A Guide for the Perplexed


Tout-puissants étrangers, inevitables astres . . .         

VALERY, La Jeune Parque


THIS BOOK is highly unconventional, and often the flow of the tales will be interrupted to put in words of guidance, in the fashion of the Middle Ages, to emphasize salient points.


To begin with, there is no system that can be presented in modern analytical terms. There is no key, and there are no principles from which a presentation can be deduced. The structure comes from a time when there was no such thing as a system in our sense, and it would be unfair to search for one. There could hardly have been one among people who committed all their ideas to memory. It can be considered a pure structure of numbers. From the beginning we considered calling this essay "Art of the Fugue." And that excludes any "world-picture," a point that cannot be stressed strongly enough. Any effort to use a diagram is bound to lead into contradiction. It is a matter of times and rhythm.


The subject has the nature of a hologram, something that has to be present as a whole to the mind. [nl In optics, "hologram" is the interference pattern of light with itself; Le., every part of an image is displayed at every point, as if every point looked at every source of light.]. Archaic thought is cosmological first and last; it faces the gravest implications of a cosmos in ways which reverberate in later classic philosophy. The chief implication is a profound awareness that the fabric of the cosmos is not only determined, but overdetermined and in a way that does not permit the simple location of any of its agents, whether simple magic or




astrology, forces, gods, numbers, planetary powers, Platonic Forms, Aristotelian Essences or Stoic Substances. Physical reality here cannot be analytical in the Cartesian sense; it cannot be reduced to concreteness even if misplaced. Being is change, motion and rhythm, the irresistible circle of time, the incidence of the "right moment," as determined by the skies.


There are many events, described with appropriate terrestrial imagery, that do not, however, happen on earth. In this book there is mention of floods. In tradition, not one but three floods are registered, one being the biblical flood, equivalents of which are mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian annals. The efforts of pious archaeologists to connect the biblical narrative with geophysical events are highly conjectural. There have been floods in Mesopotamia causing grievous loss of life. There still are in he river plains of China and elsewhere, but none of the total nature that the Bible describes.


There are tales, too, of cataclysmic deluges throughout the great continental masses, in Asia and America, told by peoples who have never seen the sea, or lakes, or great rivers. The floods the Greeks described, like the flood of Deucalion, are as "mythical" as the narrative of Genesis. Greece is not submersible, unless by tsunamis. Deucalion and hjs wife landed on Mount Parnassus, high above Delphi, the "Navel of the Earth," and were the only survivors of this flood, the second, sent by Zeus in order to destroy the men of one world-age. Classical authors disagreed on the specification of which world-age. Ovid voted for the Iron Age. Plato's Solon keeps his conversation with the Egyptian priest on a mythical level, and his discussion of the two types of world destruction, by fire or water, is astronomical.


The "floods refer to an old astronomical image, based on an abstract geometry. That this is not an "easy picture" is not to be wondered at, considering the objective difficulty of the science of astronomy. But although a modern reader does not expect a text on celestial mechanics to read like a lullaby, he insists on his capacity to understand mythical "images" instantly, because he can respect as "scientific" only page-long approximation formulas, and the like.




He does not think of the possibility that equally relevant knowledge might once have been expressed in everyday language. He never suspects such a possibility, although the visible accomplishments of ancient cultures--to mention only the pyramids, or metallurgy--­should be a cogent reason for concluding that serious and intelligent men were at work behind the stage, men who were bound to have used a technical terminology.


Thus, archaic "imagery" is strictly verbal, representing a specific type of scientific language, which must not be taken at its face value nor accepted as expressing more or less childish "beliefs." Cosmic phenomena and rules were articulated in the language, or terminology, of myth, where each key word was at least as "dark" as the equations and convergent series by means of which our modern scientific grammar is built up. To state it briefly, as we are going to do, is not to explain it --far from it.


First, what was the "earth"? In the most general sense, the "earth" was the ideal plane laid through the ecliptic., The "dry earth," in a more specific sense, was the ideal plane going through the celestial equator. The equator thus divided two halves of the zodiac which ran on the ecliptic, 23 ½ o inclined to the equator, one half being "dry land" (the northern band of the zodiac, reaching from the vernal to the autumnal equinox), the other representing the "waters below" the equinoctial plane (the southern arc of the zodiac, reaching from the autumnal equinox, via the winter solstice, to the vernal equinox). The terms "vernal equinox," "winter solstice," etc., are used intentionally because myth deals with time, periods of time which correspond to angular measures, and not with tracts In space.


