Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mytholo

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Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mytholo

Postby admin » Sun Mar 18, 2018 8:06 am

Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology
by F.W.J. Schelling
Translated by Sydney Grew
© 1989 Sydney C. Grew



Table of Contents:

• Translator's Preliminary Remarks
• Editor's Foreword from 1856 Edition
• Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology:
o Lecture One
o Lecture Two
o Lecture Three
o Lecture Four
o Lecture Five
o Lecture Six
o Lecture Seven
o Lecture Eight
o Lecture Nine
o Lecture Ten
• Summary of Contents from 1856 Edition
• Other Translations of Schelling
• Index
• Translator's Notes
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Re: Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Myt

Postby admin » Sun Mar 18, 2018 8:06 am


AUTHOR's notes may be found at the bottom of the page. Translator's notes come at the end of each chapter. The following abbreviations are used in the translator's notes:

AV = Authorized Version of the Bible (King James Version, 1611)

NIV = New International Version of the Bible (1978)

OED = Oxford English Dictionary

[D v, p] = page reference to Schelling's Sämmtliche Werke (Collected Works, Division I in 10 volumes and Division II in 4 volumes, 1856- 61), division D, volume v, page p. (For example [II 1, 268] means division two, volume one, page 268.)

The pagination of the original German edition, in division two volume one of the Sämmtliche Werke, published in 1856, is given in square brackets at the appropriate points of the text.


Long introductions to translated works are often tedious and unnecessary, and may even be misguided and misleading. In the present case, especially since the work is itself an introduction, I shall confine myself to a few points which seem indispensable. There is an excellent longer introduction to Schelling by Norbert Guterman, accompanying the 1966 English translation by E. S. Morgan of Schelling's On University Studies.

Here, then, are five excerpts from other works of Schelling, which should show why I wanted to translate him and may arouse the reader‟s interest too.

1. All life must pass through the fire of contradiction; contradiction is the driving force and innermost nature of life.

2. What Dante saw written on the gates of the Inferno should also be written, in a different sense, at the entrance to philosophy: Leave all hope behind ye who enter here. He who would truly philosophize must be rid of all hope, all desire, all longing; he must desire nothing, feel himself entirely poor and bereft, surrender all to gain all. This step is hard, the ultimate abnegation. We realize this from the fact that so few have ever been capable of it.

3. True philosophy consists of soul, reason, and feeling.

4. What is highest in all works—both of art and science—arises precisely because the impersonal is operative in them.

5. Just as in the beginning of creation, which was nothing other than the birth of light, the dark principle had to be there as its basis so that light could be raised out of it (as the actual out of the merely potential); so there must be another basis for the birth of spirit, and hence a second principle of darkness, which must be as much higher than the former as the spirit is higher than light.

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (later von Schelling) was born on the twenty-seventh of January 1775, at Leonberg (near Stuttgart), in Württemberg. He died on the twentieth of August 1854, at Bad Ragaz among the mountains of eastern Switzerland, at the age of seventy-nine.

This work was written at intervals throughout Schelling's later life, from his thirty-sixth year (approximately), to his seventy-ninth.

He became a student at the theology school of the university of Tübingen in 1790, and his first published work (apart from his master's dissertation), in 1793, was about mythology: On Myths, historical Legends, and Philosophemes of the World in earliest times. By the age of nineteen, in 1794, he had begun writing about philosophy, and soon became very well known. Both theology and mythology retained a vital place in his thought throughout his life. In 1796 he wrote to Hegel:

Poetry becomes in the end what it was at the beginning: the teacher of mankind—for there is no philosophy any more, no history; the poetic art alone will outlive all the arts and sciences.

At the same time we hear so often that the mass of the people needs a sensuous religion. Not only the masses, the philosopher too needs one. Monotheism of Reason and the heart, polytheism of the imagination and art—this is what we need.

First of all I shall speak here of an idea which, so far as I know, has not yet come to any man‟s mind—we must have a mythology of the Ideas—an eventual mythology of Reason.

Until we have made the Ideas æsthetic, that is to say mythological, they are of no interest to the people; and conversely, until mythology has been made rational, the philosopher can only be ashamed of it. (Translated by Norbert Guterman.)

The initial material for the present Introduction probably dates from the decade between 1811 and 1821. Schelling first began to lecture on the philosophy of mythology in general at Erlangen in 1821. The first record of him lecturing on a distinct Introduction to the subject is in summer 1828 at Munich, but much of the present work—the ideas at least, if not the words—must be derived from the Erlangen lectures. As is stated in the editor's foreword to the 1856 edition (part of which may be found following this note), an early version was printed—in fact (referring to Schelling's correspondence with his publisher Cotta) three early versions of his lectures on mythology appear to have been printed, in 1821, 1824, and 1830— but I do not know whether any copies of those assuredly very rare books have survived. In its final form this work belongs among the productions of the later part of Schelling's life, and had taken on this final form by 1845, according to the same foreword, and possibly by 1842, although there is a certain amount of internal evidence which suggests a revision at a later date. The Philosophy of Mythology itself, in twenty-nine lectures, is said to have been completed by 1842, and was published posthumously in 1857. (A translation of it is in preparation.)

In the 1856 edition the ten lectures of the present Historico-Critical Introduction were coupled with a further ten lectures which, unlike the first ten, were not designed as a single work, but were put together by Schelling‟s editors (probably following his own instructions) mainly from parts of lectures on various subjects dating from the period 1847 to 1852. These further ten lectures are, however, best treated as a separate work, and in fact are published as such in the 1927 edition, under the title of Exposition of Purely Rational Philosophy. The relationship of this “purely rational philosophy” to the Philosophy of Mythology itself is described on page eight of the latter work. The present translation contains simply the ten lectures of the Historico-Critical Introduction.

As is appropriate for a philosophical work, the translation is intended to be as nearly literal, and as close to the original, as possible, and thus the English may not be particularly idiomatic. Although the meaning is in the thought and not in the words, I have found in practice that the thought is most likely to be discovered and conveyed by as close an adherence as possible to the original form of words.

Like most writers of the period, even those writing in English and French, Schelling uses long and complicated sentences. I have not been tempted to break these up into shorter ones, as has been done, for instance, by some translators of Hegel. This means that sometimes it is necessary to read the sentence more than once in order to understand it, or even to construe it. That in itself is not a bad thing. Although the number of full stops is the same as in the original, I have, where there are two main verbs, occasionally changed commas to semicolons, and have substituted parentheses for commas in two or three places. I have not, on the other hand, inserted question marks at a number of points where the sentence has the form of a rhetorical question.

It is difficult to imagine these lectures being delivered aloud in their present form, even disregarding the footnotes: the style is very elaborate and literary in many places. This is so particularly at those crucial points where Schelling tends to resort to rhetoric and simply to exclaim: “How could it be otherwise!” (This method of argument, not often encountered nowadays, is well described in Vincent McCarthy's book Quest for a Philosophical Jesus—writing of Schelling's Philosophy of Revelation he says “The thinker thinks a thought and his very enthusiasm seems to constitute sufficient— even "empirical‟—proof.” Schelling himself, in his introduction to his 1797 Outlines of a Philosophy of Nature, says that, in contrast to dogmatism, there is no longer, in his genetic philosophy, any separation between experience and speculation.) The elaborate quality of Schelling's prose may stem from the final revision of these lectures, but there is more to it than that. A book once published acquires a definitive form, regardless of any later revisions which it may undergo, but Schelling's posthumous lectures are literary works which were subject to continual revision over a good part of the author's life. (He certainly wanted to publish them but never felt able to do this, justified in doing it.) It is possible to distinguish between the vocabulary and style of different sections which may for that reason be presumed to have been written at different periods, but this is not the place to go into the details of that.

If I have unintentionally introduced any ambiguity or errors, I apologize to the reader and shall correct with pleasure anything which he might be kind enough to draw to my attention.

A number of words which are always difficult to translate from German are discussed in my notes, mostly at the point where they first occur.

The notes are rather extensive, and may recall certain notorious examples of gratuitous notes which I shall not identify here. But after realizing that I did not know the exact dates of such familiar figures as Plato, Bacon, and Goethe, I decided to include them: in short these notes are carried forward to the point where all the questions which arose out of the work are answered, within the limits of the library facilities available to me.

In my translation of the Philosophy of Mythology itself there will be the opportunity to fill in any gaps in references and explanations. What is more, in that work Schelling treats in greater detail many of the points briefly mentioned here.

It is inexcusable, in my opinion, that such scant regard is paid to Schelling in English and American universities. This is the result not simply of the absence of translations, but of a wilful ignorance. Two examples may show the extent of this, and how bad and ludicrous it is: the first is from the Oxford Companion to German Literature, which says: “He is generally regarded as more poet than philosopher.” (This falsehood follows a misleading summary of his life and works.) The second is found in the History of Western Philosophy by an Englishman, one Bertrand Russell; he dismisses Schelling in three lines, while devoting a chapter each to Kant and Hegel, men neither as good nor even (mainly for that reason) as important historically, in the very long run. These three really quite unpleasant lines say: “Schelling was more amiable [than Fichte] but not less subjective. He was closely associated with the German romantics; philosophically, though famous in his day, he is not important.” Remarks like these two just display, in the end, the inferiority of the person making them. In short, Schelling is one of the many writers who are belittled for trivial, dishonest, or sinister reasons, but are less often read.

Having said that, though, I am still a little concerned that Schelling may have had some preconceived idea of what the world should be, and may, consequentally, have accommodated this work to that frame (whose elements are God, Christianity, Germany, and so on). In his earlier, more philosophical works, this is not so apparent, and a lot more is said about art and the spirit. Where possible, I have, in some of my notes, provided references to that wider range of Schelling‟s mind, often present in the background of the present Introduction.

It has been said, by many of those whom Schelling would call “crass empiricists” and Socrates “hard, repellent folk, quite without refinement,” that metaphysical statements have no meaning. But the same can be said of anything, not just of metaphysics. Metaphysics is not the point, the system is the point. Without a whole system, without a totality (as Schelling says here and as others too have said), nothing makes any sense, everything is contradictory. Even with a system, every particular is contradictory, but the system shows us why it is contradictory.

Unlike that of most writers of the period, Schelling's thought (because of its sincerity and truth) has not dated, and it is possible to read this work without, in general, making any kind of special allowance. Inevitably there are a few passages which will not ring true, for example those which refer to the tribes, societies, nonsocieties, and, especially, the South American natives: “only superficially human,” says he. We who, while we may not have met them, have at least seen them on the television, would probably prefer their company to that of most Germans. But they do not, we must admit, devote themselves to art and philosophy.

S. C. Grew, August 1989.
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Re: Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Myt

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THE following work, which is the first to be published from Schelling‟s manuscript remains, and which in fact is appearing, as the author intended, in the form of lectures, consists of two parts. The first part (lectures one to ten [which are translated in the present volume]), containing a philosophical analysis both of those methods of explaining mythology which actually have been proposed, and of those which are in any way possible, did not flow from the pen of the philosopher only during the last few years, but was in fact already printed almost thirty years ago in a form which was certainly different in both organization and treatment, but which was completely in accord with the present one in respect to the principal ideas; it was, however, not distributed, but this fact, incidentally, did not prevent a few copies coming into the hands of the public. This first, historical part of the introduction was given its final revision by its late author partly during the final years of his residence in Munich, and partly even in Berlin itself, where (in 1842 and 1845) he also lectured on the philosophy of mythology. [Two pages describing in detail the remaining contents of the 1856 edition are omitted here.]

In accordance with the express wishes of the departed, who commissioned his sons to publish his works, should it no longer be possible for him, I have undertaken both the task of publishing the whole of his remains and the responsibility for their authenticity— but in collaboration with my brothers, and in editing this volume I have taken into account the advice of my younger brother Hermann, who lived together with our father, even during recent years, for a considerable length of time, and thus had the opportunity to become particularly familiar with much in his way of thinking. The temporary release from my spiritual duties, kindly granted at my request, affords me the opportunity to devote myself exclusively to the task I have undertaken.

Weinsberg, January 1856.
K. F. A. Schelling.
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Re: Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Myt

Postby admin » Sun Mar 18, 2018 8:09 am


GENTLEMEN, you are right to expect me first of all to give an explanation of the title under which these lectures are announced, not, indeed, for the reason that it is new, and would especially some years ago have fitted with difficulty into the curriculum of a German University: for as far as that circumstance is concerned, if anyone wished to make it an issue, we should be sanctioned simply by that laudable freedom of our educational institutions which does not confine lecturers within the bounds of certain major disciplines distinguished in earlier times and handed down under traditional titles, but permits them to extend their science to new fields as well, to bring into association with it, and treat in special freely nominated lectures, subjects which have until now remained foreign to it, whereby it would be rare for these subjects not to be raised to a higher significance, and the science itself in some sense extended. In any case this freedom allows the scientific spirit to be stimulated not just in a more general and diverse way, but more profoundly, even, than is possible in schools where only what is prescribed is taught and only what is required by law is heard. For in the case of sciences which have long enjoyed general recognition, the result is for the most part passed on only as a lifeless body, without the listener‟s being at the same time shown the manner in which it was reached, whereas at a lecture on a new science the audience are called upon to be themselves witnesses at its birth, to look on as the scientific spirit comes to grips with the subject for the first time, [4] and then—not so much compels, as rather persuades it to reveal to the understanding the hidden sources still locked away within it. For our efforts to understand a subject should (it must always be repeated) never have the intention of introducing something into it, but only of giving it the opportunity of offering itself to understanding; and observation of the way in which, through scientific arts, the recalcitrant subject is brought to self-revelation, may, more than any knowledge of bare results, very well equip the onlooker to take an active part himself in the future development of the science.

Equally unlikely to lead us to give a preliminary explanation, would be were someone to say for instance that few pairs of things were so foreign from each other and disparate as philosophy and mythology; it is exactly there that the challenge to bring them closer together could lie, since we live in a time when in science even the most remote things bear on each other, and in no earlier time, perhaps, was a lively sense of the inner unity and kinship of all sciences more entrenched and widespread.

But a preliminary explanation may indeed be necessary for the reason that the title Philosophy of Mythology, in so far as it evokes similar titles such as Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Nature, and so on, claims for mythology a status which until now has not appeared justified, and which requires the more substantiation the higher it is. We shall not deem it sufficient to say that it is based on a higher viewpoint; for such a formulation proves nothing, indeed it does not even say anything. Viewpoints have to conform to the nature of the subjects, not the other way round with subjects conforming to viewpoints.I There is no law saying that everything has to be explained philosophically, and where lesser means suffice, it would be superfluous to call in philosophy, to which, in particular, should apply the Horatian precept:

Ne Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus Inciderit.II

[5] This, then, is exactly what we shall attempt in regard to mythology too: to see, that is, whether it does not admit of a more modest point of view than the one which the title “Philosophy of Mythology” seems to express. That is to say, all other and more obvious viewpoints must be demonstrated to be impossible, and it must itself have become the sole possible one, before we may consider it to have been established.

Now this will not be achieved through mere random enumeration; an analysis will be required which takes in not just everything which actuallyIII is put forward, but everything, even, which ever could be, an analysis whose method ensures that nothing which could possibly be thought is passed over. Such a method can only be the one which ascends from below, which begins, that is, with the first possible viewpoint, by eliminating that reaches a second, and in this way, through the elimination of each of the antecedents in turn, establishes the basis for a following one, until that one is reached which has no others beyond itself which it could become by eliminating itself,IV and which emerges thus no longer simply as the viewpoint which could be true, but as the necessarily true one.

At the same time this in itself would also mean passing through every stage of a philosophical investigation of mythology, since every investigation which goes beyond the bare fact, here the existence of mythology, and inquires into the nature, the essence of mythology, is already, in general, a philosophical one, while mere scholarly or historical research is content to establish the mythological facts. This research has to prove the existence of the facts, which consist here of representations, using the means made available to it by surviving or, in the case of non-survival, historically verified activities and customs, mute monuments (temples, figurative art) or eloquent witnesses, literary works which themselves enact those representations, or portray them as existing.

The philosopher will not immediately concern himself with this activity of historical research; rather will he, assuming it, in the main, to have been carried out, at most take it up himself in those places [6] where it seems to him not to have been done properly by the antiquarians or not to have been fully carried through.

Going through the various possible points of view will, moreover, provide another advantage. Mythological research, like anything else, has had to undergo an apprenticeship: the whole enquiry has developed only one step at a time, as the various aspects of the subject revealed themselves only one by one to the researcher; aspects such as this, even: the fact that we speak not about this or that mythology, but of mythology in general and as a universal phenomenon, presupposes not just the knowledge of various mythologies, which comes to us only very gradually, but also the gaining of the insight that in all of them there is something common and consistent. The various viewpoints will thus not pass us by without all aspects of the subject successively revealing themselves in this way, so that only at the end of this process will we really know what mythology is; since the concept we start off with can naturally at first be no more than a superficial and merely nominalV one.

So, part of the preliminary orientation will be to observe that mythology is thought of as a whole, and that the enquiry is into the nature of this whole (thus not, in the first instance, that of the individual representations), and that everywhere, thus, only the original matter VI is considered. The word, as is known, comes to us from the Greeks; for them it signified, in the widest sense, the whole corpus of their indigenous fables and legends, which in general go back beyond the historical era. Yet two very different components are soon distinguished therein. For some of those fables do indeed go back beyond the historical era, but they remain within the prehistoric, that is they still contain deeds and occasions of a race which is human, even if better endowed and constituted than the one now living. Additionally there is much that even now is accounted to be mythology, but which is clearly no more than poetry just derived from or based on it. Yet the core to which all this has attached itself, the original matter, consists of [7] events and occasions which belong to a quite different order of things, different not just from the historical but also from the human, and whose heroes are gods, an unspecified number, as it would seem, of personalities venerated in a religious way, who form among themselves a world of their own, indeed related in many ways to the common order of things and of human existence, but essentially separate from that and existing in its own right, the world of the gods. To the extent that the fact that there are many of these worshipped beings is considered, mythology is polytheism, and we shall call this phase,VII the first to offer itself to our attention, the polytheistic one. For this reason, mythology is, in general, theology.

But these personalities are at the same time thought of as bearing certain natural and historical relationships to one another. When Cronus is called a son of Uranus, then that is a natural relationship, and when he castrates his father and usurps mastery of the world, that is a historical relationship. Since natural relationships in the wider sense, though, are also historical ones, this phase will be adequately identified if we call it the historical one.

Here however it should at once be remembered that the gods are not initially present in the abstract, as it were, and outside these historical relationships: as mythological beings they are historical ones, in accordance with their nature, thus from the beginning. The full concept of mythology, thus, has to be not mere theology, but history of the gods, or as the Greeks put it, emphasizing only the natural aspect, theogony.

Thus we are faced with this characteristic body of human ideas, and its true nature has to be found, and established and substantiated in the way that I have announced. But since here we should begin with a first possible viewpoint, we shall have no choice but to return to the first impression which mythology as a whole engenders in us; for the lower the level from which we start, the more certain shall we be not to have ruled out in advance any view which might possibly be put forward.

Let us therefore, so as to begin, as the saying goes, at [8] the beginning, put ourselves in the position of someone who has never before heard of mythology, and to whom now for the very first time a part of the history of the Greek gods, or mythology itself, is being expounded, and let us ask what his impression would be. Undeniably a sort of bewilderment, which would continually be expressed in the questions: How should I take this? What is it intended to mean? How, then, did it come about? You will see that the three questions relentlessly merge one into another, and are, at bottom, just the one question. With the first, what the questioner wants is only a viewpoint in itself; but in fact he cannot take mythology in any other way, that is he cannot wish to understand it in any other sense, than that in which it was understood originally, in which it therefore came into existence. Accordingly he is forced to go on from the first question to the second, and from the second to the third. The second asks about the meaning, the original meaning though; the answer will therefore have to be framed in such a way that mythology in the same sense could have come into existence as well. The viewpoint, which relates to the meaning, is necessarily followed by the explanation, which relates to the coming into existence, and if, for example, in order to permit mythology to come into existence in any one sense, that is, in order to ascribe to it a certain meaning as original, assumptions are needed which can be shown to be impossible, then the explanation will collapse, and with the explanation the viewpoint collapses too.

Really it does not require much thought to realize that every investigation which goes beyond the bare fact, and is thus in some way philosophical, has always begun with the question about meaning.

Our preliminary task is to substantiate the viewpoint expressed in the title, by ruling out and eliminating all others, to substantiate it, thus, generally in a negative way, since its positive demonstration can only be the forthcoming science itself.VIII Now we have just seen, though, that the mere viewpoint in itself is nothing, and thus in itself does not allow of any assessment either, but only by way of the explanation associated with it or corresponding to it. But this explanation itself will be unable to avoid making certain assumptions which, being [9] inevitably fortuitous, are susceptible of an evaluation quite independent of philosophy. Now by means of such an analysis—which does not itself introduce a viewpoint prescribed or as it were dictated by philosophy—it will be possible to make, for those assumptions corresponding to each individual mode of explanation, a comparison either with what is inherently conceivable, or with what is believable, or even with what is historically ascertainable, such that thereby the assumptions themselves can be made to prove themselves to be possible or impossible, according to whether they are consistent with, or contradict, one or the other of these. For some things are already in themselves inconceivable, other things may well be conceivable but not believable, still other things possibly believable, but in contradiction to known historical facts. For admittedly mythology, in virtue of its origins, fades back into a time which no historical knowledge reaches; nevertheless, starting from that which is still within the reach of historical understanding, conclusions may be drawn about what may be supposed possible in the historically inaccessible time, and what not; and a different historical dialectic from the one which was formerly attempted, based mostly upon mere psychological reflections, admittedly about these same times so remote from all historical knowledge, might still permit a good deal more to be found out, even about a very obscure prehistory, than might be supposed by the capriciousness with which conjectures about it are usually made. And precisely to the extent that we remove the pseudohistorical cloak, in which the various explanations have attempted to envelop themselves, will everything which can still be discovered historically about the origin of mythology and the circumstances in which it arose assuredly become discernible. In addition, there is at least one relic preserved from that time, the least dispensable one, mythology itself, and everyone will admit that assumptions which mythology itself contradicts cannot be other than untrue.

After these remarks, which prefigure the course of the following exposition, and to which I would ask you to adhere firmly as a guideline, since it is inevitable that this investigation will become involved in many incidental [10] discussions and diversions, in the course of which it would be easy to lose sight of its main direction and organization—after these remarks, therefore, we return to the first question, to the question “How should I take it?” More accurately it is expressed as “Should I take it as truth or not as truth?”—As truth? If I could do that, then I would not have asked the question. When a sequence of real events is recounted to us in a detailed and intelligible narrative, then it will occur to none of us to ask what this account means. Its meaning lies simply in the fact that the events recounted are real. We presuppose, in him who is reciting them to us, the intention of informing us, and we ourselves listen to him with the intention of being informed. His recitation has for us indubitably doctrinal meaning. The question “How should I take it?”, that is to say, what is mythology for, or what does it mean, thus already implies that the questioner does not feel himself to be in a position to see truth, real events, in the mythological accounts, nor, since the historical aspect is here inseparable from the content, in the mythological representations themselves. But if they may not be taken as truth, then as what? Well the natural antithesis of truth is poetry or creative literature, something made up. IX I shall therefore take them as poetry; I shall assume that they are also intended to be taken as poetry and hence came into being, too, as poetry.

So this would indisputably be the first viewpoint, since it arises from the question itself. We could call it the natural or the innocent one, in so far as it is formed in the first impression, and does not go beyond that and consider the multitude of serious questions which are bound up with any explanation of mythology. The difficulties which would be associated with this view, if one wished to espouse it seriously, are indeed at once apparent to the more experienced person, nor have we any intention of maintaining that it could ever actually have been put forward; in accordance with the explanations given above, it suffices for us that it is a possible one. Moreover, even though it has admittedly never tried to put itself forward as an explanation, there has still been no lack of those who at least refused to hear of any [11] view of mythology other than the poetical one, and displayed a great aversion towards any research into the reasons behind the gods (causis Deorum, as ancient writers already expressed it), or towards any investigation at all which supports for mythology a sense other than ideal. We can find the reason for this reluctance only in an affectionate concern for the poetical quality of the gods, which is, though, captured solely in the works of the poets; the fear is that, in the course of investigations into the cause, that poetical quality could suffer or even vanish; a fear which would, what is more, be groundless, even in the worst possible case. For the result, however it turned out, would always relate only to the origin, and would ordain nothing about how the gods were to be taken in the works of the poets or in the context of pure works of art. For even those who see some kind of scientific meaning (for example a physical one) in myths, do not for that reason have any particular wish that this interpretation also be kept in mind in the case of the poets, just as in general the risk does not appear at all high that in our era, lavishly informed about everything æsthetic, and at least better than about much else, there could still be many people inclined to spoil Homer for themselves with such peripheral ideas; in the extreme case, and if our era were still in need of such tutelage, one could even draw attention to the well-known book, still very much to be recommended for its purpose, of Moritz.X It is open to everyone to regard Nature, too, purely æsthetically, without thereby being justified in outlawing natural science or Nature-philosophy. Similarly, anyone may take mythology on its own in a purely poetical way; but anyone holding this view who wishes to state something about the nature of mythology will be obliged to maintain that it came into existence, too, in a purely poetical way, and to deal with all the questions arising from this position.

Now taken as unqualified, and we can take it in no other way, until a reason for the qualification is supplied, the poetical explanation would mean that the mythological representations are not produced with the intention of thereby asserting [12] or teaching something, but only in order to satisfy an—admittedly at first incomprehensible—impulse towards poetical invention. The explanation would thus entail the exclusion of any doctrinal meaning. Against that, now, the following objection might be brought.

Every work of poetry requires some foundation which is independent of it, a basis from which it arises; nothing can be created simply as poetry, plucked pure out of the air. The freest poetry, which is invented wholly out of its own nature and excludes any reference to true circumstances, does nonetheless have its prerequisite in the real and shared events of human life. Every single circumstance must be similar to others attested to elsewhere or assumed to be true (ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα), as Odysseus boasts in respect of his stories, 1XI even though the whole chronology and linking of events verges on the incredible. The so-called miraculous element in the Homeric heroic poem is no challenge to this. That has a real foundation in the theology now, from its point of view, already in existence and accepted as true; the miraculous becomes the natural, because gods who interfere with human affairs belong to the real world of that era, conform with the order of things which was once believed in and was absorbed into its ideas. But if the Homeric poetry has as its background the whole great corpus of religious belief, how could poetry be given again to this as background. Clearly there preceded it nothing which is possible only subsequent to it, and which it itself brings about, such as free poetry, in fact.

In consequence of these remarks, the poetical explanation would go on to define itself more specifically: There may indeed be a truth in mythology, but none which has been put into it intentionally, and so none which may be grasped and expressed as such. All the elements of reality may be present in it, but in much the same way as they are, too, in a fairy-tale of the kind of which Goethe left us a splendid example, where, that is, the inherent attraction consists in its showing us a [13] meaning in a mirage or in the distance, a meaning, however, which continually escapes us, which we are compelled to pursue, without ever being able to reach; and certainly, he who knew how most skilfully to deceive us in this way, how best to hold the listeners in suspense and as it were tease them, would be accounted a master of this genre. In fact, though, this might be the most fitting description of mythology, which beguiles us with the whisper of a deeper sense and lures us always further on, without ever declaring itself. Has anyone ever succeeded in bringing those lost, aimlessly roving tones into a real harmony? They are like those of the Æolian harp, which arouse in us a confusion of musical impressions, but never come together to form a whole.

A coherence, a system, would seem to be apparent everywhere, but with that it would be the same as it is, according to the Neo- Platonists, with pure matter, of which they say that if one is not looking for it, it will show itself, but if one reaches out for it, or tries to acquire some knowledge of it, then it will take flight; and how many who have tried to arrest the fugitive apparitions of mythology have not, like Ixion in the fable, embraced the mists instead of Juno!XII

If only the intentionally introduced meaning is excluded from mythology, then, with that, every specific meaning is also at once excluded, and if, in what follows, we come to know of a number of explanations, each one of which assigns a different meaning to mythology, then the poetical explanation would be that one which is indifferent towards every one of them, but which also, for that very reason, excludes none of them, and certainly this advantage would be no inconsiderable one. The poetical viewpoint can admit that natural phenomena glimmer through the forms of the gods, it can believe itself to sense in mythology the first experiences of forcesXIII invisibly governing human things, and why not sensations of religious awe, even—nothing which could astound the new man, not yet master of himself, would be foreign to its first beginnings, and all this would be reflected in those literary works and generate the uncanny appearance of a consistency, indeed, from a distance, of a body of learning, which we readily [14] admit to be illusion, and discard only when reason, crude and common, wants to transform it into reality. Every meaning in mythology is, though, merely potential, as if in a condition of chaos, without permitting itself, for that very reason, to be qualified or particularized; as soon as this is attempted, the manifestation is disturbed, indeed destroyed; if one leaves the meaning in it as it is, and rejoices at this infinity of possible relationships, then one is in the right frame of mind to grasp mythology.XIV

In this way, it seems, the idea which at the beginning may have seemed almost too tenuous to find a place in a scientific process has, in spite of that, acquired a certain standing, and we hope thereby to have persuaded many people of its substance, even though they may not have thought it appropriate to put its viewpoint forward as an explanation. And who, after all, if other considerations permitted, would not willingly remain with it? Would it not at the same time be in complete accordance with a familiar and cherished mode of thought to imagine, preceding the later, serious times of our race, a world-epoch of halcyon poetry, a condition which was still free from religious terrors and all those sinister feelings by which more recent humanity is harassed, the time of a happy and innocent atheism, where those very ideas which later, among nations become barbaric, have darkened into exclusively religious ones, still had purely poetical significance, a condition which was possibly in the mind of the perspicacious Bacon when he called the Greek myths “airs from better times, which lit upon the reed-pipes of the Greeks”.2 XV Who would not willingly envisage a race of men—if not even now to be found on some distant isles, then in the dawn of time, at least—for whom some spiritual Fata Morgana has elevated the whole of reality into the realm of fable? In any case the viewpoint contains an idea which everyone passes through, even if no one lingers with it. Yet we fear it would be preferable to believe it itself a poetical invention, rather than to carry through a historical investigation. For whatever more specific construction one might wish to place on it, there must always [15] be explained at the same time how humanity or a primitive society or societies in generalXVI in their earliest period, overcome, as it were, by an irresistible inner urge, had produced a poetry whose content was gods and the history of gods.

Anyone endowed with common sense will have been able to discover that in complicated problems usually the initial interpretations are in the nature of things the correct ones. But they are correct only to the extent that they indicate the goal towards which our thoughts should strive, not, though, in their having already reached the goal themselves. The poetical viewpoint is just such an initial interpretation; it incontestably contains correctness, in so far as it excludes no meaning, and allows mythology to be taken literally throughout, and thus we would hesitate to say it is false; on the contrary, it points to what has to be attained; only the means of explanation are lacking; thus it itself forces us to leave it aside and go on to further investigations.

In any case the explanation would gain much in precision if, instead of just generally seeing poetry in the history of the gods, we were to come down to real individual poets, and make them the authors, following, perhaps, the famous and much-discussed passage in Herodotus, where he says, not, it is true, of poets in general, but of Hesiod and Homer, “It is they who made the theogony for the Hellenes.”3 XVII

It is part of the purpose of this preliminary discussion to seek out everything which can possibly still throw a historical light onto the genesis of mythology, and it is also a good idea to use this opportunity to work out what can be learnt historically about the earliest relationship of poetry to mythology. For this reason we shall find that the passage from the historian certainly merits a more detailed discussion in the present context. For to understand his words just in the sense of the fortuitous and superficial circumstance that the history of the gods was first sung by them both only in poems, would [16] not be permitted by the context, even though linguistic usage would allow it. 4 XVIII Something more essential must be intended. And there is also something historical which can unquestionably be won from the passage; for Herodotus himself offers his statement as the end result of investigations specifically undertaken and of well-directed inquiries.

Were it Hesiod alone who was named, then “theogony” could be taken as referring to the poem; but since it is said of both poets equally that it is they who made the theogony for the Hellenes, then it is evident that only the subject, the history of the gods itself, can be meant.

