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

§ VI

The Greeks and the Romans, as guilty of ingratitude as of injustice, have styled Asia barbarous, without thinking that they thus outraged their Mother, the one from whom both had their origin and their first instructions. Europe, more impartial today, begins to feel as she should toward this ancient and noble country, and rendering to her venerable scars a filial respect, does not judge her according to her present weakness, but according to the vigour that she possessed in the age of her strength, and of which her magnificent productions still bear the imprint. A philosophical observer, academician of Calcutta, turning an investigating eye upon that part of the terrestrial continent, has recognized there five principal nations, among which that of the Indians holds the first rank; the others are those of the Chinese, Tartars, Persians, and Arabs. 1 According to this able writer, primitive India should be considered as a sort of luminous focus which, concentrating at a very remote epoch the learning acquired by an earlier people, has reflected it, and has dispersed the rays upon the neighbouring nations. 2 She has been the source of Egyptian, Greek, and Latin theogony; she has furnished the philosophical dogmas with which the first poets of Thrace and Ionia have adorned the beauties of Eumolpœia and Epopœia; it is she who has polished the Persians, Chaldeans, Arabs, and Ethiopians; and who by her numerous colonies has entertained relations

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with the Chinese, Japanese, Scandinavians, Celts, Etruscans, and even with the Peruvians of the other hemisphere. 1

If one listens to the discourse of those who have been much inclined to study the savant language of the Indians, Sanskrit, he will be persuaded that it is the most perfect language that man has ever spoken. Nothing, according to them, can surpass its riches, its fertility, its admirable structure; it is the source of the most poetic conceptions and the mother of all the dialects which are in use from the Persian Gulf to the waters of China. 2 It is certain that if anything can prove to the eyes of savants the maternal rights that this tongue claims over all the others, it is the astonishing variety of its poetry: what other peoples possess in detail, it possesses in toto. It is there that Eumolpœia, Epopœia, and Dramatic Art shine with native éclat: it is there that poetry divine and rational, poetry allegorical and passionate, poetry stirring and even romantic, find their cradle. There, all forms are admitted, all kinds of verse received. The Vedas, pre-eminently sacred books, are, like the Koran of Mohammed, written in cadenced prose 3 The Pouranas, which contain the theosophy and philosophy of the Brahmans, their system concerning Nature, their ideas upon morals and upon natural philosophy, are composed in philosophical verse not rhymed; they are attributed to Vyasa, the Orpheus of the Indians. Valmiki, who is their Homer, has displayed in the Ramayana an epopœia magnificent and sublime to the highest degree; the dramas, which they call Nataks, are, according to their style, rhymed and not rhymed: Bheret is considered as their inventor; Kalidasa as their perfecter. 4 The other kinds of poetry are all

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rhymed; their number is immense; their variety infinite. Nothing equals the industry and delicacy of the Indian rhymers in this style. The. Arabs all skilful as they were, the Oscar troubadours whose rhyme was their sole merit, have never approached their models. 1 Thus, not only does one find among the Indians the measured verse of the Greeks and Romans, not only does one see there rhythms unknown to these two peoples, but one recognizes also there our rhyme with combinations of which we have no idea.

I ought to make an important observation here: it is, that whereas India, mistress of Asia, held the sceptre of the earth, she still recognized only the eumolpœia of the Vedas and the Pouranas, only the epopœia of Maha-Bharata and the Ramayana; her poetry was the language of the gods and she gave herself the name of Ponya-Rhoumi, Land of Virtues. It was only when a long prosperity had enervated her, that the love for novelty, the caprice of fashion and perhaps, as it happened in Greece, the deviation of the theatre, caused her to seek for beauties foreign to veritable poetry. It is not a rare thing to pass the point of perfection when one has attained it. The astonishing flexibility of Sanskrit, the abundance of its final consonants opens a double means for corruption. Poets multiplied words believing to multiply ideas; they doubled rhymes; they tripled them in the same verse believing to increase proportionably its harmony. Their imagination bending before an inspiring genius became vagabond; they thought to rise to the sublime, and fell into the bombastic. At last, knowing no longer how to give emphasis and importance to their extravagant thoughts, they created words of such length that, in order to contain them, it was necessary to forge verses of four cæsuras of nineteen syllables each. 2

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It was, therefore, at the epoch of the decadence of the Indian Empire, that rhyme usurped poetry. It would be difficult today to say whether it was an innovation or a simple renovation. However it may be, it is probable that it passed rapidly from the ruling nation to subject nations where it was diversely welcomed according to the language and particular mind of each people.

If one can believe the annals of the Indians, China was one of their colonies for a long time schismatic and rebellious. 1 If one can lend faith to the most ancient tradition of the Chinese, they form from time immemorial a body of autochthonous people. 2 The discussion of this historic difficulty would be out of place here. Suffice it to say, that the Chinese having commenced by having rhymed verses, and preserving by character and by religion, with an inviolable respect, the ancient usages, have never had but a mediocre poetry, absolutely foreign to epopœia. 3 Their principal sacred books, called Kings, are composed of symbolic or hieroglyphic characters, forming by groups sorts of tableaux, of profound and often sublime conception, but bereft of what we would call eloquence of language. These are mute images, incommunicable by means of the voice, and which the reader must consider with the eyes and meditate long upon in order to comprehend them.

The Tartars who reign today in China and who are distinguished from the others by the epithet of Manchus, although possessors of a formed tongue whose richness

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certain authors praise, 1 have not any kind of poetry as I have already remarked. 2 The other Tartars were hardly more advanced before being placed by their conquests within reach of the learning of the vanquished people. The Turks had no alphabetical characters. The Huns were ignorant even of its existence. The proud vanquisher of Asia, Genghis Khan did not find, according to the best historians, a single man among the Mongolians capable of writing his despatches. The alphabet of fourteen letters that the Uïgurian Tartars possess, appears to have been given them by the ancient Persians, 3 from whom they also received the little that they knew of poetry.

These Persians, today imitators of the Arabs, were in very remote times disciples of the Indians. Their sacred tongue then called Zend, in which are written the fragments that remain to us of Zoroaster, was a dialect of Sanskrit. 4 These fragments that we owe to the indefatigable zeal of Anquetil Duperron, appear to be written, as the Vedas, or as all the sacred books of India, in cadenced prose. After the Zend-Avesta, the most famous book among the Parsees is the Boun-Dehesh, written in Pehlevi, and containing the cosmogony of Zoroaster. Pehlevi, which is derived from Chaldaic Nabatæan, indicates a translation, 5 and testifies that Persia had already passed from under the dominion of India to that of Assyria. But when, thanks to the conquests of Cyrus, Persia had become free and mistress of Asia, Pehlevi, which recalled its ancient servitude, was banished from the court by Bahman-Espandiar, whom we

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call Artaxerxes Longimanus. 1 The Parsee replaced it; this last dialect, modified by Greek under the successors of Alexander, mixed with many Tartar words under the Parthian kings, polished by the Sassanidæ, usurped at last by the Arabs and subjected to the intolerant influence of Islamism, had no longer its own character: it has taken, in the modern Persian, all the movements of the Arabic, notwithstanding its slight analogy with it 2; following its example, it has concentrated all the beauties of poetry in rhyme and since then it has had neither Eumolpœia nor Epopœia.