This could be neglected were it not for the fact that the equinoctial "points" €“and therefore, the solstitial ones, too--do not remain forever where they should in order to make celestial goings-on easier to understand, namely, at the same spot with respect to the sphere of the fixed stars. Instead, they stubbornly move along the ecliptic in the opposite direction to the yearly course of the sun, that is, against the "right" sequence of the zodiacal signs (Taurus->Aries->Pisces, instead of Pisces-> Aries->Taurus).




This phenomenon is called the Precession of the Equinoxes, and it was conceived as causing the rise and the cataclysmic fall of ages of the world. Its cause is a bad habit of the axis of our globe, which turns around in the manner of a spinning top, its tip being in the center of our small earth-ball, whence our earth axis, prolonged to the celestial North Pole, describes a circle around he North Pole of the ecliptic, the true "center" of the planetary system, the radius of this circle being of the same magnitude as the obliquity of the ecliptic with respect to the equator: 23 ½ o. The time which this prolonged axis needs to circumscribe the ecliptical North Pole is roughly 26,000 years, during which period it points to one star after another: around 3000 B.C. the Pole star was alpha Draconis; at the time of the Greeks it was beta Ursae Minoris; for the time being it is alpha Ursae Minoris; in A.D. 14,000 it will be Vega. The equinoxes, the points of intersection of ecliptic and equator, swinging from the spinning axis of the earth, move with the same speed of 26,000 years along the ecliptic.


The sun's position among the constellations at the vernal equinox was the pointer that indicated the "hours" of the precessional cycle--very long hours indeed, the equinoctial sun occupying each zodiacal constellation for about 2,200 years. The constellation that rose in the east just before the sun (that is, rose heliacally) marked the "place" where the sun rested. At this time it was known as the sun's "carrier," and as the main "pillar" of the sky, the vernal equinox being recognized as the fiducial point of the "system," determining the first degree of the sun's yearly circle, and the first day of the year. (When we say, it was "recognized" we mean that it was spelled "carrier" or "pillar," and the like; it must be kept in mind that we are dealing with a specific terminology, and not with vague and primitively rude "beliefs.") At ime Zero (say, 5000 B.C.--there are reasons for this approximate date), the sun was in Gemini; it moved ever so slowly from Gemini into Taurus, then Aries, then Pisces, which it still occupies and will for some centuries more. The advent of Christ the Fish marks our age. It was hailed by Virgil, shortly before Anno Domini: "a new great order of centuries is now being born. . ." which earned Virgil the




strange title of prophet of Christianity. The precedIng age, that of Aries, had been heralded by Moses coming down from Mount Sinai as "two-horned," that is, crowned with the Ram's horns, while his flock disobediently insisted upon dancing around the "Golden Calf" that was, rather, a "Golden Bull," Taurus.


Thus, the revolving heavens gave the key, the events of our globe receding into insignificance, attention was focused on the supernal presences, away from the phenomenal chaos around us. What moved in heaven of its own motion, the planets in their weeks and years, took on ever more awesome dignity. They were the Persons of True Becoming. The zodiac was where things really happened, for the planets, the true inhabitants, knew what they were doing, and mankind was only passive to their behest. It is revealing to look at the figure drawn by a West Sudanese Dogon at the request of Professor Zahan, showing the world egg, with the "inhabited world" between the tropics, "le cylindre ou rectangle du monde." [n2 D. Zahan and S. de Ganay "Etudes sur la cosmologie des Dogon," Africa 21 (1951), p. 14.]. The Dogon are fully aware of the fact that the region between the terrestrial tropics is not the best of inhabitable quarters, and so were their teachers of far-off times, the archaic scientists who coined the terminology of myth. What counted was the zodiacal band between the celestial tropics, delivering the houses, and the inns, the "masks" (prosopa), and the disguises to the much traveling and "shape-shifting" planets.


How far this point of view was from modern indifference can hardly be appreciated except by those who can see the dimensions of the historical chasm that opened with the adoption of the Copernican doctrine. What had been for Sir Thomas Browne an o altitudo crowded with religious emotions, presences and presentiments has become a platitude that could at best inspire a Russian cosmonaut with the triumphant observation: "I have been up in the sky, and nowhere did I find God." Astronomy has come down into the realm of exterior ballistics, a subject for the adventures of the Space Patrol.