Now the gods in general cannot, however, have been invented by the two of them, the historian cannot be understood as saying that Greece has known gods only since the times of Homer and Hesiod. To see the impossibility of this, one needs only to turn to Homer himself. For he is familiar with temples, priests, sacrifices and altars to the gods, not as some recent development, but as something inherently ancient. One may often hear it said, certainly, that in Homer the gods are no longer anything but poetical beings. Quite right!—if that is intended to say that he is no longer experiencing their serious, sombrely religious significance, but it cannot altogether be said that for him they retain only a poetical value; they have a very real value for the people he portrays, and as beings of religious and thus also doctrinal significance he has not invented them, but discovered them. Herodotus however is in fact speaking not of the gods in general, but of the history of the gods, and expresses himself in greater detail as follows: “Where each one of the gods may have come from, or whether they all always existed, first became known only yesterday, so to speak, or the day before yesterday”, in fact since the time of the two poets, who lived no more than four hundred years before him. “They it is who made the history of the gods for the Hellenes, gave the gods their names, distributed ranks and functions among them, and determined the character of each one.”XIX

The main emphasis is therefore to be placed on the word “theogony”. For this whole pantheon, Herodotus means to say, in which the natural [17] and historical relationships of each god are determined, his own name and particular office ascribed, his character assigned; for this doctrine of gods, which is a history of gods, the Hellenes have to thank Hesiod and Homer.

But now, even when it is understood in this way, how might the assertion be justified? For where do we see Homer ever really concern himself with the origin of the gods? He enters into a discussion of the natural and historical associations of the gods extremely rarely, and even then only incidentally and in passing. For him they are beings no longer in the process of taking shape, but now already existing, whose causes and initial source are not examined, no more than does the heroic poet, in describing the hero‟s career, recall the natural processes by which he was formed. Nor does his poem, hurrying on, take the time to assign them names, offices, or ranks; all this is treated as a known fact, and referred to as if it were something which has existed always.—And Hesiod? Well he does indeed sing of the genesis of the gods, and in view of the descriptive and didactic character of his poem it might rather be said that the theogony was made by him. But it is much more the reverse; only the unfolding of the history of the gods could have inspired him to make that history itself the subject of an epic chronicle.

Thus certainly—the objection may be conceded this point—by way of their poems, or as a consequence of these only, the history of the gods did not arise. Nor, though, when examined carefully, does Herodotus say this. For he does not say that these natural and historical differences between the gods were previously wholly nonexistent, he only says they were not known (οὐκ ἐπιστέατο), thus he ascribes to the poets only the fact that the gods became known. This does not impede but rather requires one‟s acceptance that in the nature of the subject they existed before the two poets, only in an obscure consciousness, chaotically, as indeed for Hesiod too in the beginning (πρώτιστα).XX Accordingly a double origin is evident here, once in respect of the substance and in the enfoldment, then in the unfolding and explication.XXI It is evident that the [18] history of the gods was not originally present in the form in which we find it in poetry; the unexpressed form could certainly have been poetical in tendency, but not in actuality, and so it did not come into being poetically either. The dark mill, the site where mythology was first brought forth, lies beyond all poetry; the foundation of the history of the gods was not laid by poetry. This clearly follows from the words of the historian, when they are considered in their full context.

Now even though Herodotus simply means to say that both poets expressed for the first time the previously unexpressed history of the gods, it is still not clear from that what his view was of their particular role therein. So here we must again draw attention to a point in the original passage: “῞Ελλησι” he says—“for the Hellenes”— have they made the history of the gods, and this is not there without reason. Herodotus‟ only concern in the whole passage is to bring out that of which the investigations on which he relies have convinced him. But what these have taught him is simply the newness of the history, as such, of the gods; that it is in fact entirely Hellenic, in other words that it came into being for the first time with the Hellenes as such. Herodotus places the Pelasgians prior to the Hellenes; for him the former—by way of what crisis it is now not possible to tell—but for him they became, by way of a crisis, Hellenes. Now what he knows of the Pelasgians, according to another passage closely related to the present one, is the following: namely that they sacrificed everything to the gods, but without distinguishing between them by way of names or epithets.XXII So here we have the time of that mute, still enfolded history of the gods. Let us go back in our minds to this condition, where consciousness is still wrestling chaotically with the divine images, without being able to distance them from itself, to make itself objective, without, for that very reason, being able to differentiate them and interpret them; where it thus has no kind of free relationship with them at all. Poetry too, in this oppressed state, was entirely impossible; the two earliest poets would thus, simply as poets, signify the end of that unfree condition of the Pelasgian consciousness, regardless of the content of their works. The [19] liberation which was granted to consciousness by the differentiation of the representations of gods, first gave poets, too, to the Hellenes, and conversely, only the era which gave them poets first brought the fully developed history of the gods as well. Poetry did not come first, at least not real poetry,XXIII nor did poetry truly engender the explicit history of the gods; neither precedes the other, but the two are the common and simultaneous end result of an earlier condition, a condition of enfoldment and silence.

Now we have already come significantly closer to the historian‟s meaning: “Hesiod and Homer,” he says—“the era of the two poets,” we would say—made for the Hellenes the history of the gods. Herodotus can express himself in the way that he has since Homer is not an individual, like later poets such as Alkaios, TyrtaiosXXIV or others; he represents a whole era, he is the predominant force, the principle of an era. The meaning, in the case of the two poets, is the same as when Hesiod relates of Zeus, in almost the same words, that after the conclusion of the battle against the Titans he was urged by the gods to take over sovereignty, and did indeed distribute honours and ranks to the Immortals.5 XXV Only with Zeus as chief does the true Hellenic history of the gods appear, and it is simply the same turning-point, the beginning of genuinely Hellenic [20] life, which the poet indicates mythologically using the name of Zeus, and the historian historically using the names of the two poets.

But now we take a step further, by asking who, especially of all those who are capable of reading Homer with understanding, would not see the gods coming into being, even, in the Homeric poems. Admittedly the gods emerge out of a past unfathomable to him himself, but one feels, at least, that they are emerging. In the Homeric poetry everything glitters with newness, as it were; here this historical world of the gods is still in its first freshness and youth. The religious aspect of the gods is alone the primordial part, but it is also merely glinting out from an obscure background; the historical, unfettered quality in these gods is what is new, what is just coming into existence. The crisis, through which the world of the gods is evolving into the history of the gods, is not outside the poets, it is enacted in the poets themselves, it makes their poems, and thus Herodotus can justly say that the two poets, according to his confident and well-founded opinion the earliest of the Hellenes, have made for them the history of the gods. It is not, as he is admittedly obliged to express it, the poets as individuals, it is the crisis of the mythological consciousness coming to pass in them which makes the history of the gods. They make the history of the gods in a sense quite different from that in which it is commonly said that two swallows make no summer; for the summer would come even without any swallows; but the history of the gods is made in the poets themselves, it grows in them, it reaches its maturity in them, in them is it for the first time present and explicit.

And thus we would seem to have corroborated to the very word the historian, whose uncommon perspicacity especially in the most ancient affairs, as far as the facts are concerned, has always stood the test, even in the most recondite investigations. He had a perspective of the birth of the history of the gods close enough, still, for him to ascribe to himself a historically founded judgement about it. We too should refer to his view as such, and accept his judgement as proof that poetry could certainly be the natural outcome and even the necessarily immediate [21] product of mythology, but that as real poetry (and what would be the point of talking about a poetry in potentia?) it could not have been the productive cause, could not have been the source, of the representations of the gods.

Accordingly, that is how it may be seen in the most regular evolution, the evolution of the pre-eminently poetical society, the Hellenic one.

If we go further back, so as to get to grips with everything which is still historically ascertainable about this situation, then the next in line are the Indians. If indeed everything, which one individual or several might take it into their heads to assert, becomes at once dogma, then we would have uttered no small historical heresy in placing the Indians immediately prior to the Greeks. In fact, though, the Indians are the only society to have in common with the Greeks a free poetic art, mature in all its forms, and deriving in the same way from mythology. Quite apart from everything else, this richly developed poetry would suffice to accord the Indians this position. But in fact there is something additional, which would of itself be a no less decisive factor, the language, which not only belongs to the same family as Greek, but is also very close to it in grammatical structure. He who, once his attention is drawn to this, could still support the view which promotes the Indians to the position of primal race and places them as historically prior to all other races, must be devoid of any feeling for a regular course in every evolution, and thus in historical phenomena in particular, even though the initial rise of this view is understandable and to a certain extent excusable. For the initial knowledge of the language in which the greatest monuments of Indian literature are written could not have been gained without a great talent for languages and appreciable exertion; and who would be unwilling to give due recognition to the men who, some of them already at an age when the learning of any language is no longer such an easy endeavour, not only mastered Sanscrit themselves, indeed at a great remove, but also smoothed and facilitated for their successors the thorny way to its understanding? Now from a great effort it is reasonable also to expect a [22] significant success, and while the pioneers might simply have considered the attainment and mastery of Sanscrit as their highest reward, followers or pupils, devoted as they are to every possible augmentation of human knowledge, must have wished to recoup in another way the effort expended, even if by means of trivial exaggerations and hypotheses, which overturned the hitherto accepted hierarchy and sequence of societies, and made the highest into the lowest. In fact this elevation of the Indians might be assessed, in its influence, in a way not greatly different from the way in which the hypothesis of geological elevation was assessed by Goethe, who says that it derives from a point of view in which there can no longer be any question of anything definite and methodical, but only of accidental and unconnected occurrences, 6 XXVI an assessment with which one can indeed concur as far as the theory of uplift is concerned, at least in its form up to the present, without therefore underestimating the importance of the facts on which it is based, or finding more credible the ways of coming into existence which were formerly accepted, or even wanting to defend them.

You must not be surprised when I speak out decisively against such arbitrariness right from the start of this investigation; for were it permissible to proceed everywhere in the way which was attempted in the Indian case, then I would prefer to abandon at once the investigation which has only just begun, since there would no longer be any question of an inner evolution, an evolution of the subject itself, and everything would instead be brought into a merely superficial and accidental relationship. In this way one could set up what is youngest, and furthest removed from the source, as a measure for that which is earliest and original, and could put forward the most recent as proof and confirmation of a shallow and unfounded view of what is most ancient. For such a presumptuous and insistent intrusion of things Indian into everything else, even for example into researches into Genesis, an intrusion with which genuine experts [23] on Indian matters are certainly least sympathetic, the general name “mythology” has to serve as a blanket term, since under this heading the most remote things, belonging to quite separate levels and often to contradictory goals, are treated as completely identical. But there are in mythology itself great and powerful distinctions, and as little as we could stand idly by while the individual gods, well distinguished by name and rank, are lumped together and treated as comparable, in an attempt to eliminate their distinctions, no less shall we permit the true, that is to say internal,XXVII and thereby well-regulated, succession of the major phases of mythological evolution to become blurred and to be completely eliminated. And this even less so since, if it were allowed, all scientific research into higher antiquity, for which it is precisely mythology which offers the only sure guideline, would have to be abandoned.7 XXVIII

Were mythology in general a poetic invention, then that of the Indians would have to be such too. Now Indian poetry, to the extent that it is known up to now, has had the most favourable reception, and as a novel phenomenon has perhaps to some extent even been overvalued. On the other hand, the Indian gods have not, speaking very generally, been felt to be particularly poetical. Goethe’s remarks about their lack of formXXIX are well-known and powerful enough, but cannot exactly be called inapt, even though an admixture of illwill might perhaps be detected in them, in which the strikingly real and doctrinal [24] character of the Indian gods, and the all too palpable impossibility of applying to them the merely ideal explanations with which one could rest in the case of the Greeks, may play some part. For the Indian gods cannot just be left unexplained, they are not to be set aside by way of a mere judgement of taste; repulsive or not, they do exist, and since they exist, they have to be explained. But it is even less feasible, it seems, to put forward one explanation for the Indian gods, and another for the Greek ones. If we wished, though, to draw some conclusion from a comparison between the two, then it would have to be this, that the doctrinal element, that which is genuinely religious in the mythological ideas, was completely overthrown only gradually and not until the most recent differentiation.

The crisis which gave the Hellenes their gods clearly put them at once in a position of freedom in respect to them; the Indian, on the other hand, remained far more deeply and inwardly dependent on his gods. The formless epic poems of India, like the elaborate dramatic ones, display a far more dogmatic character than any Greek work of the same type. The poetically transfigured quality of the Greek gods, in comparison with the Indian ones, is not something wholly original, but simply the fruit of the more profound, indeed complete, subjugation of a force which still exerts its power over Indian poetry. Without a real principle underlying them, the celebrated ideality of the Greek gods, even, could only have been a lustreless one.

Creative poetry, literary art ranging freely through all its forms, is found apart from the Greeks only among the Indians; thus it is found only in those very societies which are the most recent or youngest in the mythological evolution. But again between the Indians and Greeks themselves there emerges the relationship that among the former the doctrinal aspect seems predominant and is far more visible than among the latter.

If we look further back, then we encounter next the Egyptians. The theology of the Egyptians is shaped in stone in the form of giant edifices and colossal images, but a versatile poetry, holding sway together with the gods as an independent entity, free of its origin, seems [25] completely foreign to them. With the exception of a single lugubrious dirge and some ancestral songs, to which, as Herodotus expressly says,8 XXX no more were added, there is no trace of poetry among them. Herodotus neither mentions a poet comparable with the Greek ones, a poet whom he, being so fond of comparisons, would surely not have omitted to name, nor, up to now, has any of the numerous inscriptions on obelisks or temple walls proved to be a poem. And yet the Egyptian mythology is such a highly developed one that Herodotus, by no means “talked into it by Egyptian priests”,XXXI recognizes Greek deities in the Egyptian ones.

Yet further back we find a theology among the Phoenicians, not developed to the same degree, but still significantly so, and the rudiments of a similar theology among the Babylonians; to both societies could be ascribed at most a poetry similar to the Old Hebraic, psalmlike and thus doctrinal, but in fact we know nothing of a Babylonian poetry and as little of a Phoenician.

Nowhere does poetry appear as something primal, original, as it is assumed to be in so many explanations; it too had an earlier condition to overcome, and it manifests itself as more versatile, more as poetry, the more it has subdued this past.

All this, therefore, may give rise to misgivings about the unconditional validity of the purely poetical viewpoint and explanation, misgivings which show us that with it we have not reached the end of the matter, and that an indefinite expanse of investigations and discussions in other fields still lies ahead of us.



1 Od. XIX, 203.
2 Auræ temporum meliorum, quæ in fistulas Græcorum inciderunt.
3 Οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ ποιήσαντες θεογονίην ῞Ελλησιν . II, 53.
4 Wolffii Prolegg. ad Homer. p. LIV. not.
5 Theog. v. 881 ss.:
Αὐτὰρ ἐρεί ῥα πόνον μάκαρες θεοὶ ὲξετέλεσσαν,  Σιτήνεσσι δὲ τιμάων κρίναντο βιῇφι,  Δή ῥα τοτ᾽ ὤτρυνον βασιλεύεμεν ἠδὲ ἀνάσσειν  Γάιης φραδμοσύνῃσιν ὀλύμπιον εὐρύοπα Ζῆν᾽  Ἀθανάτων· ὡ δὲ τοῖσιν ὲῢ διεδάσσατο τιμάς

Herodotus‟ expressions are: οὗτοι (Hesiod and Homer) δέ εἰσι—τοῖσι θεοῖσι τὰς ἐπωνυμίας δόντες  καὶ τιμάς τε καὶ τέχνας διελόντες . cf. Theogon. v. 112. Ὡς τ᾿ ἄφενος δάσσαντο, καὶ ὡς τιμὰς διέλοντο.
One can only marvel that in the many commentaries which the passage from Herodotus has  provoked, no consideration has ever, as far as I know, been given to these words of Hesiod.
6 Nachgelassene Schriften (Posthumous Works), Part XI. p. 190.
7 Those who, in the other camp, have their reasons to isolate as far as possible what is Greek  and keep it apart from any general context, have coine d the name “Indomanes” for people who  find the key to everything in things Indian. I did not wait for this coinage before declaring, in my  dissertation On the Samothracian Deities, that I was against any derivation of Greek ideas from  Indian ones; this occurred even before the famous pronouncements in Goethe‟s Westöstliches  Divan. Certainly the opinion is expressed there (p. 30), that Greek theology in particular may be  traced back to a higher provenance than to Indian ideas; had the first concepts come from such  backwaters to the Pelasgians, out of whom everything Hellenic emerged, and not, rather, from  the source of mythology itself, then their visions of the gods could never have evolved into such  beauty.
8 Lib. II, c. 79.
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Re: Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Myt

Postby admin » Sun Mar 18, 2018 8:11 am


IF we are reluctant to turn away from the poetical viewpoint, the reasons are principally because it imposes no restriction upon us, because it allows us complete freedom in regard to mythology, and leaves this itself intact in its universality, but especially because it permits us to remain with the literal meaning, even though it cannot do this otherwise than by simultaneously excluding a literally doctrinal meaning. This may thus be its limitation. Hence another viewpoint will emerge, which admits both truth and a doctrinal meaning, which maintains that, at least originally, truth was intended to be understood in mythology. In exchange for that, though, as is usually the case, it will now sacrifice the other, the literalness, and in its place introduce the extrinsic meaning. There is truth in mythology, but not in mythology as such, in that it is theology and history of gods, and thus appears to have religious significance. So mythology says, or seems to say, something different from what is intended to be understood, and the interpretations consistent with the viewpoint stated are, in general, and taking the word in its widest sense, allegorical ones.9

The various possible levels will be as follows.

On the first level,XXXII personalities are understood in it, not gods, though, not superhuman beings belonging to a higher order, but historical human beings; actual events too are referred to, events, though, from human or civil history. The gods [27] are simply heroes, kings, lawgivers, or when, as is the case today, finance and trade enjoy such prominence, they are seafarers, discovers of new trade routes, founders of colonies, and so on, elevated to the status of gods. Anyone who might have the inclination to see how a mythology explained in this sense turns out, could be directed to Clericus‟sXXXIII commentary on the Theogony of Hesiod, or to Mosheim‟s XXXIV commentary on Cudworth‟s Systema Intellectuale, XXXV and to Hüllmann‟s Beginnings of Greek History.XXXVI

The historical method of explanation is called the euhemeristic one, after Euhemerus, an Epicurean of the Alexandrian period,XXXVII who seems to have been not its first, but its most sedulous defendant. It is known that Epicurus assumed that there did exist actual, genuine gods, completely idle ones though, unconcerned with human affairs. Chance, ruling alone, according to his doctrine, admitted no providence and no influence of higher beings on the world and human things. For such a doctrine, the gods of popular belief, actively interfering in human activities and occasions,XXXVIII were an impediment which had to be removed. This removal was effected if it was said of them that they were not genuine gods, but simply men represented as gods. You will see that this explanation presupposes genuine gods, the idea of which Epicurus is known to have derived from a notion antecedent to every doctrine, rooted in human nature, a notion which would therefore also be common to all men.10 XXXIX “Since this notion is not introduced by way of an institution, nor through custom or law, but is met with prior to all these in all men, gods must exist,” concluded Epicurus, 11 XL here too more astute than many later thinkers.

[28] But from this it is also evident how inappropriate it is when some people in Christian times, in our own indeed, who perhaps believe in much else yet not in any actual gods, think they can make use, to some extent at least, of the euhemeristic explanation.

Now a second level would be this, to say that in mythology no gods at all are intended to be understood, neither genuine ones nor spurious, no personalities, but impersonal objects which are represented as persons only in a poetical way. Personification is the principle of this method of explanation; what are personified are either moral or natural qualities and phenomena.

Since the gods are moral beings, and in each of them some quality of the spirit or the sensibility predominates, to the exclusion of others, and is thereby raised above the usual human mode, they may be used as symbols of moral concepts, as has perennially occurred. That which already exists is used, but the use does not explain the origin. The poet, when he has need of a deity who inspires moderation and self-control, will not invoke the rancorous Hera, but the serene Athene. But the latter is not, either for him himself or for mythology, for that reason merely wisdom personified. Bacon, living in an age of great political schisms, used mythology as a cloak for political ideas in his little book De Sapientia Veterum.XLI To represent mythology as a cleverly disguised moral philosophy, as the demon in Calderon‟s Wonderful MagusXLII says:

Those are but fairy-tales, wherein
The profane producers of scripts
Using the Gods’ names
Presume artfully to veil
Moral philosophy.

was not so much a learned as rather a pedagogical invention of the Jesuits, who in the rivalry with the protestant schools even gave their pupils access to the ancient poets, although mostly in an emasculated form, and to this end expounded mythology too.

[29] As far as the physical interpretations are concerned, their material possibility is beyond question, even though the explanation is not thereby borne out, for one would be obliged first to isolate Nature itself, and deny its relationship with a higher and universal world, which is reflected in mythology perhaps only in the same way as in Nature. That such explanations are possible only testifies to the universality of mythology, which is in fact of such a nature that, once the allegorical explanations are admitted, it is almost more difficult to say what it does not mean, than what it does. Attempts of this kind, if they take no account of the formal explanation, which shows how mythology in such a sense might also have originated, are thus at best empty diversions befitting idle minds.

Anyone who, without a sense for the general, allows himself to be influenced by mere incidental impressions, can even descend to special physical interpretations, as has many times occurred. In the heyday of alchemy there were adepts who could detect, in the battle for Troy, the so-called philosophical process. The interpretation was even capable of being supported by etymologies which yield nothing in plausibility to many which are customary today. For Helen, over whom the war broke out, is Selene, the moon (the alchemical sign for silver); Ilios though, the holy city, just as clearly Helios, the sun (which stands for gold in alchemy). While the antiphlogistian chemistry was still exciting widespread interest, it was possible to believe that the substances of this chemistry could be recognized in the male and female deities of the Greeks, for instance oxygen, initiating every natural process, in the all-providing Aphrodite. These days natural scientists are principally occupied with electromagnetism and chemical action; why should it not be possible to find thisXLIII too in mythology? It would be vain to try to confute such an exegetist, to whom this discovery has granted the inestimable happiness of viewing his own most recent insight in the mirror of such high antiquity, while he finds it superfluous to point out either how those who are said to have invented the myths arrived at the splendid physical knowledge which he postulates, [30] or what induced them to disguise and conceal that knowledge in such a strange way.12 XLIV

On a higher level still than these special interpretations would be the readings which fancy they see in mythology the history of Nature; for some of them, admittedly, it is just an allegory of that which repeats itself annually, the apparent movement of the sun through the signs of the zodiac; 13 XLV for others the poetically portrayed actual history of Nature, the outcome of transformations and catastrophes which preceded its present calmed state, an interpretation strongly suggested by the inimical relations between the successive races of gods, especially the battle of the Titans against the youngest of them; one can go on even further to a doctrine of the natural genesis of the world (cosmogony), which is said to be contained in mythology. This last was principally attempted, after many precursors, by Heyne14 XLVI, who was at the same time the first who felt it to some degree necessary also to make the genesis in this reading comprehensible. He did not demur at considering philosophers to have been the authors; the original contents of mythology were, for him, more or less consistent philosophical statements about the formation of the world. That Zeus robbed his father Cronus of the throne and, according to some accounts, of his masculinity, means (I am perhaps not making use of his exact words) that creative Nature, over a certain length of time, brought forth merely wild and monstrous things (such as the inorganic world); after this there came a moment when the production of [31] mere quantity ceased, and in place of the misshapen and formless, the structured organic world was generated. The cessation of this amorphous production is the emasculation of Cronus; Zeus is the natural force, itself already structured and generating that which is structured, and by means of which that first wild force is confined, delimited, and restrained from further production. Clearly this is a reading worthy of note, and such explanations may always have a value as preliminary exercises; in an earlier era they served at least to preserve the idea of mythology having a real content. Now when one asks how the philosophers were led to clothe their valuable insights in this form, Heyne, at least, tries to distance himself as much as possible from the artificial aspect; “they did not freely choose the portrayal, but were urged on towards and almost forced into it”; to some extent “the most ancient languages lacked scientific expressions for general principles or causes, and poverty of language obliged them to express abstract concepts as personalities, logical or real relationships by way of the image of procreation”; to some extent, though, he suggests they were so fascinated themselves by the subjects that they set to work to display them to the audience too, dramatically as it were, like performing characters. 15 XLVII They themselves—the postulated philosophers—knew that they were not discussing actual persons. But how, then, did the personalities created by them become actual ones, and thus gods? Through a very natural misunderstanding, we might think, which was unavoidable as soon as the representations reached the sort of people to whom the secret of their origin was unknown. Yet Heyne sees [32] the transformation differently. First, the personifications are there, well understood by all those who know about their meaning. Then the poets notice that, taken as actual persons, they would provide the material for all kinds of amusing tales and stories, by way of which one could hope to find acceptance among a people fond of entertainment; Heyne is not indisposed, even, to attribute principally to Homer himself this transformation of philosophically meaningful myths into quite ordinary tales. To Homer the philosophical reading was “still very well known, as can be gathered from some hints which he lets slip; only he does not let it become apparent; as a poet he understands his advantage too well to let the meaning do more than at most glimmer through, since the common people have no love for philosophical ideas; and meaningless tales, if only a certain variation of subjects and actions may be observed therein, appeal to them far more. In this way, therefore, the mythological personalities would have gained that independence of their scientific significance which they evince among the poets, together with the meaninglessness which is the only sense in which the popular belief still knows them.”

It seems a remarkable fact that already for the Greeks the origin of mythology, to which they were so much closer than we, was no more comprehensible than it is for us; just as the Greek natural scientist was no closer to Nature than the modern one. For already at the time of Plato quite similar interpretations of the mythological traditions were, at least in part, attempted, interpretations about which Socrates declares in the Phædrus, “In such matters, to really carry them through to the end despite everything, a man of great energy is required, who will be neither particularly happy nor enviable; for in order to reduce everything to the same level or to render it plausible, using this kind of crude reasoning (ἄγροικος σοφία), a great deal of time would be needed which not everyone who could be busying himself with something more serious and important could spare.”16 XLVIII

Cicero‟s Academic expresses himself quite similarly about the [33] laborious quality of these interpretations with reference to the Stoics17 XLIX; for it is noteworthy that the two last remaining systems in the field of philosophy in Greece and in Rome, the Epicurean and the Stoic, divided into the two interpretations, the historical or euhemeristic one and that of natural science. The Stoics did indeed find room for men deified as a result of great and good works, where this origin seemed clear, as in the cases of Hercules, Castor and Pollux, Æsculapius and so on.L But everything more profound in the history of the gods, such as the emasculation of Uranus, and the overpowering of Saturn by Jupiter, they explained from purely physical relationships18 LI. In the end they were both supplanted by the Neo-Platonists, who finally saw real metaphysics in mythology, driven to that no doubt mainly so as to provide a counterbalance to the spiritual content of Christianity in an analogous content in heathenism.19 LII Yet since, in these exertions, undertaken partly to harmonize their own speculative ideas with the traditions of the ancient religion, and partly to overturn the latter all over again by means of the former, they were very far from entertaining the idea of a natural origin for mythology, which they presupposed, rather, as an unconditional authority, they can find no place among the genuine interpreters of mythology.

Heyne protested against the application of the name “allegorical” to his interpretation or even to the way his philosophers couched their ideas, since in fact they did not chose this with the intention of disguising their doctrines [34] or opinions. As if that were the point! It is enough that they speak of gods, where they are thinking only of forces of Nature; they mean, therefore, something other than what they are saying, and utter something which they are really not thinking. But once one has come far enough to accept that the content is scientific, would it not be desirable to find the expression, too, to be completely natural and scientific, and so at least to cross over once and for all to the side contrary to the poetical viewpoint, whereas Heyne has come to a halt halfway across? He was certainly by no means the man to follow through some particular chain of reasoning fully and to take it, even if just in an exploratory way, as far as its final point. Perhaps it was a happy frivolity which held him back from putting the philosophical explanation to the final test, to which it was subjected by a more rigorous spirit, his renowned successor in philological research, Gottfried Hermann,LIII who in fact constructed the entirely literal sense LIV in such a way that, disregarding a superficially personifying hue in the style, he sees even in the names just scientific designations of the objects themselves, so that for him “Dionysus” for example means not the god of wine, but wine itself, in a strictly etymological way, and “Phoebus” not the god of light, but, in the same way, light itself; an interpretation which, simply as a reaction against the allegorizing movement, certainly deserves attention and a detailed exposition.

If—thus does the highly esteemed grammarian build up his theory20 LV—the supposed names of the gods are investigated, then it is apparent, firstly, that they are all, in general, meaningful; when one inquires into the meaning more closely then it is found, secondly, as a result of an etymology in part plainly evident and in part coming to light after deeper research, that they all without exception contain just predicates of forms, forces, phenomena or operations of Nature; and if one investigates further the association and the context in which they are placed, then no other conclusion can be drawn but that the names too must be simply designations of natural [35] objects; for if they are taken as names of gods, then they soon lose all recognizable interrelationship, but understood as purely scientific designations for the objects themselves, containing their characteristic predicate, which in the usual random nomenclature is either not expressed at all or is no longer recognizable, then the representation is additionally afforded the wholly unobjectionable means of expressing, by way of the image of procreation, the dependence of the one phenomenon on the other just as we too indeed, without even reflecting that it is stated in a biblical manner, will have warmth being generated from light, or one principle, indeed one concept, issuing from another, and thus is revealed a comprehensive whole, whose components display among themselves a completely plausible and scientific interrelationship. There can be nothing coincidental about this interrelationship; the whole must therefore have originated too with a purely scientific intention, and if the Theogony of Hesiod is taken as a basis, being the most authentic documentation of the initial origin, then we shall scarcely be able to understand the source of this whole other than in the following manner:

Once upon a time there lived—but no, that way Hermann‟s theory would itself begin like a myth, and in fact in the most common form—so we shall say: there must have lived once, that is to say at some time and some place—possibly in Thrace, where Greek legend places Thamyris,LVI Orpheus and Linus, or in Lycia, where it places the first singer Olen; later on, admittedly, it will be found that we have to go right back to the Far East—enough, there must have lived once, among a society otherwise still unenlightened, a few men distinguished by their special spiritual gifts, rising above the common norm, who observed and came to know forces, phenomena, indeed laws of Nature, and who thus must also probably have thought about devising a formal theory of the origin and interrelationship of things. In this they followed the only method which makes definite, reliable and clear knowledge possible,21LVII in that it seeks out the distinguishing predicate of each [36] object, so as to ascertain, in this way, its concept. Since he who for example calls the snow “snow,” certainly represents the object, but does not really think of it. But for them it is the concept which matters, and the nomenclature too should fix this concept. Thus they wish, for example, to express the three kinds of bad weather, snow, rain, and hail. It is found of hail that it pounds, and thus they could say “the pounding one,” but with that only a predicate would be expressed, not an object. So they call it “the pounder,” κόττος in Greek (from κόπτω), familiar as the name of a hundred-armed giant in Hesiod.LVIII Of rain it may be observed that it gouges furrows in the fields (admittedly it may more often flood them), thus it is called furrowmaker, γύγης in Greek, the name of the second Hesiodic giant.LIX It is observed of snow that it bears down and is heavy, thus they call it heavyman, βριάρεως,LX but they are not thereby thinking of a man, still less of a giant, but simply of the snow. It is not the object itself which is personified, as with Heyne, but only, if you will, the expression, and there is nothing more in this purely grammatical personification here than there is in expressions such as appear in every language, as when a kind of broad dagger is called a sticker, the implement with which writing is erased is called the eraser,LXI or when the country people call a fire in the grain the burner, and the canker with which trees are affected the feeder. To represent the objects themselves as persons, in the way that common people might call a strong wind “St. Blasius,”LXII was quite contrary to the intention of the authors or author (for in the end Hermann himself speaks only of one).22 A taste for a personifying depiction in the sense of Heyne could be retained no longer by an era of the scientific gravity which was necessary to bring forth such a system as Hermann sees in the Hesiodic Theogony, in which there exists so much exact knowledge, such a consistent [37] structure, such a convincing organization (they are his own expressions), that he has no hesitation in declaring the doctrine underlying the Theogony to be the most admirable masterwork of antiquity; he sees in the myths not, for instance, a superficial collection of hypotheses, but theories founded on long experience, meticulous observation, even precise calculation, and in the whole edifice of mythology not only rigorous science, but profound wisdom.23

We must leave aside the question of what part may have been played, in these certainly somewhat hyperbolic encomiums, either by a natural preference for the objects of our own true or supposed discoveries, or by a not particularly accurate conception of the value and force of such predicates (which would still not seem excessively modest were it Laplace‟s Système du Monde, LXIII perhaps, being discussed), or even by both causes together. Indisputably doctrines like the following should not also be numbered among these results of fundamental science: that the seed corn (περσεφόνη )LXIV has to be hidden (stolen from the god of the underworld) in the soil so as to bear fruit; that wine (δίονυσος)LXV is derived from the vine (Semele); that the waves of the sea are constant, but their direction changeable, and the like, which every man who comes into this world receives as a free gift, so to speak. In order to become convinced of the philosophical spirit of the Theogony, we must pay attention not to the detail, in which familiar propositions are admittedly unavoidable, but to the whole, and especially to the beginning, to the explanation of which according to Hermann we shall gladly devote a few moments.

