American Classicist: The Life and Loves of Edith Hamilton

A biography of the remarkable woman whose bestselling Mythology has introduced millions of readers to the classical world


Published (US):
Oct 3, 2023
Published (UK):
Nov 28, 2023
6.13 x 9.25 in.
16 b/w illus.
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Edith Hamilton (1867–1963) didn’t publish her first book until she was sixty-two. But over the next three decades, this former headmistress would become the twentieth century’s most famous interpreter of the classical world. Today, Hamilton’s Mythology (1942) remains the standard version of ancient tales and sells tens of thousands of copies a year. During the Cold War, her influence even extended to politics, as she argued that postwar America could learn from the fate of Athens after its victory in the Persian Wars. In American Classicist, Victoria Houseman tells the fascinating life story of a remarkable classicist whose ideas were shaped by—and aspired to shape—her times.

Hamilton studied Latin and Greek from an early age, earned a BA and MA at Bryn Mawr College, and ran a girls’ prep school for twenty-six years. After retiring, she turned to writing and began a relationship with the pianist and stockbroker Doris Fielding Reid. The two women were partners for more than forty years and entertained journalists, diplomats, and politicians in their Washington, D.C., house. Hamilton traveled extensively around the world, formed friendships with Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, and was made an honorary citizen of Athens. While Hamilton believed that the ancient Greeks represented the peak of world civilization, Houseman shows that this suffragist, pacifist, and anti-imperialist was far from an apologist for Western triumphalism.

An absorbing narrative of an eventful life, American Classicist reveals how Hamilton’s Greek and Roman worlds held up a mirror to midcentury America even as she strived to convey a timeless beauty that continues to enthrall readers.

Ideas Podcast: American Classicist