PART 2 OF 2Cosmic Cycles and History
The meaning acquired by history in the frame of the various archaic civilizations is nowhere more clearly revealed than in the theories of the great cosmic cycles, which we mentioned in passing in the preceding chapter. We must return to these theories, for it is here that two distinct orientations first define themselves: the one traditional, adumbrated (without ever having been clearly formulated) in all primitive cultures, that of cyclical time, periodically regenerating itself ad infinitum; the other modern, that of finite time, a fragment (though itself also cyclical) between two atemporal eternities.
Almost all these theories of the "Great Time" are found in conjunction with the myth of successive ages, the "age of gold" always occurring at the beginning of the cycle, close to the paradigmatic Mud tempus. In the two doctrines — that of cyclical time, and that of limited cyclical time — this age of gold is recoverable; in other words, it is repeatable, an infinite number of times in the former doctrine, once only in the latter. We do not mention these facts for their intrinsic interest, great as it is, but to clarify the meaning of history from the point of view of either doctrine. We shall begin with the Indian tradition, for it is here that the myth of the eternal return has received its boldest formulation. Belief in the periodic destruction and creation of the universe is already found in the Atharva-Veda (X, 8, 39-40). The preservation of similar ideas in the Germanic tradition (universal conflagration, Ragnarok, followed by a new creation) confirms the Indo-Aryan structure of the myth, which can therefore be considered one of the numerous variants of the archetype examined in the preceding chapter. (Possible Oriental influences upon Germanic mythology do not necessarily destroy the authenticity and autochthonous character of the Ragnarok myth. It would, besides, be difficult to explain why the Indo-Aryans did not also share, from the period of their common prehistory, the conception of time held by all primitives.)
Indian speculation, however, amplifies and orchestrates the rhythms that govern the periodicity of cosmic creations and destructions. The smallest unit of measure of the cycle is the yuga, the "age." A yuga is preceded and followed by a "dawn" and a "twilight" that connect the ages together. A complete cycle, or Mahayuga, is composed of four ages of unequal duration, the longest appearing at the beginning of the cycle and the shortest at its end. Thus the first age, the Krta Yuga, lasts 4,000 years, plus 400 years of dawn and as many of twilight; then come the Treta Yuga of 3,000 years, Dvapara Yuga of 2,000 years, and Kali Yuga of 1,000 years (plus, of course, their corresponding dawns and twilights). Hence a Mahayuga lasts 12,000 years (Manu, I, 69 ff.; Mahabharata, III, 12,826). To the progressive decrease in duration of each new yuga, there corresponds, on the human plane, a decrease in the length of life, accompanied by a corruption in morals and a decline in intelligence. This continuous decadence upon all planes — biological, intellectual, ethical, social, and so on — assumes particular emphasis in the Puranic texts (cf., for example Vayu Puraya, I, 8; Visnu Purana, VI, 3). Transition from one yuga to the next takes place, as we have seen, during a twilight, which marks a decrescendo within the yuga itself, each yuga ending by a phase of darkness. As the end of the cycle, that is, the fourth and last yuga, is approached, the darkness deepens. The Kali Yuga, that in which we are today, is, moreover, considered to be the "age of darkness." The complete cycle is terminated by a "dissolution," a Pralaya, which is repeated more intensively (Mahapralaya, the "great dissolution") at the end of the thousandth cycle.
H. Jacobi  rightly believes that, in the original doctrine, a yuga was equivalent to a complete cycle, comprising the birth, "wear," and destruction of the universe. Such a doctrine, moreover, was closer to the archetypal myth (lunar in structure), which we have studied in our Traite d'histoire des religions. Later speculation only amplified and reproduced ad infinitum the primordial rhythm, creation-destruction-creation, by projecting the unit of measure, the yuga, into more and more extensive cycles. The 12,000 years of a Mahayuga were considered "divine years," each lasting 360 years, which gives a total of 4,320,000 years for a single cosmic cycle. A thousand such Mahayuga constitute a Kalpa; fourteen Kalpa make a Manvantara. A Kalpa is equivalent to a day in the life of Brahma; another Kalpa to a night. A hundred "years" of Brahma constitute his life. But even this duration of the life of Brahma does not succeed in exhausting time, for the gods are not eternal and the cosmic creations and destructions succeed one another ad infinitum. (Other systems of calculation even increase the corresponding durations.)
What it is important to note in this avalanche of figures  is the cyclical character of cosmic time. In fact, we are confronted with the infinite repetition of the same phenomenon ( creation-destruction-new creation) , adumbrated in each yuga (dawn and twilight) but completely realized by a Mahayuga. The life of Brahma thus comprises 2,560,000 of these Mahayuga, each repeating the same phases (Krta, Treta, Dvapara, Kali) and ending with a Pralaya, a Ragnarok ("final" destruction, in the sense of a retrogression of all forms to an amorphous mass, occurring at the end of each Kalpa at the time of the Mahapralaya). In addition to the metaphysical depreciation of history — which, in proportion to and by the mere fact of its duration, provokes an erosion of all forms by exhausting their ontologic substance — and in addition to the myth of the perfection of the beginnings, which we also find here once again, what deserves our attention in this orgy of figures is the eternal repetition of the fundamental rhythm of the cosmos: its periodic destruction and re-creation. From this cycle without beginning or end, man can wrest himself only by an act of spiritual freedom (for all Indian soteriological solutions can be reduced to preliminary liberation from the cosmic illusion and to spiritual freedom).
