Maria Moog-Grünewald (ed.), Brill‘s New Pauly. Supplements 4. The Reception of Myth and Mythology (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2010)

This encyclopaedia served literally as a pivotal reference work for several generations of students and academics, especially though not exclusively in Continental Europe. However, being as massive as it was impressive, this important source of knowledge was never translated into English in toto. On the contrary, such a fate awaited the newer and thoroughly revised version of the same encyclopaedia, i.e. Der Neue Pauly, published by J.B. Metzler over the period 1996-2003. While the translation of Der Neue Pauly is reaching its completion with the publication of the supplementary volumes, Brill’s already twenty-six-volume New Pauly has become one of the richest encyclopaedias of Western antiquity in today’s Anglophone world, and possibly the most consulted reference work in its field. What is more, the New Pauly provides not only an extensive coverage of the cultures and events in the ancient heart of Europe from early Aegean times to late antiquity, but also a multi-disciplinary study of the reception of classical antiquity in the following centuries—indeed up to the present day. Particular attention has been paid in the New Pauly to the changes and trends in classical scholarship itself, which has witnessed as diverse and turbulent an existence as the Graeco-Roman civilisations themselves.

The supplementary volume reviewed hereby belongs to the latter, multi-disciplinary study area. As the subtitle highlights, it is devoted to the reception of classical myth and mythology. Its original version was published in German in 2008: a two-year backlog for translation in today’s lingua franca of scholarship is not blameworthy. The volume reads as a one-book lexicon of the most important characters in ancient mythology. Each lemma tackles one (e.g. Achilles, 1-14; Zeus, 616-20) or, in alternative, famous pairs (e.g. Agamennon and Clytaemnestra, 37-42) and groups (e.g. Nymphs, 433-43). Information is offered concisely and in a fairly standardised manner: Greek and Latin names come first; then a brief summary of the character’s/s’ main features; a presentation of the relevant myth(s) involving it/them, inclusive of historical and geographical variants; the character’s/s’ relevance in ancient religion(s); and eventually its/their literary and artistic reception in ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary times, inclusive of references to significant philosophical, artistic and political usages and conceptualisations.

A complete overview of all the known receptions of each character would have been impossible or, at least, impractical. However, the lexicon of this Supplement is generous enough with representative varieties of interpretations concerning each mythical character concerned. As such, this volume serves also as a concise history of Western ideas, which means that the fourth Supplement of the New Pauly should appeal not solely to classical scholars and historians, but also to students and academics in the humanities at large. In particular, art historians and cultural theorists may find this volume a very useful reference book; one of those books that should be kept on top of one’s office desk. Still, a more extensive overview would have been possible and, in all probability, even more practical to the academic community. The editorial choice of favouring “the need for brevity and lexical usability” (viii) over the comprehensiveness of the lexicon may be well-intended, yet at the same time it does strike as naïve, especially if one considers the encyclopaedic nature of the whole enterprise to which it belongs. Besides, given the considerable amount of money that university libraries, research centres and individual scholars are expected to disburse for each volume, including the Supplement at issue, not to mention for purchasing or accessing the whole New Pauly online, then it would have been wiser to make the lexicon “fatter” rather than “slender”.

Pecuniary considerations aside, the scholarly fitness of the fourth Supplement remains excellent. It is highly recommended to all humanists and scientists that may need or benefit from expert accounts of ancient myths and their reception in Western culture.

About Giorgio Baruchello

Born in Genoa, Italy, Giorgio Baruchello is an Icelandic citizen and works qua Professor of Philosophy at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Akureyri, Iceland. He read philosophy in Genoa and Reykjavík, Iceland, and holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Guelph, Canada. His publications encompass several different areas, especially social philosophy, theory of value, and intellectual history. Public e-mail: giorgio@unak.is