Joseph Campbell Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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A scholar, teacher, and writer, Joseph Campbell translated his lifelong interest in mythology into books and lectures that brought a cohesive overview to the world’s stories and legends. Campbell was the son of Charles William and Josephine (Lynch) Campbell. As a boy, Campbell became fascinated by American Indian culture after a visit to the American Museum of Natural History and a performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. His interest in American Indian folklore was broadened during his college years by his readings in Eastern religion and philosophy. His study would lead him to the belief that there was in fact one world mythology that manifested itself in various ways from culture to culture.

While attending Columbia University, Campbell captained the college track team as a successful half-mile runner and played the saxophone in a local jazz band. He received a graduate fellowship from the university in 1927 and went to France to begin doctoral research in the field of Arthurian romances. In Paris, he encountered for the first time the works of James Joyce and Thomas Mann, the paintings of Pablo Picasso, and the writings of psychoanalyst Carl Jung. He returned to Columbia in 1929 determined to expand his field of research to include new ideas concerning the interrelationship of art, dreams, and myths. When the university rejected his plan, he left the doctoral program and spent the next five years living on his savings in Woodstock, New York, where he read for ten to twelve hours a day. In 1934, he accepted an invitation to teach at Sarah Lawrence College, where he would remain for the next thirty-eight years as a member of the faculty.

In 1938, Campbell married his former pupil, Jean Erdman, a dancer with the Martha Graham Company. During the years that followed, he continued his teaching and coauthored two books, Where the Two Came to Their Father, with Maud Oakes and Jeff King, and A Skeleton Key to “Finnegans Wake,” with Henry Morton Robinson. He also edited several volumes of Heinrich Zimmer’s writings on Indian culture and religion.

In the mid-1940’s, Campbell began work on the book that would establish him as one of the world’s leading authorities on mythology: The Hero with a Thousand Faces....

(The entire section is 933 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ellwood, Robert. The Politics of Myth: A Study of C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999. Examines these writers’ views on politics.

Golden, Kenneth L., ed. Uses of Comparative Mythology: Essays on the Work of Joseph Campbell. New York: Garland, 1992. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Larsen, Stephen. A Fire in the Mind: The Life of Joseph Campbell. New York: Doubleday, 1991. A book-length biography of Campbell.

Segal, Robert A. Joseph Campbell: An Introduction. Rev. ed. New York: Penquin Books, 1990. Analyzes Campbell’s contributions to the concept of myth.

Tigue, John W. The Transformation of Conciousness in Myth: Integrating the Thought of Jung and Campbell. New York: Peter Lang, 1994. Examines the psychological aspects of myth.

Ventura, Michael. “Homage to Joseph Campbell.” L.A. Weekly, November 13, 1987. A tribute to Campbell which appeared shortly after his death.