Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology

By Geoffrey Miles | Go to book overview

PREFACE

This book has grown out of an undergraduate course on 'Classical Traditions in English Literature' which I have taught for several years at Victoria University of Wellington. One of the aims of the course was to take a handful of classical myths and trace the ways in which they had been reworked and reinterpreted by writers in English from the Middle Ages to the 1990s. I quickly discovered that, though there were many texts on classical mythology and some excellent studies of the reception of particular myths, there was no anthology which brought together the kind of material I wished to teach. So, with scissors and paste, I started assembling my own anthology, which has evolved into this volume.

The enormous number and diversity of English rewritings of classical myth has meant that the volume has swelled in size and narrowed in range, until it now covers just three myths: those of Orpheus, Venus and Adonis, and Pygmalion. Needless to say, these three do not adequately represent the whole of Greek mythology-but then no selection could. They do, however, have sufficient thematic links (as I have suggested in chapter 1) to make interesting comparisons possible, while their popularity with English writers and readers has allowed the inclusion of a wide range of texts, both famous and obscure. I hope, if this volume finds a market among teachers and students, to follow it up with further volumes covering other myths-the great heroic sagas, for instance, or the Trojan War, or the women of Greek mythology.

In selecting texts, my main principle has been to represent as fully as possible the variety of different interpretations and treatments, together with their chronological span and geographical range (Scottish, Irish, American, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand writers are represented). Most of the great canonical writers of English literature find a place here, but mingled with the minor, the unknown, and the positively bizarre. Indeed, I have regretfully abridged some of the more famous (but easily accessible) texts in order to make space for lesser texts that provide interesting comparisons and contexts: Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis is familiar, but readers are less likely to stumble across (say) Bartholomew Griffin, Richard Barnfield, William Browne, or Thomas Heywood. However, nothing has been included that I did not think worth reading in its own right (even if occasionally for its entertaining badness),

-xii-

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Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xii
  • Part 1 1
  • 1 - The Myth-Kitty 3
  • Notes 19
  • 2 - A Rough Guide to the Gods 20
  • 3 - A Mythical History of the World in One Chapter 35
  • Notes 58
  • Part 2 59
  • 4 - Orpheus 61
  • Notes 74
  • 5 - Venus and Adonis 196
  • Other Versions of Venus and Adonis 329
  • 6 - Pygmalion 332
  • Notes 345
  • Bibliography 450
  • Index of Mythological Names 453
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