The two great heterodoxies, Buddhism and Jainism, accept the same pan-Indian doctrine of cyclical time, at least in its chief outlines, and compare it to a wheel with twelve spokes (this image is already employed in Vedic texts; cf. Atharva-Veda, X, 8, 4; Rg-Veda, I, 164, 115; etc.).
As its unit of measure for the cosmic cycles, Buddhism adopts the Kalpa (Pali: kappa), divided into a variable number of "incalculables" (asankhyeya, Pali: asankheyya). Pali sources generally speak of four asankheyya and a hundred thousand lappa (cf., for example, Jataka, I, 2); in Mahayanic literature, the number of incalculables varies between 3, 7, and 33, and they are connected with the career of the Bodhisattva in the various cosmoses.  In the Buddhist tradition, the progressive decadence of man is marked by a continuous decrease in the length of human life. Thus, according to Digha-nikaya, II, 2-7, at the time of the first Buddha, Vipassi, who made his appearance 91 kappa ago, the length of a human life was 80,000 years; at that of the second Buddha, Sikhi (31 kappa ago), it was 70,000 years, and so on. The seventh Buddha, Gautama, appears when a human life is only 100 years, i.e., has been reduced to the utmost. (We shall encounter the same motif again in Iranian and Christian apocalypses.) Nevertheless, for Buddhism, as for all Indian speculation, time is limitless; and the Bodhisattva will become incarnate to announce the good tidings of salvation to all beings, in aeternum. The only possibility of escaping from time, of breaking the iron circle of existences, is to abolish the human condition and win Nirvana.  Besides, all these "incalculables" and all these numberless aeons also have a soteriological function; simply contemplating the panorama of them terrifies man and forces him to realize that he must begin this same transitory existence and endure the same endless sufferings over again, millions upon millions of times; this results in intensifying his will to escape, that is, in impelling him to transcend his condition of "living being," once and for all.
Indian speculations on cyclical time reveal a sufficiently marked "refusal of history." But we must emphasize an aspect in which they differ fundamentally from archaic conceptions; whereas the man of the traditional cultures re- fuses history through the periodic abolition of the Creation, thus living over and over again in the atemporal instant of the beginnings, the Indian spirit, in its supreme tensions, disparages and even rejects this same reactualization of auroral time, which it no longer regards as an effective solution to the problem of suffering. The difference between the Vedic (hence archaic and primitive) vision and the Mahayanic vision of the cosmic cycle is, in sum, the very difference that distinguishes the archetypal (traditional) anthropological position from the existentialist (historical) position. Karma, the law of universal causality, which by justifying the human condition and accounting for historical experience could be a source of consolation to the pre-Buddhistic Indian consciousness, becomes, in time, the very symbol of man's "slavery." Hence it is that every Indian metaphysics and technique, insofar as it proposes man's liberation, seeks the annihilation of karma. But if the doctrines of the cosmic cycles had been only an illustration of the theory of universal causality, we should not have mentioned them in the present context. The conception of the four yuga in fact contributes a new element: the explanation (and hence the justification) of historical catastrophes, of the progressive decadence of humanity, biologically, sociologically, ethically, and spiritually. Time, by the simple fact that it is duration, continually aggravates the condition of the cosmos and, by implication, the condition of man. By the simple fact that we are now living in the Kali Yuga, hence in an "age of darkness," which progresses under the sign of disaggregation and must end by a catastrophe, it is our fate to suffer more than the men of preceding ages. Now, in our historical moment, we can expect nothing else; at most (and it is here that we glimpse the soteriological function of the Kali Yuga and the privileges conferred on us by a crepuscular and catastrophic history), we can wrest ourselves from cosmic servitude. The Indian theory of the four ages is, consequently, invigorating and consoling for man under the terror of history. In effect: (1) on the one hand, the sufferings that fall to him because he is contemporary with this crepuscular decomposition help him to understand the precariousness of his human condition and thus facilitate his enfranchisement; (2) on the other hand, the theory validates and justifies the sufferings of him who does not choose freedom but resigns himself to undergoing his existence, and this by the very fact that he is conscious of the dramatic and catastrophic structure of the epoch in which it has been given him to live (or, more precisely, to live again).
This second possibility for man to find his place in a "period of darkness," the close of a cycle, is of especial interest to us. It occurs, in fact, in other cultures and at other historical moments. To bear the burden of being contemporary with a disastrous period by becoming conscious of the position it occupies in the descending trajectory of the cosmic cycle is an attitude that was especially to demonstrate its effectiveness in the twilight of Greco-Oriental civilization.
We need not here concern ourselves with the many problems raised by the Orientalo-Hellenistic civilizations. The only aspect that interests us is the place the man of these civilizations finds for himself in respect to history, and more especially as he confronts contemporary history. It is for this reason that we shall not linger over the origin, structure, and evolution of the various cosmological systems in which the antique myth of the cosmic cycles is elaborated and explored, nor over their philosophical consequences. We shall review these cosmological systems — from the pre-Socratics to the Neo-Pythagoreans — only insofar as they answer the following question: What is the meaning of history, that is, of the totality of the human experiences provoked by inevitable geographical conditions, social structures, political conjunctures, and so on? Let us remark at once that this question had meaning only for a very small minority during the period of the Orientalo-Hellenistic civilizations — only for those, that is, who had become dissociated from the horizon of antique spirituality. The immense majority of their contemporaries still lived, especially at the beginning of the period, under the dominance of archetypes; they emerged from it only very late (and perhaps never for good and all, as, for example, in the case of agricultural societies) , during the course of the powerful historical tensions that were provoked by Alexander and hardly ended with the fall of Rome. But the philosophical myths and the more or less scientific cosmologies elaborated by this minority, which begins with the pre-Socratics, attained in time to very wide dissemination. What, in the fifth century B.C., was a gnosis accessible only with difficulty, four centuries later becomes a doctrine that consoles hundreds of thousands of men (witness, for example, Neo-Pythagoreanism and Neo-Stoicism in the Roman world). It is, to be sure, through the "success" that they obtained later, and not through their intrinsic worth, that all these Greek and Greco-Oriental doctrines based upon the myth of cosmic cycles are of interest to us.
