In this climax to his great series of studies on world mythologies, Joseph Campbell examines a process which he sees as beginning in the mid-twelfth century in the West: an accelerating disintegration' of the orthodox tradition, which has resulted in release for the 'creative powers of a great company of towering individuals.' The natural context of traditional mythology is, he says, a stable society and accepted authority. Creative mythology, on the other hand, is the work of the rebellious, adventurous few, the 'challengers of hell'. It arises from individual experience, but if it has a certain depth and import, it can in communication reach the value and force of living myth'. Such is the function of the great creative thinkers and artists of the post-medieval period in Europe, from Galileo to Einstein, Shakespeare to Thomas Mann.
This third volume of Campbell's classic study of world mythologies covers the central myths that still inform the consciousness of the European West. Campbell traces these back to the cosmology built around the Levantine earth-goddess of the Bronze Age, changed but only partly suppressed by the patriarchal tribal invasions which shaped Judaic and Greek myth. He then examines the interplay of Persia, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, Islam and Christian Europe upon the matrix of ancient beliefs.