Connecting the End to the Beginning

While I have never posted excerpts from a book before, I would like to do so in this post. The excerpts were of interest to me because this weekend I had been discussing the possibility of having a synthesis with which to understand Dante's Divine Comedy. Georg Lukács came up, who forwarded in The Theory of the Novel that the work may be seen as an epic consisting of various ballads of individual fates. I am inspired by his holistic view of the work, not least because of the Aristotelian approach that runs throughout: of beginning with something that is near before going to what is far; starting with the easier before progressing to the difficult. One may see the books as breaks but also as the promise of integration that is implied by the unification that is already the 'collection into a work': the reader may unify the lessons of the ballads in the horizon of their own lived life. One of the many complexities of Divine Comedy is the inclusion of so many philosophies, natural and otherwise - even Arabic thought makes it into heaven, albeit through their interpreters. But a thought influence that might not have occurred to me (not being an expert and therefore not well read in this area) had I not been reading Jean-Pierre Vernant at this same time may include Pythagoreanism and ancient Greek eschatological mythology.
I have chosen three excerpts where he writes about these themes, from "Aspects mythiques de la mémoire et du temps" from Mythe et pensée chez les Grecs, Paris: Éditions la Découverte, 1988. They are my translations - and unless I am inspired to rework them tomorrow and update this post, they have not been slaved over or even edited and are therefore lacking.




At no time does the reaching back through time make us depart from actual reality. In distancing us from the present it is only in relation to the visible world that we are distanced; we exit from our human universe, to discover behind it other regions of being, other cosmic levels, normally inaccessible: what is below, the infernal world and all that peoples it, beneath the world of the Olympic gods. The “past” is a constituent part of the cosmos; the explorer is to discover that which conceals itself in the depths of the being. The History that is sung by Mnemosyne is a deciphering of the invisible, a geography of the supernatural.
What then is the function of the memory? It does not reconstruct time; it does not abolish it either. In collapsing the barrier that separates the present from the past, it makes a bridge between the world of the living and the beyond which returns all that had left the light of the sun. It realizes for the past an “evocation” comparable to that which the Homeric ritual of the ἔκκλησις carries out for the dead: the appeal of the living and the coming of day, for a brief moment, of a defeat in rising above the infernal world; comparable also to the voyage mimicked in certain oracular consultations: the descent of one who is alive into the land of the dead to learn – to see – that which he wishes to know. The privilege that Mnemosyne grants to the aiodos is that of contact with the other world, the possibility to freely enter and return from it. The past appears as a dimension of the beyond. pp.116



In the context of these eschatological myths Mnemosyne is transformed. She is no longer she who sings the primordial past and the genesis of the cosmos. The power on which the destiny of souls after death depends is from here on connected to the mythical history of individuals, to avatars and their successive incarnations. At the same time it is no longer the secret of origins that she brings to mortal creatures but the means by which to reach the end of time, to bring a termination to the cycle of generations. pp.118

In Pythagoreanism, anamnesis plainly realizes that which in Hesiod is only outlined: an initiation into a new state, a radical transformation of temporal experience. In fleeting and elusive time, made up of an indefinite succession of cycles beginning ever anew, the recollection of previous lives finally presents its end, its τέλος. It substitutes for it a time reconquered in its totality, a cycle entirely completed and finished. In this way it clarifies the enigmatic formula of the physician Alcmaeon of Croton, associated with the Pythagoreans: “Men die because they are incapable of connecting the end to the beginning.” In permitting the end to reconnect with the beginning, the exercise of memory makes itself the conquest of salvation, deliverance with respect to becoming and death. On the other hand, Oblivion is intimately connected to human temporality, the time of the mortal condition of which the flux “that never ends” is synonymous with “inexorable necessity”. He relates how the Pythagorean Paron, hearing recited at Olympus a eulogy to Time “in which we learn and in which we remember” asks whether the opposite isn’t true in time that is made by oblivion and proclaims time the king of ignorance. pp.126
If you do not consider this translation a disaster (I find Vernant hard to read in French to begin with and I think it would take me a long time to smooth out what I've 'translated' here) there is another section from a different book by Vernant about myth and philology that perhaps I could post in the next few days. 



Magazine: Mairie Claire Maison. Brush: Ewansim tape at DevientART.

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