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~Greek Gods and Goddesses Still Have Power To Teach Mere Humans~

For immediate release:
October 28, 2003

Arlie Corday,

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- Mary R. Lefkowitz, professor of classical studies at Wellesley College, says we can learn much about what it means to be human by studying the myths of the ancient Greeks. Her new book, Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths (Yale University, November 2003), shows how myths have fascinated people through the ages while helping them cope with the uncertainties of their lives.

In October, Lefkowitz presented a Distinguished Faculty Lecture, "What We Can Learn from Myths," in Houghton Memorial Chapel at Wellesley College.

"Ancient writers use myths as a means of reminding humans of the severe limitations imposed upon them by the conditions of mortality, and the many dangers present in the world they inhabit," Lefkowitz said. "We still have much to learn from listening to what the ancient Greek and Roman writers say, even if we are not prepared literally to believe in their theology."

For two thousand years, the mythology of ancient Greece has captivated readers and has formed the basis of Western civilization. "Greek myths in particular have a continuing appeal because they are, first of all, great stories," Lefkowitz said. "Children love them because, unlike television, myths make them use their imaginations: Myths take them into worlds beyond their own experience."

Adult readers can use myths to help them discover who they are. "As Joseph Campbell put it, 'The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change,'" said Lefkowitz. "The Greek gods are a perennial source of delight because they seem so much like us: in their rages, their love affairs and their obsession with honor, the gods often appear all too human."

A Publishers Weekly review notes, "Twentieth-century interpreters from Freud to Joseph Campbell plumbed Greek myths for their insights into human character, but Lefkowitz suggests the myths have something to say about divinity itself…The gods, she says, are distant and only rarely interested in individual mortals, and divine justice moves slowly. Yet for Lefkowitz this 'religion for adults' is commendably realistic, delivering little comfort 'other than the satisfaction that comes from understanding what it means to be human.'"

Reading about the Greek gods in well-known epic poems like The Iliad and The Odyssey can help modern people, as they did the ancients, to gain understanding about the human condition. "The myths help mortals to try to come to terms with the limits of their own understanding, to see that even a very clever and courageous mortal like Odysseus will not always know what he is doing, and will never completely realize the extent of his own ignorance."

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal-arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 68 countries.


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