As to the Arab, no one is ignorant of the degree to which he is a slave to rhyme. Already, by a sufficiently happy conjecture, a French writer had made the first use of rhyme in France coincide with the irruption of the Moors into Europe at the beginning of the eighth century. 3 He has said that Provence had been the door by which this novelty was introduced into France. However difficult it may appear of proving rigorously this assertion, lacking monuments, it cannot, however, be denied that it may be very probable, above all considering what influence the Arabs exercised upon the sciences and arts in the south of France after they had penetrated through Spain. Now, there is no country on earth where the poetry that I have called romantic has been cultivated with more constancy and success than in Arabia; rhyme, if she has received it from India, was naturalized there by long usage, in such a way as to appear to have had birth there. If it must be said, the Arab tongue seems more apt at receiving it than the Sanskrit. Rhyme seems more requisite to poetry there, on account of the great quantity and inflexibility of the monosyllables, which joining together only with much difficulty to form the numerous and rhythmic combinations,

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had need of its assistance to soften their harshness and to supply the harmony which they lacked.

Nevertheless, whatever may be the pretension of Arabia to the invention of rhyme, and even to that of romantic poetry, one cannot be prevented, when one possesses without prejudice and to a certain extent the distinguishing character of the Asiatic languages, from seeing that there are proofs in the Arabic itself which give evidence in favour of India. Such is, for example, the word Diwan1 by which the Arabs designate the collection of their ancient poetries. 2 This word, which is attached to the Sanskrit expression Dewa or Diwa, designates all that is divine, celestial; all that emanates from the Universal Intelligence 3: it is the poetry of the Greeks, the language of the gods, or the voice of the Universal Being of the Egyptians and the Phœnicians.

However, the Arabic Diwan—that is to say, the poetic collection of that nation, goes back to most ancient times. One finds in it verses attributed to the first Hebrew patriarchs and even to Adam 4; for since the introduction of Islamism, the cosmogony of Moses has become that of the Mussulmans, as it has been ours since the establishment of Christianity. It is there, in this diwan, that the most authentic traditions are preserved: they are all in verse and resemble greatly, as to form and doubtless as to substance, that which the monk of St. André has transmitted to us through the court of Charlemagne. It is the same chivalrous spirit and the same romantic fictions. The

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[paragraph continues] Persian poet Firdausi appears to have followed similar traditions concerning the ancient kings of Iran, in his famous poem entitled Shah-Namah1 The wonders which reign in these traditions have been transmitted no doubt by the Arabs, with the artifice of rhyme: both have the same spirit. The protecting fairies of the knights, the giant persecutors of ladies, the enchanters, the magic, and all those illusions are the fruits of that brilliant and dreamy imagination which characterizes the modern Orientals. We have enthusiastically enjoyed them in the depths of the barbarity where we were plunged; we have allowed ourselves to be drawn by the charms of rhyme, like children in the cradle, whom their nurses put to sleep by the monotonous sound of a lullaby. Escaped from that state of languor, and struck at last with a gleam of real intelligence, we have compared Greece and Arabia, the songs of epopœia and those of the ballads; we have blushed at our choice; we have wished to change it; but owing to the captivating form always more or less the substance, we have only succeeded in making mixtures more or less happy, according to the secondary mode that we follow.

Rhyme, brought into Europe by the Arabs more than a thousand years ago, spread by degrees among all nations, in such a way that when one wishes to examine its origin with accuracy, one no longer knows whether it is indigenous there or exotic. One finds on all sides only rhymed verses. The Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, French, Germans of all dialects, Hollanders, Danes, Swedes and Norwegians, all rhyme. 2 The modern Greeks themselves have forgotten their ancient rhythm in order to assume our style. 3 If

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anything could, however, make one doubt that rhyme may be natural to Europe, it is that ancient Scandinavian, in which are written the precious fragments which have come down to us concerning the mythological cult of the Celts, our ancestors, does not rhyme; also it rises often to the sublimity of Eumolpœia. 1 This observation, which makes us reject Arabia, will take us back to India, if we consider that there is plausible presumption in believing that the Phœnicians and the Egyptians who had so much intercourse with the Arabs, did not rhyme, since the sacred book of the Hebrews, the Sepher, that we call the Bible, and which appears to have issued from the Egyptian sanctuaries, is written in cadenced rhyme, as the Zend-Avesta of the Parsees and the Vedas of the Indians. 2

