The Power of Myth

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The national bestseller, now available in a non-illustrated, standard format paperback edition
 
The Power of Myth launched an extraordinary resurgence of interest in Joseph Campbell and his work. A preeminent scholar, writer, and teacher, he has had a profound influence on millions of people--including Star Wars creator George Lucas. To Campbell, mythology was the “song of the universe, the music of the spheres.” With Bill Moyers, one of America’s most prominent journalists, as his thoughtful and engaging interviewer, The Power of Myth touches on subjects from modern marriage to virgin births, from Jesus to John Lennon, offering a brilliant combination of intelligence and wit.

This extraordinary book reveals how the themes and symbols of ancient narratives continue to bring meaning to birth, death, love, and war. From stories of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome to traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, a broad array of themes are considered that together identify the universality of human experience across time and culture. An impeccable match of interviewer and subject, a timeless distillation of Campbell’s work, The Power of Myth continues to exert a profound influence on our culture.  
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About the author

Joseph Campbell (1904-87) began his career in 1934 as an instructor at Sarah Lawrence College, where he taught for almost forty years, and where the Joseph Campbell Chair in Comparative Mythology was established in his honor. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Bill Moyers is an acclaimed journalist, widely respected for his work both at CBS News and at PBS. One of his primary efforts has been to bring to television outstanding thinkers of our time, most recently in the immensely popular and highly celebrated PBS series and bestselling book A World of Ideas. His conversations with Joseph Campbell were one of the highlights of television programming in the 1980s.

Betty Sue Flowers teaches poetry and myth at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author and coauthor of several books, including Browning and the Modern Tradition, Four Shields of Power, and Daughters and Fathers.
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4.5
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Additional Information

Publisher
Anchor
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Published on
May 18, 2011
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9780307794727
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology
Religion / Philosophy
Social Science / Folklore & Mythology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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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."
Why were Prometheus and Loki envisioned as chained to rocks? What was the Golden Calf? Why are mirrors believed to carry bad luck? How could anyone think that mortals like Perseus, Beowulf, and St. George actually fought dragons, since dragons don't exist? Strange though they sound, however, these "myths" did not begin as fiction.

This absorbing book shows that myths originally transmitted real information about real events and observations, preserving the information sometimes for millennia within nonliterate societies. Geologists' interpretations of how a volcanic cataclysm long ago created Oregon's Crater Lake, for example, is echoed point for point in the local myth of its origin. The Klamath tribe saw it happen and passed down the story--for nearly 8,000 years.


We, however, have been literate so long that we've forgotten how myths encode reality. Recent studies of how our brains work, applied to a wide range of data from the Pacific Northwest to ancient Egypt to modern stories reported in newspapers, have helped the Barbers deduce the characteristic principles by which such tales both develop and degrade through time. Myth is in fact a quite reasonable way to convey important messages orally over many generations--although reasoning back to the original events is possible only under rather specific conditions.


Our oldest written records date to 5,200 years ago, but we have been speaking and mythmaking for perhaps 100,000. This groundbreaking book points the way to restoring some of that lost history and teaching us about human storytelling.

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