BMCR 2009.04.73

Mythenrezeption: Die antike Mythologie in Literatur, Musik und Kunst von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Der Neue Pauly. Supplemente 5

, Mythenrezeption: Die antike Mythologie in Literatur, Musik und Kunst von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. Der Neue Pauly. Supplemente 5. Stuttgart: Verlag J. B. Metzler, 2008. ix, 749; figs. ISBN 9783476020321 €179.95.

From the outset, the project of Der Neue Pauly [hereafter: DNP] has aimed at a thorough discussion of the reception and history of research on antiquity. It has resulted in a series of five volumes of Rezeptions- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte and a series of one-volume dictionaries collected in a supplemental series. The reception of myth and mythology is a long-studied field, and the authors of the work under review know that they are standing in a centuries-old tradition. However, encyclopedias that combine descriptions of mythological figures and their gesta with overviews of the reception these themes have had over the centuries are rare in comparison to dictionaries of Greek and Roman myth (see list at p. 679). Therefore, this work is most welcome, since it will have a wide distribution along with the popular DNP series. Nevertheless, its high price will prevent many private collectors from buying it.

The extremely brief introduction written by the editor (pp. VII-VIII) makes clear that no exhaustive lists, let alone thorough discussion, of every example of Nachleben have been included. An entry’s task is to sketch the development of a mythical person’s appearance within the culture and its subsequent history. All authors succeed in that task, and the reader will not find endless dry enumerations of works.

Maria Moog-Grünewald fails to mention the large category of theatre adaptations – in addition to amply discussed cases in music and film. As one will understand when perusing the entries themselves, theatre is seen as part of literature in a very traditional classicist way, and fortunately all entries pay attention to drama’s reuse of ancient myths. An innovative aspect of this volume is the inclusion of the use of myth in philosophical, psychological and scientific, and sometimes even political debates. The editor has great ambitions and stresses that individual articles may be long (“ausführlich”), even if the book as a whole is of a manageable size. As a matter of fact, the most impressive and the longest articles discuss complex figures like Dionysos (pp. 230-246), Herakles (pp. 326-343), the Muses (pp. 441-457), Orpheus (pp. 522-538), and Prometheus (pp. 605-621). By contrast, the main Olympian gods Athena, Demeter, Hera, and Zeus receive relatively brief entries. As for Zeus, the inclusion of all his lovers has not been attempted, so that only a few of them have their own entry (e.g. Danae, Europa, Ganymedes, Leda).

The spelling in general follows the ancient Greek spellings also used in DNP, but in some cases, mostly those of groups of figures, the modern German practice prevails: Amazonen, Argonauten [in Iason], Chariten, Kentauren, Moiren, Musen, Nymphen, Silen, Sirenen.

Since all these figures also feature in DNP 1-12 itself, it may be useful to compare the two sets of descriptions. Those in DNP retell mythical stories less and concentrate instead on the character and implications of a mythical figure within ancient society. Iconography and art history are often discussed in a terse way or not at all. The use of both lexicons together may therefore be advantageous for a reader who is trying to get a more complete image of a god or human figure in all its complexity. I tested complex figures like Dionysos, Medea, and Orpheus and can confirm that these entries match admirably, so that I may conclude that the authors of the headwords in this volume have taken into account the articles in DNP.

For the sake of systematization, many figures who have no entry of their own are featured in articles about personages with whom they are always associated. This treatment sometimes causes their particular deeds to be overshadowed, so that they seem to have no life of their own. In my view, a few figures, like the poorly worked-out Sisyphos1 and Telemachos, would not need entries of their own. However, I miss several famous figures (or: several famous figures lack their own article; cf. note 1). Gods like Asklepios, Hekate, Leto, Nike, the Sibyls, and the Titans are only featured in combination with others. As for mortal figures, I looked in vain for characters such as Bellerophon, the Danaids, Diomedes, Hermaphroditos, Idomeneus, Io, Ion, Kallisto, Kekrops, Meleagros (partly covered by Atalante, of course), Minos (but see Minotauros), Pelops, Philoktetes, Polyneikes (the Theban cycle is all gathered under Antigone), Telephos, and Troilos (but see Achilleus).

The absence of separate articles for these figures does not mean that the work as a whole is defective – that is not at all the case – but a more thorough system of internal cross references and references to other volumes of DNP might have increased its value and relieved the pain of the absence of, for instance, an article on Laokoon with his huge reception, and especially on the marble statue group in Rome described in DNP 15/1,10-19.2

The articles are composed in a well conceived system. Part A tells the myth, while part B discusses the reception. They are divided into periods (Antiquity, Middle Ages, Modern Times, sometimes split up into Renaissance and Baroque, Enlightenment, 20 th century, vel sim.), and within these periods attention is paid to philosophy and literature, including theatre, art, music and dance, and finally film. A topic is omitted if it is not relevant to a particular myth. As for modern media, comic books and graphic novels are included, and psychoanalysis features in the sections on literature and philosophy (e.g. Eros, Oidipus).

All entries have their own bibliographies of specific studies about the figure discussed, but, as a result, interesting general works are not mentioned. A larger general bibliography might have been of help, and in that sense the Auswahlbibliographie on pp. 679-680 is not rewarding. Within the organization into groups of works (general, bibliographical, epochs), sections that match the organization of the articles (see supra) are lacking, for which reason collective works on art (especially exhibition catalogues or other books of interest), drama, film and so on are excluded.3 Moreover, in the entries as well as the bibliographies the accent lies on studies written in German.4

But I wish to be clear, this dictionary is and will remain an indispensable tool for all who are interested in the tradition and reception of mythical topics between Antiquity and later culture. It would be a good thing if the book would become available in a more affordable edition to students, scholars of different disciplines, and amateurs of ancient literature.


1. Since Sisyphos is included, why not include other humans punished for their evil deeds, such as Arachne, the Danaids, Ixion, and Orion, all also known after Antiquity. The presentation of the underworld is even more deficient, since the Erinyes, Hades, Harpies, Hypnos, Minos, and Thanatos, to name the main figures associated with death, must be looked for in other entries.

2. See in the same volume DNP 15/1 of 2001 the articles Mythologie (Manuel Baumbach, columns 611-636) and Mythos (Fritz Graf, columns 636-648), in which interesting aspects of the fortune of myth and mythology are discussed. On Laokoon see now also D. Gall and A. Wolkenhauer (eds.). Laokoon in Literatur und Kunst: Schriften des Symposions “Laokoon in Literatur und Kunst” vom 30.11.2006, Universität Bonn, Berlin/New York 2009.

3. E.g. on film [partly too new to be included, but good examples of general literature]: M. Lindner (ed.), Drehbuch Geschichte. Die antike Welt im Film, Münster 2005; M. McDonald, Euripides in Cinema, Philadelphia 1993; M. Meier/S. Slanicka (eds.), Antike und Mittelalter im Film. Konstruktion – Dokumentation – Projektion, Cologne 2007; G. Nisbet, Ancient Greece in film and popular culture, Exeter 2008.

4. E.g. for Italy: J.T. Kirby, Secret of the Muses Retold. Classical Influences on Italian Authors of the Twentieth Century, Chicago 2001. For Britain: G. Miles (ed.), Classical Mythology in English Literature, London 1999; A.B. Taylor (ed.), Shakespeare’s Ovid: The Metamorphoses in the Plays and Poems, Cambridge 2001.