That ancient philosopher, then, from whom derives the initial groundwork, become unintelligible already to Hesiod himself, wished to begin the explanation of the world right at the beginning, from the point, that is, where nothing yet existed. To this end he says “First of all there was chaos”; etymologically this means expanse (from χάω, χίνω LXVI), that which is still open [38] to everything, that which is unfilled, thus space, empty of all matter. Naturally nothing can follow this except that which fills it, matter, itself however still to be thought of as formless, etymologically (from γάω, γέγαα) that out of which everything comes to be, thus not the earth, but the original material of all evolution, the as yet unformed basis of everything coming into existence in the future. Now after the establishment both of that in which and that out of which everything comes into existence, all then that is still lacking is the third, that through whose agency everything comes to be. This third is the bond linking everything, the unifier, Eros (from εἴρωLXVII), who here has only this scientific significance, not that of the later god. And after he has established these three elements, the philosopher can embark on an explanation of the creation of things themselves.

The first three products of space as the first element are: 1) Erebus, the coverer; this is the name applied to that darkness which covered substance before something else was created out of it; 2) Nyx, not the night, but here too we should stay with the original meaning; the name comes from νύειν (νεύειν), “nutare”, “vergere”, to incline downwards; for the immediate consequence (thus product) of space is movement, but the first and simplest movement is the downward one, falling. These two between them now generate Æther and Hemera, clarity and brightness; for when darkness, which the cosmogonic poet represents as something corporeal and resembling a fine mist, espouses Nyx, that is to say falls away, then overhead it becomes clear and bright.

Now come the products of the second element, the still formless matter. This, of itself and still without a spouse, first produces Uranus, that is to say the superior one. The meaning is that the finer part in matter rose of its own accord, and became separated, as the sky, from the coarser part, which remained behind as the true substance of the earth. This coarser part is denoted by the great mountains mentioned here, and by Pontus, meaning not the sea, a misunderstanding already found in Hesiod, but, as Professor Hermann has now realized, deepness in general, from the verb πιτνεῖν ,LXVIII to which the Latin [39] fundus is also related. So only now, after the detachment of that which is superior, does GæaLXIX have the significance of the Earth; as she enters into an interaction with the superior one, her first offspring is Oceanus, not the ocean, but deriving etymologically from ὠκυς, he who runs quickly, the water which spreads out over everything and fills all deep places. Accompanying this torrent of primal water is a vast derangement of the elements, so that they move indiscriminately backwards and forwards, up and down, until finally, confining one other reciprocally, they come to rest. This tumult is signified by the children of Gæa and Uranus who succeed the primal water, the Titans, associated in pairs, whose name means strainers, from τείνω , τιταίνω , for they are the forces of the still wildly straining, unplacated Nature.LXX Each of the pairs expresses, in accordance with their names, one of the antitheses which has to be presumed in a Nature still under stress and at cross-purposes with itself, thus 1) Crius and Coeus, the Separator (from κρίνω) and the Mingler; 2) Hyperion and Iapetus, the Climber and the Faller; 3) Theia and Rhea: the concept common to both is Being Driven Away, but the difference is that then some things retain their substance (Theia), and others lose it (Rhea deriving from ῥέω to flow); 4) Themis and Mnemosyne, who cannot retain their usual meaning in this context; the first is the force which causes liquid things to stop moving or solidify, the second, on the other hand, is that which agitates and moves what is rigid; 5) Phoebe and Tethys, the power of purifying, disposing of that which is useless, and the power which attracts what is useful; finally, the last of all is Cronus, the Ender, from the verb κραίνω ; for Chronos, Time, only got her name from Cronus because she too brings everything to an end.

Here there is, Hermann assures us, not only thoroughly scientific consistency, but even genuine philosophy, which in fact eschews everything hyperphysical and tries instead to explain everything in a merely natural way. Of gods, if one has no wish to introduce them arbitrarily, not a trace. The whole, evidence of a mode of thought which one must tend to regard as more atheistic than theistic. [40] And when it is seen how, right back to the first beginnings and forward to the most recent manifestations, only the natural relationship is brought out, then one cannot help concluding that not only is the author himself unwilling to hear anything of gods, but that his intention is a polemical one even, directed against already existing religious ideas.24

With this we have arrived at the high point of Hermann‟s theory, which, as you will see, has far more to offer than Heyne‟s on the whole weak attempt to remove all originally religious significance from mythology.

At the same time, though, it becomes evident that Hermann himself restricts his explanation to the genuinely mythological gods. He has no intention of explaining the origin of religious belief in general; but instead, in his assumptions, he presupposes a society which had to be freed from an existing religious superstition by the philosophers, philosophers who through their attempt, moreover, only provide the instigation for a new and different religious belief.

But it is in any case certainly unthinkable that the society among whom could emerge a philosopher so perspicacious, in Hermann‟s view, could have been on the same level as communities such as those in which, until now, no trace of religious ideas has been found. A society whose language was richly articulated and flexible enough to have designated scientific concepts with wholly specificLXXI words, will not have expressed themselves using mere click sounds as the African Bushmen do. We shall not be able to consider the society to which the postulated philosophers belonged to have been on a par with those South American natives whose humanity, as Don Felix Azara relates, even religious councils had formally denied, to whom the Catholic clergy had refused to dispense the sacrament, and who could at last be pronounced to be men only by way of a papal edict, amid continuing opposition from the local clergy.25 LXXII [41] For only human strains of the type mentioned have until now been encountered without any religious ideas.

Even independently of the assumed polemical intention, we shall have to admit the existence of religious ideas in the society postulated by Hermann, although ideas of the most elementary, and thus, as he says, of the rudest kind. Their religion in all probability consisted of a primitive physical superstition, which was based on the idea of invisible beings associated with natural phenomena. Subsequently the matured intelligence of a few individuals recognizes that the supposed gods are nothing other than Nature and its forces; so here arises that purely physical knowledge, free from any religious element, which the originators disseminate with the intention of rendering the society forever free from all religious ideas. From this is explained, in a surprising way, why mythology remained until now so difficult to comprehend, for there had always, perversely, been the desire to have it emerging from religious ideas, but here there appears the quite new and astounding notion that it was invented so as to do away with all religious ideas, and by those very men who were best placed to know that there were no such things as gods.26

Had the noble intention which Hermann ascribes to the inventor of the theogony been carried out, then a philanthropic man of our own era could have rejoiced to find in prehistoric times not superstitious servants of the gods, but a society free of any religion, which understands everything in a purely natural way and is unhampered by any hyperphysical delusions. How, though, the intention miscarried, in that the inventors do indeed impart their teachings to the people, but, faced with men already filled with ideas of invisible beings lying behind natural phenomena, inexplicably omit to give a prior explanation of the purely grammatically intended personification—and leave it to the people themselves to penetrate to the true [42] meaning, or, misunderstanding it, just to delude themselves; how then the people come to accept the natural forces, only named as persons, as actual persons, “in whom they have absolutely no thought of anything further,”27 LXXIII this is indeed not easy to understand, yet is so to some extent. But how the people now do not merely misunderstand the doctrine, but, under no sort of compulsion, accept the misunderstood doctrine, and, in place of the invisible beings which are for them associated with natural phenomena and thus possessed significance, allow the completely uncomprehended personalities, or rather only their meaningless names, to be imposed on themselves; this so much exceeds all credibility that we gladly refrain from following the esteemed author in the further course of his explanation. LXXIV We have only considered his hypothesis worthy of attention at all because firstly it is the last one possible in the given direction and has the advantage that with a scientific content for mythology it is not possible to go beyond it; and secondly because at least something in it is important for us, the philological groundwork and the indisputable truth in the observation from which it set out: for we should in no way admit that underlying the view of such a man, a view he expounded, what is more, not as a joke, as some would assume in a way truly wounding for him, but with all the seriousness which is evident in every one of his other works, and in the most diligent manner, there should be nothing at all true and correct.

Accordingly we cannot but find it helpful simply to have our attention directed once again to that product of antiquity, as remarkable as it is enigmatic, the poem of Hesiod, and principally to its scientific side, of which so little note is taken. This scientific meaning in the names, which Hermann was not the first to observe, but which he placed entirely beyond doubt, is also a fact, which no theory claiming to be complete [43] may leave unconsidered and unexplained, and the very element which a number of his colleagues felt they could deride in the renowned man, this use of philology for a higher end, is what the true scholar has to acknowledge gratefully.

But especially in the principal observation, from which this all began, we have no choice but to agree with him completely; in his perception, that is, of the philosophical consciousness, which comes out in the Theogony, particularly at the beginning, so definitely and unmistakably. The error begins only when Hermann is at once ready to ascribe this scientific consciousness to the fictitious original author of the poem (whom we would, as I said, have to seek out in the Far East), instead of attributing it to the actual author of the poem (extant in its original form, even if out of joint here and there or corrupted by interpolations and later additions), that is to say, to Hesiod himself. Only this too hastily formed view could have allowed him to overlook so much that was striking and not at all in agreement with his theory, namely, that even the beginning has so many abstract, impersonal, and thus quite unmythological elements; as when Gæa, still on her own account, without the assistance of Uranus, creates the great mountains (οὔρεα μακρὰ), which do not become personalities simply because the words are written with initial capital letters. In Greece, that is, as for us, notable mountains such as Olympus, Pindus, Helicon, and so on, were by reason of their names individuals but not persons. If the Theogony may be traced back to a philosopher who makes it a rule for himself not to designate things by their common names, but by scientifically constructed ones, why do the mountains too not receive a general name, derived from their property of rising into the heights, just as later the name “Titans” is also one shared by many?

The neuter Erebus occasions another remark. Hermann makes it a masculine form in his translation (“opertanus”), completely without comment; but it remains what it is: Homer too knows it only as genderless; for him it never signifies anything other [44] than the place of darkness beneath the earth. This impersonal quality does not prevent the poetLXXV from having it (for thus must we refer to Erebus) contract a love-match with Nyx and beget children on her—

Οὕς τέκε κυσσαμένη ἖ρέβει φιλότητι μιγεῖσα.

Just as, in the case of the great mountains, what is literal is mixed with what is not, a normal nomenclature with a supposedly personifying one, so here too has a concept which remained abstract nonetheless been artificially mythologized. Someone doing this is certainly not the inventor of mythology, but clearly has it already available as a model.

The offspring of Erebus and Nyx are Æther and Hemera. Æther, surely, is a purely physical concept, never considered, by the author of the poem or anyone else, to possess a divine personality or any personality at all, unless it were in the invocation which Aristophanes sets in the mouth of Socrates:

Ὦ δέδποτ᾿ ἄναξ, ἀμέτρητ᾿ ἀὴρ, ὃς ἔχεις τὴν γῆν μετέωρον
Λαμπρὸς τ᾿ ἈΙΘΗΡ. . . .

(Oh King and Lord, immeasurable air, which carries the globe soaring around, And radiant Æther);LXXVI but this very invocation is a proof that the Æther did not count as a mythological personality, for what the comedian means to say is that Socrates would call on no such being.28 LXXVII

Among the grandchildren of the destructive Nyx may even be found treacherous words (ψευδέες λόγοι) and ambiguous utterances (ἀμφιλογίαι), wholly unpersonified. Here Hermann must indeed seek refuge in an interpolation. But when he marks the entire progeny of Nyx with an obelus, so as to point out that such concepts could not come from the source of the Theogony, then he would have done better to have applied this sign of rejection first in the case of Eros, to have remembered, that is, the bird-chorus in Aristophanes, where philosophical statements are still [45] made about Eros in exactly the same way as here,LXXVIII but primarily he should have applied it right away to the first verse of the Theogony: “Lo, first of all was Chaos”; for the way the principle of grammatical personification comes to grief at once with the first verse is truly regrettable, for where would Chaos ever have counted as a god or as a personality?—who would ever have said “he” of Chaos?

This concept of Chaos, impudently placed at the beginning and completely foreign to Homer, a concept which in Aristophanes has already become the battle-cry of that philosophy directed against the gods and striving to go beyond popular beliefs, proclaims in the most definite way the first stirrings of an abstract thought, distancing itself from the mythological, the first stirrings of a free philosophy. Chaos and, likewise present among the primal concepts, Æther, are in Hesiod the earliest demonstrable germs of that purely physical wisdom, whose constituents Aristophanes, who never tired of poking fun at those of a conservative and more conscientious disposition over this airy philosophy, summarizes in Socrates‟ oath:LXXIX

Μὰ τὴν Ἀναπνοὴν, μὰ τὸ ΧΑΟ΢, μὰ τὸν Ἀέρα

Hermann was thus correct to see the philosophical aspect in the beginning of the Theogony, but the explanation lies right at the end opposite to the one where he looks for it. He assures us that Hesiod has no suspicion that he is undertaking something scientific, and accepts the nomenclature expressing philosophical concepts simply and trustingly as names of real gods—which, as shown in many cases, for example with Chaos and Æther, Hesiod simply could not have done. If no one had ever taken these to be gods, then Hesiod would surely have been the last to see them in that way. Chaos, which only later writers explain as empty space or even as a crude mixture of material elements, is a purely speculative concept, not, though, the product of a philosophy which precedes mythology, but of one which follows it, which strives to comprehend it, and therefore goes beyond it. Only the mythology which has arrived at its [46] end point and is looking back from there towards the beginning, trying thence to grasp and comprehend itself, could place Chaos at the beginning. Philosophy was no more a precursor of mythology than was poetry, but certainly there may be discerned in Hesiod‟s poem the first stirrings of a philosophy which is extricating itself from mythology, so that later it may even oppose it. How?—if the poem merited the significant position which Herodotus assigns to the author, alongside, indeed even above, Homer, and if it delineated a vital phase in the development of mythology, for the very reason that it may have been the first product of the philosophy which is striving to become conscious of itself, to show itself? If, in complete accordance with the symmetry which we perceive in Hellenic culture, the two poets, so very different from each other, between whom very ancient legends already record a rivalry and thus a certain antithesis, if these two poets delineated both of the equally possible—not beginnings, but culminations of mythology?—if Homer showed how it was in poetry, and Hesiod how it was in philosophy, that it—ended?

I would add just one further remark. Of all the implausibilities to be found in Hermann‟s explanation, in my view the least comprehensible is that his critical sense could have allowed him to suggest that all the names LXXX without distinction, those whose origin is evidently lost in the night of the past, like Cronus, Poseidon, Gæa, Zeus, and those whose comparatively recent origin is plain for all to see, such as Plutus, Horæ, Charites, Eunomia, Dike and so many like them—to suggest that all of these came into being together and at once out of the mind of one individual man.



9 Allegory deriving, as is well known, from ἄλλο (an other) and ἀγορεύειν (say).
10 Quæ est enim gens, aut quod genus hominum, quod non habeat sine doctrina  anticipationem quandam deorum? quam appellat πρόληψιν Epicurus, id est anteceptam animo  rei quandam informationem, sine qua nec intelligi quidquam, nec quæri , nec disputari potest.  Cic. de nat. Deor. I, 16.
11 Cum non instituto aliquo, aut more, aut lege sit opinio constituta, maneatque ad unum  omnium firma consensio, intelligi necesse est, esse deos. ibid. 17.
12 Kant, speaking of the erstwhile hypothesis of phlogiston, mentions a young American native,  who, asked what amazed him so much about the English beer emerging as foam from an  unstopped bottle, gave the reply “I am not surprised that it comes out; I only wonder how you can  have got it in.”
13 According to Pamenophis, and other works of Dornedden, at one time a lecturer at  Göttingen, the whole Egyptian theology is just a calendrical system, a disguised representation of  the annual course of the sun and the cycle of phenomena associated with that during the course  of an Egyptian year.
14 De origine et causis Fabularum Homericarum (Commentt. Gott. T. viii ).
15 Nec vero hoc (per fabulas) philosophandi genus recte satis appellatur allegoricum, cum non  tam sententiis involucra quærerent homines studio argutiarum, quam quod animi sensus quomodo  aliter exprimerent non habebant. Angustabat enim et coarctabat spiritum quasi erumpere  luctantem orationis difficultas et inopia, percussusque tanquam numinis alicujus afflatu animus,  cum verba deficerent propria, et sua et communia, æstuans et abreptus exhibere ipsas res et  repræsentare oculis, facta in conspectu ponere et in dramatis modum in scenam proferre cogitata  allaborabat. Heyne l.c. p. 38.
16 Plato, Phædr. p. 229, De Rep. III, p. 391. D.
17 Cicero, De nat. D. L. iii , c. 24. Magnam molestiam suscepit et minime necessariam primus  Zeno, post Cleanthes, deinde Chrysippus commentitiarum fabularum reddere rationem,  vocabulorum, cur quique ita appellati sint, causas explicare. Quod cum faciti s, illud profecto  confitemini, longe aliter rem se habere atque hominum opinio sit: eos enim, qui Dii appellentur,  rerum naturas esse, non figuras Deorum.
18 Alia quoque ex ratione, et quidem physica, magna fluxit multitudo Deorum; qui induti specie  humana fabulas poetis suppeditaverunt, hominum autem vitam superstitione omni referserunt.  Atque hic locus a Zenone tractatus, post a Cleanthe et Chrysippo pluribus verbis explicatus est. etc.  ibid. II, c. 24.
19 Compare the remarks of V. Cousin in the two articles on Olympiodorus, Journal des  Savants, June 1834 and May 1835.
20 Dissert. de Mythol. Græcorum antiquississima. Lips. 1817.
21 On the Nature and Treatment of Mythology. Leipzig 1819. p. 47.
22 ibid. p. 107.
23 ibid. p. 47.
24 ibid. pp. 38, 101.
25 Voyages dans l’Amérique Méridionale T. II, pp. 186‒7.
26 On the Nature and Treatment of Mythology p. 140.
27 Correspondence Relating to Homer and Hesiod by G. Hermann and Fr. Creuzer. Heidelberg,  1818. p. 17.
28 Only the ὡ δὶος αἰθήρ of Prometheus in Æschylus (v. 88, compare the other invocations  immediately thereafter) could be mentioned in the same sense.
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Re: Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Myt

Postby admin » Sun Mar 18, 2018 8:12 am


THE purely poetical one, as we have called the first viewpoint, and the philosophical, as we shall continue to call the second, not that we considered it to be particularly philosophical, that is to say worthy of a philosopher, but simply because it assigns a philosophical content to mythology—each of these two viewpoints, to which we were first drawn in a natural and unbidden way, we have allowed first to express itself in terms of its particular presupposition, and we have investigated it thus, in the course of which investigation we incidentally at the same time gained the advantage that a lot of factual matter was discussed in advance, to which we need not return, and which may be presupposed as something now already established. But precisely for that reason, what is common to the two of them has not yet been brought out, much less evaluated. Now the presuppositions specific to each one could be found to be untenable, and yet those which they have in common could remain and be regarded as a possible foundation for new endeavours. Accordingly, in order to complete our treatment of the two principal viewpoints, it will be necessary to bring out just that aspect in which they both agree, and to subject this too to evaluation.

At least it is not difficult now to make out the first presupposition common to both: this is that mythology in general is an invention. It has to be decided, though, whether this common aspect also has to be given up, or whether the error lies perhaps merely in the fact that the one viewpoint sees only poetical invention in mythology, the other only philosophical. Yet it should above all be noted [48] that certainly neither of the two, of itself alone, wholly excludes the other. The purely poetical viewpoint does certainly also leave room for a doctrinal content, but admittedly only a fortuitous one, not intended; the philosophical cannot dispense with the poetical element, but for it, now, it is this instead which is the more or less artificial part, and thus fortuitous simply in another way.

Now the first point, the merely fortuitous aspect of any doctrinal content, which is all that the purely poetical explanation leaves over, seems to be contradicted simply by the systematic nature of the succession of the divine races, and even by the sombre gravity which pervades many parts of their history. For we still have no wish for the time being to consider the fact that mythology did actually serve as religious doctrine, that it tyrannically determined every action and the whole lives of the societies, which will, though, certainly have to be explained as well, whatever the outcome. Yet still more than by this fortuitousness in the one explanation are we repelled by the crude calculation which the other ascribes to the first beginnings. How much, especially, would one like to spare the philosopher postulated by Heyne from the double task of first producing the content and then looking again especially for the form or formulation. How pertinent it seems, then, to ask whether, while retaining the general presupposition that mythology as a whole is an invention, the two elements might be brought closer together, the two explanations raised, by amalgamation, to a higher level, and the aversion which we feel towards each of them individually overcome through a fusion of the two. Yet might it not be asked, even, whether poetry and philosophy are essentially as foreign to each other as they are assumed to be in the two explanations, whether between the two there does not exist a natural kinship, an almost necessary mutual attraction. It must surely be recognized that general applicability and necessity are required of truly poetic forms no less than of philosophical concepts. Admittedly, if we are looking at recent times, only a few rare masters have succeeded in inspiring the forms, whose substance they could take only from incidental and impermanent life, [49] with a universal and eternal significance, in investing them with a kind of mythological power; but those few are also the true poets, and the others are really poets in name only. On the other hand, philosophical concepts should be no mere general categories, they should be specific real entities, and the more that they are this, the more, that is, they are furnished by the philosopher with real and individual life, then the more do they appear to approach poetical forms, even if the philosopher eschews any poetical garb: here the poetical quality resides in the thought and has no need to come to it from outside.

But now it could still specifically be asked whether, in the era of the birth of mythology, poetry and philosophy as such, in their formal contraposition, that is, could indeed have been present at all, since on the contrary we have seen how, once mythology exists and has completely filled consciousness, they both only then start to diverge from it in different directions, as if from a common centre, although even now they are moving apart only very slowly. For while the first sign of a departure of philosophy from mythology is found already in Hesiod, it required the whole period from him until Aristotle before philosophy had parted from everything mythical and thus also poetical. How long the road is!—not from the realism of the Pythagoreans to the nominalism of Aristotle, for the principles (ἀρχαὶ) are, for the one, just as much real entities as for the others, just as their inner identity too may certainly be discerned—but from the almost mythical language of the first up to the purely conceptual mode of expression of the second. Now would not precisely this common provenance from mythology, however, be a proof that in it was just where the two were still united, although admittedly neither one of them could function in its own right and as such and still less could the one or the other precede mythology and be itself a factor in it.

Linguists and philologists should be the last to trust the conclusion that poetry and philosophy, because they are found in mythology, also had a role in its genesis; [50] in the morphology of the most ancient languages a treasure-house of philosophy may be discovered. But was it for that reason real philosophy through which these languages continued to preserve, in the nomenclature often of even the most abstract concepts, their original significance, which had however become foreign to later thinking? What is more abstract than the meaning of the copula in a proposition, what more abstract than the concept of the pure subject, which appears to be nothing; for what it is, we in fact learn only from the statement, and yet even without the attribute it cannot be nothing; so what is it then? When we mention it, we say of it: it is this or that, e.g. a man is healthy or ill, a body dark or bright; but what is the concept then, before we mention this? Evidently only that which can be this, e.g. healthy or ill; the general concept of the subject is thus pure capability of existing. How odd now, when in Arabic the “is” is expressed by a word which not only sounds the same as our “can” but is indisputably identical with it, in that, contrary to the analogy of all other languages it is not followed by the nominative of the predicate, but, like “can” in German (e.g. eine Sprache könnenLXXXI), or posse in Latin, by the accusative; to say no more. 29 Was it philosophy which put a network of scientific concepts, whose interrelationship it has difficulty in rediscovering, into the different meanings of the same verb which are at first sight so remote from each other? Arabic especially has verbs rich in wholly disparate meanings. What is usually said, that here originally different words, between which later pronunciations no longer distinguished, have coalesced, may in many cases be credible, yet it should only be accepted after all means of discovering an inner relationship have been applied in vain. However it can certainly happen that [51] other investigations unexpectedly put us in a situation where, between apparently irreconcilable meanings, a philosophical relationship is revealed, and in this apparent confusion a true system of concepts whose real interrelationship does not lie on the surface, but reveals itself only to deeper scientific means.

The roots of the Semitic languages are verbs, and specifically, regularly disyllabic ones, consisting of three radicals (even in those whose pronunciation has become monosyllabic the original pattern reappears in certain forms). In accordance with this tendency in language, the word which in Hebrew means “father” must inevitably be traced back to a verb which signifies “desire, long for", and thus at the same time contains the concept of “need", which also makes an appearance in an adjective derived from it. Accordingly, there is expressed here, one could say, the philosophical concept that the quality of a father is that of someone standing, as precursor or initiator, in need of a successor. Against that it is objected, with complete justification, that the Hebrew will not have derived his expression for “father” initially from a verb and in quite such a philosophical way, nor will he have known the abstract concept of “desiring” before the concept “father", which belongs among those which are naturally primal. But that is not the point at all; the question is whether—not the Hebrew himself, it is true, but the spirit which created the Hebrew language, in naming the father thus, did not also think of that verb, just as creative Nature, in shaping the skull, also already has regard for the nerve which is to make its way though it. Language did not come into being in a fragmentary or atomistic way, but in all its parts at once, as a whole, and thus organically. The relationship mentioned earlier is one which resides objectively in language itself, and for that precise reason is definitely not one intentionally introduced by men.

LeibnitzLXXXII says of the German language, “philosophiæ nata videtur”;LXXXIII and if it can be spirit alone which in every case creates the appropriate instrument for itself, then here has a philosophy which was not yet [52] actually philosophy prepared an instrument for itself, of which it is to avail itself only subsequently.

Since, without language, not only may no philosophical consciousness be contemplated, but no human consciousness at all, the foundation of language could not, then, have been laid by consciousness, and yet the more deeply we penetrate into language, the more clearly is it revealed that its profundity exceeds by far that of anything created in the most conscious way.

With language it is the same as with organic life; we believe that we see this coming blindly into existence, and cannot deny the unfathomable calculation in its structure even in the smallest detail.

But could the poetry already in the bare material structure of languages ever be overlooked? I am not talking about the expressions for spiritual concepts, which are usually called metaphorical, although there would be difficulty in maintaining the view that in their origin they are extrinsic. But what treasures of poetry lie hidden in language pure and simple, which the poet does not put into it, which he only as it were raises, brings out as from a treasure-chamber, which he simply persuades language to reveal. Is not, though, every act of naming already a personification, and if things admitting of an opposite are understood, or explicitly signified, by all languages in terms of gender differences;LXXXIV if the German language makes the sky masculine and the earth feminine; space masculine and time feminine: is it still far from there to the expression of spiritual concepts in terms of male and female deities.

One is almost tempted to say that language itself is just etiolated mythology, that what mythology still preserves in living and concrete distinctions might be preserved in language only in abstract and formal ones.

For all these reasons one might now certainly feel inclined to say that in mythology there could not be a philosophy at work which is obliged to seek out the forms only in poetry, but that this philosophy at the same time was itself and in essence poetry; likewise the converse: that the poetry which created the forms of mythology was not [53] the servant of a philosophy distinct from it, but was itself and in essence also knowledge-generating activity, philosophy. This last point would effectively mean that in the mythological representations there would be—truth, not merely accidentally though, but with a kind of necessity; the first, that the poetical element in mythology would not be something which came to it from outside, but would be something internal, essential, and intrinsic in the thought itself. If we call the philosophical or doctrinal element the content, and the poetical element the form, then the content would never have existed of its own accord, it would have come into being only in this form and would therefore be inseparably and inextricably fused with it. Indeed mythology then would not in general be just a natural production, but an organic one; certainly a significant step forward in comparison with the merely mechanical method of explanation. But something organic in the following respect as well. Either one of poetry and philosophy, when taken singly, is for us a principle of free intentional invention, but since they are linked to each other, neither of them can really operate freely: mythology would thus be a product of activities in themselves free but acting here in an unfree way, thus, like what is organic, a child of free-but-necessary origin, and to the extent that the word “invention” is still applicable, of an unintentional-but-intentional instinctlike invention, which on the one hand would reject everything merely constructed and artificial, and at the same time would, on the other hand, make it possible to see that the most profound meaning and the most real references in mythology were in fact not merely accidental.

This, now, would therefore be the higher level, which may be reached from the two explanations by way of their synthesis, a synthesis to which one must unerringly come in consequence of an orientation given to thought by contemporary philosophy, whereas the concepts of the Kantian school could have led to little more than an explanation like that of Hermann; and certainly, in comparison with explanations such as the last-named, the organic interpretation could deem itself to be a very good thing. But let us see in detail what would be gained in the way of a real explanation through such a synthesis.

[54] Supposing the view to be perhaps this, that the principle which generates mythology amounts, in its effect, to philosophy and poetry acting in combination, without itself containing anything of either of them, then this could be conceded to be true and correct, without thereby the slightest knowledge of the real nature of that principle being imparted, in that this in itself could be something which was wholly different from either of them, and which would have nothing in common with either. Or if the view is that both of them, philosophy and poetry, should be retained as active, simply not separated, but acting together rather like the male and female in procreation, then here too it will be a case of what is always the case when two principles opposed in some way combine in one action, namely that, since both cannot dominate, only the one is really performing the action, and the other resigns itself more to a submissive and instrumental function. Then here again we would only have either a philosophical poetry or a poetical philosophy, which would again behave with respect to each other in exactly the same way as poetry and philosophy behaved alone; all that would have been gained by going to this higher level would be an improvement in the form of the two explanations; this, certainly, could well be a good thing, but only if those explanations themselves were a good thing.

Or—to show the same thing in another way—the supposed synthesis still names poetry and philosophy, activities well known to us; but precisely because these two may not act as such, then they no longer explain anything either; that which would explain does not reside in them, but in that to which they are both subordinated, that which allows them not to act, but merely, as we could say, to “transact".LXXXV This would be the essence, the inherent principle or that which we are seeking. The poetical and scientific would exist only in the product; itLXXXVI would be something which necessarily arose together with that, but of its very nature as arising together it would only be something additional, something fortuitous. Instead of just the one aspect, either the doctrinal or the poetical, having to appear to be the fortuitous element, as in the first two viewpoints, here both of them would be reduced to the fortuitous, but the essential element, that which truly explains, would be [55] something independent of both, residing outside and above both, which until now has been a completely unknown quantity, and of which only this may be seen: that as something to which poetry and philosophy are subordinate it can have nothing in common with free invention and must come from somewhere else entirely. But from where? For from the only two principles known to us—philosophy and poetry— there is no path which leads to their effective and real unity, so all that would remain for the moment is pure guesswork. Someone might well propose clairvoyance, much resorted to and for which so much is claimed, and by means of which admittedly a great deal might be explained, if only one could first obtain a somewhat clearer view of this clairvoyance itself. LXXXVII A dream state too would perhaps be found not unacceptable, in the same way that Epicurus can only have regarded the transient phenomena, by which he considers the gods to be authenticated, as dream phenomena.LXXXVIII For even in a dream state, what is more, the poetry and philosophy natural to men can “transact” or continue to operate. Even delirium, as a condition excluding all free invention, albeit not every influence of reason and fantasy, should not be rejected out of hand. But what would be gained from all such explanations? Nothing whatever; since every condition which one might postulate so as to explain the development of mythological representations would itself have to be explained, to be given at the same time, that is to say, a historical motivation. The substantiation would have to consist in showing by which natural or divine foredestiny such a condition in any one era was imposed upon the human race or a part thereof; for mythology is above all a historical phenomenon.

This remark shows us that no further progress can be made using the abstract presuppositions of the two explanations with which we have been concerned hitherto, just as these explanations themselves could not help but associate, with their abstract presuppositions, historical ones. As we set out to examine these, our investigation too is now shifted away from the area of abstract discussions and onto historical ground.

[56] We return to the view that mythology is, in general, an invention. Once this is accepted, then the next external presupposition will be that it was invented by individual people. This assumption is unavoidable for the philosophical explanation. The poetical one will offer some resistance at first, but, as long as it neither renounces all historical application nor has the intention of losing itself completely in the indefinite, will also come in the end to individual poets. But regarded strictly, now, this assuming of individuals to have been the originators of mythology is such an outrageous presupposition that one can only be thoroughly amazed at the mindlessness with which it is asserted so generally, as if there were no other possibility. It is true that in general no one finds it hard to presuppose poets or philosophers, as required; in the case of the indistinct ideas of the primæval time, which one believes oneself justified in regarding as an empty space, into which it is open to everyone to insert what he feels is pleasant or convenient, more or less everything is permitted. Heyne still required, in addition to his poetic philosophers, the genuine poets (who transform, for him, the philosophical statements into fairy stories), and probably powerhungry priests as well, who turn them into popular religion. Hermann‟s philosophers, who are poets too, even if rather timid ones, turn directly to the people; he omitted to explain only one thing: how they set about persuading the people even to give their homespun wisdom a hearing, to say nothing of impressing it on them so deeply that it could have been distorted into a theology for them.

