A New System, or, An Analysis of Ancient Mythology: Wherein an Attempt is Made to Divest Tradition of Fable and to Reduce the Truth to its Original Purity

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by Jacob Bryant

A New System, or, An Analysis of Ancient Mythology

Title page from A New System, or, An Analysis of Ancient Mythology, volume two, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author Jacob Bryant
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published London: Printed for T. Payne, P. Elmsly, B. White, and J. Walter
Date 1775-1776
Edition Second
Language English
Volumes 3 volume set
Pages {{{pages}}}
Desc. 4to (30 cm.)
Location Shelf A-4
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]
Temple of Mithras and Temple in the rock, plate II, volume one.
Jacob Bryant (1715 – 1804) was born in England, where he was a respected scholar and mythographer.[1] In his first book, Observations and Enquiries Relating to Various Parts of Ancient History (1767), Bryant attacked selected opinions in the works of such celebrated antiquarian scholars as Theodore Beza (1519 – 1605), Hugo Grotius (1583 – 1645), Samuel Bochart (1599 – 1667), and Richard Bentley (1662 – 1742). His work was favorably received. Suitably encouraged, he next published the book for which he is most often remembered, A New System, or, An Analysis of Ancient Mythology. Bryant believed all mythology came from the Hebrew Scripture. He used A New System to link mythology to the Book of Genesis,[2] and explained how contemporary society arose from ancient civilizations. "It is my purpose in the ensuing work to give an account of the first ages; and of the great events, which happened in the infancy of the world. In consequence, I shall lay before the reader, what Gentile writers have said upon this subject, collaterally with the accounts given by Moses, as long as I find him engaged in the generally history of mankind." [3]

A New System, according to its subtitle, was "an attempt … to divest tradition of fable, and to reduce the truth to its original purity;" the actual result was simply a fantastic hodgepodge of spurious etymology (in the manner of Bochart) and riotous imagination.[4] The work opened conversation between world scholars, as several writers publicly opposed Bryant’s ideas and encouraged him to respond through further writing.[5]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

George Wythe definitely owned this title. A copy of the 1775-1776 edition at the Library of Congress has "a number of manuscript notes and corrections" made by Wythe.[6] Thomas Jefferson listed the title in his inventory of Wythe's Library as "Bryant’s Mythology. 3.v. 4to." He sold it to the Library of Congress in 1815. All four of the Wythe Collection sources (Goodwin's pamphlet[7] Dean's Bibliography[8], Brown's Bibliography[9] and George Wythe's Library[10] on LibraryThing) list the 1775-1776 edition of Bryant's Mythology. The Wolf Law Library purchased a copy of the same edition.

"Juno Samia Selenitis," plate VII, volume two.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in contemporary calf with gilt panelled backstrips and red and green labels.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

Full text

See also


  1. S. Foster Damon, A Blake Dictionary: The Ideas and Symbols of William Blake (Providence: Brown University Press, 1965), 61.
  2. John Charles Whale and Stephen Copley, Beyond Romanticism: New Approaches to Texts and Contexts, 1780-1832 (Routledge, 1992), 92.
  3. Jacob Bryant, A New System, or An Analysis of Ancient Mythology (London: Printed for T. Payne, P. Elmsly, B. White, and J. Walter, 1775), 1:v.
  4. Dennis R. Dean, "Bryant, Jacob (bap. 1717, d. 1804)" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004- ), accessed October 27, 2013.
  5. Ibid.
  6. E. Millicent Sowerby, Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, (Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1952-1959), 1:21-22 [no.43].
  7. Mary R. M. Goodwin, The George Wythe House: Its Furniture and Furnishings (Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library, 1958), li.
  8. Memorandum from Barbara C. Dean, Colonial Williamsburg Found., to Mrs. Stiverson, Colonial Williamsburg Found. (June 16, 1975), 2 (on file at Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary).
  9. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/handle/10288/13433.
  10. LibraryThing, s. v. "Member: George Wythe", accessed on June 28, 2013.

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