Thomas Bulfinch1867) was an American writer, born in Newton, Massachusetts to a highly-educated but not rich Bostonian merchant family. His father was Charles Bulfinch, the architect of the Massachusetts State House in Boston and parts of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Thomas Bulfinch, who reorganized Psalms to illustrate the history of the Hebrews, is best known as the author of The Age of Fable, first published in 1855, and known since the 1880s as Bulfinch's Mythology, a three-part work consisting of:
- Legends of Charlemagne, or Romance of the Middle Ages
- The Age of Chivalry, or Legends of King Arthur
- The Age of Fable; or Stories of Gods and Heroes
- "Our work is not for the learned, nor for the theologian, nor for the philosopher, but for the reader of English literature, of either sex, who wishes to comprehend the allusions so frequently made by public speakers, lecturers, essayists, and poets, and those which occur in polite conversation."
In his preface Bulfinch outlined his purpose which was
- "an attempt to solve this problem, by telling the stories of mythology in such a manner as to make them a source of amusement. We have endeavored to tell them correctly, according to the ancient authorities, so that when the reader finds them referred to he may not be at a loss to recognize the reference. Thus we hope to teach mythology not as a study, but as a relaxation from study; to give our work the charm of a story-book, yet by means of it to impart a knowledge of an important branch of education. The index at the end will adapt it to the purposes of a reference, and make it a Classical Dictionary for the parlor."
The Bulfinch version of myth, published for genteel Americans just as the first studies of mythography were appearing in Germany, presents the myths in their literary versions, without unnecessary violence, sex, psychology or ethnographic information.The Bulfinch myths are an indispensable guide to the cultural values of the American 19th century, yet the Bulfinch version is still the version being taught in many American public schools. Marie Sally Cleary, The Bulfinch Solution: Teaching the Ancient Classics in American Schools (1990), sets the book in the context of "democratizing" classical culture for a wider American antebellum readership.
The Bulfinch retellings were largely superseded in American high schools by Edith Hamilton's works on mythology.