An English Translation of Bachofen's Mutterrecht (Mother Right) (1861) Volume One

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Mutterrecht (Mother Right) by Johann Jakob Bachofen was the seminal document of the 19th century concerning the role of women in ancient societies. Bachofen documented that motherhood is the source of human society, religion, morality, and decency in societies including Lycia, Crete, Greece, Egypt, India, Central Asia, Northern Africa, and Spain. He concluded the work by connecting ancient mother right with Christianity. Bachofen’s theory of cultural evolution incited a virtual ‘mother-mania’ among ethnologists, social philosophers, and even writers, among them Lewis Henry Morgan, Friedrich Engels, Joseph Campbell, Robert Graves, Thomas Mann, and Rainer Maria Rilke.


“It is rare that a work of classical scholarship engenders controversy and exerts influence outside of its field for over a hundred years. Yet J. J. Bachofen’s Mother Right has done just that. ... Although few contemporary students of classical and religious history find his historical conclusions valid, there can be little doubt that Bachofen helped greatly in giving an impetus to the more historically rigorous studies that one finds now in studies of women in antiquity. ... In providing his translations from Mother Right, David Partenheimer has filled two important needs. First he has offered the reader selections of the work that have been previously unavailable in English. Second, and perhaps more important, he has abridged and simplified Bachofen’s extremely difficult and cumbersome original. ... he has done a fine job of making Bachofen accessible to the non-specialist. While keeping the tone and substance of the original work, Partenheimer offers a true translation in the literal sense of the word, a transferring of the original into a different language for a different time.” – Dr. Scott Goins, Associate Professor of Classics, McNeese State University

“Scholars from a wide range of disciplines will welcome the publication of [this book]. Though carefully abridged for the contemporary reader, this edition will be much more comprehensive than the 1967 translation (Ralph Manhein) of selected passages from Bachofen’s work. Jakob Bachofen ... is unquestionably the most important figure in the evolution of thinking on mother right, matriarchy, and gynecocracy, and a reading of his opus will provide useful insights into the senses of these terms, which have entered the vocabulary of fields such as history, anthropology, Classical studies, religious studies, and even art history ... The publication of [this book] is extremely timely, and will assist scholars to gain a more accurate understanding of the historical development of ideas on mother right, and of its significance in human history and culture.” – Gregory C. Richter, Truman State University

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