Return of the Gods: Mythology in Romantic Philosophy and Literature

Oxford University Press, Forthcoming

Why was mythology of vital importance for the romantics? What role did mythology play in their philosophical and literary work? And what common sources of influence inspired these writers across Britain and Germany at the turn of the nineteenth century?

In this wide-ranging study, Owen Ware argues that the romantics turned to mythology for its potential to transform how we see ourselves, others, and the world. Engaging with authors such as William Blake, Friedrich Schlegel, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis), and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ware shows why they believed that neither perception nor reason alone can sustain a vision of the unity of all things. A new mode of cognition is necessary, they claimed, one that revives the poetic origin of mythology and reveals our own mythmaking powers. Return of the Gods investigates the rise of mythology in the British and German traditions and the romantics’ practices of reinterpreting old myths and inventing new ones. Their shared aim was nothing less than to elevate the human imagination to higher stages of self-development in which philosophy and poetry, as well as intellect and imagination, form an integrated whole. Far from calling us to return to the past, the romantics’ work on mythology points us to a future where we can live in harmony with the personal, social, and natural worlds we inhabit.

Owen Ware combines intellectual history with philosophical analysis and literary criticism to offer a bold reflection on why mythology mattered for the romantics—and why it still matters today. 


"Owen Ware has authored a first-rate study of the major romantics, both British and German, which combines clarity and accessibility with impressive erudition. Ware shows how these remarkable writers and thinkers shared a concern for the fragmented nature of the modern self and likewise engaged in attempts to articulate new pathways toward reunification and wholeness. He brilliantly succeeds in revealing the creative power and philosophical depth at work in the romantics’ quest for a ‘new mythology.’ This book is full of fresh insights into familiar texts, which are handled with sensitivity and insight.  Ware has not only done justice to his subjects; he has gifted us with an opportunity to rediscover the richness of their artistic and philosophical visions in our own era of fragmentation."—Benjamin D. Crowe, Boston University

"This fascinating new book draws attention to the way that a revival of myth operates in both British and German romanticism. It is novel both in its treatment of the shared sources and interplay between British and German romanticism, as well as in the fluidity with which Ware moves between the philosophical-theoretical and the literary-artistic aspects of romanticism. While Ware focuses on the romantic movement, he does so in a way that illuminates its relevance to the broader post-Kantian context. This book thereby opens up a new direction for scholarship, one that is attentive to the way that renewed interest in classical art, poetry, and philosophy informs this period in rich and heretofore underexplored ways."—Naomi Fisher, Loyola University Chicago

"Return of the Gods is an uncommonly comprehensive genealogy of romanticism drawing on both its German and its British lineages. While Ware’s renowned work on Kant and German idealism informs his turn to German romanticism, his latest book does the double service of ensuring that an updated story of the revolutionary works of Hölderlin, Novalis, Schelling, Schiller, and the Schlegel brothers includes that of Blake, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, and Wordsworth. Ware provides an informative account of the German and British romantics’ shared goal of a new mythology capable of refocusing modern pictures of humanity so as to reveal our unity with nature, each other, and ourselves. Ware’s book will serve as essential reading for those interested in the lasting significance of romanticism."—Anthony Bruno, Royal Holloway University of London

"Thracian Girl Carrying the Head of Orpheus on His Lyre" (1865), by Gustave Moreau, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons