Bettina L. Knapp's work is an act of daring. Long known as a distinguished writer on aspects of French literature from Racine to the contemporary French theater, she undertakes to examine here an ancient myth in its international ramifications through the ages as exemplified by men living in different worlds such as Albertus Magnus, Paracelsus, Rabbi Judah Loew, and Goethe. She also analyzes the reactions thereto in the Age of Enlightenment by Balzac and Hesse, and a contemporary writer like André Malraux. The main facet of the Promethean myth is represented here as the "ego consciousness" of an "archetype of the defiant, rebellious, and gigantically ambitious type who refuses to submit to the existing structure and thus to destiny." Out of this struggle of a powerful ego were born even such attempts as the creation of a homunculus, who found his fullest expression in the Golem, according to myth created by "High" Rabbi Loew of sixteenth-century Prague. It is immaterial whether Rabbi Loew, the creator, had ever heard of the Prometheus myth and whether he really acted to represent the power of the ego. The rabbi's main objective was to create a creature which could help him reveal a brewing conspiracy among Prague Christains to attack their Jewish compatriots. In contrast, Goethe's homunculus was the outcome of Faust's immensely ambitious nature. It was Faust's assistant who said: "Though I know. much, yet I seek to know all."
To be sure, skeptics like Voltaire tried to undermine the very foundations of the myth. However, in Goethe's more romantic reaction the reply to Voltarian criticism consisted not in the usual reliance on nineteenth-century historicism, but rather on the return to the profound mythology of the ancients. In his defense of ancient legends against the factual philological- historical arguments advanced by the historical schools of the early 1800s, the great German poet protested against detached critical analyses which "through some pedantic truth, displace