From Iceland to India, from prehistoric cave paintings and fertility figurines to such modern-day""myths"" as the invisible hand, the Oedipal conflict and Schrodinger's cat, Leeming's intriguing treatise on comparative mythology covers a lot of ground. Out of this enormous variety of information, Leeming, a professor of comparative literature and author of The World of Myth, discerns a coherent, distinctive European mythical tradition. He traces it back to the encounter, starting in the 3rd millennium B.C., between a sedentary, agricultural""Old Europe"" and nomadic, pastoral Indo-European invaders. In Leeming's view, this conflict gave rise to creation myths of apocalyptic battles between rival bands of deities, in which archaic earth-goddesses were subdued (but not obliterated) by new warrior-sky gods. He shows how common Indo-European themes--the tripartite nature of divinity, the death and rebirth of a god, the preoccupation with cattle raiding--resonate throughout classical Greek, Roman, Celtic, Baltic, Slavic and Norse mythologies. The European mythological tradition culminated, he feels, in Christianity, which featured the tripartite Holy Trinity, the hero-God Jesus (who died and was resurrected), and the comeback of the earth-goddess in the guise of the Virgin Mary. Leeming subscribes to the Carl Jung-Joseph Campbell belief that myths voice an essential""European psyche or soul,"" and underpin everything from environmental despoliation to Nazism to free-market economics. While he occasionally overstates these arguments, his wide-ranging, well-written treatment contains a wealth of insights on the development of Western culture. Photos.