But in general, he who knows what their mythology is for a people, would admit the possibility that their mythology was invented for them by individuals no more readily than the possibility that for a people their language, too, had come into existence through the efforts of individuals among them. To introduce a new mythology is not such an easy affair as is for us the introduction of school timetables, textbooks, catechisms and the like. To create a mythology, to endow it with that authenticity and reality in the thoughts of men necessary for it to achieve the level of popularity which it requires even [57] for poetical use, is beyond the power of any individual, or even of several individuals who might come together for such a purpose.

If, however, we do now grant all this, then mythology would come into being for one society—mythology, though, is not the affair of one society, but of many societies.

Happy time, when Heyne could be content with having explained the Greek mythology in his own way and using his own assumptions. Hermann already is less happy, he knows that in the Greek myths there is too much which is similar to the Oriental ones for them not both to have come into being in a similar way. 30 He feels that whatever explains one mythology must explain all. On the other hand he is much too astute not to see that the rise of mythology among one society, according to his explanation, is already quite wonderful enough, and that it would completely exceed all credibility to let the same chance event, or rather the same sequence of chance events, in which each one that follows is less believable than the one before, be repeated in a second, third, and fourth society. His steadfastness is unshaken thereby; for it always remains possible that the ideas, once they came into existence in some place for the first time, were transmitted to other societies, and this possibility only adds to the value of his discovery, since it follows that belief in gods, not just in Greece, but in Asia, Egypt, and the whole world, derives from that doctrine of the origin of the world once fortuitously thought up within one society by a few individuals, couched in even more fortuitous terms, and therefore misunderstood, yet none the less accepted as truth and passed down, a doctrine whose original ideas, preserved as by a miracle, his etymologico-grammatical art of analysis has now discovered there still in the poem of Hesiod, where the original Asiatic names were simply replaced by synonymous Greek ones, skilfully modelled after them.31

[58] If we had to say honestly, but with forbearance, how a piece of fortuitousness like this impresses us, then we would say that it reminds us of the explanation which the same scholar gives of the fable of Io. She, a grandchild of Oceanus and daughter of Inachus, is loved by Zeus and arouses the jealousy of Here; in order to hide her from the goddess, Zeus changes her into a cow, which the rancorous Here arranges to have guarded by a herdsman, and so on. What can the grandchild of Oceanus (the ocean) and daughter of Inachus (etymologically “the overflower,” thus an overflowing stream) be other than a stretch of running water, produced by the overflowing of a stream? Actually “Io” means, etymologically, only “the mutable one.” Zeus‟s love for Io—what can it be but the rain which makes the water rise still more; what Here‟s jealousy of Io but the vexation which the people (“Here” is translated as “Populonia”) feel on account of the flood; the cow, into which Zeus changes Io, is the meandering path of the escaping flood, for the cow has crooked horns, and crooked horns mean the crooked path of the water. The herdsman is a dam erected by the people against the water; he is called Argus, “the white one,” since the dam is made of white potter‟s clay, and “the thousand-eyed one,” since the clay has a multitude of little apertures or pores, which are filled by the water. Instead of this last, the fable says “the herdsman was put to sleep.” The reed pipe means the whispering of the waves; that the herdsman is killed, means the dam is broken; that Io flees in a frenzy to Egypt and espouses the Nile, means the escaping stream of water mingles with the Nile; that Io bears the Nile‟s child Epaphus (Occupus), means that out of the stream of water there comes into being the Nile, which appropriates and floods the land.32 LXXXIX

Would, then, the most ancient literary art have couched in such extravagant terms such an everyday event, one might say, as the overflowing of the stream, and whatever else empty and insignificant [59] that follows from it?—would the fable of the madness and wild flight of Io, the description of which in ÆschylusXC fills us with amazement and terror, have had such a watery beginning?—the majestic Nile, dominating Egypt, such a fortuitous source? And would, one might continue, the living stream of theology and legends of gods, which poured out profoundly and powerfully, as if from bottomless founts, over the whole prehistoric world, have had a no less shallow origin in the thought-agglutinations, as fortuitous as they are unprofitable, of one individual or a few individuals? Would the age-old history of the erratic path of nations have evolved out of concepts of Nature, and personifications, abstracted from arbitrary reflection and generated by arid intellect in conjunction with meagre knowledge, concepts and personifications which, comparable at best with the pastimes of a childish intelligence, could scarcely have occupied their creator seriously for a moment; and the dark monstrous power of faith in gods from a beginning at once so paltry and so contrived?

A chance event like that portrayed above, where, that is, the mythology of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the Indians, in short of the whole world, is supposed to have its origin in a cosmogony of one or a few individuals thought up in a highly fortuitous way, at once disguised, finally misunderstood and believed regardless of that—such a chance event seems to be of the kind before which, all things considered, even many of those would baulk who otherwise hold the view that the greatest and most influential occurrences in this world are brought about by the most fortuitous and trivial causes.

But now the higher interpretation, which postulated an instinctlike invention, will try to raise itself here too to a higher level, and when we show that it is an incongruity to regard mythology as the invention of individuals, will blithely answer us: certainly mythology was not invented by individuals, it came from the society itself. The mythology of a society is so much interfused with its life and being that it could only have emerged from the society itself. [60] Everything of an instinctive kind operates in any case more in the mass than in individuals, and just as in certain families of the animal kingdom a common constructive urge brings together independent individuals for the production of a collective artefact, so too, among individuals distinct but belonging to the same society, does there arise, of its own accord and as if through inner necessity, a spiritual bond, which must inevitably reveal itself in a common product such as mythology. Indeed it seems that this spiritual cooperation continued even after the time of the first emergence of mythology. Wolf’s studies on Homer, rather more intelligently formulated than was the case with his contemporaries, long ago set out a great and significant analogy. If the Iliad, and the Iliad and the Odyssey taken together, are not the work of one individual, but of a whole race over the course of more than one epoch, then it must at least be admitted that this race created poetry as if it were one individual.XCI

There is encountered universally, and, as it is a natural development, with particular approbation, a folk-poetry which is older than any poetic art, and survives still alongside the latter in legends, fairy-tales, and songs, whose origin no one can identify; just as there is a natural world-wisdom, which, stimulated by events in everyday life or by animated companionship, continually invents new aphorisms, puzzles, and parables. Thus, by means of an interplay of natural poetry and natural philosophy, not in a calculated and intentional way, but without reflection, in the course of life itself, a society creates for itself those higher forms which it needs to fill the emptiness of its soul and of its fantasy, through which it feels itself elevated to a higher level, which retrospectively ennoble and beautify its own life, and which are of just as profound a natural significance on the one hand as are they poetical on the other.

And certainly, were there no choice but that between individuals and society, who, especially nowadays, would ponder long about the one he would support? But the more plausible the idea, the more closely [61] should it be inspected to see whether here too a tacit presupposition has crept in, which does not stand up to examination. Assumptions of such a kind are, to the researcher, what coral reefs hidden under the surface of the water are to the mariner; and the critical spirit is distinguished from the uncritical simply by the fact that the latter goes to work with presuppositions of which he is not conscious, while the former admits nothing hidden and unconsidered, but brings everything as far as possible out into the open.

It is true that we breathe as it were more freely as soon as we hear it said that mythology did not come from individuals but from the whole society. But this society, which is here understood only as the society as a whole, will still be just one society. Mythology, though, is not merely the affair of one society, but of many societies, and between their mythological representations there is not merely a general correspondence, but one extending into the detail. Here, then, there would emerge for the first time the great and undeniable fact of the inner kinship between the mythologies of the most diverse and otherwise most dissimilar societies. How is it proposed to explain this fact, to explain mythology as a universal phenomenon, on the whole everywhere the same? Surely not by reasons and circumstances as they might perhaps be imagined within one society? In this case, if one assumed, that is, that it first came into existence within one society, there would evidently remain, in order to explain that correspondence, no other means than to additionally assume that the mythological representations did indeed first come into existence within one society, but were transmitted by that society to a second, and were always passed on at once to a following one, admittedly not without acquiring modifications, yet in such a way that as a whole and in their fundamental principles they remained the same. Hermann is not alone in accounting for the fact in this way. Others too, without being obliged to do so by the special nature of their premises, propose the explanation according to which mythology would really no longer be a universal phenomenon except in appearance, and the correspondence in material between the various mythologies would no longer be more than a [62] superficial and accidental one. It may be thought convenient to explain the kinship, lying not on the surface but in the depths, by means of such a merely superficial and subordinate relationship, but the character of the correspondence contradicts the assumption. Had the Greeks got their Demeter only from the Egyptians, then Demeter, like Isis, would have had to search for her murdered husband, or Isis, like Demeter, her abducted daughter. But the similarity only consists in the fact that they both search for someone they lost. Since this lost person, though, is for each of them different, the Greek representation cannot then be a mere duplication of the Egyptian one, nor dependent on the latter; it must have come into being of its own accord and independently of previous representations. The similarities are not like those usually existing between original and copy, they do not point to a one-sided derivation of the one mythology from the other, but to a derivation common to all. It is not a superficially explainable similarity, it is one of blood relationship.

But if the relationship between the various mythologies did admit of being explained in that superficial, mechanical way, if, too, one could bring oneself to shrug off so easily this great fact, which must be esteemed a powerful tool for the development of the true theory: one thing would still remain presupposed, and that is that mythology could come into existence out of or withinXCII one society. But this very point, to which until now no one has taken exception, seems to me to be very much in need of investigation: whether, in fact, it could even be thinkable that mythology might come into existence out of or within one society. For first of all, what is a society anyway, or what makes it a society? Definitely not the mere spatial co-existence of a greater or lesser number of physically similar individuals, but rather the community of consciousness between them. In the common language this has only its direct expression; but in what are we to find this common quality itself or its basis, if not in a common world-view, and this in turn, in what can this be originally contained for a society, and given to it, if not in its mythology? It [63] seems thus impossible that a mythology should come later to a society already in existence, whether by the invention of individuals within it or by coming into being for it through a collective instinctlike process of generation. This too appears impossible, because it is unthinkable that a society could—exist without mythology.

One may perhaps consider responding that a society is held together by the collective performance of some enterprise, for example agriculture or trade, by common customs, legislation, sovereignty, and so on. Certainly all this does belong to the concept of a society, but it seems almost unnecessary to recall how intimately in all societies sovereign power, legislation, customs, even occupations are connected with ideas of gods. The question is, in fact, whether all this which is presupposed, and which is certainly given with a society, could be thought of apart from any religious ideas, which exist nowhere without mythology. It will be objected that there are indeed communities in whom no trace of religious ideas is encountered, and thus no trace of mythological ones either. Among these belong, for instance, the previously mentioned races of South America, human only in outward appearance. But these very people live, as Azara reports, without any kind of community among themselves, exactly like animals in the wild, in that they recognize neither a visible nor an invisible power over themselves, and feel as foreign in relation to each other as do animals of the same species; and they no more constitute a society than might the wolves or foxes do, indeed they live less gregariously than many animals which live and work in communities, such as the beavers, the ants, or the bees.33 XCIII Any attempt to turn them into a society, [64] to bring into being, that is, a social cohesion among them, would be vain. Introduced by force, it would be the end of them, which shows that neither by divine nor by human power can a society emerge from that which is not a society from its very birth, and that where the original unity and community of consciousness is lacking, none can be brought into being.

Here too language again has a place beside mythology. It would at once be recognized as absurd to assume that its language could come into existence for a society through the efforts of individuals within it. But would it be any less absurd to think it possible that it could come into existence out of or within the society itself, just as if a society could exist without a common language, instead of being from the first the one society which has a common language?

The same could be said if one wished to understand the opinion that in legislation not everything needed to take place through the agency of individual legislators, that the laws were produced by the society itself in the course of its life—if one wished to understand that opinion to mean that a society could make laws for itself from the beginning, and thus exist without laws, since it is, in fact, only a society, and specifically this society, by virtue of its laws. In fact it received the law of its life and continued existence, of which all the laws which appear in the course of its history can be no more than extensions, together with its existence as a society. But it can have received this original law itself only in conjunction with the worldview innate in it as a society, and this world-view is contained in its mythology.

In whatever way the emergence of mythology out of or within [65] a society is explained, the society itself will always be presupposed, and thus for instance it will be assumed that the Hellene was a Hellene, the Egyptian an Egyptian, before he received his mythological ideas in one way or another. I am asking you now, though, whether the Hellene does remain a Hellene, and the Egyptian an Egyptian, if we remove his mythology. Thus he neither received his mythology from others, nor created it himself, after he had become a Hellene or an Egyptian; he became a Hellene or an Egyptian only together with this mythology, because of the fact that this mythology came into being for him. If its mythology comes into being for a society in the course of its history (and this begins for every society as soon as the society is in existence), it thus emerges for it particularly through historical relationships and contacts with other societies, and so the society has a history before it has a mythology. Usually the opposite of that is assumed. Its mythology is not determined for it by its history, but on the contrary its history is determined for it by its mythology, or rather the latter does not determine, it is itself the society‟s destiny (as the character of a man is his destiny), the lot fallen to it right at the beginning. How could anyone deny that with the theology of the Indians, Hellenes, and so on, their whole history is given.

If it is impossible that the mythology of a society comes into existence out of or within the society which is already present, then nothing remains but that it might come into existence at the same time as the society, as the individual consciousness of that society, by way of which it emerged from the common consciousness of humanity, and through which, no less than by its language, it is this particular society and is distinguished from every other.

But hereby, as you see, is the basis on which they attempted to establish themselves completely withdrawn from the explanations considered up to now: this basis was a historical one, presupposing, that is, the prior existence of societies, whereas it has become evident here that the emergence of mythology dates from the time of the coming into existence of societies. The origin of the mythology of every society goes back to a period where there is no time for invention, whether it be taken to emanate from an individual or from the society itself, no time for ingenious formulation [66] nor for misunderstanding. Consequently there is no longer the time for the circumstances which Heyne, Hermann, and others postulate. With the explanations which assume mythology in general to be an invention, whether it be an invention of individuals at odds with a society, or an invention of the whole society by way of a collective instinct, it is no longer possible to go back to the time when the societies came into being. The mythological ideas, which come into being with the societies themselves, and determine their initial existence, must also have been intended to be understood as truth, and indeed as whole, full truth, accordingly as theology; and what we have to explain is how they could have come into being in this sense. We are required to find other lines of approach for this investigation, for among all those which have been put forward up to now, there is nothing which went back to that region of time. We shall not judge the explanations now passed over to contain nothing at all which is true. This would be too much; but they do not amount to the whole truth, so this still remains to be found, but even now we cannot reach this in a single bound, but only by way of an argument taken step by step, overlooking no possibility.—I like to remind you of the method of the investigation, since I consider it to be possibly one of its main benefits that you learn how a subject so profusely complicated and displaying so many aspects can nevertheless be grasped, mastered, and by way of a methodical progression, finally shown under a full light.—Only the following is certain for the time being, and the clear result of the previous argument: what is true, that which we are seeking, lies outside the previous theories. In other words, what is true lies in that which the explanations hitherto introduced and considered exclude, and now it is at least not difficult to see what they all exclude unanimously and in the same way.



29 If one looks into the meanings of the word in Hebrew, one is likewise led to the concept of  capability or of the subject (ejus, quod substat [Of that which stands under]).
30 Correspondence Relating to Homer and Hesiod by G. Hermann and Fr. Creuzer. Heidelberg  1818. pp. 14, 65, etc.
31 ibid., pp. 14, 65, etc. Dissert. cit. p. IV.
32 Dissertatio de Historiæ Græcæ primordiis, in which the principle of interpretation earlier  brought to bear on the Theogony is also applied to the legendary history of Greece.
33 Refer to Azara Voyages etc., T. II, p. 44, where it is said of the Pampas, “ils ne connaissent  ni religion, ni culte, ni soumission, ni lois, ni obligations, ni récompenses, ni châtimens"; the  same is sai d on p. 91 of the Guanas; on p. 151 of the Lenguas: “ils ne re connaisse nt ni culte , ni  divinité, ni lois, ni chefs, ni obéïssance, et ils sont libres en tout;” of the M‟bajas the same on p.  113, where may also be seen the situation in regard to the so-called caciques (assigned to these  natives by the other inhabitants living under a civil constitution), who (cf. p. 43) have neither the  right to give orders, nor to punish, nor to demand anything, but do indeed enjoy a ce rtain  respect among the others, who for the most part support their views in assemblies and obey  them not as overlords, or with the feeling of some obligation, but because they attribute to them  more understanding, guile, and bodily strength than to themselves. Among the Charruas nobody  is obliged to go through with an agreed piece of business, not even he who suggested it; the  parties themselves settle their disagreements, usually by means of fist-fights. ibid. p. 16.
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Re: Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Myt

Postby admin » Sun Mar 18, 2018 8:13 am


IF progress is to be made neither with the view that originally there was no truth at all intended to be understood in mythology, nor with the one which does admit an original truth in it, but not in mythology as such, that is to say specifically in so far as it is theology and history of gods, then with the elimination of these two views the third is established of its own accord and is now even necessary: mythology was, as it stands, intended to be understood as truth; but this of itself amounts to the same as the assertion that mythology was originally understood as theology and history of the gods, that it has originally religious meaning, and this very meaning, now, is also what the earlier explanations exclude; for they all tried to bring out the idea that the religious meaning which they had to concede to mythology, in so far as it undeniably counted as religious doctrine, was foreign to its original emergence, and came to it only later. Certainly the purely poetical interpretation, in so far as it denies only the intentionally introduced sense, can admit originally religious overtones, but for the same reason opposes any religious origin, and that which might appear to be a religious aspect in mythology, must, for this view, amount to something just as accidental and unintentional as any other seemingly doctrinal sense. It is quite different, though, with the non-poetical, more philosophical explanations. Here the religious is not admitted even as an originally accidental aspect. According to Heyne, the original authors were, on the contrary, well aware that the characters they thought up were not real beings, and thus, for that same reason, [68] that they were no gods; for the very minimum in the concept of gods is that they are beings which are feared, but only real beings or those taken to be real are feared. In the most consistent working-out, as it is found, admittedly, only in the case of Hermann, the religious significance even has to become the one which is intentionally excluded.

If we now wished, accordingly, to apply the common name “irreligious” (understood without any denigrating connotation) to all the theories considered up to now, then they would still perhaps reject the name, because from their point of view they do still assume, at least to some extent, that there existed really religious ideas at least prior to mythology, and thus they do not entirely exclude the religious element. And certainly someone who supported for example Euhemerus would have to imagine genuine gods prior to the mythological ones, which are for him simply false. In the same way Hermann speaks of a preliminary stage of mythology, a crudely physical superstition, which did indeed imagine actual beings believed to be associated with natural phenomena, and Heyne too, were it possible to question him about it, would not hesitate to accept this view; for he too has to assume genuine prior gods, so that his personalities, who are not genuine gods, might be taken to be gods. So even these explanations require genuine gods, from their point of view, and thus something really religious, at least as a background. Accordingly it would seem that no category of irreligious viewpoints could, in general, be introduced.

But in respect to what has just been discussed, at least, it would in fact first have to be decided whether we shall concede that the beings which it presupposes before the genuinely mythological ones were beings of really religious significance. For at first sight they are indeed real beings which men fancy to be hidden behind natural effects, be it due to ignorance of the true causes, or from pure unthinking animal terror, or in consequence of a positive tendency which is ascribed to man to presuppose, wherever he perceives an effect, will and freedom as well, if only because he creates the concept of existence, under which he understands the things outside himself, only [69] from himself, and only gradually generalizes it and learns to separate from it what is associated with this concept in human consciousness.34 XCIV As all-powerful, and in general superior to human forces, these beings associated with the processes of Nature are feared (primus in orbe Deos fecit timorXCV); and because they appear, as the mood takes them, now obstructive and now encouraging to human endeavours, demonstrations of subservience are used in an attempt to dispose them favourably. So the belief in such beings, it is said, was the first religion.

This explanation was propounded in recent times principally by David Hume, although he is less inclined to derive the initial ideas of invisible beings from reflections about natural phenomena; these, he thinks, must rather have led to one single being, by reason of their consistency and symmetry; the idea of many gods would be more likely to have first emerged out of observations and experiences of the contradictions and change in human life. Since, however, the life of the unsophisticated man is itself only a life of Nature, and the variety of his encounters depends principally on variations in Nature, this distinction is meaningless. According to D. Hume this first real polytheism only becomes mythological when human individuals, who in their time acted authoritatively or beneficially towards others, are accepted among those beings revered in a religious way.

Johann Heinrich Voss XCVI had another approach. He too considered the initial ideas, out of which mythology was later to emerge, to have been still especially crude and to have grown out of a condition of partially or wholly animal obtuseness. He will have no doctrinal meaning in mythology, and especially not an originally religious one, nor can he accept that it is simple poetry: thus he is obliged to seek another antithesis to the doctrinal besides the poetical, and he finds it in what is completely meaningless; the more meaningless the original [70] representations are, the better; for with that he has at the same time the radical remedy against every attempt to see a meaning in mythology and to go beyond his treatment of it, which is willing only to consider the lifeless raw letters. So in this initial profoundly obtuse condition, stimulated by natural events, man suspects that, associated with these, there are beings like himself, that is to say equally crude, who are his first gods. But poets, whom Voss calls in, have to serve for the transition to mythology; these are there to gradually flesh out the misty forms and indeterminate beings for him, equip them with endearing human qualities, and finally promote them to ideal personalities. In the end these poets even invent a history for these beings, by way of which what was originally meaningless is disguised in a pleasant and attractive way. That is how mythology came into existence, in Voss‟s view.

Anyone who has some feeling for Hellenic mythology recognizes in it something meaningful, rich in references, and organic. It could only have been possible for that hideous ignorance of Nature which prevailed among many circles of earlier philologists to think that anything organic could ever have emerged out of such wholly random and completely unsystematic ideas as the ones proposed. Incidentally it might be asked at this point how, in Germany, people could have been so ready, over a considerable length of time, to see poets emerging immediately out of the crudest condition of life, in which effectively nothing of any human quality remains. Was it passages from the ancients, such as the one from Horace, for instance, which refers to Orpheus, and how he weaned men living in the wild away from animal coarseness by the sweet tones of his song, and guided them to a more human life:

Sylvestres homines sacer interpresque Deorum
Cædibus et victu foedo deterruit Orpheus,
Dictus ob hoc lenire tigres rabidosque leones.35 XCVII

These words, though, refer clearly enough to the particular Orphic dogma which enjoins sparing the lives of animals; [71] but this dogma has as little in common with the theology which demands bloody sacrifices, as has the Orphic way of life with the ample appetite for flesh of Homeric heroes. No ancient writer assigns Orpheus a place in mythology; and Voss at least would certainly not have had Orpheus in mind; his view of pre-mythological poets probably stems from nothing more remote than the good old Göttingen days, when Heyne, of whom Voss is accustomed to speak never otherwise than disdainfully, without therefore being able to repudiate his school, as far as questions of this kind are concerned, taught the following, taken from the Englishman Wood‟s book “On the Original Genius of Homer”XCVIII : that for the appreciation of Homer most might be learnt from travellers‟ descriptions of the customs of savages, or, as he adds naively enough, of other societies, who live still within an unstructured community and system of government; 36 and when Heynean pupils compared Homer with OssianXCIX and also with the Old German bards, by whom, it was believed, the sons of Teut, still clothed in animal skins, were not merely urged on to valour in battle, but were also guided towards a more human life in general, although the picture which the Homeric poems themselves sketch of the gay and cultivated conviviality of their time permits us to imagine that those who listened to the bards of that time were nothing less than savages or semi-savages, as the speech set even in the mouth of Odysseus proves:

Truly, though, it is bliss to listen together to the bard,
To those like him, with a voice like the immortals!
For I myself know of nothing more pleasant,
Than when a festival of joy spreads throughout the people,
And, in the dwellings all around, the feasters are listening to the bard.
Such, methinks, is the most heavenly bliss in life.C

Beings of the type described, then, are supposed to have been the first, the genuine gods, which preceded the mythological ones, and so the question is, whether we can accept these as beings of really religious significance. [72] However we very much doubt whether ideas such as those just mentioned could be called religion; since for example even to the savages who roam around the wide plains of the Rio de la Plata the unthinking dread of anything uncanny and invisible in Nature, a dread, indeed, which we believe we detect even in many animals, will not be unknown; they too will not lack for dark ideas of ghostly beings stirring in phenomena of Nature; and yet Azara assures us that they are devoid of any religion. It is true that objections have been made to this statement,37 CI but a man like Azara is not to be refuted by commonplaces, among which may be reckoned even the famous remark of CiceroCII to the effect that no society would be encountered which was so crude and inhuman as to lack any ideas of gods. This proposition we can certainly accept, for we have already noted that those bands devoid of unity are not worthy of the name “society.” It is always found difficult to relinquish a view long held; it is well known that the testimonies cited by Robertson, CIII saying the very same thing about many American communities, were earlier exposed to the same objections; but the question of whether a number of men, who live before our eyes, and enact and perform in front of us without inhibition everything pertaining to their customs and their nature, might evince a kind of cult of some visible or invisible being, is of the kind that is capable of being decided wholly unambiguously by way of simple observation; acts of adoration are visible acts. The brilliant Azara cannot be set on a par with common travellers. If it was the spirit of all-embracing natural science which accompanied our own renowned Alexander von HumboldtCIV thither, then it was the mind of the independent unprejudiced thinker, of the philosopher, which Azara brought to those regions, whence he returned with problems for natural science and for the study of the history of man which are still awaiting a solution, and indeed, for the most part, consideration, even given the scientific competence of our time especially among our natural scientists. [73] He could not have been mistaken about the fact that those natives evinced no sign, in any of their activities, of a religious veneration towards any object. The conclusion drawn from this, that they are devoid of all religion, is equally incontestable.38 CV

If invisible beings, imagined to be associated with natural processes, amounted to gods, then the mountain and water spirits of the Celtic peoples, the kobolds of the Germanic ones, and the fairies of lands East and West would also have to be gods, which they have never been held to be. The Greek imagination, too, knows oreads, dryads, and nymphs, who are indeed to some extent revered as handmaidens of deities, but are never regarded as deities themselves. The awe which is certainly felt before such beings too, even offerings in an attempt to gain their good will and dispose them favourably and amicably, are still no proof of beings worshipped as gods, possessing, that is to say, religious significance. These attempts to evoke gods without God CVI seem thus not to have attained to the true force and strength of the concept. Yet gods of this kind would simply be improperly named. Hume himself admits [74] this and states it. “To anyone who considers justly of the matter,” he writes, “. . . these pretended religionists are really a kind of superstitious atheists, and acknowledge no being, that corresponds to our idea of a deity.”39 CVII In another passage he says that if God and the angels (for these, as tools of the deity, without a will of their own, could not be imagined without him) were excluded from the ancient European belief and only the fairies and sprites retained, then a belief similar to that apparent polytheism would result.40 CVIII

According to this explanation given by D. Hume, which admits of no contradiction, we are now also justified in bringing together under the common head of “irreligious” all the explanations previously attempted, and in setting them entirely aside in this way; and it is equally clear that we are only now turning to the religious explanations as the subject of a completely new analysis. The analysis hitherto applied only to the question of which explanations could be called “religious,” and which not. Common sense says “But polytheism cannot be atheism, real polytheism cannot be something in which there is no trace of theism at all. Only those gods at whose basis God lies, be it by way of however many intermediate links, and in whatever way, but at least in some way, can be called genuine gods.”—Nothing in this is changed by deciding to say that mythology is false religion. For false religion is not therefore irreligion, just as error (at least that which is worthy of the nameCIX) is not complete lack of truth, but only the inverted truth itself.

But while, with that, we state what we require of a really religious viewpoint, there at once also appears the difficulty [75] which it encounters in practice, and which only now points to the reasons the earlier exegetists had for retreating so uncompromisingly from the religious meaning, and for sacrificing everything, indeed even making do with what is unbelievable, rather than admitting there to be something genuinely religious in mythology, or even in the supposedly premythological ideas, of which Hume himself says that they contain no trace of God. For it is human nature to take fright before seemingly insuperable difficulties and to look for ways out, and to resign oneself to the inevitable and irresistible only when it is seen that all these false palliatives afford no succour.

Supposing the really religious meaning of mythology to have been the original one, the difficulty which has to be explained is how God could originally have been at the basis of polytheism. Here too various possibilities will become apparent, and to expound them will be our next task. For now that no other viewpoint is left to us but the religious, we shall wholly confine ourselves to that and see what may be made of it, and here too we shall again take pains to start out from the first possible presupposition which allows an originally religious meaning to be comprehended.

But the first possible is in every case the one which assumes least, so here indisputably that one which presupposes least of an actual knowledge of God, but only the potential or the embryo of that. The obvious choice for this, though, is: the notitia Dei insita,CX already found in ancient writers and at one time widely taught in schools, with which in fact no concept may be associated other than that of a consciousness merely potentia of God, a consciousness which would however contain in itself the necessity of turning into actus, of raising itself to actual consciousness of God. This may be the point where the instinctlike emergence touched on earlier could attain a distinct concept: it would be a religious instinct which produced mythology; for what else is one to understand in a merely general and [76] vague notion of God like that? Every instinct is associated with a search for the object to which it relates. By way of such a grasping and groping for the God obscurely called for, a polytheism which actually exists might, it seems, be understood without great effort. However here too there is no shortage of hierarchies.

The immediate object of human knowledge remains Nature or the world of the senses; God is only the obscure goal, towards which we strive, and which is first sought in Nature. The popular explanation by way of deification of Nature would not find its place until this point, since at least an inborn obscure notion of God would always have to come first. So this explanation could not have been discussed earlier. By presupposing a religious instinct it would be possible to understand how man believes himself to have found the God, whom he seeks, at first in the all-pervading elements or in the heavenly bodies which exercise the strongest or most beneficial influence on him, gradually, so as to come nearer to him, descends to the earth, imagines God even in inorganic forms, soon to a greater degree in organic beings, for a time even among animal forms, and finally fancies he can represent him in pure human shape. Here would be the place, then, for those interpretations for which the mythological deities are deified natural objects, or in particular only one of those, the sun, which in each of its different positions during the course of a year becomes a different deity: specifically the explanations due to Volney,41 CXI Dupuis,42 CXII etc.

Worthy of more philosophical regard would be the explanation derived from the notitia insita, allowing Nature no part at all, and making the origin of the external world independent and wholly inward, by presupposing that perhaps that instinct possesses a law inherent in itself (the same one by which the hierarchy in Nature is also determined), that by means of this law it passes through the whole of Nature, possessing God and losing him again at every stage, until it [77] attains to the God towering above all phases, establishing them as his own past, thus as mere phases of Nature, and accordingly himself transcending Nature. Since God is the goal (terminus ad quem) in this ascending movement, God would be believed in at each level, and the final content of the polytheism coming into existence in this way would thus in fact actually be God.

This explanation would be the first to have mythology coming into existence through a purely inner and at the same time necessary movement, which would thus have freed itself from all external and merely accidental preconditions, and this might certainly be regarded as a model, at least, of the highest point to which we might have to ascend. For it could not count as the last or highest itself, simply because it too has a precondition as yet uncomprehended; that same instinct, which, if it is powerful enough to maintain humanity in this movement towards the true god, must itself be something real, an actual potence,CXIII for the explanation of which the mere idea of God could not be expected to suffice, unless one believed one was dealing here with a mere logical contrivance, with which an impoverished philosophy might perhaps readily come to the aid of this investigation too, in order first to reduce that indigent—the idea of God—to the most impoverished form, so as then to allow it once again to attain perfection artificially in thought. It is not a question of the relationship into which the material side of mythology may certainly be brought with the mere idea also (mythology would countenance this, just as Nature too countenances it); but as little as would Nature be explained by such a contrivance would mythology be explained by a similar one, yet explanation is precisely the point here, not the mere ideal possibility, but the actual coming into existence, of mythology. The presupposition of a religious instinct, an instinct which in its own way is no less actual than any other, could be the first step towards the insight that mythology is not to be explained by a merely ideal relationship which consciousness bears to some object.