One might say that it takes a wrenching effort of the imagination to restore in us the capacity for wonder of an Aristotle, But it would be misleading to talk of "us" generally, because the average Babylonian or Greek showed as little inclination to wonder at order and law in nature as our average contemporaries do. It has been and will be the mark of a true scientific mind to search for, and to wonder at, the invariable structure of number behind the manifold appearances. (It needs the adequate "expectation," the firm confidence in "sense"--and "sense" does mean number and order for us, since the birth of high civilization--to discover the periodical system of the elements or, further on, Balmer's series) Whence it is much easier for a great scientist--for instance, Galileo, Kepler, or Newton--to appreciate master feats of early mathematicians than it is for the average humanist of all ages, No professional historian of culture is likely to understand better the intellectual frame of mind of the Maya than the astronomer Hans Ludendorff has done.


It is not so much the enormous number of new facts established by scientists in the many centuries between antiquity and the 20th century which separates us from the outlook of our great scientific ancestors but the "deteriorated" expectations ruling our time. Kepler's quest, were he living today, would be to discover a modified perspective from which to rediscover the Harmonice Mundi on another scale, But, after all, what else if not such a quest for the establishment of a new kind of cosmos is the work on the "general field formula"? This time, the cosmos, as covered by the coming-to-be formula, will be understandable and will make "sense" only for the best mathematicians, to the complete exclusion of the common people, and it will hardly be a "meaningful" universe such as the archaic one had been.


To come back to the key words of ancient cosmology: if the words "flat earth" do not correspond in any way to the fancies of the flat-earth fanatics who still infest the fringes of our society and who in the guise of a few preacher-friars made life miserable for Columbus, so the name of "true earth" (or of "the inhabited world") did not in any way denote our physical geoid for the archaics.




It applies to the band of the zodiac, two dozen degrees right and left of the ecliptic, to the tracks of the "true inhabitants" of this world, namely, the planets. It comprises their various oscillations and curlicues from their courses, and also the "dragon," well known from very early times, which causes eclipses by swallowing the sun and moon.


On the zodiacal band, there are four essential points which dominate the four seasons of the year. They are, in fact, in church liturgy the quatuor tempora marked with special abstinences. They correspond to the two solstices and the two equinoxes. The solstice is the "turning back" of the sun at the lowest point of winter and at the highest point of summer. The two equinoxes, vernal and autumnal, are those that cut the year in half, with an equal balance of night and day, for they are the two intersections of the equator with the ecliptic. Those four points together made up the four pillars, or corners, of what was called the "quadrangular earth."

This is an essential feature that needs more attention. We have said above that "earth," in the most general sense, meant the ideal plane laid through the ecliptic; meanwhile we are prepared to improve the definition: "earth" is the ideal plane going through the four points of the year, the equinoxes and the solstices. Since the four constellations rising heliacally at the two equinoxes and the two solstices determine and define an "earth," it is termed quadrangular (and by no means "believed" to be quadrangular by "primitive" Chinese, and so on). And since constellations rule the four corners of the quadrangular earth only temporarily, such an "earth" can rightly be said to perish, and a new earth to rise from the waters, with four new constellations rising at the four points of the year. Virgil says: "lam redit et Virgo. . ." (already the Virgin is returning). (It is important to remember the vernal equinox as the fiducial point; it is from this fact that a new earth is termed to rise from the waters. In reality, only the new vernal equinoctial constellation climbs from the sea onto the dry land above the equator ­the inverse happens diametrically opposite. [n3 In a similar sense, Perronius' Trimalchio says about the, month of May: "totus coelus taurulus fiat" (the whole sky turns into a little bull").]




A constellation that ceases to mark the autumnal equinox, gliding below the equator, is drowned. This "formula" will make it easier to understand the myth of Deucalion, in which the devastating waves of the flood were ordered back by Triton's blowing the conch. The conch had been invented by Aigokeros, i.e., Capricornus, who ruled the winter solstice in the world-age when Aries "carried" the sun.


At Time Zero, the two equinoctial "hinges" of the world had been Gemini and Sagittarius, spanning between them the arch of the Milky Way: both bicorporeal signs [n4 4 These constellations were, originally, called "bicorporeal" for reasons very different from those given by Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos 1.11.]--and so were Pisces, and Virgo with her ear of wheat, at the two other corners--to mark the idea that the way (the Milky Way itself) was open between earth and heaven, the way up and the way down' here men and gods could meet in that Golden Age. As will be shown later, the exceptional virtue of the Golden Age was precisely that the crossroads of ecliptic and equator coincided with the crossroads of ecliptic and Galaxy, namely in Gemini and Sagittarius, both constellations "standing" firmly at two of the four corners of the quadrangular earth.


