Books by Joseph Campbell

TRANSFORMATIONS OF MYTH THROUGH TIME by Joseph Campbell
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Released: Feb. 1, 1989

Thirteen classroom lectures by the late Campbell, which will air on PBS early next year and are already available on video cassette. As ever, Campbell is spellbinding in these lightly edited transcripts, offering for the nonacademic reader a simplification of his five-volume historical atlas and four-volume The Masks of God The subjects and themes are prime Campbell: the nature of initiation; myths of the Native Americans; neolithic gods and goddesses; Egyptian myths; Buddhism, kundalini yoga, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and mystery religions; European consciousness and the Grail myth; the legends of Arthur and of Parzival, which Campbell ranks higher than Dante's Divine Comedy, because it "ends up on earth, and the thing is solved here, now, in the flesh, and in a magnificent way." Profuse illustrations throughout enliven and explicate the text. Read full book review >
THE MYTHIC IMAGE by Joseph Campbell
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Released: April 1, 1975

This is a beautifully mounted and exquisitely illustrated, learned expedition through the worlds of myth and dream. "Imagery, especially the imagery of dreams, is the basis of mythology." The illustrations range from Michelangelo and Blake to Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock; many of the photographs are in color and all are striking. The underlying psychology is Jungian, the Oriental discipline accompanying it is that of Yoga, and the intellectual conception throughout focuses on the interleaving of the nonliterate or primitive traditions with the highly literate and convoluted traditions of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Joseph Campbell's concern with comparative religions has always been weighted in favor of the mystical elements inherent in any creed rather than the ethical or social values which are also a part of religious formulations. His mammoth Mythic Image naturally follows this familiar trajectory. The book is dazzling but frankly a bit difficult to follow if not to grasp. It has an air of academic psychedelia. Everything is forever flowing into everything else: the Gospel account of the Last Supper is related to the last meal of Buddha, a few lines from Wordsworth are juxtaposed against lines from the Chhandogya Upanishad. Or everything is being balanced by some opposite: "male and female, active and contemplative, light and dark." And there are so many variations on the theme of "unity in duality," so much talk of gods and fertility cults, cosmic wheels and cosmological views, the four elements and the four seasons, that the reader is soon lost in reverie. Not surprisingly, the most interesting writing doesn't come from Campbell at all, but is to be found in a long extract he presents from Captain Cook's eyewitness account of a bloody sacrifice in the South Seas. Much thought and preparation went into this laudable undertaking; unfortunately it never quite reaches the level of significance its subject warrants. Read full book review >
MYTHS TO LIVE BY by Joseph Campbell
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Released: April 12, 1972

Campbell, author of The Masks of God and a respected mythologist, conceived these essays originally as lectures for Cooper Union's Forum series. They still resonate with echos of the hall as he recapitulates the themes of his more scholarly works: namely, a Jungian view of the nature and origins of myth, and a conviction that myth is still (as it has been always and everywhere) the prerequisite to social stability and genuine self-realization. An anecdotal and comparative survey of the world's mythological lore is given here chiefly, however, as a touchstone for finding equivalent verities in our own time. This can lead to some startling speculations — e.g., that contemporary western soldiers suffer from want of a "war myth" which would "psychically induct" them to their role — and questionable conclusions, e.g., his celebration of the space race in that it reveals a powerful new "affect image" of earth as "the one oasis in all space," a "kind of sacred grove. . . set apart for the rituals of life." Ritual is the key word (for Campbell, life seems meaningless without it): the church, for instance, is in decline simply because it is not making an "affective display" of its rites and symbols, and schizophrenia (after Laing and Perry) is accepted as a benign parallel to "shamanistic crisis" and archetypical voyaging. But ritual per se is not enough to reconcile the curious east/west split in the author's own conservative thought, which would have progress and nirvana too. Best read as first heard, for the erudite incidentals and enthralling podium style. Read full book review >
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Released: July 21, 1969

Although the modern sensibility—Eliot and Joyce, Freud and Jung—owes a great deal to various mythologies, it is no secret that "mythic consciousness" has been superseded by "scientific consciousness," an overpowering historical fact as prevalent in the East as in the West. One would imagine that this turn of events would be the starting point in any new discussion of the "mythological dimension." Joseph Campbell seems to be aware of it only as it relates to Occidental transformations or disruptions: specifically the Judaic-Christian tradition which with its "exclusive, authoritative, collective, and fanatic" articles of faith he finds rightfully headed towards the dustbin of history. But surely this is the fate of Oriental religions as well. Can Vedantic or Taoist texts, based on the Immutable Self and an illusory world, a mystical constellation which Campbell at one point renders in truly staggering terms—"beyond names, forms and all scriptural personification, to that immanent transcendent mystery of being which defies thought, feeling, and figuration"—be expected to survive except as a poetic phenomenon or a Jamesian "will to believe?" Campbell is an erudite man, and what he has to say even in this collection of sketchy and randomly related essays is not without consequence, especially re the set pieces on the Brothers Grimm and a legend of the American Indians. Nevertheless, his theoretical excursions concerning the biological or theological aspects of myth or "Primitive Man as Metaphysician" are really more provocative than illuminating, and the recurring Buddhist/Biblical dichotomies do seem a bit cursory coming from the author of The Masks of God. Read full book review >
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Released: Feb. 26, 1969

As Mr. Campbell suggests in introducing these eleven papers (first presented at the Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture), "The import of the whole" is significantly "greater than the sum of its parts." The import of this whole lies in the internal dynamic that operates in the integration of sympathetic yet independent perspectives; their direction is expressed by Richard Underwood in the summary of the last 'part' — "...contemporary philosophy...needs to see myth and dream as signs that point the way to the possibility of knowing who we really are." To this end the ideas of Jung and Wallace Stevens are frequently quoted: by Ira Progoff, for example, writing on "Waking Dream and Living Myth"; by Stanley Romaine Hopper on "Myth, Dream and Imagination"; in Joseph Campbell's own essay "Mythological Themes in Creative Literature and Art." This last functions as fulcrum and focus for the others, intentionally, since the collection is structured to mirror an intellectual progression to which Campbell's compact (re)statement of his theses is idiomatically central. The tone varies redeemingly from the relaxed, good-natured blasphemy of Allan Watts who projects a reconstructive program in "Western Mythology: Its Dissolution and Transformation," to the Ovidian epigram in Norman O. Brown's "Daphne or Metamorphosis"; from the theological orientations of John F. Priest and Amos N. Wilder to the erudite analysis of Orestes Myth rand Dream as Catharsis" by David L. Miller. The "Philosophical Double Vision" of Owen Barfield and psychological platform of Rollo May round out the interdisciplinary esoterics — an adventure in epistemology. Read full book review >
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Released: Oct. 12, 1959

This work is one of enormous scholarship, undertaken by a mythologist who holds a teaching post at Sarah Lawrence and has previously transcribed Celtic and Indian folklore tales. It is a titanic effort to coordinate and bring up to date the new perspectives of the last twenty years in the "fields of comparative symbolism, religion, mythology and philosophy" as well as in archaeology and anthropology, ethnology and psychology. Its knowledge of primitive cultures (whether Australian or Aztec, Greek or Indian, etc.) is almost overwhelming. But Mr. Campbell has one or two coordinating lines of inquiry which lend coherence. He attempts "the first natural history of the gods and the heroes, such as in its final form should include in its purview all divine beings..." In so doing he is moved by a motive far deeper than classification. He believes and attempts to prove that man cannot maintain himself in the universe without belief in some arrangement of the general inheritance of myth; that men have looked for something solid on which to found their lives, and have chosen not the facts in which the world abounds- but the myths of an immemorial imagination. He ranges far and wide to implement these themes and he retells many beautiful and many horrifying tales.... It is an impressive piece of work, wide in scope and idealistic in intent, and it should receive critical attention and longstanding usage. Read full book review >
THE PORTABLE ARABIAN NIGHTS by Joseph Campbell
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Released: Feb. 21, 1952

This bids fair to be the definitive edition of a classic known to the majority of readers only through those stories familiarized in childhood reading. The editor has retained the well-known framework, the many times told stories, and the additional, little known stories- thirty six in all, to take up the 100 nights — complete; and others in abridged form. The Payne translation from the Arabic is used unexpurgated. The Arabian Nights have long been vilified, heritage of the Puritan era. The background of scholarship, evidenced in the Introduction, provides for the student something of the Persian humanistic movement, in which these stories are rooted. The growth and development of the series is traced, the sources and dates indicated. Something of Baghdad, of Haroun er Reshid, socially, politically, intellectually, supplies immediate background for the analysis of the tales themselves. Read full book review >
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Released: July 1, 1944

An interpretation, and guide to, James Joyce's master-work and master puzzler, which is a book for scholars, devotees, intellectuals. Read full book review >
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The third volume in Professor Campbell's projected four-volume study of mythology. Like the first two, which considered the Primitive and Oriental worlds, the current one, which concerns the Occident, is saturated in scholarly splendors. Its understanding of the cross-fertilization of cults and religious and historical events is far-ranging and, for those with the proper equipment, fascinating to follow. It draws upon recent archaeological activities, on linguistics and literature (Hesiod, Homer, Ovid, Virgil, Milton, etc.). It is cognizant of art and architecture and employs the disciplines of philosophy and modern psychology to decided advantage. Unfortunately, unlike the other volumes, it is also a little tired, a little out-of-tune, a state of affairs rather surprising since the subject matter- the conflicts and confluence of Levantine and European myths- is dynamic enough and certainly is part and parcel of our civilization. Of course, maybe that's the tip-off; familiarity breeding a well-read boredom of sorts. But all carping aside, the professor's labors are large and illuminating, summing up the pietism of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, along with the humanism of the Greeks, Romans, Celtic and Cermanic tribes, and the interplay of the religious and the pagan, the diffusions and absorptions, the relationship of God to Man and Man to God. The piece-de-resistance centers on the New Testament and a sterling study of the meaning of the Messiah. The work concludes with the Battle of the Cross with the Crescent and the dawn of the Renaissance. When the final volume arrives, we'll have a remarkably rewarding quartet. Read full book review >
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Somewhere Professor Campbell speaks of a celestial palace shining with a million jewels and a thousand golden colored rays, "the whole continually changing in appearance: now a , now a pearl net"; this description could, give or take a few numbers, sum up his own of Oriental myth. The scholarship is staggering, as is the Professor Campbell, the "continuous condition" of Eastern art resembles the harmony of the social order. There are Biblical counterparts: the Flood, the job, the Tree, a Chinese Sodom. There are antiquity equations with Dionysius, Krishna with Herakles. From the bull-to we go on to the search for Nirvana, mythic identification and inflation, Vedas of Brahman, Buddha and the Gita and the current Chinese Communist Professor Compbell loves his lore, spinning one enchantment after another, he also notes early Indian renunciation giving way to sexual opulence: Krishna's simultaneous with Radha and a thousand other playmates, doing things which their minds". Cultural cross-references abound: Marx, Jung and Freud on two views of Ego; Plato's the author believes all religions and myths are rooted in apprehension of the and, like Dr. Suzuki, that the "metaphysical tremendum" and "sublime " somehow lost to the West in its incessant preoccupation with free will and an autonomous future. However, he does not note Koestler's recent Lotus and attack of the entire . Nevertheless, Masks of God is a landmark for mystic thought. Read full book review >