In any case, there would be more difficulty in having polytheism preceded by a [78] formal doctrine than by a merely inborn notion of God. Also repellent, in the presupposition of a prior doctrine, is the assumption of a corruption, which is necessarily associated with a doctrine if it is to become polytheism. David Hume‟s triumphant thought opposes both the possibility that such a doctrine could have arisen, and also the possibility of its corruption. He did not consider the notitia insita at all. Hume belongs in general among those who wish to hear as little of an instinct as of inborn concepts. On the basis that, as he asserts, no two societies, indeed no two men, concur on the point of religion,CXIV he draws the conclusion that the religious sensibility could not, like self-love or the mutual attraction of the sexes, be based on a natural urge,CXV and is willing to acknowledge at most a susceptibility, which we all have, to believe in a vague way in the existence of some invisible and intelligent power, a susceptibility whose foundation in an original instinct still seems to him highly doubtful.43 CXVI

Hume‟s intention is to deny that the really religious meaning of mythology is an original one; in this respect he would primarily have had to oppose the notitia insita, had he not found it unnecessary for the reason already indicated; for in his day that doctrine of a congenital notion was completely outmoded and had lost all validity. So all he believes it necessary to deny is the possibility of supposing there to have been, prior to polytheism and mythology, a religious doctrine which might have been corrupted into the two of them. Once a doctrine is assumed, then Hume will hear of none but a scientifically founded one, of no other theism but one based on rational proofs (théisme raisonné). But an explanation which might have presupposed such a thing has never really existed. Hume simply puts this explanation forward in order to reject it, and with that, since he knows no better, an originally theistic meaning in general. [79] For then it is quite easy for him to show that such a theism—raisonné—could not have come into being in the times before mythology, and if it could have come into being, could not have been corrupted into polytheism.

Something worth noting is that Hume, here in his Natural History of Religion, presupposes as possible what he is known to be very reluctant to admit in his more general philosophical investigations: that it would be possible for reason, by way of conclusions starting out from visible Nature, to reach the concept and the persuasion of an intelligent creator of the world, of a supremely perfect being and so on, in short to reach that which he understands by “theism,” something in fact so lacking in content that it is far better assigned to an era spent or just coming to an end, than to one still fresh and powerful; so lacking in content that Hume could reasonably have foregone his whole proof.

“It seems certain, that, according to the natural progress of human thought, the ignorant multitude must first entertain some groveling and familiar notion of superior powers, before they stretch their conception to that perfect being, who bestowed order on the whole frame of nature. We may as reasonably imagine, that men inhabited palaces before huts and cottages, or studied geometry before agriculture; as assert that the deity appeared to them a pure spirit, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, before he was apprehended to be a powerful, tho‟ limited being, with human passions and appetites, limbs and organs.”44 CXVII

“But farther, if men were at first led into the belief of one supreme being, by reasoning from the frame of nature, they could never possibly leave that belief, in order to embrace idolatry; but the same principles of reasoning, which at first produced, and diffused over mankind, so magnificent an opinion, must [80] be able, with greater facility, to preserve it. The first invention and proof of any doctrine is infinitely more difficult than the supporting and retaining it.”CXVIII “But with regard to speculative opinions, the case is far otherwise. If these opinions be founded in arguments so clear and obvious as to carry conviction with the generality of mankind, the same arguments, which at first diffused the opinions, will still preserve them in their original purity. If the arguments be more abstruse, and more remote from vulgar apprehensions, the opinions will always be confined to a few persons; and as soon as men leave the contemplation of the arguments, the opinions will immediately be lost and be buried in oblivion. Which ever side of this dilemma we take, it must appear impossible, that theism could, from reasoning, have been the primary religion of humanCXIX race, and have afterwards, by its corruption, given birth to idolatry and to all the various superstitions of the heathen world. Reason, when very obvious, prevents these corruptions: When abstruse, it keeps the principles entirely from the knowledge of the vulgar, who are alone liable to corrupt any principles, or opinions.”45 CXX

For Hume then, we may observe in passing, genuine theism, that is to say that to which he gives the name, cannot exist in humanity prior to the age when reason was already practised and fully formed. In the time to which the origin of polytheism goes back, there is thus no question of such a theism, and anything similar which might come to light in prehistory, only appears to be like that and is explained simply in the following way: “It may readily happen, in an idolatrous nation, that, tho‟ men admit the existence of several limited deities, yet may there be some one god, whom, in a particular manner, they make the object of their worship and adoration. They may either suppose, that, in the distribution of power and territory among the gods, their nation was subjected to the jurisdiction of that particular deity; or reducing heavenly objects to the model of things below, they may represent one god as the prince or supreme magistrate of the rest, who, tho‟ of the same nature, rules them with an authority, like that which an earthly sovereign exercises over his subjects and vassals. Whether this god, therefore, be considered as their peculiar patron, or as the general sovereign of heaven, his votaries will endeavour, by every act, to insinuate themselves into his favour; and supposing him to be pleased, like themselves, with praise and flattery, there is no eulogy or exaggeration, which will be spared in their [81] addresses to him,” as indeed also happens in the case of earthly monarchs, who are not merely mandatorily referred to as supreme and all-bountiful, but are, even among Christians, voluntarily referred to as venerated monarchs. Once such a contest of flattery has begun, “in proportion as men‟s fears or distresses become more urgent, they still invent new strains of adulation; and even he who out-does his predecessors, in swelling up the titles of his divinity, is sure to be out-done by his successors, in newer and more pompous epithets of praise. Thus they proceed; till at last they arrive at infinity itself, beyond which there is no farther progress”; the one being is now called the highest being, the infinite being, the being which has no equal, which is lord and preserver of the world.46 Thus there emerges the idea of a being which looks superficially similar to that which we call God; for Hume himself, who in this way really brings out the paradoxical, indeed bizarre-sounding proposition that polytheism preceded theism, is too shrewd not to be fully aware that a theism like that is really only atheism.

But were we now to accept that, for whatever reason, it was thought to be unavoidable to assume a doctrine prior to polytheism, then both its content and the way it came into existence would have to be ascertained. In the first respect, the material one, one should on no account rest content with a doctrine as empty and abstract as the one taught in today‟s schools, for only a doctrine itself full of meaning, systematic, and richly developed could serve the purpose; but thereby would an invention become still less credible, and one would see oneself thus, in what concerns the formal side, forced to assume a religious doctrine as having existed in humanity independently of human invention, and such a doctrine could only be a divinely revealed one. With that in itself, then, a whole new sphere of explanation would have been entered, for a divine revelation is a real relationship of God to human consciousness. The actus of revelation itself is a real event. At the same time, that which is the opposite of [82]all human invention would seem to have been reached with this, that which was called for earlier but not found; in any case in a divine revelation we would have a more solid precondition than in those suggested earlier, in the dream state, clairvoyance, and so on. Hume in the circumstances of his own time was able to judge it unnecessary even to mention this possibility. Hermann wishes, as he says, to begrudge no one this pious view.47 And yet he would perhaps have some reason to speak of it rather less disparagingly, partly because it coincides with his own theory on one main point, the assumption of a corruption, and partly because he himself could still have been forced into accepting the pious interpretation, had he been correct in respect of the dilemma he makes use of, according to which no third option is conceivable apart from independent invention and divine revelation. Hermann‟s theory would certainly be quite splendid if mythology had never existed elsewhere but on paper, or had been a mere school exercise. What would it have to say, though, if reminded of the unnatural sacrifices which societies have made to their mythological images? Tantum, one could well ask of him, quod sumis potuit suadere malorum? Could, from that which you assume—from such innocent presuppositions—so much that is bad have arisen? Confess, one could call to all those who concur with him in opposing the originally religious meaning, that consequences like that are not derivable from such causes; acknowledge, that an inexorable authority is required just as much to demand these sacrifices as to carry them out, for example to burn one‟s most beloved children alive for the sake of some god! If cosmogonic philosophers alone were in the background, and no memory of a real event, which lent such ideas an irresistible power over consciousness, would not Nature then at once have to reassert its rights? From the natural sensibility which confronts such unnatural demands, only [83] a supernatural fact, whose impress persists permanently through every kind of confusion, could have commanded silence.

If, however, mythology is regarded as a corruption of revealed truth, then it is simply no longer adequate to assume mere theism to have preceded it, for in this there is only the idea that God in general was thought of. But in revelation it is not merely God in general, it is the specific God, the God which there is, the true God, who reveals himself, and he reveals himself also as the true God.CXXI So here a qualification must be added: it is not theism, it is monotheism which precedes polytheism, for thereby is signified, universally and in every circumstance, not merely religion in general, but the true religion. And this view then (that monotheism preceded polytheism) was, throughout the Christian era until recently, quite definitely until D. Hume, in undisturbed enjoyment of a complete and universal consent. It was held to be tantamount to impossible that polytheism could have come into being in any way other than through the decay of a purer religion, and that the latter was derived from a divine revelation was a thought again more or less inseparable from every premise.

But there is more to it than the mere word “monotheism.” What is its content? Is it of a kind such that the material for a later polytheism is present in it? Certainly not when the content of monotheism is taken to consist in the mere concept of the singularity of God. For what does this singularity of God contain? It is just the pure negation of another god beyond the one, mere fending off of all multiplicity; how, now, out of this, is its direct opposite to emerge? What substance, what possibility of a multiplicity is left over by the abstract singularity, once it has been stated? This difficulty was also experienced by LessingCXXII when, in The Education of Mankind, he wrote the following: “Even if the first man was at once equipped with the concept of a single god, still it was impossible for this concept, imparted and not acquired, to have continued to exist in its purity for long. As soon as reason, left to itself, [84] began to work on it, it dismantled what was single and immensurable into several mensurable parts, and gave each of these a particular feature; thus arose, in a natural way, polytheism and idolatry.”48 The words are of value to us as a proof that the eminent man did once apply himself to this question too, even if only in passing; for one may certainly assume, incidentally, that in a treatise with a much more ambitious aim, and in which he intended in general to express himself succinctly, Lessing tried to get the difficult point out of the way as quickly as possible. 49 There is nothing but truth in his statement that a concept not actively acquired, for as long as it has not become an acquired one, is exposed to decay. In addition, polytheism is said to come into being when the imparted concept (for the later expression explains the earlier one very well: man is said to be equipped with this concept) is operated on by reason; yet with this a rational genesis would be given to polytheism: not it itself, only the concept assumed to have preceded it, is independent of human reason. Lessing presumably found the means for the assumed disintegration of the one in the fact that the oneness is nonetheless considered at the same time to be the pattern of all God‟s relations [85] with Nature and the world; to every aspect of them the deity turns as it were a different face, without thereby becoming multifarious himself. Naturally the deity seen from each of these possible viewpoints is designated by a particular name; examples of such names, expressing different aspects, are found even in the Old Testament. Subsequently these names, of which there may well be a great many, turn into just as many names of particular deities. The oneness above the multiplicity is forgotten, and as this or that society, indeed within the one society this or that tribe, within the one tribe this or that individual, turns, according to their needs or inclinations, to one of those aspects in particular, multitheismCXXIII arises. Cudworth, at least, considered the transition to have been as easy and as unremarkable as that. This purely nominal disintegration served, though, as the prelude to a real one which was postulated subsequently.

Now here we would do well to remember that mythological polytheism is not merely theology, but history of gods. To the extent that revelation brings also the true god into a historical relationship with humanity, it may, now, be thought that precisely this divine history given with revelation had become the substance of polytheism, that its phases had decayed into mythological ones. An evolution of mythology out of revelation in this sense might have offered much of interest. However, among the explanations which actually are proposed, we do not find an evolution of this kind; in part the difficulties encountered in carrying it through may have been too great, and in part it may have been considered, in some other respect, too daring. Instead, people eagerly turned to the human side of the history of revelation, and tried first of all to use the merely historical content of principally the Mosaic scriptures for euhemeristic interpretations. Thus the Greek Cronus, who sinned against his father Uranus, was taken to be Ham, deified by the heathens, who sinned against his father Noah. The Hamitic nations are in fact mainly worshippers of Cronus. The contrary explanation, that [86] legends about gods from other societies are euhemerised in the Old Testament, and related in the form of human events, was unthinkable in those days.

The chief architect of this euhemeristic use of the Old Testament was Gerhard Voss, CXXIV whose work De Origine et Progressu Idololatriæ has, what is more, for its time the merit of a thorough and comprehensive scholarship. It was put to use, with an often unfortunate wit, by Samuel Bochart,CXXV and carried entirely into the realm of the fatuous by the well-known French bishop Daniel Huet,CXXVI in whose Demonstratio Evangelica may be read a proof that the Taaut of the Phoenicians, the Adonis of the Syrians, the Osiris of the Egyptians, the Zoroaster of the Persians, the Cadmus and Danaus of the Greeks, in short that all divine and human personalities in the various mythologies are just one individual— Moses. These interpretations can be mentioned at best as sententiæ dudum explosæCXXVII in case somebody might take it into his head to resurrect them, as did recently happen in regard to another matter.

In this way it was, in the end, no longer revelation itself, it was the Old Testament scriptures, and also principally just the historical ones among these, in which generally speaking the explanation of the most ancient myths was sought. In the more dogmatic part of the books of Moses (assuming one were permitted to suppose their contents too to have been present already earlier in the tradition) one could find correspondingly less material in favour of the coming into existence of mythological ideas, the easier it was to perceive, even in the initial statements of the book of Genesis, for example in the creation story, clear references to pre-existing doctrines of a false religion. In the way that the account of the creation has light coming into existence at divine behest, and only with that an antithesis between light and darkness, and in the way that God calls the light good, without calling the darkness bad, coupled with the repeated assurance that everything was good, it can appear to be trying to deny the doctrines which see light and darkness as two principles which, instead of being created, engender the world, as good principle and bad, in contention with and contradiction of each other. [87] In stating this to be a possible view, I reject all the more categorically the notion that these chapters themselves contain philosophemes and myths from non-Hebraic societies. At least that conjecture will not be extended to the Greek myths, and yet it would be easy to show that the story of the Fall, for example, has far more in common with the Persephone myths of the Hellenes than with anything else which anyone has been capable of furnishing from Persian or Indian sources.

So the attempt to bring mythology into a relationship with revelation remained within these limits until the end of the last century; but since that time, as our knowledge of the various mythologies, and especially of the religious systems of the East, has expanded to such a considerable extent, it has been possible for a viewpoint to become accepted which is freer and, in particular, less dependent on the scriptural documentation of revelation.

Through the correspondences which exist between the Egyptian, Indian, and Greek mythologies, a common corpus of ideas in the explanation of mythology was finally revealed, in which the various theologies were at one. This unity lying at the basis of all theologies then served as the consequence in a hypothesis. Such a unity can in fact no longer be thought of as being in the consciousness of a single society (every society becomes aware of itself as such only as it departs from this unity), nor in that of a primordial society; the concept of a primordial society is known to have been put into circulation by BaillyCXXVIII with his History of Astronomy and his Letters on the Origin of the Sciences, but really it is one which cancels itself out. For either it is conceived of as possessing the distinguishing characteristics of an actual society, when it can no longer contain the unity which we seek, and it presupposes other societies already existing apart from itself; or it is conceived of without particular character and without any kind of individual consciousness, and then it is not a society but original mankind itself, prior to the society. Thus, starting from the initial perception of those correspondences, [88] little by little the point was finally reached of presupposing, in the primal era, prompted or imparted by a primal revelation, which was not bestowed on a single society but on the entire human race, a system going far beyond the literal content of the Mosaic scriptures, a system of which the teaching of Moses himself would give no complete conception, but would contain no more than as it were an excerpt; set up in contradiction to polytheism, and with the object of suppressing it, this doctrine would have removed, with wise foresight, all the elements out of the misunderstanding of which polytheism emerged, and confined itself more to the negative aspect alone—the rejection of multitheism. So if one wished to obtain a conception of that original system, then the Mosaic scriptures would not be adequate for that purpose, and one would in fact have to search out the missing links in foreign theologies, in the fragments of Eastern religions and in the various mythologies.50 CXXIX

The first person to be led to such conclusions (and what is more, to have led others to them), by the correspondence of Oriental theologies with Greek ideas on the one hand, and with Old Testament doctrines on the other, was the founder and first president of the Asiatic Society in Calcutta, William Jones,CXXX to whom the history of Eastern poetry and the study of Asiatic religions will remain indebted in perpetuity. Although he may have been carried away too passionately by his first astonishment at the newly discovered world, and may in some respects have gone further than cold reason and the calm reflection of a later era could endorse, yet the beauty and nobility of his spirit will always, in the estimation of all who are capable of recognizing it, raise him far above [89] the censure of the common herd of crude scholars fit merely for donkeywork.

If William Jones‟ comparisons and conclusions too often lacked precise substantiation and execution, then Friedrich Creuzer, on the other hand, through the power of an all-embracing and triumphant induction, brought the originally religious significance of mythology to a historical evidentness no longer admitting of contradiction. But the services of his renowned work51 CXXXI are not confined to this general aspect; the profound philosophical insight, with which the author reveals the most obscure associations between the various theologies, and the analogous ideas in them, has evoked particularly vividly the idea of an original whole, of an edifice of primordial human science, which gradually decayed or experienced a sudden annihilation, and covered the whole Earth with its fragments, which no single society, but only all of them together, possess in full; and at least since then there has been no going back to the earlier explanations which assemble mythology atomistically.52 CXXXII

In more detail Creuzer‟s whole view may perhaps be stated as follows. Since revelation itself is not directly susceptible of alteration, but only the result left in consciousness, [90] then certainly a doctrine must have intervened here, but one of a kind in which God was portrayed not only theistically, simply as God, in his dissociation from the world, but at the same time as a unity embracing Nature and the World, whether in a way which was analogous to those systems of which all, without discrimination, are labelled as pantheism, particularly by a certain shallow theism, or whether that system might be thought of more in the way of ancient Oriental doctrines of emanation, where the deity, in itself free of all multiplicity, descending, fashions itself into a multiplicity of finite images,CXXXIII which are only just as many manifestations, or to use a current vogue-word, incarnations, of its infinite essence. Taken either way the doctrine would be monotheism, not an abstract monotheism, absolutely excluding multiplicity, but a real one, establishing multiplicity within itself.

As long as the multiplicity of the elements is governed and subdued by the oneness, the oneness of God remains unsupplanted in consciousness; then as the doctrine progresses from society to society, indeed within the one society over the course of time and tradition, it takes on an ever more polytheistic colouring as the elements escape from organic subordination to the governing idea and gradually acquire a more independent form, until finally the whole system falls apart, and the oneness retreats completely, while multiplicity emerges. Thus W. Jones, already, found in the Indian Vedas, which in his opinion we would have to consider as having been written a considerable time before the legation of Moses in the epoch immediately subsequent to the Flood, a system still, far removed from the later Indian popular belief, and closer to the primal religion.CXXXIV The later polytheism of India does not descend directly from the most ancient religion, but only by way of successive misrepresentation of the traditions better preserved in Holy Scripture. In general, close attention will clearly show in the various theologies a slow retreat of oneness, almost one step at a time. To the extent that the oneness still predominates, the representations of Indian and Egyptian [91] theology still appear to possess a much more doctrinal content, but are correspondingly more repulsive, more excessive, in part even monstrous; on the other hand, to the extent that the oneness in it has been further relinquished, Greek mythology does indeed manifest slighter doctrinal content, but a content all the more poetical; the error in it has so to speak purged itself of the truth, and to that extent really ceases to be error, and becomes a truth of a characteristic kind, a poetical truth, forswearing all reality (which in fact resides in the oneness), and if despite that one wished to describe its content as error, at least an error more attractive, more beautiful, and, in comparison with the more real error in the Oriental religions, almost meriting the name “innocent.”

In this way, then, mythology would be a disintegrated monotheism. And this would thus be the final peak to which the viewpoints relating to mythology have led us, one step at a time. No one will deny that this viewpoint is more splendid than the earlier ones, simply because it is not derived from the indefinite multitude of objects fortuitously extracted from Nature, but from the central point of a oneness governing the multiplicity. It is not partial beings of a highly accidental and ambiguous nature, but the thought of the necessary and general being, to which alone the human spirit defers—it is that thought which holds sway throughout mythology and raises it to a true system of coordinated phases, a system which in the midst of the disintegration still sets its stamp on every individual idea, and which therefore, in addition, can end not in a mere indefinite multiplicity, but only in polytheism—in a multiplicity of gods.

Now with this last analysis it is—I ask you to note this carefully, since in order to understand a course of lectures like the current one in its full significance, one should always pre-eminently be aware of the points of transition—here it is no longer asserted merely philosophically that the polytheism which actually exists presupposes monotheism, here monotheism has become a historical presupposition of mythology, it is itself in turn derived from a historical fact (a primal revelation); through these [92] historical presuppositions the explanation becomes a hypothesis, and thus at the same time susceptible of a historical evaluation.

It undeniably has its strongest historical support in the fact that it offers the simplest means of explaining the kinship between the ideas in otherwise quite distinct theologies, and in this respect one can only wonder why Creuzer pays less attention to this advantage, and gives more weight to a historical relationship between societies, which is difficult to prove, indeed in the principal cases unprovable, and from which, in part, he intends to derive those correspondences. But our earlier arguments have already led us to formulations which make even the monotheistic hypothesis, as we shall call it, still appear very vague in its present form. We were earlier led to the conclusion that the mythology of every society can come into existence only at the same time as that society itself. Thus the various mythologies, and polytheism in general, since mythology exists nowhere in abstracto, can also only have come into existence at the same time as the societies, and accordingly there would be no room for the monotheism postulated, except in the era before the rise of societies. Creuzer too seems to have had something similar in mind, when he stated that the monotheism which still predominated in the most ancient doctrine could have lasted only for as long as the tribes stayed together, and that with their separation multitheism must have come into existence.53

We have, it is true, no way of telling what Creuzer meant by the “separation of the tribes,” but if we replace that with “separation of the societies,” then it is clear that a double causal relationship may be understood between this and the emerging polytheism. It could on the one hand be said, that is, in agreement with Creuzer, that after humanity had split up into societies, monotheism could no longer have endured, as the doctrine which until then had held sway grew obscure in proportion to its increasing distance from the source, and [93] more and more fell apart. But it could equally well be said that the polytheism coming into existence was the cause of the separation of societies. And we must decide between these two possibilities, if everything is not to remain in a state of suspension and incertitude.

But the decision will depend on the following question. If polytheism only comes as a result of the separation of the societies, then it must be possible to find another cause, by reason of which humanity was divided into societies, so we have to investigate whether such a cause exists; this means, though, that we have to investigate in general, and answer, the question towards which we have long been heading: What is the reason for this separation of humanity into societies? The earlier explanations all assumed the prior existence of societies. But how did societies come into existence? Is it possible to believe that such a great and universal phenomenon as mythology and polytheism, or—for here for the first time does this expression find its rightful place—as heathenism CXXXV —is it credible, I say, that such a potent phenomenon can be understood outside the general context of the great events which have befallen humanity as a whole? The question of how societies came into existence is thus not one raised arbitrarily, it is one which is introduced by way of our analysis itself and is therefore necessary and inescapable, and we may indeed rejoice to find ourselves translated, with this question, out of the confined space of the earlier investigations and into a field of research which is wider and more universal, and which for that very reason also promises universal results on a higher plane.



34 Compare the article on existence in the French Encyclopædia, from which a great deal in  later popular explanations of the initial origin of ideas about gods seems to have been borrowed.  The article is by Turgot.
35 A. P. 391 ss.
36 See the review of the above-mentioned work, reprinted in the Götting. gel. Anzeigen, prior to  its translation into German.
37 Compare the remarks of the French translator, among others.
38 Since the fact is important for what is to follow, the relevant passages might be reproduced  here. One, in which the author expresses himself in a quite general way, is the following:
Les ecclésiastiques y en ont ajouté une autre fausseté positive en disant, que ces peuples avaient une  religion. Persuadés qu‟il était impossible aux hommes de vivre sans en avoir une bonne ou mauvaise,  et voyant quelques figures dessinées ou gravées sur les pipes, les arcs, les bâtons et les poteries des  indiens, ils se figurèrent à l‟instant que c‟etaient leurs idoles, et les brûlèrent. Ces peuples emploient  encore aujourd‟hui les mêmes figures; mais ils ne le font que par amusement, car ils n’ont aucune  religion. Voyages T. II, p. 3.

Of the Payaguas, among others, he relates the same thing on page 137:
 Quand la tempête ou le vent renverse leurs huttes ou cases, ils prennent quelques tisons de leur feu;  ils courent à quelque distance contre le vent, en le menaçant avec leurs tisons. D‟autres, pour  épouvanter la tempête, donnent force coups de poing en l ‟air. Ils en font quelquefois autant, quand ils  aperçoivent la nouvelle lune; mais, disent-ils, ce n‟est que pour marquer leur joie: ce qui a donné lieu  à quelques personnes de croire qu‟ils l‟adoraient; mais le fait positif est qu‟ils ne rendent ni adoration  ni culte à rien au monde, et qu’ils n’ont aucune religion

39 Natural History of Religion p. 38.
40 ibid. p. 45.
41 Les Ruines.
42 Origine de tous les Cultes.
43 Natural History of Religion, p. 93.
44 ibid. p. 27.

45 ibid. p. 29.
46 ibid. pp. 51-2.
47 On the Nature and Treatment of Mythology, p. 25.
48 §. 6 and §. 7.
49 Lessing himself, in a letter to his brother (Collected Works XXX, p. 523), speaks of the  Education of Mankind in such a way as to indicate that it did not satisfy him: “I have,” it reads, “sent him (the pu bli she r Voss) the E. o. M., which he is going to pad out to a half dozen  signatures for me. I can certainly send the whole thing out into the world, for I would never  acknowledge it to be my own work, and yet several people have shown an interest in the  comple te plan.”—While one may be inclined to conclude from the italicized words that Lessing  was not the author at all, in fact it may, rather, be the opposite which they imply. When he says  that he would never acknowledge it to be his own work, he is in fact thereby confessing that it is  his work. Yet even a great author, and especially one such as Le ssing, is certainly capable of  publishing a work which does not satisfy him (and could the E. o. M. have satisfied a spirit like  Lessing in general, also, that is, in a larger context, would he not have been obliged to regard its  content as something which was put forward only in a preliminary way, whose place would have  to be taken at some future time by something quite di fferent, which even now cannot be carried  out?)—but an author like Lessing can indeed, as I say, publish a work like that too, specifically  as a transition and stepping-stone towards something higher.
50 Compare the passage in my dissertation On the Samothracian Deities, p. 30, which,  moreover, as the context shows, is not intended to contain any assertion, but only to put forward,  in contrast to the view described there, which keeps merely to the letter of the Mosaic documents,  another, as equally possible. At that time, what is more, the author was certainly more  concerned with the material side of mythology, and still shunned the formal questions, which  have been taken up for the first time in the current lectures.
51 Symbolism and Mythology of the Ancient Societies, Particularly of the Greeks, 3rd. edition in  four volumes. The second edition is used for the preparation of the current lectures.—Moser’s  abstract of the work (put out by the same publisher), which contains everything essential in one  volume, without omissions, might be recommended for students; also of great interest is the  French translation by Guigniaut (Religions de l’Antiquité, Ouvrage traduit de l’Allemand du Dr. F.  Creuzer refondu en partie completé et developpé. Paris 1825. III Volumes), which has added much  that is valuable and new.
52 Mythology could perhaps also be compared to a great piece of music, which a number of  people who had lost all sense of its musical structure, of its rhythm and tempo, went on playing  as it were mechanically, so that then it could give the impression only of an inextricable mass of  discords, while the same piece, performed in a way appropriate to a work of art, would at once  again reveal its harmony, its structure and original intelligence.
53 Correspondence Relating to Homer and Hesiod, p. 100 f.
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Re: Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Myt

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HOW did societies come into being? Anyone wanting to declare this question to be superfluous would have to establish either the proposition “societies have always existed,” or alternatively “societies come into being of their own accord.” It would not be easy for anyone to opt for the first assertion. But an attempt could certainly be made to assert that societies arise of their own accord, that they arise simply as a consequence of the continuing increase in the number of generations, whereby not only does, in general, a larger area of the Earth become populated, but also the lines of descent diverge ever more widely. This led, though, only to tribes, not to societies. Yet it could be said that to the degree that vigorously growing tribes are forced to split up and seek out domiciles remote from one another, they do become mutually alienated. But even so, not to the point of becoming different societies, unless every tribal fragment is made a society through other factors which join it later; for through mere external separation tribes do not become societies. The most striking example is given by the vast separation between the Oriental and Occidental Arabs. Cut off by seas from their brothers, the Arabs in Africa, disregarding a few minor nuances in their common language and their common customs, are still today what their tribal comrades in the Arabian desert are. Conversely, unity of descent does not prevent a tribe breaking up into different societies, which proves that there must be some additional factor quite distinct from and independent of heredity, for a society to come into existence.

[95] A merely spatial disintegration would always give just parts of a similar kind, but never dissimilar parts such as societies, which are from the time they come into existence essentially dissimilar both physically and spiritually. In the historical era we do indeed see how one society comes up against another and exerts pressure on it, forces it to become confined within narrower boundaries or to abandon its original domicile entirely, without, what is more, the society which was cast out or even banished to the most remote frontier ceasing for that reason to maintain its character and to be the same society. Even with the Arab tribes, both those who lead their nomadic life in the land of their birth, and the others in the interior of Africa, naming and distinguishing themselves according to their progenitors, there are raids and battles among themselves, without them thereby becoming societies for each other, or ceasing to be a homogeneous mass, exactly as in the ocean there is no lack of storms to raise mighty waves which restore, though, after a short time, the former calm surface of the element and revert into it without leaving a trace behind, or as the desert wind whirls the sand up into destructive columns, sand which soon afterwards displays once more the former featureless surface.CXXXVI

An inner separation, for that very reason inexpungible and irrevocable, such as exists between societies, can on no account be brought about merely from outside, nor, thus, can it be brought about by mere natural events, as one might at first think. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, changes in the sea level, the breaking up of land masses, however widespread one might assume them to have been, would explain a separation into similar parts, but never into dissimilar ones. So it must at any rate have been inner causes, arising in the inner nature of homogeneous mankind itself, by which the latter became divided, by which it was brought to the point of breaking up into dissimilar, henceforth mutually exclusive parts. To do that, these inner causes could still have been natural ones. Divergences in physical evolution appearing in the inner nature of mankind itself, divergences which in accordance with a hidden law in the human race [96] began to express themselves, and through which then, as a further consequence, certain spiritual, moral, and psychological differences also appear, might be considered, sooner even than external events, to be the reasons why humanity was brought to the point of breaking up into societies.

To demonstrate the separative power which physical divergences are capable of exercising, one could point to the consequences which have occurred whenever, conversely, large masses of the human race, having been kept apart by divine providence as it were, came into contact or even intermingled (for it was in vain, as Horace already laments, that provident God let Oceanus sunder unassimilable lands, if mankind nonetheless bestraddles, with transgressing conveyance, the forbidden aqueous reachesCXXXVII); to this end one could recall the diseases which have influenced world history, spread among the human race by the Crusades, or from America, newly-discovered or rediscovered after millennia, or the devastating diseases which regularly develop in the wake of world wars, by which societies far removed from one another are brought together in the same area and become for a moment what amounts to one society. If the unforeseen merging of societies separated from each other by wide stretches of land, by streams, swamps, mountains, and deserts, gives rise to pestilential diseases; if (to set lesser examples beside these greater ones) the by no means numerous inhabitants of the Shetland Islands, completely isolated from the world and from intercourse with the rest of the human race, whenever a foreign ship arrives, indeed whenever the crew of the ship which returns annually bringing them food and other necessities set foot on their desolate shores, are afflicted by a convulsive coughing, which does not leave them until after the departure of the aliens; if something similar, indeed still more striking, occurs on the lonely Færoes, where the appearance of a foreign ship has the consequence for the inhabitants, as a rule, of a characteristic catarrhal fever, by which not infrequently a proportionately not inconsiderable section of their feeble population is carried off; if similar symptoms are observed on South Sea islands, [97] where even the arrival of a few missionaries was enough to bring on fevers which were previously unknown and which reduced the population; if thus, once a separation has become established, the co-existence, restored for an instant, of human races become alien to each other, gives rise to diseases, then in the same way incipient divergences in physical evolution and antipathies aroused thereby or diseases which have already actually come into existence could have become the cause of a mutual exclusion, perhaps of an instinctive kind, of human strains no longer endurable for each other.

So this hypothesis may, among those which are purely physical, still be that one which accords best with the conformity of all original events to laws; but on the one hand it explains only mutually unendurable strains, it does not explain societies; on the other it may in fact, in the light of other experience, rather be spiritual and moral differences which result in a physical incompatibility between certain human species. Relevant here is the rapid extinction of all natives in contact with Europeans, as a result of which all nations seem destined to vanish who are not defended by their countless numbers, like the Indians and Chinese, or by the climate, like the Negroes. In Van Diemen‟s Land since the settlement of the English the entire aboriginal population has died out.CXXXVIII Similarly in New South Wales. It is as if the higher and freer evolution of the European nations becomes deadly for all others.

