Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892)

All week long I’ve been visiting beautiful vineyards, drinking incredible wines, engaging in amazing conversations with some of France’s most renowned wine artisans, and appreciating Dionysos on many new levels.  Soon I hope to post photos of these experiences, but I can’t let today pass without acknowledging the birthday of one of my most beloved poet-heroes, the quintessential American poet, Walt Whitman.

Almost everyone has heard of Walt Whitman, but American textbooks rarely, if ever, acknowledge the fact that Walt Whitman was a gay man.  The “Calamus” section of Leaves of Grass (named after Kalamos, whose tragic love for another lad, Karpos, is told in the Dionysiaca of Nonnus) is filled with homoerotic poems, but Whitman’s original hand-written manuscripts contain a powerful sequence entitled “Live Oak, with Moss,” which some scholars have called a “manifesto for gay liberation”.  That sequence was later cut up, edited, toned down, and rearranged to form many of the Calamus poems.  But the manuscript poem is staggeringly original in its frank exploration of love, sexuality, alienation, and identity.

There’s a decent biography of Whitman at GLBTQ.com, the wonderful encyclopedia of queer history.  Two sites with a number of great resources (including digital copies of Whitman’s original manuscripts and essays discussing “Live Oak, with Moss”) can be found at The Walt Whitman Archive and The Classroom Electric.

Live Oak, with Moss
by Walt Whitman

l

NOT heat flames up and consumes,
Not sea-waves hurry in and out,
Not the air, delicious and dry, the air of the ripe summer, bears lightly along white down-balls of myriads of seeds, wafted, sailing gracefully, to drop where they may,
Not these—O none of these, more than the flames of me, consuming, burning for his love whom I love!
O none, more than I, hurrying in and out;
Does the tide hurry, seeking something, and never give up? O I the same;
O nor down-balls, nor perfumes, nor the high rain-emitting clouds, are borne through the open air,
Any more than my Soul is borne through the open air,
Wafted in all directions, O love, for friendship, for you.

2

I SAW in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it, and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there, uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wondered how it could utter joyous leaves, standing alone there, without its friend, its lover near—for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away—and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token—it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana, solitary, in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life, without a friend, a lover, near,
I know very well I could not.

3

WHEN I heard at the close of the day how my name had been received with plaudits in the capitol, still it was not a happy night for me that followed;
And else, when I caroused, or when my plans were accomplished, still I was not happy;
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect health, refreshed, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and disappear in the morning light,
When I wandered alone over the beach, and, undressing, bathed, laughing with the cool waters, and saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my dear friend, my lover, was on his way coming, O then I was happy;
O then each breath tasted sweeter—and all that day my food nourished me more—And the beautiful day passed well,
And the next came with equal joy—And with the next, at evening, came my friend;
And that night, while all was still, I heard the waters roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands, as directed to me, whispering, to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness, in the autumn moonbeams, his face was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast—And that night I was happy.

4

THIS moment as I sit alone, yearning and thoughtful, it seems to me there are other men in other lands, yearning and thoughtful;
It seems to me I can look over and behold them, in Germany, Italy, France, Spain—Or far, far away, in China, or in Russia or India—talking other dialects;
And it seems to me if I could know those men better, I should become attached to them, as I do to men in my own lands,
It seems to me they are as wise, beautiful, benevolent, as any in my own lands;
O I know we should be brethren and lovers,
I know I should be happy with them.

5

LONG I thought that knowledge alone would suffice me—O if I could but obtain knowledge!
Then my lands engrossed me—Lands of the prairies,
Ohio’s land, the southern savannas, engrossed me—
For them I would live—I would be their orator;
Then I met the examples of old and new heroes—I heard of warriors, sailors, and all dauntless persons—
And it seemed to me that I too had it in me to be as dauntless as any—and would be so;
And then, to enclose all, it came to me to strike up the songs of the New World—And then I believed my life must be spent in singing;
But now take notice, land of the prairies, land of the south savannas, Ohio’s land,
Take notice, you Kanuck woods—and you Lake Huron—and all that with you roll toward Niagara—and you Niagara also,
And you, Californian mountains—That you each and all find somebody else to be your singer of songs,
For I can be your singer of songs no longer—One who loves me is jealous of me, and withdraws me from all but love,
With the rest I dispense—I sever from what I thought would suffice me, for it does not—it is now empty and tasteless to me,
I heed knowledge, and the grandeur of The States, and the example of heroes, no more,
I am indifferent to my own songs—I will go with him I love,
It is to be enough for us that we are together—We never separate again.

6

WHAT think you I take my pen in hand to record?
The battle-ship, perfect-model’d, majestic, that I saw pass the offing to-day under full sail?
The splendors of the past day? Or the splendor of the night that envelops me?
Or the vaunted glory and growth of the great city spread around me?—No;
But I record of two simple men I saw to-day, on the pier, in the midst of the crowd, parting the parting of dear friends,
The one to remain hung on the other’s neck, and passionately kissed him,
While the one to depart, tightly prest the one to remain in his arms.

7

YOU bards of ages hence! when you refer to me, mind not so much my poems,
Nor speak of me that I prophesied of The States, and led them the way of their glories;
But come, I will take you down underneath this impassive exterior—I will tell you what to say of me:
Publish my name and hang up my picture as that of the tenderest lover
The friend, the lover’s portrait, of whom his friend, his lover, was fondest,
Who was not proud of his songs, but of the measureless ocean of love within him—and freely poured it forth,
Who often walked lonesome walks, thinking of his dear friends, his lovers,
Who pensive, away from one he loved, often lay sleepless and dissatisfied at night,
Who knew too well the sick, sick dread lest the one he loved might secretly be indifferent to him,
Whose happiest days were far away, through fields, in woods, on hills, he and another, wandering hand in hand, they twain, apart from other men,
Who oft as he sauntered the streets, curved with his arm the shoulder of his friend—while the arm of his friend rested upon him also.

8

HOURS continuing long, sore and heavy-hearted,
Hours of the dusk, when I withdraw to a lonesome and unfrequented spot, seating myself, leaning my face in my hands;
Hours sleepless, deep in the night, when I go forth, speeding swiftly the country roads, or through the city streets, or pacing miles and miles, stifling plaintive cries;
Hours discouraged, distracted—for the one I cannot content myself without, soon I saw him content himself without me;
Hours when I am forgotten, (O weeks and months are passing, but I believe I am never to forget!)
Sullen and suffering hours! (I am ashamed—but it is useless—I am what I am;)
Hours of my torment—I wonder if other men ever have the like, out of the like feelings?
Is there even one other like me—distracted—his friend, his lover, lost to him?
Is he too as I am now? Does he still rise in the morning, dejected, thinking who is lost to him? and at night, awaking, think who is lost?
Does he too harbor his friendship silent and endless? harbor his anguish and passion?
Does some stray reminder, or the casual mention of a name, bring the fit back upon him, taciturn and deprest?
Does he see himself reflected in me? In these hours, does he see the face of his hours reflected?

9

I DREAMED in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth,
I dreamed that was the new City of Friends,
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love—it led the rest,
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,
And in all their looks and words.

10

O YOU whom I often and silently come where you are, that I may be with you,
As I walk by your side, or sit near, or remain in the same room with you,
Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your sake is playing within me.

11

EARTH! my likeness!
Though you look so impassive, ample and spheric there,
I now suspect that is not all;
I now suspect there is something fierce in you, eligible to burst forth;
For an athlete is enamoured of me—and I of him,
But toward him there is something fierce and terrible in me, eligible to burst forth,
I dare not tell it in words—not even in these songs.

12

TO the young man, many things to absorb, to engraft, to develop, I teach, to help him become élève of mine,
But if blood like mine circle not in his veins,
If he be not silently selected by lovers, and do not silently select lovers,
Of what use is it that he seek to become élève of mine?

Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle (one of Whitman’s long-term partners, who some scholars say was the “love of his life”)

Pagan in Paris: A Pagan Guide to The Louvre Museum

At this moment I am sitting on the balcony of a 12th-century chateau in the south of France, near the fortified city of Carcassone, in the middle of Cathar Country.  Swallows chirp and circle in the air over a beautiful vineyard.  Next door is a little park with Gallo-Roman grave monuments.  Wildstar and I are hosting a ten-person wine tour of the Langue d’oc region, visiting the vineyards of several amazing wine-makers, with side trips to villages in the surrounding area.  We’ve been incredibly busy so far, but our wi-fi is working and I must talk about the focus of my second day in Paris last week:  The Musée de Louvre.

The Louvre Museum is one of the most impressive museums in the world.  Frankly, it can be downright overwhelming as there is so much to see.  When we lived in Paris (from 2000-2005), I was blessed to be in my early 20s and therefore eligible to purchase the Louvre Carte Jeune, which was only 100 franc (later 20 euro) per year, and allowed anyone under the age of 28 to visit the Louvre at any time, bypass the line, and even visit the museum when it was otherwise closed to the public.  The Louvre became my second home.  I visited at least once a week, often more, where I would sit in the galleries and write (I wrote most of my first novel in this sublime environment).  This also afforded me ample opportunities to spend an entire day in a single room or section, enjoying the art at a leisurely pace, and most importantly (as a pagan), taking time to commune with the statues and pay homage to the deities and heroes they represent.

Which is not to say that it’s easy being a pagan at the Louvre.  So many of the classical sculptures are so impressive that one can’t help but feeling moved to pour a libation of wine onto the ground, leave an offering, or perform a full ritual before the sacred image.  Obviously, in a crowded public museum, with security guards and cameras everywhere, this is virtually impossible.  So we need to be creative, and instead find other more appropriate ways to honor the gods.  I call what I do “communing with the statues.”  I’m not sure if I can accurately describe something so intuitive and non-rational, but if you can understand the feeling of sitting on a beach or in a forest and “communing with nature,” then you can perhaps comprehend my process of communing with the statues.  These “objects” (and I use quotes here because they are so much more than that) are sacred images of the divine goddesses and gods.  They were created by artists who believed in the gods, who were capable of honing their creativity and skill to give a material form to their own visions of the divine.  The same feeling of reverence, the overwhelming shock of the sublime that I often feel in a beautiful landscape, is akin to my feeling for these statues.  And even in a crowded public place, that feeling can be shaped into a sacred moment, a genuine spiritual experience, in which we can communicate with and honor the gods.

