E-text prepared by M. R. Jaqua
THE CREST-WAVE OF EVOLUTION
A Course of Lectures in History, Given to the Graduates' Class in the Raja-Yoga College, Point Loma, in the College-Year 1918-1919.*
I. INTRODUCTION II. HOMER III. GREEKS AND PERSIANS IV. AESCHYLUS AND ATHENS V. SOME PERICLEAN FIGURES VI. SOCRATES AND PLATO VII. THE MAURYAS OF INDIA VIII. THE BLACK-HAIRED PEOPLE IX. THE DRAGON AND THE BLUE PEARL X. "SUCH A ONE" XI. CONFUCIUS THE HERO XII. TALES FROM A TAOIST TEACHER XIII. MANG THE PHILOSOPHER, AND BUTTERFLY CHWANG XIV. THE MANVANTARA OPENS XV. SOME POSSIBLE EPOCHS IN SANSKRIT LITERATURE XVI. THE BEGINNINGS OF ROME XVII. ROME PARVENUE XVIII. AUGUSTUS XIX. AN IMPERIAL SACRIFICE XX. CHINA AND ROME: THE SEE-SAW XXI. CHINA AND ROME: THE SEE-SAW (Continued) XXII. EASTWARD HO! XXIII. "THE DRAGON, THE APOSTATE, THE GREAT MIND" XXIV. FROM JULIAN TO BODHIDHARMA XXV. TOWARDS THE ISLANDS OF THE SUNSET XXVI. "SACRED IERNE OF THE HIBERNIANS" XXVII. THE IRISH ILLUMINATION
—————— * Serialized in Theosophical Path in 27 Chapters from March, 1919 through July, 1921. —————-
These lectures will not be concerned with history as a record of wars and political changes; they will have little to tell of battles, murders, and sudden deaths. Instead, we shall try to discover and throw light on the cyclic movements of the Human Spirit. Back of all phenomena, or the outward show of things, there is always a noumenon in the unseen. Behind the phenomena of human history, the noumenon is the Human Spirit, moving in accordance with its own necessities and cyclic laws. We may, if we go to it intelligently, gain some inkling of knowledge as to what those laws are; and I think that would be, in its way, a real wisdom, and worth getting. But for the most part historical study seeks knowledge only; and how it attains its aim, is shown by the falseness of what passes for history. In most textbooks you shall find, probably, a round dozen of lies on as many pages. And these in themselves are fruitful seeds of evil; they by no means end with the telling, but go on producing harvests of wrong life; which indeed is only the Lie incarnate on the plane of action. The Eternal Right Thing is what is called in Sanskrit SAT, the True; it opposite is the Lie, in one fashion or another, always; and what we have to do, our mission and raison d'etre as students of Theosophy, is to put down the Lie at every turn, and chase it, as far as we may, out of the field of life.
For example, there is the Superior-Race Lie: I do not know where it shall not be found. Races A, B, C, and D go on preaching it for centuries; each with an eye to its sublime self. In all countries, perhaps, history is taught with that lie for mental background. Then we wonder that there are wars. But Theosophy is called onto provide a true mental background for historical study; and it alone can do so. It is the mission of Point Loma, among many other things, to float a true philosophy of history on to the currents of world-thought: and for this end it is our business to be thinkers, using the divine Manasic light within us to some purpose. H.P. Blavatsky supplied something much greater than a dogma: she—like Plato —gave the world a method and a spur to thought: pointed for it a direction, which following, it might solve all problems and heal the wounds of the ages.
A false and foolish notion in the western world has been, tacitly to accept the Greeks and Hebrews of old for the two fountains of all culture since; the one in secular matter, the other in religion and morality. Of the Hebrews nothing need be said here; but that true religion and morality have their source in the ever-living Human Spirit, not in any sect, creed, race, age, or bible. I doubt there has been any new discovery in ethics since man was man; or rather, all discoveries have been made by individuals for themselves; and each, having discovered anything, has found that that same principle was discovered a thousand times before, and written a thousand times. There is no platitude so platitudinous, but it remains to burst upon the perceptions of all who have not yet perceived it, as a new and burning truth; and on the other hand, there is no startling command to purity or compassion, that has not been given out by Teachers since the world began.—As for Greece, there was a brilliant flaming up of the Spirit there in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries B.C.; and its intensity, like the lights of an approaching automobile, rather obscures what lies beyond. It is the first of which we have much knowledge; so we think it was the first of all. But in fact civilization has been traveling its cyclic path all the time, all these millions of years; and there have been hundreds of ancient great empires and cultural epochs even in Europe of which we know nothing.
I had intended to begin with Greece; but these unexplored eras of old Europe are too attractive, and this first lecture must go to them, or some of them. Not to the antecedents of Greece, in Crete and elsewhere; but to the undiscovered North; and in particular to the Celtic peoples; who may serve us as an example by means of which light may be thrown on the question of racial growth, and on the racial cycles generally.
The Celtic Empire of old Europe affects us like some mysterious undiscovered planet. We know it was there by its effects on other peoples. Also, like many other forgotten histories, it has left indications of its achievement in a certain spirit, an uplift, the breath of an old traditional grandeur that has come down. But to give any historical account of it—to get a telescope that will reach and reveal it—we have not to come to that point yet.
Still, it may be allowed us to experiment with all sorts of glasses. To penetrate that gloom of ancient Europe may be quite beyond us; but guessing is permitted. Now the true art of guessing lies in an intuition for guiding indications. There is something in us that knows things directly; and it may deign at times to give hints, to direct the researches, to flash some little light on that part of us which works and is conscious in this world, and which we call our brain-minds. So although most or all of what I am going to say would be called by the scientific strictly empirical, fantastic and foolish, yet I shall venture; aware that their Aristotelio-Baconian method quite breaks down when it comes to such a search into the unknown; and that this guessing, guided by what seems to be a law, would not, perhaps, have been sneered at by Plato.
Guided by what seems to be a law;—guided, at any rate, by the knowledge that there are laws; that "God geometrizes," as Plato says: that which is within flows outward upon a design; that life precipitates itself through human affairs as it does through the forms of the crystals; that there is nothing more haphazard about the sequence of empires and civilizations, than there is about the unfolding of petals of a flower. In both cases it is the eternal rhythm, the Poetry of the Infinite, that manifests; our business is to listen so carefully as to hear, and apprehend the fact that what we hear is a poetry, a vast music, not a chaotic cacophony: catch the rhythms—perceive that there is a design—even if it takes us long to discover what the design may be.
You know Plato's idea that the world is a dodecahedron or twelve-sided figure. Now in Plato's day, much that every schoolboy knows now, was esoteric—known only to the initiated. So I think Plato would have known well enough that this physical earth is round; and that what he meant when he spoke of the dodecahedron, was something else. This, for example: that on the plane of causes—this outer plane being that of effects —there are twelve (geographical) centers, aspects, foci, facets, or what you like to call them: twelve laya centers, as I think the Secret Doctrine would say: through which the forces from within play on the world without. You have read, too, in The Secret Doctrine, Professor Crooke's theory, endorsed by H.P. Blavatsky, as to how the chemical elements were deposited by a spiral evolutive force, a creative impulse working outward in the form of a caduceus or lemniscate, or figure '8.' Now suppose we should discover that just as that force deposited in space, in its spiral down-working, what Crookes calls the seeds of potassium, beryllium, boron, and the rest—so such another creative force, at work on the planes of geographical space and time, rouses up or deposits in these, according to a definite pattern, this nation and that in its turn, this great age of culture after that one; and that there is nothing hap-hazard about the configuration of continents and islands, national boundaries, or racial migrations?
H.P. Blavatsky tells us that the whole past history of the race is known to the Guardians of the Secret Wisdom; that it is all recorded, nothing lost; down to the story of every tribe since the Lords of Mind incarnated. And that these records are in the form of a few symbols; but symbols which, to those who can interpret or disintegrate them, can yield the whole story. What if the amount of the burden of history, which seems so vast to us who know so very little of it, were in reality, if we could know it all, a thing that would put but slight tax on the memory; a thing we might carry with us in a few slight formulae, a few simple symbols? I believe that it is so; and that we may make a beginning, and go some little way towards guessing what these formulae are.
As thus: A given race flowered and passed; it had so many centuries of history before its flowering; it died, and left something behind. Greece, for example. We may know very little —you and I may know very little—of the details of Greek history. We cannot, perhaps, remember the date of Aegospotami, or what happened at Plataea: we may have the vaguest notion of the import of Aeschylus, or Sophocles, or Plato. But still there is a certain color in our conscious perceptions which comes from Greece: the 'glory that was Greece' means something, is a certain light within the consciousness, to everyone of us. The Greeks added something to the wealth of the human spirit, which we all may share in, and do. An atmosphere is left, which surrounds and adheres to the many tangible memorials; just as an atmosphere is left by the glories of the Cinquecento in Italy, with its many tangible memorials.
