Classical Myths in English Literature

Classical Myths in English Literature

Classical Myths in English Literature

Classical Myths in English Literature

Excerpt

No one can understand English literature unless he knows something about classical myths, for our writers from the Middle Ages to the present have used and still use classical myths in their stories and poems. Handbooks of mythology are nothing new; but today, when small Latin and less Greek are taught in our schools and when very few people are able to interpret references to classical myths from their own knowledge of Homer or Virgil or Ovid, a book of this kind is essential to most readers.

In the last hundred years a number of such books have been written, but they do not fully meet the needs of a reader of English literature because they focus on the myths themselves and pay little or no attention to the symbolic use of the myths in English literature. Ours is a new kind of handbook designed to answer the questions that the ordinary reader is likely to ask.

The problem, as we see it, is twofold. First, it is necessary to retell the myths and to retain, as far as is possible in a brief summary, the elements of individual character and concrete situation that give them life. These stories have lasted a long time because they are interesting, and we have tried to keep them that way.

Any handbook must retell the myths, but we believe that our arrangement of the material has special advantages. The reader wants to be able to find without difficulty a particular character or situation (for example, Procrustes or the stratagem of the wooden horse) and also to see this character or situation in its proper context. We have therefore grouped the material around great figures and great actions (Theseus and the Trojan War, for example), but we have arranged the book alphabetically and have provided cross references that make the lesser persons . . .

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