LEGACIES by Joan M. Erikson


Prometheus, Orpheus, Socrates
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 A rambling and, ultimately, rather pointless retelling of ancient heroic tales, by a psychologist and author (Wisdom and the Senses, 1988, etc.) who tries without much success to connect the narratives to the daily realities of modern life. ``Myths are the prehistory of mankind,'' according to Erikson, who here traces our moral and psychic ancestry back to the sagas of the Greeks. She is particularly concerned with the origins of the creative impulse, and so it's not surprising that she dwells upon precisely those figures who represent the birth and triumph of human genius--or, more specifically, of the human soul. Prometheus, the demigod, awaken's humanity's dormant creativity with the fire he sends down from heaven; Orpheus, by ``singing his sadness,'' helps us to ``accept the fact that we are not isolated and unique but share daily shame and loss and can do so more resolutely if we face it together''; and Socrates gives his very life in an attempt ``to unveil the infallibility of truth--the beauty and strength of authenticity which can be found in the invariable core of the human being.'' Erikson's observations are often striking and fresh, but she ties them so closely to the texts at hand that her work becomes little more than a random and discursive commentary. Had she expanded her reflections more generously, Erikson might have given us a meditation whose scope was large enough for both the myths she describes and the world they address; as it is, her examination of the ancients comes in morsels too small to sustain much thought. Precious notions too slight and casual to carry us along.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1993
ISBN: 0-393-03443-7
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992


by Plum McCauley