But indeed, we may go further, and say that an atmosphere is left, and that we can feel it, by many ages and cultures which have left no tangible memorials at all; or but few and uninterpretable ones, like the Celtic. And that each has developed some mood, some indefinable inward color—which we perceive and inherit. Each different: you cannot mistake the Chinese or the Celtic color for the Greek; thought it might be hard to define your perception of either, or of their difference. It would be hard to say, for instance, that this one was crimson, the other blue; not quite so hard to say that this one affects us as crimson does, that other as blue does. And yet we can see, I think, that by chasing our impressions to their source, there might be some way of presenting them in symbolic form. There might be some way of reducing what we feel from the Greeks, or Chinese, or Celts, into a word, a sentence; of writing it down even in a single hieroglyph, of which the elements would be such as should convey to something in us behind the intellect just the indefinable feeling either of these people give us.
In the Chinese writing, with all its difficulty, there is something superior to our alphabets: an element that appeals to the soul directly, or to the imagination directly, I think. Suppose you found a Chinese ideogram—of course there is no such a one—to express the forgotten Celtic culture; and it proved in analysis, to be composed of the signs for twilight, wind, and pine trees; or wind, night, and wild waters; with certain other elements which not the brain-mind, but the creative soul, would have to supply. In such a symbol there would be an appeal to the imagination—that great Wizard within us—to rise up and supply us with quantities of knowledge left unsaid. Indeed, I am but trying to illustrate an idea, possibilities.... I think there is a power within the human soul to trace back all growths, the most profuse and complex, to the simple seed from which they sprung; or, just as a single rose or pansy bloom is the resultant, the expression, of the interaction and interplay of innumerable forces—so the innumerable forces whose interaction makes the history of one race, one culture, could find their ultimate expression in a symbol as simple as a pansy or rose bloom—color, form and fragrance. So each national great age would be a flower evolved in the garden of the eternal; and once evolved, once bloomed, it should never pass away; the actual blossom withers and falls; but the color, the form, the fragrance,—these remain in the world of causes. And just as you might press a flower in an album, or make a painting of it, and preserve its scent by chemical distillation or what not—and thereby preserve the whole story of all the forces that went to the production of that bloom—and they are, I suppose, in number beyond human computation—so you might express the history of a race in a symbol as simple as a bloom... And that there is a power, an unfolding faculty, in the soul, which, seeing such a symbol, could unravel from it, by meditation, the whole achievement of the race; its whole history, down to details; yes, even down to the lives of every soul that incarnated in it: their personal lives, with all successes, failures, attempts, everything. Because, for example, the light which comes down to us as that of ancient Greece is the resultant, the remainder of all the forces in all the lives of all individual Greeks, as these were played on by the conditions of place and time. Time:—at such and such a period, the Mood of the Oversoul is such and such. Place:—the temporal mood of the Oversoul, playing through that particular facet of the dodecahedron, which is Greece. The combinations and interplay of these two, plus the energies for good or evil of the souls there incarnate, give as their resultant the whole life of the race. There is perhaps a high Algebra of the Soul by which, if we understood its laws, we could revive the history of any past epoch, discover its thought and modes of living, as we discover the value of the unknown factor in an equation. Pythagoras must have his pupils understand music and geometry; and by music he intended, all the arts, every department of life that came under the sway of the Nine Muses. Why?—Because, as he taught, God is Poet and Geometer. Chaos is only on the outer rim of existence; as you get nearer the heart of thing, order and rhythm, geometry and poetry, are more and more found. Chaos is only in our own chaotic minds and perceptions: train these aright, and you shall hear the music of the spheres, perceive the reign of everlasting Law. These impulses from the Oversoul, that create the great epochs, raising one race after another, have perfect rhythm and rhyme. God sits harping in the Cycle of Infinity, and human history is the far faint echo of the tune he plays. Why can we not listen, till we hear and apprehend the tune? Or History is the sound heard from far, of the marching hosts of angels and archangels; the cyclic tread of their battalions; the thrill and rumble and splendor of their drums and fifes:—why should we not listen till the whole order of their cohorts and squadrons is revealed?—I mean to suggest that there are laws, undiscovered, but discoverable—discoverable from the fragments of history we possess—by knowing which we might gain knowledge, even without further material discoveries, of the lost history of man. Without moving from Point Loma, or digging up anything more important that hard-pan, we may yet make the most important finds, and throw floods of light on the whole dark problem of the past. H.P. Blavatsky gave us the clews; we owe it to her to use them.
Now I want to suggest a few ideas along these lines that may throw light on ancient Europe; of which orthodox history tells us of nothing but the few centuries of Greece and Rome. As if the people of three thousand years hence should know, of the history of Christendom, only that of Italy from Garibaldi onward, and that of Greece beginning, say, at the Second Balkan War. That is the position we are in with regard to old Europe. Very like Spain, France, Britain, Germany and Scandinavia played as great parts in the millennia B.C., as they have done in the times we know about. All analogy from the other seats of civilization is for it; all racial memories and traditions—tradition is racial memory—are for it; and I venture to say, all reason and common sense are for it too.
Now I have to remind you of certain conclusions worked out in an article 'Cyclic Law in History,' which appeared some time back in The Theosophical Path:—that there are, for example, three great centers of historical activity in the Old World: China and her surroundings; West Asia and Egypt; Europe. Perhaps these are major facets of the dodecahedron. Perhaps again, were the facts in our knowledge not so desperately incomplete, we should find, as in the notes and colors, a set of octaves: that each of these centers was a complete octave, and each phase or nation a note. Do you see where these leads? Supposing the note China is struck in the Far Eastern Octave; would there not be a vibration of some corresponding note in the octave Europe? Supposing the Octave West Asia were under the fingers of the Great Player, would not the corresponding note in Europe vibrate?
Now let us look at history. Right on the eastern rim of the Old World is the Chino-Japanese field of civilization. It has been, until lately, under pralaya, in a night or inactive period of its existence, for something over six centuries: a beautiful pralaya in the case of Japan; a rather ugly one, recently, in the case of China. Right on the western rim of the Old World are the remnants of the once great Celtic people. Europe at large has been very much in manvantara, a day or waking period, for a little over six hundred years. Yet of the four racial roots or stocks of Europe, the Greco-Latin, Teutonic, Slavic, and Celtic, the last-named alone has been under pralaya, sound asleep, during the whole of this time. Let me interject here the warning that it is no complete scheme that is to be offered; only a few facts that suggest that such a scheme may exist, could we find it. Before Europe awoke to her present cycle of civilization and progress, before the last quarter of the thirteenth century, the Chinese had been in manvantara, very much awake, for about fifteen hundred years. When they went to sleep, the Celts did also.
I pass by with a mere note of recognition the two dragons, the one on the Chinese, the other on the Welsh flag; just saying that national symbols are not chose haphazard, but are an expression of inner things; and proceed to give you the dates of all the important events in Chinese and Celtic, chiefly Welsh, history during the last two thousand years. In 1911 the Chinese threw off the Manchu yoke and established a native republic. In 1910 the British Government first recognized Wales as a separate nationality, when the heir to the throne was invested as Prince of Wales at Carnarvon. Within a few years a bill was passed giving Home Rule to Ireland; and national parliaments at Dublin and at Cardiff are said to be among the likelihoods of the near future. The eighteenth century, for manvantara, was a singularly dead time in Europe; but in China, for pralaya, it was a singularly living time, being filled with the glorious reigns of the Manchu emperors Kanghu and Kien Lung. In Wales it saw the religious revival which put a stop to the utter Anglicization of the country, saved the language from rapid extinction, and awakened for the first time for centuries a sort of national consciousness. Going back, the first great emperor we come to in China before the Manchu conquest, was Ming Yunglo, conqueror of half Asia. His contemporary in Wales was Owen Glyndwr, who succeeded in holding the country against the English for a number of years; there had been no Welsh history between Glyndwr and the religious revival. In 1260 or thereabouts the Mongols completed the conquest of China, and dealt her then flourishing civilization a blow from which it never really recovered. About twenty years later the English completed the conquest of Wales, and dealt her highly promising literary culture a blow from which it is only now perhaps beginning to recover. In the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries the great Sung artists of China were painting infinity or their square feet of silk: painting Natural Magic as it has never been painted or revealed since. In those same centuries the Welsh bards were writing the Natural Magic of the Mabinogion, one of the chief European repositories of Natural Magic; and filling a remarkable poetical literature with the same quality:—and that before the rest of Europe had, for the most part, awakened to the spiritual impulses that lead to civilization. In the seventh and eighth centuries, when continental Europe was in the dead vast and middle of pralaya, Chinese poetry, under Tang Hsuan-tsong and his great predecessors, was in its Golden Age—a Golden Age comparable to that of Pericles in Athens. In the seventh and eighth centuries, Ireland was sending out scholars and thinkers as missionaries to all parts of benighted Europe: Ireland in her golden age, the one highly cultured country in Christendom, was producing a glorious prose and poetry in the many universities that starred that then by no means distressful island. In 420, China, after a couple of centuries of anarchy, began to re-establish her civilization on the banks of the Yangtse. In 410, the Britons finally threw off the Roman yoke, and the first age of Welsh poetry, the epoch of Arthur and Taliesin, which has been the light of romantic Europe ever since, began.
Does it not seem as if that great Far Eastern note could not be struck without this little far western note vibrating in sympathy? Very faintly; not in a manner to be heard clearly by the world; because in historical times the Celtic note has been as it were far up on the keyboard, and never directly under the Master-Musician's fingers. And when you add to it all that this Celtic note has come in the minds of literary critics rather to stand as the synonym for Natural Magic—you all know what is meant by that term;—and that now, as we are discovering the old Chinese poetry and painting, we are finding that Natural Magic is really far more Chinese than Celtic—that where we Celts have vibrated to it minorly, the great Chinese gave it out fully and grandly—does it not add to the piquancy of the 'coincidence?'