The outline that I have just sketched confirms, Messieurs, what I have wished to prove to you and which is the subject of this discourse, the distinction that should be made between the essence and the form of poetry, and the reciprocal influence that should be recognized between these two parts of the science. You have seen that wherever rhyme has dominated exclusively, as in Asia among the

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[paragraph continues] Chinese, Arabians, Persians; as in Europe among all the modern peoples, it has excluded epopœia and has replaced allegorical genius by the spirit of romantic fictions; you have seen that wherever eumolpique poetry has wished to appear, whether moral or rational, theosophical or philosophical, it has been obliged to have recourse to a particular prose, when the form of poetry has resisted it, as has happened in China for the Kings, in Persia for the Zend-Avesta, in Arabia for the Koran; you have seen that wherever poetry has been preserved purely rhythmical, as in Greece and with the Romans, it has admitted eumolpœia and epopœia without mixture; and finally, that wherever the two forms meet each other with all their modifications, as in India, it gives way in turn to all the different kinds, intellectual and rational, epic, dramatic, and romantic.

Now, what Hindustan was for Asia, France should be for Europe. The French tongue, as the Sanskrit, should tend towards universality; it should be enriched with all the learning acquired in the past centuries, so as to transmit it to future generations. Destined to float upon the débris of a hundred different dialects, it ought to be able to save from the shipwreck of time all their beauties and all their remarkable productions. Nevertheless, how will it be done, if its poetic forms are not open to the spirit of all the poetries, if its movement, arrested by obstacles cannot equal that of the tongues which have preceded it in the same career? By what means, I ask you, will it succeed to the universal dominion of Sanskrit, if, dragging always after it the frivolous jingling of Arabic sounds, it cannot even succeed to the partial domination of Greek or Latin? Must it be necessary then that it betray its high destinies, and that the providential decree which founds the European empire, exempt it from the glory which it promises to the French name?

I have told you, Messieurs, in beginning this discourse, that it was in the interest of science alone that I entered

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this career: it is assuredly not by my poor poetic talent that I have aspired to the honour of occupying your attention; but by a generous instinct, which, making me ignore many of the considerations which might have arrested me, has persuaded me that I could be useful. I have dared to conceive the possibility of composing, in French, eumolpique verse, which might neither be measured by musical rhythm foreign to our tongue, nor enchained by rhyme opposed to all intellectual and rational movement, and which however might have neither the harshness, nor the discord of that which has been called, up to this time, blank verse.

Many French writers have tried to make verse deprived of rhyme. Some have sought to imitate the measures of the ancients, others have satisfied themselves with copying certain moderns who do not rhyme. Each of them has misunderstood the essential character of his tongue. Vossius alone appears to have foreseen the principles without developing them, when he has said that French verse might be considered as having only one foot. 1 This is exactly true in examining rhythm only in itself, and giving to each hemistich the name of time: but if one considers this one foot, whether hexameter or pentameter, as formed of two times equal or unequal, it is perceived that it participates, through its final, in two natures: the one strong and forceful, that we name masculine; the other soft and languid, that we call feminine. Therefore, French verse having hut one rhythmic foot, differs, however, in the style of this foot and can be considered in two relations. Let us take for example the hexameter verse. The rhythmic foot which constitutes it is composed of two equal times distinguished by the cæsura, the last of which is masculine or feminine: Masculine, as in:

Rome, l’unique objet de mon ressentiment!
Rome, à qui vient ton bras d’immoler mon amant!

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[paragraph continues] Feminine, as in:

Rome qui t’a vu naître et que ton cœur adore!
Rome enfin que je hais parce qu’elle t’honore!

