Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Biblical and Classical Myths: The Mythological Framework of Western Culture

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Biblical and Classical Myths: The Mythological Framework of Western Culture

Article excerpt

Northrop Frye and Jay Macpherson, Biblical and Classical Myths: the Mythological Framework of Western Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 471pp. Cloth. $90 (£58). ISBN 0-8020-3927-8. Paper. $35(£22.50). ISBN 0-8020- 8695-0.

Anyone teaching undergraduates today would have some sympathy with Northrop Frye's frustration when he commenced his university career. Surprised by the underwhelming response of his students to Paradise Lost, he sought his Department Head's advice. Student ignorance was apparently responsible; they '"don't know a Philistine from a Pharisee"' (p. 7). ('Or Poseidon from Persephone,' we would now probably add.) Frye's solution - his course on the English Bible - became a feature of the University of Toronto curriculum from the late 1940s through the 1980s. Expanded in the 1970s to include classical mythology (taught initially by Jay Macpherson), the lectures provided a comprehensive introduction to the mythical framework of Western culture. This handsome version of Frye's lecture series (based on edited transcripts) together with Macpherson's retelling of the main Greek myths is supported by maps, reading lists and an invaluable index.

Frye approaches the Bible as a symbolic text. Recurrent images and narratives give 'imaginative unity' (p. 132) to a work which is both highly patterned and chaotic, apparently 'authored' but edited and conflated, sequential and developmental while ultimately rejecting the order of time. …

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