The Origins of the Gods

By James S. Hans

Subjects: Myth
Series: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature
Paperback : 9780791406618, 227 pages, September 1991
Hardcover : 9780791406601, 227 pages, September 1991

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Table of contents


Introduction: In the Beginning There Was . . .

1. In the Beginning There Was Beauty

2. In the Beginning There Was Shame

3. In the Beginning There Was Shame and Beauty

4. In the Beginning There Was Beauty and Shame

Epilogue: At the End



Based on Nietzsche's critique of religion and culture, and engaging the contemporary offshoots of that critique, this book assesses the myths of origins that have been used to articulate the fundamental attitude toward the relationship between shame and beauty. In reconsidering some of the myths upon which the West is based, from Hesiod and Greek mythology to Plato and the Bible, Hans pursues the ways in which we have habitually separated shame and beauty in order to create the grounds that would provide us with the authority for our lives we think we need. By juxtaposing Socrates' repression of violence in The Republic and Nietzsche's conception of the overman, the author revises the network of relations that are associated with the religious, the aesthetic, and the political, asserting that the religious derives from the aesthetic rather than the other way around, and establishing a necessary connection between the political and the aesthetic.

Hans aims to raise yet again the questions embodied in Nietzsche's attempt to prompt humans to face the true status of their actions in the world: are we finally able to address our shame without immediately projecting it onto another or repressing it? If so, what changes might we see in the psychological, social, and political worlds we would create out of such an acknowledgment? What value is to be found in accepting the uneasy relationship between shame and beauty upon which our lives rest? While The Origins of the Gods provides no definitive answers to such questions simply because none are possible, it makes use of such queries in order to reassert the great importance of Nietzsche's affirmation of the value of the world as it is. It argues that this affirmation has something crucial to offer if we are willing to forgo an authorized existence and confront the beauty and shame from which our lives are inevitably constituted.

James S. Hans is Professor of English at Wake Forest University. His previous books are The Play of the World; Imitation and the Image of Man; The Question of Value: Thinking through Nietzsche; Heidegger and Freud; and The Fate of Desire and The Value(s) of Literature, both published by SUNY Press.


"Hans finds his way through to the deepest truths that have been repressed by our age. " — Frederick Turner, The University of Texas at Dallas