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A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong

A Short History of Myth (2005)

by Karen Armstrong

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Myths (1)

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We can't read myth outside of liturgical context.
The novel as modern myth. ( )
  tomspisak | Apr 29, 2016 |
Armstrong continues to be one of my favorite religion writers. This slim book is a shallow overview of how myths developed and how they changed as societies evolved and needed stories which fit their circumstances. I recommend this to anyone who hasn't read much about myth, and wants a place to start. For those who have experience reading about myth, and religion, this is a small reminder of how it got started and what it means. ( )
  AuntieClio | Mar 28, 2016 |
I read this as part of my year long study of fairy tales, in which I include some mythology. It really wasn't what I was looking for, which might explain my lack of interest in A Short History of Myth. What I'm really interested in the "story" aspect of myths, and I'd like to know how far back they go and across how many different cultures. Armstrong's look at myths is much more like the development of religion.

In 149 small pages, Armstrong traces the development of myths from the palaeolithic period through to the current. She takes a very high level approach and only occasionally delves into any particular myths. Mostly she talks about what myths mean to people and why they develop them.

Apart from not writing about the aspects of myth that interest me, the other thing I didn't like about this book is how often Armstrong made absolute matter of fact statements about things that she couldn't possibly know or about things that I know others think completely differently. She does have some references in the back, but they are very slight and I don't believe support her claims. One example is that she gives the reasons and motivations of prehistoric people--ah, no, you can have your theories, but no matter how firmly you word it, you can't know that. A second example is where she says the Judeo-Christian Bible shows god creating the world by killing a sea monster--I didn't remember this part from Sunday school, and when I checked her supporting Bible verses, I found they didn't say that at all.

Despite this, there were some interesting bits here and there, and it was short.

Recommended for: Not sure I do recommend this. I personally know many Christians who would be outraged by her claims, but at the same time I think Armstrong would tick off some non-religious people too with her anti-logic, anti-science, longing for the good ol' myth-belivin days. ( )
  Nickelini | Jan 15, 2014 |
Ms Armstrong has written a brief summary of myth from the Paleothic period to modern day. I found her inclusion and description of different female deities enlightening. I also thought her summary of how science has underminded myth recently accurate. She argues that art in the 20th century has stepped up to fill some of the vacuum which has been created by the undermining of myth.

I include this lengthy quotation as an example:

We have seen that a myth could never be approached in a purely profane setting. It was only comprehensible in a liturgical context that set it apart from everyday life; it must be experienced as part of a process of personal transformation. None, of this surely applies to the novel, which can be read anywhere at all witout ritual trappings, and must, if it is any good, eschew the overtly didactic. Yet the experience of reading a novel has certain qualities that remind us of the mythology. It can be seen as a form of meditation. Readers have to live with a novel for days or even weeks. It projects them into another world, parallel to but apart from their ordinary lives. They know perfectly well that this fictional realm is not 'real' and yet while they are reading it becomes compelling. A powerful novel bcomes part of the backdrop of lives long after we have laid the book aside. It is an excercise of make-believe, that like yoga or a religious festival breaks down barriers of space and time and extends our sympathies to empathise with others lives and sorrows. It teaches compassion, the ability to 'feel with' others. And, like mythology , an important novel is transformative. If we allow it to do so, can change us forever./ ( )
  Your_local_coyote | Dec 29, 2013 |
This book is a good, short, readable introduction to the study of myth. Armstrong traces human engagement with myth in a chronological fashion, describing the function of myth during the different eras of civilization. But while this history is presented concisely and readably, it ultimately misses an opportunity to engage the reader with the actual myths and convey their continued relevancy even (perhaps especially) in today's modern, scientific world.

For that, you will have to read Joseph Campbell. Start with The Power of Myth and then move on to The Hero with a Thousand Faces. ( )
  Osorio | Nov 2, 2013 |
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Karen Armstrongprimary authorall editionscalculated
Johansson, IngerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Human beings have always been mythmakers. Archaeologists have unearthed Neanderthal graves containing weapons, tools and the bones of a sacrificed animal, all of which suggest some kind of belief in a future world that was similar to their own. The Neanderthals may have told each other stories about the life that their dead companion now enjoyed. They were certainly reflecting about death in a way that their fellow-creatures did not. Animals watch each other die but, as far as we know, they give the matter no further consideration. But the Neanderthal graves show that when these early people became conscious of their mortality, they created some sort of counter-narrative that enabled them to come to terms with it. The Neanderthals who buried their companions with such care seem to have imagined that the visible, material world was not the only reality. From a very early date, therefore, it appears that human beings were distinguished by their ability to have ideas that went beyond their everyday experience. [from chapter i, "What Is a Myth?"]
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 184195800X, Paperback)

“Human beings have always been mythmakers.” So begins best-selling writer Karen Armstrong’s concise yet compelling investigation into myth: what it is, how it has evolved, and why we still so desperately need it. She takes us from the Paleolithic period and the myths of the hunters right up to the “Great Western Transformation” of the last five hundred years and the discrediting of myth by science. The history of myth is the history of humanity, our stories and beliefs, our curiosity and attempts to understand the world, which link us to our ancestors and each other. Heralding a major series of retellings of international myths by authors from around the world, Armstrong’s characteristically insightful and eloquent book serves as a brilliant and thought-provoking introduction to myth in the broadest sense—and explains why if we dismiss it, we do so at our peril.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:42 -0400)

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Human beings have always been mythmakers. Theologian Armstrong here investigates myth: what it is, how it has evolved, and why we still so desperately need it. She takes us from the Paleolithic period and the myths of the hunters, up to the Great Western Transformation of the last five hundred years and the discrediting of myth by science. The history of myth is the history of humanity, our stories and beliefs, our curiosity and attempts to understand the world, which link us to our ancestors and each other.--From publisher description.… (more)

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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