Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Plethon's paganism is so blatant that no one truly familiar with his ideas thought to question it -- neither his friends nor his enemies"

The act for which George Gennadios Scholarios has been most negatively portrayed is the burning of George Gemistos Plethon's Book of Laws, a guideline for a new society based upon a revival of pre-Christian Greek religion. When the book finally came into Scholarios' hands, Plethon was dead and Scholarios was, or would soon become, the first Ecumenical Patriarch during the period of Ottoman rule.

Thus begins Christopher Livanos' 2003 essay "The Conflict between Scholarios and Plethon: Religion and Communal Identity in Early Modern Greece" (which comprises chapter 2 of the volume Modern Greek Literature: Critical Essays, edited by Gregory Nagy).

Livanos then proceeds to describe the relationship between these two men, Scholarios and Plethon. As interesting as what Livanos has to say on this matter is, I wish to fast-forward a bit to where Livanos provides a rather detailed account of the burning of Plethon's Book of Laws and also, more generally, of the "reception" of Plethon among his contemporaries. Two things, in particular, are especially notable here. One is Livanos' references to Plethon's followers. While the fact that such followers existed seems impossible to deny, there are nevertheless those who, having been forced to reluctantly concede that Plethon was, in fact, a Pagan, have still attempted to seamlessly transform the failed attempt to deny Plethon's Paganism into an attempt to deny that Plethon's Paganism ever extended beyond Plethon himself -- that he was, as an advocate of Paganism, isolated, unheeded and completely unsuccessful.

The second thing that I find especially noteworthy is Livanos' treatment of the relationship between Plethon and his former student, Cardinal Bessarion. Livanos makes it clear that, at least in his opinion, at least some of Plethon's Christian associates were well aware of his Paganism. In other words, it wasn't just Plethon's "followers" who were aware of his true religious proclivities. This is highly significant when we judge Plethon's "influence", and, in particular, the reception of his Pagan religious sentiments. Evidently it was not only possible for such things as Pagans to exist at the time, but it was even possible for at least some Christians to accept Pagan apostates as friends, and even as people worthy of admiration and praise!
Brilliant and visionary though Plethon was, it is difficult to imagine a world in which his ideas could have been implemented ... none of Plethon's ideas could have been put into effect among the recently conquered Greeks who, in the mid-fifteenth century, were in no position to enact what would have been the most radical social revolution in world history.

Given the political circumstances, Plethon's ideas could hardly have affected Greek society as a whole in the wide-sweeping manner in which he intended, so the social importance of the burning of the Laws must not be exaggerated. This is not to deny the claim of Plethon's admirers that he could have had a tremendous positive influence upon Byzantine society if generations of rulers had taken his advice, but questions of the competence or incompetence of previous despots and emperors were irrelevant at the time Scholarios un-willingly assumed the patriarchate. Most immediately, he was requested by Mehmet II to compose a treatise in defense of the Christian faith against the claims of Islam. The work he produced was one of the greatest successes of his career. At the same time, he was forced to respond to Plethon's Book of Laws, but he dealt with neo-paganism quite a bit less gracefully than he dealt with Islam, but nothing prepared him for the role of statesman in which he suddenly found himslef when he received for the first time a copy of the late Plethon's book.

A more skillful politician could perhaps have found a way to suppress Plethon's book that would not have seemed heavy-handed or tyrannical either to Plethon's followers or to later generations of historians, but any ruler of his age would have agreed with Scholarios' judgement. Everyone who came into contact with the Book of Laws knew that the expected response of the political authorities would be to burn it, but no one wanted to have the book-burning trouble their public image or, perhaps, their conscience. When Scholarios initially received the book from Princess Theodora of the Peloponnese during or shortly after his first patriarchate, he sent it back to her with the advice that she burn it and receive the "wages of her piety". It is unlikely that Scholarios' pious choice of words should be taken at face value, since he knew that the princess' capital was the center of Plethon's support and outright condemnation of him would have political repercussions. The words co uld be either a sarcastic comment or, perhaps, a well-intentioned warning. Theodora's letter to Scholarios does not survive, but circumstances indicate that she was reluctant to burn the book herself and wished to have Scholarios take responsibility. She lived at the center of Plethon's support and must have realized that it would be foolish to earn the animosity of his followers. Had Scholarios been either the intolerant zealot or the jealous rival he is sometimes made out to be, he would have burned the book as soon as he had the chance. It was certainly within his rights.

