Gertrude Rachel Levy was born in the British colony known as Cape Colony, present-day South Africa. She earned a master's degree in 1924 and worked from 1926 to 1928 with the Department of Antiquities in the British Mandate of Palestine. Before World War II, she worked at archeological sites in Iraq, including the now-famous expeditions of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. She also won a grant from the University that enable her to visit megalithic sites in southwest Europe, including the famous Dordogne caves. During the war, when these sites were unavailable, she began to research common religious images and structures from different parts of the ancient world. She wrote influential books on comparative mythology, matriarchy, epic poetry, and archaeology. The best known is The Gate of Horn: A Study of the Religious Concepts of the Stone Age, and Their Influence upon European Thought (1948). Other works included The Sword from the Rock: An Investigation into the Origins of Epic Literature and the Development of the Hero (1953),
The Violet Crown: An Athenian Autobiography (1954), Plato in Sicily (1956), and The Phoenix' Nest: A Study in Religious Transformations (1961). She also edited The Myths of Plato, written in 1905 by John Alexander Stewart for a new 1960 edition, with revisions and translations of the Greek text. She became a librarian for the Societies for Promotion of Hellenic and Roman Studies, administered within the University of London.