Now there is no particular reason for doubting the figures of Chinese chronology as far back as 2350 B.C. Our Western authorities do doubt all before about 750; but it is hard to see why, except that 'it is their nature to.' The Chinese give the year 2356 as the date of the accession of the Emperor Yao, first of the three canonized rulers who have been the patriarchs, saints, sages, and examples for all ages since. In that decade a manvantara of the race would seem to have begun, which lasted through the dynasties of Hia and Shang, and halfway through the Chow, ending about 850. During this period, then, I think presently we shall come to place the chief activities and civilization of the Celts. From 850 to 240—all these figures are of course approximations: there was pralaya in China; on the other side of the world, it was the period of Celtic eruptions—and probably, disruption. While Tsin Shi Hwangti, from 246 to 213, was establishing the modern Chinese Empire, the Gauls made their last incursion into Italy. The culmination of the age Shi Hwangti inaugurated came in the reign of Han Wuti, traditionally the most glorious in the Chines annals. It lasted from 140 to 86 B.C.; nor was there any decline under his successor, who reigned until 63. In the middle of that time—the last decade of the second century—the Cimbri, allied with the Teutones, made their incursion down into Spain. Opinion is divided as to whether this people was Celtic or Teutonic; but probably the old view is the true one, that the word is akin to Cimerii, Crimea, and Cymry, and that they were Welshmen in their day. When Caesar was in Gaul, the people he conquered had much to say about their last great king. Diviciacos, whose dominions included Gaul and Britain; they looked back to his reign as a period of great splendor and national strength. He lived, they said, about a hundred years before Caesar's coming—or was contemporary with Han Wuti.
But the empire of the Celtic Kings was already far fallen, before it was confined to Gaul, Britain, and perhaps Ireland. When first we see this people they were winning a name for fickleness of purpose: making conquests and throwing them away; which things are the marks of a race declining from a high eminence it had won of old through hard work and sound policy. We shall come to see that personal or outward characteristics can never be posited as inherent in any race. Such things belong to ages and stages in the race's growth. Whatever you can say of Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, now, has been totally untrue of them at some other period. We think of the Italians as passionate, subtle of intellect, above all things artistic and beauty-loving. Now look at them as they were three centuries B.C.: plodding, self- contained and self-mastered, square-dealing and unsubtle, above all things contemning beauty, wholly inartistic. But a race may retain the same traits for a very long time, if it remains in a back-water, and is unaffected by the currents of evolution.
So we may safely say of the Celts that the fickleness for which they were famed in Roman times was not a racial, but a temporal or epochal defect. They were not fickle when they held out (in Wales) for eight centuries against the barbarian onslaughts which brought the rest of the Roman empire down in two or three; or when they resisted for two hundred years those Normans who had conquered the Anglo-Saxons in a decade. This very quality, in old Welsh literature, is more than once given as a characteristic of extreme age; "I am old, bent double; I am fickly rash." says Llywarch Hen. I think that gives the clew to the whole position. The race was at the end of its manvantaric period; the Race Soul had lost control of the forces that bound its organism together; centrifugalism had taken the place of the centripetal impulse that marks the cycles of youth and growth. It had eaten into individual character; whence the tendency to fly off at tangents. We see the same thing in any decadent people; by which I mean, any people at the end of one of its manvantaras, and on the verge of a pralaya. And remember that a pralaya, like a night's rest or the Devachanic sleep between two lives, is simply a means for restoring strength and youth.
How great the Celtic nations had been in their day, and what settled and civilized centuries lay behind them, one may gather from two not much noticed facts. First: Caesar, conqueror of the Roman world and of Pompey, the greatest Roman general of the day, landed twice in Britain, and spent a few weeks there without accomplishing anything in particular. But it was the central seat and last stronghold of the Celts; and his greatest triumph was accorded him for this feat; and he was prouder of it than anything else he ever did. He set it above his victories over Pompey. Second: the Gauls, in the first century B.C., were able to put in the field against him three million men: not so far short of the number France has been able to put in the field in the recent war. Napoleon could hardly, I suppose, have raised such an army—in France. Caesar is said to have killed some five million Gauls before he conquered them. By ordinary computations, that would argue a population of some thirty millions in the Gaulish half of the kingdom of Diviciacos a century after the latter's death; and even if that computation is too high, it leaves the fact irrefutable that there was a very large population; and a large population means always a long and settled civilization.
Diviciacos ruled only Gaul and Britain; possible Ireland as well; he may have been a Gaul, a Briton, or an Irishman; very likely there was not much difference in those days. It will be said I am leaving out of account much that recent scholarship has divulged; I certainly am leaving out of account a great many of the theories of recent scholarship, which for the most part make confusion worse confounded. But we know that the lands held by the Celts—let us boldly say, with many of the most learned, the Celtic empire—was vastly larger in its prime than the British Isles and France. Its eastern outpost was Galatia in Asia Minor. You may have read in The Outlook some months ago an article by a learned Serbian, in which he claims that the Jugo-Slavs of the Balkans, his countrymen, are about half Celtic; the product of the fusion of Slavic in-comers, perhaps conquerors, with an original Celtic population. Bohemia was once the land of the Celtic Boii; and we may take it as an axiom, that no conquest, no racial incursion, ever succeeds in wiping out the conquered people; unless there is such wide disparity, racial and cultural, as existed, for example, between the white settlers in America and the Indians. There are forces in human nature itself which make this absolute. The conquerors may quite silence the conquered; may treat them with infinite cruelty; may blot out all their records and destroy the memory of their race; but the blood of the conquered will go on flowing through all the generation of the children of the conquerors, and even, it seems probable, tend ever more and more to be the prevalent element.
The Celts, then, at one time or another, have held the following lands: Britain and Ireland, of course; Gaul and Spain; Switzerland and Italy north of the Po; Germany, except perhaps some parts of Prussia; Denmark probably, which as you know was called the Cimbric Chersonese; the Austrian empire, with the Balkan Peninsula north of Macedonia, Epirus and Thrace, and much of southern Russia and the lands bordering the Black Sea. Further back, it seems probable that they and the Italic people were one race; whose name survives in that of the province of Liguria, and in the Welsh name for England, which is Lloegr. So that in the reign of Diviciacos their empire had already shrunk to the meerest fragment of its former self. It had broken and shrunk before we get the first historical glimpses of them; before they sacked Delphi in 279 B.C.: before their ambassadors made a treaty with Alexander; and replied to his question as to what they feared: "Nothing except that the skies should fall." Before they sacked Rome in 390. All these historic eruptions were the mere sporadic outburst of a race long past its prime and querulous with old age, I think Two thousand years of severe pralaya, almost complete extinction, utter insignificance and terrible karma awaited them; and we only see them, pardon the expression, kicking up their heels in a final plunge as a preparation for that long silence.
Some time back I discussed these historical questions, particularly the correspondence between Celtic and Chinese dates, with Dr. Siren and Professor Fernholm; and they pointed out to me a similar correspondence between the dates of Scandinavian and West Asian history. I can remember but one example now: Gustavus Vasa, father of modern Sweden, founder of the present monarchy, came to the throne in 1523 and died in 1560. The last great epoch of the West Asian Cycle coincides, in the west, and reign of Suleyman the Magnificent in Turkey, from 1520 to 1566. At its eastern extremity, Babar founded the Mogul Empire in India in 1526; he reigned until 1556. On the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the Moguls ceased to be a great power; the Battle of Pultowa, in 1709, put an end to Sweden's military greatness.
It is interesting to compare the earliest Celtic literature we have, with the earliest literature of the race which was to be the main instrument of Celtic bad karma in historical times—the Teutons. Here, as usual, common impressions are false. It is the latter, the Teutonic, that is in the minor key, and full of wistful sadness. There is an earnestness about it: a recognition of, and rather mournful acquiescence in, the mightiness of Fate, which is imagined almost always adverse. I quote these lines from William Morris, who, a Celt himself by mere blood and race, lived in and interpreted the old Teutonic spirit as no other English writer has attempted to do, mush less succeeded in doing: he is the one Teuton of English literature. He speaks of the "haunting melancholy" of the northern races—the "Thought of the Otherwhere" that
"Waileth weirdly along through all music and song From a Teuton's voice or string: ..."
Withal it was a brave melancholy that possessed them; they were equal to great deeds, and not easily to be discouraged; they could make merry, too; but in the midst of their merriment, they could not forget grim and hostile Fate:—
"There dwelt men merry-hearted and in hope exceeding great, Met the good days and the evil as they went the ways of fate."
It is literature that reveals the heart of a people who had suffered long, and learnt from their suffering the lessons of patience, humility, continuity of effort: those qualities which enable them, in their coming manvantaric period, to dominate large portions of the world.
