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The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology - An A-Z Guide To The Myths And Legends Of The Ancient World

The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology - An A-Z Guide To The Myths And Legends Of The Ancient World - Arthur Cotterell & Rachel Storm This is one of a number of similar reference works -- highly visual, pointlessly list-oriented and presented without much context -- which I bought in chains of busy remainder stores, downtown Bucharest. This book in particular has really astonishing, but oddly garish illustrations of every imagineable mythology and sort, but all a similar shade of orange red, which blurred detail as it was printed at some bargain in China.

It's hard to know where to begin with alphabetical listings of every major mythology on earth. I spent a Bucharest winter just reading the two page introductions to regional mythologies, continent by continent, along with gentle skimming of some of the entries.

I can remember being astonished by the Nordic and Celtic introductions, the differences between selfless sacrifice for a final doomed battle in Nordic mythology, vs. the individualist on the quest in Celtic. The Indian myths struck me strongly, although the only one I can remember now is the churning of the milk, using a serpent wrapped about a mountain. I must have seen this at Angkor Watt, but should have read the myths before going. Three possibly controversial points I remember are:

-- Asian myths put the sun at the center of orbitting planets, far before Galileo or Copernicus.

-- The book claims that Buddhism has been effectively reabsorbed back into Hinduism

-- The mythology gets more shamanistic as one heads north from India, into, say, Nepal, where the multiarmed, multifaced figures, with the heads of their enemies worn like crowns seem to increase steadily. I'd have an airline ticket to Nepal just about now, if I'd thought I had the budget, but I'd have arrived to terrible desolation, not ancient enlightenment right now.

In keeping with the fact that the flood myths repeat themselves from flood-prone Egypt, that the Romans stole Gods and everything else from the Greeks, and that it seems clear Tolkien borrowed a lot from his studies of Nordic myths (ask if you want the litany), it would have been more interesting and easier to remember if the thousands of entries had somehow been on a timeline showing similar myths. Reading a disconnected myth told as an encyclopedia entry was seldom pleasant either.

The infintessimal text in the invaluable introductions was unneccessary and unreadable, especially at night, even if my glasses were bad. A reference work quite nice and well researched to have, but not one to carry across eastern Europe or remember for its storytelling pleasure.