Greek myths have long been admired as beautiful, thrilling stories but dismissed as serious objects of belief. For centuries scholars have held that Greek epics, tragedies, and the other compelling works handed down to us obscure the “real” myths that supposedly inspired them. Instead of joining in this pursuit of hidden meanings, Sarah Iles Johnston argues that the very nature of myths as stories—as gripping tales starring vivid characters—enabled them to do their most important work: to create and sustain belief in the gods and heroes who formed the basis of Greek religion.
By drawing on work in narratology, sociology, and folklore studies, and by comparing Greek myths not only to the myths of other cultures but also to fairy tales, ghost stories, fantasy works, modern novels, and television series, The Story of Myth reveals the subtle yet powerful ways in which these ancient Greek tales forged enduring bonds between their characters and their audiences, created coherent story-worlds, and made it possible to believe in extraordinary gods. Johnston captures what makes Greek myths distinctively Greek, but simultaneously brings these myths into a broader conversation about how the stories told by all cultures affect our shared view of the cosmos and the creatures who inhabit it.
With unparalleled audacity and finesse, Sarah Iles Johnston cuts loose from traditional scholarship and connects us with the complicated, mysterious, high-wattage world of Greek myths. How did they gather their power and energize audiences? Johnston shows us how stories about Zeus, Theseus, Arachne, or Hecate not only entertained, engaged, and animated in their time but also did the important cultural work of shaping beliefs and values.
Why people tell stories based on myths and how they come to believe those stories is central to understanding religion. In this compelling book, Sarah Johnston offers brilliant new analyses of the Greek myths and the stories through which they circulated in the ancient world. It will change the way in which we talk about myths, Greek literature, and religion.
Sarah Johnston has produced a wholly original treatment of ancient Greek mythology. Writing with verve and lucidity, she gives us a new way to understand myth’s enduring power to speak to us all.
The Story of Myth provides a vivid and clear account of how Greek myths engage ancient and modern audiences both cognitively and emotionally. Johnston probes the rich, elaborate evidence found in myths to uncover what the ancient Greeks thought and felt about their world. Using comparisons that range from the ancient myths of other cultures to contemporary movies and television series, Johnston shows parallels in modes of thought and expression while highlighting what makes Greek mythology distinctive.
An excellent overview of Greek myth.
In this elegantly written, meticulously researched volume, Johnston invites the reader to consider how ancient Greek audiences experienced myths and to take seriously the narrative forms, rich with plots and characters (many gods, even more heroes), in which these compositions appeared.
Entertaining and clarifying.
Johnston is to be commended for such an informed, clear, and impressive work, which brings Greek myth back to the core of Greek religion and religious belief in Greek antiquity.
- 384 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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