I will often tune out the surrounding chatter and stand before a statue in silent prayer.  If there is a nearby bench in the room, I can sit in quiet contemplation, perhaps writing down my thoughts and impressions of the statue.  Artists may feel compelled to make a sketch of the statue, while my fellow poets may want to compose a hymn.  And there is nothing comparable to praying before one of these ancient statues, knowing that they are mediums between this world and the gods, and that you are not the only soul to have gazed upon the beauty of this human creation and perceived a glimpse of the divine.

If you are a pagan and have a chance to visit the Louvre, here are a few tips:

1.         You are not going to see everything.  It’s physically impossible.  The Louvre is the largest and most visited museum in the world.  I spent almost five years visiting the Louvre on a weekly basis and I still haven’t seen everything.  If you try to see too much in one visit, or spend too long without taking a break for lunch (or just a repose), you will become overwhelmed.  It’s almost too much beauty for the human mind and soul to take in at once. The sooner you accept this fact, the more enjoyable and positive your experience will be.  To put things in perspective, there are over 380,000 objects in the museum’s permanent collection (which doesn’t include rotating temporary exhibits).  If you wanted to spend one minute looking at every object, you would need to visit the Louvre for ten solid hours every day for nearly two years before you could see everything in the museum’s primary collection.  And considering you could spend hours contemplating a single painting or statue . . . you see the quandary.  You need to have realistic expectations and not get upset when you can’t see everything.

2.         Take your time.  Since you have accepted the fact that you cannot see everything, there’s no need to rush.  It would be better to take a few minutes (or longer) to truly appreciate and contemplate a single statue (or painting or objet d’art) than to rush through an entire room so that you can “see everything” without really taking anything in at all.  It’s like skimming a good book.  I have seen tourists (often my fellow Americans unfortunately) with a video camera pointing to the side at the walls, while they race forward, not actually looking at anything.  I don’t get it!  It would be better to just buy a few postcards, or art books, or even just look at high-quality images online!  A friend of mine used to tell a horror story about once witnessing an American mother and child at the Louvre.  The mother was a stereotypical American tourist (I’ll let your imagination fill in the aesthetically unpleasant details . . . I like to imagine the requisite fanny pack, stretch pants, cowboy hat, and the culturally offensive “Texas is bigger than France” t-shirt.  I think it was David Sedaris who asked, “Why do Americans visit other countries dressed like they’re there to mow the lawn?”).  She was rushing through the Louvre at a breakneck speed, with a video camera in one hand, dragging her poor child (a little boy of about eight or nine) in the other.  When the little boy stopped and said, “Mom!  Wait!  Look!  It’s the Mona Lisa!”, his ogress of a mother slapped him on the behind and barked, “You can see it on the video when we get home!”  Obviously, this is horrific on so many levels.  So take your time to contemplate and enjoy these sublime works of art, these cultural treasures, these pinnacles of human achievement.  Don’t be an ogress.

3.         Focus.  Choose a general area/topic to focus upon on your visit, perhaps two if you are feeling ambitious and have both the stamina and willingness to take a break when you’re tired.  If you are pagan, the three primary collections you will probably most enjoy (from a spiritual standpoint) are  The Department of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan Antiquities, The Department of Egyptian Antiquities, and The Department of Near Eastern Antiquities.  That being said, the Italian Renaissance paintings and sculptures are justly famous, and many (especially the sculptures) involve classical themes.  And many of the large-scale 18th and 19th-century neoclassical French paintings will also be of interest to Hellenists and Latinists.  The Dutch masters, Napoleon’s opulent salon, and sections on subjects ranging from Islamic Art to the Medieval Decorative Arts are all valuable and worth seeing.  But there’s just not time to do everything.  So pick a department or two, perhaps find a few specific works of art you definitely want to see, and plan your route in advance.  To give you one example, last week I spent over six hours at the Louvre (which is honestly more than I would recommend for most people) and I only saw a small portion of the Greek and Roman Antiquities collection (not even half) and nothing else.

4.         Be aware that the items on display are constantly changing.  The Louvre collection is so huge that everything cannot possibly be on display at the same time.  Many amazing and important works of art are on loan to other museums, in storage, or located in a hall that is closed or under renovation.  This is *especially* true of the Greek and Roman antiquities section.  Due to room closures and renovation, right now *less than half* of the classical sculptures that were on display twelve years ago are on display now.  This means that many significant works of art are just not available.  I was honestly shocked during this visit to see so many room closures, with several giant halls of precious statues wrapped in plastic and unavailable to the public, including many, many iconic statues of the gods.  So try not to be too disappointed if the Ares Borghese or Braschi Antinous are nowhere to be seen.

All that being said, here are some highlights from my visit last week.  This post is fairly enormous, so I’m going to spare you the commentary and just put up photos.  As I’ve said previously, I am not a photographer, so all of these photographs (and accompanying descriptions, which vary in quality and detail) are from the Wikimedia Commons.

Statue of the type of Apollo Sauroctonus (lizard-killer). Roman copy from the AD 1st century (?) after a Greek original of ca. 350 BC with 17th and 18th century restaurations. Found in Rome, 17th century (?).

Artemis of the Rospigliosi type. Marble, Roman artwork of the Imperial Era, 1st–2nd centuries AD. Copy of a Greek original, maybe the bronze group mentioned by Pausanias (I, 25, 2), which represented a gigantomachia.

Artemis with a hind, better known as “Diana of Versailles”. Marble, Roman artwork, Imperial Era (1st-2nd centuries CE). Found in Italy.

The three Graces. Marble, Roman copy of the Imperial Era (2nd century AD?) after a Hellenistic original. Restored for a large part in 1609 by Nicolas Cordier (1565-1612) for Cardinal Borghese.

Drunken Silenus. Parian marble, Roman artwork of the 2nd century CE. May be inspired by the Pouring Satyr by Praxiteles.

Sleeping Hermaphroditus. Hermaphroditus: Greek marble, Roman copy of the 2nd century CE after a Hellenistic original of the 2nd century BC, restored in 1619 by David Larique; mattress: Carrara marble, made by Gianlorenzo Bernini in 1619 on Cardinal Borghese’s request.

Statue of Aphrodite, known as the Venus of Arles. Hymettus marble, Roman artwork, imperial period (end of the 1st century BC), might be a copy of the Aphrodite of Thespiae by Praxiteles. The apple and the mirror were added during the 17th century. Found in the antic theatre of Arles, France.

Nymph with a shell. Marble, Roman copy of the 1st century CE after the known Hellenistic type of a young girl playing a game of knuckle-bones. The head is antique but does not belong to the statue; left arm, right hand and shell are modern restorations, altering the original type.

Apollo, Roman copy of the Kassel type (original ca. 450 BC). Pentelic marble, early 2nd century AD (?), found in Italy.

Asclepios, god of medicine. Marble, Roman copy (2nd century CE) of a Greek original of the early 4th century BC, restored by the workshop of Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (?) in the 18th century. Found in Italy.

So-called “Velletri Pallas”: Helmeted Athena. Marble with traces of red colour, Roman copy of the 1st century CE after a bronze original of the 5th century. Found in 1797 in the ruins of a Roman villa near Velletri.

Capitoline Venus, after the Aphrodite of Cnidus. Marble, Roman artwork of the Imperial Era (2nd century CE). From Rome.

Crouching Aphrodite. Marble, Roman variant of the Imperial Era after a Hellenistic type: the goddess is raising her left hand towards her neck whereas the protype used to cross her arms on her breast.

Dancing satyr from the group “Invitation to the dance”. Roman copy (1st-2nd century CE) of a hellenistic original (2nd century BC) known by coins of Cyzicus (Asia Minor) and numerous copies (such as Louvre Ma 528). Found in Rome in 1630, it was heavily restored: a large part of the arms and legs, the cymbals and the tree trunk are modern. It seems that the satyr originally was beating time, snapping fingers in rhythm and using a kind of Greek castanets with his foot.

Eros stringing his bow. From the ruins of the Imperial Palace on the Palatine Hill, Rome.

Statue of Hermes. The identification is secured by the fragment of caduceus held in the left hand and the small holes bored into the hair to support small wings (now lost). Roman copy of the Imperial Era after a bronze original of the late classicism.

Portrait of Homer, known as Homer Caetani. Pentelic marble, Roman copy of the 2nd century CE after a Greek original of the 2nd century BC. From the Palazzo Caetani in Rome.

Lycian Apollo. Roman copy (Imperial era) of a Greek original.

Apollo carrying his kithara holds a phiale (flat cup) for Nike (Victory) to pour a libation in; they are standing on both sides of the omphalos. Marble, Roman copy of the late 1st century CE after a neo-Attic original of the Hellenistic era.

Nike (Victory) offering an egg to a snake entwined around a column topped with the Palladion; a warrior wearing helmet and armour has laid down his shield at the feet of the trophy and stands in a contemplative posture. Marble, Roman copy of the late 1st century AD after a neo-Attic original of the Hellenistic era.

Dramatic poet receiving drunken Dionysos, escorted by maenads and satyrs. Probably a votive relief dedicated by the winner of a theatrical contest. Marble, Roman copy (1st-2nd century CE) of a hellenistic original (late 2nd century BC?), found in Rome.

Young satyr playing the flute. Roman work of the 1st-2nd century CE . From Italy.

Silenus holding the child Dionysos. Marble, Roman copy of the 1st–2nd century CE after a Greek original of the late 4th century BC. From the Horti Sallustiani in Rome, 16th century.

Hermes agoraios and the Charites, relief of the Passage of Theori, from the agora of Thasos. Thasian marble with traces of polychromy on Hermes’ shoes and bronze ornaments (Hermes’ caduceus, fibulae), ca. 480 BC. Inscription: “To the Charites one may not sacrifice goat nor pig”.

Male torso, Parian marble, ca. 480 BC–470 BC, found in Miletus.

Athena of the Hope-Farnese type. Marble, Roman copy from the 1st–2nd centuries AD after a Greek original, probably the late 5th century BC bronze cult-statue of Athena Itonia (near Koroneia) by Agoracritos, described by Pausanias (IX, 34, 1). The antique head, of the Mattei type, does not belong to the statue.

