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The Sin of Knowledge : Ancient Themes and Modern Variations - Theodore Ziolkowski

The Sin of Knowledge

Ancient Themes and Modern Variations


Published: 12th November 2000
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Adam, Prometheus, and Faust--their stories were central to the formation of Western consciousness and continue to be timely cautionary tales in an age driven by information and technology. Here Theodore Ziolkowski explores how each myth represents a response on the part of ancient Hebrew, ancient Greek, and sixteenth-century Christian culture to the problem of knowledge, particularly humankind's powerful, perennial, and sometimes unethical desire for it. This book exposes for the first time the similarities underlying these myths as well as their origins in earlier trickster legends, and considers when and why they emerged in their respective societies. It then examines the variations through which the themes have been adapted by modern writers to express their own awareness of the sin of knowledge.

Each myth is shown to capture the anxiety of a society when faced with new knowledge that challenges traditional values. Ziolkowski's examples of recent appropriations of the myths are especially provocative. From Voltaire to the present, the Fall of Adam has provided an image for the emergence from childhood innocence into the consciousness of maturity. Prometheus, as the challenger of authority and the initiator of technological evil, yielded an ambivalent model for the socialist imagination of the German Democratic Republic. And finally, an America unsettled by its responsibility for the atomic bomb, and worrying that in its postwar prosperity it had betrayed its values, recognized in Faust the disturbing image of its soul.

"The rich and original fruit of life-long learning, teaching and research... [An] enlightening study."--Leslie Schenk, World Literature Today "The great pleasures of this book are in its retellings of stories, seamlessly interwoven with commentary."--Larry D. Bouchard, Journal of Religion

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Prelude: The Timeless Topicality of Mythp. 3
Ancient Themesp. 7
Adam: The Genesis of Consciousnessp. 9
The Biblical Fallp. 9
Near Eastern Sourcesp. 13
The Paradox of Knowledge in Solomon's Jerusalemp. 17
Prometheus: The Birth of Civilization 25 Hesiod's Tricksterp. 25
Aeschylus's Culture-Herop. 32
From Boeotia to Athensp. 39
Faust: The Ambivalence of Knowledgep. 43
The Historical Faustp. 43
The Growth of the Legendp. 49
The Chapbook Speculatorp. 52
Marlowe's Power Seekerp. 60
Interlude: From Myth to Modernityp. 69
Modern Variationsp. 73
The Secularization of Adam Candide's Fallp. 75
The Typological Impulsep. 77
Romantic Tragicomic Fallsp. 82
American Ambiguitiesp. 92
Modern Ironiesp. 100
The Proletarianization of Prometheusp. 111
From Myth to Marxp. 111
Modern Metaphorsp. 115
Marxist Mythsp. 121
GDR Ambiguitiesp. 127
Three Major Re-Visionsp. 132
The Enemy of the Peoplep. 141
The Americanization of Faustp. 149
Modernizations of the Mythp. 149
Faust and the Bombp. 153
Playful Fausts of the Fiftiesp. 156
A Blue-Collar Faustp. 161
Professorial Faultsp. 164
Faults of Politics and Poetryp. 174
Fausts for the Ninetiesp. 177
Postlude: On the Uses and Abuses of Mythp. 183
Notesp. 193
Bibliographyp. 205
Indexp. 217
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9780691050652
ISBN-10: 0691050651
Audience: Tertiary; University or College
Format: Hardcover
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 210
Published: 12th November 2000
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.88  x 1.91
Weight (kg): 0.51