But when we turn to the Celtic remains, the picture we find is altogether different. Their literature tells of a people, in the Biblical phrase, "with a proud look and a high stomach." It is full of flashing colors, gaiety, titanic pride. There was no grayness, no mournful twilight hue on the horizon of their mind; their 'Other-World' was only more dawn-lit, more noon-illumined, than this one; Ireland of the living was sun-bright and sparkling and glorious; but the 'Great Plain' of the dead was far more sun-bright and sparkling than Ireland. It is the literature of a people accustomed to victory and predominance. When they began to meet defeat they by no means acquiesced in it. They regarded adverse fate, not with reverence, but with contempt. They saw in sorrow no friend and instructress of the human soul; were at pains to learn no lesson from her; instead, they pitted what was their pride, but what they would have called the glory of their own souls, against her; they made no terms, asked no truce; but went on believing the human—or perhaps I should say the Celtic—soul more glorious than fate, stronger to endure and defy than she to humiliate and torment. In many sense it was a fatal attitude, and they reaped the misery of it; but they gained some wealth for the human spirit from it too. The aged Oisin has returned from Fairyland to find the old glorious order in Ireland fallen and passed during the three centuries of his absence. High Paganism has gone, and a religion meek, inglorious, and Unceltic has taken its mission thereto: tells him the gods are conquered and dead, and that the omnipotent God of the Christians reigns alone now.—"I would thy God were set on yonder hill to fight with my son Oscar!" replies Oisin. Patrick paints for him the hell to which he is destined unless he accepts Christianity; and Oisin answers:
"Put the staff in my hands! for I go to the Fenians, thou cleric, to chant The warsongs that roused them of old; they will rise, making clouds with their breath. Innumerable, singing, exultant; and hell underneath them shall pant, And demons be broken in pieces, and trampled beneath them in death."
"No," says Patrick; "none war on the masters of hell, who could break up the world in their rage"; and bids him weep and kneel in prayer for his lost soul. But that will not do for the old Celtic warrior bard; no tame heaven for him. He will go to hell; he will not surrender the pride and glory of his soul to the mere meanness of fate. He will
"Go to Caolte and Conan, and Bran, Sgeolan, Lomair And dwell in the house of the Fenians, be they in flames or at feast."
So with Llywarch Hen, Prince of Cumberland, in his old age and desolation. His kingdom has been conquered; he is in exile in Wales; his four and twenty sons, "wearers of golden torques, proud rulers of princes," have been slain; he is considerably over a hundred years old, and homeless, and sick; but no whit of his pride is gone. He has learnt no lesson from life excepts this One: that fate and Karma and sorrow are not so proud, not so skillful to persecute, as the human soul is capable of bitter resentful endurance. He is titanically angry with destiny; but never meek or acquiescent.
Then if you look at their laws of war, you come to know very well how this people came to be almost blotted out. If they had a true spiritual purpose, instead of mere personal pride, I should say the world would be Celtic-speaking and Celtic-governed now. Yet still their reliance was all on what we must call spiritual qualities. The first notice we get in classical literature of Celts and Teutons—I think from Strabo—is this: "The Celts fight for glory, the Teutons for plunder." Instead of plunder, let us say material advantage; they knew why they were fighting, and went to get it. But the Celtic military laws—Don Quixote in a fit of extravagance framed them! There must be no defensive armor; the warrior must go bare-breasted into battle. There are a thousand things he must fear more than defeat or death—all that would make the glory of his soul seem less to him. He must make fighting his business, because in his folly it seemed to him that in it he could best nourish that glory; not for what material ends he could gain. Pitted against a people—with a definite policy, he was bound to lose in the long run. But still he endowed the human spirit with a certain wealth; still his folly had been a true spiritual wisdom at one time. The French at Fontenoy, who cried to their English enemies, when both were about to open fire: "Apres vous, messieurs! " were simply practicing the principles of their Gaulish forefathers; the thrill of honor, of 'Pundonor' as the Spaniard says, was much more in their eyes than the chance of victory.
Now, in what condition does a race gain such qualities? Not in sorrow; not in defeat, political dependence or humiliation. The virtues which these teach are of an opposite kind; they are what we may call the plebeian virtues which lead to success. But the others, the old Celtic qualities, are essentially patrician. You find them in the Turks; accustomed to sway subject races, and utterly ruthless in their dealings with them; but famed as clean and chivalrous fighters in a war with foreign peoples. See how the Samurai, the patricians of never yet defeated Japan, developed them. They are the qualities the Law teaches us through centuries of domination and aristocratic life. They are developed in a race accustomed to rule other races; a race that does not engage in commerce; in an aristocratic race, or in an aristocratic caste within a race. Here is the point: the Law designs periods of ascendency for each people in its turn, that it may acquire these qualities; and it appoints for each people in its turn Periods of subordination, poverty and sorrow, that it may develop the opposite qualities of patience, humility, and orderly effort.
Would it not appear then, that in those first centuries B. C. when Celts and Teutons were emerging into historical notice, the Teutons were coming out of a long period of subordination, in which they had learnt strength—the Celts out of a long period of ascendency, in which they had learnt other things? The Teuton, fresh from his pralayic sleep, was unconquerable by Rome. The Celt, old, and intoxicated with the triumphs of a long manvantara, could not repel Roman persistence and order. Rome. too, was rising, or in her prime; had patience, and followed her material plans every inch of the way to success. Where she conquered, she imposed her rule. But whatever material plan were set before the Celt, some spiritual red-herring, some notion in his mind, was sure to sidetrack him before he had come half way to its accomplishment. He had enough of empire-building; and thirsted only after dreams. Brennus turned from a burnt Rome, his pride satisfied. Vercingetorix, decked in all his gold, rode seven times—was it seven times?—round the camp of Caesar: defeat had come to him; death was coming; but he would bathe his soul in a little pomp and glory first. Whether you threw your sword in the scales, or surrendered to infamous Caesar, the main thing was that you should kindle the pride in your eye, and puff up the highness of your stomach. . . . So the practical Roman despised him, and presently conquered him.
Here is another curious fact: the greater number, if not all, of the words in the Teutonic languages denoting social order and the machinery of government, are of Celtic derivation. Words such as Reich and Amt, to give two examples I happen to remember out of a list quoted by Mr. T. W. Rollestone in one of his books.
And now I think we have material before us wherewith to reconstruct a sketch or plan of ancient European history. Let me remind you again that our object is simply the discovery of Laws. That, in the eyes of the Law, there are no most favored nations. That there are no such things as permanent racial characteristics; but that each race adopts the characteristics appropriate to its stage of growth.
It is a case of the pendulum swing, of ebb and flow. For two thousand years the Teutons have been pressing on and, dominating the Celts. They started at the beginning of that time with the plebeian qualities—and have evolved, generally speaking, a large measure of the patrician qualities. The Celts, meanwhile, have been pushed to the extremities of the world; their history has been a long record of disasters. But in the preceding period the case was just the reverse. Then the Celts held the empire. They ruled over large Teutonic populations. Holding all the machinery of government in their hands, they imposed on the languages of their Teuton subjects the words concerned with that machinery; just as in Welsh now our words of that kind are mostly straight from the English. It does not follow that there was any sudden rising of Teutons against dominant Celts; more probably the former grew gradually stronger as the latter grew gradually weaker, until the forces were equalized. We find the Cimbri and Teutones allied on equal terms against Rome. According to an old Welsh history, the Brut Tyssilio, there were Anglo-Saxons in Britain before Caesar's invasion; invited there by the Celts, and living in peace under the Celtic kings. To quote the Brut Tyssilio a short time ago would have been to ensure being scoffed at on all sides; but recently professor Flinders Petrie has vindicated it as against both the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Caesar himself. English Teutonic was first spoken in Britain probably, some two or three centuries B.C.; and it survived there, probably, in remote places, through the whole of the Roman occupation; then, under the influence of the rising star of the Teutons, and reinforced by new incursions from the Continent, finally extinguished the Latin of the roman province, and drove Celtic into the west.
But go back from those first centuries B.C. and you come at last to a time when the Celtic star was right at the zenith, the Teutonic very low. Free Teutons you should hardly have found except in Scandinavia; probably only in southern Sweden: for further north, and in most of Norway, you soon came to ice and the Lapps and terra incognita. And even Sweden may have been under Celtic influence—for the Celtic words survive there —but hardly so as to affect racial individuality; just as Wales and Ireland are under English rule now, yet retain their Celtic individuality.
And then go back a few more thousand years again, and you would probably find the case again reversed; and Teutons lording it over Celts, and our present conditions restored. It is by suffering these poles of experience, now pride and domination, now humiliation and adversity, that the races of mankind learn. Europe is not a new sort of continent. Man, says one of the Teachers, has been much what he is any time these million years. History has been much what it is now, ebbing and flowing. Knowledge, geographical and other, has receded, and again expanded. Europe has been the seat of empires and civilizations, all Europe, probably, for not so far short of a million years; there has been plenty of time for it to multiply terrible karma— which takes the occasion to expend itself sometimes—as now. I mistrust the theory of recent Aryan in-pourings from Asia. The Huns came in when the Chinese drove them; and the Turks and Mongols have come in since; but there is nothing to show that the Slavs, for example, when they first appear in history, had come in from beyond the Urals and the Caspian. Slavs and Greco- Latins, Teutons and Celts, I think they were probably in Europe any time these many hundreds of thousands of years.
