Reference Resources: MythologyNovember 5, 2010
There are a lot of reference works on classical mythology published, with new ones out every single year, it seems. Mythology is probably the classics topic with the most widespread appeal, from 2nd graders to 300-seat college lectures to Learning in Retirement programs, so many of the available mythological dictionaries and encyclopedias are targeted very broadly, and marketed to public and school libraries as well as (or instead of) universities. What I would like in a classical mythology encyclopedia for college students is:
- clear summary of the various myths associated with a figure
- accurate and full citations to the primary sources for those myths (it is shocking how often these are not included)
- examples and discussions of depictions of those myths in classical art
- discussion of places, temples, rituals associated with the myths
So, obviously my favorite reference resource on mythology is Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC). I first used it as an undergraduate, and when I was in graduate school the final volumes were not yet published, so we’d all scramble to choose mythological figures whose names began with the letters A-H. Woe bedtide you if you got Zeus – no LIMC to do your legwork for you! Now all the volumes are available (8 sets of 1 print and 1 plates volumes, for a total of 16 books). At UGA our copy is at Main Reference (1st floor) NX650 .M9 L40. Jenkins (no. 913) describes it as “by far the best source for locating and studying myths as they appear in ancient art” but does not seem as overwhelmingly fond of it for general purposes as I am.
Unfortunately, LIMC is a challenge for many undergraduates, especially those at the entry level – the level most likely to be studying classical mythology. They are intimidated by foreign languages which they mostly do not read, and the terse (i.e. professional-level) citation style for primary sources in LIMC can be confusing. I do show LIMC to many classes; many honors undergraduates and upper-level majors are happy to tackle it, and my goal is to make every grad student love and cherish it as I do. But for the average 1000-level mythology student, it’s too much. I will tackle some of the alternatives they turn to in forthcoming posts.