Athena of the Athena Parthenos type. Parian marble (body) and Pentelic marble (head), Roman copy from the 1st–2nd century AD after the 5th century BC original.

Statue of an ephebe, traditionnally identified as Narcissus or Hyacinthus. Marble, Roman copy from ca. 100 AD after a Greek original of the late 5th century BC. Found in Italy

Statue of a youth with Phrygian cap, identified as Paris. Marble, Roman copy from the 2nd century AD after a Greek original. Found by Gavin Hamilton at Villa Adriana in Tivoli, 1769.

Dioscurus wearing the pilos, marble. From the northern area of the circus of Carthage.

Adonis. Marble, antique torso restored and completed by Duquesnoy.

Antinous as Aristaeus, god of the gardens. Bought in Rome in the 17th century by Cardinal Richelieu for his collections.

Statue of Dionysus. Marble, 2nd century CE (some restorations in the 17th century).

Bust of Antinous (117–138 CE). Modern copy after an original coming from the villa Adriana now in the Prado Museum.

Colossal portrait of Anrtinoos. The eyes and the attribute on the top of the head (uraeus or lotus flower?) were added on later. The bust was inserted into a body of a different material.

Statue of a goddess, probably Juno, restored as Urania. Marble, 2nd century AD (nose, mouth, neck, arms and feet are modern restorations).

Altar of the twelve gods. Original in Louvre, cast in Pushkin museum. Use unknown: maybe the brink of a well or an Zodiac altar. The object represents the twelve gods of the Roman pantheon, each identified by an attribute: Venus and Mars linked by Cupid, Jupiter and a lightning bolt, Minerva wearing a helmet, Apollo, Juno and her sceptre, Neptune and his trident, Vulcan and his sceptre, Mercury and his caduceus, Vesta, Diana and her quiver and Ceres. Marble, found in Gabii (Italy), 1st century CE.

Statue of Dionysus. Marble, 2nd century CE (arms and legs were heavily restored in the 18th century), found in Italy.

Narcissus, also known as the “Mazarini Hermaphroditus” or the “Genie of eternal rest”. The statue is composed of an antique funeral bust and of an antique lower part, assembled in modern times. Marble, 3rd century CE.

Statue of a male deity known as “Jupiter of Smyrna”. Found in 1670 in Smyrna (now İzmir in Turkey), the statue was brought to Louis XIV and restored as a Zeus ca. 1686 by Pierre Granier, who added the arm raising the thunderbolt. Marble, middle 2nd century CE.

Relief known as “the three Tyches”—Tyche is the Greek goddess of Fortune; since the Hellenistic period, each city has its own Tyche, represented with a crown of ramparts. This relief, found at the Via Appia, is known since the 18th century and belonged to the Borghese collections. It may come from the Triopius, the funeral complex built by Herodes Atticus for his wife Annia Regilla. Marble, ca. 160 CE.

Bust of Antinous as Dionysos; small holes bored into the hair used to support a metal ivy wreath. Marble, ca. 130 BC, origin unknown.

Mithras killing a sacred bull (tauroctony), side A of a two-faced Roman marble relief, ca. 2nd or 3rd century AD.

Side B (reverse) of a two-sided Mithraic relief. Found at Fiano Romano, near Rome “couché dans un petit réduit de briques” in 1926. White marble (H. 62cm, W. 67 cm, D. 16 cm) on a travertine base (H. 10cm, W. 76cm, D. 50cm). 2nd-3rd century.

This (reverse) face of the monument depicts a banquet scene. In the middle, a bull’s hide, of which the head and one hindleg are visible. Sol and Mithras recline on its side by side. Mithras holds a torch in his left hand and extends his right hand behind Sol. Sol is dressed only in a cape, fastened on his right shoulder with a fibula. Around Sol’s head is a crown of eleven rays. He holds a whip in his left hand and extends the right towards a torchbearer who offers him a rhyton. In the lower right is another torchbearer, with raised torch in his left hand. In his right hand, a caduceus held into the water emerging from the ground. In the middle, an altar in the coils of a crested snake. In the upper left corner, Luna in a cloud, looking away. Traces of red paint on the attire of Sol, Mithras and the torchbearers.

**********************

I am returning to the Louvre next Monday when we get back to Paris, and there’s one thing I wanted to ask all my pagan friends out there:  Any messages or prayer requests you would like me to make to the gods on your behalf?  As I tried to explain above, I spend time communing with the statues.  And every time I saw a statue of Antinous, I couldn’t help but take a moment and communicate to the statue (and consequently the god): “Antinous, I honor you. And I know someone named P. Sufenas Virius Lupus who honors you!  And I know someone named Kallimakhos who honors you!  May they be blessed.”  Whenever I saw a statue of Dionysos (or a member of his retinue), I said something similar on behalf of Sannion and Dver.  Likewise, at statues of Apollon on behalf of Dver, Lykeia, and Kallimakhos.  At statues of Zeus, I thought of Melia.  At statues of Eros, I thought of Ruadhan.  At the bust of Serapis, I thought of Edward (because of his gravatar!).  Artemis reminds me of Brendan.  At various altars of the Twelve Olympians I thought of many of you.  Thetis and various sea nymphs remind me of my mom.  I prayed and made a request to Asclepius on behalf of my friend Scarlett.  And so forth . . .

I didn’t ask anyone’s permission to do this, but it felt right, and I hope my actions didn’t offend anyone.  It’s just that there are so many of my fellow pagans out there, scattered all over the world, whose blogs and websites I enjoy, whose words (and songs and art) inspire me, and who I wish could have been there with me at the Louvre, honoring the gods together (even though I haven’t met very many of you yet!).  It’s not like the Louvre is a cathedral where I can light a candle in your name, so I took quite a few moments on this visit to think of you all and to send a personal message to the gods on your behalf (via these sacred statues), simply asking the gods to send you blessings.  If I overstepped, I sincerely apologize, as my intentions were positive!

Since I am returning next Monday, is there anyone out there reading this who would like me to “send a message” or make a prayer request to any specific deities (or heroes/heroines) on their behalf?  I would be honored to do so.  I’m not claiming to have any more or less of a connection to the gods than anyone else, and please let me be clear that I am *not* implying that we need ancient statues, temples, or anything special whatsoever to communicate with the deities.  The gods are always there, and I know they hear us.  It’s just that there’s something especially charged about these statues, and like I said earlier, it feels right.

I will mostly be in the Greek & Roman Antiquities section, but I am hoping I can spend some time in the Egyptian section as well.  Please let me know in the comments if you have any requests, and I will make another post when I can!

A Pagan Walking Tour of Paris – Day One: Garden Nymphs, Hero-Poets, and Divine Allegories (oh my!)

We arrived in Paris on Tuesday after many, many hours of travel and very few hours of sleep.  We’re staying with a friend on L’île Saint-Louis, the little island in the center of Paris, on the Seine and next to L’île de la Cité (where Notre-Dame is located).  We’re about a block away from the tiny apartment we lived in from 2000-2005.  This is my first trip to Paris since Wildstar’s big art show in 2007, but that was a really short trip (and our entire focus was the art show), so I feel like I haven’t really had a chance to experience this beautiful city since we lived here seven years ago.

And yesterday I experienced The City of Lights as I best remember it from our starving Bohemian artist days – by walking.  And walking.  And walking.  I must have walked at least 12 miles yesterday, maybe more (it’s no wonder we were so much thinner when lived here).  Wildstar and I began the day by crossing La Seine (aka Sequona, our beloved River Goddess and one of this city’s patron deities) to the Right Bank and Le Marais (the gay/Jewish neighborhood), where we had our morning coffee with fresh croissants.  There’s nothing like sitting in a Paris café and watching all the people walk by, and there couldn’t be a bigger contrast to our quiet life in our remote woodland cabin in the Northwest.  I love this city, but I definitely don’t miss the stress and the struggle and the constant activity.  That being said, Paris is still such an amazing place to visit.  In my opinion it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

We walked all over the old neighborhood to regain our bearings and prepare for the upcoming walking tour we’ll be leading.  We traversed the same old passageways, passed the same Gothic architecture, and despite the sudden proliferation of Starbucks (there were *none* in Paris when lived here before, now they’re everywhere), we were pleased at how many of our favorite old shops and restaurants are still in business.  This was even more clear when we walked back to L’île Saint-Louis.  It’s almost like nothing has changed.  The same shops, the same two women at the bakery, the same butcher, the same guy making crêpes at our favorite crêpe stand, even the same old woman (who vaguely resembles Quentin Crisp when he was in his 90s) sitting at the same desk looking out onto the street while she works.  It was all very surreal, like walking through a memory . . .

[Note: None of the photos in this post came from me, I found them on the web.  I am a terrible photographer so these will have to do.]

On the island we had to pay our respects at three important places:

1) The benches on the riverbank, where we once spent many days and nights, making many offerings to La Seine/Sequona.

2) The gilded balcony that was once home to the Club des Hashischins, a private club in the 19th-century that was attended by many cultural luminaries, including many of our poet-heroes:  including Charles Baudelaire, Gérard de Nerval, Gustave Flaubert, Alexandre Dumas, Honoré de Balzac, and especially a poet by the name of Théophile Gautier, who wrote an incredibly surreal story about this club (containing a hallucination of a man with screaming mandrake roots for feet, and which inspired the name of the Rozz Williams album, Daucus Carota).  This place is significant to us because I once had an elaborate and vivid dream about the club, and the name Théophile Gautier, long before I’d ever heard of either of them, and before we’d even moved to Paris.  I spent years trying to understand the dream, and one day I found out about the story, and the club, and that this club was located on the exact block of Paris where we were then living, just a few doors down on the other side.

