From Olympus to Camelot: The World of European Mythology

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From the stories suggested by the great cave paintings of the Paleolithic period to the thought experiments of modern scientists, From Olympus to Camelot provides a sweeping history of the development of the rich and varied European mythological tradition.
David Leeming, an authority on world mythology, begins with a general introduction to mythology and mythological terms, and then turns to the stories themselves. Discussing well-known figures such as Zeus, Aphrodite, Thor, and Cuchulainn, and less familiar ones such as Perun, Mari, and the Sorcerer of Lescaux, Leeming illustrates and analyzes the enduring human endeavor to make sense of existence through deities and heroes.
Following an initial exploration of the Indo-European sources of European mythology and the connections between the myths of Europe and those of India and Iran, the book proceeds to survey the major beliefs of Greek, Roman, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, and Slavic cultures, as well as the mythologies of non-Indo-European cultures such as the Etruscans and the Finns. Among its contents are introductions to the pantheons of various mythologies, examinations of major mythological works, and retellings of the influential mythical stories. This work also examines European deities, creation myths, and heroes in the context of Christian belief, and considers the translation of traditional stories into the mythologies of modern European political, scientific, philosophical, and economic movements.
European mythology is the core mythology of Western civilization. This wide-ranging volume offers a lively and informative survey, along with a provocative new way of understanding this fundamental aspect of European culture.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Leeming effectively uses archeological evidence to demonstrate not only the sources of these myth traditions, but also how they interact with and influence one another. For a reader in search of a solid survey and foundations for further study, From Olympus to Camelot will provide an engaging and enlightening entry into the fascinating world of European mythology." — Journal of American Folklore

"From Iceland to India, from prehistoric cave paintings and fertility figurines to such modern-day 'myths' as the invisible hand, the Oedipal conflict and Schrodinger's cat, Leeming's intriguing treatise on comparative mythology covers a lot of ground. Out of this enormous variety of information, Leeming, a professor of comparative literature and author of The World of Myth, discerns a coherent, distinctive European mythical tradition.... His wide-ranging, well-written treatment contains a wealth of insights on the development of Western culture."—PW Online

"David Leeming brings his encyclopedic knowledge of mythology to From Olympus to Camelot, one of the very few comparative studies of the myths of Europe. His approach provides the reader with both the timeless stories of multiple mythological traditions and enlightening connections between them."—Joseph Nigg, author of The Book of Fabulous Beasts: A Treasury of Writings from Ancient Times to the Present

"David Leeming's learning is vast, his ability to synthesize astonishing. Some scholars are 'conservative' in the best sense: they conserve human knowledge by analyzing it carefully before packaging it in useful compendia. Leeming has contributed yeoman service in a series of volumes that span huge areas of mythological and religious traditions. This volume will be especially helpful to readers who are interested in the broad range of European mythologies that stretch, thanks to Proto-Indo-European materials, into India and even northern Africa. The work adroitly summarizes what can be extremely complex and contradictory, namely the fragmentary archaeological hints of symbol, myth, and culture in Paleolithic and Neolithic periods." —William G. Doty, author of Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals

Publishers Weekly
From Iceland to India, from prehistoric cave paintings and fertility figurines to such modern-day "myths" as the invisible hand, the Oedipal conflict and Schrodinger's cat, Leeming's intriguing treatise on comparative mythology covers a lot of ground. Out of this enormous variety of information, Leeming, a professor of comparative literature and author of The World of Myth, discerns a coherent, distinctive European mythical tradition. He traces it back to the encounter, starting in the 3rd millennium B.C., between a sedentary, agricultural "Old Europe" and nomadic, pastoral Indo-European invaders. In Leeming's view, this conflict gave rise to creation myths of apocalyptic battles between rival bands of deities, in which archaic earth-goddesses were subdued (but not obliterated) by new warrior-sky gods. He shows how common Indo-European themes-the tripartite nature of divinity, the death and rebirth of a god, the preoccupation with cattle raiding-resonate throughout classical Greek, Roman, Celtic, Baltic, Slavic and Norse mythologies. The European mythological tradition culminated, he feels, in Christianity, which featured the tripartite Holy Trinity, the hero-God Jesus (who died and was resurrected), and the comeback of the earth-goddess in the guise of the Virgin Mary. Leeming subscribes to the Carl Jung-Joseph Campbell belief that myths voice an essential "European psyche or soul," and underpin everything from environmental despoliation to Nazism to free-market economics. While he occasionally overstates these arguments, his wide-ranging, well-written treatment contains a wealth of insights on the development of Western culture. Photos. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Leeming (English & comparative literature, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs; The World of Myth) offers a chronological and thematic survey of the European mythological tradition that most libraries should not fail to note. After exploring his subject's prehistoric and Indo-European roots, the author discusses mythologies from the major European cultures, including Greek, Roman, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, and Slavic, as well as Finnish and a few other cultures that are not Indo-European, such as Iberian and Basque. He also considers the development of the hero tradition, including Arthur and the concept of the "once and future king." In this way, the book is highly reminiscent of Joseph Campbell's oeuvre on comparative world mythologies. Leeming closes with a discussion of mythic patterns among the various European cultures that ties much of the mythology to Christian and other tripartite traditions. Although it retells select illustrative stories, this is primarily a scholarly history, though less dense and more compact than any of Campbell's books. Potentially a reference in secondary schools and public libraries, this is most suitable for academic libraries.-Kathy Koenig, Ellis Sch., Pittsburgh Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An overview, dry as the dust of the Parthenon, of the major streams of ancient European mythmaking and of modern scholarship thereon. Leeming (English, Comp. Lit./Univ. of Conn., Storrs; Stephen Spender: A Life in Modernism, 1999, etc.) is working on fertile ground here; who could fail to be fascinated, for instance, by stories of magical men who turn themselves into maggots to infest sacred cows, of giant oak trees that block out the sun, of screeching harridans whose scary hovels rest on stilts made of chicken bones? Yet, darting from one mythic tradition-Slavic, Hellenic, Celtic-to another, Leeming spends little time retelling such stories, instead offering schematic summaries of such grand tales as the Tain, the Mabinogion, and the Prose Edda, buttressed by snippets of history-a couple of pages on archaic Greece here, a paragraph on the arrival of Christianity to Ireland there. His forays into the scholarship on, say, proto-Indo-European society are similarly cursory, and they overlook the considerable controversies that have developed around such matters as the Dumezilian elaboration of that society into "tripartite functions" headed by priests and warriors (a reconstruction that, some have charged, reflects the late Georges Dumezil's devotion to fascism more than the historical record). Leeming peppers his slender narrative with provocative remarks that bear further discussion, as when he links Adam Smith's notion of the "invisible hand," a metaphysical construct through and through, to "the old Judeo-Christian mythology," adding that the modern marketplace is itself something of a mythological being. One imagines that this will be most useful for students in courses on comparativemythology. General readers certainly won't find it a gripping read; they'll do better to turn to The Golden Bough, whose doubtful scholarship is at least offset by good storytelling. More sophisticated than the typical gods-for-clods survey, but far less interesting.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195143614
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/28/2003
  • Series: The World of European Mythology Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

David Leeming is Emeritus Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. His books include The World of Myth, Dictionary of Asian Mythology, Myths, Legends, and Folktales, and Myth: A Biography of Belief. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Myths and Mythologies
Pt. 1 The Background
1 The Mythology of Prehistoric Europe 3
2 The Indo-Europeans: A Common Mythology? 25
Pt. 2 The European Cultures and Their Pantheons
3 Greek Mythology 39
4 Roman Mythology 61
5 Celtic Mythology 73
6 Germanic Mythology 101
7 Baltic, Slavic, and Balkan Mythology 123
8 Finnic and Other Non-Indo-European Mythologies 133
Pt. 3 European, Mythic Patterns and Christian Hegemony
9 European Deities and Creation Myths 141
10 The European Mythic Hero 157
11 European Philosophical Myths and the Modern World 173
Bibliography 181
Index 187
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