Title: The Meaning of Myth: With 12 Greek Myths Retold and Interpreted by a Psychiatrist
Author: Neel Burton
Genre: mythology; psychology; nonfiction;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Not just the stories, but what they mean.
What is myth, and why does it have such a hold on the human mind? How does myth relate to near forms such as legend and fairy tale, and to other modes of understanding such as religion and science? What is a hero, what is a monster, and what function does magic serve? How has our relationship with myth and mythology changed over the centuries? And are there any modern myths?
These are a few of the fascinating questions that psychiatrist and philosopher Neel Burton explores in the first part of this book. In the second part, he puts theory into practice to unravel 12 of the most captivating Greek myths, including Echo and Narcissus, Eros and Psyche, and Prometheus and Pandora (see the full contents list below).
These myths have been haunting us for millennia, but are they really, as has been claimed, the repositories of deep wisdom and mystical secrets?
This was a really fun and engaging read from start to finish. For those interested in mythology and in psychology, this book is broken down into two sections:
- The meaning of myth
- Myths decoded.
In part 1, Burton spends a good chunk of time breaking down the idea and concept of mythology and it’s importance in the classical world. This is hugely important for people who (no shade) rely on Percy Jackson to understand mythology. This will provide a good primer-level background for life, definitions, and key roles for myth in the golden age of Greece. A reader will need all of this to beat understand part two.
In part 1, I particularly loved his chapter 8 on Magic and the tropes in our lore. He writes, “Magic is fading or has been banished from the land, which is in deathly decline—caught, perhaps, in a perpetual winter—and the hero is called upon to rescue and restore the life-giving forces of old. There is, of course, a glaring parallel with our own world, in which magic has been slowly driven out, first by religion, which over the centuries became increasingly repressive of magic, and more latterly by science, which, for all its advantages, struggles to meet our emotional needs.” In each chapter, he explains elements or themes of importance, and explains how they are still relevant thousands of years later. He also provides images to solidify his claims, which I enjoyed greatly.
In part 2, he takes some of the most famous myths (Medusa, Theseus, Odysseus, Pygmalion) and first retells them from the original sources and then begins to analyze them. For some, this may seem redundant as these myths are quite popular but for me (a life long reader of myth), I quite enjoyed the retelling. I don’t think a book like this could get away without the retelling aspect.
Each chapter is set up with a detailed retellings from as far back a source as possible, Plato’s Republic, Ovid even. And then, Burton provides an image inspired my the myth (sculpture, painting, etc), and then his analysis begins. Much of it is grounded in historical context from Greco-Roman society, and then he branches into a more modern take— why we still read them today and how they’re still archetypes for people, relationships, case studies, etc.
Not once did I feel like this nonfiction text was over my head, using jargon I didn’t understand or couldn’t comprehend. I enjoyed this reading from start to finish.
I received this copy from NetGalley for an honest review.