The Greek Gods in Modern Scholarship
Interpretation and Belief in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Germany and Britain
The Greek Gods in Modern Scholarship (OUP 2016) investigates German and British scholarship on ancient Greek religion in the 19th and early 20th centuries, approaching the subject both from the perspective of the intellectual and religious history of its times and of its influence on later scholarship.
The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries comprise a crucial period in the history of the modern study of the Greek gods. During its course scholars in Germany and Britain in dialogue with their colleagues in other countries drew on developments in philology, comparative mythology, anthropology and sociology to advance radically different interpretations. For some, the gods of ancient Greece had been personifications of natural elements, for others, they had begun as gods with universal powers evoking the Christian God, yet for others, they went back to totems or were projections of group unity. The Greek Gods in Modern Scholarship discusses the views of both well-known figures in the history of the study of Greek religion like K.O. Muller (1797-1840), F. Max Müller (1823-1900), H. Usener (1834-1905), or J.E. Harrison (1850-1928), and of less well-remembered, but important, scholars like F.G. Welcker (1784-1868), H.D. Müller (1819-1893), or A. Lang (1844-1912) and many others. It explores the underlying assumptions and agendas of the rival theories put forward in the light of their intellectual and cultural context, laying stress on how they were connected to broader contemporary debates over fundamental questions such as the origins and nature of religion, or the relation between Western culture and the 'Orient'. It also considers the impact of theories from this period on twentieth- and twenty-first-century scholarship on Greek religion and draws implications for the study of the Greek gods today.