Five College Consortium

Intro to articles about Thomas Bulfinch

Cleary, Marie. Bulfinch's Mythology, in Humanities, Volume 8, Number 1, January/February 1987, 12-15.

Thomas Bulfinch's The Age of Fable; or, Stories of Gods and Heroes has had a long and influential life since its original publication in 1855. Before Edith Hamilton's widely used text, the mythology learned by Americans was Bulfinch's mythology. The alternate title, Bulfinch's Mythology, was first used by Edward Everett Hale in his 1881 edition. The National Union Catalog lists well over 100 editions either of the book by itself or, with two of Bulfinch's collections of non-classical legends, as part of a trilogy. Bulfinch did not simply adapt the myths for contemporary readers as did his contemporaries, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Kingsley. They wrote primarily to entertain; he wrote to instruct by making the material entertaining. "Thus we hope to teach mythology," he explains in his preface, "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."

Article for the general educated public.


Cleary, Marie. "Miscuit Utile Dulci: Bulfinch's Mythology as a Pedagogical Prototype," in The Classical World," Volume 78, No. 6, 591-596.

In The Age of Fable, Thomas Bulfinch perfected his technique for spreading knowledge of ancient learning by combining it with a secondary interest of greater contemporary concern. Realizing that most readers were not familiar with classical literature, he set out to combine the useful and the pleasurable, the ancient with the modern. This he accomplished by mixing contemporary citations, allusions and terms into his telling of the classical myths. Bulfinch's pedagogy anticipates John Dewey's concept of "indirect interest," which guides readers to see in seemingly remote subject matter the connections to their immediate interests.

View of Bulfinch's pedagogical technique


Cleary, Marie. "Bulfinch, Thomas," in Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists, Edited by Ward W. Briggs, Jr. Prepared under the auspices of the American Philological Association. Greenwood Press, 1994.

Brief summary with abundant information.


Cleary, Marie. "Classical Mythology in American Life and Literature to 1855: Steps Toward Democratization, unpublished paper.

This paper concentrates on one facet of classical mythology in America--its evolution from a specialized body of knowledge for only Greek and Latin initiates into a field of general interest open to all who could read English. I have chosen the word "democratize" to describe this process rather than "popularize," because the former includes the latter, and adds an ethical dimension; to democratize means not only to make something more popularly available, but to make it work for social equality and against usurpation by power and wealth. I want particularly to investigate the opening-up of mythology's mysteries to people of both sexes who did not go to secondary school and college, and to women in particular--that is, groups which did not until the nineteenth century have access to classical languages. That people of color, including African-American slaves, are included here goes without saying.

Investigation of mythology in American life prior to Bulfinch.