Myths to Live By


Myths to Live By

by Joseph Campbell (1972)

In this collection of essays, taken from lectures delivered in the Great Hall of The Cooper Union Forum, New York City, 1958-1971, Campbell writes of the issues in mythology most central to his own thinking. I had the pleasure of reading them while attending a Campus Technology conference in Washington, D.C. and simultaneously reading The Quiet Center by John Lilly. What a mind-blowing trip! I was surprised at how little Campbell referred to classical Greek and Roman myth, but delighted in his explanations and applications of the major myths that attempt to give meaning to our world today: Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. While possibly not as important as some of his other works (and much of the material was, in fact, lifted from those other works), several essays in this collection are must-read material for educators, especially “The Impact of Science on Myth,” “The Inspiration of Oriental Art,” and “Envoy: No More Horizons.”

Campbell begins his series with “The Impact of Science on Myth,” here pointing out that “[…] the really great and essential fact about the scientific revelation–the most wonderful and most challenging fact–is that science does not and cannot pretend to be ‘true’ in any absolute sense. It does not and cannot pretend to be final. It is a tentative organization of mere ‘working hypotheses.'” Thus, science (from Latin, scientia, “knowledge”) is simply the best metaphor we can imagine right now, given the evidence at hand. When we see that myths, too, are nothing more–and nothing less–than just this, we will finally learn to see both science and myth through the proper lens.

He ends the book with “Envoy: No More Horizons,” in which he explains the problem behind our current sense of transcendental homelessness (as Georg Lukacs puts it). The old myths are no longer working for us, having been displaced by the scientific revelation noted above, yet no new set of heroic myths have stepped up to fill the void. While Campbell does not give us the myth we seek, he does give us a glimpse of our mythological future:

It is–and will forever be, as long as our human race exists–the old, everlasting, perennial mythology, in its “subjective sense,” poetically renewed in terms neither of a remembered past nor of a projected future, but of now: addressed, that is to say, not to the flattery of “peoples,” but to the waking of individuals in the knowledge of themselves, not simply as egos fighting for place on the surface of this beautiful planet, but equally as centers of Mind at Large–each in his own way at one with all, and with no horizons. (266)

Poets and scientists, and especially their teachers, need to understand this. 276 pages.


Foreword by Johnson E. Fairchild


  1. The Impact of Science on Myth
  2. The Emergence of Mankind
  3. The Importance of Rites
  4. The Separation of East and West
  5. The Confrontation of East and West in Religion
  6. The Inspiration of Oriental Art
  7. Zen
  8. The Mythology of Love
  9. Mythologies of War and Peace
  10. Schizophrenia–the Inward Journey
  11. The Moon Walk–the Outward Journey
  12. Envoy: No More Horizons

Reference Notes


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