This myth was still discernibly present in the earliest pre-Socratic speculations. Anaximander knows that all things are born and return to the apeiron. Empedocles conceives of the alternate supremacy of the two opposing principles philia and neikos as explaining the eternal creations and destructions of the cosmos (a cycle in which four phases are distinguishable,  somewhat after the fashion of the four "incalculables" of Buddhist doctrine). The universal conflagration is, as we have seen, also accepted by Heraclitus. As to the eternal return — the periodic resumption, by all beings, of their former lives — this is one of the few dogmas of which we know with some certainty that they formed a part of primitive Pythagoreanism.  Finally, according to recent researches, admirably utilized and synthesized by Joseph Bidez,  it seems increasingly probable that at least certain elements of the Platonic system are of Irano-Babylonian origin.
We shall return to these possible Oriental influences. Let us pause for the moment to consider Plato's interpretation of the myth of cyclical return, more especially in the fundamental text, which occurs in the Politicus, 269c ff. Plato finds the cause of cosmic regression and cosmic catastrophes in a twofold motion of the universe: ". . . Of this Universe of ours, the Divinity now guides its circular revolution entirely, now abandons it to itself, once its revolutions have attained the duration which befits this universe; and it then begins to turn in the opposite direction, of its own motion . . ." This change of direction is accompanied by gigantic cataclysms: "the greatest destruction, both among animals in general and among the human race, of which, as is fitting, only a few representatives remain" (270c). But this catastrophe is followed by a paradoxical "regeneration." Men begin to grow young again: "the white hair of the aged darkens," while those at the age of puberty begin to lessen in stature day by day, until they return to the size of a new-born infant; then finally, "still continuing to waste away, they wholly cease to be." The bodies of those who died at this time "disappeared completely, without leaving a trace, after a few days" (270e). It was then that the race of the "Sons of Earth" (gegeneis), whose memory was preserved by our ancestors, was born (271a). During this age of Cronos, there were neither savage animals nor enmity between animals (271e). The men of those days had neither wives nor children: "Upon arising out of the earth, they all returned to life, without preserving any memory of their former state of life." The trees gave them fruits in abundance and they slept naked on the soil, with no need for beds, because then the seasons were mild (272a).
The myth of the primordial paradise, evoked by Plato, discernible in Indian beliefs, was known to the Hebrews (for example, Messianic Mud tempus in Isaiah 11 : 6, 8; 65 : 25) as well as to the Iranian (Denkart, VII, 9, 3-5) and Greco-Latin traditions.  Moreover, it fits perfectly into the archaic (and probably universal) conception of "paradisal beginnings," which we find in all valuations of the primordial Mud tempus. That Plato reproduces such traditional visions in the dialogues that date from his old age is nowise astonishing; the evolution of his philosophical thought itself forced him to rediscover the mythological categories. The memory of the age of gold under Cronos was certainly available to him in Greek tradition (cf., for example, the four ages described by Hesiod, Erga, 110 ff.). This fact, however, constitutes no bar to our recognizing that there are also certain Babylonian influences in the Politicus; when, for example, Plato imputes periodic cataclysms to planetary revolutions, an explanation that certain recent researches  would derive from Babylonian astronomical speculations later rendered accessible to the Hellenic world through Berossus' Babyloniaca. According to the Timaeus, partial catastrophes are caused by planetary deviation (cf. Timaeus, 22d and 23e, deluge referred to by the priest of Sais), while the moment of the meeting of all the planets is that of "perfect time" (Timaeus, 39d), that is, of the end of the Great Year. As Joseph Bidez remarks: "the idea that a conjunction of all the planets suffices to cause a universal upheaval is certainly of Chaldaean origin."  On the other hand, Plato seems also to have been familiar with the Iranian conception according to. which the purpose of these catastrophes is the purification of the human race (Timaeus, 22d).
The Stoics, for their own purposes, also revived speculations concerning the cosmic cycles, emphasizing either eternal repetition  or the cataclysm, ekpyrosis, by which cosmic cycles come to their end.  Drawing from Heraclitus, or directly from Oriental gnosticism, Stoicism propagates all these ideas in regard to the Great Year and to the cosmic lire (ekpyrosis) that periodically puts an end to the universe in order to renew it. In time, these motifs of eternal return and of the end of the world come to dominate the entire Greco-Roman culture. The periodic renewal of the world (metacosmesis) was, furthermore, a favorite doctrine of Neo-Pythagoreanism, the philosophy that as Jerome Carcopino has shown, together with Stoicism, divided the allegiance of Roman society in the second and first centuries B.C. But adherence to the myth of "eternal repetition," as well as to that of apokatastasis (the term entered the Hellenic world after Alexander the Great) are both philosophical positions in which we can perceive a very determined antihistorical attitude together with a will to defend the self from history. We shall discuss both of these positions.
