Sarah Iles Johnston

Arts & Humanities Distinguished Professor of Religion

Personal Statement

"It is only by a somewhat severe mental effort that we realize the fact that there were no gods at all, that what we have to investigate are not so many actual facts and existences but only conceptions of the human mind that conceived them."
Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena

"There is no greater bar to the understanding of mythology than our modern habit of clear analytical thought."
Jane Ellen Harrison, Delphika

These two quotations from one of the foundational figures for the study of ancient religions begin to sketch where those of us who continue in the field must stand--poised precariously between trying to think ourselves back into the ancient mind-set (if that's even possible) and yet resisting the lure of some of its more attractive and culturally familiar aspects.

I am currently working on a book on Greek myth, which use approaches from serial narratology and cognitive science to better understand the ways in which Greek myths, in the polished forms through which they were delivered to Greek audiences, created and sustained religious beliefs.


Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets     Ancient Greek Divination     Restless Dead: Encounters between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece   

 Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate's Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature

Edited Volumes

Ancient Religions     Mantike: Studies in Ancient Divination

Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art

Guest Editor, Helios 21.2 (1994) (theme: ancient literature and the supernatural).

Recent Articles

”The Greek Mythic Story World,” forthcoming in Arethusa 48.3 (2015)

"Narrating Myths: Story and Belief in Ancient Greece,” Arethusa 48.2 (2015) 169-215.

"Myth in the Getty Hexameters,” in The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic and Mystery in Ancient Selious, eds. C. Faraone and D. Obbink (Oxford 2013) 121-56.

Sarah Iles Johnston Full CV


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Areas of Expertise
  • Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean
  • Myth
  • Archaic Greek Poetry
  • Ph.D. Cornell 1987
  • M.A. Cornell 1983
  • B.A. (Classics) Univ. Kansas 1980
  • B.S. (Journalism) Univ. Kansas 1979

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