“During the present century Egypt has become a centre of attraction for ever-growing numbers of people. The Nile valley and its monuments are visited by tens of thousands of tourists each year. The political and economic life of the Arab peoples evoke equal interest of a different kind. The country’s development is taking place in a rich historical context, which reaches back beyond classical antiquity and ancient Israel to the earliest advanced civilizations of the Orient. This growth of interest in Egypt has long since ceased to be the preserve of a few specialists, but finds expression in school curricula and influences the outlook of ordinary men and women. All this creates a need for books which can enable lovers of ancient Egypt to enter into the spirit of its great civilization.”
“Yet behind all aspects of life of those who dwelt on the Nile in ancient times—behind their art, political structure and cultural achievements— one may sense forces at work which are religious in origin. To penetrate into this alien but fascinating field of inquiry is the desire of many and a necessity for all who seek a clearer understanding of ancient Egypt.”
“Above all I have tried to see Egyptian religion as the faith of the Egyptian people. Political, economic and social events are, so dar as I am concerned, only ‘the conditions in which phenomena appear’, to use Goethe’s words. The focal point for these phenomena, in my opinion, is man’s relationship to God.”
“While engaged upon this work I realized that one has to have experienced oneself the meaning of religion and of God if one is to interpret from the sources the relationship between God and man in an age remote from our own. But one also realizes that the great, simple concerns of mankind are the same through all eternity, whatever variations are introduced by physical circumstances and differences of mental outlook. One further perceives that preoccupation with a particular religious creed may open up avenues for an understanding of religion as such, just as the student of a foreign language or culture will often thereby obtain profounder insight into his own language and culture. I have come to be convinced that Egyptian religion can fulfil the same purpose for those who immerse themselves in it.” — from the Foreword
“All the known theories and incidents of witchcraft in Western Europe from the fifth to the fifteenth century are brilliantly set forth in this engaging and comprehensive history. Building on a foundation of newly discovered primary sources and recent secondary interpretations, Professor Russell first establishes the facts and then explains the phenomenon of witchcraft in terms of its social and religious environment, particularly in relation to medieval heresies. He treats European witchcraft as a product of Christianity, grounded in heresy more than in the magic and sorcery that have existed in other societies. Skillfully blending narration with analysis, he shows how social and religious changes nourished the spread of witchcraft until large portions of medieval Europe were in its grip—’from the most illiterate peasant to the most skilled philosopher or scientist.’ A significant chapter in the history of ideas and their repression is illuminated by this book. Our growing fascination with the occult gives the author’s affirmation that witchcraft arises at times and in areas afflicted with social tensions a special quality of immediacy.” [via]
Phrasikleia: An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient Greece by Jesper Svenbro, tranlated by Janet Lloyd, part of the Myth and Poetics series edited by Gregory Nagy, the 1993 paperback from Cornell University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“One of the most haunting early examples of Greek alphabetical writing appears on the life-sized Archaic funery statue of a young girl. The inscription speaks for Phrasikleia, who ‘shall always be called maiden,’ for she has received this name from the gods instead of marriage.
First published in French in 1988, this extraordinary book traces the meaning and function of reading from its very beginnings in Greek oral culture through the development of silent reading. Focusing on metaphors of reading and writing, Jesper Svenbro offers a series of rich analyses of sepulchral and votive inscriptions and myths as well as works of epic and lyrical poetry, legal exegesis, drama, and philosophy. Svenbro draws upon the theoretical insights of Foucault as he discusses such texts as the Iliad, the poetry of Sappho, and the ABC Show by Callias. With reference to the shift to silent reading, Svenbro illuminates a pervasive metaphor in Greek culture—the pederastic paradigm, in which the reader submits to the domination of the writer. In the central section of Plato’s Phaedrus, however, Svenbro discerns an alternative model: reader and writer mutually engaged in the search for truth.
Phrasikleia opens up fascinating new perspectives on the culture of ancient Greece and the genesis of reading. A wide range of classicists, literary theorists, anthropologists, and ancient historians will welcome its availability in Janet Lloyd’s lucid and fluent translation.” — back cover
The Anger of Achilles: Mênis in Greek Epic by Leonard Muellner, a 1995 paperback in the Myth and Poetics series edited by Gregory Nagy from Cornell University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“Leonard Muellner’s goal is to restore the Greek word for the anger of Achilles, mênis, to its social, mythical, and poetic contexts. His point of departure is the anthropology of emotions. He believes that notions of anger vary between cultures and that the particular meaning of a word such as mênis needs to emerge from a close study of Greek epic. Mênis means more than an individual’s emotional response. on the basis of the epic exemplifications of the word, Muellner defines the term as a cosmic sanction against behavior that violates the most basic rules of human society. To understand the way mênis functions, Muellner stresses both the power and the danger that accrue to a person who violates such rules. Transgressive behavior has both a creative and destructive aspect.” — back cover
Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many by Erik Hornung, translated by John Baines, the 1996 first edition paperback from Cornell University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“In 1970 Der Eine und die Vielen was published in German. The book was intended to stimulate renewed reflection on the nature and meaning of the gods both within and beyond the confines of egyptology, and to help overcome the bewilderment that is felt by many people in the face of the ‘abstruse’ figures of gods ‘invented’ by priestly schools. These aims seem to have been achieved, but the book’s influence and critical analysis have been confined mostly to German-speaking countries.”
“The debate about the foundations of Egyptian thought and Egyptian ontology, which has been taken up by Jan Assmann in particular, is still in progress. I therefore thought it best to leave my text on these questions as it was, so that it can serve as a starting point for further discussion; any modification or extension of it would have been much too provisional. I hope that the debate will be continued and clarified further in the English-speaking world. There is no end to the question of the gods and their meaning.” — Erik Hornung, Preface to the English Edition
The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.