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Jane Ellen Harrison

From Academic Kids

Jane Ellen Harrison (September 9, 1850April 5, 1928) was a ground-breaking English classical scholar and feminist.

Harrison applied current archaeological discoveries to the interpretation of Greek religion in ways that have become standard. Her books on the anthropological search for the "origins" of Greek religion and mythology, include Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903), Heresy and Humanity (1911), Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion (1912, revised 1927), Ancient Art and Ritual (1912+), and Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1921).

In her time, Harrison was renowned for her public lectures on Greek art, for her unconventional and outspoken views. Born in Yorkshire, fortified with German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew (later expanded to about sixteen languages, including Russian) and emancipated intellectually by a reading of David Friedrich Strauss's historical criticism of the life of Jesus and Johann Jakob Bachofen's Mutterrecht (1861), the seminal analysis of matriarchy in Antiquity, Harrison spent most of her professional life at Newnham, the progressive, recently-established college for women at Cambridge. She knew Edward Burne-Jones and Walter Pater, and moved in the Bloomsbury group, with Virginia Woolf (who was one of Harrison's close friends and looked to her as a mentor), Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell and Walter Fry. With Gilbert Murray, F. M. Cornford, and A.B.Cook, she was inspired to apply anthropology and ethnography to the study of classical art and ritual. These people have become known as Cambridge Ritualists.

Her first monograph, in 1882, drew on the thesis that both Homer's Odyssey and motifs of the Greek vase-painters were drawing upon similar deep sources for mythology, the opinion that had not been common in earlier classical archaeology, that the repertory of vase-painters offereed some unusual commentaries on myth and ritual. She and her generation depended upon Charles Darwin for some new themes of cultural evolution, especially his 1871 work, Primitive Culture: researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, language, art, and custom.

World War I marked a deep break in Harrison's life: She never again visited Italy or Greece, and her pacifist leanings isolated her.

Her lectures on Greek art (given to prosperous, predominantly female audiences) were immensely popular in the 1880s, and her unorthodox fascination with pagan folk rituals often stirred up gossip. She is one of the founders, with Karl Kerenyi and Walter Burkert, of modern studies of Greek mythology.

External link

Reference

  • Annabel Robinson, The Life and Work of Jane Ellen Harrison 2002. (The first substantial biography, with extensive quotes from personal letters.)
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