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The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, [1917], at

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§ I

When, after the revival of letters in Europe, Chancellor Bacon, legislator of thought, sketched with bold strokes the tree of human knowledge, and brought back each branch of science to that of the moral faculties upon which it depends, he did not fail to observe sagaciously that it was necessary to distinguish in poetry two things, its essence and its form 1: its essence as pertaining wholly to the imagination, and composing by itself alone one of the principal branches of science 2; its form, as making part of the grammar, and entering thus into the domain of philosophy and into the rational faculty of the understanding. 3 This celebrated man had borrowed this idea from a man much older and more celebrated than himself, Plato. According to this admirable philosopher, poetry is either a simple talent, an art which one uses to give to his own ideas a particular form, or it is a divine inspiration by means of which one clothes in the human language and transmits to men the ideas of the gods. 4 It is because, never having felt sufficiently this important distinction and having confused two ideas that ought to be separated, the essence and the form of poetry, which are as the soul and body of this science, that so many men among the modern nations proclaimed themselves poets, whereas they were, in strict truth, only clever versifiers. For it does not suffice, as Plato again said, to have poetic talent, it does not suffice to make verse and even good verse, to be called a poet 5; it is necessary to possess that divine enthusiasm, that inspiration which elevates the soul, enlightens it, transports it, as it

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were, to intellectual regions and causes it to draw from its source the very essence of this science.

How they delude themselves, those who, habitually deceived, foolishly imagine that the lofty fame of Orpheus, Homer, Pindar, Æschylus, or Sophocles and the immortality which they enjoy, belongs only to the plan of their works, to the harmony of their verse, and to the happy use of their talent! These flattering appearances which constitute the form of their poetry would have disappeared long ago, they would have become broken, like fragile vases, upon the torrent of centuries, if the intelligence which animated them had not eternalized their duration. But this secret intelligence does not reside, as certain other superficial readers persuade themselves, being still deceived, in the simple interest that the characters mise en scène inspire; this interest, which results from their contrast and from the shock of the passions, is another sort of form, more hidden, and less frail, than the former, it is true, but as variable generally and subject to the great revolution of customs, laws, and usages. True poetry does not depend upon that; it depends upon the primordial ideas which the genius of the poet in his exaltation has seized in the intellectual nature, and which his talent has shown afterwards in the elementary nature, thus adapting the simulacra of physical things to the movement inspired by the soul, instead of adapting this movement to those same simulacra, as those who write history. This is what Bacon, the modern philosopher whom I have already cited, has felt so perfectly. 1 He says:

As the sentient world is inferior to the human soul, it is for poetry to give to this nature what reality has refused it, lending to it the faculties of the intellectual world; and as the acts and events which make the subject of true history have not that grandeur and that sublimity for which the human soul seeks, it is necessary that poetry create acts and events greater and

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more heroic. All must be increased and embellished by its voice and receive from it a new existence; it is necessary even that virtue shine with an éclat [acclaim—JBH] more pure; that the veil which covers truth be lifted from its eyes and that the course of Providence, better discerned, be allowed to penetrate into the most secret causes of events.

The philosopher who expressed thus his thought regarding the essence of poetry, was far from believing, as the vulgar have always believed, and as certain modern writers have wished to convince the savants, 1 that, of the two parts of poetry, the positive form might be the only genuine; that is to say, that they do not by any means consider that the human characters put upon the stage by the poets whom I have just named, were historic characters. Bacon understood well that Achilles, Agamemnon, Ulysses, Castor and Pollux, Helen, Iphigenia, Œdipus, Phædra, etc., are somewhat more than they appear to be, and that their virtues or their vices, their heroic actions, even their crimes, celebrated by poetry, contain a profound meaning wherein lie buried the mysteries of religion and the secrets of philosophy. 2