At the "top," in the center high above the "dry" plane of the equator, was the Pole star. At the opposite top, or rather in the depth of the waters below, unobserved from our latitudes, was the southern pole, thought to be Canopus, by far the brightest star of these regions, more remarkable than the Southern Cross.


This brief sketch of archaic theory indicates--to repeat--that geography in our sense was never meant, but a cosmography of the kind needed even now by navigators. Ptolemy, the great geographer of antiquity, had been thinking of nothing else. His Geography is a set of coordinates drawn from the skies, and transferred onto an uncouth outline map of our globe, with a catalogue of earthly distances added on by sailors and travelers to pinpoint, or confirm, the positions of countries around the Mediterranean world. It was an uncouth outline map, for it covered only a few countries known around the Mediterranean region. Nothing was shown beyond the latitude 160 south of the equator and 30 north,­




corresponding to Iceland. Nothing west beyond the Canary Islands or east of the easternmost city of China, an arc of longitude fixed for simplicity at 180o, twelve equinoctial hours from end to end, the breadth over the whole latitudes being nine equinoctial hours. A large part of the space is blank and the limits are assigned, as they should be, astronomically. This is what the ancients knew after a thousand years of exploration, and they handed it down to the Renaissance. They called it the oikoumene, the inhabited earth.


One may well understand how the archaics gave this name for purely astronomical reasons to the zodiacal band, about as wide in degrees but embracing the whole globe. The world, the cosmos, was above, revolving majestically in twenty-four hours, and it lent itself to the passionate exploration of cosmographers through the starlit night. Astrology was the inevitable outcome of astronomy through those ages. The early Greeks derived their mathematics from astronomy. In those centuries, their insatiable curiosity developed a knowledge of our earth and the events on it which drove them to create the beginnings of our science. But soon after Aristotle, the Stoics reverted to the oriental pattern and reinstalled astrology. Three centuries of pre-Socratic thought had equipped them with an interest in physics, but with it they had nowhere to go. They still had no experimental science as we mean it. What they needed was an interpretation of influences, to go with the all-in-all that the cosmos has to be. Stoic physics was a seductive presentment of a field theory, but it was a counterfeit. Nothing was to come of it because the true implications of the archaic cosmos, no less than those of the Platonic, were incompatible with anything that our physics can think of. In Stoic physics there is no simple location, no analytical space.


It should be understood once and for all that the gulf between the archaic world and ours was as wide as science itself. Prodigies of exactitude and computation could not bridge it. Only the astronomical map could. Whitehead has summed it up succinctly: "Our science has been founded on simple location and misplaced concreteness." Modern physics has turned the original words into




queries. For Newton, it had the force of evidence: "No person endowed with a capacity of rational understanding will believe that a thing acts where it is not." Newton himself put the first query, by stating the theory of gravitation--mathematically irresistible, physically unexplainable. He could only accept it: "I do not understand it, and I am going to feign no suppositions." the answer was to come only with Einstein. It amounted to pure mathematical rationalization, which did away with simple location, and with concreteness altogether. The edifice of Descartes lay in ruins.


Nonetheless, the mind of civilized man clung to other principles invincibly, as being equal to common sense. It was a model case of habit having become second nature. The birth of experimental physics was a decisive factor in the change. No such common sense obtained once upon a time, when time was the only reality, and space had still to be discovered or invented by Parmenides after 500 B.C. (See G. de Santillana, "Prologue to Parmenides," in Reflections on Men and Ideas [1968], pp. 82-119.)


The task then was to recover from the remote past an utterly lost science, linked to an equally lost culture--one in which anthropologists have seen only illiterate "primitive man." It was as if the legendary "Cathedrale Engloutie" emerged from prehistory with its bells still ringing.


The problem was also clear: this lost science, immensely sophisticated, had no "system," no systematic key that could be a basis for teaching. It existed before systems could be thought of. It was, to repeat, a spontaneously generated "Art of the Fugue." That is why it took us so many years to work it out.


