Thomas Bulfinch,
abridged by Edmund Fuller
(1855; Laure Leaf, 1959)

Thomas Bulfinch's classic Mythology was written in three parts, which were later combined into one volume. The parts each present a different body of mythology, condensed into a short, easily manageable section.

Bulfinch, as a professor at Harvard, felt there was a need for a book that concisely explained the mythology that has had such a profound effect on modern society, but which few students bothered to read. To that end, he created three large divisions: the Age of Fable, the Age of Chivalry and the Legend of Charlemagne. Each section contains a summary of the main legends of that era, as well as an index of sayings that have worked their way into common usage or literature.

In the abridgement, the Age of Fable has been left predominantly intact, with only Victorian poetic allusions removed. A very broad-reaching topic, this section covers Greek, Roman, Germanic, English and Near Eastern mythology. Each important event or character from the original myth is given its moment and a condensed version is provided. The largest section by far covers the Greek and Roman myths. If you can think of mythological figures or events, there is a good chance you will be able to find out about them here.

The second and third sections are considerably shorter. The Age of Chivalry presents the major events of the Arthurian cycle from the mythical history of England to the death of Arthur. The Legend of Charlemagne sets out the major events in the Charlemagne cycle. It is noted that many of the stories are often quite similar and so several were omitted from this volume for that reason.

Although an abridgement, and so obviously missing some information, this book contains the essence of the myths described within. This is an amazing book that is essential for anyone who reads, as these myths are still often alluded to in modern literature, as well as older writings. It is perhaps a little heavy to read from cover to cover, but the subsections within the larger sections are enjoyable on their own. Also, it is much easier to read than, for example, the actual Iliad or Morte d'Arthur. It contains a considerable amount of historic literature, much of which is not in English originally. It is an invaluable resource that every household should have.

- Rambles
written by Jean Emma Price
published 1 May 2004

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