Bernhard Kytzler, Mythologische Frauen der Antike: von Acca Larentia bis Zeuxippe. Düsseldorf/ Zürich: Artemis & Winkler, 1999. Pp. 239, incl. 20 black and white illustrations. ISBN 3-538-07091-1. DM39.80.
Betine van Zyl Smit
University of the Western Cape
Bernhard Kytzler's previous lexicon Frauen der Antike: von Aspasia bis Zenobia contained short sketches of women who had attained some prominence in the history of the ancient world. The present volume has a series of portraits of female mythological figures from the Greco-Roman world. The small, handsome hardcover book has a preface by the author and concludes with a short selected bibliography for further reading.
The preface deals shortly with the importance of female mythological characters in ancient literature and art. Mention is also made of their malleability as reflected in divergent interpretations of one figure, in antiquity and also in later times. Reference is made to ancient lists of women in mythology found in Hyginus and in Hesiod's lost catalogue of women. Then the author defines what he has considered under the concept of myth, ('Mythos', p. 10). For the purpose of his lexicon he limits myth to the world of the Greek and Roman gods and heroes (goddesses and heroines?) particularly as they are represented in Greek and Latin poetry, drama and art. However, the author makes it clear that he has not included every single female figure depicted, but has selected those who represent some universal human experience in which the female role is especially prominent (pp. 12f.). This is thus not a work in which to search for details about a lesser known nymph or goddess.
Kytzler alerts the reader to the surprising variations in the presentation of ancient mythological figures by different artists and in different works. He indicates that he has tried to preserve the essential traits of each figure.
As the subtitle of the lexicon indicates, the names of the figures are arranged in alphabetical order. To avoid repetition cross references are made from the lemmata of less important figures to those judged more important ('wichtiger' p. 13) by the author. For instance under the lemma 'Ismene'(p. 120) there is simply a cross reference to 'Antigone' (p. 33). The entry for Antigone relates her story as reflected in Sophocles' Antigone. A last paragraph of the entry summarizes Antigone's role in Oedipus at Colonus. Each full entry ends with an indication of the sources in Greek and Roman literature where more information about the figure may be found. In Antigone's case, for example, the reader is referred to Sophocles' two dramas which have already been mentioned, as well as Statius' Thebaid Book 12.
In the Preface Kytzler forestalls criticism that his sources may not be exhaustive or that his selection of figures may be eclectic by stating that he does not aim at completeness (p. 13). He refers readers to his Select Bibliography for further information. Kytzler's design thus provokes the question: why purchase or use this lexicon if it is selective? Would it not be better to consult a more comprehensive classical lexicon such as that of W. H. Roscher, mentioned in the bibliography, or such as Pierre Grimal's Dictionary of Classical Mythology (Oxford 1986), not mentioned but available in French and English? The answer seems to me to be, 'Yes, it would be better if one wanted to be sure one had complete information.'
The book is clearly organized and easy to handle but I noticed a few inconsistencies and errors. For instance on p. 7 we find the spelling 'Medea' while the lemma reads 'Medeia' (p. 151). The date of publication of Clauss and Johnston's Medea (Princeton 1997) is wrongly given as 1977.
The illustrations are black and white photographs of famous ancient works of art depicting a number of the goddesses and mythological women in the lexicon. They are beautifully reproduced but the captions simply identify the figure by name without attempting to link the specific representation to an aspect mentioned in the entry.
Kytzler's lexicon does not seem intended for scholars. It seems rather to be aimed at the general reader who has a very limited knowledge of classical mythology and who wants to find out some basic information. The current worldwide interest in women's and gender studies probably accounts for the decision to publish a mythological reference work dealing exclusively with females. However, the result does not justify the decision as the information presented could as easily have been part of a general lexicon of classical mythology.