Adrienne Mayor

Research Scholar, Classics and History and Philosophy of Science
Classics Department, Building 110 Main Quad
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305
Mayor CV (2021)

photo of A Mayor


Background and Current Research

Adrienne Mayor is a folklorist and historian of ancient science who investigates natural knowledge contained in pre-scientific myths and oral traditions. Her research looks at ancient "folk science" precursors, alternatives, and parallels to modern scientific methods. She was a Berggruen Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, 2018-2019. Mayor's latest book, Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology investigates how the Greeks imagined automatons, replicants, and Artificial Intelligence in myths and later designed self-moving devices and robots. Mayor's 2014 book, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World, analyzes the historical and archaeological evidence underlying myths and tales of warlike women (2014, winner of the Sarasvati Prize for Women in Mythology). Mayor's two books on pre-Darwinian fossil traditions in classical antiquity and in Native America have opened up a new field within geomythology, and her book on the origins of biological weapons uncovered the ancient roots of biochemical warfare. The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy won top honors (Gold Medal) for Biography, Independent Publishers' Book Award 2010, and was a 2009 National Book Award Finalist. It is the first biography in a century of the world's first experimental toxicologist, the brilliant rebel leader of a Black Sea empire who challenged Roman imperialism in the first century BC. Mayor is also a research scholar in the Classics Department; her work is featured on NPR and BBC, the History Channel, the New York Times, Smithsonian, and National Geographic and her books have been translated into French, Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Hungarian, Polish, and Greek. Mayor's fossil legend research is featured in the National Geographic children's book The Griffin and the Dinosaur (by M. Aronson, 2014). She was a regular contributor to the award-winning history of science website Wonders and Marvels (2011-17).

A recent Stanford Report article on her work is featured here.


Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Unconventional Warfare in the Ancient World. Princeton University Press, rev. ed. 2022.

Flying Snakes and Griffin Claws, and Other Classical Myths, Historical Oddities, and Scientific Curiosities. Princeton University Press, 2022.

Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology. Princeton University Press, 2018.

The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates the Great, Rome's Deadliest Enemy (Princeton University Press, 2010).

Fossil Legends of the First Americans. Princeton University Press, 2005.

The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton University Press, 2000. rev ed 2010, new introduction.

Selected Articles

"Prometheus' Toolbox: Human Life as Technology from Greek Mythology to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," Lapham's Quarterly 14, 1 (Winter 2021).
"Especially in the Use of Weapons: Plato and the Amazons," Antigone, March 26, 2021.
"Robots Guarded Buddha's Relics in a Legend of Ancient India," The Conversation, March 13, 2019.
"Tyrants and Robots," History Today, Nov 2018.
"An Artificial Intelligence Wake-Up Call from Ancient Greece," Project Syndicate, Oct 16, 2018, widely syndicated.
"Bio-Techne Myths: What Can Ancient Greeks Teach Us about Artificial Intelligence, Robots, and the Quest for Immortality?" 2016. Aeon, May 16.
"The Eagle Huntress: Ancient Traditions and New Generations." 2016. Expanded version of article in Ancient Origins, April 5-6 and BUST, April 18.
"Megafauna: Review of The Lagoon, How Aristotle Invented Science by Armand Leroi." 2015. London Review of Books 37 (July 2).
"Warrior Women: The Myth and Reality of the Amazons." 2015. Foreign Affairs (May 6).
"When Alexander Met Thalestris." 2014. History Today 65 (January): 10-17.
"Making Sense of Nonsense Inscriptions Associated with Amazons and Scythians on Athenian Vases," co-authored with J. Colarusso and D. Saunders. Hesperia 83.3 (September 2014).
"Sweating Truth in Ancient Carthage." 2010. Full rev. of R. Miles, Carthage Must Be Destroyed. Abridged version in London Review of Books 32 (June 2010): 30-31.
"Mithradates: Scourge of Rome." 2009. History Today (December, 2009).
"Mythic Bio-Techne in Classical Antiquity: Desire, Hope, and Dread", Biotechnique Exhibit Catalog, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 2007.
"Fossils in Native American Lands, Whose Bones, Whose Story? Fossil Appropriations Past and Present." 2007. Paper presented at History of Science Society annual meeting, 1-2 Nov, 2007, Washington DC, History of Earth Sciences Government and Earth Sciences Panel.
"Place Names Describing Fossils in Oral Traditions." 2007. Myth and Geology, ed. B. Masse and L. Piccardi. London: Geological Society, 273, 245-261.
"Fossielenfolklore en wetenschap." 2006. Intro, Dino's en draken: Fossilien in mythen en volksgeloof, ed. B. Sliggers. Haarlem: Teylers Museum. Catalogue, "Myth & Fossils" Exhibit, based on Mayor's work.
"Tales from the Badlands," Natural History 114 (May 2005): 56-61.
"Ancient WMDs." Archaeology Odyssey (March/April 2005): 26-31, 48-50.
"Ancient References to the Fossils in the Land of Pythagoras." With N. Solounias. Earth Sciences History (2005).
"Toxicology and Ancient Warfare." In Encyclopedia of Toxicology, 2nd ed. Oxford: Elsevier, 2005.
"Geomythology." In Encyclopedia of Geology. Oxford: Elsevier, 2004. 4,000 words.
The Folklore of Footprints in Stone: From Classical Antiquity to the Present." With W.A.S. Sarjeant. Ichnos 8, no.1 (2001): 143-63.
"Killer Khilats: Legends of Poisoned Robes of Honour in India. Parts 1" & "Killer Khilats, Part 2: Imperial Collecting of Poison Dress Legends in India." With M. Maskiell. Folklore 112 (2001): 23-45, 163-82.
"The 'Monster of Troy' Vase: The Earliest Artistic Record of a Vertebrate Fossil Discovery?" Oxford Journal of Archaeology 19 (2000): 57-63.
"Bibliography of Classical Folklore Scholarship: Myths, Legends, & Popular Beliefs of Ancient Greece & Rome." Folklore 111 (2000): 123-38.
"People Illustrated: Tattooing in Antiquity." Archaeology (March-April 1999): 54-57.
"Dirty Tricks in Ancient Warfare." MHQ: Quarterly Journal of Military History 2 (Autumn 1997):32-37.
"Fiery Finery [Burning Cloaks in Greek Myth]." Archaeology (March-April 1997):54-58.
"The Nessus Shirt in the New World: Smallpox Blankets in History and Legend." Journal of American Folklore 108 (1995): 54-77.
"Mad Honey! [Toxic honey]" Archaeology (November-December 1995): 32-40.
"Libation Titillation: Wine Goblets and Women's Breasts", Studies in Popular Culture, XVI:2 April 1994.
"Ambiguous Guardians: The Omen of the Wolves (AD 402) and the Choking Doberman (1980s)." Journal of Folklore Research 29 (1992):253-68

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