In 1460 Mistra fell to the Turks [seven years after the fall of Constantinople] and Theodora fled to Constantinople sometime thereafter, bringing the book with her and presenting it to Scholarios, who must have been surprised to find that he had not seen the last of it. Scholarios describes his reaction to the arrive of Theodora and her husband Demetios: "They brought me a double grief, partly on their account ... and partly on account of the book." He as clearly distressed to learn that the book he hoped had been destroyed, or at least make someone else's responsibility, was in his presence once again, this time under circumstances that demanded his immediate action. The unusual situation assured that this time he could take no recourse in those venerable Greek diplomatic ploys of redirecting and losing correspondence. He had no choice but to commit the book to the flames. A more skillful politician might have handled the matter more quietly than Scholarios, but the fact that he did not destroy the book at his first opportunity indicates that he did not act rashly out of personal animosity toward his old rival and did not have a belligerent desire to stamp out liberal thought. In addition, the book was of such an overtly heretical nature that any religious or secular authority anywhere in the Christian world would have condemned it. For several reasons, we cannot agree with Paul Oscar Kristeller when he states:
According to the testimony of several contemporary enemies, which has been accepted by most recent scholars, Plethon ... planned to restore the pagan religion of Greek antiquity. In the preserved fragments of his chief work, the Laws, he speaks at length of the ancient deities and their worship. Yet, the work was destroyed after Plethon's death by his enemy Scholarios, who preserved only those paganizing passages in order to justify his actions, and I suspect that the complete text of the work might have suggested an allegorical and less crude interpretation of the same passages. The part Plethon took in the Council of Florence, his theological opposition to the Union of the Greek and Latin Churches, and, finally, the unqualified admiration shown for Plethon by his pupil Cardinal Bessarion tend to cast some doubt on the supposed paganism of Plethon.
Kristeller deserves the utmost respect, and part of the reason he made the preceding sstatements was the simple fact that the most thorough study of Plethon had not yet been written. No reader of C.M. Woodhouse's George Gemistos Plethon: The Last of the Hellenes can be left unsure that Plethon died a convinced pagan and had possibly been one for decades. A point by point response to Kristeller's arguments against Scholarios' character and in defense of Plethon's Orthodoxy will demonstrate all the more that Woodhouse is correct in his conclusion that Plethon had thoroughly and deliberately renounced Christianity.

First of all, there is no evidence to support the assertion that Scholarios merely kept those paganizing passages which seemed to justify his actions. Plethon's disciples and admirers went about the task of salvaging what they could of the Book of Laws, and what they found is every bit as pagan as what Scholarios had preserved. Furthermore, venomous as Plethon's followers' attacks on Scholarios were, they did no attempt to refute the charge that their mentor was an apostate. The only one who spoke of Plethon's Christian piety was a certain Gregory who delivered one of the eulogies at Plethon's funeral. The most plausible explanation is that Gregory felt the a need to hide his teacher's heterodoxy. Plethon's paganism is so blatant that no one truly familiar with his ideas thought to question it -- neither his friends nor his enemies. One anonymous admirer of Plethon put the following words in the mouth of his late mentor, directed at Schoarios:
Unable to refute or dismantle what was written, if indeed he found anything disagreeable therein, especially concerning Hellenic religion and theology, he acted like those who spoke against Porphyry, Julian, and others. Consumed by envy, and having found an opportunity, he destroyed if by fire as he oozed the venom he had fostered against me.
Here, Plethon is praised in the same terms as Porphyry and Julian, two of antiquitys' most bitter critics of Christianity. The writer uses the ambiguous term "Hellene", which generally means "pagan" in Byzantine Greek Plethon and his followers used the term almost to the exclusion of all others when referring to their own countrymen. Elsewhere in the document quoted above, the author writes of Scholarios that "The best of today's Hellenes hate that man". I will discuss the difficulties which the late Byzantines had in choosing what name to call their own people in more detail when I compare the terminology of Scholarios and Plethon. For now, it will suffice to point out that it is striking that Plethon's anonymous admirer praised him precisely because he shared the religion of Julian and Porphyry. He clearly echoes Plethon's own view that his compatriots ought to share not only the language and intellectual tradition of their ancient ancestors, but their religion as well.

