Book reviews

Thomas Bulfinch’s The Age of Fable, or The Beauties of Mythology. (New York: Heritage Press, 1942; originally published 1855)

Interesting reading, but accounts for why no one cares about mythology.

Considered a classic, despite his anti-Catholic sentiments at the end of the volume, Bulfinch’s collection of the major Greek, Roman, and other European myths makes interesting reading.  However, if one wanted to read this as a prelude to reading the huge anthologies of European literature, then doing so would be a waste of time.  For example, if a literary allusion to Aristaeus occurs, then just google it and find out why he is connected with bees.

Besides that, the volume suffers from referencing too many dead white male poets who used mythological references, but who are largely unread now.  Milton?  Yeah, he wrote epic poetry.  So?  Who reads him now, besides English professors who have time on their hands during the China virus pandemic?  Spenser?  Yeah, he was that Elizabethan guy, right?  So?  Who reads him now?

Coupled with the above, this particular volume has the strangest prints by Stanley William Hayter.  The faces of the characters are weird, if not grotesque, and the preponderance of frontal male nudity would make any contemporary reader wonder what is going on with the fixation of depicting male genitals.

One excellent result of reading this antiquated volume of ancient mythological stories is that the parallels between mythic accounts in the ancient Mediterranean and Judaism and Christianity become apparent.  The ancients justly sought to interpret their world as a divine creation; thankfully, Judaism and Christianity fulfilled the inherent human need to understand our relationship with God.

Neopagans may read Bulfinch’s work and think that the sordid experiences of the ancient gods and goddesses are guides for their lives.  One can only hope that they will not become stupid and read this work only for what it is: a historical account of secular narratives which influenced past writers.

Contemporary readers who want to deepen their faith will finish Bulfinch with a great desire to do the Catholic thing and read the Bible a second, third, or fourth time.  Now that churches are reopening, Catholic Christians of all branches (Byzantine, Melkite, Roman, etc.) will appreciate how sensible Judaism and Christianity are against the swelter of jealous and corrupt gods of the ancient myths who based their actions on emotions more than reason.

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