Or rather, I think there were Europeans—Indo-Europeans, Aryans, call them what you will—where they are now at any time during such a period. Because race is a thing that will not bear close investigation. It is a phase; an illusion; a temporary appearance taken on by sections of humanity. There is nothing in it to fight about or get the least hot over. It is a camouflage; there you have the very word for it. What we call Celts and Teutons are simply portions of the one race, humanity, camouflaged up upon their different patterns. So far as flood and ultimate physical heredity are concerned, I doubt there is sixpenny-worth of difference between any two of the lot. "Oi mesilf," said Mr. Dooley, speaking as a good American citizen, "am the thruest and purest Anglo-Saxon that iver came out of Anglo-Saxony." We call ourselves Anglo-Saxons because we speak English (a language more than half Latin); when in reality we are probably Jews, Turks, infidels or heretics, if all were known. What is a Spaniard? A Latin, you answer pat. Yes; he speaks a Latin-derived language; and has certain qualities of temperament which seem to mark him as more akin to the French and Italians, than to those whom we, just as wisely, dub 'Teutonic' or 'Slavic.' But in fact he may have in his veins not a drop of blood that is not Celtic, or not a drop that is not Teutonic, or Moorish, or Roman, or Phoenician, or Iberian, or God knows what.
Suppose you have four laya centers in Europe: four Foci through which psychic impulses from the Oversoul pour through into this world. A Mediterranean point, perhaps in Italy; a Teutonic point in Sweden; a Celtic point in Wales-Ireland (formerly a single island, before England rose out of the sea); and a Slavic point, probably in Russia. The moment comes for such and such a 'race' to expand; the Mediterranean, for example. The Italian laya center, Rome, quickens into life. Rome conquers Italy, Gaul, Spain, Britain, the East; becomes Caput Mundi. Countries that shortly before were Celtic in blood, become, through no material change in that blood, Latin; by language, and, as we say, by race. The moment comes for a Teutonic expansion. The laya center in Sweden quickens; there is a Swedish or Gothic invasion of Celtic lands south of the Baltic; the continental Teutons presently are freed. It is the expansion of a spirit, of a psychic something. People that were before Celts (just as Mr. Dooley is an Anglo-Saxon) become somehow Teutons. The language expands, and carries a tradition with it. Head measurements show that neither Southern Germany nor England differs very much towards Teutonicism from the Mediterranean type; yet the one is thoroughly Teutonic, the other Anglo-Saxon. Sometimes the blood may be changed materially; often, I suppose, it is changed to some extent; but the main change takes place in the language and tradition; sometimes in tradition alone. There was a minor Celtic quickening in the twelfth century A. D.; then Wales was in a fervor of national life. She had not the resources, or perhaps the will, for outside conquest. But her Authurian legend went forth, and drove Beowulf and Child Horn out of the memory of the English, Charlemagne out of the memory of the French; invaded Germany, Italy, even Spain: absolutely installed Welsh King Arthur as the national hero of the people his people were fighting; and infused chivalry with a certain uplift and mysticism through-out western Europe. Or again, in the Cinquecento and earlier, the Italian center quickened; and learning and culture flowed up from Italy through France and England; and these countries, with Spain, become the leaders in power and civilization.
England since that Teutonic expansion which made her English was spent, has grown less and less Teutonic, more and more Latin; the Italian impulse of the Renaissance drove her far along that path. In the middle of the eleventh century, her language was purely Teutonic; you could count on the fingers of your hand the words derived from Latin or Celtic. And now? Sixty percent of all English words are Latin. At the beginning of the fifth century, after nearly three hundred years of Roman occupation, one can hardly doubt that Latin was the language of what is now England. Celtic, even then I imagine, was mainly to be heard among the mountains. See how that situation is slowly coming back. And the tendency is all in the same direction. You have taken, indeed, a good few words from Dutch; and some two dozen from German, in all these centuries; but a Latin word has only to knock, to be admitted and made welcome. Teachers of composition must sweat blood and tears for it, alas, to get their pupils to write English and shun Latin. In a thousand years' time, will English be as much a Latin language as French is? Quite likely. The Saxon words grow obsolete; French ones come pouring in. And Americans are even more prone to Latinisms than Englishmen are: they 'locate' at such and such a place, where an English man would just go and live there.
Before Latin, Celtic was the language of Britain. Finally, says W.Q. Judge, Sanskrit will become the universal language. That would mean simply that the Fifth Root Race will swing back slowly through all the linguistic changes that it has known in the past, till it reaches its primitive language condition. Then the descendants of Latins, Slavs, Celts, and Teutons will proudly boast their unadulterated Aryan-Sanscrit heredity, and exult over their racial superiority to those barbarous Teutons, Celts, Slavs, and Latins of old, of whom their histories will lie profusely.
When the Law designs to get tremendous things out of a race of men, it goes to work this way and that, making straight the road for an inrush of important and awakened souls. Having in mind to get from Greece a startling harvest presently, it called one Homer, surnamed Maeonides, into incarnation, and endowed him with high poetic genius. Or he had in many past lives so endowed himself; and therefore the Law called him in. This evening I shall work up to him, and try to tell you a few things about him, some of which you may know already, but some of which may be new to you.
What we may call a European manvantara or major cycle of activity—the one that preceded this present one—should have begun about 870 B. C. Its first age of splendor, of which we know anything, began in Greece about 390 years afterwards; we may conveniently take 478, the year Athens attained the hegemony, as the date of its inception. Our present European manvantara began while Frederick II was forcing a road for civilization up from the Moslem countries through Italy; we may take 1240 as a central and convenient date. The first 390 years of it—from 1240 to 1632—saw Dante and all the glories of the Cinquecento in Italy; Camoens and the era of the great navigators in Portugal; Cervantes and his age in Spain; Elizabeth and Shakespeare in England. That will suggest to us that the Periclean was not the first age of splendor in Europe in that former manvantara; it will suggest how much we may have lost through the loss of all records of cultural effort in northern and western Europe during the four centuries that preceded Pericles. Of course we cannot certainly say that there were such ages of splendor. But we shall see presently that during every century since Pericles—during the whole historical period—there has been an age of splendor somewhere; and that these have followed each other with such regularity, upon such a definite geographical and chronological plan, that unless we accept the outworn conclusion that at a certain time—about 500 B. C.—the nature of man and the laws of nature and history underwent radical change, we shall have to believe that the same thing had been going on—the recurrence of ages of splendor—back into the unknown night of time. And that geographical and chronological plan will show us that such ages were going on in unknown Europe during the period we are speaking of. In the manvantara 2980 to 1480 B.C., did the Western Laya Center play the part in Europe, that the Southern one did in the manvantara 870 B.C. to 630 A.D.? Was the Celtic Empire then, what the roman Empire became in the later time? If so, their history after the pralaya 1480 to 870 may have been akin to that of the Latin, in this present cycle; no longer a united empire, they may have achieved something comparable to the achievements of France, Spain, and Italy in the later Middle Ages. At least we hear the rumblings of their marches and the far shoutings of their aimless victories until within a century or two of the Christian era. Then, what was Italy like in the heyday of the Etruscans, or under the Roman kings? The fall of Tarquin—an Etruscan—was much more epochal, much more disastrous, than Livy guessed. There were more than seven kings of Rome; and their era was longer than from 753 to 716; and Rome—or perhaps the Etruscan state of which it formed a part—was a much greater power then, than for several centuries after their fall. The great works they left are an indication. But only the vaguest traditions of that time came down to Livy. The Celts sacked Rome in 390 B.C., and all the records of the past were lost; years of confusion followed; and a century and a half and more before Roman history began to be written by Ennius in his epic Annales. It was a break in history and blotting out of the past; such as happened in China in 214 B.C., when the ancient literature was burnt. Such things take place under the Law. Race-memory may not go back beyond a certain time; there is a law in Nature that keeps ancient history esoteric. As we go forward, the horizon behind follows us. In the ages of materialism and the low places of racial consciousness, that horizon probably lies near to us; as you see least far on a level plain. But as we draw nearer to esotericism, and attain elevations nearer the spirit, it may recede; as the higher you stand, the farther you see. Not so long ago, the world was but six thousand years old in European estimation. But ever since Theosophy has been making its fight to spiritualize human consciousness, pari passu the horizon of the past has been pushed back by new and new discoveries.
What comes down to us from old Europe between its waking and the age of Pericles? Some poetry, legends, and unimportant history from Greece; some legends from Rome; the spirit or substance of the Norse sagas; the spirit or substance of the Welsh Mabinogi and the Arthurian atmosphere; and of the Irish tales of the Red Branch and Fenian cycles. The actual tales as we get them were no doubt retold in much later times; and it is these late recensions that we have. What will remain of England in the memory of three or four thousand years hence? Unless this Theosophical Movement shall have lifted human standards to the point where that which has hitherto been esoteric may safely be kept public, this much:—an echo only of what England has produced of eternal truth;—something from Shakespeare; something from Milton; and as much else in prose and poetry from the rest. But all the literature of this and all past ages is and will then still be in being; in the hidden libraries of the Guardians of Esoteric Science, from which they loose fragments and hints on the outer world as the occasion cyclically recurs, and as their wisdom directs.
