The Meaning of Myth

With 12 Greek Myths Retold and Interpreted by a Psychiatrist

Non-Fiction - Religion/Philosophy
222 Pages
Reviewed on 05/12/2021
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Author Biography

Dr Neel Burton is a psychiatrist, philosopher, and wine-lover who lives and teaches in Oxford, England. He is a Fellow of Green-Templeton College in the University of Oxford, and the recipient of the Society of Authors’ Richard Asher Prize, the British Medical Association’s Young Authors’ Award, the Medical Journalists’ Association Open Book Award, and a Best in the World Gourmand Award. His work has featured in the likes of Aeon, the Spectator, and the Times, and been translated into several languages.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite

In The Meaning of Myth, Neel Burton (psychiatrist, philosopher, wine expert) brilliantly discusses and exhibits the meaning of myth. First, he defines it as “a piece of lore” and then separates it from legend, fable, fairytale, parable, religion, ritual, magic, and science. He presents a staggeringly exquisite progression: “Where science ends there is philosophy, where reason ends (end of language)—myth, music, wine.” Professor Burton’s voice in the piece is of an unselfconscious, thoroughly informed expert. The prose is fluid, professional, personal. He talks about the history of myth, and the tools used such as metaphor, personification, and allegory. And he explains the plot structure and content, its heroes/ heroines and gods/goddesses. He also talks about the history and current state of myth, implying enigmatically that sometime in the future myth might be all we have.

For quite some time I have been reading to be entertained, but I started this book to learn. I soon discovered that learning is super entertaining. I was reminded and inspired about the importance of story to mankind. And the necessity of knowing myth as it relates to human history and thought. After Dr. Burton tells us all we need to know about myth in general, he offers specific presentations on 12 major myths (with photographs of artwork), starting with Echo and Narcissus and ending with Plato’s Myth of Er. The stories are spellbinding by themselves, but then there is commentary by Professor Burton, wise, knowledgeable, and enthralled by his subject. I felt as if I’d rediscovered a fabulous world I’d long forgotten, and it’s a world that we must never forget. The Meaning of Myth by Neel Burton is teaching and writing at its most superb and is as entertaining as you could ever want.

Foluso Falaye

In the first part of The Meaning of Myth, Neel Burton examines myth and its definition, its relation to similar terms like fable and legend, how it differs from science and religion, its history, and what terms like the hero, monster, and magic mean. Additionally, readers would unravel how misogyny is expressed through myths and how myths exist in the modern world. The second part looks into 12 Greek myths and what they mean. Readers would learn about myths such as that of Echo and Narcissus, Orpheus and Eurydice, Perseus and Medusa, and more. The Meaning of Myth shows not only how some words are derived from myths but also how our mindsets and some religious beliefs are influenced by them.

Wow! The Meaning of Myth is such a classy, enlightening, and elegant book as it immersed me in ancient cultures and showed me a new way of looking at different concepts like metaphors and monsters. I will never watch horror movies the same way again without wondering if they are categorical contradictoriness or interstitiality, among other things. Neel Burton treats several psychological concepts in a way laypeople can understand. I was able to understand why I behave in certain ways or have particular interests in some things. Note that some biblical stories are compared to myths in a way Christians may be uncomfortable with. However, no religion is directly attacked. Readers who wish to learn more about Greek mythology and how they have metamorphosed and have been received over the years should not hesitate to read The Meaning of Myth.

Ruffina Oserio

The Meaning of Myth: With 12 Greek Myths Retold and Interpreted by a Psychiatrist by Neel Burton is a fascinating book that explores and analyzes the content of some of the popular myths that readers have read or heard. The book redefines the concept of myth and the role it plays in humankind’s understanding and interpretation of reality. The author discusses the relationships between myth and other literary elements like legend, fable, metaphor, allegory, and fairytale. Readers will also understand the place of myth in religion and ritual and its scientific implications. Common characters in mythology like heroes and monsters are examined in this work and the author features one of the most celebrated creators of myth: Plato. In the second part of the book, the reader is taken on an intellectual journey that explores some of the famous myths in Greek mythology, including Echo and Narcissus, Eros and Psyche, Prometheus, the fallen rebel, Orpheus and Eurydice, the Mother goddesses Demeter and Persephone, Perseus and Medusa, Theseus and the Minotaur, Plato’s Myth of Er, and many others.

This is one of the most fascinating books I have read on mythology and Neel Burton writes about complex concepts in language that is not just accessible, but enjoyable and crisp. The book has strong psychological, philosophical, spiritual, and literary depth, for each story has a deeper meaning that elevates it above its literal interpretation and immediate significance. Burton examines the different elements in each myth and discusses its core message while uncovering psychological implications and how this relates to human emotion, intuition, and intellect. The writing is gorgeous and the entire work is well-researched. The author helps readers develop a strong appreciation for mythology and provides paradigms for meaningful appraisal of myths, allegories, and metaphors. It is engaging and filled with deep layers of meaning. The Meaning of Myth is a classic work that shows readers a dynamic approach to appreciating myths.