus, Thor, Gilgamesh--these are the figures that leap to mind when we think of myth. But to David Leeming, myths are more than stories of deities and fantastic beings from non-Christian cultures. Myth is at once the most particular and the most universal feature of civilization, representing common concerns that each society voices in its own idiom. Whether an Egyptian story of creation or the big-bang theory of modern physics, myth is metaphor, mirroring our deepest sense of ourselves in relation to existence itself.
Now, in The World of Myth, Leeming provides a sweeping anthology of myths, ranging from ancient Egypt and Greece to the Polynesian islands and modern science. We read stories of great floods from the ancient Babylonians, Hebrews, Chinese, and Mayans; tales of apocalypse from India, the Norse, Christianity, and modern science; myths of the mother goddess from Native American Hopi culture and James Lovelock's Gaia. Leeming has culled myths from Aztec, Greek, African, Australian Aboriginal, Japanese, Moslem, Hittite, Celtic, Chinese, and Persian cultures, offering one of the most wide-ranging collections of what he calls the collective dreams of humanity.
More important, he has organized these myths according to a number of themes, comparing and contrasting how various societies have addressed similar concerns, or have told similar stories. In the section on dying gods, for example, both Odin and Jesus sacrifice themselves to renew the world, each dying on a tree. Such traditions, he proposes, may have their roots in societies of the distant past, which would ritually sacrifice their kings to renew the tribe.
In The World of Myth, David Leeming takes us on a journey "not through a maze of falsehood but through a marvellous world of metaphor," metaphor for "the story of the relationship between the known and the unknown, both around us and within us." Fantastic, tragic, bizarre, sometimes funny, the myths he presents speak of the most fundamental human experience, a part of what Joseph Campbell called "the wonderful song of the soul's high adventure."
andldquo;David Leeming peels layers from the myth and views his subject from a number of perspectives. The result is a complexity that affords us a far richer foundation upon which we can build our understanding of both the myth and ourselves.andrdquo;
A sweeping anthology of myths, ranging from ancient Egypt and Greece to the Polynesian islands and modern science. "A particularly fine one-volume work that not only draws from a wide variety of sources, but also puts them in a comparative context. . . ".--Booklist.
With her repulsive face and head full of living, venomous snakes, Medusa is petrifyingandmdash;quite literally, since looking directly at her turned people to stone. Ever since Perseus cut off her head and presented it to Athena, she has been a woman of many forms: a dangerous female monster that had to be destroyed, an erotic power that could annihilate men, and, thanks to Freud, a woman whose hair was a nest of terrifying penises that signaled castration. She has been immortalized by artists from Leonardo da Vinci to Salvador Dalandiacute; and was the emblem of the Jacobins after the French Revolution. Today, sheandrsquo;s viewed by feminists as a noble victim of patriarchy and used by Versace in the designerandrsquo;s logo for menandrsquo;s underwear, haute couture, and exotic dinnerware. Sheand#160;even gives herand#160;name to a sushi roll on a Disney resort menu. Why does Medusa continue to have this power to transfix us?and#160;David Leeming seeks to answer this question in Medusa, a biography of the mythical creature. Searching for the origins of Medusaandrsquo;s myth in cultures that predate ancient Greece, Leeming explores how and why the mythical figure of the gorgon has become one of the most important and enduring ideas in human history. From an oil painting by Caravaggio to Clash of the Titans and Dungeons and Dragons, he delves into the many depictions of Medusa, ultimately revealing that her story is a cultural dream that continues to change and develop with each new era.and#160;Asking what the evolution of the Medusa myth discloses about our culture and ourselves, this book paints an illuminating portrait of a woman who has never ceased to enthrall.
About the Author
David Leeming is professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at the University of Connecticut. His books include Myth: A Biography of Belief and James Baldwin: A Biography. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Table of Contents
1. The Myth
2. Medusaand#8217;s Lineage
3. Medusa in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
4. Medusa in the Romantic and Victorian Ages
5. Medusa in the Age of Realism
6. The Modern Intellectual Medusa
7. The Feminist Medusa
8. Medusa as a Contemporary Icon
9. Myth as Dream
Conclusion: Who is Medusa?