3) Square Barye, which features a monument/memorial to one of my favorite sculptors, Antoine-Louis Barye. When we first moved to Paris, I fell in love with the work by Barye at the Musée d’Orsay, especially a beautiful series of allegorical figures (who happen to be male, which is rather rare as far as allegories go). I became somewhat obsessed with Barye, started seeing his work all over Paris, and it later turned out there was a full-scale monument to the man in a park about two blocks from our apartment, which included two of those allegorical figures, Order and Force:

We then went over to the Left Bank, stopped by Shakespeare & Co. (the American bookshop and one of my old hangouts), walked through the Latin Quarter and over to the St. Michel fountain, which I have *always* associated with Hermes despite the overtly Christian imagery:

At this point, a severely jet-lagged Wildstar needed to go back to the apartment and rest, but I decided to continue my walking tour and visit a few old haunts.  I headed a long way down the Seine to the gorgeous Jardin des Plantes, a huge botanical garden and park where I would often sit for hours and write.  This also gave me a chance to revisit one of my favorite neoclassical statues, Amour captive (Love Captured) by Felix Sanzel, which stands in the middle of an incredible rose garden:

Another statue, though, which has no title or attribution, has always puzzled me.  Perhaps someone reading this might be able to help me out. The following statue is clearly a classical philosopher, but which philosopher would be portrayed holding an egg?  Any ideas?

There are so many amazing plants and flowers and quite a few very ancient trees which I also spent time communing with.  I daresay there are more dryads and other nymphs (garden nymphs? park nymphs?) in the Jardin des Plantes than almost any other park in Paris I’ve visited.

I then walked to the Fontaine Cuvier (dedicated to the zoologist Georges Cuvier) – a fountain with an allegorical statue representing Natural History, and which features a stern-looking goddess figure surrounded by animals.  I’ve always found something particularly numinous about this fountain and another tiny fountain across the street, so I paid my respects to the fountain nymphs here:

Nearby are the Arènes de Lutèce, the Arenas of Lutèce (Lutèce was the Roman name for Paris, hence “City of Lights”), which are a Gallo-Roman gladiatorial arena and amphitheater from the 1st century CE that is now a public park.  Years ago I remember a bunch of young football/soccer players running around, beating their chests and exclaiming “We’re the lions now!”  I loved to sit in the amphitheater and read or write while the “lions” rampaged below.

The park was packed on this beautiful sunny afternoon, and beneath me were about 50 guys in a tournament playing the jeu de boules (that game so popular in France where metal balls are thrown into the sand . . . I have no idea how it’s played).

After the Arenas, I felt a strange compulsion to stop inside an old church I had never visited before, St. Etienne du Mont.  In the United States I never set foot inside a Christian church unless I absolutely have to for some reason (usually for a funeral).  But churches in Europe, especially in France, are different.  They’re aesthetically far superior to their counterparts in North America, they’re often built on pagan sites and frequently contain many pagan elements. I’ll talk about this more when I discuss Notre Dame in a future post, but yesterday I heard a voice calling me to stop in and pay a visit.  And sure enough, I was immediately led to a side chapel containing a beautiful allegorical statue of Esperance (Hope) holding an anchor. This lovely statue was made in 1826 by one S.-J. Bru (I cannot find a photograph on the interwebs).  Divine Allegories were everywhere yesterday, and so I paid homage to the Goddess of Hope and moved on.

I headed to The Panthéon, (which became the Temple of Reason during the French Revolution), where many French cultural heroes are buried, including  Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Toussaint Louverture, and Marie Curie:

Outside I poured libations to the Goddess of Reason, as well as my poet-heroes Voltaire and Victor Hugo (I was reading Les Miserables on the plane . . . such a wise and beautiful book).  I then sat for a while beneath the temple columns and read a few favorite passages of Plato’s Timaeus in the cool shade.

My next stop was the Luxembourg Gardens, which were originally built at the behest of Marie de’ Medici.  The park is filled with over a hundred different statues and fountains, including many of my poet-heroes (George Sand, Charles Baudelaire, Stendhal, Paul Verlaine, Leconte de Lisle), a series of Classical Goddesses, and many others.  Below are a number of those statues, starting with one that is particularly interesting in terms of hero-cultus – Le Marchand des Masques (The Merchant of Masks) by Zacharate Astrue.  It depicts a trickster-like lad holding up a mask while surrounded by a ring of masks depicting the actual (rather creepy) death masks of a number of 19th-century writers, artists, and composers – Hugo, Balzac, Dumas fils, Delacroix, Corot, Berlios, Fauré and others:

Dancing Faun by Eugène Louis Lequesne

Le Triomphe de Silene (The Triumph of Silenus) by Aime Jules Dalou

Monument in honor of Leconte de Lisle

Musicien by Jean Valette

The Medici Fountain (above) is a particularly numinous spot and a great place to sit in a chair and read or write.  The fountain portrays Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea, and there’s this uncanny mirror-like effect in the water that photos can’t really convey.  It’s surrounded by some particularly large and beautiful trees.  I honored the fountain nymphs and the dryads before I left.

My final stop was the Musée de Cluny, which is primarily known for being a Museum of the Middle Ages, with a lovely medieval Jardin d’Amour and, most famously, The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.  However, what few pagans realize is that the Musée de Cluny sits on top of an ancient Roman bath-house, and is home to one of the two statues in Paris of our beloved Emperor Julian, who is a hero to most pagans I know.  If you’re a pagan and you’re visiting Paris, you should definitely stop by the Musée de Cluny and pay homage to the last pagan emperor of the Rome.  (The other statue of Julian used to be at the Louvre, where I would visit him often, but the Louvre statue has unfortunately either been in storage or on loan since at least 2005!)

And speaking of the Louvre, I spent many hours immersed in the Greek & Roman antiquities section(s) today, which will be the subject of my next post!

Voyage to The Land of the Cathars and The City of Lights

Tomorrow (Monday) my husband and I embark on a voyage to France, where we will be leading a wine tour through various vineyards in the south (near Toulouse and Carcassone, Cathar country), followed by a walking tour of Paris (where we lived off-and-on for five years).  We will be away until the middle of June, but we expect to have access to wi-fi for most of our trip.  So I while I can’t promise to continue making posts here on a daily basis, I fully intend to post whenever I can, especially since we will be seeing and doing a number of things relevant to the subjects of this blog.

Whenever I travel, I always carry my little Loeb copy of Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns, and tomorrow I will follow my custom of reading the following hymn to my patron god, in both English and Greek, just as the plane is taking off:

Homeric Hymn To Hermes (trans. H.G. Evelyn-White)

I sing of Cyllenian Hermes, the Slayer of Argus, lord of Cyllene and Arcadia rich in flocks, luck-bringing messenger of the deathless gods. He was born of Maia, the daughter of Atlas, when she had mated with Zeus, —  a shy goddess she. Ever she avoided the throng of the blessed gods and lived in a shadowy cave, and there the Son of Cronos used to lie with the rich-tressed nymph at dead of night, while white-armed Hera lay bound in sweet sleep: and neither deathless god nor mortal man knew it.

And so hail to you, Son of Zeus and Maia; with you I have begun: now I will turn to another song!

Hail, Hermes, giver of grace, guide, and giver of good things!

Hestia, The Queen of Fire – Part Three

“Young men, praise Hestia, the most ancient of goddesses.”

[verse preserved in Proclus’ Commentary on Plato’s Cratylus, quoted in Greek and Egyptian Mythologies by Yves Bonnefoy, translated under the direction of Wendy Doniger]

This will be my last installment (for now) on Hestia, before I move on to the many other members of My Personal Pantheon. This post will focus on Hestia in relation to philosophy, with a focus on the Pythagoreans and Neoplatonists.  [Edited to add:  Please keep in mind that this is not my only view of Hestia.  Part One and Part Two contain pictures, personal anecdotes, mythological lore, a link to a Mary J. Blige song, and far fewer references to ontology.] If you are completely new to Neoplatonism, I highly recommend starting with my post on Proclus, which links to a number of resources to help the newcomer navigate through this type of material.  Also, a number of these quotes were found on the *fantastic* Hestia page at HellenicGods.org, which is an incredible resource for Hellenic pagans/polytheists and one of my favorite websites in general.  Many of these quotations will require further commentary and elaboration, which I honestly don’t have time to provide at this moment (though I will probably return to later), so if you have any questions on this admittedly difficult material, please let me know in the comments!

Hestia and the Pythagoreans:  The Fire in the Middle

“The Pythagoreans offered significant cosmological observations . . . It is also noteworthy that the early Pythagoreans denied the geocentric and geostatic model of the universe. According to the testimony of Aristotle (De caelo 293.18), they placed *fire* and not earth at the centre of the universe. The earth became a celestial body, which creates day and night by its circular motion around Hestia (hestia meaning ‘hearth’). Ten divine celestial bodies – ten being the perfect number, which encompasses the whole nature of numbers – rotate rhythmically around Hestia in the following order: the dark counter-earth (antichthon), the earth, the moon, the sun, the five planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury) and the sphere of the fixed stars (aristotle, Metaphysics 986). This new cosmological model is usually attributed to Philolaus (B7 and A16) and explained through the importance of the Monad in Pythagorean metaphysics. Since the Monad is the divine source of all numbers and is identified with, or represented by, the purity of the fire, the source of the celestial bodies should be a divine fire in the centre of the cosmos (Aristotle, Metaphysics 986).”

[p. 38-39, Introduction to Presocratics: A Thematic Approach to Early Greek Philosophy with Key Readings by Giannis Stamatellos]

Pythagorean Fragments of Philolaus
[full text here]

“10. (Stob. Eclogl.1:5:7:p.360) The world is single; it began to form from the centre outwards. Starting from this centre, the top is entirely identical to the base; still you might say that what is above the centre is opposed to what is below it; for, for the base, lowest point would be the centre, as for the top, the highest point would still be the centre; and likewise for the other parts; in fact, in respect to the centre, each one of the opposite points is identical, unless the whole be moved. b.(Stob.Ecl.l:2l:3:p.468) The prime composite, the One placed in the centre of the sphere is called Hestia.”

“11. a. (Stob.Ecl.l:22:l:p.488) Philolaus has located the fire in the middle, the centre; he calls it Hestia, of the All, the house [policeipest] of Jupiter, and the mother of the Gods, the altar, the link, the measure of nature. Besides, he locates a second fire, quite at the top, surrounding the world. The centre, says he, is by its nature the first; around it, the ten different bodies carry out their choric dance; these are, the heaven, the planets, lower the sun, and below it the moon ; lower the earth, and beneath this, the anti-earth (a body invented by the Pythagoreans, says Aristotle, Met i: 5) then beneath these bodies the fire of Hestia, in the centre, where it maintains order. The highest part of the Covering, in which he asserts that the elements exist in a perfectly pure condition, is called Olympus, the space beneath the revolutionary circle of Olympus, and where in order are disposed the five planets, the sun and moon, forms the Cosmos world; finally, beneath the latter is the sublunar region, which surrounds the earth, where are the generative things susceptible to change; that is the heaven. The order which manifests in the celestial phenomena is the object of science; the disorder which manifests in the things of becoming, is the object of virtue; the former is perfect, the latter is imperfect. b. (Plut. Plac.Phil.3:ll). The Pythagorean Philolaus located the fire in the centre, it is the Hestia of the All, then the Anti-earth, then the earth we inhabit, placed opposite the other, and moving circularly; which is the cause that its inhabitants are not visible to ours. (Stob.Ecl.l:21:6:p.452). The directing fire, [of] Philolaus, is in the entirely central fire; which the demiurge has placed as a sort of keel [to] serve as foundation to the sphere of the All.”