The archaics' vision of the universe appears to have left out all ideas of the earth suspended, or floating, in space. Whether or not this was really so cannot be decided yet: there are peculiar rumors to be heard about innumerable "Brahma-Eggs," that is, spheres like our own, in India. The Maori of New Zealand claimed, as the Pythagoreans had done, that every star had mountains and plains, and was inhabited like the earth. Varahamihira (5th century A.D.)




even stated that the earth was suspended between magnets. [n5 Pancasiddhantika, chapter XII (Thibaut trans., p. 69): "The round ball of the earth, composed of the five elements, abides in space in the midst of the starry sphere, like a piece of iron suspended between magnets."]. For the time being, one must continue to assume that the earth was simply the center of the world, and a sphere, and that there was no trace of Galilean relativism which is so natural to us posing so many problems of motion. The Greeks still had the old idea, but they asked themselves questions about it. What moved: as the sky, but questions about the sky posed abstruse problems. The greatest one was, of course, the slow motion of the tilt of the sky, described above, which went through a Great Year of 26,000 years.


The Greek astronomers had enough instrumentation and data to detect the motion, which is immensely slow, and they saw that it applied to the whole of the sky. Hipparchus in 127 b.c. called it the Precession of the Equinoxes. There is good reason to assume that he actually rediscovered this, that it had been known some thousand years previously, and that on it the Archaic age based its long-range computation of time. Modern archaeological scholars have been singularly obtuse about the idea because they have cultivated a pristine ignorance of astronomical thought, some of them actually ignorant of the Precession itself. The split between the two cultures begins right here. But apart from this, although the scholars unanimously cling to the accepted conventions about the tempo of historical evolution, they widely disagree when it comes to judging the evidence in detail. The verdicts concerning the familiarity of ancient Near Eastern astronomers with the Precession depend, indeed, on arbitrary factors: namely, on the different scholarly opinions about the difficulty of the task. Ernst Dittrich, for instance, remarked that one should not expect much astronomical knowledge from Mesopotamians around 2000 B.C. "Probably they knew only superficially the geometry of the motions of sun and moon. Thus, if we examine the simple, easily observable motions by means of which one could work out chronological determinants with very little mathematical knowledge, we find only the




Precession." [n6 "Gibt es astronomische Fixpunkte in del altesten babylonischen Chronologie?" OLZ 1) (1912), col. 104.] There was also a learned Italian Church dignitary, Domenico Testa, who snatched at this curious argument to prove that the world had been created ex nihilo, as described in the first book of Moses, an event that supposedly happened around 4000 B.C. If the Egyptians had had a background of many millennia to reckon with, who, he asked, could have been unaware of the Precession? "The very sweepers of their observatories would have known." [n7 Il Zodiaco di Dendera Illustrato (1822), p. 17.]. Hence time could not have begun before 4000, Q.E.D.


The comparison of the views just quoted with those upheld by the majority of modem scholars shows that one's own subjective opinions about what is easy and what is difficult might not be the most secure basis for a serious historiography of science. As Hans Ludendorff once pointed out, it is an unsound approach to Maya astronomy to start from preconceived convictions about what the Maya could have known and what they couldn't possibly have known: one should, instead, draw conclusions only from the data as given in the inscriptions and codices. [n8 "Zur astronomischen Deutung del Maya-Inschriften," SPAW (1936), p. 85.]. That this had to be stressed explicitly reveals the steady decline of scientific ethics.


We today are aware of the Precession as the gentle tilting of our globe, an irrelevant one at that. As the GI said, lost in the depth of jungle misery, when his friends took refuge in their daydreams: "When I close my eyes, I see only a mule's behind. Also when I don't." This is, as it were, today's vision of reality. Today, the Precession is a well established fact. The space-time continuum does not affect it. It is by now only a boring complication. It has lost relevance for our affairs, whereas once it was the only majestic secular motion that our ancestors could keep in mind when they looked for a great cycle which could affect humanity as a whole. But then our ancestors were astronomers and astrologers. They believed that the sliding of the sun along the equinoctial point affected the frame of the cosmos and determined a succession of




world-ages under different zodiacal signs. They had found a large peg on which to hang their thoughts about cosmic time, which brought all things in fateful order. Today, that order has lapsed, like the idea of the cosmos itself. There is only history, which has been felicitously defined as "one damn thing after another."


And yet, were history really understood in this admittedly flat sense of things happening one after another to the same stock of people, we should be better off than we are now, when we almost dare not admit the assumption from which this book starts, that our ancestors of the high and far-off times were endowed with minds wholly comparable to ours, and were capable of rational processes--always given the means at hand. It is enough to say that this flies in the face of a custom which has become already a second nature.