One cannot speak of physical differences within the human species without at once being reminded of the so-called “races of men,” whose differentiation has indeed seemed to some to be great enough to justify even the abandonment of the idea of a common provenance of the human species. Now certainly as far as this view goes (for in an investigation such as the present we cannot avoid saying at least something about this question), the conclusion that racial difference is a decisive refutation of the original unity of the human species might be called premature, at least; for the fact that there are difficulties associated with the assumption of a common provenance [98] proves nothing; we are too much beginners in this investigation, too many facts are not yet even adequately known, for us to be able to assert that future researches could not give our views on this subject a quite different bearing, or introduce amplifications which have not until now been contemplated. Yet is notCXXXIX that which is tacitly presupposed in all discussions itself an idea until now merely presumed but not proven, namely that the process through which racial differences came into existence only took place among one section of humanity, that section which we now see actually degraded into races (for European man should properly not be referred to as a “race”), while it may be seen as equally possible that this process passed through the whole of humanity, and that the nobler part of humanity is not the one which remained quite untouched by it, but simply the one which has overcome it and in that very process raised itself to higher spirituality, while conversely the races actually in existence now are simply the part which succumbed to the process, and in which one of those trends in a divergent physical evolution has established itself and become a permanent characteristic. We hope, if we succeed in carrying this great investigation through to its end, to identify facts which might be what is required to give our thought access to the general nature of that process, and indeed facts of a kind derived not merely from the history of Nature, for example from the boundary, become as it were fluid as a result of recent discoveries, between the various races, but from quite different aspects. For the moment it will suffice to say that, not as it might be merely for the sake of tradition or in the interest of some moral feeling, but in consequence of purely scientific judgement, we must, as long it has not been proved impossible to comprehend under this presupposition the natural and historical differences within the human species, hold fast to the unity of provenance, which in any case is supported by the fact, still not wholly disproved, that the progeny even of individuals of different races are themselves in turn capable of propagation.

[99] Now if, additionally, the facts adumbrated just now do amount to a proof that the racial process, as we shall express it for the sake of brevity, might have played a part as far back as the times of the emergence of societies, then it should still be noted that societies are not, at least not consistently, divided along racial lines. On the contrary, it is fact possible to point to societies in which are found, between their various classes, distinctions at least approximating to racial differences. NiebuhrCXL has already mentioned the strikingly white skin and complexion of the Indian Brahmins, which in the other castes54 CXLI becomes correspondingly darker the lower the caste, and is lost in an utter ape-brown among the Pariahs, who are not even regarded as a caste. Niebuhr should be credited with not confusing an innate difference in complexion with the accidental one produced by a different mode of life and perceived everywhere when comparing leisured people, living mostly in the shade, with those who are almost always in the open, exposed to the direct influence of sun and air. If the Indians are the example of a society among whom a physical distinction approaching a racial difference has brought with it only a division into castes, but has not supplanted the unity of the society itself, then the Egyptians are perhaps the example of a society in which racial difference has been overcome; otherwise whither could have vanished that Negroid race with frizzy hair and black skin-colour whom Herodotus still saw in Egypt, and who must have been pointed out to him as the most ancient there,55 CXLII since he based conclusions about the provenance of the Egyptians on this sight, if one does not wish to assume that he himself had not been in Egypt at all or was simply romancing.

What has been presented up to now may have been sufficient preparation for the following question: whether divergent trends in physical evolution, instead of being the causes, were not rather themselves just an attendant [100] phenomenon of the great spiritual movements which must have been associated with the initial emergence and formation of societies. For it is very relevant to recall the experience that even in individual cases a complete spiritual immobility also retards certain physical changes, and conversely, great spiritual unrest also gives rise to certain physical changes or abnormalities; just as, in step with the multiplicity of spiritual changes in humanity, the number and complexity of diseases has increased; and just as, corresponding with the observation that in the life of the individual an disease overcome not uncommonly signals the moment of a profound spiritual transformation, and new diseases emerging in vigorous forms appear as parallel symptoms of major spiritual emancipations.56CXLIII And if societies, as they are separated not merely spatially and externally, nor by mere natural differences, if they are masses excluding each other spiritually and inwardly, but at the same time inextricably held together in themselves, then, neither is the original unity of the still unseparated human race, to which, after all, we must ascribe some duration, conceivable without a spiritual power which maintains humanity in this immobility and even prevents from taking effect the germs, contained in it, of divergent physical changes, nor may it be assumed that humanity would ever have left this condition, where there were no distinctions between societies, but merely between tribes, without a spiritual crisis which must have been of the most profound significance, must have taken place in the foundation of human consciousness itself, if it was to have been strong enough to empower or to induce humanity, united until then, to split up into societies.

And now, after this has been stated in general, that the reason must have been a spiritual one, we can only marvel that something so obvious was not seen at once. For without different languages, different societies are indeed inconceivable, [101] and language is, after all, something spiritual. If societies are separated by none of their external differences, among which language too, in one of its aspects, does indeed belong, so inwardly as by language, and if only those societies which speak different languages are really distinct, then the coming into existence of languages is inseparable from the coming into existence of societies. And if the differentiation of societies is not something which has always been, but something which has come to be, then this very same thing must be true of the differentiation of languages. If there was a time in which there were no societies, a time too, then, in which there were no distinct languages—and there must inevitably be presupposed, prior to a humanity separated into societies, a humanity unseparated—then it is no less inevitable to have a language common to the whole of humanity preceding the languages separating societies. These are straightforward statements which are usually not considered, or which, thanks to a cerebrating critical analysis which discourages and stunts the spirit (and which, it seems, is quite particularly at home in many parts of our native land), one does not permit oneself to consider, but they are statements which, as soon as they are expressed, must be seen to be incontrovertible, and no less irrefutable is the consequence necessarily associated with them, the fact that a spiritual crisis in the inner nature of man must have preceded the emergence of societies, simply because that emergence inevitably brought with it a fragmentation of language. At this point we encounter the most ancient document of the human race, the Mosaic scriptures, towards which so many harbour antipathy only because they do not know where to begin with it, nor how to understand or to use it.

Genesis57 in fact associates the emergence of societies with the emergence of different languages, but in such a way that the confusion of language is specified as the cause, and the emergence of societies as the effect. For the intention of the account is by no means only to make the differentiation of languages intelligible, as is claimed by those who explain it as a mythical [102] philosopheme invented to this end. And it is certainly not mere invention; this account is created, rather, from actual recollection, which has indeed also been preserved to some extent in other societies,58CXLIV a reminiscence—from mythical times certainly but of an actual event therein; since those who at once take every account deriving from mythical times or from mythical circumstances to be a fiction, seem not at all to consider that those times and those circumstances which we commonly call “mythical” were nonetheless actual too. So this myth, as the account can certainly be termed, disregarding the false interpretation just mentioned, but in accordance with its language and subject matter, has the value of an actual record, in which case, then, it will in addition be self-evident that we retain the right to draw a distinction between the subject matter and the way in which it appears to the narrator from his standpoint. Since for him the coming into being of societies, for example, is a misfortune, an evil, even a punishment. Additionally we must also forgive him for taking the liberty of portraying as having come to pass in one day, as it were, an event which did, in all probability, occur suddenly, but whose effects extended over a whole epoch.

But in that very fact that for him the coming into being of societies is an eventCXLV at all, something, that is, which does not take place of its own accord without a particular cause—in that fact resides the truth of the account, as does the rebuttal of the view that no explanation is needed, that societies come into existence imperceptibly because of the mere length of time and through a quite natural process. For him the event is an unforeseen one, incomprehensible even to the humanity affected by it, in which case, then, it is also no wonder that it left behind that deep, abiding impression, the memory of which endured into the historical era. The coming into existence of societies is for the ancient narrator a judgement, and, for that reason is indeed, as we have termed it, a crisis.

[103] But as the immediate cause of the separation of societies the accountCXLVI names the confusion of the language until then unified and common to the whole human race. There already, even, the coming into existence is expressed in terms of a spiritual process.

For it is not possible to conceive of a confusion of language without an internal occurrence, without a disruption of consciousness itself. If we order the occurrences in their natural sequence, then the most inward one is necessarily an alteration of consciousness, the next, already more outward, is the spontaneous confusion of language, and the most outward one is the separation of the human race into groups henceforth mutually exclusive, not merely spatially but also inwardly and spiritually, that is to say into societies. In this sequence the intermediate member still has, to the most outward, which is pure effect, the relationship of a cause, in fact of an immediate cause; the account names only this, as the most comprehensible one, the one becoming apparent first to everyone who looks at the separative differences between societies, because, that is, the distinction between languages is at the same time an outwardly perceivable one.

But even that affection of consciousness, that affection which directly results in a confusion of language, could have been no merely superficial one; it must have disrupted consciousness in its principle, in its foundation, and (if the assumed outcome, confusion of the language until then common, is to come about), in that very aspect which had hitherto been what was common and had held humanity together; the spiritual force must have begun to falter which up to this point had impeded every development tending towards disintegration, and had maintained humanity at the stage of a complete, absolute homogeneity, regardless of the division into tribes, which in itself accounts for a merely outward distinction.

It was a spiritual force which brought this about. For the fact of humanity‟s remaining unified, the fact that it did not disintegrate, requires for its explanation a positive reason, just as much as does the subsequent disintegration. What duration we assign to this time of homogeneous humanity is wholly immaterial, to the extent that this time, in which nothing takes place, [104] has in any case only the significance of a starting point, of a pure terminus a quo, from which onwards reckoning is made, but which itself contains no actual time, that is to say no sequence of different times. Yet we have to give this uniform time some duration, and this is quite inconceivable without a force resisting any development tending towards disintegration.CXLVII But if we ask what spiritual force was strong enough in itself to maintain humanity in this immobility, then it is immediately apparent that it must have been a principle, and indeed one principle by which the consciousness of men was exclusively occupied and governed; for as soon as two principles divided this governance between themselves, differences within humanity must have come into being, because humanity inevitably divided in accordance with the two principles. But in addition, a principle like that, which left no room for any other in consciousness, and admitted no other apart from itself, could itself only have been an infinite one, only a god, a god who entirely filled consciousness, who was common to the whole of humanity, a god who, as it were, drew humanity in, into his own oneness, denied it any movement, any deviation, be it to the right or to the left, as the Old Testament many times expresses it; only a god like that could have given a duration to that absolute immobility, to that arrest of all evolution.

Now in just the same way, though, as humanity could not have been kept together and in motionless calm more decidedly than by the unqualified oneness of the god by whom it was governed, then on the other hand no more powerful and profound disruption is conceivable than must have ensued as soon as the One, until then motionless, became itself mobile, and this was unavoidable as soon as another god or several others were present, or came to the fore, in consciousness. This polytheism, coming about as it always does (for a more detailed explanation is here still not possible), made a continuing oneness in the human race impossible. Polytheism is thus the separating agent which was introduced into homogeneous humanity. Different theologies, diverging from one another, mutually exclusive, even, as they evolve further, [105] are the unerring instrument of the separation of societies. Were it that other causes could be devised which could have brought about a dispersal of humanity, which we have every reason to doubt, however, after what has been discussed up to now: what the division and finally the complete separation of societies must inexorably and irresistibly have brought about was unambiguous polytheism and the differentiation, inseparable therefrom, of theologies no longer supportable for each other. The same god who, in imperturbable identity with himself maintained the oneness, must now, become distinct from himself and mutable, have himself scattered the human race in the same way as he had earlier held it together, and just as, in his identity, he was the cause of its oneness, so must he have become in his multiplicity the cause of its disintegration.

This specification of the innermost process is admittedly not explicit in the Mosaic record, but if that record names merely the immediate cause (the confusion of languages), it has at least indicated the indirect and ultimate cause (the emergence of polytheism). Of these indications only the one might be mentioned for the present: that it names Babel as the setting of the confusion, the location of the future great city which ranks, for the whole of the Old Testament, as the beginning and initial site of the definitive and now inexorably spreading polytheism, as the location “where,” as a prophet expresses it, “the golden cup was filled, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine”. 59 CXLVIII Wholly independent historical research, as we shall be persuaded in the sequel, likewise points to the fact that in Babylon the transition to polytheism proper took place. The concept of heathenism, which is to say, in fact, of societies—for the word in Hebrew and Greek which is rendered into German by Heiden (heathen) expresses no more than that—is so inseparably tied to the name “Babel” that right up to the final book of the New Testament Babylon serves as the symbol of everything heathen and of everything which might be regarded as heathen. Such an inexpungible symbolic [106] significance as is attached to the name “Babel” comes into being only when it derives from an imprint as old as time.CXLIX

More recently, it is true, attempts have been made to dissociate the name of the great city from the meaningful memory which it preserves, attempts have been made to find a derivation for it different from the one given it by the ancient account. “Babel” is said to amount to the same as Bâb-Bel (gateway, courtyard of Baal: Belus-Baal); but to no avail! The derivation is proved wrong simply by the fact that “bab” in this sense is characteristic only of the Arabic dialect. It is, rather, actually just as the old account says: “Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth.”CL “Babel” is really only a contraction of “Balbel,” a word in which there clearly resides some onomatopoeic quality. Oddly enough the repetition of sound, which is obscured in the pronunciation “Babel,” is preserved still in the later descendant of the same word (“Balbel”), belonging to a quite different and much younger language; I am referring to the Greek βάρβαρος, barbarian, which until now could be derived only from the Chaldaic “bar,” outside (extra), “barya,” foreigner (extraneus). For the Greeks and Romans, however, the word “barbarian” does not have this general meaning, but specifically that of someone speaking incomprehensibly, as the famous line of Ovid would suffice to make evident:

Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non intelligor ulli.CLI 60

Additionally, in the derivation from “bar” the iteration of the syllable is not taken into consideration, an iteration in which primarily the quality of sound imitation resides, such that this in itself would suffice to prove that the word referred to language, as Strabo too has already observed. CLII Thus the Greek “barbaros” [107] is formed, simply by way of the familiar and so commonly occurring interchange of the consonants “r” and “l”, from the Eastern word balbal, which imitates the sound of stammering language, jumbling the sounds together, and is also even now preserved with the significance of confused speech in the Arabic and Syrian language.61 CLIII

Here, now, another question naturally arises: How can the polytheism coming into existence be considered the cause of the confusion of languages, what relationship is there between a crisis of the religious consciousness and the utterances of the power of speech?

We could simply reply that it is so, whether we can see the connection or not. The utility of a piece of research does not always consist merely in resolving difficult questions; a more significant service is perhaps to create new problems and mark them out for a future investigation, or to extract a new aspect from existing questions (precisely like the one about the foundation of and relationship between languages). This new aspect may at first seem only to plunge us into a still more profound ignorance, but it also in fact all the more restrains us from trusting over-simple and superficial solutions, and can become the means of answering the principal question more aptly than hitherto, in that it compels us to take it up from a side which had not until this point been considered. But facts, even, which testify to such a relationship are not wholly lacking, although equally difficult to explain readily. There are many curious things in Herodotus: one of the oddest is what he says of the Attic people: “since they were really Pelasgian, they have, in turning into Hellenes, also learnt a new language”.62 CLIV The metamorphosis [108] of the Pelasgian soul into the Hellenic, as already pointed out earlier in these lectures in relation to the famous passage from Herodotus, was precisely the transition from the still unexpressed mythological consciousness to the explicit one.—Affections of the power of speech, and indeed not just of the external power but of the internal, which are associated with religious states, are claimed to have been observed in many cases which I shall not go into here. But what, other than the consequence of a religious affection, could the speaking with tongues in the Corinthian community have been, which the Apostle, moreover, accepts at nothing less than face value, and really does treat only with circumspection, but which, for that very reason, he attests the more certainly to have been a fact? We are only too little accustomed to see the principles, by which the spontaneous religious movements in human consciousness are determined, as principles possessing universal significance, which can therefore in certain circumstances become the causes of other effects, even physical ones. Let us, though, leave the relationship still unexplained for now; this much has become intelligible to human research through careful progress, one step at a time. The relationship in question, that of religious affections to affections of the power of speech, is no more mysterious than the way certain peculiarities of physical constitution, also, were associated with a particular mythology or form of religion. The Egyptian is organized in one way, the Indian in another, and the Hellene in another way again, and on closer investigation, each in a certain conformity with the nature of his theology.

Yet let us recall the phenomenon parallel to the confusion of language, more in order to justify the reference to polytheism which we see in the ancient account, than to show yet another example of the relationship between religious movements and language. Only one thing in the whole course of religious history is comparable with the occurrence of the confusion of language: the momentarily restored unity of language (ὁμογλωσσία) at Pentecost, with which Christianity, destined to bring the whole [109] human race together once again in unity through the recognition of the one true god, sets off on its great path.63 CLV

I hope it will not seem excessive if I add that in the same way only one event in the whole of history corresponds to the separation of societies, and that is the Exodus, which is, though, more like a coming together or reunification than a scattering. For it could only have been a force such as is reserved for the supreme turning points of world history, an attractive force equal in strength to the earlier repulsive, divisive one, which brought those societies which had, for that end, been kept in reserve, out of the still unexhausted antechamberCLVI and onto the stage of world history, so that they took Christianity unto themselves and made it into that which it was destined to become, and which it could have become only through them.

In any event it is clear that the coming into existence of societies, the confusion of language, and polytheism are, for the Old Testament mode of thought, related concepts and connected phenomena. When we look back from this point at what was discovered earlier, every society exists, then, as such, only after it has been defined and distinguished in respect of its mythology. So its mythology cannot come into existence for it in the time when the severance has already been accomplished, and after it has already come into being as a society; since, however, mythology was as little capable of coming into existence for the society for as long as the latter was still embraced, as a part until then invisible, in the whole of humanity, its origin, thus, will date precisely from the transition, when the society is not yet present in a well-defined form, but is just on the point of withdrawing and isolating itself as such.

[110] But this same thing must now also be true of the language of every society: that it only becomes defined as the society itself becomes distinct. Until then, and for as long as the society remains caught up in the crisis, and thus in the process of coming into being, its language too is fluid, mobile, not cleanly separated from others, so that languages actually to some extent different are confounded in speech,64CLVII just as the ancient account too assumes only a confusion, not that the languages at once became completely detached from one another. From that stage, where languages had not yet become separated, but were in the process of separating, may derive, under the names of Greek deities, those which are clearly non-Greek and prehistoric; Herodotus, who may certainly be credited with a Hellenic feeling for language, and who would certainly have detected a Greek etymology in the name “Poseidon,” for example, quite as easily as a grammarian of our own time,65 CLVIII says that almost all the names of the gods came to the Greeks from the barbarians, CLIX which is clearly not to say that the gods themselves also came to them from the barbarians, nor even necessarily prior to the barbarians. This is also the probable explanation of a few material correspondences between languages otherwise constructed in accordance with wholly different principles. In comparisons between languages in general the following hierarchy occurs: some are just dialects of the same language, like Arabic and Hebrew, and here there is a unity of descent;CLX others belong to the same formation, like Sanscrit, Greek, Latin, and German; others again neither to the same line of descent [111] nor to the same formation, and yet there are correspondences, between the various languages, which are explained neither by historical circumstances, like Arabic words in Spanish and French,66 CLXI nor from the fact that the languages belong to the same line of descent or the equivalent stage of evolution (formation). Examples of this kind are provided by the occurrence of Semitic words in Sanscrit, in Greek, and also, it seems, in ancient Egyptian; these are thus correspondences which go beyond any history. No language comes into existence for the society which is already complete and in existence, nor, therefore, does its language, either, arise for any society in the absence of any relationship with the original unity of language, which still seeks to assert itself even in the divided state.

For a unity, whose force survives even in the disintegration, is indicated by the phenomena, the behaviour of societies, in so far as it is still discernible through the mist of the primæval era regardless of the great span of time.

It was not an external spur, but the spur of inner unrest, the feeling of being no longer the whole of humanity but only a part of it, and of no longer belonging to the absolutely One, but of coming under the sway of a particular god or particular gods; this feeling, it was, which drove them from land to land, from coast to coast, until each part came to see itself as alone and separated from all those of an alien cast, and had found the location marked out for it, appropriate to it.67 CLXII Or is mere chance thought to have prevailed there too? Was it chance which brought into the narrow Nile valley the oldest inhabitants of Egypt, who proclaimed with their dark skin colour simply the sombre disposition of their own inner nature, 68 CLXIII or was it the feeling that only in such isolation [112] could they preserve what they were destined to preserve in themselves? For even after the scattering the fear stayed with them; they sensed the destruction of the original unity, which gave way to a confusing multiplicity, and seemed not to be able to end otherwise than in the total loss of all consciousness of unity, and thereby of everything human.

For this extreme condition too the evidence is preserved for us, as are surely preserved still, regardless of all the depredations of time, memorials for everything which true and methodically advancing science of its own exertions comes to know or claims; this, as I have often enough stated, is the creed of the true seeker after knowledge, which does him no disgrace. Here again I draw attention to those inhabitants of South America referred to several times already, dispersed and only outwardly like men still. It is quite impossible to detect in them examples of the initial condition, assumed still to be the coarsest, and most closely approaching animality; on the contrary they refute in the clearest possible way the fantasy of such a dull-wittedCLXIV original condition of humanity, since they show that, starting from such a condition, no advance is possible; and I feel it would be equally out of place for me to apply to these species the model of societies which have reverted from an erstwhile cultivation back into barbarism. The condition in which they exist presents no problem to intelligences who make do merely with second-hand ideas; the meticulous thinker, though, did not until now know how to place them. If societies may not be presupposed as coming into existence of their own accord, if the necessity of explaining societies has to be recognized, then the same applies to those masses who, although physically homogeneous, have yet remained without any moral and spiritual unity among themselves. To me they seem to be just the unfortunate result of that same crisis out of which the rest of humanity salvaged the foundation of all human consciousness, while for them this foundation was lost completely. They are the still living testimony of the dispersal which has run its full course, restrained by nothing; in them the whole curse of disintegration was fulfilled—they are truly the flock which grazes without shepherd, and without becoming a society they perished [113] in the very crisis which gave the societies their existence. If, as I will assume, independently of witnesses on whose reliability I would in any case prefer to base nothing, there really are to be found among them a few traces of culture, or rather, weak vestiges of customs senselessly kept alive, then these too do not prove that they are the fragments of a society destroyed and shattered by historical or natural catastrophes. For the prehistoric condition of which these people too partook, preceding the emergence of societies—this is, as emerges amply from our explanations, nothing less than a condition of complete absence of culture, a condition of animal crudity, out of which a transition to social evolution would never have been possible. For we have upheld at least the division into tribes within that condition: but where this division exists, then there also already exist relationships similar to marriage and the family; even tribes which have not yet become societies do at least recognize moveable property and, to the extent that it is property, contracts too, indisputably; but no possible political collapse can bring an entity which was once a society and had appropriate customs, laws, civil institutions, and what is invariably associated with these, characteristic religious ideas and customs, down to such a condition of absolute lawlessness and of dehumanization (brutality), as is the one in which those races subsist who lack the notion of any law, of any obligation, or of an order to which everyone is committed, just as they lack all religious ideas. Physical events can destroy a society materially, but cannot rob it of its tradition, its memory, and its entire past, in the way of this human type which has a past as little as does some species of animal. But their condition does indeed become understandable if they are the part of the original humanity in which all consciousness of unity has actually perished. I have already observed that societies cannot be explained by way of a mere disintegration, that a cohesive force was required at the same time: in those people we see what the whole of humanity would have become had it salvaged nothing from the original unity.

[114] Yet another consideration assigns this place to them. It is quite specifically these races which testify to the truth which resides in the ancient account of the confusion of language. Attention has already been drawn to the expression “confusion.” Confusion arises only where inimical elements, which cannot achieve unity, cannot disperse either. In every developing language the original unity continues to exert an effect, as is to some degree shown simply by the kinship between languages; an extinction of all unity would be the extinction of language itself, but thereby of everything human;CLXV for man is only man to the degree that he is capable of a universal consciousness extending beyond his individuality; and language too has meaning only as something shared. The languages of societies which are pre-eminently human and held together spiritually do extend over large areas, and there are only a few such languages. Here, then, a community of consciousness is still preserved among large masses of people. Additionally, these languages still retain within themselves references to others, traces of an original unity, signs of a common provenance. I despair of finding any material correspondence between the idioms of that American population and true national languages, just as I must leave open the question of how far the study which has been devoted to these idioms could have fulfilled the hope, in which it was undertaken, of finding their actual, that is to say genetic, elements; final elementsCLXVI will have been found in them, but elements of decomposition, not of composition and growth. Among that population the Guarani language is, according to Azara, the only one still understood over a relatively wide area, and even this perhaps calls for more detailed research. For otherwise, as the same Azara observes—and he did not travel through those countries, he lived in them and remained there for years—otherwise the language changes from one band to the next, indeed from one hut to the next, so that often only the members of the same family understand each other; and not only that, but the power of speech itself seems in them to be on the point of failing and becoming extinct. Their voice is never strong and sonorous, they speak only [115] quietly, and never cry aloud, not even if they are killed. In speaking, they scarcely move their lips, and do not accompany their speech with any regard which solicits attention. With this apathy is conjoined such a disinclination to speak, that when they have business with someone who is a hundred paces in front of them, they never call out, but run to catch up with him. Here, then, language is poised at the last frontier, beyond which it expires entirely, while it may well be asked whether idioms whose sounds are mostly nose and throat tones, not from the chest and lips, and are accordingly for the most part incapable of being expressed with characters from our written language, still deserve to be called “languages” at all.69 CLXVII

This fear then, this horror of losing all consciousness of unity, kept together those who remained united, and incited them to maintain at least a partial unity, so as to continue in existence if not as humanity, then at least as a society. This fear of the total disappearance of unity and of all truly human consciousness gave them not only the first establishments of a religious kind, but even the first civil institutions, whose aim was none other than to preserve what they had salvaged of the unity and to secure it against further destruction. Since, once the unity has been lost, the individual too tries to isolate himself and to secure his own possessions, they called upon every means at their disposal so as to hold fast to the escaping unity 1) by the formation of separate communities, and particularly by the strict isolation of those in whom what they had in common, the consciousness of unity, was to survive: the division into castes, the foundation of which is as old as history and common to all societies whose constitution as known to us dates from this time, and which had no other aim but to preserve that consciousness more securely in such isolation, and indirectly to preserve it also for the others in whom it was unavoidably becoming more and more ephemeral; 2) by way of [116] strict priestly statutes, establishment of knowledge as doctrine, as seems to have happened particularly in Egypt; 70 CLXVIII but externally they tried to keep themselves united 3) by way of those monuments clearly belonging to a prehistoric era, which are found in all parts of the known world and provide, in their size and construction, evidence of almost superhuman strength, and by which we cannot help being reminded of that portentous tower which the most ancient account mentions in connection with the scattering of societies. The architects say to one another: “Let us build us a bulwark and a tower, whose top reaches unto heaven, so that we might make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”CLXIX They say this even before language becomes confused; they sense what lies ahead of them, the crisis which is foreshadowed for them.

They want to make a name for themselves. In ordinary language: “so that we might become famous.” But although such a translation does accord with common linguistic usage, the multitude speaking here cannot, however, be thinking of becoming famous, before they have a name, that is to say before they are a society, just as no man, either, can make a name for himself, as is commonly said, if he does not already have one. In the nature of the thing, then, the expression must be understood here in its straightforward meaning still, of which the other (becoming famous) is merely the derivative.—According to their own words, therefore, they were until then one nameless humanity; it is indeed the name which distinguishes one society, like one individual, from another, segregates it but at the same time, for that very reason, keeps it together. The words “so that we might make us a name” accordingly mean nothing other than “so that we might become a society,”71 and they give as the reason for this: so that they do not become scattered abroad into every land. Thus the fear of becoming scattered, of being no longer a whole at all, [117] but of breaking up completely, inspires them to the undertaking. Fixed domiciles are considered only when humanity is in danger of wholly fading away and perishing, but with the first fixed abode the segregation begins, thus the rejection and exclusion too, just as the tower of Babel, intended to prevent a total scattering, became the starting-point and motivation for the separation of societies. In the time precisely of this transition belong also, therefore, those monuments of a prehistoric time, particularly the structures reputed to be Cyclopean and thus named by the Greeks, found in Greece, on islands of the Mediterranean, here and there even on the mainland of Italy; structures which Homer, which Hesiod had already seen,72 CLXX walls and battlements, sometimes built of undressed stones without cement, sometimes fitted together out of irregular polygons, monuments of a race become legendary for the later Greeks themselves, a race which has left behind no other traces of its existence, but which nonetheless has actual historical significance to a greater degree than is commonly thought. For as Homer in the Odyssey describes the life of the Cyclopes, how they live without laws, without public assemblies, each, but for his wives and children, on his own, and how none of them pays attention to any other,73 we have to conclude that in them there is already a beginning of those completely dispersed races who are distinguished precisely by the fact that none of them concerns himself with the others, that they remain as foreign to one another as are animals, and are united by no consciousness of a common bond. In the New World this condition, which the Cyclopes in Homer exhibit, was preserved, while the same race in Greece, overwhelmed by the ever more vigorously encroaching unrest, remains, for the society which thereby came into existence, only in the memory. In Homer they still live in natural but apparently [118] artificially enlarged grottos, just as later legend too ascribed to them the subterranean constructions, the grottos and labyrinths of Megara, Nauplia (Napoli di Malvasia),CLXXI among others. But the same race goes on from these workings formed within the substance of the earth to those monuments towering over the earth, which are formed out of material unconnected with and free from the earth; but simultaneously with these the race itself vanishes; for with these constructions is linked the transition to the society in which that transitional race comes to its end.



54 In the Indian language a caste is called “jâti ,” but also “varna,” colour. See Journal Asiat.  Vol. VI, p. 179.
55 Herodot. L. II, c. 104.
56 Compare the well-known works of the regrettably prematurely departed Dr. Schnurrer.
57 Ge. 11.
58 Compare the famous fragments of Abydenos in the first book of Eusebius‟s Chronicle; also  the Platonic dialogue Politicus p. 272 B, wherein there is a glimpse, at least dimly, of the same  recollection.
59 Jer. 51:7.
60 This same meaning may be seen in the Apostle Paul, 1. Co. 14: 11: ἖ὰν μὴ εἰδῶ τὴν δύναμιν  (sense, meaning) τῆς φωνῆς, ἔσομαι τῷ λαλοῠντι βάρβαρος καὶ ὁ λαλῶν (ἐν ) ἐμὸι βάρβαρος, which  Luthe r translate s as “I shall be unto him that spe aketh unintelli gi ble , and he that speake th shall  be uninte lli gi ble unto me ”. In conformi ty wi th thi s usage, some one who speaks uni nte lli gi bly i s a  βάρβαρος too, without being an extraneus. Cicero too contrasts disertus with the barbarus. In the  same way in Plato βαρβα ρίζειν me ans “come out wi th some thing uni ntelli gi ble ”: ἀπορῶν καὶ  βαρβαρίζων . Theæt. 175. D.
61 In the Arabic translation of the New Testament the word “balbal” i s also use d for ταράσσειν  (τὴν ψυχὴν ). Ac. 15:24.—From the same sound imitation comes the Latin balbus, balbutiens, the  German babeln, babbeln (Swabian) = chatter; French babiller, babil.
62 Σὸ Ἀττικὸν ἔθνος, ἐὸν πελασγικὸν , ἄμα τῇ μεταβολῇ τῇ ἐς Ελληνας καὶ τὴν γλῶσσαν μετέμαθεν . L. I. c.  57.
63 In the lectures on the Philosophy of Revelation I called the manifestation at Pentecost, for  this reason, “the reversed Babel,” an expression which I later found in other writers. At that time  the hint from Gesenius in the article “Babylon” i n the Halle encyclopedia was still unknown to  me. Even for the Church Fathers, however, this antithesis was not unusual, so to that extent it  certainly has a claim to be regarded as a natural one. Another parallel from the Persian doctrine,  where the diversity of languages (ἑτερογλωσσία ) is described as the work of Ahriman, and where,  for the time of the restoration of the reign of pure light after the vanquishing of Ahriman, the  unity of languages is also foretold, is mentioned in the Philosophy of Revelation.
64 Therefore a true γλώσσαις (in the plural) λαλεὶν ; in Corinth too something quite different  from the ἑτέραις γλώσσαις λαλεῖν , the explanation of which is contained in the following: Ὅτι ἢκουον  εἷς ἕκαστος τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ λαλούντων αὐτῶν , and that is only possible i f the language which is  spoken is insta omnium, not merely if the different languages lose their tension or exclusivity  with respect to e ach other; anyone speaking in this way is “βάρβαρος” for the Apostle according  to the passage already mentioned.
65 Hermann, as is well known, explains it from ποτὸν (πόσις) and εἴδεσθαι , quod potile videtur,  non est. (Unless I am mistaken, potile should probably read potabile. For sea-water actually is  something potable in the general sense of potile—like everything fluid which drips—yet potable in  the particular sense of being acceptable to human taste, potabile, it only appears to be.)
66 The familiar adjective mesquin is a purely Arabic word, which passed from Spanish into  French.
67 According to a passage from the Pentateuch (Deu. 32:8) the societies were distributed by  the all-highest (to individual gods, the Hebrew word is elsewhere usually followed by a dative),  and the Platonic τότε γὰρ (in the first world-epoch) αὐτῇς πρῶτον τῆς κυκλώσεως ῆρχεν ἐπιμελούμενος  ὅλης ὁ θεός, ὡς νῠν κατὰ τόπ ους ταὐτὸν τοῠτο ὑπὸ θεῶν, ἀρχόντων πάντῃ τὰ τοῠ κόσμου μέρη διειλημμένα  (Politic. p. 271. D) is similar.
68 Herod. Lib. II, c. 104.
69 Ils parlent ordinairement beaucoup de la gorge et du nez, le plus souvent même il nous est  impossible d‟exprimer avec nos lettres leurs mots ou leurs sons. Azara, Voyages T. II, p. 5, and  compare p. 14 and p. 57.
70 Πρῶτοι μὲν ὦν ἀνθρώπων, τῶν ἡμεῖς ἴδμεν, Αἰγύπτιοι λέγονται θεῶν τε ἐννοίην λαβεῐν, καὶ ἱρὰ ἴσασθα  ι . . . πρῶτοι δὲ καὶ οὐνόματα ἱρὰ ἔγνωσαν , καὶ λόγους ἱροὺς ἔλεξαν . Lucian. de Syria Dea c. 2.
71 In Ge. 12:2 Jehovah promises Abraham that he wi ll make of him a great nation and make  his name great.
72 Since we hope to return later to this subject of the pre-Homeric age of the Cyclopean  structures in Greece, might I for the time being draw attention to my dissertation given in the  Academy of Sciences in Munich, and found in summary form in the second annual report (1829-  31) of that body.
73 . . . οὐδ᾽ ἀλλήλων ἀλέγουσιν . Odyss. IX, 115. 
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Re: Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Myt

Postby admin » Sun Mar 18, 2018 8:07 pm


ACCORDING to the immediately preceding analysis, in which, though, it is easily seen that many points of detail await further investigation, it now seems that there could no longer be any doubt that the explanation which assumes, prior to polytheism, a monotheism—a historical monotheism, not just monotheism in general—and in the time, in fact, before the separation of societies, will be the one with which we too shall have to rest. The sole question which remained in doubt for us in this explanation— whether the separation of societies came first and had polytheism as a consequence, or vice versa—has, we must judge, been settled as well; for we believe that what has already been said has been enough to satisfy us that no cause independent of polytheism for the emergence of societies may be found, and we regard the following conclusion, resulting from the analysis up to this point, as the foundation upon which we shall go on to build:

If humanity separated into societies as soon as diverse gods emerged in the consciousness which had until then been united: then the unity in the human race prior to the separation, which unity we are as little able to consider to be without a positive cause, could have been preserved so staunchly by nothing other than the consciousness of one universal god, common to the whole of humanity.

