Introduced by Robert Fraser
James George Frazer's monumental classic, The Golden Bough – a subversive study of religion and folklore that scandalised its first readers – in a lavishly illustrated Folio edition.
Over 125 years after it first appeared, The Golden Bough remains a uniquely disturbing masterpiece – a groundbreaking exploration of the twisted roots of magic, ritual and religious belief, and a transformative influence for writers from Eliot to Hemingway, Lovecraft to Freud.
The life-work of James George Frazer (1854–1941), a pioneering Cambridge University anthropologist, The Golden Bough set out to elucidate a mysterious Roman tradition: that a runaway slave could inherit the priesthood at the shrine of Nemi by chopping a branch from a nearby sacred tree, then murdering the incumbent. To unravel this conundrum, Frazer embarked on a virtual ‘voyage of discovery’ into a dark world of fertility rites and human sacrifice, sacred kings and dying gods. Pushing the comparative method to its limits, he set myths and rituals from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome alongside Christian practices, and 19th century observations of tribal beliefs against the residual folk traditions of late-Victorian Britain – with startling results.
Magic, religion, and science are nothing but theories of thought; and as science has supplanted its predecessors, so it may hereafter be itself superseded by some more perfect hypothesis ...
On the surface, The Golden Bough provides a comforting Darwinian account of humanity's progress from an Age of Magic, through an Age of Religion and on to an Age of Science. But other unnerving conclusions gradually emerge: that the superstitions that Frazer catalogues still bubble dangerously beneath an easily-cracked veneer of rationality, and the thought-processes of the reader and primitive man share an unexpected ‘essential similarity’. Even more alarming, he presents shocking parallels between tribal rituals, ancient religious ceremonies and key components of Christianity, including its festivals, its sacraments, and even the narrative of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.
The resemblance of many of the savage customs and ideas to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity is striking …
Frazer spent half of his life writing and re-writing The Golden Bough, as the two-volume first edition of 1890 mushroomed into three, and then a staggering twelve volumes. Robert Fraser's masterful 1994 abridgement distils these riches, retaining Frazer's most controversial passages, honouring his original ‘four-book’ structure, and providing comprehensive notes and a thorough introduction – an authoritative account of the origins of The Golden Bough, its creation and its enduring legacy.
Following on from the frontispiece that Frazer himself specified – Turner's atmospheric painting The Golden Bough – this monumental text has been lavishly illustrated for the first time, with over 70 pages of archaeological, ethnographic and artistic images. Romy Blümel's stunning bindings of gold and white images that recall Greek vase decoration, a slipcase decorated with an oak and mistletoe motif, and gilded page-tops complete this deluxe edition of a truly unique work.
James George Frazer (1854–1941) was a Scottish social anthropologist and classical scholar. Born in Glasgow, Frazer was educated at the University of Glasgow and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1878 with honours in Classics. He was later called to the Bar in the Middle Temple, but never practised. In 1888 Frazer’s friend, the biblical scholar William Robertson Smith, commissioned him to write entries on ‘Taboo’ and ‘Totemism’ for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, for which his extensive research led to the first edition of his masterpiece, The Golden Bough (2 vols, 1890; 2nd edn, 3 vols, 1900; 3rd edn, 12 vols, 1911–14). Despite his lifelong work on The Golden Bough, he continued with classical scholarship in the form of a six-volume translation and commentary of Pausanius (Description of Greece, 1898), a two-volume edition of The Library by Apollodorus for the Loeb classical series, and a fivevolume edition of Ovid’s Fasti (1929). Frazer was appointed to the first chair of social anthropology in Britain, at the University of Liverpool, in 1908, was knighted in 1914, inducted into the Royal Society in 1920, and awarded the Order of Merit in 1925. He was an original member of the British Academy and, in 1922, the Frazer lectureship in anthropology was named in his honour
Robert Fraser is a lecturer, biographer and critic. He has taught in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, as well as the universities of Cambridge, London and Leeds. Fraser is currently a lecturer at the Open University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His books include The Making of the Golden Bough: The Origins and Growth of an Argument (1990), Sir James Frazer and the Literary Imagination (ed., 1990), Proust and the Victorians (1994) and Ben Okri: Towards the Invisible City (2002).
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