The Age of Fable; or, Stories of Gods and Heroes

by Thomas Bulfinch

Hardcover, n.d. (ca, 1910)




New York, Hurst [n.d.]


Vivid, classic retellings of the myths of Greece and Rome, along with stories of the Norse gods and heroes. Zeus and Hera, Apollo, Jason and the golden fleece, the wanderings of Ulysses and Aeneas, the deeds of Thor, many more seminal stories underlying Western culture.

User reviews

LibraryThing member yoursources
[This book] is a brilliant reconstruction of the traditional myths which form the backbone of Western culture.

Here are the legends of Greece and Rome; here are quarrelsome Jupiter, Juno, and their Olympian companions who adventured amorously among lesser gods and heroes…brought vividly to life by [the author]. His tales of antiquity also include the warlike Norse Gods…heroes of the great Northern lore which is part of Europe’s heritage.

Palmer Bovie provides a historical and interpretative Foreword to [the book] in which he traces the origin and purpose of the great scholar’s work….
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LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
Though it is dated, it still serves as an excellent guide to the basic European Mythology.
LibraryThing member DanoWins
An excellent of the obvious classics and an authority in the field of mythology. This book, unlike some works on the subject of mythology, is as interesting as it is informative.
LibraryThing member StephenBarkley
Bulfinch's Age of Fable is a classic reference work that lives up to its reputation. The book is packed with anecdotes of deities, monsters, and heroes, some of whom I had never heard of before. Thanks to the "Index of Names", it will be my first reference when I come across an unfamiliar character (okay, my second after Wikipedia).

The book attempted to do two things: acquaint the reader with the legends, and show how they are alluded to in poetry. While the legends were terse and informative, I found the poetry references tedious and arbitrary.

I was also confused by the scope of the book. The contents are overwhelmingly stacked toward Greek and Roman mythology, but there's also chapters on Egyptian, Norse, and even Eastern myths. These chapters felt like unnecessary additions that didn't do justice to their subject matter.

I should also say that my edition (I scanned my own cover, above) is beautiful. The fabric wrapping on the hardcover is embossed. The maps inside both covers are printed in two colours. Even the pages themselves are printed on high quality paper. Unfortunately, this edition isn't in print—the link directs to a mere Dover Thrift edition.
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LibraryThing member page.fault
No matter what other versions of the Greek myths you've read, there's a certain quaint charm to Bullfinch's take on the stories. Written in the 1850s, the book opens with a forward in which Bullfinch attempts to argue the value of mythology. He notes that without some background in mythology, the allusions of the famous poets will simply whizz over a reader's head, and also adds that despite its pagan beginnings, mythology contains pure and valuable moral lessons. He then proceeds to retell some of the most famous Greek stories, noting and laboriously explaining various later poetical allusions to each tale from writers such as Milton, Keats, Shakespeare, and more.

There's something rather precious about the Victorian writer's obvious discomfort with certain aspects of the myths. For one thing, Bullfinch has to work quite hard to extract his moral lessons; no matter how much you bowdlerize them, the major aesop of most Greek myths is, let's be honest, that you'd better "put out" whenever requested or someone is going to turn you into a tree. I also rather admire the complex feats of literary doublespeak that Bullfinch employs when handling the stories involving same-sex love; he does his best to either portray such relationships as (very) close "friendships" or simply obfuscates the pronouns. I had to laugh at his version of Sappho, as he tells the entire story without once revealing the gender of her lover.

I also found his emphasis rather interesting. The book is supposed to be a collection of myths and fables from around the world, yet almost the book focuses on Greek mythology (or, I suppose, Roman myths, as Bullfinch uses all the Roman names. Personally, I found that rather irritating as I had to keep translating them in my head.) After 35 chapters of Greek mythology, Bullfinch decides on a brief world tour--one chapter on Egyptian mythology, one chapter on "Eastern" mythology, three chapters on Norse mythology, and one chapter for the Celts. This actually can be seen as emblematic of the era; during Bullfinch's time, the Romans were venerated as having created a Utopian society that was lost to the dark ages, and--at least, according to the British--regained by Victoria's imperialistic regime. The fascination with Romans is then something of a self-congratulatory belief that the Victorian world recreated the splendour of the ancients.

Overall, Bullfinch's book exemplifies the Victorian attempt to both venerate and sterilize ancient folklore. Although perhaps not precisely true to their originals, I think Bullfinch's stories have a charm all their own.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Bullfinch has written a sort of crib notes for The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Upanishads, The Vedas, plus information about myths without primary books, like the Druids. The information is fascinating, and the amount of work put into the project is overwhelming. Gods and goddesses throughout the ages are shown to be just and unjust, proud, vain, supportive, vengeful, faithful and arbitrary. It's a little amusing to see him use Christianity as the basis of truth while he refers to all the other religions as superstitions, but what a wealth of information never the less. He gives both the stories of gods and heroes and how they have been referred to in literature, up to that time. Now when I hear of someone's reading Stones For Ibarra, I know who Ibarra was.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in classics, literature, religion or geography.
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LibraryThing member keylawk
The author was a well-educated and underemployed bank clerk in Boston who used his spare time to research classical mythology. Thomas Bulfinch was born in 1796, one of three sons of the great Unitarian architect. But unlike his two successful brothers, Thomas only failed in several businesses. At age 41, taking a modest clerical job, he began to write what became the definitive and important series of works on mythology, fables and legends. To this day, Bulfinch supersedes in quality and readership much of the scholastic materials written by academicians.

This three-volume collection presents Bulfinch's studies first published in one combined volume in 1881: The Age of Fable presents the Greek and Roman myths of the classical period. The Age of Chivalry is a retelling of the legends of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and sundry British/Celtic folk tales. The third part, the Legends of Charlemagne, recounts tales drawn from France, Germany, and Africa.
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