Edith Hamilton

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Mythology Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Edith Hamilton's Mythology. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Edith Hamilton

Edith Hamilton was born in Dresden, Germany, as one of four sisters. Her father was a scholar who raised Hamilton on the Classics, teaching her both Latin and Greek starting at age seven. Hamilton graduated from Bryn Mawr College and briefly studied in Germany, but then returned to America to take over as head of the Bryn Mawr girls’ school. Hamilton was long considered the “greatest woman Classicist,” but she did not publish a book until she was 62. Her first works, The Greek Way and The Roman Way, both drew comparisons and contrasts between Classical life and modern times, though Hamilton is best known for Mythology. In 1957 Hamilton was made an honorary citizen of Athens, which she considered the proudest moment of her life. She died at age 95.
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Historical Context of Mythology

Many of the stories of Mythology take place in the world of “Ancient Greece,” which was in reality a complicated jumble of rival city-states and islands. Most of the myths originated in Athens, one of the strongest city-states of the time, and the one most dedicated to artistic and philosophical endeavors. The myths Hamilton retells span the Persian War (490-479 B.C.E.), when Athens first became a dominant power, the Trojan War (about which little is known historically, and which may not have actually occurred), the empire of Alexander the Great, when the cultural capitol of the region shifted to Alexandria, Egypt, and the rise of the Roman Empire, ending with the Latin poets Virgil and Ovid in the time of Caesar Augustus. The Norse mythology Hamilton describes mostly originated in Iceland, and was consolidated by the poet Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century.

Other Books Related to Mythology

The actual texts Hamilton interprets and summarizes in Mythology have become fundamental works of World Literature, comparable to the Epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Mesopotamia or the Ramayana of ancient India. Most Western literature and thought, from Shakespeare to Freud to contemporary fiction, has descended from the Greek and Roman myths that Hamilton retells.
Key Facts about Mythology
  • Full Title: Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 1942
  • Literary Period: Classical scholarship
  • Genre: Historical non-fiction, Classics, Mythology
  • Setting: Ancient Greece and surrounding mythological areas, Iceland and Scandinavia
  • Climax: The labors of Hercules, the Trojan War
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for Mythology

Discrimination. Hamilton received a fellowship to study for a Classics doctoral degree in Europe, but when she tried to take classes in Germany she was refused or alienated because she was a woman. In Munich, Hamilton was forced to sit on the lecturer’s platform, separated from and facing the audience, so no one would be “contaminated” by her.

Sister. Hamilton’s sister Alice also became a notable scholar and philanthropist. She became Harvard’s first female professor in 1919.