We observed in the preceding chapter that the myth of eternal repetition, as reinterpreted by Greek speculation, has the meaning of a supreme attempt toward the "staticization" of becoming, toward annulling the irreversibility of time. If all moments and all situations of the cosmos are repeated ad infinitum, their evanescence is, in the last analysis, patent; sub specie infinitatis, all moments and all situations remain stationary and thus acquire the ontological order of the archetype. Hence, among all the forms of becoming, historical becoming too is saturated with being. From the point of view of eternal repetition, historical events are transformed into categories and thus regain the ontological order they possessed in the horizon of archaic spirituality. In a certain sense it can even be said that the Greek theory of eternal return is the final variant undergone by the myth of the repetition of an archetypal gesture, just as the Platonic doctrine of Ideas was the final version of the archetype concept, and the most fully elaborated. And it is worth noting that these two doctrines found their most perfect expression at the height of Greek philosophical thought.
But it was especially the myth of universal conflagration that achieved a marked success throughout the Greco-Oriental world. It appears more and more probable that the myth of an end of the world by fire, from which the good will escape unharmed, is of Iranian origin (cf., for example, Bundahisn, XXX, 18), at least in the form known to the "western mages" who, as Cumont has shown,  disseminated it in the West. Stoicism, the Sibylline Oracles (for example II, 253), and Judaeo-Christian literature make this myth the foundation of their apocalypses and their eschatology. Strange as it may seem, the myth was consoling. In fact, fire renews the world; through it will come the restoration of "a new world, free from old age, death, decomposition and corruption, living eternally, increasing eternally, when the dead shall rise, when immortality shall come to the living, when the world shall be perfectly renewed" (Yast, XIX, 14, 89).  This, then, is an apokatastasis from which the good have nothing to fear. The final catastrophe will put an end to history, hence will restore man to eternity and beatitude.
Notable studies, by both Cumont and H. S. Nyberg,  have succeeded in illuminating some of the obscurity that surrounds Iranian eschatology and in defining the influences responsible for the Judaeo-Christian apocalypse. Like India (and, in a certain sense, Greece), Iran knew the myth of the four cosmic ages. A lost Mazdean text, the Sudkar-nask (whose content is preserved in the Denkart, IX, 8), referred to the four ages: gold, silver, steel, and "mixed with iron." The same metals are mentioned at the beginning of the Bahman-Yast (I, 3), which, however, somewhat further on (II, 14), describes a cosmic tree with seven branches (gold, silver, bronze, copper, tin, steel, and a "mixture of iron"), corresponding to the sevenfold mythical history of the Persians.  This cosmic hebdomad no doubt developed in connection with Chaldaean astrological teachings, each planet "governing" a millennium. But Mazdaism had much earlier proposed an age of 9,000 years (3 X 3,000) for the universe, while Zarvanism, as Nyberg has shown,  extended the maximum duration of this universe to 12,000 years. In the two Iranian systems — as, moreover, in all doctrines of cosmic cycles — the world will end by fire and water, per pyrosim et cataclysmum, as Firmicus Maternus (III, 1) was later to write. That in the Zarvanite system "unlimited time," Zarvan akarana, precedes and follows the 12,000 years of "limited time" created by Ormazd; that in this system "Time is more powerful than the two Creations,"  that is, than the creations of Ormazd and Ahriman; that, consequently, Zarvan akarana was not created by Ormazd and hence is not subordinate to him — all these are matters that we need not enter into here. What we wish to emphasize is that, in the Iranian conception, history (whether followed or not by infinite time) is not eternal; it does not repeat itself but will come to an end one day by an eschatological ekpyrosis and cosmic cataclysm. For the final catastrophe that will put an end to history will at the same time be a judgment of history. It is then — in illo tempore — that, as we are told, all will render an account of what they have done "in history" and only those who are not guilty will know beatitude and eternity. 
Windisch has shown the importance of these Mazdean ideas for the Christian apologist Lactantius.  God created the world in six days, and on the seventh he rested; hence the world will endure for six aeons, during which "evil will conquer and triumph" on earth. During the seventh millennium, the prince of demons will be chained and humanity will know a thousand years of rest and perfect justice. After this the demon will escape from his chains and resume war upon the just; but at last he will be vanquished and at the end of the eighth millennium the world will be re-created for eternity. Obviously, this division of history into three acts and eight millennia was also known to the Christian chiliasts,  but there can be no doubt that it is Iranian in structure, even if a similar eschatological vision of history was disseminated throughout the Mediterranean East and in the Roman Empire by Greco-Oriental gnosticisms.
A series of calamities will announce the approach of the end of the world; and the first of them will be the fall of Rome and the destruction of the Roman Empire, a frequent anticipation in the Judaeo-Christian apocalypse, but also not unknown to the Iranians.  The apocalyptic syndrome is, furthermore, common to all these traditions. Both Lactantius and the Bahman-Yast announce that "the year will be shortened, the month will diminish, and the day will contract,"  a vision of cosmic and human deterioration that we have also found in India ( where human life decreases from 80,000 to 100 years) and that astrological doctrines popularized in the Greco-Oriental world. Then the mountains will crumble and the earth become smooth, men will desire death and envy the dead, and but a tenth of them will survive. "It will be a time," writes Lactantius, "when justice will be rejected and innocence odious, when the wicked will prey as enemies upon the good, when neither law nor order nor military discipline will be observed, when none will respect gray hairs, or do the offices of piety, nor take pity upon women and children; all things will be confounded and mixed, against divine and natural law. . . ."  But after this premonitory phase, the purifying fire will come down to destroy the wicked and will be followed by the millennium of bliss that the Christian chiliasts also expected and Isaiah and the Sibylline Oracles had earlier foretold. Men will know a new golden age that will last until the end of the seventh millennium; for after this last conflict, a universal ekpyrosis will absorb the whole universe in fire, thus permitting the birth of a new world, an eternal world of justice and happiness, not subject to astral influences and freed from the dominion of time.
