This collection of essays is about theories of myth. The theories come from both the social sciences—psychology, sociology, and anthropology--and the humanities—philosophy, religious studies, and literature. Theories seek to answer three main questions: what is the origin, what is the function, and what is the subject matter of myth?
Chapter one contrasts E. B. Tylor’s quintessentially nineteenth-century of myth-- that myth serves to explain events in the physical world--to Hans Blumenberg’s equally quintessentially twentieth-century one--that myth serves to do anything but explain events in the physical world. Chapter two contrasts F. Max Müller’s theory of myth to that of Tylor. Where Tylor sees myth as an aspect of religion, at least of primitive religion, Müller pits myth against religion. Chapter three presents J. G. Frazer’s interpretation of Adonis as the god of vegetation or vegetation itself. Chapter four presents Frazer’s interpretation of Osiris, one of his other main Mediterranean gods.
Chapter five compares the theories of two of the most popular writers on myth: Frazer and Joseph Campbell. Frazer epitomizes the nineteenth-century view of myth: that myth is merely primitive. Campbell epitomizes the twentieth-century view of myth: that myth is panhuman. Chapter six argues that Campbell, despite the commonly applied characterization, is almost anything but a disciple of C. G. Jung’s.
Chapter seven asks whether Mircea Eliade’s theory actually allows for modern myths, even in light of his fundamental claim that all humans have and must have myth. Chapter eight considers Eliade on the compatibility of myth with science. Chapter nine sums up the book Twentieth Century Mythologies (2006) by Daniel Dubuisson. He praises Georges Dumézil and Claude Lévi-Strauss as rigorous thinkers and disparages Eliade as a fascist rather than a scholar.
Chapter ten presents the array of views on the relationship between myth and literature. The key theorist of myth here is Frazer. He himself does not apply his theory to literature, but many others do. Chapter eleven compares various theorists on the nature of hell and heaven. Chapter twelve asks whether heroes of myth must be male. For some theorists of myth, the answer is yes. For others, no.
Chapter thirteen considers the concept, developed by Jung and the physicist Wolfgang Pauli, of synchronicity, or a noncausal relationship between humans and the external world. The fourteenth and final chapter offers a virtual summary of the book. It presents the varying positions of theorists on the relationship among four categories: myth, science, religion, and philosophy. Each theory is applied to the myth of Noah (Genesis 6-9).
Published: Feb 3, 2023
No other scholar in the study of religion has so single-mindedly devoted himself to the study of myth, and especially theories of myth, as Aberdeen University’s Professor Robert Segal. Author of three other widely-read books on myth, Segal here directs his attention to the theories and the theorists, rather than to myths themselves. A lifetime of such dedication to the study of myth bears fruit here in an accessible and useful collection of essays laying out the structure of a nearly complete list of theories of myth. Anyone seeking guidance, at whatever level, to theories of myth would be well-advised to consult Segal’s oeuvre, especially the present work, Myth Theorized.
A highly-regarded teacher and lecturer, Segal shows his readers why students flock to his courses. His pellucid treatments of often complex and elusive theorizing about myth are models of responsible pedagogy. But, not only will readers find the keys for understanding the classic theories of myth here, they will also be treated to Segal’s posing of a series of particularly engaging questions: Why must mythic heroes always seem to have to be male? Is Joseph Campbell really as Jungian as he is commonly thought to be? Does the great theorist of purportedly archaic myths, Mircea Eliade, believe that myths have vanished from the modern world? Can the Bible even be treated as myth?
Ivan Strenski, Distinguished Professor (Emeritus), Religious Studies, University of California, Riverside
Myth Theorized yet another example of Segal’s mastery of theories of myth. Rather than dealing with individual myths, Segal examines several theorists from the nineteenth century onwards and their attempts to account for the origin, function, and subject-matter of myth as a category. Following his extremely successful Myth: A Short Introduction (2nd ed, 2015), as well as two other collections of his numerous essays on the topic, Myth Theorized brings together fourteen essays, some appearing for the first time, that demonstrate the need to continue studying what myth is and how we may account for it. For anyone interested in the study of myth, this is a must read.
Nickolas P. Roubekas, editor-in-chief NUMEN: International Review for the History of Religions and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of Vienna
A wide-ranging collection of essays from a comparativist perspective on myth theory and myth theorists, written with insight and clarity by one of the world’s foremost mythologists.
William Hansen, Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies and Folklore, Indiana University, Bloomington
In this third collection on myth by one of the deans of Myth Studies in the Anglophone world, Robert Segal continues his succinct, lucid, and analytic criticism of the major theoreticians of myth. In nine chapters treating the theories of Tylor, Muller, Frazer, Dumézil, Lévi-Strauss, Eliade Campbell, Blumenberg, and Dubuisson and in five chapters, offering his own substantive application to the theories of myth according to the themes of play, gender, synchronicity, rational explanation, and the purported conflict between science and myth, Segal continues to demonstrate his magisterial command of the field. This book is a must read for scholars and graduate students in Religious Studies.
Dr. Thomas Ryba, Director of Religious Studies, Purdue University
As this concluding book in an impressive trilogy reveals, Robert Segal’s patient and clear explications of the major theories have generated criteria that we all can apply to our lingering hero worship of the founder of a particular school. Professor Segal asks us to test such received ideas about the subject against the extent of their actual explanatory force. The cumulative effect of his incisive inquiries is to revitalize a critical engagement with myth studies by the present generation of readers and scholars.
John Beebe, author of Integrity in Depth
Segal’s Myth Theorized makes a substantial contribution to the field of myth studies, showcasing a broad range of authors, disciplines and ideas. The book engages with pivotal myth theorists spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, delves into crucial themes within myth theory, such as hero myths, and grapples with complicated concepts that often intertwine, like the connections between myth and magic, ritual and myth, and myth and the unconscious. Furthermore, it confronts the key challenges that myth has encountered over time, such as its inter-actions with science and its role as literature. What is particularly noteworthy is the consistent analysis of all these subjects from an interdisciplinary lens. This broad and holistic approach offers readers a comprehensive exploration of the topics under scrutiny. The outcome is a remarkably erudite work, replete with references and ideas, yet accessible in its wording, making it approachable even to those not well-versed in myth theory.
Another crucial contribution lies in the author’s adeptness at creating a cohesive map of connections and similarities across theorists and historical periods. This method consistently unifies Segal’s exploration of myth, providing a comparative study of a broad spectrum of myth theories. Beyond simply presenting the fundamental principles of each theory, he conducts thorough evaluations of them, rigorously subjecting them to critique. He acutely discerns differences and seeks out common threads, shedding light on overlooked aspects and providing nuanced explanations of both parallels and differences. This comparatist approach significantly enriches the study of myth theories, leading me to believe that this book will become a definitive reference in the field of myth studies for years to come.
Amaltea, Journal of Myth Criticism
Segal’s latest volume is a welcome addition to the field of Religious Studies, the study of myth, and adds to the author’s already robust and impressive body of work. By clearly and eruditely compiling a truly impressive range of essays, each dealing with key concepts and thoughts related to the study of myth, a variety of audiences should find this book to be a useful and rewarding work for continued consultation and conversation.