Harry Potter and the Classical World

Greek and Roman Allusions in J.K. Rowling’s Modern Epic

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About the Book

J.K. Rowling has drawn deeply from classical sources to inform and color her Harry Potter novels, with allusions ranging from the obvious to the obscure. “Fluffy,” the vicious three-headed dog in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, is clearly a repackaging of Cerberus, the hellhound of Greek and Roman mythology. But the significance of Rowling’s quotation from Aeschylus at the front of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a matter of speculation. Her use of classical material is often presented with irony and humor. This extensive analysis of the Harry Potter series examines Rowling’s wide range of allusion to classical characters and themes and her varied use of classical languages. Chapters discuss Harry and Narcissus, Dumbledore’s many classical predecessors, Lord Voldemort’s likeness to mythical figures, and magic in Harry Potter and classical antiquity—among many topics.

About the Author(s)

Richard A. Spencer is a professor of classics and biblical studies at Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina. A Protestant minister for 46 years, he has published commentaries on the New Testament and apocryphal books and written for many religious publications.

Bibliographic Details

Richard A. Spencer
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 324
Bibliographic Info: appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9921-2
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2141-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments viii
Abbreviations 1
Preface 3
Introduction 5
I. Harry Potter as Seeker 19
II. Harry Potter as Savior 38
III. Harry Potter and Narcissus: “Know Thyself” 56
IV. Albus Dumbledore: A Warlock of Many Aspects 61
V. Lord Voldemort: Evil, Even on His Best Behavior 79
VI. Other Major Characters with Classical Kin 87
VII. Cast of Supporting Characters 119
VIII. The Two Worlds of Magic: Beings, Materials and Resources 180
IX. Classical Languages in Harry Potter 246
Conclusion 273
Appendix: “Ring Composition” in Classical Sources and in Harry Potter 275
Chapter Notes 285
Bibliography 297
Index 309

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “This is a book which does much more than its title claims…an absorbing volume which will doubtless be enjoyed by Potter fans and classicists, as well as pointing the serious enthusiast towards further reading…a degree of detail that even the most hardcore fan will not have noticed before…valuable…insights on the book will, in places, be new to even the longest-standing fans…provides a rich resource on myth, folklore and classical languages in the Harry Potter books. It is an ideal book for the young (and not-so-young) Rowling fans who have noticed the classical side of their favorite books and want to find out more.”—Classics for All
  • “Spencer provides students, academics, and general interest readers with an examination of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series of children’s books, focusing on the author’s use of allusions to classical sources”—ProtoView