How do they loose such fragments of old inspiration? It may be by putting some manuscript in the way of discovery; it may be by raising up some man of genius who can read the old records on inner planes, and reproduce in epic or drama something of a long past splendor to kindle the minds of men anew. In that way Greece was kindled. Troy fell, says H. P. Blavatsky, nearly five thousand years ago. Now you will note that a European manvantara began in 2980 B. C.; which is very nearly five thousand years ago. And that this present European manvantara or major cycle was lit up from a West Asian Cycle; from the Moors in Spain; from Egypt through Sicily and Italy; and, in its greatest splendor; when Constantinople fell, and refugees therefrom came to light the Cinquecento in Italy. Now Constantinople is no great way from Troy; and, by tradition, refugees came to Italy from Troy, once. Was it they in part, who lit up that ancient European cycle of from 2980 to 1480 B. C.?
In the Homeric poems a somewhat vague tradition seems to come down of the achievements of one of the European peoples in that ancient cycle. Sometime then Greece had her last Pre-periclean age of greatness. What form it took, the details of it, were probably as much lost to the historic Greeks as the details of the Celtic Age are to us. But Homer caught an echo and preserved the atmosphere of it. As the Celtic Age bequeaths to us, in the Irish and Welsh stories, a sense of style—which thing is the impress of the human spirit triumphant over all hindrances to its expression;—so that long past period bequeathed through Homer a sense of style to the later Greeks. It rings majestically through his lines. His history is perhaps not actual history in any recognizable shape.
Legends of a long lost glory drifted down to a poet of mightiest genius; and he embodied them, amplified them, told his message through them; perhaps reinvented half of them. Even so Geoffrey of Monmouth (without genius, however) did with the rumors that came down to him anent the ancient story of his own people; and Spenser followed him in the Faery Queen, Malory in his book, and Tennyson in the Idylls of the King. Even in that last, from the one poem Morte D'Arthur we should get a sense of the old stylish magnificence of the Celtic epoch; for the sake of a score of lines in it, we can forgive Tennyson the rest of the Idylls. But Tennyson was no Celt himself; only, like Spenser and Malory, an anglicizer of things Celtic. How much more of the true spirit would have come down to Homer, a Greek of genius, writing of traditional Greek glory, and thrilled with racial uplift.
Where did he live? Oh, Goodness knows! When? Goodness knows again. (Though we others may guess a little, I hope.) We have Herodotus for it, that Homer lived about four hundred years before his own time; that is to say, to give a date, in 850; and I like the figure well; for if Dante came in as soon as possible after the opening of this present manvantara, why not Homer as soon as possible after the opening of the last one? At such times great souls do come in; or a little before or a little after; because they have a work of preparation to do; and between Dante and Homer there is much parallelism in aims and aspirations: what the one sought to do for Italy, the other sought to do for Greece. But this is to treat Homer as if he had been one real man; whereas everybody knows 'it has been proved' (a) that there was no such person; (b) that there were dozens of him; (c) that black is white, man an ape, and the soul a fiction. Admitted. A school of critics has cleaned poor old blind Maeonides up very tidily, and left not a vestige of him on God's earth—just as they have, or their like have, cleaned up the Human Soul. But there is another school, who have preserved for him some shreds at least of identity. Briefly put, you can 'prove up what may be classed as brain-mind evidence—grammar, microscopic examination of text and forms and so on—that Homer is a mere airy myth; but to do so you must be totally oblivious of the spiritual facts of style and poetry. Take these into account, and he rises with wonderful individuality from the grave and nothingness into which you have relegated him. The Illiad does not read like a single poem; there are incompatibilities between its parts. On the other hand, there is, generally speaking, the impress of a single creative genius. One master made the Homeric style. The Iliad, as we know it, may contain passages not his; but—he wrote the Iliad.
What does not follow is, that he ever sat down and said: "Now let us write an epic." Conditions would be against it. A wandering minstrel makes ballads, not epics; for him Poe's law applies: that is a poem which can be read or recited at a single sitting. The unity of the Iliad is one not of structure, but of spirit; and the chances are that the complete works of any great poet will be a unity of spirit.
Why should we not suppose that in the course of a long life a great poet—whose name may not have been Homer—that may have been only what he was called—his real name may have been (if the critics will have it so) the Greek for Smith, or Jones, or Brown, or Robinson—but he was called Homer anyhow—why should we not suppose that he, filled and fascinated always with one great traditionary subject, wrote now one incident as a complete poem; ten years later another incident; and again, after an interval, another? Each time with the intention to make a complete and separate poem; each time going to it influenced by the natural changes of his mood; now preoccupied with one hero or god, now with another. The Tennyson in his twenties, who wrote the fairylike Lady of Shalott, was a very different man in mood and outlook from the Mid-Victorian Tennyson who wrote the execrable Merlin and Vivien; but both were possessed with the Arthurian legend. At thirty and at fifty you may easily take different views of the same men and incidents. The Iliad, I suggest, may be explained as the imperfect fusion of many poems and many moods and periods of life of a single poet. It was not until the time of Pisistratus, remember, that it was edited into a single epic.
Now these many poems, before Pisistratus took them in hand, had been in the keeping for perhaps three centuries of wandering minstrels—Rhapsodoi, Aoidoi, Citharaedi and Homeridae, as they were called—who drifted about the Isles of Greece and Asiatic mainland during the long period of Greek insignificance and unculture. The first three orders were doubtless in existence long before Homer was born; they were the bards, trouveurs and minnesingers of their time; their like are the instruments of culture in any race during its pralayas. So you find the professional story-tellers in the East today. But the Homeridae may well have been—as De Quincey suggests—an order specially trained in the chanting of Homeric poems; perhaps a single school founded in some single island by or for the sake of Homer. We hear that Lycurgus was the first who brought Homer—the works, not the man—into continental Greece; importing them from Crete. That means, probably, that he induced Homeridae to settle in Sparta. European continental Greece would in any case have been much behind the rest of the Greek world in culture; because furthest from and the least in touch with West Asian civilization. Crete was nearer to Egypt; the Greeks of Asia Minor to Lydia; as for the islanders of the Cyclades and Sporades, the necessity of gadding about would have brought them into contact with their betters to the south and east, and so awakened them, much sooner than their fellow Greeks of Attica, Boeotia, and the Peloponnese.
Where did Homer live? Naturally, as a wandering bard, all over the place. We know of the seven cities that claimed to be his birthplace:
Smyrna, Chias, Colophon, Salamis, Rhodos, Argos, Athenae Orbis de patria certat, Homere, Tua.
Of these Smyrna probably has the best chance of it; for he was Maeonides, the son of Maeon, and Maeon was the son of Meles; and the Maeon and the Meles are rivers by Smyrna. But De Quincey makes out an excellent case for supposing he knew Crete better than any other part of the world. Many of the legends he records; many of the superstitions—to call them that;—many of the customs he describes: have been, and are still, peculiar to Crete. Neither the smaller islands, nor continental Greece, were very suitable countries for horse-breeding; and the horse does not figure greatly in their legends. But in Crete the friendship of horse and man was traditional; in Cretan folk-lore, horses still foresee the doom of their masters, and weep. So they do in Homer.
There is a certain wild goat found only in Crete, of which he give a detailed description; down the measurement of its horns; exact, as sportsmen have found in modern times. He mentions the Kubizeteres, Cretan tumblers, who indulge in a 'stunt' unknown elsewhere. They perform in couples; and when he mentions them, it is in the dual number. Preternatural voices are an Homeric tradition: Stentor "spoke loud as fifty other men"; when Achilles roared at the Trojans, their whole army was frightened. In Crete such voices are said to be still common: shepherds carry on conversations at incredible distances—speak to, and are answered by, men not yet in sight.—Dequincey gives several other such coincidences; none of them, by itself, might be very convincing; but taken all together, they rather incline one to the belief that Smith, or Brown, or Jones, alias Homer, must have spent a good deal of his time in Crete;—say, was brought up there.
Now Crete is much nearer Egypt than the rest of Greece is; and may very likely have shared in a measure of Egyptian culture at the very beginning of the European manvantara, and even before. Of course, in past cycles it had been a great center of culture itself; but that was long ago, and I am not speaking of it. In the tenth century A.D., three hundred years before civilization, in our own cycle, had made its way from the West Asian Moslem world into Christendom, Sicily belonged to Egypt and shared in its refinement—was Moslem and highly civilized, while Europe was Christian and barbarous; later it became a main channel through which Europe received enlightenment. May not Crete have played a like part in ancient times? I mean, is it not highly probable? May it not have been—as Sicily was to be—a mainly European country under Egyptian influence, and a seat of Egyptianized culture?
Let us, then, suppose Homer a Greek, born early in the ninth century B.C., taken in childhood to Crete, and brought up there in contact with cultural conditions higher than any that obtained elsewhere among his own people.
But genius stirs in him, and he is Greek altogether in the deep enthusiasms proper to genius: so presently he leaves Crete and culture, to wander forth among the islands singing.—
En delo tote Proton ego Kai Homeros aoidoi Melpomen,
says Hesiod: "Then first in Delos did I and Homer, two Aoidoi, perform as musical reciters." Delos, of course, is a small island in the Cyclades.
