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Sir James George Frazer and THE GOLDEN BOUGH

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Bianca
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« on: May 13, 2007, 03:44:07 pm »




Sir James (George) Frazer (1854-1941) 
 


British anthropologist, historian of religion and classical scholar, whose best-known study THE GOLDEN BOUGH: A STUDY IN COMPARATIVE RELIGION traced the evolution of human behavior, ancient and primitive myth, magic, religion, ritual, and taboo. The study appeared first in two volumes in 1890 and finally in 12 volumes in 1911-15. It was named after the golden bough in the sacred grove at Nemi, near Rome. Frazer did much to popularize anthropology and made its agnostic tendencies acceptable, although his conclusions are now outdated.

"It is said, too, that sailors, beating up against the wind in the Gulf of Finland, sometimes see a strange sail heave in sight astern and overhaul them hand over hand. On she comes with a cloud of canvas - all her studding-sails out - right in the teeth of the wind, forging her way through the foaming billows, dashing back the spray in sheets from her cutwater, every sail swollen to bursting, every rope to strained to cracking. The sailors know that she hails from Finland." (from The New Golden Bough, ed. by Theodor H. Gaster, 1959)

James Frazer was born in Glasgow, Scotland, into a pious middle-class family, as the eldest of four children of Daniel K. Frazer, a pharmacist, and Katherine (Brown) Frazer. He was educated at Larchfield Academy, Helensburgh, and University of Glasgow and then at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became a classics fellow from 1871 until his death. Except for one year, 1907-08, spent at the University of Liverpool as professor of social anthropology, Frazer remained from 1908 most of his life in Cambridge.

Frazer also studied law because of his father's wishes. He was called to the English Bar in 1879, but he never practised. His wife, Elisabeth Grove Frazier, whom he married in 1896, devoted herself to protecting the seclusion necessary for his writing and research. As a scholar Frazer started first with a translation and commentary of Pausanias, a Greek travel writer of the second century. The work was finally published in six volumes in 1898.

Frazer's interest in social anthropology was aroused by reading E.B. Taylor's Primitive Culture (1871) and encouraged by his friend W. Robertson-Smith. In The Golden Bough he argued, that everywhere in human mental evolution a belief in magic preceded religion, which in turn was followed in the West by science. In the first stage a false causality was seen to exist between rituals and natural events. Religion appeared in the second stage, and the third stage was science. Customs deriving from earlier periods persisted as survivals into later ages, where they were frequently reinterpreted according to the dominant mode of thought.
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« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2007, 03:49:37 pm »










The Golden Bough stimulated a number of writers, including D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot, whose The Waste Land (1922) is perhaps the best example of its literary influence, where, for example, the Fisher King and Waste-Land shape the motifs. An abridged, one-volume edition was published in 1922. Its influence can be found in the writings of Synge, Yeats, and Joyce. Frazer himself did not write much fiction. These works, including THE QUEST OF THE GORGON'S HEAD (1920) were assembled in SIR ROGER DE COVERLEY AND OTHER LITERARY PIECES (1920). Freud used in his mythological studies Frazer's report that primitives often called the afterbirth brother, sister or twin, and even fed it and took care of it for a while.

The Golden Bough has given inspiration to many fantasy stories, among them the myth of Diana and the sacrificial killing of the Year King by his successor in a rite of renewal. "The killing of the god, that is, of his human incarnation, is therefore a merely a necessary step to his revival or resurrection in a better form. Far from being an extinction of the divine spirit, it is only the beginning of a purer and stronger manifestation of it." (from The New Golden Bough, ed. by Theodor H. Gaster, 1959) When the vigor of the king begins to decline, he must die so that - in fantasy terms - the land can begin to experience the healing. Frazer believed that ritual derived from a universal psychic impulse. In this view he drew parallels between the death and resurrection of Christ and ancient beliefs. However, anthropologists have criticized Frazer's theories and fieldwork has shown that similar institutions have widely dis-
similar origins.
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« Reply #2 on: May 13, 2007, 03:53:42 pm »





Today Frazer's books are still considered a storehouse of ethnographic information, although his theories belong rather to history than current orientation of anthropology. Frazer traveled little and did not have time to do field work. His knowledge of primitive societies was entirely second-hand, gathered largely from questionnaires sent to missionaries among primitive people. Frazer's notions of totemism were finally destroyed by Lévi-Stauss.