The Hebrews likewise limited the duration of the world to seven millennia,  but the rabbinate never encouraged mathematical calculations to determine the end of the world. They confined themselves to stating that a series of cosmic and historical calamities (famines, droughts, wars, and so forth) would announce the end of the world. The Messiah would come; the dead would rise again (Isaiah 26 : 19); God would conquer death and the renewal of the world would follow (Isaiah 65 : 17; Book of Jubilees I : 29, even speaks of a new Creation). 
Here again, as everywhere in the apocalyptic doctrines referred to above, we find the traditional motif of extreme decadence, of the triumph of evil and darkness, which precede the change of aeon and the renewal of the cosmos. A Babylonian text translated by A. Jeremias  thus foresees the apocalypse: "When such and such things happen in heaven, then will the clear become dull, the pure dirty, the lands will fall into confusion, prayers will not be heard, the signs of the prophets will become unfavorable. . . . Under his [i.e., a prince who does not obey the commands of the gods' rule the one will devour the other, the people will sell their children for gold, the husband will desert his wife, the wife her husband, the mother will bolt the door against her daughter." Another hymn foretells that, in those days, the sun will no longer rise, the moon no longer appear, and so on.
In the Babylonian conception, however, this crepuscular period is always followed by a new paradisal dawn. Frequently, as we should expect, the paradisal period opens with the enthronement of a new sovereign. Ashurbanipal regards himself as a regenerator of the cosmos, for "since the time the gods in their friendliness did set me on the throne of my fathers, Ramman has sent forth his rain . . . the harvest was plentiful, the corn was abundant ... the cattle multiplied exceedingly." Nebuchadrezzar says of himself: "A reign of abundance, years of exuberance in my country I cause to be." In a Hittite text, Murshilish thus describes the reign of his father: "... under him the whole land of Katti prospered, and in his time people, cattle, sheep multiplied."  The conception is archaic and universal: we find it in Homer, in Hesiod, in the Old Testament, in China, and elsewhere. 
Simplifying, we might say that, among the Iranians as among the Jews and Christians, the "history" apportioned to the universe is limited, and that the end of the world coincides with the destruction of sinners, the resurrection of the dead, and the victory of eternity over time. But al- though this doctrine becomes increasingly popular during the first century B.C. and the early centuries of our era, it does not succeed in finally doing away with the traditional doctrine of periodic regeneration of the world through annual repetition of the Creation. We saw in the preceding chapter that vestiges of this latter doctrine were preserved among the Iranians until far into the Middle Ages. Similarly dominant in pre-Messianic Judaism, it was never totally eliminated, for rabbinic circles hesitated to be pre- cise as to the duration that God had fixed for the cosmos and confined themselves to declaring that the Mud tempus would certainly arrive one day. In Christianity, on the other hand, the evangelical tradition itself implies that
is already present "among" (
) those who believe, and that hence the Mud tempus is eternally of the present and accessible to anyone, at any moment, through metanoia. Since what is involved is a religious experience wholly different from the traditional experience, since what is involved is faith, Christianity translates the periodic regeneration of the world into a regeneration of the human individual. But for him who shares in this eternal nunc of the reign of God, history ceases as totally as it does for the man of the archaic cultures, who abolishes it periodically. Consequently, for the Christian too, history can be regenerated, by and through each individual believer, even before the Saviour's second coming, when it will utterly cease for all Creation.
An adequate discussion of the revolution that Christianity introduced into the dialectic of the abolition of history, and of the escape from the ascendancy of time, would lead us too far beyond the limits of this essay. Let us simply note that even within the frame of the three great religious — Iranian, Judaic, and Christian — that have limited the duration of the cosmos to some specific number of millennia and affirm that history will finally cease in illo tempore, there still survive certain traces of the ancient doctrine of the periodic regeneration of history. In other words, history can be abolished, and consequently renewed, a number of times, before the final eschaton is realized. Indeed, the Christian liturgical year is based upon a periodic and real repetition of the Nativity, Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, with all that this mystical drama implies for a Christian; that is, personal and cosmic regeneration through reactualization in concrete of the birth, death, and resurrection of the Saviour.Destiny and History
We have referred to all these Hellenistic-Oriental doctrines relative to cosmic cycles for only one purpose — that of discovering the answer to the question that we posed at the beginning of this chapter: How has man tolerated history? The answer is discernible in each individual system: His very place in the cosmic cycle — whether the cycle be capable of repetition or not — lays upon man a certain historical destiny. We must beware of seeing no more here than a fatalism, whatever meaning we ascribe to the term, that would account for the good and bad fortune of each individual taken separately. These doctrines answer the questions posed by the destiny of contemporary history in its entirety, not only those posed by the individual destiny. A certain quantity of suffering is in store for humanity (and by the word "humanity" each person means the mass of men known to himself) by the simple fact that humanity finds itself at a certain historical moment, that is, in a cosmic cycle that is in its descending phase or nearing its end. Individually, each is free to withdraw from this historical moment and to console himself for its baneful consequences, whether through philosophy or through mysticism. (The mere mention of the swarm of gnosticisms, sects, mysteries, and philosophies that overran the Mediterranean-Oriental world during the centuries of historical tension will suffice to give an idea of the vastly increasing proportion of those who attempted to withdraw from history.) The historical moment in its totality, however, could not avoid the destiny that was the inevitable consequence of its very position upon the descending trajectory of the cycle to which it belonged. Just as, in the Indian view, every man of the Kali Yuga is stimulated to seek his freedom and spiritual beatitude, yet at the same time cannot avoid the final dissolution of this crepuscular world in its entirety, so, in the view of the various systems to which we have referred, the historical moment, despite the possibilities of escape it offers contemporaries, can never, in its entirety, be anything but tragic, pathetic, unjust, chaotic, as any moment that heralds the final catastrophe must be.