It belongs only to the men to whom poetry is known by its exterior forms alone and who have never penetrated as far as its essence, to imagine that a small city of Asia, unknown to all Asia, around which the King of kings of Greece waited in vain for ten years to avenge the honour of his brother betrayed by his wife, should be able during three thousand years to occupy the greatest minds of Europe, on account of a quarrel which was raised in the tenth year of the siege, between this King of kings and a petty prince of his army, angry and sulky, named Achilles. It is only permitted to the phlegmatic chronologists, whom the muses

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have never visited in their studies, to seek seriously to fix the year and the day when this quarrel took place. A man, strongly imbued with the spirit of Homer or of Sophocles, would never see in Ulysses a real man, a king who, returning to his isle after long wanderings, kills in cold blood a crowd of lovers of his wife and rests confident of the conjugal fidelity of that spouse abandoned for twenty years, and whom he had won in the course, 1 although, according to the most common reports, she was delivered of a son in his absence 2; nor in Œdipus, another king, who, without knowing it, without wishing it, always innocent, kills his father, espouses his mother and, driven to parricide and incest by an irresistible destiny, tears out his eyes and condemns himself to wander over the earth, to be a frightful example of celestial wrath. The platitudes and ridicule of the deed related by Homer, and the horror which resulted from that presented on the stage by Sophocles, are sufficient evidence against their reality. If the poem of the one and the tragedy of the other do not conceal, under the coarse exterior which covers them, a secret fire which acts unknown to the reader, never would a sane man tolerate a presentation, on the one side, of vice changed into virtue, and on the other, virtue changed into vice, and the gods operating this strange metamorphosis against all the laws of natural justice. He would throw aside the book with disgust, or, agreeing with the judicious reflection of an ancient Greek writer, exclaim with him 3:

If Homer had merely thought with respect to the gods what he said, he would have been an impious, sacrilegious man, a veritable Salmoneus, a second Tantalus; but let us guard against doing him this wrong, or taking for guides those who, misunderstanding

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the allegorical genius of this great poet, and hesitating before the outer court of his mysterious poetry, have never succeeded in understanding the sublime philosophy which is enclosed therein.

You are not, Messieurs, of those designated by Heraclides in the words I have just quoted. Members of these celebrated Academies where Homer and Sophocles have found so many admirers, defenders, and illustrious disciples, you can easily admit that I see in these great men more than ordinary poets, that I place their glory elsewhere than in their talent, and that I say, particularly of Homer, that his most just claims to immortality are less in the form than in the essence of his poetry, because a form, however admirable it may be, passes and yields to time which destroys it, whereas the essence or the spirit which animates it, immutable as the Divinity from which it emanates by inspiration, resists all vicissitudes and seems to increase in vigour and éclat, in proportion as the centuries passing away reveal its force and serve as evidence of its celestial origin. I flatter myself that my sentiments in this regard are not foreign to yours and that the successors of Corneille, Racine, and Boileau hear with pleasure these eulogies given to the creator of epopœia, to the founders of dramatic art, and agree with me in regarding them as particular organs of the Divinity, the instruments chosen for the instruction and civilization of men.

If you deign, Messieurs, to follow the development of my ideas with as much attention as indulgence, you already know that what I call the essence or spirit of poetry, and which, following upon the steps of the founder of the Academy and of the regenerator of the sciences of Europe, I distinguish from its form, is no other thing than the allegorical genius, immediate production of the inspiration; you also understand that I mean by inspiration, the infusion of this same genius into the soul which, having power only

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in the intellectual nature, is manifested in action by passing into the elementary nature by means of the inner labour of the poet who invests it with a sentient form according to his talent; you perceive finally, how, following this simple theory, I explain the words of Plato, and how I conceive that the inspired poet transmits to men the ideas of the gods.