Our period may some day be called the Darwinian period, just as, we talk of the Newtonian period of two centuries ago. The simple idea of evolution, which it is no longer thought necessary to examine, spreads like a tent over all those ages that lead from primitivism into civilization. Gradually, we are told, step by step, men produced the arts and crafts, this and that, until they emerged into the light of history.


Those soporific words "gradually" and "step by step," repeated incessantly, are aimed at covering an ignorance which is both vast and surprising. One should like to inquire: which steps. But then one is lulled, overwhelmed and stupefied by the gradualness of it all, which is at best a platitude, only good for pacifying the mind, since no one is willing to imagine that civilization appeared in a thunderclap.


One could find a key in a brilliant TV production on the Stonehenge problem given a few years ago. With the resources of the puissant techniques of ubiquity, various authorities were called to the screen to discuss the possible meaning of the astronomical alignments and polygons discovered in the ancient Megalith since 1906, when Sir Norman Lockyer, the famous astronomer, published the results of his first investigation. Specialists, from prehistorians to astronomers, expressed their doubts and wonderments down to the last one, a distinguished archaeologist who had been working on




the monument itself for many years. He had more fundamental doubts. How could one not realize, he said, that the builders of Stonehenge were barbarians, "howling barbarians" who were, to say the least, utterly incapable of working out complex astronomical cycles and over many years at that? The uncertain coincidences must be due to chance. And then, with perverse irony, the midwinter sun of the solstice appeared on the screen rising exactly behind the Heel Stone, as predicted. The "mere" coincidences had been in fact ruled out, since Gerald Hawkins, a young astronomer unconcerned with historical problems, had run the positions through a computer and discovered more alignments than had been dreamed of. Here was the whole paradox. Howling barbarians who painted their faces blue must have known more astronomy than their customs and table manners could have warranted. The lazy word "evolution" had blinded us to the real complexities of the past.


That key term "gradualness" should be understood to apply to a vastly different time scale than that considered by the history of mankind. Human history taken as a whole in that frame, even raciation itself, is only an evolutionary episode. In that whole, Cro­Magnon man is the last link. All of protohistory is a last-minute flickering.


But while the biologists were wondering, something great had come upon the scene, arriving from unexpected quarters. Sir James George Frazer was a highly respected classical scholar who, while editing the Description of Greece by Pausanias, was impressed with the number of beliefs, practices, cults and superstitions spread over the classical landscape of Greece in classical times. This led him to search deeper into the half-forgotten strata of history, and out of it came his Golden Bough. The historian had turned ethnologist, and extended his investigations to the whole globe. Suddenly, an immense amount of material became available about fertility cults as the universal form of earliest religion, and about primitive magic connected with it. This appeared to be the humus from which civilization had grown--simple deities of the seasons, a dim multitude of peasants copulating in the furrows and building up rituals




of fertility with human sacrifice. Added to this, in political circles, there came the vision of war as both inherent in human nature and ennobling-the law of natural selection applied to nations and races. Thus, many materials and much history went to build the temple of evolutionism. But as the theory moved on its high­minded aspects began to wane; psychoanalysis moved in as a tidal wave. For if the struggle for life (and the religions of the life force) can explain so much, the unconscious can explain anything. As we know today only too well.


The universal and uniform concept of gradualness thus defeated itself. Those key words (gradualness and evolution) come from the earth sciences in the first place, where they had a precise meaning. Crystallization and upthrust, erosion and geosynclinals are the result of forces acting constantly in accordance with physical laws.


They provided the backdrop for Darwin's great scenario. When it comes to the evolution of life, the terms become less precise in meaning, though still acceptable. Genetics and natural selection stand for natural law, and events are determined by the rolling of the dice over long ages. But we cannot say much about the why and the how of this instead of that specific form, about where species, types, cultures branched off. Animal evolution remains an overall historical hypothesis supported by sufficient data--and by the lack of any alternative. In detail, it raises an appalling number of questions to which we have no answer. Our ignorance remains vast, but it is not surprising.


And then we come to history, and the evolutionary idea reappears, coming in as something natural, with all scale lost. The accretion of plausible ideas goes on, its flow invisibly carried by "natural law" since the time of Spencer. It all remains within an unexamined kind of Naturphilosophie. For if we stopped to think, we would agree that as far as human "fate" is concerned organic evolution ceased before the time when history, or even prehistory, began. We are on another time scale. This is no longer, nature acting on man, but man on nature. People like to think of all constancy of laws which apply to us. But man is a law unto himself.