In fact, a common characteristic relates all the cyclical systems scattered through the Hellenistic-Oriental world: in the view of each of them, the contemporary historical moment (whatever its chronological position) represents a decadence in relation to preceding historical moments. Not only is the contemporary aeon inferior to the other ages (gold, silver, and so on) but, even within the frame of the reigning age (that is, of the reigning cycle), the "instant" in which man lives grows worse as time passes. This tendency toward devaluation of the contemporary moment should not be regarded as a sign of pessimism. On the contrary, it reveals an excess of optimism, for, in the deterioration of the contemporary situation, at least a portion of mankind saw signs foretelling the regeneration that must necessarily follow. Since the days of Isaiah, a series of military defeats and political collapses had been anxiously awaited as an ineluctable syndrome of the Messianic Mud tempus that was to regenerate the world.
However, different as were the possible positions of man, they displayed one common characteristic: history could be tolerated, not only because it had a meaning but also because it was, in the last analysis, necessary. For those who believed in a repetition of an entire cosmic cycle, as for those who believed only in a single cycle nearing its end, the drama of contemporary history was necessary and inevitable. Plato, even in his day, and despite his acceptance of some of the schemata of Chaldaean astrology, was profuse in his sarcasms against those who had fallen into astrological fatalism or who believed in an eternal repetition in the strict (Stoic) sense of the term (cf., for example, Republic, VIII, 546 ff.). As for the Christian philosophers, they fiercely combated the same astrological fatalism,  which had increased during the last centuries of the Roman Empire. As we shall see in a moment, Saint Augustine will defend the idea of a perennial Rome solely to escape from accepting a fatum determined by cyclical theories. It is, nevertheless, true that astrological fatalism itself accounted for the course of historical events, and hence helped the contemporary to understand them and tolerate them, just as successfully as did the various Greco-Oriental gnosticisms, Neo-Stoicism, and Neo-Pythagoreanism. For example, whether history was governed by the movements of the heavenly bodies or purely and simply by the cosmic process, which necessarily demanded a disintegration inevitably linked to an original integration, whether, again, it was subject to the will of God, a will that the prophets had been able to glimpse, the result was the same: none of the catastrophes manifested in history was arbitrary. Empires rose and fell; wars caused innumerable sufferings; immorality, dissoluteness, social injustice, steadily increased — because all this was necessary, that is, was willed by the cosmic rhythm, by the demiurge, by the constellations, or by the will of God.
In this view, the history of Rome takes on a noble gravity. Several times in the course of their history, the Romans underwent the terror of an imminent end to their city, whose duration — as they believed — had been determined at the very moment of its foundation by Romulus. In Les Grands Mythes de Rome, Jean Hubaux has penetratingly analyzed the critical moments of the drama provoked by the uncertainties in calculations of the "life" of Rome, while Jerome Carcopino has recorded the historical events and the spiritual tension that justified the hope for a noncatastrophic resurrection of the city.  At every historical crisis two crepuscular myths obsessed the Roman people: (1) the life of the city is ended, its duration being limited to a certain number of years (the "mystic number" revealed by the twelve eagles seen by Romulus) ; and (2) the Great Year will put an end to all history, hence to that of Rome, by a universal ekpyrosis. Roman history itself undertook to show the baselessness of these fears, down to a very late period. For at the end of 120 years after the foundation of Rome, it was realized that the twelve eagles seen by Romulus did not signify 120 years of historical life for the city, as many had feared. At the end of 365 years, it became apparent that there was no question of a Great Year, in which each year of the city would be equivalent to a day, and it was supposed that destiny had granted Rome another kind of Great Year, composed of twelve months of 100 years. As for the myth of regressive "ages" and eternal return, professed by the Sibyl and interpreted by the philosophers through their theories of cosmic cycles, it was more than once hoped that the transition from one age to the other could be effected without a universal ekpyrosis. But this hope was always mingled with anxiety. Each time historical events accentuated their catastrophic rhythm, the Romans believed that the Great Year was on the point of ending and that Rome was on the eve of her fall. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon, Nigidius Figulus foresaw the beginning of a cosmico-historical drama which would put an end to Rome and the human race.  But the same Nigidius Figulus believed  that an ekpyrosis was not inevitable, and that a renewal, the Neo-Pythagorean meta-cosmesis, was also possible without a cosmic catastrophe — an idea that Virgil was to take up and elaborate.
