Mythology | Study Guide

Edith Hamilton

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Edith Hamilton | Biography


Edith Hamilton was born to wealthy American parents in Dresden, Germany, on August 12, 1867, but grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her father did not want to send his daughters to public school, so Hamilton and her sister Alice (who went on to become the first female professor at Harvard University) studied Latin, Greek, French, and German language and literature at home as children, which gave Edith a lifelong interest in classical literature.

When Hamilton was in her teens, her parents sent her to Miss Porter's School for Young Ladies, a boarding school in Farmington, Connecticut. One of her teachers at Miss Porter's related an anecdote in which Hamilton showed distress when a fellow student confessed to not knowing the difference among the Greek dramatists Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus. Hamilton proceeded to offer a detailed explanation of the three writers' lives and works, including on-the-spot translations of texts Hamilton pulled from the shelves nearby. Her later work would be marked by this ability to make classical literature accessible to all.

Hamilton completed her master's degree at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in 1894, then returned to Germany and became one of the first women to study at the universities in Leipzig and Munich. Upon her return to the United States in 1896, Hamilton became headmistress of the Bryn Mawr School for Girls in Baltimore, Maryland, where she remained until 1922.

After her retirement from teaching, she absorbed herself in studies of classical literature and mythology. She published ancient histories as viewed through the arts in The Greek Way (her first book) in 1930 and The Roman Way in 1932. She also published two books about the Judeo-Christian tradition and translations of three plays by Aeschylus and Euripides before releasing Mythology in 1942. Mythology became a staple text for classical studies, and in 1957, the city of Athens made her an honorary citizen for her contribution to studies of ancient Greek culture.

Beyond Mythology's ubiquity in academic settings, the anthology has sold millions of copies worldwide. Reviews for Mythology have been overwhelmingly positive since its publication in 1942, with reviewers praising the anthology's academic rigor and its accessibility. Kirkus Reviews calls Mythology "delightful." In a comparison between Hamilton's work and other anthologies and adaptations released in the ensuing years, the New York Review of Books sums up Hamilton's influence: "Yet in readership and influence, none of this group could compete with the American Edith Hamilton."

Edith Hamilton died in Washington, D.C. on May 31, 1963.

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