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Theories of Myth

Hugh Lloyd-Jones

19 March 1981
Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual 
by Walter Burkert.
California, 226 pp., £9, April 1980, 0 520 03771 5
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Myth and Society in Ancient Greece 
by Jean-Pierre Vernant, translated by Janet Lloyd.
Harvester, 242 pp., £24, February 1980, 9780391009158
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... have the function of mediating between these contradictions. The two books before me are by two of the most distinguished scholars now active in the field of Greek mythology and religion. Jean-Pierre Vernant is a Professor in the Collège de France; his book is a collection of essays published over a long period. Walter Burkert is a Professor at Zurich, and the author of a remarkable history of Greek ...


Edmund Leach

15 July 1982
Myth, Religion and Society: Structuralist Essays 
by M. Detienne, L. Gernet, J-P. Vernant and P. Vidal-Naquet, edited by R.L. Gordon.
Cambridge/Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 306 pp., £20, January 1982, 0 521 22780 1
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The Anthropological Circle: Symbol, Function, History 
by Marc Augé.
Cambridge/Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 131 pp., £12.50, January 1982, 0 521 23236 8
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... the essays in the Gordon collection, which is by Gernet, who died in 1962 at the age of 80, first appeared as long ago as 1948; the remainder at various dates since 1968. Of the latter, three are by Vernant, five by Vidal-Naquet, three by Detienne. The fact that the Gernet item (‘ “Value” in Greek Myth’) bears a clear family resemblance to the rest is of special interest since it shows that the ...

Mythology in Bits

Tim Whitmarsh: Ancient Greek ‘Religion’

20 December 2018
The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion 
edited by Esther Eidinow and Julia Kindt.
Oxford, 736 pp., £30, December 2017, 978 0 19 881017 9
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... of intrigued speculation. The second is Fred Naiden’s chapter on animal sacrifice. The dominant explanations in the 20th century were those of Walter Burkert, on the one hand, and Jean-Pierre Vernant and Marcel Detienne, on the other. Burkert explained sacrifice in terms of collective psychology and human evolution, seeing the ritual as a relic of guilt at the killing of other beings and a ...

To the crows!

James Davidson

27 January 1994
The Oldest Dead White European Males, and Other Reflections on the Classics 
by Bernard Knox.
Norton, 144 pp., £12.95, September 1993, 0 393 03492 5
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... Males’, Bernard Knox addressed the impact made on a conservative discipline of new methods and concerns: the anthropology-influenced work of the Paris circle of Pierre Vidal-Naquet and J.-P. Vernant, ‘militant feminists’ and political correctness. On this side of the Atlantic the whole PC controversy is something of a phoney war, an attempt by right-wing bulls (the Sunday Times, for example ...

Tall and Tanned and Young and Lovely

James Davidson: The naked body in Ancient Greece

18 June 1998
Art, Desire and the Body in Ancient Greece 
by Andrew Stewart.
Cambridge, 272 pp., £45, April 1997, 0 521 45064 0
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... for sporty types, especially Olympic athletes, and Aristotle claimed that to accuse an ugly man of adultery was like charging an invalid with assault. All this led the French classicist Jean-Pierre Vernant to conclude that the Greek body was best seen, not as a lump of meat, temporarily animated by the soul, but as a source of energy and light, a corps éclatant. When the body was at its best, powerful ...
3 November 1983
Freud and Man’s Soul 
by Bruno Bettelheim.
Chatto, 112 pp., £6.95, July 1983, 9780701127046
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... an attitude of self-assurance, but it is astonishing how he turns a subtle and difficult issue into one that is unambiguously straightforward. No less a historian of ancient culture than Jean-Pierre Vernant has written that ‘there is no myth of Oedipus in Greek tragedy. The Oedipus in the tragedy may have complexes, but he doesn’t have an Oedipus complex – that is obvious.’ Vernant’s essay ...

Hungry Ghosts

Paul Connerton

19 April 1990
Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Parts I-III 
edited by Michel Feher, Ramona Naddaff and Nadia Tazi.
Zone, 480 pp., £35.95, May 1989, 0 942299 25 6
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...  because its actions and dispositions are decipherable as a code for distinctions held to be crucial by a particular society. The body ‘represents’ these classifications. Thus Jean-Pierre Vernant argues that in the Western tradition the constitution of the ‘body’ as an entity or object of thought is a historically specific process: that the ‘objectification’ of the body was in ...