Horace, in his Epode XVI, had been unable to conceal his fear as to the future fate of Rome. The Stoics, the astrologers, and Oriental gnosticism saw in the wars and calamities of the time signs that the final catastrophe was imminent. Reasoning either from calculation of the life of Rome or from the doctrine of cosmico-historical cycles, the Romans knew that, whatever else might happen, the city was fated to disappear before the beginning of a new aeon. But the reign of Augustus, coming after a series of long and sanguinary civil wars, seemed to inaugurate a pax aeterna. The fears inspired by the two myths — the "age" of Rome and the theory of the Great Year — now proved groundless: "Augustus has founded Rome anew and we have nothing to fear as to its life," those who had been concerned over the mystery of Romulus' twelve eagles could assure themselves. "The transition from the age of iron to the age of gold has been accomplished without an ekpyrosis," those who had been obsessed by the theory of cycles could say. Thus Virgil, for the last saeculum, that of the sun, which was to bring about the combustion of the universe, could substitute the saeculum of Apollo, avoiding an ekpyrosis and assuming that the recent wars had themselves been the sign of the transition from the age of iron to the age of gold.  Later, when Augustus' reign seemed indeed to have inaugurated the age of gold, Virgil undertook to reassure the Romans as to the duration of the city. In the Aeneid (I, 255 ff.) Jupiter, addressing Venus, assures her that he will lay no bounds of space or time upon the Romans: "empire without end have I given them."  And it was not until after the publication of the Aeneid that Rome was called urbs aeterna, Augustus being proclaimed the second founder of the city. His birthday, September 23, was regarded "as the point of departure of the Universe, whose existence had been saved, and whose face had been changed, by Augustus."  Then arose the hope that Rome could regenerate itself periodically ad infinitum. Thus it was that, liberated from the myths of the twelve eagles and of the ekpyrosis, Rome could increase until, as Virgil foretells, it embraced even the regions "beyond the paths of the sun and the year" ("extra anni solisque vias").
In all this, as we see, there is a supreme effort to liberate history from astral destiny or from the law of cosmic cycles and to return, through the myth of the eternal renewal of Rome, to the archaic myth of the annual (and in particular the noncatastrophic!) regeneration of the cosmos through its eternal re-creation by the sovereign or the priest. It is above all an attempt to give value to history on the cosmic plane; that is, to regard historical events and catastrophes as genuine cosmic combustions or dissolutions that must periodically put an end to the universe in order to permit its regeneration. The wars, the destruction, the sufferings of history are no longer the premonitory signs of the transition from one age to another, but themselves constitute the transition. Thus in each period of peace, history renews itself and, consequently, a new world begins; in the last analysis (as we saw in the case of the myth built up around Augustus), the sovereign repeats the Creation of the cosmos.
We have adduced the example of Rome to show how historical events could be given value by the expedient of the myths examined in the present chapter. Adapted to a particular myth theory (age of Rome, Great Year), catastrophes could not only be tolerated by their contemporaries but also positively accorded a value immediately after their appearance. Of course, the age of gold inaugurated by Augustus has survived only through what it created in Latin culture. Augustus was no sooner dead than history undertook to belie the age of gold, and once again people began living in expectation of imminent disaster. When Rome was occupied by Alaric, it seemed that the sign of Romulus' twelve eagles had triumphed: the city was entering its twelfth and last century of existence. Only Saint Augustine attempted to show that no one could know the moment at which God would decide to put an end to history, and that in any case, although cities by their very nature have a limited duration, the only "eternal city" being that of God, no astral destiny can decide the life or death of a nation. Thus Christian thought tended to transcend, once and for all, the old themes of eternal repetition, just as it had undertaken to transcend all the other archaic viewpoints by revealing the importance of the religious experience of faith and that of the value of the human personality.
1. See also further examples in Ch. II of our Traite d'histoire da religions, pp. 53 ff.
2. We emphasize once again that, from the point of view of anhistorical peoples or classes, "suffering" is equivalent to "history." This equivalence can be observed even today in the peasant civilizations of Europe.
3. Geo Widengren, King and Saviour, II (Uppsala, 1947).
4. Cf. G. van der Leeuw, "Urzeit und Endzeit," Eranos-Jahrbuch, XVII (Zurich, 1950), pp. 11-51.
5. Without religious elites, and more especially without the prophets, Judaism would not have become anything very different from the religion of the Jewish colony in Elephantine, which preserved the popular Palestinian religious viewpoint down to the fifth century B.C.; cf. Albert Vincent, La Religion des Judeo-Arameens d'Elephantine (Paris, 1937). History had allowed these Hebrews of the Diaspora to retain, side by side with Yahweh (Jaho), other divinities (Bethel, Harambethel, Ashumbethel), and even the goddess Anath, in a convenient syncretism. This is one more confirmation of the importance of history in the development of Judaic religious experience and its maintenance under high tensions. For, as we must not forget, the institutions of prophecy and Messianism were above all validated by the pressure of contemporary history.
6. It may be of some service to point out that what is called "faith" in the Judaeo-Christian sense differs, regarded structurally, from other archaic religious experiences. The authenticity and religious validity of these latter must not be doubted, because they are based upon a universally verified dialectic of the sacred. But the experience of faith is due to a new theophany, a new revelation, which, for the respective elites, annuls the validity of other hierophanies. On this subject, see our Traite d'histoire des religions, Ch. I.
7. This does not imply that these populations (which are for the most part agrarian in structure) are nonreligious; it implies only the "traditional" (archetypal) "revalorization" that they have given to Christian experience.
8. In Hastings' Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, I, pp. 200 ff.
9. Doubtless provoked by the astrological aspect of the yuga, in the establishment of which Babylonian astronomical influences are not excluded; cf. Alfred Jeremias, Handbuch der altorientalischen Geisteskultur (2nd edn., Berlin-Leipzig, 1929), p. 303. See also Emil Abegg, Der Messiasglaube in Indien and Iran (Berlin, 1928), pp. 8 ff.; Isidor Scheftelowitz, Vie Zeit als Schicksalsgottheit in der indischen und iranischen Religion (Stuttgart, 1929); D. R. Mankad, "Manvantara-Caturyuga Method," Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, XXIII, Silver Jubilee Volume (Poona, 1942), pp. 271-90; and our "Le Temps et l'eternite dans la pensee indienne," Eranos-Jahrbuch, XX (Zurich, 1951), pp. 219-52, and Images et symboles (Paris, 1952), Ch. II.