He would have had some training, it is likely, as an Aoidos: a good founding in the old stories which were their stock in trade, and which all pointed to the past glory of his race. In Crete he had seen the culture of the Egyptians; in Asia Minor, the strength and culture of the Lydians; now in his wanderings through the isles he saw the disunion and rudeness of the Greeks. But the old traditions told him of a time when Greeks acted together and were glorious: when they went against, and overthrew, a great West Asian Power strong and cultured like the Lydians and Egyptians. Why should not he create again the glory that once was Greece?
Menin aeide, Thea, Peleiadeo Achileos!
—Goddess, aid me to sing the wrath (and grandeur) of a Greek hero!—Let the Muses help him, and he will remind his people of an ancient greatness of their own: of a time when they were united, and triumphed over these now so much stronger peoples! So Dante, remembering ancient Rome, evoked out of the past and future a vision of United Italy; so in the twelfth century a hundred Welsh bards sand of Arthur.
I think he would have created out of his own imagination the life he pictures for his brazen-coated Achaeans. It does not follow, with any great poet, that he is bothering much with historical or other accuracies, or sticking very closely even to tradition. Enough that the latter should give him a direction; as Poet-creator, he can make the details for himself. Homer's imagination would have been guided, I take it, by two conditions: what he saw of the life of his semi-barbarous Greek country men; and what he knew of civilization in Egyptianized Crete. He was consciously picturing the life of Greeks; but Greeks in an age traditionally more cultured than his own. Floating legends would tell him much of their heroic deed, but little of their ways of living. Such details he would naturally have to supply for himself. How would he go to work? In this way, I think. The Greeks, says he, were in those old ages, civilized and strong, not, as now, weak, disunited and half barbarous. Now what is strength like, and civilization? Why, I have them before me here to observe, here in Crete. But Crete is Egyptianized; I want a Greek civilization; culture as it would appear if home-grown among Greeks.—I do not mean that he consciously set this plan before himself; but that naturally it would be the course that he, or anyone, would follow. Civilization would have meant for him Cretan civilization: the civilization he knew: that part of the proposition would inhere in his subconsciousness. But in his conscious mind, in his intent and purpose, would inhere a desire to differentiate the Greek culture he wanted to paint, from the Egyptianized culture he knew. So I think that the conditions of life he depicts were largely the creation of his own imagination, working in the material of Greek character, as he knew it, and Cretan-Egyptian culture as he knew that. He made his people essentially Greeks, but ascribed to them also non-Greek features drawn from civilized life.
One sees the same thing in the old Welsh Romances: tales from of old retold by men fired with immense racial hopes, with a view to fostering such hopes in the minds of their hearers. The bards saw about them the rude life and disunion of the Welsh, and the far greater outward culture of the Normans; and their stock in trade was a tradition of ancient and half-magical Welsh grandeur. When they wrote of Cai—Sir Kay the Seneschal—that so subtle was his nature that when it pleased him he could make himself as tall as the tallest tree in the forest, they were dealing in a purely celtic element: the tradition of the greatness of, and the magical powers inherent in, the human spirit; but when they set him on horseback, to ride tilts in the tourney ring, they were simply borrowing from, to out do, the Normans. Material culture, as they saw it, included those things; therefore they ascribed them to the old culture they were trying to paint.
Lying was traditionally a Greek vice. The Greek lied as naturally as the Persian told the truth. Homer wishes to set forth Ulysses, one of his heroes, adorned with all heroic perfections. He was so far Greek as not to think of lying as a quality to detract; he proudly makes Ulysses a "lord of lies." Perhaps nothing in Crete itself would have taught him better; if we may believe Epimenides and Saint Paul. On the other hand, he was a great-hearted and compassionate man; compassionate as Shakespeare was. Now the position of women in historical Greece was very low indeed; the position of women in Egypt, as we know, was very high indeed. This was a question to touch such a man to the quick; the position he gives women is very high: very much higher than it was in Periclean Athens, with all the advance that had been made by that time in general culture. Andromache, in Homer, is the worthy companion and helpmeet of Hector; not a Greek, but Egyptian idea.
Homer's contemporary, Hesiod, tells in his Works and Days of the plebeian and peasant life of his time. Hesiod had not the grace of mind or imagination to idealize anything; he sets down the life of the lower orders with a realism comparable to that of the English Crabbe. It is an ugly and piteous picture he gives. Homer, confining himself in the main to the patrician side of things, does indeed give hints that the lot of the peasant and slave was miserable; he does not quite escape some touches from the background of his own day. Nor did Shakespeare, trying to paint the life of ancient Athens, escape an English Elizabethan Background; Bully Bottom and his colleagues are straight from the wilds of Warwickshire; the Roman mob is made up of London prentices, cobblers and the like. Learned Ben, on the other hand, contrives in his Sejanus and his Catiline, by dint and sheer intellect and erudition, to give us correct waxwork and clockwork Romans; there are no anachronisms in Ben Johnson; never a pterodactyl walks down his Piccadilly. But Shakespeare rather liked to have them in his; with his small Latin and less Greek, he had to create his human beings—draw them from the life, and from the life he saw about him. The deeper you see into life, the less the costumes and academic exactitudes matter; you keep your imagination for the great things, and let the externals worry about themselves. Now Homer was a deal more like Shakespeare than Ben; but there was this difference: he was trying to create Greeks of a nobler order than his contemporaries. Men in those days, he says, were of huger stature than they are now. And yet, when his imagination is not actually at work to heighten and ennoble the portrait of a hero, real Greek life of his own times does not fail sometimes—to obtrude on him. So he lets in bits now and again that belong to the state of things Hesiod describes, and confirm the truth of Hesiod's dismal picture.
Well, he wandered the islands, singing; "laying the nexus of his songs," as Hesiod says in the passage from which I quoted just now, "in the ancient sacred hymns." As Shakespeare was first an actor, then a tinkerer of other men's plays, then a playwright on his own account; so perhaps Homer, from a singer of the old hymns, became an improver and restorer of them, then a maker of new ones. He saw the wretched condition of his people, contrasted it with the traditions he found in the old days, and was spurred up to create a glory for them in his imagination. His feelings were hugely wrought upon by compassion working as yoke-fellow with race-pride. You shall see presently how the intensity of his pity made him bitter; how there must have been something Dantesque of grim sadness in his expression: he had seen suffering, not I think all his own, till he could allow to fate no quality but cruelty. Impassioned by what we may call patriotism, he attacked again and again the natural theme for Greek epic: the story of a Greek contest with and victory over West Asians; but he was too great not to handle even his West Asians with pity, and moves us to sympathy with Hector and Andromache often, because against them too was stretched forth the hand of the great enemy, fate. In different moods and at different times, never thinking to make an epic, he produced a large number of different poems about the siege of Troy.
And the Odyssey? Well, the tradition was that he wrote it in his old age. Its mood is very different from that of the Iliad; and many words used in it are used with a different meaning; and there are words that are not used in the Iliad at all. Someone says, it comes from the old age of the Greek epic, rather than from that of Homer. I do not know. It is a better story than the Iliad; as if more nearly cast at one throe of a mind. Yet it, too, must be said not to hang together; here also are discrepant and incompatible parts.
There is all tradition for it that the Homeric poems were handed down unwritten for several centuries. Well; I can imagine the Aoidoi and Citharaoidoi and the rest learning poems from the verbal instruction of other Aoidoi and Citharaoidoi, and so preserving them from generation to generation to generation. But I cannot imagine, and I do think it is past the wit of man to imagine, long poems being composed by memory; it seems to me Homer must have written or dictated them at first. Writing in Greece may have been an esoteric science in those times. It is now, anywhere, to illiterates. In Caesar's day, as he tells us, it was an esoteric science among the Druids; they used it, but the people did not. It seems probable that writing was not in general use among the Greeks until long after Homer; but, to me, certain that Homer used it himself, or could command the services to those who did. But there was writing in Crete long before the Greco-Phoenician alphabet was invented; from the time of the first Egyptian Dynasties, for example. And here is a point to remember: alphabets are invented; systems of writing are lost and reintroduced; but it is idle to talk of the invention of writing. Humanity has been writing, in one way or another, since Lemurian days. When the Manasaputra incarnated, Man became a poetizing animal; and before the Fourth Race began, his divine Teachers had taught him to set his poems down on whatever he chanced at the time to be using as we use paper.
Now, what more can we learn about the inner and real Homer? What can I tell you in the way of literary criticism, to fill out the picture I have attempted to make? Very little; yet perhaps something. I think his historical importance is greater, for us now, than his literary importance. I doubt you shall find in him as great and true thinking, as much Theosophy or Light upon the hidden things, as there is in Virgil for example. I doubt he was an initiate, to understand in that life and with his conscious mind the truths that make men free. Plato did not altogether approve of him; and where Plato dared lead, we others need not fear to follow. I think the great Master-Poets of the world have been such because, with supreme insight into the hidden, they presented a great Master-Symbol of the Human Soul. I believe that in the Iliad Homer gives us nothing of that sort; and that therefore, in a certain sense, he is constantly over-rated. He pays the penalty of his over-whelming reputation: his fame is chiefly in the mouths of those who know him not at all, and use their hats for speaking-trumpets. We have in English no approximately decent translation of him. Someone said that Pope served him as Puck served Bully Bottom, what time Peter Quince was moved to cry: "Bless thee Bottom, how thou art translated!" It is not so; to call Pope an ass would be to wrong a faithful and patient quadruped; than which Pope was as much greater in intellect as he was less in all qualities that call for true respect. Yet often we applaud Homer, only upon a knowledge of Pope; and it is safe to say that if you love Pope you would loathe Homer. Pope held that water should manifest, so to say, through Kew or Versailles fountains; but it was essentially to be from the Kitchen-tap—or even from the sewer. Homer was more familiar with it thundering on the precipices, or lisping on the yellow sands of time-forgotten Mediterranean islands. Which pronunciation do you prefer for his often-recurring and famous sea-epithet: the thunder-on-the-precipices of
or the lisping-on-the-sands of
(pardon the attempted phonetics).—For truly there are advocates of either; but neither I suppose would have appealed much to Mr. Pope.