I have no need I think of telling you that I make an enormous difference between this divine inspiration which exalts the soul and fills it with a real enthusiasm, and that sort of inner movement or disorder which the vulgar also call inspiration, which in its greatest perfection is only passion excited by the love of glory, united with a habit of verse making, which constitutes the talent, and in its imperfection is only a disordered passion called by Boileau, an ardour for rhyming. These two kinds of inspiration in no wise resemble each other; their effects are as different as their causes, their productions as different as their sources. The one, issuing from the intellectual nature, has its immutability: it is the same in all time, among all peoples, and in the heart of all men who receive it; it alone produces genius: its first manifestation is very rare, but its second manifestation is less so, as I will show later on. The other inspiration, inherent in sentient nature, born of passion, varies with the whim of men and things, and takes on the hue of the customs and the times; it can bring forth talent or at least modify it, and when it is seconded by a great facility, can go to the extent of feigning genius but never farther: its real domain is the mind. Its possession is not very rare even in its perfection. One can sometimes find it united with the true inspiration, first as in Homer, or second as in Vergil; and then the form which it unceasingly works over, joining its sentient beauties to the intellectual beauties of genius, creates the monuments of science.

It may be that the development which I have just given of my ideas on the essence of poetry will appear new, although I must acknowledge that in reality they are not

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[paragraph continues] I am addressing men who are too enlightened to ignore what the ancients have said in this respect. Heraclides, whom I have already cited, is not the only one who has given this impression. Strabo assures positively that ancient poetry was only the language of allegory 1, and he refutes Eratosthenes who pretended that the aim of Homer was only to amuse and please. In this he is in accord with Denys of Halicarnassus who avows that the mysteries of nature and the most sublime conceptions of morals have been covered with the veil of allegory. 2 Phurnutus goes farther: he declares that the allegories used by Hesiod and by Homer do not differ from those which other foreign poets have used before them. 3 Damascius said as much of the poems of Orpheus, 4 and Plutarch confirms it in a passage which has been preserved to us by Eusebius. 5

In the first ages of Greece, poetry, consecrated to the service of the altars, left the enclosures of the temples only for the instruction of the people: it was as a sacred language in which the priests, entrusted with presiding at the mysteries of religion, interpreted the will of the gods. The oracles, dogmas, moral precepts, religious and civil laws, teachings of all sorts concerning the labours of the body, the operations of the mind, in fact all that which was regarded as an emanation, an order, or a favour from the Divinity, all was written in verse. To this sacred language was given the name Poetry, that is to say, the Language of the Gods: a symbolic name which accords with it perfectly, since it expressed at the same time its origin and its usage. 6 It was said to have come from Thrace, 7 and the one who had invented it and caused its first accents to be heard was

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called Olen. 1 Now these are again two symbolic names perfectly adapted to the idea that one had of this divine science: it was descended from Thrace, that is to say, from the Ethereal Space; it was Olen who had invented it, that, is to say, the Universal Being. * To understand these three etymologies which can be regarded as the fundamental points of the history of poetry, it is necessary to remember, first, that the Phœnicians, at the epoch when they covered not only Greece but the coasts of the rest of Europe with their colonies, brought there their language, and gave their names to the countries of which they had taken possession; secondly, that these names drawn almost always from objects symbolic of their cult, constituted for these countries a sort of sacred geography, which Greece above all others, was faithful in preserving.  It was thus (for there is nothing

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under the sun which cannot find either its model of its copy) when the Europeans took possession of America and colonized it, and carried to those regions their diverse dialects and covered it with names drawn from the mysteries of Christianity. One ought therefore, when one wishes to understand the ancient names of the countries of Greece, those of their heroic personages, those of the mysterious subjects of their cult, to have recourse to the Phœnician dialect which although lost to us can easily be restored with the aid of Hebrew, Aramaic, Chaldean, Syriac, Arabic, and Coptic.

