Karl Kerényi

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One of the founders of modern studies in Greek mythology, Karl (Carl, Károly) Kerényi (January 19, 1897 - April 14 1973) was born in Timişoara and then lived in Hungary. His was a family of some landed property.

At the University of Budapest he followed a program in classical philology with a doctorate on Plato and Longinus and aesthetic theory in Antiquity, and read widely. In the following years he taught in Hungary at the secondary school level, travelled in Greece and Italy and followed courses at Greifswald, Heidelberg and the University of Berlin. His first book Die griechisch-orientalisches Romanliteraturin religionsgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung ("The Greek-Oriental Romances in the Light of the history of Religions"), dedicated to Franz Boll, was published in 1927 and earned him an appointment as privatdocent at Budapest. He became professor of classical philology and ancient history at Pecs (1934) and Szeged (1941) and continued to explore the classical sites of Greece. In Greece in 1929 he met W. F. Otto, who influenced him to combine the studies of comparative religions and social history, while his friendship with Jung induced him to take the findings of modern psychology into consideration as well. Kerényi's long correspondence with Thomas Mann was published in 1975.

His distinguished career took place during decades when far-right ideologies became more and more influential. "The distinguished scientist and thinker Karl Kerenyi once said that the spirit of abstraction opened doors to national socialism when Jews as personalities were substituted by the impersonal category of "Jewry" - "to kill Jews" sounds dreadfully; "to liquidate Jewry" resembles a description of some logical operation" (Averintsev). In the post-War turmoil, Kerényi, living in Switzerland since 1943, was doubly tainted as a prominent member of the former Hungarian intellectual Establishment and the bearer of an aristocratic name, unable to find work in the Stalinist regime of Mátyás Rákosi after the philosopher-potentate Georg Lukács, condemned him as "the cart pusher of fascism", Kerenyi was forced to emigrate permanently, and became a citizen of Switzerland in the late 1940s. He was a co-founder of the Jung Institute in Zurich. In 1961 he was inducted into the Royal Norwegian Academy of Sciences. He was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Uppsala and the gold medal of the Humboldt Society.

He was a close friend and collaborator of Carl Jung, who described him as having "supplied such a wealth of connections [of psychology] with Greek mythology that the cross-fertilization of the two branches of science can no longer be doubted." In 1949 Jung and Kerenyi published together Essays on the Science of Mythology: the Myths of the Divine Child and the Divine Maiden. Kerenyi and Jung both furnished commentaries to Paul Radin's The Trickster: a Study in American Indian Mythology, where Kerenyi saw the Trickster figure as the "enemy of boundaries."

As a historian of myth as it was embedded in the details of Hellenic culture, its "characteristic social existence" as he put it, Kerenyi opposed his "differentiated thinking about the concrete realities of human life" with the "summary thinking" that represented for him the influence of Sir James Frazer on the study of the peoples of antiquity and Greek religion especially (Preface to Dionysus p xxvii).

Kerenyi brought to the Greek myths the art of hermeneutics, interpreted by C. Moustakas (Phenomenological Research Methods 1994) as "the art of reading a text so that the intention and meaning behind appearances are fully understood". Central to his work was his series of book-length essays on archetypes of Greek mythology. Three were translated into English and published as part of Princeton University's Bollingen series:

  • Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, 1976, tracing the career of the cults of Dionysus from his origins in Minoan culture to the cosmopolitan religion of late Antiquity.
  • Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter (Demeter and Persephone and the Eleusinian Mysteries) first published in German, 1960.
  • Prometheus: Archetypal Image of Human Existence

Other works by Kerenyi:

  • Hermes Guide of Souls: the Mythologem of the Masculine Source of Life
  • Apollo: The Wind, the Spirit, and the God: Four Studies
  • Athene: Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion in which Kerenyi also discusses the mythological underpinnings of Greek communal and political consciousness, and Greek individuality.
  • Asklepios: Archetypal Image of the Physician's Existence which Kerenyi described as "a tour of the sites where the cult of Asklepios, god of medicine and god of the Greek physicians, was practiced." It includes chapters on "Asklepios in Rome", "Epidauros", "The Sons of Asklepios on Kos", "Hero Physicians and the Physician of the Gods in Homer", and "The Origins in Thessaly".
  • Gods of the Greeks
  • The Heroes of the Greeks
  • Goddesses of Sun and Moon, in which Kerenyi explores in four essays unusual feminine configurations, the mythemes of Circe, the enchantress; Medea, the murderess; golden Aphrodite, and Niobe and the moon.

[edit] Reference

  • Magda Kerényi, vita prefacing biblioraphy in Kerényi's Dionysus (Princeton:Bollingen), pp 445ff.

[edit] External link

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Karl Kerényi

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