Thursday 11 February: Demeter and Persephone: A Jungian Interpretation

This week Joyce Tye will introduce a discussion of the myth of Demeter and Persephone, offering a Jungian interpretation.

The underworld holds the deepest secrets and is a prime concern of the soul. For Carl G. Jung, myths provided not only an explanation for the events of nature, but also a way of making sense of the inner world. From this perspective, the story of Persephone’s separation from her mother in the myth of Demeter and Persephone can be understood as the psychological development from adolescence to womanhood. Since, as Jung states, “every mother contains her daughter in herself and every daughter her mother”, the myth can be said to highlight the ambiguity inherent in the mother-daughter relationship, offering an intriguing perspective on the cycle of life, death, and renewal.

Jung, C.G., “The Psychological Aspects of the Kore”, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, edited by Gerhard Adler & R. F.C. Hull, trans. by R. F. C. Hull, in The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 9, Part 1. 2nd ed. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1990) [set reading: pars. 306-316, pp. 182-188]

Keller, Mara Lynn, “The Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone: Fertility, Sexuality, and Rebirth”, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, vol. 4 No. 1 (Spring 1988), pp. 27-54.

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 11 February

12.00-1.30pm     Room 3.318

Poster and texts:

Homeric Hymn to Demeter.trans.Helene Foley

C.G.Jung. Kore (pars.306-317)

Additional reading:

Keller.Eleusinian Mysteries


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Thursday 4 February: Heaven on Earth, or Earth Made Heavenly?

This week, Mikael Bang introduces a discussion of the afterlife in Judaism.

The concept of the afterlife permeates Jewish texts, and yet is veiled. There is a belief in “the world to come” [olam ha-ba]. Its meaning, however, has been the source of a 3000 year old discourse. Included in this idea of an afterlife is a Messiah, and a bride for a King. What is clear is anticipation: a longing for a “heavenly wedding”. Judaism speaks of a Book of Life often considered as a wedding list of invited guests. Hence, the hope one is invited and a sustained focus on how to prepare. No clearer is this seen than in the Sabbath. For six days God laboured, then enjoyed a unique rest. Judaism imitates this rest. Six days of work, then Friday Shabbat, a ritual of marriage. Broadly speaking, the focus in Judaism has been on preparing one’s soul for the “heavenly celebration” more than it has been to speculate on the afterlife per se. What is the afterlife? What can be said is that Wisdom instructs us to live and prepare as though one were invited to the Royal Court. As below, so above.

During the session we will consider the story of Noah’s Ark from Genesis (Chapters 6-8), and the Jewish tales “Elijah’s Violin” and “The Water Palace” from Howard Schwartz’s Leaves from the Garden of Eden (2009). One may also find helpful the documentary “Hasidism and Jewish Mysticism: a Personal Journey” available on youtube

Howard Schwartz, Leaves from the Garden of Eden: One Hundred Classic Jewish Tales (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). [Tales 2 and 23]

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 4 February

12.00-1.30pm      Room 3.318

Poster and texts:

Noah’s Ark. King James Bible

Eliah’s Violin

The Water Palace

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Dreams of Eland: San Myth and Rock Art


Jeremy Solnick introduces a discussion of the dreams of eland as represented in rock paintings by the Southern San who inhabited the Drakensberg and Maluti mountains in Africa.

The eland features prominently in San myth and was felt to have great spiritual power. The story contained in J. D. David Lewis-Williams’s article “The Imagistic web of San myth, art and landscape” (2010) deals with the resurrection of the dead eland by the mythical chief Qwanciqutshaa.

The medicine dance was the central ritual of the San belief system. It was frequently performed around the new moon or after the killing of a major animal like an eland, by the men and women of the tribe. The dance was led by a shaman. In San communities a number of men and women might be shamans and many would participate in a dance. During the dance, the shaman enters into a trance state, which grants the ability to cross realms and to communicate with gods and ancestors. The dance is performed to secure the life of the community and to heal people who may be ill. In the centre of the circle made by the dancers is the activated potency and healing power of the shamans and the dead eland. In the darkness beyond the firelight are malevolent spirits of the dead (including dead shamans) who seek to harm the people and ‘shoot arrows of sickness into them’.

During the session we will look at the writing down of this myth as told to the nineteenth-century anthropologist and politician Joseph Orpen by the young San Qing. We will also explore how the myth is interpreted by later anthropologists in the nineteenth century and by twenty-first century scholars such as Lewis-Williams who have studied it in the context of other complex rock paintings.

