Bulfinch's Mythology (Modern Library Series)

Bulfinch's Mythology (Modern Library Series)

by Thomas Bulfinch

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For almost a century and a half, Bulfinch's Mythology has been the text by which the great tales of the gods and goddesses, Greek and Roman antiquity, Scandinavian, Celtic, and Oriental fables and myths, and the age of chivalry have been known. The forerunner of such interpreters as Edith Hamilton and Robert Graves, Thomas Bulfinch wanted to make these stories available to the general reader. A series of private notes to himself grew into one of the single most useful and concise guides to literature and mythology.

The stories are divided into three sections: The Age of Fable or Stories of Gods and Heroes (first published in 1855); The Age of Chivalry (1858), which contains King Arthur and His Knights, The Mabinogeon, and The Knights of English History; and The Legends of Charlemagne or The Romance of the Middle Ages (1863). For the Greek myths, Bulfinch drew on Ovid and Virgil, and for the sagas of the north, from Mallet's Northern Antiquities. provides lively versions of the myths of Zeus and Hera, Venus and Adonis, Daphne and Apollo, and their cohorts on Mount Olympus; the love story of Pygmalion and Galatea; the legends of the Trojan War and the epic wanderings of Ulysses and Aeneas; the joys of Valhalla and the furies of Thor; and the tales of Beowulf and Robin Hood.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679640011
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/11/1999
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 880
Sales rank: 830,225
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Thomas Bulfinch was born on July 15, 1796, in Newton, Massachusetts. He was descended from a distinguished New England family; his grandfather was a well-known surgeon, and his father, Charles Bulfinch, was one of the foremost architects of his day, responsible for many Boston monuments, including the State House on Beacon Hill, as well as being an important public official and city planner. Thomas, who was one of eleven children, pursued a more sheltered career. He received the education of a member of the Boston elite--Boston Latin, Phillips Exeter, Harvard (where his classmates included the historian William Prescott)--but after he graduated in 1814 his life showed little sense of strong direction. He taught briefly at Boston Latin, assisted at a store owned by his elder brother, and worked desultorily and without much success in a number of different businesses in Washington, D.C., and Boston.

In 1837 Bulfinch began working as a clerk in the Merchant's Bank of Boston; he stayed on in that capacity until his death. The position was not a demanding one, and Bulfinch evidently had ample leisure time in which to pursue his other interests. He was secretary of the Boston Society of Natural History for a number of years, and published books reflecting the range of his interests, including Hebrew Lyrical Poetry (1853); The Boy Inventor (1860), a tribute to a precocious student of his who died young; Shakespeare Adapted for Reading Classes (1865); and Oregon and Eldorado (1866), an account of an expedition to the Pacific Northwest his father had been involved in planning. The only works of his which have retained their readership are the three volumes--The Age of Fable (1855), The Age of Chivalry (1858), and Legends of Charlemagne (1863)--eventually reprinted under the title Bulfinch's Mythology.

The thoroughness with which Bulfinch combed through his sources made his mythological books standard reference works for a long time, while the skill with which he wove the separate versions into coherent tales endeared them to a wide audience. They continue to be read for the vigor of their storytelling even when superseded by twentieth-century approaches. Bulfinch was concerned not only with recapitulating the ancient myths and legends but also with demonstrating their relationship to literature and art, and his copious cross-references to poetry and painting make his Mythology an indispensable guide to the cultural values of the nineteenth century. "Without a knowledge of mythology," he wrote, "much of the elegant literature of our own language cannot be understood or appreciated." He added: "We trust our young readers will find it a source of entertainment," and his trust seems to have been justified, judging from the many generations who have found his books an enthralling and loving introduction to the worlds of classical and medieval myth and legend.

Read an Excerpt

THE religions of ancient Greece and Rome are extinct. The so-called divinities of Olympus have not a single worshipper among living men. They belong now not to the department of theology, but to those of literature and taste. There they still hold their place, and will continue to hold it, for they are too closely connected with the finest productions of poetry and art, both ancient and modern, to pass into oblivion.

We propose to tell the stories relating to them which have come down to us from the ancients, and which are alluded to by modern poets, essayists, and orators. Our readers may thus at the same time be entertained by the most charming fictions which fancy has ever created, and put in possession of information indispensable to every one who would read with intelligence the elegant literature of his own day.

In order to understand these stories, it will be necessary to acquaint ourselves with the ideas of the structure of the universe which prevailed among the Greeks--the people from whom the Romans, and other nations through them, received their science and religion.

The Greeks believed the earth to be flat and circular, their own country occupying the middle of it, the central point being either Mount Olympus, the abode of the gods, or Delphi, so famous for its oracle.

The circular disk of the earth was crossed from west to east and divided into two equal parts by the Sea, as they called the Mediterranean, and its continuation the Euxine, the only seas with which they were acquainted.

Around the earth flowed the River Ocean, its course being from south to north on the western side of the earth, and in a contrary direction on the eastern side. It flowed in a steady, equable current, unvexed by storm or tempest. The sea, and all the rivers on earth, received their waters from it.

The northern portion of the earth was supposed to be inhabited by a happy race named the Hyperboreans, dwelling in everlasting bliss and spring beyond the lofty mountains whose caverns were supposed to send forth the piercing blasts of the north wind, which chilled the people of Hellas (Greece). Their country was inaccessible by land or sea. They lived exempt from disease or old age, from toils and warfare. Moore has given us the "Song of a Hyperborean," beginning

"I come from a land in the sun-bright deep,

Where golden gardens glow,

Where the winds of the north, becalmed in sleep,

Their conch shells never blow."

On the south side of the earth, close to the stream of Ocean, dwelt a people happy and virtuous as the Hyperboreans. They were named the Æthiopians. The gods favoured them so highly that they were wont to leave at times their Olympian abodes and go to share their sacrifices and banquets.

On the western margin of the earth, by the stream of Ocean, lay a happy place named the Elysian Plain, whither mortals favoured by the gods were transported without tasting of death, to enjoy an immortality of bliss. This happy region was also called the "Fortunate Fields," and the "Isles of the Blessed."

We thus see that the Greeks of the early ages knew little of any real people except those to the east and south of their own country, or near the coast of the Mediterranean. Their imagination meantime peopled the western portion of this sea with giants, monsters, and enchantresses; while they placed around the disk of the earth, which they probably regarded as of no great width, nations enjoying the peculiar favour of the gods, and blessed with happiness and longevity.

The Dawn, the Sun, and the Moon were supposed to rise out of the Ocean, on the eastern side, and to drive through the air, giving light to gods and men. The stars, also, except those forming the Wain or Bear, and others near them, rose out of and sank into the stream of Ocean. There the sun-god embarked in a winged boat, which conveyed him round by the northern part of the earth, back to his place of rising in the east. Milton alludes to this in his "Comus":

"Now the gilded car of day

His golden axle doth allay

In the steep Atlantic stream,

And the slope Sun his upward beam

Shoots against the dusky pole,

Facing towards the other goal

Of his chamber in the east."

The abode of the gods was on the summit of Mount Olympus, in Thessaly. A gate of clouds, kept by the goddesses named the Seasons, opened to permit the passage of the Celestials to earth, and to receive them on their return. The gods had their separate dwellings; but all, when summoned, repaired to the palace of Jupiter, as did also those deities whose usual abode was the earth, the waters, or the under-world. It was also in the great hall of the palace of the Olympian king that the gods feasted each day on ambrosia and nectar, their food and drink, the latter being handed round by the lovely goddess Hebe. Here they conversed of the affairs of heaven and earth; and as they quaffed their nectar, Apollo, the god of music, delighted them with the tones of his lyre, to which the Muses sang in responsive strains. When the sun was set, the gods retired to sleep in their respective dwellings.

What People are Saying About This

Thomas Bulfinch

Without a knowledge of mythology much of the elegant literature of our own language cannot be understood and appreciated... Our book is an attempt to solve this problem, by telling the stories of mythology in such a manner as to make them a source of amusement.