While it is true that Plethon was admired not only by pagans but also by Christians, his paganism was nonetheless apparent when we consider that Bessarion made no mention of faith or specifically Christian virtues in his eulogy. It was not until approximately a hundred years after his death that his admirers began to defend his Orthodoxy. (21) The monk Charitonymous, who spoke at Plethon's funeral, included only one reference to the Bible in a eulogy otherwise filled with incessant references to Pagan antiquity. (22) Woodhouse has argued that, whereas the monk Gregory, another speaker at Plethon's funeral, pereceived the need to hide Plethon's paganism, Charitonymous was probably unaware of it and simply spoke of Plethon as he knew him. (23) The speech Charitonymous penned suggests that he was a rather naive individual. The same could not be said of Cardinal Bessarion, yet Kristeller is correct in asserting that Bessarion greatly respected and praised Plethon. Nevertheless, while Bessarion's praise of Plethon was heartfelt and great, it was by no means complete, as the Cardinal leaves piety out of the list of virtues for which he eulogized his former teacher. He warmly writes to Plethon's sons of their father's erudition and virtue, but he makes no mention of his faith. To do so would have been a farce, as both Bessarion and Plethon's children knew. In eulogizing Plethon, Bessarion was aware that was writing no of a Christian, but of a virtuous pagan:
I have learned that our common father and master has shed every earthly element and departed to heaven, to the place of purity, joining the mystical chorus of Iacchus with the Olympian gods. I too rejoice to have studied with such a man, the wisest that Greece has produced since Plato. So if one were accept the doctrines of the Pythagoreans and Plato about the infinite ascent and descent of souls, I should not hesitate even to add that the soul of Plato, having to obey the irrefragable decrees of Adrasteia and to discharge the obligatory cycle, had come down to earth and assumed the frame and life of Gemistos. So you do not do what is right if you do not rejoice and cheer that you were begotten by him. It would not be right to lament one such as him. That man became a great glory to all of Greece, and he will be a great adornment to her hereafter. His fame will never perish, but his name and his reputation will be passed on to all time with eternal renown.
The passage pushes the language of allegory past its limits. Bessarion knew that he wrote of a man who beleived that pagan language was true not only allegorically, but literally as well. Though the reference to Mount Olympus is not, in itself, unusual coming from a man steeped in the humanism of the Italian Renaissance, we would expect a cardinal to include at least some mention of the Christian afterlife; but there is none. As a Christian humanist, Bessarion studied and admired the virtuous pagans, and in Plethon he had the opportunity to meet one.

Friday, October 10, 2014

ARKONA!

For some reason, I have not really appreciated Arkona in the past. But just now I have found that, quite suddenly, my eyes, and my ears, have been opened.




Sunday, October 5, 2014

TYR Volume 4

The fourth volume of TYR is now available from Ultra Press:
http://www.radicaltraditionalist.com/


Fact Checking Reza Haslan on Human Rights in Muslim Majority Countries (Other Than Iran and Saudi Arabia)

Reza Aslan, in a recent CNN interview, was at great pains to convince the world that there is something not only illogical and ridiculous about the idea that human rights violations are widespread in the Muslim world, but that anyone who says so is a bigot. According to Aslan, serious human rights violations are limited to Iran and Saudi Arabia, whereas in the rest of the Muslim world there is freedom and equality.