Hestia and Plato, Part I:  The Essence of Things

“Socrates: “What may we suppose him to have meant who gave the name Hestia?…….that which we term οὐσἰα (ed. ousia) is by some called ἐσἰα (ed. esia), and by others again ὠσἰα (ed. osia).  Now that the essence of things should be called ἑστἰα (ed. estia), which is akin to the first of these (ἐσἰα=ἑστἰα), is rational enough.  And there is reason in the Athenians calling that ἑστἰα which participates in οὐσἰα.  For in ancient times we too seem to have said ἐσἰα for οὐσἰα, and this you may note to have been the idea of those who appointed that sacrifices should be first offered to Ἑστἰα (ed. Hestia), which was natural enough if they meant that ἑστἰα was the essence of things.  Those again who read ὠσἰα seem to have inclined to the opinion of Heracleitus, that all things flow and nothing stands; with them the pushing principle (ὠθουν; ed. othoun) is the cause and ruling power of all things, and is therefore rightly called ὠσἰα.” 

[Plato’s Cratylus, 401, translated by Benjamin Jowett –  quote with editor’s notes appears on the Hestia page at HellenicGods.org]

Socrates’ convoluted etymology of Hestia = Ousia, (aka Hestia = Essence, Being Itself, the Essence of All Things) is an important idea that the later Neoplatonists will pick up and run forward with into intricate realms of cosmological speculation, with Hestia as one of the principle or essential components of the cosmos itself.

Hestia and Plato, Part II:  She Who Abides

“Zeus, the mighty lord, holding the reins of a winged chariot, leads the way in heaven, ordering all and taking care of all; and there follows him the array of gods and demigods, marshalled in eleven bands; Hestia alone abides at home in the house of heaven; of the rest they who are reckoned among the princely twelve march in their appointed order.”  [Plato, Phaedrus 246 (trans. Jowett)]

This description of Hestia as the goddess who abides at home on Olympus (while Zeus leads a procession of the other Olympians in their chariots) will later become the key image and the cornerstone for later Neoplatonist interpretations of Hestia. If there’s one image from Plato most relevant to Hestia, it is this one:  Hestia, She Who Abides.

Hestia and Plotinus:  The Intellect of the Earth

“Plotinus, who denominates the intellect of the Earth, Hestia” [Ennead IV, 4, 27]

Hestia and Porphyry:  Essence, the Source of All Being

“Hestia, existing within the Father as a source and cause of all being, equals ontotes [Being itself]”

[Lydus, Mens. 4.94, referencing a treastise attributed to Porphyry, quoted in Porphyry and the Gnostics: Reassessing Pierre Hadot’s Thesis in Light of the Second- and Third-Century Sethian Treatises by Tuomas Rasimus, in Plato’s Parmenides and Its Heritage: Its reception in Neoplatonic, Jewish, and Christian texts p.89]

Hestia and Sallust:  The Guardian Power

Farther still, of the mundane Gods, some are the causes of the existence of the world; others animate it; others again harmonize it thus composed of different natures; and others, lastly, guard and preserve it when harmonically arranged. And since these orders are four, and each consists of things first, middle and last, it is necessary that the disposers of these should be twelve. Hence Jupiter, Neptune, and Vulcan, fabricate the world; Ceres, Juno and Diana animate it; Mercury, Venus, and Apollo harmonize it; and lastly, Vesta, Minerva, and Mars, preside over it with a guardian power. But the truth of this may be seen in statues as in enigmas. For Apollo harmonizes the lyre; Pallas is invested with arms; and Venus is naked; since harmony generates beauty, and beauty is not concealed in objects of sensible inspection. Since, however, these Gods primarily possess the world, it is necessary to consider the other mundane Gods as subsisting in these; as Bacchus in Jupiter, Esculapius in Apollo, and the Graces in Venus. We may likewise, behold the spheres with which they are connected ; viz. Vesta with earth, Neptune with water, Juno with air, and Vulcan with fire. But the six superior Gods we denominate from general custom. For Apollo and Diana are assumed for the sun and moon ; but the orb of Saturn is attributed to Ceres; aether to Pallas; and heaven is common to them all. And thus much concerning the mundane Gods in general, the sources of their progression, their orders, powers, and spheres.

[Sallust, On the Gods and the World, VI, quoted in The Platonic Theology of Proclus (Book VII, Chapter 1) translated by Thomas Taylor]

 Hestia and Proclus, Part I:  The Fountain of Virtue

Hestia is described as “the cause of the virtues”  [Proclus, Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato, Book III p.539, trans. Thomas Taylor]

Hestia as “the fountain of virtue” [ibid, note on p.675, cf. Chaldaean Oracle fr. 51 & 52]

Hestia and Proclus, Part II:  The Fixed Hearth – Permanency and Stability

“But if as some say, the assertion that “Hestia alone abides in the dwellings of the Gods” (p. 848, quoting Plato’s Phaedrus 274a), is spoken of this earth, Plato will be very far from giving motion to the Earth.  If however we do not admit that the Hestia there mentioned is the Earth, yet it must be granted, that there is a guardian power in the Earth of the nature of Hestia.  For as we say, that in the Heavens, the poles are connectedly contained by Hestia, thus also among the elements, the Earth.  And as the supermundane Hestia, is to the great leader of the twelve Gods, so in mundane natures is the Earth to the Heavens.” [ibid, p. 848-849]

fixing the earth indeed, as a firm seat or Vesta” – [Proclus, Platonic Theology of Plato: Book V, Chapter 20, translated by Thomas Taylor]

“Plato however, apprehended that the number of the dodecad is adapted to the liberated Gods, as being allperfect, composed from the first numbers, and completed from things perfect; and he comprehends in this measure all the progressions of these Gods. For he refers all the genera and peculiarities of them to this dodecad, and defines them according to it. But again dividing the dodecad into two monads and one decad; he suspends all [mundane natures] from the two monads, but delivers to us each of these energizing on the monad posterior to itself, according to its own hyparxis. And one of these monads indeed, he calls Jovian, but he denominates the other Vesta.” [ibid, Book VI, Chapter 18]

“Since therefore, as we have before observed, there are twelve leaders of all the mundane Gods, of all daemons, and farther still, of such partial souls as are able to be extended to the intelligible, again in this dodecad, the mighty Jupiter and Vesta are allotted the more ruling order. But the principality of the rest is coarranged with these, and has a secondary dignity. And Jupiter indeed, being neither the intellect of the universe, as some say he is, nor the intellect in the sun, nor in short, any one of mundane intellects or souls, but being expanded above all these, and preexisting among the liberated Gods, elevates the choir of Gods, and of the genera superior to us that follow him, and imparts paternal goodness to the multitude converted to him. But he is the leader of all the other numbers that terminate under the twelve Gods. Again however, Vesta indeed governs an appropriate multitude, but she neither has the order of the first soul, nor is that which is called the earth in the universe. But prior to these, she is allotted a ruling power among the supercelestial Gods. She imparts however, her own peculiarity to the numbers of the other leaders, in the same manner as Jupiter. For the leaders that are suspended from the decad, participate also of these two monads. Jupiter however, being indeed the cause of motion is the leader to all things of a progression to the intelligible. But Vesta illuminates all things with stable and inflexible power; though Jupiter also abiding in himself, is thus elevated to the intelligible place of survey ; and Vesta on account of an inflexible and undefiled permanency in herself, is conjoined to the first causes. The emission however of a different peculiarity, affords the difference of dominion. For since there are twofold conversions in the Gods (for all things are converted to themselves and to their principles) each form of conversion indeed, was impartibly in king Saturn. For according to Parmenides he is demonstrated to be in himself, and in another. And the latter indeed, pertains to a conversion to a more excellent nature, but the former implies a conversion to himself. In the secondary however, and more partial Gods, both these forms shine forth in a divided manner. And Vesta indeed, imparts to the mundane Gods an undefiled establishment in themselves; but Jupiter imparts to them an elevating motion to first natures. For Vesta belongs to the undefiled, but Jupiter to the paternal series; but they are divided by a subsistence in self, and a subsistence in another, as we have before observed. It must be said therefore, that every thing stable and immutable, and which possesses an invariable sameness of subsistence, arrives to all mundane natures from the supercelestial Vesta, and that on this account all the poles are immoveable, and the axes about which the circulations of the spheres convolve themselves. It must also be said, that the wholenesses of the circulations are firmly established, that the earth abides immoveably in the middle, and that the centres have an unshaken permanency [from this supercelestial Vesta.]” [ibid Book VI, Chapter 21]

Hestia and Proclus, Part III:  She Who Imparts Permanency, Stability, and Essence

“Hence it is necessary that in all things there should be each of these [essence, motion and permanency], and that essence should subsist as the first of them, this being as it were the Vesta and monad of the genera, and having an arrangement analogous to The One.” [Proclus, Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato, p.560]

Essence, as we have said, has the first order in the genera, because it is as it were, the Vesta of being. [ibid, p. 581 – cf. Philolaus fr. 7d]

For essence itself is the summit of all beings, and is as it were the monad of the whole of things. In all things therefore, essence is the first. And in each thing that which is essential is the most ancient, as deriving its subsistence from the Hestia of beings. – [Proclus, Platonic Theology, Book III, Chapter 9]

“And thus much from Proclus, concerning that great mundane divinity, the earth, who in the language of Theophrastus is the common Hestia of Gods and men; and on whose fertile surface reclining, says he, as on the soft bosom of a mother or a nurse, we ought to celebrate her divinity with hymns, and incline to her with filial affection, as to the source of our existence.” – [ibid, Book VII, Chapter 23 reconstructed/written by Thomas Taylor and quoted on HellenicGods.org]