10. Cf. Asanga, Mahayana-samparigraha, V, 6; Louis de La Vallee-Poussin, Vijnaptimatrasiddhi (Paris, 1929), pp. 731-33, etc. On calculation of the asankheyya, cf. La Vallee-Poussin's notes in L'Abhidharmakofa (Paris, 1923-1926), III, pp. 188-89; IV, p. 224; and the Mahaprajnaparamitalastra of Nagarjuna, trans, from the Chinese version by Etienne Lamotte, Le Traite de la Grande Vertu de Sagesse de Nagarjuna, Pt. 1 (Louvain, 1944), pp.- 247 ff. On the philosophic conceptions of time, cf. La Vallee-Poussin, "Documents d'Abhidharma: la controverse du temps," Melanges chinois et bouddhiques, V (Brussels, 19S7), pp. 1—158; and Stanislaw Schayer, Contributions to the Problem of Time in Indian Philosophy (Cracow, 1938). Cf. also Mrs. Sinclair Stevenson, The Heart of Jainism (London, 1915), pp. 272 ff.
11. Cf. our studies, Toga. Essai sur les origines de la mystique indienne ( Paris and Bucharest, 1936), pp. 166 ff.; and Techniques du Toga (Paris, 1948), Ch. IV.
12. Cf. Ettore Bignone, Empedocle (Turin, 1916), pp. 548 ff.
13. Dicaearchos, cited by Porphyry, Vita Pythagorae, 19.
14. Etos, ou Platan et l'Orient (Brussels, 1945), which takes into consideration especially the researches of Boll, Bezold, W. Gundel, W. Jaeger, A. Gotze, J. Stenzel, and even Reitzenstein's interpretations despite the objections that some of them have aroused.
15. Cf. Jerome Carcopino, Virgile et le mystire de la IV eglogue (rev. and enl. ed.. Paris, 1943), pp. 72 ff.; Franz Cumont, "La Fin du monde selon les mages occidentaux," Revue de l'Histoire des Religions (Paris), Jan.-June, 1931, pp. 89 ff.
16. Bidez, p. 76.
17. Ibid., p. 83.
18. For example, Chrysippus, Fragments 623-27.
19. As early as Zeno; see Fragments 98 and 109 (H. F. A. von Arnim, Stoicorum veterum fragmenta, I, Leipzig, 1921).
20. Op. cit., pp. 39 ff.
21. After James Darmesteter's trans, in Le Zend-Avesta (Paris, 1892).
22. Cf. Nyberg's "Questions de cosmogonie et de cosmologie mazdeennes," Journal Asiatique (Paris), CCXIV, CCXIX (1929, 1931). See also Scheftelowitz, op. cat.; R. C. Zaehner, "Zurvanica," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (London), IX (1937-39), 303 ff. , 573 ff., 871 ff.; H. H. Schaeder, "Der iranische Zeitgott und sein Mythos," Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft (Leipzig), XCV (1941), 268 ff.; Henry Corbin, "Le Temps cyclique dans le mazdeisme et dans l'ismaelisme," Eranos-Jahrbuch, XX (Zurich, 1951), especially pp. 156ff.
23. Cf. Cumont, op. cit., pp. 71 ff.
24. Op. cit., pp. 41 ff., 235.
25. Bundahisn, Ch. I (Nyberg, pp. 214-15).
26. The Oriental and Judaeo-Christian symbolism of passing through fire has recently been studied by C. M. Edsman, Le Bapteme de feu (Uppsala, 1940).
27. Cf. Cumont, pp. 68 ff.
28. Ibid., p. 70, note 5.
29. Ibid., p. 72.
30. Texts in ibid., p. 78, note 1.
31. Divinae Institutiones, VII, 17, 9; Cumont, p. 81.
32. Cf., for example, Testamentum Abrahami, Ethica Enochi, etc.
33. On cosmic signs presaging the Messiah in rabbinical literature, see Raphael Patai, Man and Temple (London, 1947), pp. 203 ff.
34. Hastings, I, p. 187.
35. Ivan Engnell, Studies in Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East (Uppsala, 1943), pp. 43, 44, 68; Jeremias, Handbuch, pp. 32 ff.
36. Odyssey, XIX, 108 ff.; Hesiod, Erga, 225-27; our Traite d'histoire des religions, p. 224; Patai, p. 180 (rabbinical literature); Leon Wieger, Histoire des croyances religieuses et des opinions philosophiques en Chine (Hsien-hsien, 1922), p. 64.
37. Among many other liberations, Christianity effected liberation from astral destiny: "We are above Fate," Tatian writes (Oratio ad Graecos, 9), summing up Christian doctrine. "The sun andthe moon were made for us; how am I to worship what are my servitors " (ibid., 4). Cf. also St. Augustine, De civitate Dei, XII, Ch. X-XIII; on the ideas of St. Basil, Origen, St. Gregory, and St. Augustine, and their opposition to cyclical theories, see Pierre Duhem, Le Systime du monde (Paris, 1913-17), II, pp. 446 ff. See also Henri-Charles Puech, "La Gnose et le temps," Eranos-Jahrbuck, XX (Zurich, 1951), pp. 68 ff.
38. Jean Hubaux, Les Grands Mythes de Rome (Paris, 1945); Carcopino, op. cit.
39. Lucan, Pharsalia, 639, 642-45; Carcopino, p. 147.
40. Ibid., pp. 52 ff.
41. Cf. ibid., p. 45, etc.
42. "His ego nee metas rerum nec tempora pono: imperium sine fine dedi"; cf. Hubaux, p. 128 ff.
43. Carcopino, p. 200.