In rhymed verses, such as these I have just cited, two feet of the same kind are obliged to follow one another on account of the rhyme which links them; they then form but one whole and, proceeding abreast without being separated, they injure by their forced mass the rapidity of expression and flight of thought. If a third foot of the same kind occur with the other two feet, rhyming together, it would have to rhyme with them to prevent an insupportable discordance, which is not tolerated; a fourth or a fifth foot would submit to the same law, so that, if the poet wished to fill his piece with masculine verses alone, it would be necessary that he should make them proceed upon a single rhyme, as the Arabs do today and as our early troubadours did, following their example. The French poet can vary his rhyme only by varying the style of his verses and by mingling alternately together the masculine and feminine finals.

As these two kinds of finals are dissimilar without being opposed, they may be brought together without the need of rhyming; their meeting, far from being disagreeable is, on the contrary, only pleasing; two finals of the same kind, whether masculine or feminine, can never clash without causing the same sound—chat is, without rhyming; but it is not thus with the finals of different kinds, since the rhyme is impossible in this case. So that, to make what I call eumolpique verses, it suffices to avoid the meeting of finals of the same kind, whose impact necessitates the rhyme, by making one kind succeed another continually, and opposing alternately the masculine and feminine, the mingling of which is irrelevant to eumolpœia. Here is all the mechanism of my verses: they are fluent as to form; as to the essence which is expedient for them—that is another thing: for it is rarely encountered.

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Those who have made blank verse in French have spoken justly of it with the greatest contempt; these verses, miserable as to substance, without poetic fire, written as the flattest prose, lacking movement and grace, had, furthermore, the insupportable fault of not recognizing the genius of the French tongue, by making finals of the same kind clash constantly, and by not distinguishing that which is called rhyme from that which repels it.

Now that I have made as clear as possible my motives and my means, there remains only, Messieurs, for me to submit to your judgment the translation that I have made, in eumolpique verse, of the piece of Greek poetry which comprises the doctrine of Pythagoras in seventy-one lines called, par excellence, Golden Verses. This piece, venerable by its antiquity and by the celebrated philosopher whose name it bears, belonging to eumolpœia, without any mixture of passion, is sufficiently known to savants so that I need not speak about what concerns its particular merit. This would mean, moreover, a matter of some explanations At any rate, I believe it advisable before passing to this final subject, to give you certain examples of the use of my verses as applied to epopœia, so that you may judge, since they are in hands as incapable as mine, what they might become when used by men of superior genius and talent. I will choose, for this purpose, the exposition and invocation of the principal epic poems of Europe, in order to have a fixed subject for comparison. I will translate line by line, and will imitate, as well as is possible for me, the movement and harmony of the poet that I may have before me. This labour, which I hope will not be without some interest for the illustrious academicians whom I am addressing, will furnish me the occasion of showing by certain characteristic traits the genius of the language and poetry of the different modern peoples of Europe; and I will terminate thus the outline that I have sketched touching the poetic conditions of the principal nations of the earth.


75:1 William Jones, Asiatic Researches, vol. i.

75:2 Ibid., vol. i., p. 425.

76:1 William Jones, Asiatic Researches, vol. i., p. 430.

76:2 Wilkin’s Notes on the Hitopadesa, p. 249. Halled’s Grammar, in the preface. The same, Code of the Gentoo-Laws. Asiat. Research., vol. i., p. 423.

76:3 Asiat. Research., vol. i., p. 346. Also in same work, vol. i., p. 430.

76:4 W. Jones has put into English a Natak entitled Sakuntala or The Fatal Ring, of which the French translation has been made by Brugnières. Paris, 1803, chez Treuttel et Würtz.

77:1 See Asiat. Research., vol. iii., p. 42, 47, 86, 185, etc.

77:2 Asiat. Research., vol. i., p. 279, 357 et 360.

78:1 Institut. of Hindus-Laws. W. Jones, Works, t. iii., p. 51. Asiat. Research., vol. ii., p. 368.

78:2 Hist. génér. de la Chine, t. i., p. 19. Mém. concern. les Chinois, t. i., p. 9, 104, 160. Chou-King. Ch. Yu-Kong, etc., Duhalde, t. i., p. 266. Mém. concern., etc., t. xiii., p. 190.

