Mythology books
January 19, 2013 10:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for the very best non-dry nonfiction about different mythologies, especially as they relate in a historical/societal context. Comparative mythology is awesome, but so is focusing on a specific mythology (like a book focusing solely on druids or fairies or what have you). I don't want a compilation of myths or retellings. I do want an examination of common themes within a culture or the structure of the culture's pantheon.
posted by goosechasing to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like you want something like Celtic Heritage by Alwyn & Brinley Rees. It's less about the particular stories than the systematic worldview of Celtic myth (and, comparatively, Indo-European myth) that the stories expose.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:55 PM on January 19, 2013

I can think of many, many books. Are you interested in certain themes in particular? That might help narrow it down.

Also, have you read the Golden Bough? Not always non-dry, but could interest you...
posted by mermaidcafe at 12:30 AM on January 20, 2013

Anything by Joseph Campbell. We recently listened to a series of his lectures and were rapt from start to finish.
posted by walla at 7:16 AM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Georges Dum├ęzil's Archaic Roman Religion, but be forewarned that comparative mythology is pretty outdated, at least from the Roman side.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:55 AM on January 20, 2013

Well the daddy of them all is The Golden Bough, though it is, I think, Victorian; and old-fashioned enough that he couldn't come out and just say that hundreds of connected myths from the Near East feature a miraculous child and a sacrificed god. It's interesting as an early example of comparative mythography. And it is a bit dry and log-winded but on the other hand, free online from a number of places including Project Gutenberg.
posted by glasseyes at 11:22 AM on January 20, 2013

Parallel Myths by J.F. Bierlein is a great book on comparative mythologies and common themes, motifs, and ideas across cultures and civilizations.
posted by nickhb at 12:00 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mircea Eliade?
posted by Tom-B at 12:48 PM on January 20, 2013

Please be aware that The Golden Bough is a good read but like much nascent anthropology of that era, it is riddled with inaccuracies and distortions. It's a fun read, but a bit like reading Decline and Fall about Roman history.

Joseph Cambpell is basically one step above Erich Von Daniken; his endurance and popularity is baffling to me and he is absolutely not to be taken seriously in any way. His theories are rubbish.

Marina Warner tends to focus on the "western" canon more than you might be looking for, but her books are terrific. Fascinating, well-researched, terrific prose. You could do a lot worse.
posted by smoke at 2:02 PM on January 20, 2013

You may want to check out Roberto Calasso. He's written on various myth-systems in a weird free-mixed narrative style that tends to tie everything together and give an overview of the cultural influences shaping and shaped by the myths. Specifically look at The Marriage Of Cadmus and Harmony (Greek) and Ka (Hindu), though K also does an interesting job of unpacking the mythology that Kafka existed within as well as what he created.
posted by zinful at 2:20 AM on January 21, 2013

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