As to his style, his manner or movement: to summarize what Mathew Arnold says of it (the best I can do): it is as direct and rapid as Scott's; as lucid as Wordsworth's could be; but noble like Shakespeare's or Milton's. There is no Dantesque periphrasis, nor Miltonian agnostic struggle and inversion; but he calls spades, spades, and moves on to the next thing swiftly, clearly, and yet with exultation. (Yet there is retardation often by long similes.) And he either made a language for himself, or found one ready to his hand, as resonant and sonorous as the loll and slap of billows in the hollow caverns of the sea. As his lines swing in and roll and crash, they swell the soul in you, and you hear and grow great on the rhythm of the eternal. This though we really, I suppose, are quite uncertain as to the pronunciation. But give the vowels merely a plain English value, certain to be wrong, and you still have grand music. Perhaps some of you have read Mathew Arnold's great essay On Translating Homer, and know the arguments wherewith wise Matthew exalts him. A Mr. Newman had translated him so as considerably to out-Bottom Bottom; and Arnold took up the cudgels—to some effect. Newman had treated him as a barbarian, a primitive; Arnold argued that it was Homer, on the contrary, who might have so looked on us. There is, however, perhaps something to be said on Mr. Newman's side. Homer's huge and age-long fame, and his extraordinary virtues, were quite capable of blinding even a great critic to certain things about him which I shall, with great timidity, designate imperfections: therein following De Quincey, who read Greek from early childhood as easily as English, and who, as a critic, saw things sometimes. Bonus dormitat Homerus, says Horace; like the elder Gobbo, he "something smacked." He was the product of a great creative force; which did not however work in a great literary age: and all I am going to say is merely a bearing out of this.
First there is his poverty of epithets. He repeats the same ones over and over again. He can hardly mention Hector without calling him megas koruthaiolos Hector,—"great glittering- helmeted Hector"; or (in the genitive) Hectoros hippodamoio— "of Hector the tamer of war-steeds." Over and over again we have anax andron Agamemnon; or "swift-footed Achilles." Over and over again is the sea poluphloisbois-terous, as if he could say nothing new about it. Having discovered one resounding phrase that fits nicely into the hexameter, he seems to have been just content with the splendor of sound, and unwilling so to stir his imagination as to flash some new revelation on it. As if Hamlet should never be mentioned in the play, without some such epithet as "the hesitating Dane."...... But think how the Myriad-minded One positively tumbles over himself in hurling and fountaining up new revelatory figures and epithets about everything: how he could not afford to repeat himself, because there were not enough hours in the day, days in the year, nor years in one human lifetime, in which to ease his imagination of its tremendous burden. He had Golconda at the root of his tongue: let him but pass you the time of day, and it shall go hard but he will pour you out the wealth of Ormus or of Ind. A plethora, some have said: never mind; wealth was nothing to him, because he had it all. Or note how severe Milton, almost every time he alludes to Satan, throws some new light of majestic gloom, inner or outer, with a new epithet or synonym, upon his figure or his mind.
Even of mere ancillaries and colorless lines, Homer will make you a resounding glory. What means this most familiar one, think you:
Ten d'apameibomenos prosephe koruthaiolos Hector?
—Surely here some weighty splendid thing is being revealed? But no; it means: "Answering spake unto her great glittering-helmeted Hector;" or tout simplement, 'Hector answered.' And hardly can anyone open his lips, but it must be brought in with some variation of that sea-riding billow, or roll of drums:
Ton d'emeibet epeita anax andron Agamemnon. Hos phato. Ten d'outi prosephe nephelegereta Zeus
—whereafter at seven lines down we get again:
Ten de meg' ochthesas prosephe nephelegereta Zeus;
—in all of which I think we do get something of primitivism and unskill. It is a preoccupation with sound where there is no adequate excuse for the sound; after the fashion of some orators, whom, to speak plainly, it is a weariness to hear. But you will remember how Shakespeare rises to his grandest music when he has fatefullest words to utter; and how Milton rolls in his supreme thunders each in its recurring cycle; leads you to wave-crest over wave-trough, and then recedes; and how the crest is always some tremendous thing in vision, or thought as well as sound. So he has everlasting variation; manages his storms and billows; and so I think his music is greater in effect than Homer's—would still be greater, could we be sure of Homer's tones and vowel- values; as I think his vision goes deeper into the realm of the Soul and the Eternal.
Yet is Homer majestic and beautiful abundantly. If it is true that his reputation gains on the principle of Omne ignotum pro magnifico—because he is unknown to most that praise him—let none imagine him less than a wonderful reservoir of poetry. His faults—to call them that—are such as you would expect from his age, race, and peculiar historic position; his virtues are drawn out of the grandeur of his own soul, and the current from the Unfathomable that flowed through him. He had the high serious attitude towards the great things, and treated them highly, deeply and seriously. We may compare him to Dante: who also wrote, in an age and land not yet literary or cultured, with a huge racial inspiration. But Dante had something more: a purpose to reveal in symbol the tremendous world of the Soul. Matthew Arnold speaks of the Homeric poems as "the most important poetical monument existing." Well; cultured Tom, Dick and Harry would say much the same thing; it is the orthodox thing to say. But with great deference to Matthew, I believe they are really a less important monument than the poems of Aeschylus, Dante, Shakespeare, or Milton, or I suppose Goethe—to name only poets of the Western World; because each of these created a Soul- symbol; which I think the Iliad at any rate does not.
Here, to me, is another sign of primitivism. If there is paucity of imagination in his epithets, there is none whatever in his surgery. I do not know to what figure the casualty list in the Iliad amounts; but believe no wound or death of them all was dealt in the same bodily part or in the same way. Now Poetry essentially turns from these physical details; her preoccupations are with the Soul.
"From Homer and Polygnotus," says Goethe, "I daily learn more and more that in our life here above the ground we have, properly speaking, to enact Hell." A truth, so far as it goes: this Earth is hell; there is no hell, says H.P. Blavatsky, but a man- bearing planet. But we demand of the greatest, that they shall see beyond hell into Heaven. Homer achieves his grandeur oftenest through swift glimpses of the pangs and tragedy of human fate; and I do not think he saw through the gloom to the bright Reality. Watching the Greek host from the walls of Troy, Helen says:
"Clearly the rest I behold of the dark-eyed sons of Achaia; Known to me well are the faces of all; their names I remember; Two, two only remain whom I see not among the commanders, Castor, fleet in the car, Polydeukes, brave with the cestus— Own dear brethren of mine,—one parent loved us as infants. Are they not here in the host, from the shores of loved Lacedaimon? Or, though they came with the rest in the ships that bound through the waters, Dare they not enter the fight, or stand in the council of heroes, All for fear of the shame and the taunts my crime has awakened?"
Hos phato. Tous d'ede kalechen phusizoos aia, En Lakedaimoni authi, phile en patridi gaie.
"—So spake she; but they long since under Earth were reposing There in their own dear land, their fatherland, Lacedaimon."
[From Dr. Hawtrey's translation, quoted by Matthew Arnold in On Translating Homer.]
There it is the sudden antithesis from her gentle womanly inquiry about her brothers to the sad reality she knows nothing, that strikes the magical blow, and makes the grand manner. Then there is that passage about Peleus and Cadmos:
"Not even Peleus Aiacides, nor godlike Cadmos, might know the happiness of a secure life; albeit the highest happiness known to mortals was granted them: the one on the mountain, the other in seven-gated Thebes, they heard the gold-snooded Muses sing."
You hear the high pride and pathos in that. To be a poet, he says: to have heard the gold-snooded Muses sing: is the highest happiness a mortal can know; he is mindful of the soul, the Poet-creator in every man, and pays it magnificent tribute; he acknowledges what glory, what bliss, have been his own; but not the poet, he says, not even he, may enjoy the commonplace happiness of feeling secure against dark fate. It is the same feeling that I spoke of last week as so characteristic of the early Teutonic literature; but there it appears without the swift sense of tragedy, without the sudden pang, the grand manner. The pride is lacking quite: the intuition for a divinity within man. But Homer sets the glory of soul-hood and pet-hood against the sorrow of fate: even though he finds the sorrow weighs it down. Caedmon or Cynewulf might have said: "It is given to none of us to be secure against fate; but we have many recompenses." How different the note of Milton:
"Those other two, equal with me in fate, So were I equal with them in renown—"
"Unchanged, though fallen on evil days; On evil days though fallen, and evil tongues, In darkness, and by dangers compassed round."
And Llywarch, or Oisin, would never have anticipated the blows of fate; when the blows fell, they would simply have been astonished at fate's presumption.