Greek Myths, Christian Mysteries, and the Tautegorical Symbol

By Halmi, Nicholas | Wordsworth Circle, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Greek Myths, Christian Mysteries, and the Tautegorical Symbol


Halmi, Nicholas, Wordsworth Circle


Anyone who has attended an academic conference will be able to sympathize with the audience of the lecture delivered at the Royal Society of Literature on May 18, 1825. What the members of the society heard that day, a lecture announced and eventually published under the title "On the Prometheus of Aeschylus," not only lasted an hour and twenty-five minutes but never referred to a single line of Aeschylus's play and consisted largely of assertions such as the following, in which the liberal admixture of Greek and Latin terms is representative: "The sum, stated in the terms of philosophic logic, is this: First, what Moses appropriated to the chaos itself: what Moses made passive and a materia subjecta et lucis et tenebrarum [underlying matter of both light and dark], the containing prothemenon (1) [something posited before] of the thesis and antithesis; this the Greek placed anterior to the chaos: the chaos itself being the struggle between the hyperchronia, the ideai pronomoi [ideas prior to law] as the unevolved unproduced prothesis of which idea kai nomos (idea and law), are the thesis and antithesis (I use the word 'produced' in the mathematical sense, as a point elongating itself to a bipolar line)" (Shorter Works and Fragments [1995], 1273). The following day the lecturer himself expressed, in a letter to his nephew, "remorseful Sympathy with the Audience, who could not possibly understand the 10th part--For let its merits be what they may, it was not a thing to read, but to be read by" (Collected Letters [1956-71], 5:461). At the risk of anticlimax I shall reveal that the lecturer was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the occasion of the lecture his election to the Royal Society of Literature. Although membership entailed an obligation to address the society every year, that requirement was evidently waived in Coleridge's case, for he delivered no successor to his inaugural lecture.

It is understandable that someone who had reason to be anxious about his reputation should have wanted to impress a distinguished audience with his erudition. It is also likely, as Anthony Harding has concluded (The Reception of Myth in English Romanticism [1995], 248-50), that Coleridge sought to ingratiate himself with that audience, consisting as it would have of precisely the educated upper class to whom he had sought to address himself in his lay sermons of 1816-17, in the hope of fostering the development of what he called the clerisy, a class of people who would provide intellectual and moral leadership for the nation. Both Coleridge's subject and his hermetic presentation of it were consistent with this broader ideological aim, which he would propound explicitly in On the Constitution of the Church and State (1830). With its complicated syntax, recondite scholarly references, frequent use of un-translated Greek and Latin, and casual assumption of the listeners' equal familiarity with the Bible, Greek mythology, and ancient mystery religions, Coleridge's lecture in effect sought to perform the very function that it attributed to Aeschylus's play, that of conveying a profound religious truth to a select few while disguising it from the multitude. If the "secret doctrines of the mysteries" had to be protected from the "debasing influences" of polytheism in ancient Athens (1277), then those same doctrines had to be protected from materialism and Palyean natural theology in modern London.

What were those doctrines? A passage Coleridge incorporated into his lecture from the 1818 edition of his miscellany The Friend summarizes his conviction that the Greek mystery cults, guided by divine providence, communicated a philosophically inflected form of Mosaic monotheism and thereby protected the Greeks from the worst effects of their popular religion: "The earliest Greeks took up the religious and lyrical poetry of the Hebrews; and the schools of the prophets were, however partially and imperfectly, represented by the mysteries derived through the corrupt channel of the Phoenicians. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Greek Myths, Christian Mysteries, and the Tautegorical Symbol
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.