“That Saturn (ed. Kronos) in conjunction with Rhea produced Vesta (ed. Æstia) and Juno (ed. Ira or Hera) who are co-ordinate to the demiurgic causes.  For Vesta imparts from herself to the Gods an uninclining permanency, and seat in themselves, and an indissoluble essence.  But Juno imparts progression, and a multiplication into things secondary.  She is also the vivifying fountain of wholes, and the mother of prolific powers; and on this account she is said to have proceeded together with Jupiter the demiurgus; and through this communion she generates maternally, such things as Jupiter generates paternally.  But Vesta abides in herself, possessing an undefiled virginity, and being the cause of sameness to all things.  Each of these divinities however together with her own proper perfection, possesses according to participation the power of the other.  Hence some say that Vesta is denominated from essence (απο της εστιας; ed.ahpo tis æstiahs) looking to her proper hyparxis (ed. approx. essential being).  But others looking to her vivific (ed. life-giving) and motive power which she derives from Juno say that she is thus denominated ως ωσεως ουσαν αιτιαν (ed. os osæos oosahn ætiahn) as being the cause of impulsion.  For all divine natures are in all, and particularly such as are co-ordinate with each other, participate of, and subsist in each other.  Each therefore of the demiurgic and vivific orders, participates the form by which it is characterised, from Vesta. The orbs of the planets likewise possess the sameness of their revolutions from her; and the poles and centres are always allotted from her their rest.

That Vesta does not manifest essence, but the abiding and firm establishment of essence in itself; and hence this Goddess proceeds into light after the mighty Saturn.  For the divinities prior to Saturn have not a subsistence in themselves and in another, but this originates from Saturn.  And a subsistence in self is the peculiarity of Vesta, but in another of Juno.”

[An extract from the Manuscript Scolia of Proclus On the Cratylus of Plato, found in The Theology of Plato: Proclus, trans. Thomas Taylor, Prometheus Trust (Somerset, UK), Vol. VIII of The Thomas Taylor Series (TTS), pp. 680-682 and quoted on HellenicGods.org]

Hestia and Theosophy:  Gravity, The God of Modern Science

These last quotes are essentially a summation from all the above, found in G.R.S. Mead’s book, Orpheus, which draws heavily from Taylor’s translations of Proclus, but with some late-19th-century theosophical speculation and comparative spirituality thrown in for good measure.

“Therefore Vesta and Juno are distinguished as follows by Proclus (Crat., p. 83): ‘Vesta imparts from herself to the Gods an uninclining permanency and seat in themselves, and an indissoluble essence. . . .

Now ‘in her mundane allotment’, that is on this physical plane, Vesta is the Goddess of the Earth. Thus it is that Philolaus (apud Stobæum, Eclog. Phys., p. 51) says: ‘That there is a fire in the middle at the centre, which is the Vesta [Hearth] of the Universe, the House of Jupiter, the Mother of the Gods, and the basis, coherence, and measure of nature.’ All of which puts us in mind of gravity, the god of modern science. . . .

Microcosmically, again, Vesta is the ‘ether in the heart’ of the Upanishads, the ‘flame’ of life; and he who knows the mysteries of Tapas, that practice which calls to its aid the creative, preservative, and regenerative powers of the universe, as Shankarâchârya explains in his Bhâshya on the Mundakopanishad (i), will easily comprehend the importance of Vesta both macrocosmically and microcosmically. . . .”

***
In lieu of a detailed commentary, here is my own extrapolation of these ideas in the form of a philosophical hymn/adoration/collage to Hestia:

A Philosophical Hymn to Hestia

I sing of Hestia,
the most ancient of Goddesses,
the Fire in the Middle,
the Centre of the Cosmos,
the Centre of the Sphere,
the Prime Composite,
the All, the Source, the Good,
she who maintains order,
she who is the Essence of All Things,
The Goddess of Being,
She Who Abides,
she who alone stays at home in the dwellings of the immortals,
tending the central fire in the heaven of Olympus,
the intellect of the Earth,
the Source and Cause of All Being,
she who presides over the universe with a guardian power,
the fountain of Virtue,
she who fixes the firm seat of the Earth,
who stabilizes the poles,
a ruling power among the supercelestial Gods,
imparting permanence to All,
illuminating all things with stable and inflexible power,
she who contains an inflexible and undefiled permanency in herself,
she who is conjoined to the first causes,
she who is responsible for everything stable and immutable,
she who imparts order to the cosmos,
she who fixes the circulations of the heavenly spheres,
bringing an unshaken permanency to the centre of the Cosmos,
she who is the summit of all beings,
the monad of the whole,
she who imparts from herself to the Gods
an uninclining permanency,
a seat in themselves,
an indissoluble essence,
she who abides in herself,
possessing an undefiled purity,
the Essence of All,
the Cause of Impulsion,
she who subsists in the self,
she who embodies all gravitational forces,
the Ether in the Heart,
the Flame of Life,
She Who Creates, Preserves, and Regenerates the Universe,
she who is honored both first and last in all things,
All hail Hestia, the most ancient of Goddesses!
[And now I will remember you, and another song too . . .]

Sweeping the Temple [What I Am Doing for Kallynteria & Plynteria]

Yesterday began with our hands in the dirt, pulling weeds and planting seeds, and ended with our eyes on the stars, gazing upon the beautiful Arcturus and Vega through the telescope.  As above, so below. [Quick aside, this reminds me of a podcast I’ve been thoroughly enjoying of late: Between the Earth and Stars (formerly Media Astra Ac Terra) hosted by Oraia Helene, who delivers an entertaining and educational blend of science and spirituality, geology and astronomy, along with the metaphysical properties of stones and the myths behind the constellations. Check it out!]

But today and tomorrow we are celebrating the Kallynteria and Plynteria with a thorough house-cleaning and temple sweeping, including our household shrines. Today is the Kallynteria, the festival of “Sweeping Out” the temple of Athena in Athens.  We are dusting and cleaning the entire house as the music of Donna Summer (R.I.P.) blasts in the background.

Tomorrow we are celebrating the Plynteria with a more formal ritual to Athena the Guardian, in which we will be taking the caryatid statue (dedicated to Athena) from the household shrine down to the beach and washing it in the sea.

Now, back to work . . .

***

“Here,
I have other work,
I bind the sacred wreaths;
I sweep the holy gate,
and with my laurel-branch,
the steps before the house;
I lave the marble pavement . . .
. . .
let me praise
this spirit,
this home;
let me revere
altar, pillar, rare
tasks I have done;
work can not tire
priests, servants;
immortal joy awaits
immortal devotes . . .”

[from Euripides’ Ion, translated by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)]

Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929 – March 27, 2012)

“No woman is really an insider in the institutions fathered by masculine consciousness. When we allow ourselves to believe we are, we lose touch with parts of ourselves defined as unacceptable by that consciousness; with the vital toughness and visionary strength of the angry grandmothers, the shamanesses, the fierce marketwomen of the Ibo’s Women’s War, the marriage-resisting women silkworkers of prerevolutionary China, the millions of widows, midwives, and the women healers tortured and burned as witches for three centuries in Europe.”

Adrienne Rich, from “What Does a Woman Need to Know?”

***

Twenty-One Love Poems, Poem #5
by Adrienne Rich

V.
This apartment full of books could crack open
to the thick jaws, the bulging eyes
of monsters, easily: Once open the books, you have to face
the underside of everything you’ve loved—
the rack and pincers held in readiness, the gag
even the best voices have had to mumble through,
the silence burying unwanted children—
women, deviants, witnesses—in desert sand.
Kenneth tells me he’s been arranging his books
so he can look at Blake and Kafka while he types;
yes; and we still have to reckon with Swift
loathing the woman’s flesh while praising her mind,
Goethe’s dread of the Mothers, Claudel vilifying Gide,
and the ghosts—their hands clasped for centuries—
of artists dying in childbirth, wise-women charred at the stake,
centuries of books unwritten piled behind these shelves;
and we still have to stare into the absence
of men who would not, women who could not, speak
to our life—this still unexcavated hole
called civilization, this act of translation, this half-world.

***

“When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you, whether you are dark-skinned, old, disabled, female, or speak with a different accent or dialect than theirs, when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing. Yet you know you exist and others like you, that this is a game with mirrors. It takes some strength of soul–and not just individual strength, but collective understanding–to resist this void, this nonbeing, into which you are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.”

– Adrienne Rich, “Invisibility in Academe”

***

Nights and Days
by Adrienne Rich

The stars will come out over and over
the hyacinths rise like flames
from the windswept turf down the middle of upper Broadway
where the desolate take the sun
the days will run together and stream into years
as the rivers freeze and burn
and I ask myself and you, which of our visions will claim us
which will we claim
how will we go on living
how will we touch, what will we know
what will we say to each other

Pictures form and dissolve in my head:
we are walking in a city
you fled, came back to and come back to still
which I saw once through winter frost
years back, before I knew you,
before I knew myself.
We are walking streets you have by heart from childhood
streets you have graven and erased in dreams:
scrolled portals, trees, nineteenth-century statues.
We are holding hands so I can see
everything as you see it
I follow you into your dreams
your past, the places
none of us can explain to anyone.

We are standing in the wind
on an empty beach, the onslaught of the surf
tells me Point Reyes, or maybe some northern
Pacific shoreline neither of us has seen.
In its fine spectral mist our hair
is grey as the sea
someone who saw us far-off would say we were two old women
Norns, perhaps, or sisters of the spray
but our breasts are beginning to sing together
your eyes are on my mouth

I wake early in the morning
in a bed we have shared for years
lie watching your innocent, sacred sleep
as if for the first time.
We have been together so many nights and days
this day is not unusual.
I walk to an eastern window, pull up the blinds:
the city around us is still
on a clear October morning
wrapped in her indestructible light.

The stars will come out over and over
the hyacinths rise like flames
from the windswept turf down the middle of upper Broadway
where the desolate take the sun
the days will run together and stream into years
as the rivers freeze and burn
and I ask myself and you, which of our visions will claim us
which will we claim
how will we go on living
how will we touch, what will we know
what will we say to each other.

