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Myths of Greece and Rome
by Jane Harrison

“This short review of the Greek pantheon (alas, there is little about Rome), is part of a series of inexpensive adult education books published during the 1920s. The author, Jane Harrison, was one of the most prominent classicists of the era; so this is a bit like hiring a French chef to cook up a big mess of pommes frites. Besides being a respected academic, Harrison influenced many of the 20th century neo-Pagans and Goddess theorists.

Harrison is making a point here: Greek mythology was not the static pageant that we learned in school, or read in Bulfinch. It did not spring forth fully formed, but evolved out of a set of ancient local deities. She proposes that the Greek goddesses emerged from native Pelasgian tutelary spirits, and much of the male pantheon was imposed by Indo-Europeans. Her analysis of the evolution of the attributes of the god Poseidon as originating from a Minoan bull god is speculative but intriguing. Whether Harrison was correct or not, her reexamination of this subject which has been covered so many times is refreshing.”

About the Author:

“Jane Ellen Harrison was a ground-breaking British classical scholar, linguist and feminist. Harrison is one of the founders, with Karl Kerenyi and Walter Burkert, of modern studies in Greek mythology. She applied 19th century archaeological discoveries to the interpretation of Greek religion in ways that have become standard. Harrison was born in Yorkshire, England and first received tutelage under family governesses in subjects such as the many languages Harrison learned: initially German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, later expanded to about sixteen languages, including Russian. Harrison spent most of her professional life at Newnham, the progressive, recently-established college for women at Cambridge. She knew Edward Burne-Jones and Walter Pater, and moved in the Bloomsbury group, with Virginia Woolf (who was one of Harrison’s close friends and looked to her as a mentor), Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell and Roger Fry. With Gilbert Murray, F. M. Cornford, and A. B. Cook, she was inspired to apply anthropology and ethnography to the study of classical art and ritual. Harrison and this later group of people have become known as Cambridge Ritualists.”

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