I do not intend, Messieurs, to fatigue you with proofs of these etymologies which are not in reality the subject of my discourse. I am content to place them on the margin for the satisfaction of the curious. Thus I shall make use of them later, when occasion demands. But to return to Thrace, this country was always considered by the Greeks as the place peculiar to their gods and the centre of their cult; the divine country, par excellence. All the names that it has borne in different dialects and which in the course of time have become concentrated in particular regions, have been synonyms of theirs. Thus, Getæ, Mœsia, Dacia, all signify the country of the gods. * Strabo, in speaking of the Getæ, said that these peoples recognized a sovereign pontiff to whom they gave the title of God, the dignity of which existed still in his time. 1 This sovereign pontiff

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resided upon a mountain that d’Anville believes he has recognized, between Moldavia and Transylvania. The Thracians had also a sovereign pontiff instituted in the same manner as that of the Getæ, and residing likewise upon a sacred mountain. * It was, no doubt, from the heights of these mountains that the divine oracles, the laws and teachings which the great pontiffs had composed in verse, were at first spread throughout Greece; so that it might be said, literally as well as figuratively, that poetry, revered as the language of the gods, production of an Eternal Being, descended from the ethereal abode and was propagated upon earth for the instruction and delight of mortals. It appears to me very certain that the temple of Delphi, erected upon the famous mountain of Parnassus, differed not essentially at first from those of Thrace; and what confirms me in this idea is that, according to an ancient tradition, it was Olen who, coming out from Lycia, that is to say from the light, caused all Greece to recognize the cult of Apollo and Diana; composed the hymns which were chanted at Delos in honour of these two divinities and established the temple of Delphi of which he was the first pontiff. 1 Thus the temple of Delphi rivalled those of Thrace. Its foundation, doubtless due to some innovator priest, was attributed by a poetic metaphor to the divinity which had inspired it. At that time a schism arose and two cults were formed, that of the Thracians consecrated to Bacchus and Ceres, or Dionysus the divine spirit, and Demeter the

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earth-mother *; and that of the Greeks, properly speaking, consecrated to the sun and the moon, adored under the names of Apollo and Diana. It is to this schism that one should ascribe the famous dispute which was raised, it is said, between Bacchus and Apollo concerning the possession of the tripod of Delphi. 1 The poetic fable woven from this subject was made to preserve the remembrance of the moral incident and not of the physical event; for at this remote epoch, when verse only was written, history, ever allegorical, treated only of moral and providential matters, disdaining all physical details deemed little worthy of occupying the memory of men.

However that may be, it appears certain, notwithstanding this schism, that the cult of the Thracians dominated Greece for a long time. The new source of poetry opened at Delphi and on Mount Parnassus, destined in time to become so celebrated, remained at first somewhat unknown. It is worthy of observation that Hesiod, born in the village of Ascra, a short distance from Delphi, makes no mention either of the oracle or of the temple of Apollo. All that he said of this city, which he named Pytho, has reference to the stone which Saturn had swallowed, believing to devour his son. 2 Homer does not mention this Pytho in the Iliad;

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he mentions in the Odyssey an oracle delivered by Apollo upon Parnassus. For a long time, the peoples of Greece, accustomed to receive from the ancient mountains of Thrace both their oracles and their instructions, turned toward that country and neglected the new sacred mount. This is why the most ancient traditions place in Thrace, with the supremacy of cult and sacerdotalism, the cradle of the most famous poets and that of the Muses who had inspired them: Orpheus, Musæus, Thamyris, and Eumolpus were Thracians. Pieria, where the Muses were born, was a mountain of Thrace; and when, at length, it was a question of rendering to the gods a severe and orthodox cult, it was said that it was necessary to imitate the Thracians, or, as one would say in French, thraciser*

Besides it must be observed, that at the epoch when the temple of Delphi was founded,, the new cult, presented to the Greeks under the name of the universal Olen, tended to unite Apollo and Diana, or the sun and the moon, under the same symbolic figure, and to make of it only one and the same object of adoration, under the name of Œtolinos, that is to say, Sun-moon It was proclaimed that the middle of the earth, its paternal and maternal umbilicus, was found placed exactly on the spot where the new sacred city was built, which was called for this mystical reason

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[paragraph continues] Delphi. 1 But it seems that the universality of this Œtolinos was never well understood by the Greeks, who, in their minds, united only with difficulty that which custom and their senses had taught them to separate. Moreover one can well conjecture that, as in all religious schisms, a host of difficulties and contradictory opinions were raised. If I can believe the sacerdotal traditions of India, that I encounter, the greatest difficulty was, not knowing which sex dominated in this mysterious being whose essence was composed of the sun and moon and whose hermaphroditic umbilicus was possessed in Delphi. This insoluble question had more than once divided mankind and stained the earth with blood. But here is not the place to touch upon one of the most important and most singular facts of the history of man. I have already deviated too much from my subject, and I return to it asking pardon of my judges for this necessary digression.


