07 February 2007

Zeus. A Study in Ancient Religion. Arthur Bernard Cook.

Arthur Bernard Cook. ZEUS. A STUDY IN ANCIENT RELIGION. 3 VOLS IN 5. Cambridge University Press, 1914 - 1940.

Current Selling Prices
$1200-$1500 / £750-£900 Want level 25-50 Highish

Fabulous, substantial work in mythological and religious scholarship published over a quarter of a century by Cambridge Professor of Classical Archaeology (1868 - 1952.) The first vol is subtitled 'God of the Bright Sky', the other 2 vols (both in 2 parts) are entitled 'God of the Dark Sky' and deal with Zeus and Thunder, Lightning,Earthquakes, Wind, Dew, Rain and Meteorites. In England, as elsewhere at that time, the history of religion excited interest as perhaps never before or since. Cook, a friend of JG Frazer, was part of the scholarly set known as 'The Cambridge Ritualists' whose members included F.M. Cornford, Gilbert Murray and Jane Harrison - they felt that the origins of myth lay in ritual. They are not forgotten and this is a much sought after and valuable book.

VALUE? Although the work was reprinted by Biblio and Tannen in NY 1965 dealers till ask around £1K, sometimes in mixed sets. Ask but don't necessarily get - most high price copies have been sitting there since George Bush was still popular. There are several odd volumes at about $200 a pop. It tends to end up with important bookshops (the kind of guys who get called in to make offers on the libraries of great academics) who also tend to price with a heavyish hand so it is unlikely to show up at cheap as chips prices, sorry. Myth and folklore, is to my mind a fascinating area of collecting and large collections of the stuff occasionally turn up in odd places but, sadly, pretty infrequently.

The Wikipedia bit on Cook is woefully thin, the DNB (only £200 a year online) has a charming picture and a long, clever and affectionate bio from which I quote "This study shows a fabulous command of every kind of material which could be brought to bear on the subject—ancient literature, monumental evidence, the Near Eastern background, and folklore and folk-ways from all parts, all presented with supreme accuracy and so indexed as to be instantly available. Zeus would be indispensable to students in many fields, even if every single conclusion of its author were rejected. Perhaps no one has equalled Cook in his ability to present the views of others with generous fairness and to state objections to his own; no one has surpassed him in awareness of the fact that the ancients took their gods seriously."