***

According to Adherents.com, Adrienne Rich “was reportedly a self-identified pagan or Neo-pagan.”  While this wouldn’t surprise me in the least, they unfortunately do not cite a source for this information.  So if anyone else out there can verify this assertion, please let me know in the comments!  At any rate, regardless of her specific spiritual beliefs, Adrienne Rich is one of my favorite poets and one of my heroines, and I feel she should be remembered and honored on this day.

The Survival of Paganism – Honoring Our Pagan Precursors

Much of my post yesterday dedicated to Thomas Taylor, “The English Pagan,” was inspired by an anonymous article I stumbled across, published in Fraser’s Magazine in November 1875.  The full text of the article can be found here.  While the article is rather lengthy, and at times condescending towards some of the figures it describes, I find it fascinating that an article published at the height of the Victorian era could contain so many interesting anecdotes about post-classical historical figures who defended paganism/polytheism and/or actively identified as pagans themselves.  Here are some further highlights that may be of interest to contemporary pagans (keep in mind this was published in 1875):

“Throughout the middle ages we meet with the most earnest sermons against idolatry; and indignant diatribes, like those of Eligius and Peter of Blois, show how much even of the ancient ritual still lingered in the popular observances which it was their object to destroy. In the darkest of the dark ages, the student of mediaevalism who penetrates beneath the crust of that singular literature of myth and legend which had gathered round the Christian story will find sufficient evidence that the divine fire of Hellas, although hidden and dim, was still alight, ready when the hour arrived to leap out, as leap out it did in that wonderful fifteenth century, to fill the world with a flood of light and beauty. From the Renaissance downwards the old creed has never been without hierophants or disciples.”

Gemistus Pletho [George Gemistus Plethon] (1355-1452)

“It was at Florence that we find the ancient learning brought face to face with the ideas of modern civilisation; and here amongst the distinguished scholars whom Cosimo [de’ Medici] gathered around him arose the first Academia Platonica of the revival. Of this institution, founded for the purpose of encouraging the study of Plato, the famous Gemisthus was for many years the great luminary. Only a few fragmentary remains of his works have come down to us, and we are indebted almost entirely to his enemies for what we know of his opinions; but it is evident that he was one of those enthusiasts who, like the Alexandrian eclectics, dreamed of a universal religion which should harmonise in one philosophical worship the varying religious instincts of all mankind. According to George of Trebizond, he entertained most of Plato’s opinions concerning the nature of the gods and the necessity of sacrifice.

‘I have heard him myself,’ said George, ‘when we were together at Florence, say that in a few years all men would embrace with one consent a single and simple religion. And when I asked him if it would be the religion of Jesus Christ or that of Mahomet, he answered: ‘Neither one nor the other; but a third, which will not greatly differ from Paganism.’ . . .

The principal work of Gemisthus was a treatise On Law, burnt after his death by Scolarius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who reports that it taught a plurality of gods, some eternal and others of late development, under the presidency of a supreme being whom he called Zeus.”

Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) [and Luigi Pulci (1432-1484)]

“Ficinus, the next principal of Cosimo’s academy, was a worthy successor of Gemisthus. He is said to have cherished an almost idolatrous veneration for Plato, whose bust he kept in his chamber with a lamp burning constantly before it. In his writings we find that strange mixture of things, Pagan and Christian, which is so characteristic of the period of the Renaissance. . . . Although a priest, and holding valuable preferment, he proposed that preachers should expound the Parmenides and the Philebus [of Plato] alternately with the Epistles and the Apocrypha in the churches. It is the opinion of some of the best Italian critics that Ficinus assisted Pulci in the theological and metaphysical part of that very remarkable poem the Morgante, and that the bold arguments against Christianity which are put into the mouth of the fiend Aztaroth are especially his. Pulci’s conception of the Deity is essentially pantheistic, and in more than one place he ventures to predict the approaching extinction of the Christian religion. The publication of this book and the escape of Ficinus from any active persecution are striking instances of the freedom of thought which existed in Italy during the fifteenth century.”

Hemon de la Fosse (c. 1603) [and his companions]

“In the time of Louis XII, a young scholar of Abbéville, named Hemon de la Fosse, became so enamoured of the Olympian deities that he conceived the greatest hatred to Christianity. On the 25th of August, 1603, being at high mass in the cathedral of his native town, he suddenly snatched the host from the hands of the officiating priests, and dashed it to the ground, exclaiming, ‘What, always this folly!’ . . . The unfortunate Hemon was immediately cast into prison, but no persuasion or threats could induce him to abjure his opinions. He maintained before the priests who were sent to convert him that Jupiter was the sovereign Lord of the Universe . . . Language like this could have but one result. He was burnt alive in the market-place of Abbéville, after having both his hands cut off, and his tongue bored through with a hot iron. His last words were, ‘C’est ce que je ne puis faire; j’en suis bien fâché.’ [‘I am very angry and this is what I can do about it.’] Nor was this case a solitary one. We are expressly told that many of the Spanish students held similar opinions, and quitted Abbéville to avoid the fate of their companion.”

Voltaire (1694-1778)

“It is reported that when Voltaire first visited the ruins of the Coliseum, he was observed to make a profound obeisance before the great head of Jupiter, and being questioned as to his reason for this strange act of devotion by the scandalised ecclesiastics who accompanied him, is said to have replied, ‘I pay my court to him now in the day of his adversity, in the hope that he will remember me when his turn comes round again.’”

David Hume (1711-1776)

“He [David Hume] tells us in one of his essays that the Olympian system was too supremely beautiful, and too well adapted for the needs of man to have ever finally perished; and gives his opinion that even in these degenerate days it must still prevail in some part of the world.”

John Fransham (1730-1810)

“Another English Pagan of the last century was John Fransham, a poor scholar of Norwich, who had arrived at many of [Thomas] Taylor’s conclusions, while the latter was yet a child. In 1769 he wrote, but did not publish, a worked called The Oestrum of Orpheus, in which he openly avowed his belief in a plurality of gods. Bayle had said that a consistent Spinozist who carries out his principles to their logical conclusions must infallibly end in polytheism, and Fransham held himself to have proved the truth of the proposition. With Spinoza, he held that the first cause is uncreated and indestructible, but not intelligent–is no other indeed than the entire, eternal, and finite mass of matter composing the universe; but he refused to believe that this chaos was shapened and animated by a single co-eternal mind, but, on the contrary, held that nature through a thousand voices proclaimed the existence of innumerable, intelligent powers or forces, ‘plastic and designing,’ who ruled all sublunary affairs, and may most fitly be designated by the nomenclature of the Hellenic theology. He wrote a collection of hymns addressed to Jupiter, Minerva, Venus, and Hercules . . .”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and the German Romantics

“In recent times the Pagan spirit has been greatly diffused. In Germany for a century past it has many years in a growing tendency to accept the beautiful creations of the Hellenic cult as a graceful symbolism of the conclusions of modern science. The philosophical side of the revival we find in Heyne and Schelling, the aesthetic in Wieland and Frederick Schlegel, and above all in Goethe, who of all moderns was perhaps the most thoroughly a Pagan. The most singular reports used to circulate throughout Europe about Goethe’s heathenism.

‘It is not surprising,’ said La Liberté de Penser in 1832, ‘that we find the bust of Jupiter placed before his bed, and turned towards the rising sun in order that he may address his morning prayers to him on waking.’”

John Sterling (1806-1844) [and also Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844)]

“In England, traces of the same feeling are to be found in Shelley, and more recently in Sterling, who looked with a loving and longing eye upon the poetical world of Olympus. In a letter printed in his Life by Archdeacon Hare, he expresses his belief that a time will come when, pedants having ceased to seek either true history or false religion in that beautiful creation, it will become known to all the earth, even to the now gross and suffering multitudes, as an inexhaustible treasure-house of noble joys. He relates also with great zest the story of Thorwaldsen, who one day dining with Bunsen at Rome, and becoming wearied of the theological conversation of his host, threw open the window, which commanded a noble prospect of the city over which the planet Jupiter was shining with great splendour, and filled his glass ‘to the honour of the ancient gods.’”

***

I find this Victorian-era article to be a healthy reminder that throughout history, there are countless “modern” (post-classical) pagan precursors for what we are all doing now.  This article highlights a few of those names, and just off the top of my head I can think of many more . . . Michael Marullus , Mark Akenside, John Keats, Richard Henry Horne, Albert Pike, and Louis Ménard (whose 1876 book, Rêveries d’un paien mystique [Reveries of a Mystic Pagan] was the inspiration for the title of this blog).  These are just a handful of our modern pagan precursors who lived and wrote long before the 20th-century pagan/occult revival. If you know of any others who you’d like to discuss, please feel free to share their names in the comments!

It may not be a single continuous tradition, but these heroes were out there, long before our time, defending the gods, honoring the gods, writing hymns to the gods, and even performing rituals to the gods, in times and places when it was extremely dangerous to be an avowed pagan.

And today, on the birthday of Thomas Taylor the English Pagan, I think we should all raise a glass (or pour a libation) to our modern pagan precursors and remind ourselves, that “[f]rom the Renaissance downwards the old creed has never been without hierophants or disciples.”

Thomas Taylor – “The English Pagan”

“It is curious that Thomas Taylor, the Platonist, is really a better man of imagination, a better poet, than any other writer between Milton and Wordsworth. He is a poet with a poet’s life and aims.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tomorrow marks the birthday of Thomas Taylor (May 15, 1758 – November 1, 1835), one of my personal poet-heroes.  Taylor, the first to translate into English the whole of Plato and Aristotle (and many other classical texts, including most of the Neoplatonists), was also a self-identified pagan/polytheist (a rare thing in eighteenth-century England!).  As a poet, philosopher and translator who dedicated his entire life to connecting modern English readers to the beauty and wisdom of the classical pagan past, Taylor is a significant precursor who should be revered by contemporary pagans everywhere.  His work influenced many other writers, including William Blake, Madame Blavatsky, William Butler Yeats, and Kathleen Raine.  Percy Bysshe Shelley was reputedly part of an Orphic circle of Romantic writers who were inspired by Taylor to honor the Greek gods with hymns and ritual.  And Taylor has left a significant impact on American literature via Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who were profoundly influenced by Taylor’s work and frequently quote from his writings and translations.

