A Short History of Myth

Karen Armstrong, Author . Canongate $18 (159p) ISBN 978-1-84195-716-6

This is an pedestrian study from the noted and popular religion scholar, in which Armstrong takes a historical approach to myth, tracing its evolution through a series of periods, from the Paleolithic to the postmyth Great Western Transformation. Each period developed myths reflecting its major concerns: images of hunting and the huntress dominated the myths of the Paleolithic, while the myths of Persephone and Demeter, Isis and Osiris developed in the agricultural Neolithic period. By the Axial Age (200 B.C. through A.D. 1500), myths became internalized, so that they no longer needed to be acted out. Reason, says Armstrong, largely supplanted myth in the Post-Axial Period, which she sees as a source of cultural and spiritual impoverishment; she even appears, simplistically, to attribute genocide to the loss of "the sense of sacredness" myth offers. Armstrong goes on to relate that in the 20th century, a number of writers, such as Eliot, Joyce, Mann and Rushdie, recovered the power of myth for contemporary culture. Although the book offers no new perspectives or information on the history of myth, it does provide a functional survey of mythology's history. But a more engaging choice would be Kenneth Davis's Don't Know Much About Mythology (Reviews, Sept. 5). (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/12/2005
Release date: 10/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
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