Edith Hamilton

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Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The renowned classicist Edith Hamilton was born in Germany while her mother was visiting relatives. The misconception that she was of German descent created problems for Hamilton with the passport division of the U.S. State Department throughout her life. In fact, the Hamilton family was primarily of Northern Irish descent and had settled in Fort Wayne, Indiana, decades before Edith Hamilton’s birth.

Her father, Montgomery Hamilton, who had inherited family wealth and never practiced any profession, spent much of his time studying in his personal library and often read to Edith and her younger sister, Alice (who later went on to obtain a medical degree). Besides Alice, Edith had three other younger, talented siblings, Margaret, Norah, and Arthur. Edith spent her early years in Fort Wayne playing with her siblings and other relatives as well as reading anything that she could get her hands on. No doubt, her passion for scholarship derived from this reading-intensive childhood and the gifted intellectual nature of all of the Hamilton children.

Hamilton received her secondary education at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut, which was the first school that she ever attended. By all accounts, the school encouraged very little academic growth within the young women who attended it, but Hamilton made the best of the experience and was soon prepared for college. She then attended Bryn Mawr College, finishing her bachelor’s degree in classics in a mere two years, and won a European Fellowship from the college that enabled her to pursue further study in Europe. Hamilton chose to attend classes first at the University of Leipzig and then at the University of Munich; instead of obtaining a doctoral degree from Munich, though, she decided to return to the United States in the fall of 1896 and assume the post of headmistress of the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, a college preparatory school for women. She served in that capacity for twenty-six years, retiring from the Bryn Mawr School in June of 1922.

Hamilton devoted the next forty years to her writing career, although she did not initially set out to become a publishing scholar of the classics. While living in New York City in 1924, she became acquainted with a circle of intellectuals, among whom was Rosamond Gilder, an editor for Theatre Arts Monthly. After some coercion, Gilder convinced Hamilton to publish an article in the magazine concerning tragedy. Several other articles on Greek tragedy followed. Her articles attracted the attention of Elling Aannestad, an editor with the W. W. Norton publishing company, who subsequently urged Hamilton to produce a book on Greece. Again acting only after considerable pressure, Hamilton wrote her first book, The Greek Way, published in 1930. The book earned for Hamilton immediate critical praise and solidified her reputation as an important classicist.

After the publication of this book, Hamilton made her first visit to Greece; afterward, she visited Egypt as well. Returning to the United States, she quickly produced her second book, The Roman Way, which also met with instant critical acclaim. In this book she explores Rome by wholly depending upon the commentary of Roman writers. In 1936 Hamilton published Prophets of Israel, followed the next year, in 1937, by Three Greek Plays, her translations of Prometheus Bound, Agamemnon, and The Trojan Women.

In 1942, a revised edition of The Greek Way, with five new chapters, was issued; in that same year, Hamilton’s most well-known work, Mythology , was published. Within the book are retellings of many Greek myths, enhanced by Hamilton’s clear and direct prose style. A credit to Hamilton’s enormous flexibility as a scholar...

(The entire section is 889 words.)