History Man

John Robertson

4 November 1993
G.B. Vico: The Making of an Anti-Modern 
by Mark Lilla.
Harvard, 225 pp., £29.95, April 1993, 0 674 33962 2
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The Rehabilitation of Myth: Vico’s ‘New Science’ 
by Joseph Mali.
Cambridge, 275 pp., £35, September 1992, 0 521 41952 2
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... to argue for him’. After this it is disconcerting to be told that what Vico actually argued for is best caught by a phrase, ‘the rehabilitation of myth’, coined by a modern scholar, J.-P. Vernant, and that the argument is to be demonstrated as a series of ‘revisions’ of then prevalent ideas of science, civilisation, mythology and history, because Vico was ‘a revisionist in all but name ...

Let’s Cut to the Wail

Michael Wood: The Oresteia according to Anne Carson

11 June 2009
An Oresteia 
translated by Anne Carson.
Faber, 255 pp., $27, March 2009, 978 0 86547 902 9
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... Some time ago the scholar Jean-Pierre Vernant reminded us that Greek gods are not persons but forces; and in Anne Carson’s Oresteia, her sharp, sceptical, often laconic version of three plays about the legacy of Atreus, one each by Aeschylus ...

Did she go willingly?

Marina Warner: Helen of Troy

7 October 2010
Helen of Troy: From Homer to Hollywood 
by Laurie Maguire.
Wiley-Blackwell, 280 pp., £55, April 2009, 978 1 4051 2634 2
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... hasn’t shaped the critical approach to the ruins of stories, except in studies like this one, which pays out the multiple strands in the myth of Helen of Troy. Greek tragedy, Jean-Pierre Vernant wrote, presents its protagonists as objects of debate, not examples of good conduct or even heroes deserving of sympathy; the same can be said of characters in epic, like Helen. Laurie Maguire’s ...
23 January 1997
... left, like Ariadne, or gets home and is later dumped, like Medea. Or she stays at home watching the sail disappear, like Dido. In an essay on Greek perception of space, the French scholar Jean-Pierre Vernant suggests that Western culture has always divided space by gender, so that inferiority, inner fixedness, is female: it is summed up by Hestia, goddess of the hearth. Mobility is male, incarnated by ...

Zeus Be Nice Now

James Davidson: Ancient Cults

19 July 2007
Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum 
Getty, 3014 pp., $1,215, March 2007, 978 0 89236 787 0Show More
Polytheism and Society at Athens 
by Robert Parker.
Oxford, 544 pp., £27.50, March 2007, 978 0 19 921611 6
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... when handling sources and reluctance to leap to conclusions. The study of Greek religion that flourished so unexpectedly after the Second World War was long dominated by the Paris school of Vernant, Vidal-Naquet and Detienne, and then by Walter Burkert of Zürich, a school in his own right. In each case, immense learning was combined with an intent to see patterns and make sense of them. In the ...

How Shall We Repaint the Kitchen?

Ian Hacking: The Colour Red

1 November 2007
Cognitive Variations: Reflections on the Unity and Diversity of the Human Mind 
by G.E.R. Lloyd.
Oxford, 201 pp., £27.50, April 2007, 978 0 19 921461 7
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... thought’, come in? Early on he became interested in comparative anthropology thanks to Meyer Fortes and Edmund Leach at Cambridge. He acquired the idea of a historical anthropology from Jean-Pierre Vernant in Paris. Twenty years ago he took up ancient Chinese science. He has since become the world’s foremost contributor to studies comparing aspects of ancient Greek and Chinese civilisations. In a ...


Jacqueline Rose

18 June 2014
The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women 
by Elisabeth Badinter, translated by Adriana Hunter.
Picador, 224 pp., £10.99, June 2013, 978 1 250 03209 6
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Are You My Mother? 
by Alison Bechdel.
Jonathan Cape, 304 pp., £16.99, May 2012, 978 0 224 09352 1
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A Child of One’s Own: Parental Stories 
by Rachel Bowlby.
Oxford, 256 pp., £20, June 2013, 978 0 19 960794 5
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Mothering and Motherhood in Ancient Greece and Rome 
by Lauren Hackworth Petersen and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell.
Texas, 274 pp., £16.99, April 2013, 978 0 292 75434 8
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Sinners? Scroungers? Saints? Unmarried Motherhood in 20th-Century England 
by Pat Thane and Tanya Evans.
Oxford, 240 pp., £24.99, August 2013, 978 0 19 968198 3
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I Don’t Know Why She Bothers: Guilt-Free Motherhood for Thoroughly Modern Womanhood 
by Daisy Waugh.
Weidenfeld, 240 pp., £12.99, July 2013, 978 0 297 86876 7
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... birth is a battle.’ ‘Not just a symmetry,’ Loraux writes, ‘it is more like an act of exchange or at the very least the presence of war at the heart of childbirth.’2 Could it be, Jean-Pierre Vernant suggests to Loraux in conversation, that ‘giving birth is the most accomplished test of a woman’s virility?’ In which case, the act that is seen as supremely defining of a woman, as the acme of ...

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