The Creation of Heaven and Earth: Re-Interpretation of Genesis I in the Context of Judaism, Ancient Philosophy, Christianity, and Modern Physics

By George H. Van Kooten | Go to book overview

GOD THE CREATOR,
GOD THE CREATION: NUMENIUS'
INTERPRETATION OF Genesis I:2 (FRG 30)

ROBBERT M. VAN DEN BERG


1. Introduction

At the head of the harbour there stands an olive tree with spreading leaves, and near it is a misty and pleasant cave sacred to the nymphs called naiads}

When in Homer's Odyssey the hero Odysseus has finally, after many wanderings and hardships, made his way home, he cannot believe his luck. The goddess Athena has to convince him that this really is his beloved Ithaca by pointing out some of its most prominent features, including a cave dedicated to water nymphs, the so-called Naiads. The passage is a wonderful gem of Greek poetry, evoking a lively picture of what looks like a pleasant refuge from the burning Greek summer sun. Yet to ancient Platonists it also presented a profound exegetical puzzle. On the assumption that Homer was a great sage, they set out to discover the hidden wisdom embedded in these and the subsequent verses.

One such allegorical interpretation was composed by Porphyry (234 – c. 304 AD), one of the big names in the history of Neoplatonism.2 Not only was he one of the most important students of its founder, Plotinus, whose work he edited, but he was also a major philosopher in his own right, whose work on Aristotle was to exercise a profound influence well into the Middle Ages. The pivotal idea around which his interpretation of Homer's description of the cave of the nymphs hinges is that the cave is a symbol of the cosmos (see also Van Kooten, this volume, §2.6.7) and that Homer was thus engaged in a piece of cosmology.

1 Homer, Odyssey 13.102−104; transl. from Seminar Classics 609, State University of
New York at Buffalo, Porphyry: The Cave of the Nymphs in the Odyssey (Arethusa Mono-
graphs 1), Buffalo 1969, 3.

2 Edited with an English translation by Seminar Classics, Porphyry: The Cave; for the
same edition with French translation, see G. Lardreau and Y. Le Lay, Porphyre: L'anlre des
nymphes dans I'Odyssee
, Lagrasse 1989.

-109-

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