When, riding on the surf of the general "evolutionism," Ernst Haeckel and his faithful followers proposed to solve the "world riddles" once and for all, Rudolf Virchow [n9 In several of his addresses to the "Versammlungen deutscher Naturforscher und Arzte."] warned time and again of an evil "monkey wind" blowing round; he reminded his colleagues of the index of excavated "prehistoric" skulls and pointed to the unchanged quantity of brain owned by the species Homo sapiens, but his contemporaries paid no heed to his admonitions; least of all the humanists who applied, without blinking , the strictly biological scheme of the evolution of organisms to the cultural history of the single species Homo sapiens.


In later centuries historians may declare all of us insane, because this incredible blunder was not detected at once an was not refuted with adequate determination. Mistaking cultural history for a process of gradual evolution, we have deprived ourselves of every reasonable insight into the nature of culture. It goes without saying that the still more modern habit of replacing "culture" by "society" has blocked the last narrow path to understanding history. Our ignorance not only remained vast, but became pretentious as well.


A glimpse at some Pensées might show the abyss that yawns between us and a serious thinker of those golden days before the outbreak of "evolution." This is what Pascal asked: "what are our natural principles but principles of custom? In children they are those which they have received from the habits of their fathers, as hunting in animals. A different custom will cause different natural principles." And: "Custom is a second nature which destroys the former. But what is nature? For is custom not natural? I am much afraid that nature is itself only a first custom, as custom is a second nature." [n10 Pensees, nos. 92, 93 (Trotter trans. [1941], p. 36).]


This kind of question, aimed with precision at the true problematical spots, would have been enough to make hash of social anthropology two centuries ago, and also of anthropological sociology.




Although fully aware of the knot of frightening problems arising from the results of the most modern neurophysiology--the building up of micro neurons in the brain after birth, etc.--we are by no means entitled to feign any hypotheses beyond saying that the master brain who will, sooner or later,  fashion a new philosophical anthropology deserving the title, one that will account for all the new implications, will find himself up against these same few questions of Pascal.


Some words have still to be said about the problem that is at the very root of the many misunderstandings, that of translation. Most of the texts were written--if they were ever originally written­ in remote and half-obliterated languages from the far past. The task of translation has been taken over by a guild of dedicated, highly specialized philologists who have had to reconstruct the dictionaries and grammars of these languages. It would be bad grace to dismiss their efforts, but one must take into account several layers of error: (1) personal or systematic errors, arising from their pre­conceptions and from well-implanted prejudices (psychological and philosophical) of their age; (2) the very structure of our own language, of the architecture of our own verbal system, of which very few individuals are aware. There was once a splendid article by Irwin Schroedinger, with the title "Are there quantum jumps?" whilch laid bare many such misunderstandings inside the well­ worked area of modern physics. [n11 British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 3 (1952), pp. 112ff.]. And all this ties up with another major source of error that comes from the underestimation of the thinkers of the far past. We instinctively dismiss the idea that five to ten thousand years ago there may very well have been thinkers of the order of Kepler, Gauss, or Einstein, working with the means at hand.


In other words, we must take language seriously. Imprecise language discloses the lack of precision of thought. We have learned to take the language of Archimedes or Eudoxos seriously, simply because it can translate directly into modern forms of thought. This should extend to forms of thought utterly different from ours in appearance. Take that great endeavor on the hieroglyphic language,




embodied in the imposing Egyptian dictionary of Erman-Grapow. For our simple word "heaven" it shows thirty-seven terms whose nuances are left to the translator and used according to his lights. So the elaborate instructions in the Book of the Dead, referring to the soul's celestial voyage, translate into "mystical" talk, and must be treated as holy mumbo jumbo. But then, modern translators believe so firmly in their own invention, according to which the underworld has to be looked for in the interior of our globe--instead of in the sky--that even 370 specific astronomical terms: would not cause them to stumble.