Go here to see what Aslan says in his own words (that link has both the original unedited video and the full transcript). Aslan was responding to what Bill Maher had said in an earlier interview, and that interview (again, the full undedited video along with full transcript) is here. The money-quote from Bill Maher is, "[Islam is] the only religion that acts like the Mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book."

Aslan claims that the "bigoted" negative view of Islam voiced by Bill Maher is dramatically disproven by the specific cases of Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Turkey. One has to wonder what the fuck Aslan was smoking when he said this. Indonesia is a country where over 70% of the population is in favor of Sharia law, Malaysia is the country that kidnapped Hamza Kashgari and extradited him back to Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh has a sinister history of murderous violence against it's Hindu and Buddhist minorities, and Turkey, while once something of a paragon of genuine "moderate" Islam, is now home to one of the most popular and politically powerful fundamentalist mass movements in the contemporary Islamic world.

Indonesia:
Malaysia:
Bangladesh:
Turkey:

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Emergent Paganism (a brief observation on current events)

Paganism does not proceed according to some plan or theory. Paganism is the natural religion of humanity, and, therefore, anything and everything that humans do in the realm of religion, with the single provision that this activity is engaged in in relative freedom from coercion, is Paganism.

Only two groups of people are qualified to attempt the truly Herculean task of providing any sort of systematic explication, or, more accurately denoted, logos, concerning this thing called Paganism: priests and philosophers. Everyone else is free to do as they please: to pray, practice, invoke, believe, sing, chant, dance, bless, curse, etc, however they see fit, or not, if that is their choice. Those who are uninstructed are also free to speculate and theorize, but their contributions to knowledge are of the same quality as those known as "young earth creationists".

But even if one were to agree with the above, then there is still the question: who are the genuine priests and philosophers of modern Paganism. Or, more to the point: Do such creatures even exist? For my part, I would tend to say, simply, no, they do not. Or at least it seems wisest and most prudent to assume their non-existence as the only defensible default position, and to only abandon this in the face of overwhelming, extraordinary evidence.

Then is there no hope?

On the contrary.

As has always been the case, and as will always be, Gods willling, we are still free to pray, practice, invoke, believe, sing, chant, dance, bless, curse, etc, however we see fit, or not, if that is our choice. And there is one thing, in addition, that we must do, if we wish to understand what we are doing (and it has always been only a small minority who chooses to pursue that desire with any energy, or with any real hope of success): We must study.

Homer. Plato. Vergil. Ovid. Plotinus. Proclus. Cicero. Seneca. Porphyry. Iamblichus. Apuleius. Macrobius. Epictetus. Marcus. Plautus. Lucretius. Celsus. Julian. Horace. Flaccus. Ptolemy. Plutarch.  Statius. Manilius. Herodotus. Xenophon. Fronto. Livy. Thucydides. Aristotle. Gellius. Ammianus. Et cetera. The Gods have preserved these for us. Study them, or keep silent. Better yet: study them and keep silent until many years of study have yielded at least some small measure of genuine understanding.

If we practice and study fervently and piously, then the Gods will reward us greatly. A new Paganism will emerge. A Paganism that is truly our own, while also being truly ancient. A Paganism that is deathless, like the Gods, but also living and ever changing, like the Cosmos in which we live, and of which we are a part.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Top Ten Books Pagans Should Read About Hinduism

Hinduism represents, far and away, the greatest success story in the history of resistance to the spiritual predations of monotheism. Because of this, Hinduism serves not merely as a source of inspiration to modern Pagans, but as our single best source of information about what a living, modern polytheistic religious tradition looks like in full flower.

Because western culture is still so dominated by Christianity, often in ways that are (at least to the unitiated) quite subtle, finding reliable sources of information about Sanaatana Dharma can be quite a challenge. To assist anyone seeking such reliable information, the following list is presented for your critical appraisal. I hope to flesh this out more in the future. For now it's just titles and links.