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Bulfinch's Mythology (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 113 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bulfinch's Mythology, one of the tools used when creating my novel, Grecian Rune, is a cornerstone in the understanding of modern story-telling. Simple to understand, and decorated with acute illustrations, this mythology compilation is the one for all ages. Needless to say, it is as definitive as the works of Isaac Asimov and J.R.R. Tolkien. I strongly recomend this for anyone interested in Greek Mythology and other myths and legends.
ClassicReaderBW More than 1 year ago
Bulfinch does a great job of retelling the classic Greek/Roman myths of antiquity as well as the myths of Old Europe including, among others, Arthur, Charlemange, Orlando, and Thor. One part that stands out is the Mabinogeon which (and this is noted on page 561 of the Modern Library edition) has a Thousand and One Nights fell to it. One part that appeared to not fit into the book at all was Chapter 37 of The Age of Fable, which hastily describes a portion of Eastern Mythology. Although this section has no true faults with the information, one gets the sense that Bulfinch quickly threw the myths together and since he didn't have room for them anywhere else he put them in this chapter. Although it does not take away from the quality of the book it might have been better had Bulfinch chosen either to elaborate slightly on the myths or to not include them altogether. However, for an introduction to classical mythology for the reader who is having trouble understanding Byron or Milton or Shakespeare or a hundred other classical European and American writers this book is a godsend. Bulfinch tailored this book to just this kind of reader. At times it may seem a bit dry, but Bulfinch intended his work to be used as a reference mainly (which is why he included a great index in the back of The Age of Fable). For those readers who are interested in mythology as an end unto itself, I recommend this work as your main road map through this sometimes confusing trail. Robert Graves and Edith Hamilton's works are good also but in my opinion Bulfinch outdoes both of them. From here you will definitely want to look at the Madrus and Mathers 4 vol. edition of the Thousand Nights and One Night (that is the full title) if you liked the Eastern feel that you get in Chapter 37 in the Age of Fable and the Mabinogeon. If you are interested in the Greek and Roman myths mainly go straight to the horses mouth and read Ovid, Homer, and Virgil. For more European mythology, Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur is indespensable. I recommend Penguin's two volume edition but with some hesitation, as the annotation is a bit strange, making you flip back and forth between the front of the book and the back of the book. However, Penguin prints out almost every major mythological story, ranging from the Medieval French Romances to the Icelandic Sagas. As stated before, let Bulfinch lead you through this mass of myths, he knows what he's doing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The material is timeless and interesting. Although the book is very inexpensive, the editing is atrocious. There many misspellings, words, phrases and in some cases, entire sentences simply missing. I would suggest that if you are going to do it, take the time to do it correctly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked all the myths I can't get enough of them
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Perfect for Nook Simple Touch, true to book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Who ever said that this book wasn't good because no kid likes history is W-R-O-N-G WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just aswome
Jerry Stevens More than 1 year ago
its good
Guest More than 1 year ago
This masterpiece is great for all ages. It is easy enough to read for say an eighth grader but true enough for a woman say at the age of 50. It is truly inspiring and worth reading. Greek Mythology is incredible and entertaining. It is worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Poseidon's other daughter... hmmm my room is small compared to Cadmus's cabin i wonder why...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bullfinch has written a sort of crib notes for The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Upanishads, The Vedas, plus information about myths without primary books, like the Druids. The information is fascinating, and the amount of work put into the project is overwhelming. Gods and goddesses throughout the ages are shown to be just and unjust, proud, vain, supportive, vengeful, faithful and arbitrary. It's a little amusing to see him use Christianity as the basis of truth while he refers to all the other religions as superstitions, but what a wealth of information never the less. He gives both the stories of gods and heroes and how they have been referred to in literature, up to that time. Now when I hear of someone's reading Stones For Ibarra, I know who Ibarra was.I recommend this book to anyone interested in classics, literature, religion or geography.
laudemgloriae on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was having trouble analyzing British poetry in English senior year, but I picked up an illusion here and there to what little I knew of Greek and Roman mythology. So I got myself a used copy of this book, and I was amazed at how mythology is the key to understanding so much literature! I fell in love.
Mendoza on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
THE reference book for mythology. I may have gone on to other works as the years pass but I still come back to this work. It is very reminisent of high school and all that angst for me. I believe I had all the answers back then....THis book is definitely a must.
jwl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great all around resource for a variety of myths, mostly focused in Greek and Roman mythology but with some medieval ones as well.
rampaginglibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This along with Edith Hamilton's Mythology is one of THE classic texts of mythology (in fact this is probably considered THE ONE to most basic college mythology (read Old White Men --No Offense)professors) i know this was mine. And it does cover the basics and i still refer to it from time to time but i find it a little dry. (and really--mythology should be anything but dry!!!)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She sat by a tree nd burried her facr in her paws 'Firepelt i miss you...i wish you were here' she meowed to herself as a tear slipped from her eye
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She looked to firepelt meowing "hello"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How many chapters does this edition have.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
really captivates your imagination, well written.
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