Using a comparative approach, and writing for the non- specialist, Lemming (emeritus, English and comparative literature, U. of Connecticut, Storrs) argues for a shared tradition of mythology in Europe. An initial chapter describes the earliest myths, as these are preserved in cave paintings and carvings in the Paleolithic and early Neolithic eras. An overview of the main trends of European mythology is followed by a section on the most common mythic themes and their occurrence in the different European traditions. Annotation ©2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
From Iceland to India, from prehistoric cave paintings and fertility figurines to such modern-day "myths" as the invisible hand, the Oedipal conflict and Schrodinger's cat, Leeming's intriguing treatise on comparative mythology covers a lot of ground. Out of this enormous variety of information, Leeming, a professor of comparative literature and author of The World of Myth, discerns a coherent, distinctive European mythical tradition. He traces it back to the encounter, starting in the 3rd millennium B.C., between a sedentary, agricultural "Old Europe" and nomadic, pastoral Indo-European invaders. In Leeming's view, this conflict gave rise to creation myths of apocalyptic battles between rival bands of deities, in which archaic earth-goddesses were subdued (but not obliterated) by new warrior-sky gods. He shows how common Indo-European themes-the tripartite nature of divinity, the death and rebirth of a god, the preoccupation with cattle raiding-resonate throughout classical Greek, Roman, Celtic, Baltic, Slavic and Norse mythologies. The European mythological tradition culminated, he feels, in Christianity, which featured the tripartite Holy Trinity, the hero-God Jesus (who died and was resurrected), and the comeback of the earth-goddess in the guise of the Virgin Mary. Leeming subscribes to the Carl Jung-Joseph Campbell belief that myths voice an essential "European psyche or soul," and underpin everything from environmental despoliation to Nazism to free-market economics. While he occasionally overstates these arguments, his wide-ranging, well-written treatment contains a wealth of insights on the development of Western culture. Photos. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.