am 9. Juni 1999
Along with "The Hero With a Thousand Faces," this is Campbell's greatest work. Campbell was a loving student of Native American cultures, and this book's historical achievement is to evaluate and compare all world mythologies as co-equal, including cogent and detailed examples from Native American mythology.
Campbell's core belief was that all humanity has a common origin, and that the study of mythology exposes this core identity amongst all peoples. By traversing the plains of time back to the very first artifacts of human behavior, he draws a compelling conclusion that we are all born of the same stock, from the same mythopoetic and spiritual origin, and destined to share the same future.
The student of humanity will find this study particularly compelling because Campbell identifies several mythological themes that span the globe. Among them are the virgin birth of a savior, the trial of the hero at the hands of evildoers, and the resurrection of the savior/hero from the dead. To my mind, these timeless echos of Christian beliefs place Western thought in an ancient and endlessly rewarding intellecutal context.
Campbell's higher purpose of showing that all humanity is united through its most fundamental ideas about the cosmos and our place in it is brilliantly synthesized in his discussion of the origin of agrigculture at the outset of the Neolithic. In the same way that all philosopy is "footnotes to Plato," all of history is "footnotes" to the Neolithic Revoltuion. Campbell handles this insight with a genius that must be read and re-read to truly appreciate.
am 5. Februar 1999
For those unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell and his work, I would suggest starting with "The Power of Myth", a wonderful introduction to Campbell's insight and intellect.
The four volume set, "The Masks of God", of which this is the first book, would be a great next step. Volume 1, "Primitive Mythology", is a cogent review of the basic underlying primitive mythology which has shaped many of the world's greatest cultures, and still lives vibrantly in many today. A great read from a great man.
am 17. März 2000
This last volume of the Masks of God is a huge book that spans the efforts of artists to interpret the myths from early troubadour poems to Finnegan's Wake. Just for the books it added to my reading list, this book was valuable.
The idea of the book that has stayed with me the most since I read it is the idea that an artist neither accepts myth as historical fact, nor rejects it as useless, but moves somewhere between those two extreme poles to mine its history.
The book is dense, and not always easy to read. It took me a long time to pick through it-- particularly in sections with pages of quotations-- but it was ultimately quite rewarding. Being only an amateur student of religion and mythology, I am ill-equipped to judge the merits of its scholarship.
am 11. Juni 2000
Primitive Mythology is the first book in Campbell's great and sweeping study of myth in the world, starting from his neo-romantic viewpoint of myth as a necessary (and currently missing) factor in life. He embarks on a globally comparative and ultimately reconciliatory survey of kinds of myth and their relative societal roles. Please note that there is a fair amount of debate as to both the accuracy and ethics of trying to mine the universal from global myth in this fashion, but however you come down in that particular debate, The Masks of God is, on its own terms, a monumental achievement.
am 10. Januar 1999
After more than a decade of reading and pondering, I have finally finished Campbell's great populist tetralogy on the history, manifestations and uses of the world's myths, both as aids to spirituality and as a tools of power politics. No doubt, I could have read it faster, but my wont was to read a section, then contemplate, often taking side-trips into other texts, either to check out the original, or to catch another perspective, or to read other works by Campbell. (I was reading volume one, for example, when I became aware of the PBS series of conversations between Bill Moyers and Campbell, so I took side-trips into the companion volume to that, into Hero with a Thousand Faces and into Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment. Volume two somehow got me into Campbell's Mythic Image, a very satisfying consideration of mythic representations in art, and into Robert Bly's Iron John.) This volume deals mainly with the mythology of individuation, and with the history of the movement from tribal/sociological mythogenesis to the concept of the individual as his/her own "all in All" interpreter who uses the past as guide, but not as a monolithic revelation or absolutist decree, necessarily. I was most fascinated by the discussions of artistic creation in terms of mythogenesis, moving from the personal and religious letters of Heloise and Abelard, through the Parsival and Grail legends which became art (via Mallory and Wagner, most notably, whose works were both discussed extensively and well, to my delight [and also to my regret that my fellow lover-of-all-things-Arthurian, Andy Raiford, is no longer alive to share my joy in these passages], and on to the contemporary works of James Joyce [all his work] and of Thomas Mann [Magic Mountain, primarily]). There is lots more by Campbell that I want to read, and rooms-full of texts that these volumes have lead me to want to read, ponder, and investigate. It's a good life that has brought me into contact with all that is here, so that I may "participate joyfully in the sorrows of life" to quote a Hindu proverb used as a focal point in another of Campbell's works. Of course, I dog-eared a number of pages and underlined many quotable passages in this volume, just as in the rest of the tetralogy.
am 11. Dezember 1998
This is Joseph Campbell's masterpiece. He delves into myths from neolithic times long before the mythology of the Celts, the Greeks or the Babylonians. This book offers myths that even the very well read are unaware of because they are so obscure. Campbell nevertheless tells these myths with all the insight and genius for which he is so justly famous. Indeed, in this reader's opinion this book shows that Campbell is perhaps one of the most intelligent American thinkers, standing on par with the best of Europe such as Freud and Nietzsche (who are major influences on Campbell).
Primitive Mythology ranges at will over the entire world, drawing comparisons between the myths of the Polynesians, the Mayans, the Shamans of Siberia and the cave painters in Lascaux. The telling of these myths is illuminated with apt discussions of modern thinkers and shot through with Campbell's own syncretistic philosophy of life based on his vast knowledge of the world's wisdom stored in its myths.
This book is absolutely brilliant and will be read for centuries throughout the world.