This conclusion, however, contains no ruling of any kind about whether the universal god common to the whole human race was, because he was such a god, of necessity also the One, in the sense of monotheism and indeed in the sense of a revealed [120] monotheism; whether he really had to be an absolutely unmythological god, excluding from himself everything mythological.

Certainly it will be asked what, then, this god, common to all humanity, could have been, other than the truly One, and a god still wholly unmythological; and answering this question is what really matters now: we hope thereby to achieve a basis on which may be constructed no longer merely hypothetical conclusions about the origin of mythology, but categorical ones.

I shall not, though, be able to answer this question without going more deeply than has hitherto been the case and has hitherto, also, been necessary, into the nature of polytheism, which after all became the main problem for us only with the religious explanation.

Here, then, we wish to draw attention to a distinction within polytheism itself, which has been ignored in all the explanations which have hitherto arisen, and which for that very reason we too disregarded, but which now must be discussed.

No one, namely, to whom it is pointed out, can help seeing that there is a great difference between on the one hand the polytheism which comes into existence if there are thought to be indeed a greater or lesser number of gods who are, however, subordinated to one and the same god as the highest and dominant one among them, and on the other hand that polytheism which comes into existence if several gods are assumed, of whom, though, each is the highest and dominant one in a specific era, and who, for this reason, are capable only of succeeding each other. If we consider that the history of the Greek gods might have had, instead of the three races of gods which succeed each other therein, only a single race, that of Zeus for instance, then it too would have known only contemporaneous and co-existent gods, who were all resolved in Zeus as their common unity, it would have known only simultaneous polytheism. In fact, though, it has three systems of gods, and in each of them one god is the highest, Uranus in the first, Cronus in the second, and Zeus in the third. These three, therefore, cannot be gods which exist at the same time, but only mutually exclusive gods, succeeding each other, for this reason, over the course of time. As [121] long as Uranus reigns, Cronus cannot reign, and if Zeus is to gain sway, Cronus must retreat into the past. This polytheism, therefore, we shall call the successive kind.

But now the following, too, is at once evident. Through the second kind alone is the oneness, or to state it quite precisely, the uniqueness of the god unambiguously supplanted: only successive polytheism is true, genuine polytheism. For as far as those gods are concerned who are jointly subordinated to one supreme god, then they do indeed exist simultaneously with the latter, if you will, but are not therefore equivalentCLXXII to him; they exist in him; he exists apart from them; he is the one who comprehends them, but is not comprehended by them; he is not of their number and exists, even if considered only as their emanative cause, prior to them at least in nature and essence. The multiplicity of the others does not affect him, he is always the One, knowing no equal, since the difference between him and them is not a difference of mere individuality, like that between them themselves, but a difference of entire category (differentia totius generis); here there is no actual polytheism, for everything is in the end again resolved in unity, or a polytheism only in the sense, perhaps, in which Jewish theology too calls the angels “Elohim” (gods), without being concerned that the uniqueness of the god whose mere servants and instruments they are might thereby be encroached upon. Here there is indeed multiplicity of gods, but no multitheism.CLXXIII This comes into being only when several supreme and to that extent equivalent gods succeed each other, gods who cannot be resolved again into a higher unity. We must, therefore, adhere strictly to this distinction between multiplicity of gods and multitheism, and particularly in order to be able to pass on now to the subject which is really in question.

For you will understand at once, and without being prompted, that these two kinds of polytheism have a very different relationship to any explanation. If one asks which of the two chiefly calls for explanation, then it is clearly the successive; this is the mystery, here lies the problem, but for that very reason the solution too. Certainly the simultaneous kind is quite easily and simply understood by way of the simple disintegration [122] of an original unity, but the successive is not as easy to understand in the same way, at least in the absence of artificial and forced secondary assumptions.

Successive polytheism will also be considered first because it goes beyond any simultaneous kind, and thus includes the simultaneous kinds as a whole, while it itself is the polytheism which exists absolutely and freely.

But let us now confess honestly that in everything which has been raised until now in this whole discussion, nothing whatever has come to light which might explain successive polytheism, and that in a sense we are in the position of starting at the very beginning, as we ask “How may multitheism be understood?”

But even as we take up the investigation, it becomes clear to us that with this question we find ourselves in wholly different territory, that of actuality, and that we are drawing near to a truth before which all mere hypotheses must vanish like mist before the sun.

According to the Greek theogony, then (at least this is how it recounts it), there was once a time when Uranus reigned alone. Now would this be a mere fable, something else purely contrived and invented? Was there not perhaps actually a time when just the god of heaven was worshipped, when nothing was known of any other, of a Zeus, nor even of a Cronus, and is not in this way the fully developed history of the gods at the same time the original historical documentation of how they themselves came into being?—shall we, in the face of this, still find it credible that mythology could have come into being all at once through the invention of an individual or a few individuals, or (the other hypothesis) through the mere disintegration of a oneness, out of which could have emerged at best no more than a simultaneous polytheism, a mere stationary juxtaposition, and in the final outcome only an unpleasant isolationism, not the living succession of versatile mythology, multifaceted because richly structured?

If we are correct in our judgement, then it is precisely the successive aspect of mythology in which lies what is actual, what is actually historical, thus also [123] what is true,CLXXIV its truth in general; with this we find ourselves on historical ground, on the basis of the actual course which events have taken.

That it is the actual history of its coming into being which mythology has preserved in the succession of its gods becomes completely incontestable when the mythologies of different societies are compared. Here it is apparent that the theologies which remain visible in the mythologies of more recent societies only as theologies of the past were the actual and present theologies of earlier societies, and similarly the reverse, that the reigning gods of earlier societies were incorporated into the mythologies of later ones only as phases of the past. Only thus is the oft-quoted correspondence correctly grasped and explained. In the highest-ranking, or, we would be more correct to say, in the exclusively reigning god of the Phoenicians the Hellenes recognize with absolute certainty the Cronus of their own theogony, and even refer to him as such; it is easy to point out the differences between the Phoenician god and the Greek one, so as to prove that the latter has no reference to (kinship with) the former, but all these differences are fully explained by the single difference that in the Phoenician mythology Cronus still reigns alone, whereas in the Hellenic he is the ousted god, already overcome by a later one; that Cronus is, in the former, the present god, in the latter no more than the god of the past. But how could the Hellenes have recognized their god in the Phoenician one, if they themselves had not been conscious of their Cronus as an actual, not merely imagined and fictitious, past?

We would have been spared the appearance of so many unnatural explanations, had the earlier hypotheses, instead of being content to explain only polytheism in general, explained first and foremost the historical kind. Such a sequence of gods cannot be merely imagined, it cannot be a fiction; whoever makes a god for himself or others, at least makes for himself and others a god who is present. It goes against Nature for something to be introduced at once as past; [124] to become something past is all that anything can do, and it must therefore first have been present; what I am to experience as something past, I must first have experienced as something present. That which never had reality for us, cannot become a stage for us, cannot become a phase; but the earlier god must actually have been retained as a stage, as a phase, for otherwise no successive polytheism could have arisen; at one time he must have governed consciousness and even wholly absorbed it; and if he has disappeared, he could not have disappeared without resistance and a struggle, for otherwise he would not have been retained in the memory.

Were we to suppose, even, so as to take the extreme case, that a cosmological philosopher of the primæval era had made the observation that the world, as it is, is not explicable by way of a single cause, and could not have come into being without a certain succession of active forces or potences, where each in turn laid the foundation for the next, and that he had also, accordingly, incorporated into his cosmology a corresponding succession of such causes, which he represented as personalities: then, no matter what success we might ascribe to his invention, there would never have arisen, towards gods merely thought of and represented as in the past, that religious awe and dread with which we find Cronus to be imbued not only in Greek mythology but even in Greek poetry and art. These religious trepidations felt before a god now powerless, what is more, are no mere poetical falsehood, they are actually felt, and also, for that reason alone, something truly poetical; but they could only have been actually felt if a memory of the god had remained for consciousness, if as a consequence of continued and uninterrupted transmission from generation to generation it was even now still imprinted on the consciousness that this god, albeit in a time inconceivably long ago, had once actually reigned.

Certainly mythology has no reality outside consciousness; but if it takes its course only in formulations of the latter, thus in representations, this course, however, this succession of representations itself, this cannot in turn be merely represented as such a succession, this must actually have come to pass, must [125] actually have occurred in consciousness; this succession is not made by mythology, but on the contrary mythology is made by it; for mythology is in fact simply the totality of these theologies which actually succeeded each other, and it thus came into existence through this succession.

Precisely because the gods exist merely in representations, successive polytheism can become actual only through the establishment in consciousness first of one god, whose place is taken by another, who—does not absolutely eliminate him (for then consciousness would also cease to know of him), but who at least shifts him from the present back into the past, and deprives him, not of his godhood in general, but certainly of his exclusive godhood. This is simply to state nothing more than that which one hears extolled so often, but so seldom actually finds, the pure fact; the fact is not deduced, it is there in successive polytheism itself. We are not explaining why that first god is of such a nature that another succeeds him, nor according to what law this latter succeeds him; all this remains open, it is only asserted as a fact that it was so, that mythology, as it itself shows, came into existence in this way—not through invention, not through a disintegration, but through a succession which actually came to pass in consciousness.

Mythology is not theology merely represented as successive. A struggle between the successive gods, such as is found in the Theogony, would not exist at all among the mythological representations, had it not actually taken place in the consciousness of the societies who know of it, and to that extent in the consciousness of humanity, of which every society is a part. Successive polytheism is only to be explained by assuming that human consciousness has actually lingered in all the phases of that polytheism one after another. The successive gods actually took possession of consciousness one after another. Mythology as history of the gods, thus genuine mythology, could only have evolved in life itself, it must have been something lived through and experienced.

[126] As I utter these last words it brings me great joy to observe that the same expressions, at least in one of his casual remarks, were also used by Creuzer with reference to mythology. Evidently here a natural impression has prevailed over a preconceived assumption, and if we differ to some extent from the sagacious man in respect to the formal part of his explanation, then we are only using against him that which he himself stated out of the most fitting and genuine access of feeling.

No one can fail to see that a succession of representations through which consciousness has actually passed is the sole explanation of mythological polytheism which accords with its nature.

If, now, provided with this insight, we return to the principal question, for the sake of which this whole preceding discussion has taken place, to the question which seeks to determine whether that god common to the whole human race necessarily had to be the unconditionally-One and hence wholly unmythological, then you will see yourselves that this does not necessarily follow, and that the effect, in respect of both the cohesion and the subsequent separation, is achieved at least equally well if even this god is simply the first element, only not yet explained and recognized as such, in a series of gods, that is to say in a successive polytheism. If you think of this god, the first to appear in consciousness, as A, then consciousness does not suspect that a second, B, is impending, who will initially station himself alongside, and soon above, the first. The first god is thus until now the One not only in general, but also in one sense in which no succeeding god can again be it. For in consciousness god B was preceded by god A, and god C (for there is reason to suppose that the second, which ousts the first, might only be preparing the way for a third), the third therefore, when he comes along, has already been preceded in consciousness by A and B. But the god A is the one prior to which there was no other, and after which—as consciousness sees it—there will be no other; for consciousness he is thus not the One merely accidentally, but in fact absolutely, the unconditionally-One. As yet there is no multitheism [127] in the currently defined sense of the word. Therefore if monotheism is understood to mean only the opposite of multitheism, then in consciousness there is still actually monotheism; but it is easy to see that this—indeed absolute for the humanity involved with it—is merely relative, however, in itself and for us. For the absolutely-One god is the one also does not admit the possibility of other gods apart from himself, and the merely relatively-unique god is the one who has only in actuality no other prior to, accompanying, or subsequent to himself. Hermann‟s astute observation is wholly applicable here: “A doctrine which knows of only one god merely by chance is in the nature of the thing true polytheism, because it does not eliminate the possibility of other gods, and knows only of one simply because it has not yet heard of others, or, as we would say initially, of another.”74—Of our god A we would thus say: he is, for humanity, for as long as they do not know of a second, a completely unmythological god, just as in the case of that series (whose elements we designate by A, B, and C) A is a member thereof only when B actually succeeds him. A mythological god is one who has a place in a history of gods; the postulated god is not yet actually this, but he is not therefore an unmythological god by nature, even though he can appear to be such for as long as there is no sign of the second god who will deprive him of his absoluteness.

Were we to imagine that, together with the first god, but subordinated to him, there was established a system of gods, even, then with that a multiplicity of gods would indeed have been established, but still no multitheism, and the gods of this system too could still be common to the whole of humanity; for they are not yet gods of different kinds, as for example in the Greek theogony the Uranus, the Cronus, and the Zeus gods are of different kinds; they are from first to last gods of a single kind. Every element which has no other element outside itself by which it is defined, always and necessarily remains identical to itself.CLXXV If the reigning god does not change, then the gods subordinated to him [128] cannot change either, and because they remain always the same, they also cannot be different and distinct gods for different people, and thus they do not cease to be common to all.

Now what has been said so far is already enough to prove that, in order to explain both the original oneness and the subsequent disintegration of humanity, an absolute monotheism, a god who is the One unconditionally, apart from whom there can be no other, is at least not necessary; but since only one of the two presuppositions can be the true one, it is impossible to rest with this result. We must decide between the two and thus investigate whether relative monotheism in fact explains the two (the oneness and the disintegration) better than absolute, or even whether perhaps it alone really explains them. So we have once again come back to the emergence of societies. The distinction just discovered, between an absolute monotheism and one which is relative but can appear over a certain period of time to be absolute, shows us that in the first argument there was still something unclear; for in an investigation like this it is in general only possible to advance one step at a time, and to state anything at any given time only to the extent that it comes out at that point in the argument. This whole course of lectures is one which is steadily growing and advancing in all its parts, and the understanding which it is aiming at should not be considered complete until the final touch has been added.

When the question “How did societies come into being?” first found its way from my lecture hall into wider spheres, it met, to some degree, with a reception which clearly showed how new and unexpected it was to many, and since then I have had even more opportunity to see how little thought had until that time been given to the first elements of a philosophical ethnology, which presupposes a universal ethnogeny.CLXXVI It actually was just as I said in the previous lecture; to most people the explanation seemed superfluous, there was no need, they said, for any particular reason, societies come into being of their own accord. If from the present standpoint, now that the separation of societies has been recognized as a spiritual crisis, a thought is still to be associated with this “coming into being of their own accord,” then it would have to be assumed [129] that the spiritual differences, which subsequently became evident in the variations among societies and in the divergent theologies, lay ineffective and hidden in original mankind, and achieved expression and development only with the ever more widely ramifying generations. So here the ever-increasing remoteness from the central point of the common origin would be assumed to be the sole determining cause. When this remoteness reaches a certain point, those differences would become effective. In this way, certainly, societies would then come into existence through the mere passage of time. But can there still be any question in this of conforming to a law?—for who is confident enough to say after how many generations, at which point of remoteness from the common forbear, the differences would have achieved that strength which was necessary to separate the societies? But if mere chance is not to reign over such a great event, if the evolution is to progress in a sequence which seems reasonable to the understanding, and is to occur non sine numine,CLXXVII then the duration which we must ascribe to the time of the complete homogeneity of the human race cannot be something merely fortuitous, it must be as it were guaranteed by a principle, by a force which supports and restrains the higher stages of evolution which lie ahead for humanity and which, in the sequel, will introduce differences within it other than those merely natural ones. To say of this force, once it is established, that it might lose its power through the mere passage of time, is inadmissible: for it to lose this power another principle is required, independent of it, an actual second principle, which first disrupts and in the end totally overcomes it. The coming into existence of societies is not something which a calm sequence arising out of preexisting circumstances brings about of its own accord, it is something by which an earlier order of things is interrupted and a wholly new order is introduced. The transition from that homogeneous existence to the higher and more developed one, where societies, that is to say ensembles of spiritual differences, already exist, goes forward as little of its own accord as does, for example, the transition from inorganic to organic Nature, with which the other transition is in fact comparable. For if, in the [130] realm of the inorganic, all bodies still lie within the common gravity, and even heat, electricity, and everything similar is still common to them all, then with organic beings there arise independent centres, beings existing in their own right, who possess all this as their own, and use gravity itself, over which they have gained control, as a power of free movement.CLXXVIII

The principle which preserved humanity within the oneness, could accordingly have been no absolute principle, it must have been of such a kind that there could follow it another, by which it was set in motion, transformed, and indeed finally subdued.

But now, the moment that this second principle begins to exert its effect on humanity, all possible differences in humanity stemming from that relationship are established, as if at a stroke, certainly, but some as possible in the near future, others as more remotely so; differences of which earlier no trace had been present. The reason for these differences lies, in the first instance, in the fact that the god until now immobile (A), as soon as he is forced by a second god to accept determinations, cannot remain the same, cannot avoid, in conflict with the latter, going on from form to form, assuming first one, then another, according to the extent to which the second god (B) has achieved power over him. Certainly it is possible that even those gods of the Greek theogony whom we regarded until now as the paradigm of successive gods (Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus), are only such different forms, successively assumed, of the one or the first god, and that the second, who forces him to pass through these forms, is a god whose name has until now not been uttered, standing wholly apart from these. But once the initial form of the god has been established, the following forms are established as well, only as more remote possibilities.CLXXIX To the various forms of the god there correspond equally various materially differing theologies, which are thus, with the appearance of the second principle, already all potentially present as well, although they cannot all actually emerge at the same time, but only to the extent that the god caught up in the continuing process of being overpowered, but still retaining his hold on humanity, [131] cedes it or allows it. To the different theologies correspond the different societies; these too are thus with the entry of the second cause potentially already present, even if they do not all become actuality at once, but only in a measured sequence. Through the successive aspect of polytheism, societies are at the same time kept apart from one another in respect of their advent, their entry into history. Until the phase has arrived which it is to represent, every society remains in a potential state as part of a humanity still indeterminate, although destined for dissolution into societies, just as we have seen the Pelasgians, before they became Greeks, existing in an indeterminate condition of that kind. But since the crisis which results from the second cause is a universal one, extending to the whole of humanity, even the society reserved for a later era and a later differentiation passes through all the phases, not, indeed, as an actual society but as part of a still indeterminate humanity. Only in this way is it possible for the phases distributed among different societies to come together in the consciousness of the latestCLXXX to form a fully fledged mythology.

You will see that the course of the coming into existence both of the different theologies and of the societies parallel with them, achieves, by means of this viewpoint introducing a movement which starts out from relative monotheism, a form quite other than and more definite than that which would be attainable through the mere disintegration of an original monotheism. Be assured that our investigation is making progress; we understand no longer merely societies in general, as earlier, but also their successive advent. We might, however, still turn our attention to one possible objection. It could be said that the differences or distinguishing characteristics, which we assume exist first in societies, exist already in tribes; for if one retains the old classification, derived from the three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth, which has survived to this day, then the Semites, for example, are distinguished from the Japhetites by the fact that in general they remained closer to the original religion, and the latter have distanced themselves further from it; perhaps this already resides in the [132] names, very probably at least in that of the Japhetites, which perhaps foretokens as much the greatest extension or evolution of polytheism, as its widest geographical dissemination. This difference, which would have to be considered as already given with the diversity between tribes, would contradict the assumed complete homogeneity of the human race. The reply to that is: At first the possibility of departing from the original religion would have to have been provided in general, before that difference could have been present in any way. This possibility came into existence only with the appearance of the second principle, before which the assumed difference did not even have the possibility of expressing itself, and if one calls possible that which is able to express itself, it was not even possible. The tribes receive this spiritual significance only in the aftermath, and in contradiction to what is usually assumed we would have to say that tribes themselves in this sense only exist once societies are in existence; indeed if the stated meaning of the names is correct, then the tribes only received these names once they had become societies.CLXXXI

So only relative monotheism explains the coming into existence of societies not merely in general but, as we have now seen, also in their particular circumstances, namely the successive aspect of the advent of societies. But there is still something left, of which we earlier had to admit that it could not be fully explained using the concepts gained at that time: namely the coming into existence of different languages, which goes hand in hand with the coming into existence of societies—the confusion of language as the consequence of a religious crisis. Might not this relationship too, which seemed to us a problem still indefinitely far from a solution, have moved, through the insight now gained, at least somewhat nearer to complete understanding?

If there was a time in which, as the Old Testament says, the whole earth was of one language and of one speech—and we have as little insight into how we might parry this assumption as the other: that there was a time when there were no societies—then we shall be able to understand such an immobility of language too in no other way [133] than by imagining that in that time language was governed only by one principle, which, itself fixed, kept any alteration away from language too, and thus kept it at the stage of a substantiality, just as the first god A was pure substance and was only compelled to accept accidental determinations by the second, B. Now if it was a principle, and indisputably a spiritual one, by which language was held back at this stage, then from that alone it is more easily understood how there was and even had to be a relationship between this principle of language and that religious principle which in the same era took possession of and governed not a part of consciousness but the whole of it. For language could resemble only the god by whom consciousness was filled. But now there arrives a new principle, by which that first one, also in its capacity of determining language, is affected, transformed, and finally made unrecognizable and driven back into the depths. At this point, if language is determined by two principles, not only are material distinctions within it unavoidable, coming to the fore en masse, but according to whether the effect of the second transforming principle penetrates more deeply or more superficially, and thus language loses to a greater or lesser extent its substantial character, languages appear which are mutually exclusive no longer merely in material,CLXXXII but also in form, corresponding to the principles.

This much may be made out even before having subjected the actual fundamental differences within language to closer inspection.

But now I shall ask you to accept the following. If our assumptions are well-founded, then humanity will progress from relative monotheism or monolatryCLXXXIII (here the word elsewhere, and as it was formerly used, wholly inadmissible, is not at all out of place), through the worship of two gods (ditheism), to an unambiguous multitheism (polytheism). But the same progression exists in the principles of languages, which go on from original monosyllabism through dissyllabism to wholly unbridled polysyllabism.

Monosyllabism preserves the word in its pure substance, and where it itself appears as a principle we shall not be able to avoid presupposing a retaining principle, precluding all accidental modifications. [134] Yet—we hear the objection that there is no characteristically monosyllabic language. It is true that we know only one linguistic system in which monosyllabism prevails, the Chinese, and the man who was until recently accounted the greatest expert in Chinese language and literature (Abel Rémusat75 CLXXXIV) believed he was obliged to deny the monosyllabic character of this. If we look more closely, though, it turns out that the learned gentleman was in the main motivated only by the view that with that assumption a stigma of barbarism would be attached to the nation and the language to the knowledge of which he had rendered such valuable services. In this regard we might now venture to set him completely at his ease; it is not our view that the condition in which consciousness was ruled only by one principle was a condition of barbarism; and as far as his examples cited from the language itself are concerned, perhaps no more than this reassurance would be required for him to become himself doubtful of their value as evidence.CLXXXV The following may contain the main point of the objection: the term “monosyllabic” has, it is claimed, no meaning, for were it taken to refer to the root, then all languages of the world would be monosyllabic, but if it refers to the words, then the languages commonly held to be monosyllabic would be no more so than any others, for the words in these are nothing but an aggregate of syllables, which only appear to be separated because the nature of their written characters imposes it. Now here that very point which comes first, the suggestion that the roots in all languages of the world are monosyllabic, is false. For the dissyllabism of the Semitic languages is nothing fortuitous, it is their characteristic principle, a principle with which an earlier barrier is broken down and a new evolution begins. It is true that, so as not to be tempted from the comfortable ways where any explanation based on principles is avoided and as far as possible everything is derived from fortuities, there have recently again (for the attempt is very ancient76 CLXXXVI) been attempts to reduce the Semitic languages [135] to monosyllabic roots, namely by asserting that many Hebrew verbs which correspond only in two radicals, indeed sometimes only in one, do nonetheless remain related in respect to their meaning; the third consonant, it is said, is in the rule only an adjunct, and this extension of the word mostly signifies only an extension of the original meaning of the monosyllabic one. Thus “cham” (properly “chamam”) in Hebrew is said to mean “be warm,” or “become warm,” from which later came “chamar,” “be red,” because redness is a consequence of becoming hot; thus “chamar” would not really be a root, but “cham” (which appears as monosyllabic only in its pronunciation, however). But precisely the fact mentioned, if it can be established universally, would, rather, serve to prove that monosyllabism is an actual principle, and hence that the Semitic languages were those which had to overcome it and only for that reason still preserve, in the form of a trace or as an element, that which was overcome. But for the Japhetic languages now, thus for example the Germanic ones, together with Sanscrit, Greek, and so on, one would think that this principle already overcome in the Semitic languages could no longer have had any power or significance. Against that, the latest report is that it is precisely their roots which are said to be unambiguously monosyllabic, after which only one further step is needed to declare the Semitic family of languages, as it exists at present (with its dissyllabic roots) to be younger, Sanscrit, though, to be older, purer, more original. I have already had something to say in general terms about this overturning of all rational order; here we do not want to waste time with the observation of how difficult it seems to discover roots in German words, and also particularly in Greek ones, of which, once their accidental (grammatical) modifications are taken away, there often remains only a single vowel, while on the other side it is not clear how one should treat words which obviously point back to dissyllabic roots, such as ἀγαπάω,CLXXXVII which perhaps actually is related to the corresponding Hebrew. It would be simpler to bring to light the reason for the misconception. It may, that is, be the case that a) Chinese is nothing but root, pure substance, b) in the Semitic languages [136] the principle of monosyllabism has already been overcome, and thus c) in the Japhetic ones dissyllabism as contrast and accordingly as principle has likewise disappeared. Now anyone who keeps merely the last point in mind would be thereby tempted to summon forth monosyllabism again, while he who perceives the true situation will not hesitate to say that these languages are polysyllabic in their principle, because in them monosyllabism and dissyllabism have both lost their significance as a principle.

In the Philosophy of Mythology itself there will be the opportunity to come back to this relationship, and thereby at the same time to refute misinterpretations, one of which would be the assertion that according to our view Chinese must have been the original language of the human race. But we shall also, as I hope conclusively, come back to that parallelism between linguistic and religious evolution, with the addition of new points which cannot be gone into here.

The arguments above should in general be taken only as indirect proofs of a merely relative monotheism in the consciousness of original mankind. A direct deduction will now prove this same precondition exhaustively, and show it to be the only one possible.

If successive polytheism is something which actually took place in humanity, that is to say if humanity actually passed through such a sequence of gods as we have accepted—and here we should recall that this is an incontrovertible fact, just as much as any historically attested one—then there must also have existed in humanity at some time such a primal god as is our god A, who, although only the first element in a future succession, still does not, however, appear as such, but is actually still the unconditionally-One, and hence spreads peace over the world, and the tranquillity of an undivided and unchallenged rule. But this peace could continue no longer as soon as the second god was heralded, for with this god confusion and division were, as shown, unavoidably introduced. If, therefore, we seek out the era in which there was still space for [137] a primal god, then it is clear that this space is not to be found in the era when the separation was already accomplished, and that even in the transitional era when the division was just beginning it could no longer be found, so that it should therefore be sought only in the absolutely prehistoric era. So either there never was such a primal god as our god A, that is to say there never existed an actual succession of the kind we are obliged to acknowledge in true polytheism, or such a god did reign in the consciousness of the original, still totally unseparated humanity.

But with this, now, the reverse is also yielded: the one god reigning over the tranquil prehistoric era was indeed the sole god existing up to that point, not, though, in the sense that no second god could have succeeded him, but only in the sense that another had not yet actually followed him. To this extent he was in essence (potentia) already a mythological god, although actually (actu) he became such a god only when the second actually arrived and made himself master of human consciousness.

If we compare this result with the supposition which has a pure doctrine, very close to spiritual monotheism, preceding the emerging multitheism, then—not to mention that the original unity of the human race was held together far more firmly by a blind force, independent of human will and thought, than by knowledge in the form which has to be thought of in association with a spiritual monotheism—but quite independently of that, the higher the premythological consciousness is set by the supposition of a spiritual monotheism, the less comprehensible is to what end it should have fallen apart, for this change could after all only have led (as the advocate of this viewpoint himself explains)77 CLXXXVIII to [138] something worse. Whatever else one may think about polytheism, it must still in some way have been the agency of a higher knowledge, the transition to a greater liberation of the human consciousness. So much for the reason for the disintegration.

Next we can look at the how, the way in which the disintegration took place. To explain this, Creuzer makes use of a simile. How one planet might disintegrate into several smaller ones, might, however, be explained, if need be, in more than one way, once one is willing to accept that in the formation of the solar system things go on in such a tumultuous way; if one is unwilling to assign this function to a comet, ever ready to hand, then in the interior of the planets there are elastic fluids which could escape, and metalloids which could explode in combination with water; and in the event of such an expansion or explosion a planet could well have shattered at some time; in the extreme case a high electrical potential would be enough to produce such an effect.

Here we have positive causes of a breaking apart or explosion; but in respect of that premythological system purely negative reasons are all that is offered, obscuration and gradual fading of the original knowledge. But such a mere remission or weakening of former insight would perhaps result in the doctrine being no longer understood, also, no doubt, in all religion being entirely forgotten, but would not necessarily result in polytheism. The mere obscuration of an earlier concept would not explain the terror which humanity experienced, following the premonition mentioned earlier, at the first appearance of polytheism. Consciousness, once having waned, would have relinquished the unity easily, without a struggle, thus also without [139] a positive result. The energy with which polytheism comes into existence is no more explained by way of a mere weakening of the original knowledge than does, from the other side, the clinging to a mere doctrine, which is already assumed to have become weaker, explain the opposing energy with which the unity asserts itself in consciousness and prevents complete extinction, which in the end would have left behind not even polytheism.