7:1 De Dignit. et Increment. Scient., l. ii., c. 13.

7:2 Ibid., l. ii., c. 1.

7:3 Ibid., l. vi., c. 1.

7:4 Plat., Dial. Ion. Aristotle, who was often opposed to Plato, did not dare to be on this point. He agrees that verse alone does not constitute poetry, and that the History of Herodotus, put into verse, would never be other than history.

7:5 Ibid.

8:1 De Dignit. et Increment. Scient., l. ii., c. 13.

9:1 Leclerc, known by the multitude of his works; l’abbé Bannier, Warburton, etc.

9:2 De Dignit. et Increment. Scient., l. ii., c. 13. Court de Gébelin cites Chancellor Bacon as one of the first defenders of allegory. (Génie allég.)

10:1 Pausanias, l. iii., p. 93.

10:2 Acron, In Epist. Horat., i., 2. Certain authors say that Penelope had conceived this son when Mercury disguised as a goat had forced her virginity. (Lucian, Dialog. Deor., t. i., p. 176.)

10:3 Héraclides, entre les petits mythologues.

13:1 Geogr., l. i.

13:2 Antiq. rom., l. ii.

13:3 In his book entitled Περὶ τῆς τῶν θεῶν φύσεως, ch. 17.

13:4 In his book entitled Περὶ θεῶν καὶ κόσμον, ch. 3. Court de Gébelin cites these works. (Génie allég.)

13:5 Præp. Evang., l. iii., c. 1.

13:6 Court de Gébelin, Génie allég., p. 149.

13:7 Strabo positively assures it. See Bannier, Mythol., ii., p. 252.

14:1 Bailly, Essai sur les Fables, ch. 14. Pausanias, l. ix., p. 302.

14:* Poetry, in Greek ποίησις, derived from the Phœnician ‏פאח‎ (phohe), mouth, voice, language, discourse; and from ‏יש‎ (ish), a superior being, a principle being, figuratively God. This last word, spread throughout Europe, is found with certain change of vowels and of aspirates, very common in the Oriental dialects; in the Etruscan Æs, Æsar, in the Gallic Æs, in the Basque As, and in the Scandinavian Ase; the Copts still say Os, the lord, and the Greeks have preserved it in Αῖ᾽σα, the immutable Being, Destiny, and in ἅζω, I adore, and ἀξιόω, I revere.

Thrace, in Greek θρᾴκη, derived from the Phœnician ‏רקיע‎ (rakiwha), which signifies the ethereal space, or, as one translates the Hebrew word which corresponds to it, the firmament. This word is preceded in the Dorian θρακιᾴ, by the letter θ, th, a kind of article which the Oriental grammarians range among the hémantique letters placed at the beginning of words to modify the sense, or to render it more emphatic.

Olen, in Greek ὤλεν, is derived from the Phœnician ‏עילן‎ (whôlon), and is applied in the greater part of the Oriental dialects to all that which is infinite, eternal, universal, whether in time or space. I ought to mention as an interesting thing and but little known by mythologists, that it is from the word ‏אפ‎ (ab or ap) joined to that of whôlon, that one formed ap-whôlon, Apollon: namely, the Father universal, infinite, eternal. This is why the invention of Poetry is attributed to Olen or to Apollo. It is the same mythological personage represented by the sun. According to an ancient tradition, Olen was native of Lycia, that is to say, of the light; for this is the meaning of the Greek word λύκη.