  1.  Complete Idiots Guide to Hinduism, 2ed
    by Linda Johnsen (idiotsguides.com).

  2. Lost Masters: Sages of Ancient Greece
    by Linda Johnsen (shop.himalayaninstitute.org)

  3. Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas
    by David Kinsley (www.ucpress.edu)

  4.  The Sword and the Flute: Kali and Krishna
    by David Kinsley (www.ucpress.edu)

  5.  Rebirth and Karma
    by Sri Aurobindo (www.lotuspress.com)

  6.  Defense of Hindu Society
    by Sita Ram Goel (www.voiceofdharma.com)

  7.  Glory of the Divine Mother: The Devi Mahatmya
    translated by S. Sankaranarayanan (books.google.com/)

  8.  Kali: Black Goddess of Dakshineswar
    by Elizabeth Harding (books.google.com)

  9.  Bhagavad Gita
    translated by Eknath Easwaran (www.easwaran.org)

  10.  Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightenment by Ramprasad Sen
    translated by Lex Hixon (books.google.com)


 




 




Saturday, August 30, 2014

Vergil's Cosmology and Modern Paganism

[Did someone say, "More Vergil, Please!"??? Here is another old post reborn -- originally from December 13, 2010.]

There is astonishingly little material in the English language on the religious aspects of Vergil's writings, and the Aeneid in particular. This is especially appalling considering the fact that the Aeneid is hands down the single most influential work of literature in all of Western history, and that it is unquestionably a work of religious literature from start to finish. This last fact is well recognized by a few (if completely unsuspected by most); for example noted historian Peter Brown has referred to the Aeneid as "an inexaustible source of precise religious information." (for more on Brown and Vergil, see here.)

The religious vision of Vergil should be (and would be if it were more widely known and understood) immediately familiar and very attractive to the vast majority of modern people who consider themselves "Pagan". First of all, Vergil's Cosmos is inhabited by both Gods and humans, and the relationship between them lies at the core of the story of Aeneas. In particular, communication between Gods and humans appears over and over throughout the Aeneid, in the form of prayer, visions, divination, omens, rituals, dreams, etc.

But the similarities between classical Greco-Roman Vergilian Paganism and the more recent versions of Paganism go much further. Vergil's cosmos is alive, conscious, intelligent and decidedly "magical", and against this cosmic backdrop humans are primarily spiritual beings who undergo repeated earthly incarnations, and in the process, at least potentially, make spiritual progress from lifetime to lifetime, with help and guidance from the Gods if such is sought properly, but primarily under their own power and by their own choice. This is essentially the same conception of reincarnation (or, more precisely, metempsychosis) that was held by both Gerald Gardner and Dion Fortune (for examples), and it is ubiquitous among modern Pagans.

Aeneas embodies not only heroic qualities that clearly separate him from ordinary humans, but also conventional virtues, the first of which is piety, in a way that grounds his character and that emphasizes his humanity (both in the sense of his human-ness and his humane-ness).

The story of the Aeneid is the story of the spiritual quest of a truly virtuous man, and, as such, is not a story of "redemption" in the Christian sense. Aeneas is no "miserable sinner" in desperate need of salvation. This is an important contrast not only with the self-loathing message of the Christian gospel, but, and more subtly, with the Aeneid's only real competitor in the class of epic journeys of self-discovery: Homer's Odyssey.

The intersection of Homer and Vergil (and, concomitantly, of Odysseus and Aeneas) is significant in many ways. For one thing, it is Vergil, not Homer, who supplies us with the most famous Homeric/Odyssian episode of all: that of the Trojan Horse and the Fall of Troy, which are not to be found in either the Iliad or the Odyssey (as every schoolchild should know, but vanishingly few do).