One small example may indicate the way in which texts are "improved." In the inscriptions of Dendera, published by Dumichen, the goddess Hathor is called "lady of every joy." For once, Dumichen adds: "Literally. . . 'the lady of every heart circuit.'" [n12 Hon-t, rer het-neb; see J. Duemichen, "Die Bauurkunde der Tempelanlagen van Edfu," Aeg.Z. 9 (1871), p. 28.]. This is not to say that the Egyptians had discovered the circulation of the blood. But the determinative sign for "heart" often figures as the plumb bob at the end of a plumb line coming from a well-known astronomical or surveying device, the merkhet. Evidently, "heart" is something very specific, as it were the "center of gravity." [n13 See Aeg.Wb. 2, pp. 55f. for the sign of the heart (ib) as expressing generally "the middle, the center."]. And this may lead in quite another direction. The Arabs preserved a name for Canopus--besides calling the star Kalb at-tai­man ("heart of the south") [n14 S. Mowincke1, Die Sternnamen im Alten Testament (1928), p. 12.]: Suhail el-wezn, "Canopus Ponderosus," the heavy-weighing Canopus, a name promptly declared meaningless by the experts, but which could well have belonged to an archaic system in which Canopus was the weight at the end of the plumb line, as befitted its important position as a heavy star at the South Pole of the "waters below." Here is a chain of inferences which might or might not be valid, but it is allowable to test it, and no inference at all would come from the "lady of every joy." The line seems to state that Hathor (= Hat Hor, "House of Horus") "rules" the revolution of a specific celestial body­--whether or not Canopus is alluded to--or, if we can trust the translation




"every," the revolution of all celestial bodies. As concerns the identity of the ruling lady, the greater possibility speaks for Sirius, but Venus cannot be excluded; in Mexico, too, Venus is called "heart of the earth." The reader is invited to imagine for himself what many thousands of such pseudo-primitive or poetic interpretations must lead to a disfigured interpretation of Egyptian intellectual life.


The problem of astrology--The greatest gap between archaic thinking and modern thinking is in the use of astrology. By this is not meant the common or judicial astrology which has become once again a fad and a fashion among the ignorant public, an escape from official science, and for the vulgar another kind of black art of vast prestige but with principles equally uncomprehended. It is necessary to go back to archaic times, to a universe totally unsuspecting of our science and of the experimental method on which it is founded, unaware of the awful art of separation which distinguishes the verifiable from the unverifiable. This was a time, rich in another knowledge which was later lost, that searched for other principles. It gave the lingua franca of the past. Its knowledge was of cosmic correspondences, which found their proof and seal of truth in a specific determinism, nay overdeterminism, subject to forces completely without locality. The fascination and rigor of Number made it mandatory that the correspondences be exact in many forms (Kepler in this sense is the last Archaic). The multiplicity of relations seen or intuited brought the idea to a focus in which the universe appeared determined not on one but on many levels at once, This was the signature of "panmathematizing ideation." This idea may well have led up to a pre-established harmony on an infinite number of levels. Leibniz has shown us how far it could go, given modern tools: the universe conceived all at once, complete, with its individual destinies for all time, out of, an "effulguration" of the divine mind, Some prehistoric or protohistoric Pythgorean Leibniz, whose existence is far from inconceivable, may well have cherished this impossible dream, going to the limit more innocently than our own historic sage.




Starting from the power of Number, a whole logic is thinkable in this view. Fata regunt orbem, certa stant omnia lege. The only thinker of Antiquity who could be proof against this temptation was Aristotle, for he thought that forms were only potential in the beginning, and came into actualization only in the course of their lifetime, thus undergoing their fate as individuals. But that is because Aristotle refused mathematics from the start. He had the grounds for opposing universal synchronicity (the word and the idea were invented by C. G. Jung, replacing space with time, which goes to show that the archaic scheme has more lives than a cat). Yet, here again, Dante comes to the fore as a witness; for, by art of Gramarye, as the simple used to say, he spans the whole itinerary, or shall we say the cheminement de la pensée, between two world-epochs. An Aristotelian to the core, steeped in the discipline of Thomism, hence by inheritance anti-mathematical, his spirit in its sweep understands the stars, in the sense of their Pythagorean implications. In his ascent to the realm of heaven, he encounters his friend and onetime companion of his wanton and romantic youth, Charles Martel (Paradiso, VIII. 3.4-37), who tells him what it means to be of the elect: "We circle in one orbit, at one pace, with one thirst, along with the heavenly Princes whom thou didst once address from the world"--"You Who by Understanding Move the Third Heaven." This is one of his [Dante's] early poems, a celebrated one at that, and it relates to the heavenly intelligences in a spirit of unrestrained Platonic worship. The progress of his song through the three realms will show him more and more wrapped in Platonic harmonies, much as he had dreamed of in his youth, and it will actually confirm his belief in astrology as a divine grant which keeps nature in order. Thus, the requirements of both doctrines have been saved: the arrangement of nature by genus and species (Aristotle) and the free development of one's own self (Aquinas) in a kind of Plotinian compromise overshadowed by the "Harrnony of the Spheres." Such was Dante's own inimitable "art of Gramarye."




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