14:† Strabo has judiciously observed that in Greece all the technical words were foreign. (Voyez Bailly, Essai sur les Fables, ch. 14, p. 136.)

15:* The Getæ, in Greek Γέται, were, according to Ælius Spartianus, and according to the author of le Monde primitif (t. ix., p. 49), the same peoples as the Goths. Their country called Getæ, which should be pronounced Ghœtie, comes from the word Goth, which signifies God in most of the idioms of the north of Europe. The name of the Dacians is only a softening of that of the Thracians in a different dialect.

Mœsia, in Greek Μοίσια, is, in Phœnician, the interpretation of the name given to Thrace. The latter means, as we have seen, ethereal space, and the former signifies divine abode, being composed from the word ‏איש‎ (aïsh), whose rendering I have already given, before which is found placed the letter ‏מ‎ (M), one of the hémantiques, which according to the best grammarians serves to express the proper place, the means, the local manifestation of a thing.

15:1 Voyez Court de Gébelin, Monde primitif, t. ix., p. 49.

16:* This mountain was called Kô-Kajôn, according to d’Anville. This learned geographer has clearly seen that this name was the same as that of Caucasus, a generic name given to all the sacred mountains. It is known that Caucasus was for the Persians, what Mount Merou had been for the Indians and what Mount Parnassus became afterwards for the Greeks, the central place of their cult. The Tibetans have also their sacred mountain distinct from that of the Indians, upon which still resides the God-Priest, or immortal Man, similar to that of the Getæ. (Mém. de l’Acad. des Inscript., t. xxv., p. 45.)

16:1 Bailly, Essai sur les Fables, ch. 14. Conférez avec Hérodote, l. iv.; et Pausanias, l. ix., p. 302, l. x., p. 320.

17:* Dionysus, in Greek Διονύσος, comes from the word Διός, irregular genitive of Ζεύς, the living God, and of Νόος, mind or understanding. The Phœnician roots of these words are ‏אש‎, ‏יש‎, or ‏איש‎ (ash, ish, or aïsh), Unique Being, and ‏נו‎ (nô) the motive principle, the movement. These two roots, contracted, form the word Nôos, which signifies literally the principle of being, and figuratively, the understanding.

Demeter, in Greek Δημήτερ, comes from the ancient Greek Δημ, the earth, united to the word μήτερ, mother. The Phœnician roots are ‏דם‎ (dam) and ‏מוט‎ (môt), the former expressing all that which is formed by aggregation of similar parts; and the latter, all that which varies the form and gives it generative movement.

17:1 Bailly, Essai sur les Fables, ch. 15. Court de Gébelin expressly says, that the sacred mountain of Thrace was consecrated to Bacchus. Monde prim., t. ix., p. 49. Now, it is generally known that Parnassus of the Greeks was consecrated to Apollo.

17:2 Theog., V. 500.

18:* The Greek word Θρᾴκη, Thrace, in passing into the Ionian dialect Θρῄξ, has furnished the following expressions: θρῆσκος, a devotee, θρησκεία, devotion, θρησκηύω, I adore with devotion. These words, diverted from their real sense and used ironically after the cult of Thrace had yielded to that of Delphi, were applied to ideas of superstition and even of fanaticism. The point of considering the Thracians as schismatics was even reached, and the word ἐθελοθρησκεία composed to express a heresy, a cult particular to those who practised it, and separated from orthodoxy.

18:† Œtolinos is composed, by contraction, of two words which appear to belong to one of the Thracian dialects. Œto-Kyros signifies the ruling sun, among the Scythians, according to Herodotus (l. iv., 59). Helena signified the moon, among the Dorian. It is from this last word, deprived of its article he, that the Latins have made Luna.

19:1 Court de Gébelin, Monde primit., t. viii., p. 190. Pausanias, l. x. Conférez avec Æschyl. In Choephori, v. 1036; Eurip., In Orest., v. 1330; Plat., De Rep., l. iv., etc.

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