78:3 The She-King, which contains the most ancient poetry of the Chinese, is only a collection of odes and songs, of sylves, upon different historical and moral subjects. (Mém. concer. les Chinois, t. i., p. 51, et t. ii., p. 80.) Besides, the Chinese had known rhyme for more than four thousand years. (Ibid., t. viii., p. 133-185.)

79:1 Le P. Parennin says that the language of the Manchus has an enormous quantity of words which express, in the most concise and most picturesque manner, what ordinary languages can do only by aid of numerous epithets or periphrases. (Duhalde, in-fol., t. iv., p. 65.)

79:2 Ci-dessus, p. 31.

79:3 Voyez la traduction française des Rech. asiatiq., t. ii., p. 49, notes a et b.

79:4 Voyez ce que dit de Zend, Anquetil Duperron, et l’exemple qu’il donne de cette ancienne langue. Zend-Avesta, t. i.

79:5 D’Herbelot, Bibl. orient., p. 54. Asiat. Research., t. ii., p. 51.

80:1 Anquetil Duperron, Zend-Avesta, t. i.

80:2 Asiat. Research., t. ii., p. 51.

80:3 L’abbé Massieu, Histor. de la Poésie franç., p. 82.

81:1 In Arabic (diwan). ‏דיואן‎

81:2 D’Herbelot, Bibl. orient., au mot DIVAN. Asiat. Research., t. ii., p. 13.

81:3 It must be remarked that the word Diw, which is also Persian, was alike applied in Persia to the Divine Intelligence, before Zoroaster had changed the signification of it by the establishment of a new doctrine, which, replacing the Diws by the Iseds, deprived them of the dominion of Heaven, and represented them as demons of the earth. See Anquetil Duperron, Vendidad-Sadè, p. 133, Boun-Dehesh., p. 355. It is thus that Christianity has changed the sense of the Greek word Δαίμων (Demon), and rendered it synonymous with the devil; whereas it signified in its principle, divine spirit and genius.

81:4 Asiat. Research., t. ii., p. 13.

82:1 Voyez Anquetil Duperron, Zend-Avesta, t. iii., p. 527 et suiv. Voyez aussi un ouvrage allemand de Wahl, sur l’état de la Perse: Pragmatische-Geografische und Statische Schilderung . . . etc. Leipzig, 1795, t. i., p. 198 à 204.

82:2 Voyez plusieurs de leurs chansons rapportées par Laborde, Essai sur la Musique, t. ii., p. 398.

82:3 Laborde, ibid., t. i., p. 425.

83:1 I will give, later on, a strophe from Voluspa, a Scandinavian ode of eumolpique style, very beautiful, and of which I will, perhaps, one day make an entire translation.

83:2 It was said long ago that a great number of rhymed verses were found in the Bible, and Voltaire even has cited a ridiculous example in his Dictionnaire philosophique (art. RIME): but it seems to me that before concerning oneself so much as one still does, whether the Hebraic text of the Sepher is in prose or in verse, whether or not one finds there rhymed verses after the manner of the Arabs, or measured after the manner of the Greeks, it would be well to observe whether one understands this text. The language of Moses has been lost entirely for more than two thousand four hundred years, and unless it be restored with an aptitude, force, and constancy which is nowadays unusual, I doubt whether it will be known exactly what the legislator of the Hebrews has said regarding the principles of the Universe, the origin of the earth, and the birth and vicissitudes of the beings who people it. These subjects are, however, worth the pains if one would reflect upon them; I cannot prevent myself from thinking that it would be more fitting to be occupied with the meaning of the words, than their arrangements by long and short syllables, by regular or alternate rhymes, which is of no importance whatever.

85:1 Vossius, De Poematum cantu et viribus rhythmi; cité par J. J. Rousseau, Dictionnaire de Musique, art. RYTHME.

Next: § VII