Of far greater importance than the gaps filled in by Vergil is the tremendous contrast between Odysseus and Aeneas in terms of their character. The former is primarily characterized by his daring and cunning, the latter by his virtue and piety. Aeneas certainly possesses those qualities that earn Odysseus the epithet "wily", whereas Homer's hero is, especially at the beginning of the Odyssey, rather deficient in the pietas department.

Odysseus succeeded in acquiring great wealth and fame through violence and deception, only to lose it all by the time we get to the 24th Book of the Odyssey. In the end, Odysseus must expend all of his strength and intelligence just to regain what he already had before he left Ithaca, 20 years previously, in search of ill-gotten gain. In contrast, Aeneas (who, it should not be overlooked, was on the receiving end of Odysseus' great victory) suffers a collective disaster that befalls his people and his polis, but from which he is spared, so that he can be entrusted with not only the safety of the survivors, but the founding of a whole new civilization in far off Hesperia.

One thing that especially distinguishes Aeneas is his extraordinary parentage. Not only is his mother the Goddess Venus Herself, but his father is the remarkable Anchises, the mortal lover of the Goddess of Love. And it is to fulfill his promise to his father, that Aeneas undertakes the great task that stands alongside the founding of Rome as equal in importance: the conquest of Death itself. The following is a very nice redaction of the cosmological vision revealed to Aeneas by Anchises upon the Fields of Elysium. It is taken from Agathe Thornton's The Living Universe: Gods and Men in Virgil's Aeneid.
In the 'Underworld', the spirit of Anchises reveals to his son Aeneas the values and structure of the universe and the value of man's life within it. The following is part of his teaching.

First of all, heaven, earth, sea, and sun and moon are set over against breath or spirit (spiritus) which nourishes them from within; in further explanation, limbs, mass, and mighty body are set over against mind which is spread through the limbs, stirs the mass into action, and mingles with the body. So there are heaven, earth, sea, moon, and sun which form the mighty limbs of the massive cosmic body. These are nourished, pervaded, and set in motion by breath or mind. The whole cosmos or universe is one body alive in every part through the breath and mind that pervade it. This implies that what we should call 'inanimate nature' -- heaven or sky, earth and water -- is alive, because throughout each of them and each part of them is poured out the breath or mind in this universe. Here the cosmos is one, its unity being that of a living organism.

From the mingling of the breath or mind of the cosmos with the body of the cosmos came to be man, beast, bird, and fish. The life-force within them is fiery, and the origin of their seed is heavenly. their bodies, on the other hand, are 'harmful' to them, 'slow them down', 'make them weak', and are doomed to death'. Their bodies and limbs are such, because they are 'earthen'. Man and animals have then within them two contrasted substances: the fiery and heavenly on the one hand, and the earthen on the other. The fiery and heavenly means life and strength, the earthen harm, slowness, weakness, and death. This conception of the nature of man and the animals tells us not only about man, but by implication it also adds a new dimension to our knowledge about the cosmos as a whole. So far we have been told that the whole universe is alive through the indwelling breath or mind. Now we learn that the cosmos is not the same all over, but that its upper portion, the heaven, is fiery and connected with strength, life, and fertility, while its lower portion, the earth, implies all that tends to impeded life and in the end overcomes life by death. This introduces a gradation of values into the world: the cosmos rises from the deadly depths of the earth to the fiery height of heaven which abounds in life.

Man is then a mixture of heaven and earth, and as such is subject to the baneful influences of his earthen parts. From these arise in him fear and desire, grief and joy, and the incapacity to see clearly the breezes which move, of course, in the heaven. This implies a further definition of values in the cosmos. What is of the sky of heaven is fiery, full of life, free of passion, and free of the darkening of mind caused by the fetters of earth; what is of he earth is tied up with death, subject to conflicting emotions, and deprived of vision. If all this is imagined in its full scale, it means that the universe is a structure which from the turbulent evil depths of the earth rise up, with light, tranquility, and purity increasing, to the top of the heavens, where there is nothing but the fiery ether and mind. This gradation in life-force and in moral quality is characteristic both of the One Cosmic God, and of the world of the many living beings which have been born from the One God, namely men, animals, birds, and fish.

