Sarah Iles Johnston

Sarah Iles Johnston

Sarah Iles Johnston

Arts & Humanities Distinguished Professor of Religion, Departments of Classics and Comparative Studies

Areas of Expertise

  • Archaic Greek Poetry
  • Myth
  • Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean


  • B.S. (Journalism) Univ. Kansas 1979
  • B.A. (Classics) Univ. Kansas 1980
  • M.A. Cornell 1983
  • Ph.D. Cornell 1987


Personal Statement:

"It is only by a somewhat severe mental effort that we realize the fact that there were no gods at all, that what we have to investigate are not so many actual facts and existences but only conceptions of the human mind that conceived them."
Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena

"There is no greater bar to the understanding of mythology than our modern habit of clear analytical thought."
Jane Ellen Harrison, Delphika

These two quotations from one of the foundational figures for the study of ancient religions begin to sketch where those of us who continue in the field must stand--poised precariously between trying to think ourselves back into the ancient mind-set (if that's even possible) and yet resisting the lure of some of its more attractive and culturally familiar aspects.

I am currently working on a book on Greek myth, which will revisit some of the theories that shaped our approach to it during the twentieth century, asking whether and how they can be fruitfully revived.


Ancient Greek Divination     Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets     Restless Dead: Encounters between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece

Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate's Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature

Edited Volumes:

Ancient Religions     Mantikê: Studies in Ancient Divination

Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art

Guest Editor, Helios 21.2 (1994) (theme: ancient literature and the supernatural).

Recent Articles:

”Whose Gods are These? A Classicist Looks at Neopaganism,” in F. Prescendi and Y. Volokhine,eds., Les religions des autres (Geneva 2010) 123-33.

”Porphyry, Sacrifice and the Orderly Cosmos,” Kernos 23 (2010) 115-32.

”A New Web for Arachne,” in Antike Mythen. Medien, Transformationen, Konstruktionen, eds. UeliDill and Christine Walde (DeGruyter: 2009) 1-22.

Full CV