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Comparative Mythology by Jaan Puhvel, in Czech edition: Srovnávací mytologie, Praha: Lidové Noviny, 1998. Out of print.

This book is based on transcripts of university lectures, a course in comparative mythology, and it shows. It reminded me of one similar work, The Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety by E. R. Dodds which was also written from a successful series of lectures. The difference with Dodds is that he supplied his text with an exhaustive list of footnotes, which are not found in Comparative Mythology.

Unlike Dodds's at times highly intellectually demanding style, Puhvel employs a rather quick-paced self-confident, witty1 style of writing and also a rather quick tempo. At many places the author expects knowledge of various fields, e.g. etymology, history of religion, classical languages.

This is definitely not a 101 book or an introductory work to the topic of ancient pagan religions. I believe that it would easily scare off a student with no previous background in history of religion or general college-level humanities, who are, however, in a majority if we can trust the research available on the topic.2 For these students, this book is definitely a challenge and they will have to look up references.

What Puhvel is doing in the book is classical comparative scholarship. In order to follow, the reader has to be solidly knowledgeable in the raw material from which the author derives his conclusins. By “raw material” I mean that one has to know what are the Eddas and Vedas are, who Snorri and Saxo are and other such things, because Puhvel doesn´t spend a minute explaining that to you. Currently in 3rd year of Religious Studies, I still have a very vague idea about some of the cultures and myths he treats throughout the book.

I am glad that I made it through this book, because first it allowed me to add a bit here and there to my knowledge of Pagan religions and, second, because it´s the only IE studies book from the list that has been translated to Czech. If somebody came to me for advice, I would sincerely recommend picking up the Pennick´s introductory book if they know some English or perhaps trying Dumézil´s collected works, which have been translated.

  1. Though his jokes are probably only amusing to his students and colleagues.
  2. For example Margot Adler has found that the most common professions among Pagans were IT specialists and engineers, and this result has been confirmed by my personal observations.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 10th, 2008 11:18 am (UTC)
This book is based on transcripts . . . also a rather quick tempo = also rather fast-paced . . . who are, however, in majority . . . trust the research available on the topic . . . know what the Eddas and Vedas are, who Snorri and Saxo are, and other such things . . . about some of the cultures and myths . . . because first it . . . and, second, . . .

1) Book titles should be italicized or underlined (articles are enclosed in "")

2) Paragraphs 2 and 3 can probably be made into a single paragraph.

3) Actually, the most commonly-stated profession according to the most recent census of Pagans is "student". See this book for those figures.
Nov. 11th, 2008 11:16 am (UTC)
You guys make me feel humiliated always, but anyway I asked for it :-) Unfortunately, I don't remember being ever taught the rules for using commas. In Czech it's pretty complicated. I guess I am missing here some more advanced college-level humanities writing skills. Unfortunately the uni just requires you to pass insane tests (I did it for B, and most of the people who went for that English exam at the day failed) without offering any courses. Good old "free" public education, huh?

Go get a commercial course if you want to learn something or if you, like most, did not have a good language teacher at high school...
Nov. 11th, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
Don't sweat the small stuff. Isn't that why you ask for feedback?
We've got your back. :)

(The only reason I know all this is because I *teach* it.)
Nov. 11th, 2008 07:08 pm (UTC)
I am afraid I need to ask what the first sentence means, it´s some kind of slang :-)
Nov. 11th, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC)
Hmm... "We've got your back..." I guess it has to do with your friends protecting you on your blind side. If someone "has your back" that means s/he is watching out for things you might not see and "backing you up" wherever and whenever you need it.

It's a good thing. :)
Nov. 13th, 2008 08:10 am (UTC)
I meant "Don't sweat the small stuff." Although I did know the meaning of the other thing either :-) Idioms...
Nov. 13th, 2008 10:22 am (UTC)
Ah. Happy to oblige -- "Don't sweat the small stuff" means don't worry about little things. There's a pretty well-known book that uses the idiom as part of its title.

As a writing teacher, I'm always amazed at how much people fret over spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. when those are really such a small chunk of what's really important. This piece you wrote is fabulous, and if you want someone to check it over for conventions, it's no big deal.
Nov. 13th, 2008 12:14 pm (UTC)
I'd be very happy if you'd read my future essays, to. Although even more important is the actual content and whether it complies with the requirements.

I had big issue with the meditation essay, I wrote some 5000 words, but it made such a poor impression on one of our clergy that he gave it back to me to start over, I'm not even sure if he finished it.

It's very difficult for me to write about *spiritual* stuff, in a foreign language even more so; review is still a common academic genre.... same with the personal religion essay. )

I need to fabricate *something*, even if it was a big juicy piece of heartbreaking "testimony" I did not believe myself. I just have to :-) Don't ask me why is it so difficult to summarize my beliefs/religion and practice in a single coherent essay. I attribute it to my highly intellectual environment.
Nov. 13th, 2008 10:00 pm (UTC)
When you say it made a poor impression on the reviewer, what exactly was his/her criticism? (Feel free to email me - romandruid at cox dot net.)
Nov. 10th, 2008 11:56 am (UTC)
In addition to chronarchy's suggestions:

...E. R. Dodds which was also written from a successful series... (it's not exactly sequential)

...history of religion or general college-level humanities...

...in the raw material from which the author derive its conclusions...

3rd should be third

No comma here: ...I made it through this book because ...

...picking up the Pennick´s introductory book...

Comma needed between "works" and "which have been translated."

Comma needed in second footnote between "engineers" and "and"
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )