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The latest installment in the New York Times bestselling Don't Know Much About® series -- a magical journey into the timeless world of mythology

It has been fifteen years since Kenneth C. Davis first dazzled audiences with his instant classic Don't Know Much About® History, vividly bringing the past to life and proving that Americans don't hate history, they just hate the dull, textbook version they were fed in school. With humor, wit, and a knack for storytelling, Davis has been bringing readers of all ages up to speed on history, geography, and science ever since. Now, in the classic traditions of Edith Hamilton and Joseph Campbell, he turns his talents to the world of myth.

Where do we come from? Why do stars shine and the seasons change? What is evil? Since the beginning of time, people have answered such questions by crafting imaginative stories that have served as religion, science, philosophy, and popular literature. In his irreverent and popular question-and-answer style, Davis introduces and explains the great myths of the world, as well as the works of literature that have made them famous. In a single volume, he tackles Mesopotamia's Gilgamesh, the first hero in world mythology; Achilles and the Trojan War; Stonehenge and the Druids; Thor, the Nordic god of thunder; Chinese oracle bones; the use of peyote in ancient Native American rites; and the dramatic life and times of the man who would be Buddha.

Ever familiar and instructive, Davis shows why the ancient tales of gods and heroes -- from Mount Olympus to Machu Picchu, from ancient Rome to the icy land of the Norse -- continue to speak to us today, in our movies, art, language, and music. For mythology novices and buffs alike, and for anyone who loves a good story, Don't Know Much About® Mythology is a lively and insightful look into the greatest stories ever told.

The Anatomy of Myth is a comprehensive study of the different methods of interpreting myths developed by the Greeks, adopted by the Romans, and eventually passed on to Jewish and Christian interpreters of the Bible. Greek thinkers only rarely saw "myth" as a category of thought in its own right. Most often they viewed myths as the creation of poets, or else as an ancient revelation that had been corrupted by them. In the first instance, critics attempted to find in the intention of the authors some deeper truth, whether physical or spiritual; in the second, they deemed it necessary to clear away poetic falsehoods in order to recapture an ancient revelation. Parallel to the philosophical critiques were the efforts of early historians to explain myths as exaggerated history; myths could be purified by logos (reason) and rendered believable. Practically all of these early methods could be lumped under the term "allegory"--to intend something different from what one expressed. Only occasionally did philosophers veer from a concern for the literal truth of myths but a few thinkers, while acknowledging myths as fictions, defended their value for the examples of good and bad human behavior they offered. These early efforts were invaluable for the development of critical thinking, enabling public criticism of even the most authoritative texts. The Church Fathers took the interpretative methods of their pagan contemporaries and applied them vigorously to their reading of the scriptures. Pagan Greek methods of myth interpretation passed into the Middle Ages and beyond, serving as a perennial defense against the damaging effects of scriptural literalism and fundamentalism.
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."
This is the first book-length critical analysis in any language of Hans Blumenberg’s theory of myth. Blumenberg can be regarded as the most important German theorist of myth of the second half of the twentieth century, and his Work on Myth (1979) has resonated across disciplines ranging from literary theory, via philosophy, religious studies and anthropology, to the history and philosophy of science.

Nicholls introduces Anglophone readers to Blumenberg’s biography and to his philosophical contexts. He elucidates Blumenberg’s theory of myth by relating it to three important developments in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German philosophy (hermeneutics, phenomenology and philosophical anthropology), while also comparing Blumenberg’s ideas with those of other prominent theorists of myth such as Vico, Hume, Schelling, Max Müller, Frazer, Sorel, Freud, Cassirer, Heidegger, Horkheimer and Adorno. According to Nicholls, Blumenberg’s theory of myth can only be understood in relation to the ‘human sciences,’ since it emerges from a speculative hypothesis concerning the emergence of the earliest human beings. For Blumenberg, myth was originally a cultural adaptation that constituted the human attempt to deal with anxieties concerning the threatening forces of nature by anthropomorphizing those forces into mythic images.

In the final two chapters, Blumenberg’s theory of myth is placed within the post-war political context of West Germany. Through a consideration of Blumenberg’s exchanges with Carl Schmitt, as well as by analysing unpublished correspondence and parts of the original Work of Myth manuscript that Blumenberg held back from publication, Nicholls shows that Blumenberg’s theory of myth also amounted to a reckoning with the legacy of National Socialism.

The history of science provides numerous examples of the way in which imagination, religion and mythology have sometimes helped and sometimes hindered scientific progress. While established ideas and beliefs clearly held back the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin, the intuitive knowledge found in mythology, art and religion has often proved useful in indicating new ways in which to explore or represent new knowledge of the world. Stories, fables and images have contributed to drawing a fuller picture of the past, understanding the present and imagining the future.

The essays in this book, written by academics, writers and artists from various fields ranging from La Fontaine’s fables to nanotechnology and modern art, all point out the ways in which imagination works its way into all the fields of knowledge. At both ends of the spectrum, the hybrid nature of the chimera emerges as a pivotal symbol of both man’s predation instinct and a powerful symbol of his fear of extinction.

This interdisciplinary book, weaving together visual representation, literature, mysticism, and science, will appeal to historians of science, philosophy, art and religion. It will also be of interest to scholars in cultural studies and anthropology. Drawing on recent scientific research and artistic production, the volume will additionally interest a wider audience wishing to learn more about man’s obsession and fascination with the potent symbolism of dinosaurs and dragons and all hybrid forms generated by the human imagination and recent technology.

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