J. D. David Lewis-Williams (2010), “The imagistic web of San myth, art and landscape”, Southern African Humanities, 22: 1-18. [essential reading: pp. 10-12]
J. D. David Lewis-Williams (1987), “A dream of eland: an unexplored component of San shamanism and rock art”, World Archaeology, 19 (2): 165-177.

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 28 January

12.00-1.30pm     Room 3.318

Poster and text:

The imagistic web of San myth

Additional reading:

A dream of eland


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Thursday 21 January: Osiris: Egyptian God of the Afterlife

The Myth Reading Group returns this term with the theme of “Afterlives”. Our opening session, introduced by Dr. Leon Burnett, will be on Osiris.

In his lifetime, according to myth, Osiris was responsible for introducing civilization and agriculture to Egypt and the wider world. After his death, he became lord of the underworld (the Duat), holding out the promise of eternal life to his subjects. For his followers, the transition from the land of the living to the land of the dead was an exacting one, which required the assistance of magic to ensure a safe passage.

Osiris’s own death, however, was a very different affair, in which a thematic affinity with an episode in the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone is unmistakeable. This week’s session will look at Plutarch’s account of the death and resurrection of Osiris as told in “Isis and Osiris” (De iside et osiride). As Plutarch states at the start of his essay, “the effort to arrive at the Truth, and especially the truth about the gods, is a longing for the divine”.

The text, “Isis and Osiris”, is taken from Plutarch, Moralia; trans Frank Cole Babbitt (Loeb Classical Library, Vol. V, 1936) and is available here. See also the Greek text on the Perseus Digital Library.

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 21 January

12:00-1.30pm      Room 3.318

Poster and text:

Plutarch.Isis and Osiris

Additional material and further reading:

Plutarch.Isis and Osiris.conclusion

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Afterlives: Call for Proposals

The Myth Reading Group returns this term with the theme of “Afterlives”, understood both in relation to myths of the underworld and of crossings between realms, and as the afterlives of myths and texts from ancient times to the present. For example, you could focus on Ovid’s rendition of the myth of Demeter and Persephone (Metamorphoses and Fasti) and Rita Dove’s retelling of the same myth in contemporary key (Mother Love), or consider adaptations of myths across periods and mediums.

We hope the versatility of the theme will inspire a lively discussion of myths of the afterlife and of the afterlives of myth from varying perspectives.

Meetings will take place from 12.00 to 1.30p.m. on Thursdays in Room 3.318 (term time only). If you wish to introduce a topic, or have suggestions for works to read in the Spring term, please contact us at Watch this space for updates and details of our sessions.

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Thursday 10 December: Philomachy: Euripides’ The Trojan Women

By unhappy coincidence with recent political discussion, the chosen topic for this week’s session, introduced by Dr. Ben Pestell, is philomachoi – lovers of war – in Greek mythology.

Euripides’ The Trojan Women contains several examples of the sort of rhetoric which earn him the reputation as a sceptic concerning belief in divine powers. Gods are evacuated from the ruins of Troy. The implicit argument is, despite the apparent plenitude of gods in accounts of the Trojan War, that war among mortals is not a suitable concern of myth. It is human business for human legends, and the gods keep their distance.

Euripides, The Women of Troy, trans. by Philip Vellacott (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1973)

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 10 December

12:00-1:30pm     Room 3.318

Poster and extracts:

Euripides.The Women of Troy

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Thursday 3 December: Stranded on Naxos: The Ambivalence of Ariadne

This week Dr. Leon Burnett introduces a discussion of ‘The Ambivalence of Ariadne’.

Ambivalence is central to all mythologies. In Greek myth, we need only think of Persephone, alternating annually between her standing as maiden and queen of the dead, or Artemis, presiding equally over childbirth and the slaughter of animals, to appreciate the extent of the ambivalence attached to female deities. The focus for this session is on the account offered by Nonnus, in the Dionysiaca (XLVII: 265-475), of the association of Ariadne with a specific location – the island of Naxos – where, abandoned by Theseus, she was discovered by Dionysus.

Nonnus, Dionysiaca. Translated by W H D. Rouse, Loeb Classical Library Volume 356 (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1940), pp. 391-405.

The original Greek is available at

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 3 December

12:00-1:30pm        Rom 3.318

Poster and extracts:


Ariadne – other accounts from antiquity


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