The universe is then twofold in nature. On the one hand, it is One all-comprehensive divine being; and the parts of the cosmos, like heaven, earth, sea, are his limbs. But is is also a world full of many beings graded in the quality of their character.
[pp. 35-36]
The above paraphrase of Anchisean cosmology rather over-emphasizes its dualistic nature, and, in particular, exaggerates the "evil" character of all that is earthy/terrestrial. Thornton somewhat compensates for this later on when describing the types of beings that populate the surface of the earth (as opposed to it's nether regions) and "the land in which people live" generally:
The spirits that are, in the most general way in the Aeneid, the life of nature on earth and sea are the Fauns and the Nymphs. According to King Latinus indigenous Fauns and Nymphs inhabited the woods on the site which later became the city of Rome (8.314). The safe harbour in which Aeneas lands in Libya ends in a cave of grotto (antrumm 1.166) below overhanging cliffs: 'Here is [a spring of] water and there are seats of living [i.e. not man-made] rock, the house of nymphs.' 'Nymphs and rivers are closely connected,' as Conington says: Aeneas prays to the nymphs as the 'fountainhead of rivers'. But they also dwell in on the mountain-tops 94.168) and they are often the mothers of great men in mythical times, as of Latinus and Iarbas and others (7.47, 4.198).

Sea-nymphs come to his aid when Aeneas returns from Evander and Etruria ignorant of the danger besetting Ascanius and the Trojans he has left behind in Latium. These nymphs appear to him on his night voyage and warn him of the situation (10.219ff).
[p. 44]
Thornton then proceeds to describe the pantheistic view of the physical universe that pervades Vergil's thinking, although she unnecessarily mangles things by insisting that the conception of the universe as a single "immense living being" is somehow "monotheistic", when it is nothing of the sort. Nevertheless, in acknowledging that Vergil shares with Varro (and Plato and many others) the view that the physical world as a whole is inherently divine, any kind of simplistic world-hating dualism is thereby thoroughly undermined. Thornton then goes on to explain that not only is the Cosmos as a whole divine, and not only is "the land in which people live" also populated by magical creatures who can come to our aid, but in addition the Sea and the Air are themselves Gods (Neptune and Juno, respectively), and the Air, in particular, is the sacred medium through which communication between Gods and humans takes place. So it's not such a bad old world after all!

Another highly significant aspect of Vergilian cosmology that Thornton discusses is the cyclic nature of time: "The concept of time implied here is 'cyclic', and the fact that the ancient time notion is 'cyclic' and not 'linear', as our own time notion tends to be, is well known. Virgil thought of time in the ancient way." [p. 70] A little later on, Thornton synthesizes various elements of Vergilian cosmology as follows, "When we consider the cosmos of the Aeneid as a whole ... [it is] a coherent world of Gods, nature, and men revolving onwards with ever a new slice of it entering into the actuality of existence." [p. 74] Thornton further characterizes the active role of the Gods in affairs of the world, and human affairs in particular, that is to say, "the relationship between the divine and human worlds," in these words: "the wills and actions of the Gods permeate and determine the natural and human world in such a way that each slice of cosmic living is imbued with and characterized by the nature of the divinity acting in it and ruling it."

Many modern Pagans struggle to find a coherent and intellectually satisfying theology that is compatible with their own personal intuitions and experiences of the divine. All too often these attempts are frustrated by a reliance on completely useless sources: either those that are heavily influenced by monotheism (and Christianity in particular), or modern (often supposedly "Pagan") sources that ignore, or even denigrate, the relevant insights of our ancient Pagan ancestors. The simple truth is that well known and readily available ancient Pagan works, such as Vergil's Aeneid, Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods, etc, constitute an inexhaustible source of insights into the Gods and the Cosmos.

further reading: