The Anatomy of Myth: The Art of Interpretation from the Presocratics to the Church Fathers

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Oxford University Press, 2017 - Social Science - 231 pages
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 to Jewish and Christian interpreters of the Bible. Methods of myth interpretation are closely related to developments in Greekphilosophy, beginning with the Presocratics in the 6th century B.C.E. and continuing to the Neoplatonists in the fifth century C.E. 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, especially Homer and Hesiod, orelse 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 ancientrevelation. 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 somethingdifferent 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 invaluablefor the development of critical thinking, enabling public criticism of even the most authoritative texts. The Church Fathers Church took the interpretative methods of their pagan contemporaries and applied them vigorously to their reading of the scriptures. Pagan Greek methods of myth interpretationpassed into the Middle Ages and beyond, serving as a perennial defense against the damaging effects of scriptural literalism and fundamentalism.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
1 The Paradigm of the Poets
13
2 What Makes a Work Authoritative?
27
3 PhysisRedefining the Gods
37
4 Flirting with Atheism
51
5 Attacking Poetry
63
6 The Beginnings of Allegory
73
7 Finding History in Myth
83
10 Saving the Poets without Allegory
123
11 From Allegory to Symbolism
131
12 Greek Exegesis and JudaeoChristian Books
147
How Lasting Was the Greek Achievement?
165
Notes
171
Bibliography
189
Glossary of Names and Terms
199
General Index
219

8 TheosRediscovering God
97
9 The Growth of Allegory
109

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About the author (2017)


Michael Herren, B.A. (Claremont), M.S.L. (Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies), Ph.D. (Classics, Toronto), has published and lectured widely on the Latin literature and culture of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. His work includes critical editions and translations, the history of texts, medieval mythography, and the study of Greek in the Middle Ages. He continues to teach and supervise students at York University and the University of Toronto.

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