Only a positive cause, destroying the oneness, explains that trepidation in humanity at the first presentiment of multitheism. From one point of view, one which in the end we too shall have to espouse, the action of this cause will appear as divinely imposed, it will appear as a judgement. Seen in this way the oneness destroyed by a divine judgement could not have been the absolutely-true oneness. For a judgement is passed in every case only on the relatively-true and the one-sided which is taken to be all-sided or universal.CLXXXIX The usual lamentation about the downfall of a pure knowledge and its fragmentation into multitheism is hence as little in accordance with the religious standpoint as is it with the philosophical one and the true course of history. Polytheism was imposed upon humanity so as to destroy not the truly-One, but the one-sided-One, a merely relative monotheism. Polytheism, despite appearances to the contrary, and as little as this is still open to understanding from the present standpoint, was nevertheless truly a transition to something better, to the liberation of humanity from a force in itself beneficial, but suppressing its freedom, holding back all development and thereby the highest knowledge. At least it will be admitted that this is a more understandable, and, as always,CXC at the same time more pleasant viewpoint than that one which has an originally pure knowledge destroying itself and perishing in a completely pointless way, and without this process seeming in any way to be the elicitation of a higher result.

Up to now we have been looking for a starting point for the argument, a starting point on which may be founded no longer merely hypothetical conclusions, but categorical ones, [140] about the emergence and the initial source of mythology. But here, at this very point where we believe ourselves to have secured it, there is still a powerful objection which threatens the outcome. We have until now judged the monotheistic hypothesis only from one side; let us not forget that by it there was asserted to have existed, in the consciousness of the earliest men, not only a pure monotheism in general, but a revealed monotheism. Now until this point we have only considered one aspect of the monotheism, the material one, and not the formal one, the aspect of how it came into existence. But the very impartiality and equanimity, which we have made a rule for ourselves in this whole investigation, would require us also to allow the other side its right of reply, even though we might not exactly expect of it a particularly persuasive argument. In fact the following objection can be put to us: There would be no argument with what you have proposed if there were no revelation. In the purely natural course of human evolution perhaps such a one-sided monotheism would be what came first. But revelation—how would that fit in with it? That relative monotheism, at least, cannot derive from revelation, revelation cannot introduce it; but if revelation cannot introduce monotheism, then it will forestall it, or at least at once oppose it, eliminating it. You will see that this is thus a new instance which we cannot circumvent, and which must be overcome if we are to continue to build with safety on the foundation established. We shall leave aside the question of whether there is a revelation or not, and simply ask whether, supposing such a thing to exist, our assumption of a relative monotheism as the consciousness of original man could survive.

So now, as far as the claimed anteriority is concerned, it is admittedly recognized that not merely theologians but also a certain class of philosophers of history take revelation back to the first man, and many would believe that they were certainly presenting us with no small problem if they required us to explain whether in our view, then, even the religion of the first [141] man had been no more than that transitory monotheism. We, on the other hand, wish simply to recall their attention to their own assumption, to the fact that indeed they themselves assume a double condition in the first man, his condition before the so-called Fall, and his condition thereafter, and then they would primarily have to explain, so as to take revelation back not merely to the first, but also to the original man, how originally, too, that is to say before the Fall, the relationship of man to God could have been such an indirect one as they would be obliged to contemplate even in the concept of revelation, if they did not wish, by an inappropriate extension thereof, to rob this concept of all meaning. Formerly revelation was explained, as we know, as an act of compassion by God for the fallen race; according to the firmly established concepts of the old orthodoxy—and I confess that I much prefer this, no matter that it might also be called rigid, to a newer spinning out of concepts and words, blending everything together, and then of course, for the ends of a certain cloying religiosity, making everything possible—according to these concepts, then, revelation would always be regarded only as something stemming from earlier events, never as something direct, primal, original. The original existence of man, even according to the concepts assumed, if they try to some extent to clarify themselves, may only be thought of as an existence still supratemporal and within essential eternity, which is itself, under the aspect of time, no more than a timeless moment. Here there is no room for a revelation whose concept expresses a happening, an event in time; here nothing could have come between man and God, nothing by which man is separated from God and held at a distance; and something of the kind must exist for revelation to be possible; for revelation is a relationship which is actual (founded on an actusCXCI); but in that original existence only an essential relationship is conceivable; there is actus only where there is resistance, where there is something which negates and must be eliminated. What is more, were the original man not already in himself consciousness of God, if a consciousness of God had to be imparted to him only by way of a special act, then those who assume this would themselves have to claim an original atheism in human consciousness, [142] which however would certainly in the end conflict with their view; just as I have in general had occasion to satisfy myself that, with the exception of those for whom it is consciously or unconsciously only a matter of allowing the principle of tradition the greatest possible extension, this derivation of all science and religion from a revelation is undertaken, in the case of most people, only with the view that thereby they are saying something edifying, and gratifying to pious ears.

As far as that, then, as far as the original relationship of man to God, the concept of revelation may not be extended. But now it is further assumed that man was expelled from paradise through his own sin, that is to say removed from that original condition of a merely essential relationship with God. But this, now, is inconceivable unless, just as man himself became another, God too became another for him, that is to say it is inconceivable without an alteration in religious consciousness, and if one attaches value to the account in Genesis of this event, which must fill with admiration everyone who understands it, and which certainly contains, in any sense of the word, one of the most profound revelations (for in different sections and passages of the Old Testament, despite the uniform appearance of the whole, there is no mistaking the very different levels of inspiration); if, thus, one attaches value to this belief, then that alteration was just such a one as would correspond with what we have termed relative monotheism. For God says: “Behold, the man is become as one of us”; thus—in what other sense can the words be understood?—“he is no longer equivalent to the whole deity, but only to one of us Elohim.” But as it is with the existence of man, so is it also with his consciousness (and the relationship which man has to God in consciousness rests precisely on the equivalence of his existence and the divine existence); thus without appealing to the axiom that the known is like the knower, it lies directly in the words that consciousness has a relationship, still, only to one aspect of the deity, no longer to the whole; [143] but what can this be other than that which we have termed relative monotheism?78

So in this way the claimed anteriority of a revelation, through which a relative monotheism in mankind might have been obviated, is countered by the ingenuous and honest account in a scripture accepted by those with faith in revelation as being itself revealed, and consequently it is countered by revelation itself, and so, instead of having to fear an impediment to our argument from that quarter, we shall rather appeal to revelation itself, that is to say to the scriptures regarded as revealed, as support for our argument, just as in general, then, now that the relationship between mythology and revelation has been brought up, we should not leave this stage in the argument without having clarified this relationship as far as is, for the time being, possible.



74 On the Nature and Treatment of Mythology p. 37.
75 Fundgruben des Orients (Treasuries of the Orient) Vol. III, p. 279.
76 Val. Löscher in the fami liar work De Causis Linguæ Hebrææ is a precedent of long standing.
77 See for example Creuzer in the preface to the first part of Symbolism and Mythology, second  edition, p. xi : “I stand by my principal proposition through all its implications. It is the  foundation of an initially purer worship and knowledge of one God, to which religion all that  come later are related as are fitful and faded rays to the full outpouring of the sun’s light.”
Compare another passage from the Correspondence Relating to Homer and Hesiod p. 95: “I  would like to compare my view of mythology with the hypothesis of the astronomers who see in  the recently discovered planets Pallas, Ceres and Vesta the debris of a shattered original planet”;  whereupon he then goes on to say that the original oneness, which is all one should have regard  to, was a purer primal religion, monotheism, and, however much it too was splintered by the  polytheism which took over, has yet at no time been wholly destroyed.
78 We shall return to this interesting passage in the sequel, and shall then at the same time  have occasion to show that literally and factually it cannot be understood otherwise than in the  way proposed above.
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Re: Historico-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Myt

Postby admin » Sun Mar 18, 2018 8:24 pm


AS we are now at odds with those who in respect to the initial condition of the human race rest their faith only in disclosures of revelation, it may be regarded as true good fortune for our investigation to find our assertions confirmed so unambiguously by the Mosaic scriptures themselves, as at once in the case of the first, the assertion that from the beginning of history, as Kant has rightly termed the Fall, the relatively-One took the place of the absolutely- One in human consciousness; and for exactly the same reason it will appear only to be one of many false assumptions if, in the way that usually happens, it is suggested that in the consciousness of the first men the knowledge of God was more pure and complete, still, than in that of those who came later; for what should have been said instead was that in the first man and his first progeny it was the consciousness of the relatively-One, precisely because it did not yet appear as such, which was more powerful, pure, complete and untroubled, still, than in those who came later, when the second god was already drawing nearer to consciousness. There, among the first men, no doubt at all could have arisen that the relationship to the relatively-One might not have been the true religion. For there this god was himself still the unqualified god, and substituted fully for the absolutely-One, who was (at least to that extent, therefore) within him. But for that very reason the absolute god, too, had not yet been distinguished as such, nor, therefore, known as such; thus there was still no monotheism in the sense in which it is knowledge of the true god as such and in distinction from others; for this distinction first became possible when the [145] relative god ceased to be the absolute god, and was understood to be relative. And precisely this point, that the very first race of men really did not know of the true god as such, is confirmed in a wonderful way by Genesis itself; if this has not been noted, then this is only because these most ancient documents have not yet had the good fortune to be considered and investigated wholly impartially in respect of their content, for which undertaking adherents of the formally orthodox theology were as little qualified as their opponents, no more than were those who, rather than with the content, have occupied themselves with the merely external composition of these scriptures. I belong neither to the one group nor the other; I have looked at these scriptures neither with the eyes of a theologian, nor with those of an opponent of all theology, nor even with those of a mere critic, but with the eyes of a philosopher, for whom everywhere and by preference it is a question of the content of things, and I may perhaps have been able for that reason to notice much in these scriptures which has escaped others.

For as long as the first race of men worshipped, in the first god, simply and without question the true god, there was no reason to distinguish the true god as such. As that first god began to become questionable, because of a succeeding god, then only did they try to hold fast to the true god within him, and learnt in this way to distinguish that true god. It has always been remarkable that the Hebrew nation had two ways of naming their god, an undiscriminating one, “Elohim,” and then another, specific name, “Jehovah.” Only a full induction could show that in the Old Testament and quite specifically in the Mosaic scriptures the god who is the immediate content of consciousness is called “Elohim,” and the god who is distinguished as the true god is called “Jehovah.” This distinction is always adhered to. Thus as early as the fourth chapter of Genesis there is a genealogy; this begins thus:79 Adam (the first man) begat Seth, and to Seth also there was born a son; whom he called Enos: from then on, thus from the time of Enos on, men began to call upon Jehovah.CXCII It [146] is not said that men began to call upon God in general, Elohim. Seth and Adam must have known the latter as well as Enos did; yet it is said only of Jehovah. But since otherwise Jehovah is also Elohim and Elohim Jehovah, the difference between the two can be only that Elohim is God still indistincte,CXCIII and Jehovah God distinguished as such. But all the more certain, now, is precisely this: that Jehovah was called upon only from the time of Enos onwards, thus only from the third generation. Literally it is said, “from then on men began to call upon Jehovah by name”; but this amounts to the same as “he was distinguished,” for whoever is called by a name, is distinguished precisely by that.CXCIV From that it undeniably follows that before Enos, that is to say before the race of men designated by this name, the true god was not distinguished as such, nor was there thus, until that time, a monotheism in the sense of a knowledge of the true god as such. The contradiction between this and received ideas was admittedly too direct for there not to have been attempts to help out using interpretation, as commonly happens to no less a degree in other cases. Thus already Dr. Luther says: “At the same time men began to preach the Lord‟s name,” others “to call themselves after Jehovah‟s name”; yet others thought it referred only to a public cult; but nothing of any of that resides in the Hebrew; in conformity with the language the words can be translated only as “Jehovah was called by name,”80 CXCV which then also admittedly amounts to the same as “he was called upon,” for anyone who is called by his name, for example by another person whom he is passing, is certainly also called upon. The most interesting thing, though, is that this calling of Jehovah by name begins only among the second race; the first (designated by Adam and Seth) knows nothing of him. For the first race, who knew only one principle, no uncertainty could have arisen about the truth, oneness, and eternity of the god with whom they were filled; in him they worshipped, with simple heart, if I may thus express it, [147] the absolutely-eternal and unique. The necessity of distinguishing this god as such and designating him with a specific name could only have arisen when he threatened to disappear, to become a relative god, because of the advent of the second. Then there was need to call by name the truly (that is to say not transiently but abidingly) eternal which they worshipped in that god, just as we might call out to someone who is threatening to disappear from our view.CXCVI This was their way of rising from the relatively- One to the absolutely-One really worshipped therein. The usual view, which ascribes to the first men complete knowledge and worship of the true god as such, we should thus consider all the more as refuted, and refuted in fact by the Mosaic account itself, in that this same account, in another respect as well, marks out the second race of men, beginning with Enos, as another race, essentially distinct from the first.

This occurs, in fact, in the remarkable genealogy of the human race, drawn from Adam down to Noah, which is found in the fifth chapter of Genesis. Indeed this genealogy displays another remarkable feature, namely that it knows nothing of Cain and Abel, just as also in the subsequent histories there is no further mention of either of them (in 1 Chr. 1: 1 too Adam is directly followed by Seth); but we cannot go into this now, as it is not part of our purpose; what belongs here is the following: that the abovementioned genealogy, which, partly by going back to the creation of man, and partly by the special preamble “this is the book of the generation of man”,CXCVII is marked out as beginning right at the beginning and as the most authentically documented—that this says of Adam “He lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son after his image, and called his name Seth.”CXCVIII But Seth, as is then further related, “lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos.” What is strange here is: Firstly, that Enos, as the genealogy has it, was no longer begotten like Seth after the image of the first man (for otherwise the addition in the case of Seth would contain a wholly unnecessary assurance). Seth still bears [148] the image of the first man; Enos no longer. Secondly, that the name, “Enos,” of this grandson of the first man, means nothing other than simply “man” again, like “Adam,” only with the secondary concept of a strength already weakened and afflicted; for the verb anas, to which the Greek νόσος is related, means “ail.” With Enos, thus, there actually begins a second human race, a second because its progenitor is again called “man,” and because it is no longer the same as the first, descending directly from Adam. The question can now be raised of the way in which this second human race represented by Enos differed from the first, descending directly from Adam, the man without secondary concept; of the way in which, relative to that first race, it was as it were the ailing and weak one. Now if, in responding to this question, we accept what was deduced earlier from the other passage in Genesis, then the following will emerge of its own accord and in an unforced way. In Seth the human race was still strong and vigorous, for it was driven by only one principle; the one god, the first, still dwelt in it; but the second race is ailing and weak, for the second god had already drawn near to it, the god who weakens that first one, destroys his power and strength; for everything which is governed by one principle is strong and healthy, whereas that governed by two is already weak and ailing.

The overall outcome is thus that according to the account in Genesis itself the true god was recognized and known as such only by a second race of men, and indeed by a race which in comparison to the first was already affected, thus subject to another potence, foreign to the first race. This foreign potence can only be our second god (B), whose acquaintance we have made as the prime effective cause of polytheism. With that it would at the same time be demonstrated that true monotheism does not come into existence unless the danger of polytheism is present, and that that merely relatively-One god is the precondition just as much for the coming into existence of monotheism as for that of polytheism. Since we have made some reference to the meaning of the name (Enos), we could, going further, [149] at the same time find in this name the hallmark of the god himself by whom the second race of men was affected. For the most probable etymology of the name “Dionysos,” under which the second god was celebrated by the Hellenes, remains that of an Arabic word (and among the Arabs, as we shall see in the sequel, the second god was first given a name) which in Arabic means “lord” and like the Hebrew baal is combined with many other words, plus Enos, man, and indeed man with that secondary concept of already afflicted strength. I could, I say, mention that too, if it were possible to explain this combination further here; but let us content ourselves with the single observation that in the great course of evolution which we are portraying, even subjects which are most remote from each other, like the Old Testament and Hellenism, or revelation and mythology, are far more relevant to each other than those people think who have become accustomed to an entirely abstract way of looking at things (Hellenic mythology for example), in isolation from the general context.

We have had to acknowledge a first race of men signified by Adam and Seth, and a second signified by Enos. Only with the latter do there come intimations of the second god, whose traces we shall now pursue further, and indeed in the history chronicled by revelation itself.

The next great turning point is the Flood, and after this comes the confusion of languages, the separation of societies, and unambiguous polytheism. But the Flood itself, now, is introduced in the Mosaic record by the following account: “when men began to multiply on the face of the earth,” then “the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them as wives,” whence arose the “giants”CXCIX and the “mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” In this passage, which has long provided so much employment for commentators, there is such a clear reference to actual mythological circumstances that this account, too, cannot be anything made up, but only a reminiscence from the actual history of mythology, just as, indeed, an equivalent memory is also found in the mythologies of other societies. [150] It is related how the sons of the god (in Hebrew the article marks him out as the god who alone is god), how, thus, those in whom dwells the first god, absolute for his own era, cast glances at the daughters of men; but what can be understood by men, here, as opposed to sons of the God, other than adherents of the god through whom men really first become men and decline from that undeviating power and strength of the primal era—thus it is related how those in whom the strong god of the primal time still lives incline towards the daughters of men, towards the adherents, that is to say, of the second god, unite with them, and generate that intermediate race which we meet also in Greek mythology under the name of Giants, where they are likewise in the middle between the god of the primal era and the more human gods, the anthropomorphic polytheism of a later era, and oppose this evolution into the human (for the god of the primal era is still, in the sense intended here, superhuman), bring it to a halt. In precisely this way Genesis here has that intermediate race coming into existence, a race which, because it stands between two eras, and the continuing process is unstoppable, cannot endure, but is destined for the annihilation which now ensues as a result of the universal Flood. This fragment of such wholly characteristic colour guarantees precisely because of that colour the authenticity of its content, and the fact that it actually derives from prehistoric tradition. Something of the kind could simply no longer have been invented in later times. This high-mythological colouring greatly distinguishes the fragment from the account of the Flood which now follows, where already everything is presented more in accordance with the later Mosaic standpoint. Yet in this account too the true reason for the Flood may be discerned. What leads God to bring the ruinous Flood over the Earth is that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth.” But here it is not wicked or evil thoughts in the usual (moral) sense which are referred to; this is shown by the particular expression used: God says that the “imagination” or fiction (figmentum) of the thoughts of man‟s heart is evil. The same turn of phrase appears elsewhere, [151] and always in a context which leaves no doubt about its meaning. In the address to Moses, when the latter‟s time has come to die, Jehovah says: “Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Isræl: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me amongCC them. For I shall bring them into the landCCI which I sware unto their fathers” . . . and when “they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them and break my covenantCCII . . . for I know their thoughts (their imagination) CCIII which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land”.81 At King David‟s final royal assembly he says to Solomon: “And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth the composition of all thoughts (the imagination of all thoughts): if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever”. 82 CCIV Similarly King David, after he has completed the arrangements for the building of the temple, says in his final prayer: “O Lord, God of our fathers, keep for ever such intention and thoughts in the heart (such imagination of the thoughts in the inner nature) of thy people so that they might serve you with upright heart”.83 CCV In accordance with linguistic usage these words therefore have religious significance. The “imagination of the thoughts” inclining more and more towards the bad is understood to mean the polytheistic presentiments becoming ever stronger.84 CCVI

[152] If Moses finds grace in the eyes of the true god, that is to say if the latter is revealed to him, then that is simply because he is a steadfast man and without change, as Luther aptly translates,CCVII who, that is to say, did not, in his own times, incline to the second god. 85 CCVIII Due to those presentiments, therefore, the universal Flood is brought upon the earth. But what, now, is the outcome? That they disappear and are eradicated, perhaps? By no means. Instead God sees in the end that the imagination and endeavours of man‟s heart are evil “from his youth”86 (simple expression to express a natural and ungovernable tendency), and in stating that he will in future no longer wish for this reason (due to these thoughts) to eradicate life on earth, he himself admits that the human race cannot be held back from the shift to polytheism. In the Mosaic portrayal too, then, the Flood is, in the end, or in accordance with its true outcome,CCIX simply the borderline between the two eras, the era of the still superhumanly strong race and that of the race now become entirely human and turned towards human things, but for that very reason also succumbing to polytheism.

Let us compare the Mosaic account with the equivalent traditions in other societies. If one looks at which deities eachCCX of these associates with the devastating Flood, then it is invariably later deities. One of those traditions names Cronus, who already in Greek mythology replaced the original god Uranus, as the god in whose time the Flood took place. But in the Syrian Hierapolis,CCXI not far from the Euphrates, there was according to Lucian‟s well-known detailed account a temple, where was shown the maw into which the waters of the Flood had drawn back: this temple was consecrated to Derceto;87 CCXII but this Syrian goddess is simply [153] the first female deity, worshipped under many names, by whose agency, as we shall see in the sequel, the transition from the first to the second god, to true multitheism, that is to say, is everywhere brought about. Thus anyone who considers this and knows, as well, the role water plays in all transitions from one ruling principle to a second, to which the first subjugates itself, not merely in the history of the Earth but also in mythology (in Babylon too Oannes, teaching the human law, emerges from the Euphrates CCXIII ), will however, if he has any experience in such investigations elsewhere, recognize in Noah‟s Flood, even if, what is more, he admits it to have been a physical event, simply the sign in Nature of the great turning point of mythology,88 CCXIV which was later followed by the unpreventable transition itself, the confusion of languages, multitheism together with the various theologies, and the separation of humanity into societies and nations, to all of which must have been conjoined the beginnings and germs from the time before the Flood, if in the first centuries thereafter the Near East was to be thickly populated with people no longer merely nomadic, but united into nations, and if already in the time of Abraham there was to arise a kingdom in Babylon, mercantile Phoenicians on the Mediterranean coast, a monarchical state in Egypt with all the appropriate appurtenances, and everywhere mythologies developed to a greater or lesser degree.

A second indication of this significance of the Flood, as transition to the irresistibly advancing power of the second god, is contained in another feature of the Mosaic account, when it describes Noah as becoming a husbandman after the Flood, and planting the first vine.89 The meaning of this will become clear from the following. The way of life of the most ancient men before any multitheism was the [154] nomadic one. Not to sow seeds, not to plant vines, remained a religion even for the last remnants of this most ancient race. This is shown by the example of the Rechabites, of whom the prophet Jeremiah speaks,90 whom he holds up to his people as an example of constancy, of holding fast to the paternal religion, and before whom, in one of the chapels of the temple in Jerusalem, according to his account, he places a cup of wine, whereupon they answer: “We will drink no wine: for our father Jonadab the son of Rechab commanded us, saying, ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever: neither shall ye build house, nor sow seed, nor plant vineyard nor have any: but all your days ye shall dwell in tents;CCXV that ye may live many days in the land where ye be strangers.”—You see: to build houses, that is to say to live in fixed domiciles, to sow seeds, and plant vines, is here regarded as forbidden it from the earliest times by a tribe which does not belong among the Isrælites, but, at the time when Nebuchadnezzar came up into the land, drifted towards Jerusalem ahead of the host of the Chaldeans and Syrians, and remained there. “We drink no wine, neither we nor our fathers,CCXVI our sons, nor our daughters; nor build houses in which we have dwelt: neither have we vineyard, nor field: but we dwell in tents”; and to abstain from all of that which the Greek mythology pre-eminently celebrates as a gift and favour from the second god, was for them truly religion. Thus the incredible longevity of such tribes; for in Niebuhr‟s day, at least, there existed still, in the vicinity of Jerusalem, a tribe living nomadically, having remained entirely faithful to this law, in all probability the descendants of those Rechabites. Diodorus of Sicily relates in respect of the Catathars,CCXVII an Arabian tribe, the same thing I quoted of the Rechabites: that they do not sow seeds, do not plant vines, nor live in houses. So when, after the Flood, Noah becomes a husbandman and plants the first vine, he is by that very action designated as the progenitor of a new race of men, who no longer live in tents, but establish fixed domiciles, engage in agriculture, [155] and become societies, but also for that very reason were to succumb to polytheism as an unavoidable transition which could no longer be held in check.

The conclusion we may draw from the facts set out thus far is the following: only with the second race of men, designated by the name “Enos,” is the true god, that is to say the abidingly One and eternal, distinguished as such, distinguished from the primal god, who becomes for consciousness the relatively-One and merely transiently eternal; in the meantime the fruit of polytheism ripens, the human race cannot remain bound to the first god, who, while not the false, is nevertheless not the absolutely true god either—not God in his truth, that is, and they must therefore be liberated from this first god so as to achieve the worship of God in his truth.CCXVIII But they can only be liberated from him by a second god. To that extent polytheism is inevitable, and the crisis through which it now gains entry, and with which a new series of developments begins, is in fact the Flood; from that point on, also, there no longer exists the differentiation and worship of the true god, which began with Enos, nor revelation either (which can indeed only be revelation of the true god), within humanity in general, for this as such has disappeared and become fragmented, no more than does this (revelation) exist (I ask you to mark this well) among one society—for everything which goes under the name “society” has already succumbed to polytheism—the knowledge of the true god exists in one single race, which remained apart from societies. For humanity did not split up merely into societies, but into societies and non-societies, although admittedly the latter are also no longer quite what the still completely homogeneous humanity was, just as, when milk curdles, the uncurdled part is also no longer milk. That very “not to have become partialized” becomes their peculiarity, just as the universal god to whom they cling has now certainly become their god. After individual societies as such have separated out, then for those left behind the attraction of the purely natural relationships is increased, of the tribal relationships which only here receive their isolating force, while the consciousness of them had, earlier, more the meaning of preserving the unity [156] of every race with the whole, with the totality of humanity. The true religion, as well as revelation, will thus be found neither in humanity nor within one society, but in a race which remained aloof from the path of societies and believes itself still to be bound to the god of the primal era. This race is that of the Isrælites,CCXIX descended via Shem from Noah, which stands opposed to societies in general, with which (with the concept of societies), the secondary concept of adherents of other gods has for them become inextricably associated. This is not at all the literal meaning; for where the word “heathen” stands in our translations, there are found, in the Hebrew, words which mean nothing other than “societies” or “nations,” for even between the two words “ammim” and “goyim” there is no distinction in this respect, as many imagine who know that the Jews of today call all non-Jewish societies, thus the Christians too in particular, “goyim.” The Old- Hebraic writers do not make this distinction, indeed they occasionally call their own nation (and Isræl did indeed itself later become a nation) a “goi” in the same way. This association of the two concepts of polytheism and nationhood, on which until now we have touched only in passing, but which I would now assert to be the final and decisive confirmation of our viewpoint that polytheism was the instrument of the separation of nations, has been imprinted so deeply in this race ever since the earliest times, that they, themselves long since become a nation, call the adherents of false gods simply and without qualification “nations,” a linguistic usage that is carried on into the New Testament, which in fact also calls the heathens simply “the nations” (ἔθνη ). Among the kings whom Abraham with his servants attacks and defeats, there is, besides others designated by the names of their land or of their nation, one mentioned by name, but only as a “king of nations,” that is to say as a heathen king in general.91 The Isrælites thus regarded themselves as not belonging among the nations, as a non-nation, and this is precisely what the name [157] “Hebrews” expresses, as well. Where Abraham contends with the kings of the nations, he is called for the first time Haibri (the Ibri) in contrast to them. Later too, except perhaps in the poetic style, the name Hebrews was invariably given to the Isrælites only in contrast to the nations.92 CCXX The name must therefore, it seems, have expressed also their differentiation from the nations. Genesis even includes in the list of generations an “Eber,” from whom it subsequently has Abraham descending in the sixth generation. Today, though, we are certain that this Eber in fact owes his origin to the Hebrews in the same way that Dorus and Ion owe theirs, in the Greek legendary history, to the Dorians and Ionians. Yet in the same genealogy names of countries are turned into names of persons, it is in fact stated that the sons of Ham, for example, were Chus (Ethiopia) and Mizraim (Egypt), and again it is said of Canaan that “he begat Sidon (the name of the familiar city) his firstborn.” A superstitious reverence for the letter would be misplaced here. The name “Hebrew” cannot be traced back to the chance existence of a Eber among their forefathers, for this derivation expresses an antithesis to nations as little as does the “having come across the Euphrates.”CCXXI The name has the form of a name of a nation or society; for once societies exist, then the Isrælites too become what amounts to a society, a society in a relative way, that is, without it being so for themselves; but a concept congruent with the constant use of the name as an antithesis to societies arises only if it is derived from the corresponding verb, which means not merely to pass over (over a river), but also to pass through a place or a district, to pass in general. 93 “Abraham the Ibri” means, therefore, Abraham who belongs among those passing through, tied to no fixed domicile, living nomadically, just as in Canaan too the patriarch is always called the stranger,94 CCXXII for he who tarries nowhere is everywhere only a stranger, a [158] wanderer.95 The devotion to the one universal god is so entirely bound up with this way of life, that it is said of Jacob, in contrast to Esau, who becomes a hunter and a farmer, that “he was an uprightCCXXIII (literally a whole, undivided) man (who remained with the One) and dwelt in tents”;96 and when Isræl, which until then had always had the god of its fathers as sole shepherd and king, desires a king from Samuel, “as all the nations have”,97 then God says to the prophet “According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.”98

It may seem strange, but it may be excused by the importance which this transition of humanity to societies has for our whole investigation, if I offer an example of the antithesis (between society and non-society) which I believe I have found still in a very recent era. For I at least can only consider the Alemanni, who at the time of Caracalla appeared at the Roman borders like a suddenly provoked and ever-waxing swarm and descended upon Gaul and Italy, to have been, according to all accounts, sparse though they may be,99 CCXXIV a part of Germanic humanity which had not yet been defined as a society, and which also for that reason appeared so late on the world stage. The name is consistent with this, whether one thinks in this connection of the word alamanas, which in some fragments of the Gothic [159] translation of the New Testament seems to mean merely “men in general, without distinction”—if one gives the ala100 CCXXV this basically negatory meaning, then the AlemanniCCXXVI would be a nameless race (not yet become a society), for that same reason not yet confined within definite borders (in this case Marcomani would be considered to be the opposite)—or whether one simply recalls almende, a piece of ground which is left waste (unbuilt on), and mostly used as pasture, not the property of an individual, but of the whole community. A decided aversion of the Alemanni towards an existence of a social kind is evidenced by their undoubted inclination, even later still deeply rooted, towards free individual life, their detestation of cities, which they regard as graves in which people bury themselves alive, 101CCXXVII and their destructive rage directed against the Roman settlements. Now against that, if the patronymic explanation of the name of the Germans (Deutschen) as Teut’scher (offspring of Teut) really must be given up, and Thiod does after all mean “nation,” then the Germans (Thiod’schen) would be precisely those Germani who have already particularized or isolated CCXXVIII themselves as a society, just as in the words theotiscus and theotisce customary since the seventh century the reference to “society” still seems to stand out. It would be well worth the effort to investigate all the names under which Germanic societies or tribes are referred to, and from the standpoint of this antithesis, as well. This distinction would, perhaps, be no less useful in resolving the contradictions found in references to German theology, for example between Julius Cæsar and Tacitus.

So now, in the history of religious evolution, as it is itself recorded in the Mosaic documents, on which alone, after all, rests everything which can be asserted about revelation, we have advanced to the point where the knowledge of the true god is preserved still only among one race which has remained apart from the societies, indeed in opposition to them, and to that extent is the sole remaining representative of pure humanity. [160] It is, as well, in this same race alone, now, that revelation exists, and it is precisely in this race that the preconditions for a revelation may be recognized so clearly and distinctly that we must unavoidably once again direct our attention to the Isrælites in particular, in order fully to answer the question with which this last investigation began. The question arose, as you know, from the consideration of whether revelation preceded polytheism. Approaching the investigation of mythology in the way that we have, its revelation could not have been ruled out. Absolutely nothing more can be understood in isolation or disconnectedly, everything becomes comprehensible only in the grand universal context,CCXXIX and this is true of revelation itself just as much as of mythology. Now it follows from what has been established up to now that the first race of men worshipped the true god implicite, CCXXX in the relatively-One, that is, but without distinguishing him as such. But revelation is precisely manifestation of the true god as such, manifestation for which there was no receptivity in the first race of men, simply because they had no need of this distinction.CCXXXI It is said of the second race that they called the true god by name, that is to say distinguished him as such: so here the possibility of a revelation is afforded, but not before the first presentiment of polytheism was also present. The most prominent figure is Noah, with whom the true god communicates; but it is precisely in his time, too, that polytheism can no longer be restrained, and the Flood itself is only the transition, from the age of multitheism still held back, to that of multitheism surging forth uncontrollably and pouring over the human race. In the race now ensuing, among whom monotheism in the true sense, knowledge of the true god and thus revelation, was preserved, must now also be perceived in the clearest possible way the conditions under which alone such a relationship to the true god could have continued to exist. You have followed the arguments up to this point with so much interest, that I have high hopes of the same for the conclusion, which alone will lead to the satisfactory achievement of our goal.
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