Most of Thomas Taylor’s books can be found on the web via Google Books or Archive.org, but the best way to read his translations and original writings (while supporting a good cause!) are to buy the beautiful editions published by The Prometheus Trust, and available for purchase in the U.S. via Opening Mind Associates.

Some Articles and Tributes to Thomas Taylor:

Thomas Taylor: A Great English Platonist

Thomas Taylor the English Platonist (.pdf file)

Thomas Taylor – Wisdom’s Champion (.pdf file)

[The following anecdotes are excerpted from an anonymous essay entitled “The Survival of Paganism,” published in Fraser’s Magazine in November 1875. The essay, though at times somewhat hostile and condescending towards Taylor’s life and ideas, contains some great anecdotes, as well as what amounts to a “fan letter” to Taylor from a fellow pagan.  This letter is a fascinating glimpse into the past, which in many ways reminds me of an 18th-century version of the type of correspondence one might see amongst modern pagans on the email lists and blogs of today.]

***

Excerpts from The Survival of Paganism [Fraser’s Magazine, November 1875]

About the end of 1789 a mysterious looking pamphlet entitled A New System of Religion, was to be found upon the counters of the London booksellers who dared to deal in unorthodox literature. The name of neither publisher nor printer appeared upon the title-page, and, following the precedent of the earlier English works on freethinking, it bore the manifestly false imprint of ‘Amsterdam.’ This singular production advocated in very plain language the doctrine of a plurality of gods who are intermediate between the great Demiurgus of nature, and man. Our planet forming such a small and insignificant portion of the great universe—’a mere toad or viper, perhaps, in the scale of worlds’—it is in the highest degree presumptuous to suppose it the work or even the care of the Zeus who represents LAW, passionless, immutable, and supreme. It is the lesser gods who influence human affairs and ‘produce those singular events which by some are imputed to fortune and by others to a special Providence;’ and these gods were to be approached by prayer and sacrifice after the manner of the ancients. The doctrines here taught were, in fact, little more than a restatement of the opinions of Proclus and the later Platonists. The evident earnestness of the writer forbade the idea of a joke, and the few Reviews that condescended to notice the pamphlet were almost unanimous in setting it down as the work of a madman. The discerning few, however, who had met with a translation of the Hymns of Orpheus, published two years before, must have recognised it at once as the work of Thomas Taylor, well known to a small circle of friends as an enthusiast in Greek literature . . .

. . . From a very early age Taylor appears to have set before him as the great ambition of his life to leave behind him a complete English version of all the hitherto untranslated writings of the Greek philosophers, and this work he nearly accomplished. His works, which consist mainly of translations of these writers, extend to sixty-four volumes . . .

. . . [W]hile studying Plato [Taylor] accidentally met with Plotinus, whose writings he accepted as a kind of revelation, reading them, as he informs us, ‘with the most rapturous delight.’ From Plotinus he went to Proclus, and read him through three times, a feat probably performed by no other mortal since the Renaissance. The luminous pages of Proclus completed the work which Plato had begun, and Taylor became a Pagan, and a Pagan, too, with a zeal and hatred against Christianity and its professors which has more in it of the spirit of loathing and abhorrence, which one may suppose to have animated some disestablished sacerdos of Constantine, than a mild and cultured scholar of the nineteenth century. Nothing but the small and limited circulation of his books can explain the fact that he escaped a prosecution, for in the Pitt and Eldou days many far less plain-spoken denunciations of the national religion were visited with fine and imprisonment. According to Taylor, the Christian religion, or, as he prefers to call it, ‘the jargon of innumerable sects,’ established a tyranny over the human mind utterly unknown to the ancient world—the tyranny of religious despotism—and has extirpated from the earth the ‘dominion of wisdom and virtue, substituting in its place the modern spirit of barter and trade.’ . . . Penetrating and smooth, it has crept like oil through the various communities of mankind, ‘suppressing the effervescence of desire, restraining the restless spirit of inquiry, and calming the impetuosity of genius,’ reducing all human affairs to one universal and uniform mediocrity. . . .

. . . It was one of the dreams of his life to establish in London a Pantheon, in which the worship of the deities should be performed in an appropriate and decorous manner. Failing this . . . he turned one of his rooms at Walworth into a sacrarium, in which at times he offered up sacrifices to his favorite gods. There is even a tradition that one night, when the fury of the French Revolution was at its height, the sleepy old Charlies who guarded the City were astonished by the appearance of a procession of priests, with Taylor at their head as Arch-flamen, who performed the sacred rites of lustration in front of the Old Exchange, formally receiving once more the sleeping city into the dominion of the king of the gods. . . .

. . . We cannot find that Taylor made many disciples. The most distinguished was the Marquis de Valadi, a young Frenchman of good family, whose short but eccentric career reminds one in many ways of Shelley’s earlier life. This enthusiast ran away from his friends in Paris to sit at the feet of Taylor in London, sending before him the following letter, which the master afterwards printed, and which we are tempted to give as a curious specimen of the sort of stuff which men could be found to write during this feverish time:

To Thomas Taylor, better named Lysis,
G. Izarn Valadi, of late a French Marquis, and Tannisaire,
Sendeth Joy and Honour.
12 Xbre. 1788, vulg. aera.

O Thomas Taylor! mayst thou welcome a brother Pythagorean, led by a Saviour God to thy divine school! I have loved wisdom ever since a child, and have found the greatest impediments and been forced to great struggles before I could clear my way to the source of it; for I was born in a more barbarous country than ever was Illyria of old. My family never favoured my inclination to study; and I have been involved in so many cares and troubles, that it cannot be without the intervention of some friendly Deity that I have escaped the vile rust of barbarism, and its attendant meanness of soul. My good fortune was that I met eighteen months ago an English gentleman of the name of Piggott, who is a Pythagorean philosopher, who easily converted me to the diet and manner agreeable to that most rich and beneficent deity, Mother Earth; to that heaven-inspired change I owe perfect health and tranquility of mind, both of which I had long been deprived of. Also my own oath has acceded to the eternal oath (which mentions the golden commentator on G.V.) and I would more cheerfully depart from my present habitation on this Themis-forsaken earth, than defile myself evermore with animal food, stolen either on earth, in air, or water.

I met with thy works but two days past. O divine man! a prodigy in this iron age! who would ever thought thou couldst exist among us in our shape! I would have gone to China for a man endowed with the tenth part of thy light! Oh, grant me to see thee, to be lustrated and initiated by thee! What joy, if, like to Proclus’ Leonas, to thee I could be a domestic! who feel living in myself the soul of Leonidas.

My determination was to go and live in North America, from love of liberty, and there to keep a school of temperance and love, in order to preserve so many men from the prevailing disgraceful vices of brutal intemperance and selfish cupidity. – There, in progress of time, if those vices natural to a commercial country are found to thwart most of the blessings of liberty, the happy select ones, taught better discipline, may form a society by themselves, such a one as the gods would favour and visit lovingly; which would preserve true knowledge, and be a seminary and an asylum for the lovers of it.

There I would devoutly erect altars to my favourite Gods: Dioscuri, Hector, Aristomenes, Messen, Pan, Orpheus, Epaminondas, Pythagoras, Plato, Timoleon, Marcus Brutus and his Portia, and above all, Phoebus, the God of my hero Julian, and the father of that holy, gentle Commonwealth of the Peruvians, to which nullus ultor has, as yet been suscited!

Music and gymnastic are sciences necessary for a teacher to possess — (what deep and various sense these two words contain!) and I am a stranger to both! O Gods! who gave me the thought and the spirit, give me the means! for all things are from you.

Thomas Taylor, be thou their instrument to convoy into my mind knowledge, truth, and prudence! Do thou love and help me. I will go to thee to-morrow morning.

P.S. May I look to thee, endowed with an ancient and no modern enthusiasm!

[signed] “Gracchus Crotoneios.”

***

The enthusiastic Marquis de Valadi did end up living with and studying with Taylor for a time, but he eventually returned to France and was guillotined during the Reign of Terror at the age of twenty-seven.

“Impetuous ignorance is thundering at the bulwarks of philosophy and her sacred retreats are in danger of being demolished, through our feeble resistance. Rise then, my friends, and the victory will be ours. The foe is indeed numerous, but at the same time feeble; and the weapons of truth in the hands of vigorous union, descend with irresistible force, and are fatal wherever they fall.” – Thomas Taylor

***

I’d like to end this little tribute with the final lines to Thomas Taylor’s beautiful “Poetical Paraphrase on the Speech of Diotima in the Banquet of Plato” (full text here in a .pdf file):

When re-ascending by a vig’rous flight,
A man begins to gain this beauty’s sight:
If Love’s right path he steadily pursue,
His end propos’d will nearly rise to view.
With love to some fair body first inclin’d,
To many next, he then should soar to mind.
From mind to art, from art to science rise,
Till beauty’s science he at length descries:
Nor e’er in this ascent remit his flight,
Till boundless beauty burst upon his sight.
Here, dearest Socrates, alone resides
The happy life, for ever here abides.
Here is the only source of true delight,
To live eternal in this beauty’s sight;
A glimpse of which, if ever you attain,
Will prove the vulgar thoughts of beauty vain:
The beautiful itself will not appear
In costly robes, in youths or damsels fair;
In burnish’d gold, or in the di’monds blaze,
Or in the echoes of immortal praise:
Tho’ to the many phantoms such as these,
Alone are beautiful, alone can please;
Whose very presence such delight can give,
With these they wish eternally to live;
And such unreal beauties to secure,
With patient mind the wants of life endure.
If transport then arises from the view
Of beauty such as vulgar souls pursue;
Think of that boundless joy the mind conceives,
Whose eye the beautiful itself perceives:
In simple essence beaming on the sight,
Not fair with figure, nor with colour bright.
To souls refin’d, can such a life be seen
Of little worth, contemptible or mean;
Perceive you not, that he whose piercing eye
Is able perfect beauty to descry,
Thus, and thus only, fill’d with wisdom’s seed,
Virtue substantial can attain to breed?
Till now become the fav’rite of the skies,
Mature in virtue, and completely wise;
His soul indignant leaves this frail abode,
And reigns exalted ‘midst the Gods a God.

Happy Mother’s Day!

[Above images are available for purchase (sans watermark) as collage sheets at PaperStreet.com]

%d bloggers like this: