Surely the ancient Greeks would have been baffled to see what we consider their "mythology." Here, Claude Calame mounts a powerful critique of modern-day misconceptions on this front and the lax methodology that has allowed them to prevail. He argues that the Greeks viewed their abundance of narratives not as a single mythology but as an "archaeology." They speculated symbolically on key historical events so that a community of believing citizens could access them efficiently, through ritual means. Central to the book is Calame's rigorous and fruitful analysis of various accounts of the foundation of that most "mythical" of the Greek colonies--Cyrene, in eastern Libya.
Calame opens with a magisterial historical survey demonstrating today's misapplication of the terms "myth" and "mythology." Next, he examines the Greeks' symbolic discourse to show that these modern concepts arose much later than commonly believed. Having established this interpretive framework, Calame undertakes a comparative analysis of six accounts of Cyrene's foundation: three by Pindar and one each by Herodotus (in two different versions), Callimachus, and Apollonius of Rhodes. We see how the underlying narrative was shaped in each into a poetically sophisticated, distinctive form by the respective medium, a particular poetical genre, and the specific socio-historical circumstances. Calame concludes by arguing in favor of the Greeks' symbolic approach to the past and by examining the relation of mythos to poetry and music.
"Calame's faultless analysis convinces us that what for us is myth was for the Greeks nothing but the telling of 'les evenements constitutifs du passe de sa propre culture; mieux, de sa propre cite'... [T]he lucidity of his arguments and the answers he provides to many of the problems posed by Greek literary tradition cannot be denied."--Adolfo J. Dominguez, Bryn Mawr Classical Review