Bulfinch's Mythology

Includes The Age of Fable, The Age of Chivalry & Legends of Charlemagne

by Thomas Bulfinch

For almost a century and a half, Bulfinch's Mythology has been the text by which the great tales of the gods and goddesses, Greek and Roman antiquity, Scandinavian, Celtic, and Oriental fables and myths, and the age of chivalry have been known. The forerunner of such interpreters as Edith Hamilton and Robert Graves, Thomas Bulfinch wanted to make these stories available to the general reader. A series of private notes to himself grew into one of the single most useful and concise guides to literature and mythology.

The stories are divided into three sections: The Age of Fable or Stories of Gods and Heroes (first published in 1855); The Age of Chivalry (1858), which contains King Arthur and His Knights, The Mabinogeon, and The Knights of English History; and The Legends of Charlemagne or The Romance of the Middle Ages (1863). For the Greek myths, Bulfinch drew on Ovid and Virgil, and for the sagas of the north, from Mallet's Northern Antiquities. provides lively versions of the myths of Zeus and Hera, Venus and Adonis, Daphne and Apollo, and their cohorts on Mount Olympus; the love story of Pygmalion and Galatea; the legends of the Trojan War and the epic wanderings of Ulysses and Aeneas; the joys of Valhalla and the furies of Thor; and the tales of Beowulf and Robin Hood.

  • Random House Publishing Group; February 1999
  • ISBN: 9780679640011
  • Read online, or download in secure ePub format
  • Title: Bulfinch's Mythology
  • Author: Thomas Bulfinch
  • Imprint: Modern Library

About The Author

Thomas Bulfinch was born on July 15, 1796, in Newton, Massachusetts. He was descended from a distinguished New England family; his grandfather was a well-known surgeon, and his father, Charles Bulfinch, was one of the foremost architects of his day, responsible for many Boston monuments, including the State House on Beacon Hill, as well as being an important public official and city planner. Thomas, who was one of eleven children, pursued a more sheltered career. He received the education of a member of the Boston elite--Boston Latin, Phillips Exeter, Harvard (where his classmates included the historian William Prescott)--but after he graduated in 1814 his life showed little sense of strong direction. He taught briefly at Boston Latin, assisted at a store owned by his elder brother, and worked desultorily and without much success in a number of different businesses in Washington, D.C., and Boston.

In 1837 Bulfinch began working as a clerk in the Merchant's Bank of Boston; he stayed on in that capacity until his death. The position was not a demanding one, and Bulfinch evidently had ample leisure time in which to pursue his other interests. He was secretary of the Boston Society of Natural History for a number of years, and published books reflecting the range of his interests, including Hebrew Lyrical Poetry (1853); The Boy Inventor (1860), a tribute to a precocious student of his who died young; Shakespeare Adapted for Reading Classes (1865); and Oregon and Eldorado (1866), an account of an expedition to the Pacific Northwest his father had been involved in planning. The only works of his which have retained their readership are the three volumes--The Age of Fable (1855), The Age of Chivalry (1858), and Legends of Charlemagne (1863)--eventually reprinted under the title Bulfinch's Mythology.

The thoroughness with which Bulfinch combed through his sources made his mythological books standard reference works for a long time, while the skill with which he wove the separate versions into coherent tales endeared them to a wide audience. They continue to be read for the vigor of their storytelling even when superseded by twentieth-century approaches. Bulfinch was concerned not only with recapitulating the ancient myths and legends but also with demonstrating their relationship to literature and art, and his copious cross-references to poetry and painting make his Mythology an indispensable guide to the cultural values of the nineteenth century. "Without a knowledge of mythology," he wrote, "much of the elegant literature of our own language cannot be understood or appreciated." He added: "We trust our young readers will find it a source of entertainment," and his trust seems to have been justified, judging from the many generations who have found his books an enthralling and loving introduction to the worlds of classical and medieval myth and legend.