"It was not till toward the end of the thirteenth century that the prose romances began to appear." -- Thomas Bulfinch
Thomas Bulfinch (July 15, 1796 - May 27, 1867) was an American writer, born in Newton, Massachusetts. Bulfinch belonged to a well educated Bostonian merchant family of modest means. His father was Charles Bulfinch, the architect of the Massachusetts State House in Boston and parts of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.. Bulfinch supported himself through his position at the Merchants' Bank of Boston.
"For Mythology is the handmaid of literature; and literature is one of the best allies of virtue and promoters of happiness.""If no other knowledge deserves to be called useful but that which helps to enlarge our possessions or to raise our station in society, then Mythology has no claim to the appellation.""It has, therefore, been a favorite boast of the people of Wales and Cornwall, that the original British stock flourishes in its unmixed purity only among them.""Mail armor continued in general use till about the year 1300, when it was gradually supplanted by plate armor, or suits consisting of pieces or plates of solid iron, adapted to the different parts of the body.""ON the decline of the Roman power, about five centuries after Christ, the countries of Northern Europe were left almost destitute of a national government.""Religion united its influence with those of loyalty and love, and the order of knighthood, endowed with all the sanctity and religious awe that attended the priesthood, became an object of ambition to the greatest sovereigns.""Shields were generally made of wood, covered with leather, or some similar substance. To secure them, in some sort, from being cut through by the sword, they were surrounded with a hoop of metal.""The earliest form in which romances appear is that of a rude kind of verse.""The other classes of which society was composed were, first, freemen, owners of small portions of land, independent, though they sometimes voluntarily became the vassals of their more opulent neighbors, whose power was necessary for their protection.""The preparatory education of candidates for knighthood was long and arduous.""The Romans held Britain from the invasion of Julius Caesar till their voluntary withdrawal from the island, A.D. 420,- that is, about five hundred years.""The word Chivalry is derived from the French cheval, a horse.""The word knight, which originally meant boy or servant, was particularly applied to a young man after he was admitted to the privilege of bearing arms.""Thus we hope to teach mythology not as a study, but as a relaxation from study; to give our work the charm of a story-book, yet by means of it to impart a knowledge of an important branch of education.""We thus see that the Greeks of the early ages knew little of any real people except those to the east and south of their own country, or near the coast of the Mediterranean.""Without a knowledge of mythology much of the elegant literature of our own language cannot be understood and appreciated."
Although Thomas Bulfinch reorganized Psalms to illustrate the history of the Hebrews, he is best known as the author of Bulfinch's Mythology, an 1881 compilation of his previous works:
The Age of Fable, or Stories of Gods and Heroes (1855)
The Age of Chivalry, or Legends of King Arthur (1858)
Legends of Charlemagne, or Romance of the Middle Ages (1863)
The compilation assembled posthumously by Edward Everett Hale, known simply as Bulfinch's Mythology includes various stories belonging to the mythological traditions known as the Matter of Rome, the Matter of Britain and the Matter of France, respectively.
"Our work is not for the learned, nor for the theologian, nor for the philosopher, but for the reader of English literature, of either sex, who wishes to comprehend the allusions so frequently made by public speakers, lecturers, essayists, and poets, and those which occur in polite conversation."
The volume was dedicated to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and described on the title page as an "Attempt To Popularize Mythology, And Extend The Enjoyment Of Elegant Literature." In his preface Bulfinch outlined his purpose, which was
"an attempt to solve this problem, by telling the stories of mythology in such a manner as to make them a source of amusement. We have endeavored to tell them correctly, according to the ancient authorities, so that when the reader finds them referred to he may not be at a loss to recognize the reference. Thus we hope to teach mythology not as a study, but as a relaxation from study; to give our work the charm of a story-book, yet by means of it to impart a knowledge of an important branch of education. The index at the end will adapt it to the purposes of a reference, and make it a Classical Dictionary for the parlor."
His obituary noted that the contents were "expurgated of all that would be offensive".
The versions Bulfinch gives for the classical myths are those in Ovid and Virgil. His Norse myths are abridged from a work by Paul-Henri Mallet (1730-1807), a professor at Geneva, translated by Bishop Thomas Percy as Northern Antiquities (London, 1770, often reprinted).
The Bulfinch version of myth, published for genteel Americans just as the first studies of mythography were appearing in Germany, presents the myths in their literary versions, without unnecessary violence, sex, psychology or ethnographic information. "Mr. Bulfinch was a gentleman of a pure Christian character," his obituary observed, "of delicate sensibilities and refined culture." The Bulfinch myths are an indispensable guide to the cultural values of the American 19th century, yet the Bulfinch version is still the version being taught in many American public schools. Marie Sally Cleary, The Bulfinch Solution: Teaching the Ancient Classics in American Schools (1990), sets the book in the context of "democratizing" classical culture for a wider American antebellum readership.
Bulfinch was the product of Boston Latin School, Phillips Exeter Academy, and Harvard College, where he graduated in 1814.
Though the Bulfinch retellings were largely superseded in American high schools by Edith Hamilton's works on mythology, which were based directly on Classical Greek texts, still avoiding archaeology, a "sumptuously illustrated" edition of Bulfinch's Mythology was offered in the Christmas 1979 catalogue of the Metropolitan Museum of Art