Among Frazer's other works are PSYCHE'S TASK (1909), TOTEMISM AND EXOGAMY (1910), which was a primary source for Freud's Totem und Taboo, THE BELIEF IN IMORTALITY AND THE WORSHIP OF THE DEAD (1913-24), FOLKLORE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT (1918). He published a commentary on Pausanias (1898), an edition of Ovid's Fasti (1929), and other works on classical and literary topics.

Frazer was knighted in 1914. Aside from occasional trips to Greece and the Continent, he and Lady Frazer rarely left Cambridge. In 1931 he went blind but continued his work with the aid of secretaries and amanuenses. Frazer died in Cambridge on May 7, 1941.


FOR FURTHER READING: James George Frazer: The Portrait of a Scholar by R.A. Downie (1940); The Tangled Bank by S.E. Hyman (1962); Frazer and the Goden Bough by R.A. Downie (1970); The Literary Impact of the Golden Bough by J.B. Vickery (1973); J.G. Frazer by R. Ackerman (1987); Sir James Frazer and the Literary Imagination
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« Reply #3 on: May 13, 2007, 03:59:37 pm »





Selected works:

TOTEMISM, 1884
THE GOLDEN BOUGH, 1890 (2 vols.)
translation: Pausanias's Description of Greece, 1898
GOLDEN BOUGH, 1900 (3 vols.)
PAUSANIAS AND OTHER GREEK SKETCHES, 1900 (reissued as Studies in Greek Scenery, Legend and History, 1917)
LECTURE ON THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE KINGSHIP, 1905 (resissued as The Magical Origins of Kings, 1920
ADONIS, ATTIS, OSIRIS, 1906
PSYCHE'S TASK, 1909
TOTEMISM AND EXOGAMY, 1910 (4 vols.)
THE DYING GOD, 1911
THE MAGIC ART AND THE EVOLUTION OF KINGS, 1911 (2 vols.)
TABOO AND PERILS OF THE SOUL, 1911
ed.: LETTERS OF WILLIAM COWPER, 1912
SPIRITS OF THE CORN AND OF THE WILD, 1912 (2 vols.)
THE SCAPEGOAT, 1913
BALDER THE BEAUTIFUL, 1913 (2 vols.)
GOLDEN BOUGH, 1911-1915 (12 vols. - abridged edition in 1922)
ed.: ESSAYS OF JOSEPH ADDISON, 1915
THE BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY AND THE WORSHIP OF THE DEAD, 1913-24
FOLKLORE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, 1918 (3 vols.)
SIR ROGER DE COVERLY AND OTHER LITERARY PIECES, 1920
ed. and transl.: The Library by Apollodorus, 1921 (2 vols.)
THE WORSHIP OF NATURE, 1926
THE GORGON'S HEAD AND OTHER LITERARY PIECES, 1927
ed. and transl.: Fasti by Ovid, 1929 (5 vols.)
THE GROWTH OF PLATO'S IDEAL THEORY, 1930
GRAECIA ANTIQUA (compiled with A.W. Van Buren), 1930
MYTHS OF THE ORIGIN OF FIRE, 1930
GARNERED SHEAVES, 1931
THE FEAR OF THE DEAD IN PRIMITIVE RELIGION, 1933-36 (3 vols.)
CREATION AND EVOLUTION IN PRIMITIVE COSMOGONIES AND OTHER PIECES, 1935
AFTERMATH: A SUPPLEMENT TO THE GOLDEN BOUGH, 1936
TOTEMICA: A SUPPLEMENT TO TOTEMISM AND EXOGAMY, 1937
ANTHOLOGIA ANTHROPOLOGICA, 1938-39 (4 vols.)
MAGIC AND RELIGION, 1944

 



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« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2007, 09:53:40 pm »




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