What do we have to lose?


Gérard de Nerval was imbued with shamanism and orphism. With its calculated, ironic and visionary poetry, Voyage en Orient bears witness to these tropisms.

« They plunged me three times into the waters of the Cocyte » (Antéros).

The four rivers of Hell, who can cross their liquid walls? Can a pale poet cross these bitter barriers, these dark, convulsive masses?

« Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron,

Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d’Orphée

Les soupirs de la sainte et les cris de la fée.”

(And I have twice a winner crossed the Acheron

Modulating in turn on the lyre of Orpheus

The sighs of the saint and the cries of the fairy.) (El Desdichado)

Nerval’s work is influenced by the tutelary figure of Orpheus, prince of poets, lovers and mystics – explorer of the depths.

Orpheus was dismembered alive by the Bacchae in madness, but continued to sing from the mouth of his beheaded head. His singing had already persuaded Hades to let him leave Hell with Eurydice. The condition was that he did not look at her, until he came out of the world of the dead. Worried about the silence of the beloved, he turned his head when they had arrived at the edge of the world of the living. He lost again, and forever, Eurydice.

Instead of looking at her, he could have talked to her, held her by the hand, or inhaled her scent, to make sure she was there? No, he had to see her, to look at her. As a result, she died.

Why do heroes want to face Hell?

What haunts them is whether death is real, or imaginary. What drives them is the desire to see the loved ones again, though lost forever. In these difficult circumstances, they must acquire special powers, magical abilities. Orpheus’ strengths were music, song and poetry.

Music produces, even in Hell, a form, a meaning, and calls for the poem. Orpheus might have sung:

« Always, under the branches of Virgil’s laurel

The pale hydrangea unites with the green myrtle.  » (Myrto)

Gérard de Nerval was inspired. By what?

From the scattered crumbs, let us deduce the bread that feeds him.

« Man, free thinker! Do you think you’re the only one thinking

In this world where life is bursting into everything?

(…)

Each flower is a soul to nature blooms.

A mystery of love in metal rests.

(…)

Often in the dark being dwells a hidden God

And like a nascent eye covered by his eyelids,

A pure spirit grows under the bark of the stones.  » (Golden Worms)

The poets lose, lost, in the theological assaults. Nerval admits defeat, false hopes and real regret:

« They will return these Gods that you always cry for!

Time will bring back the order of the old days,

The earth shuddered with a prophetic breath…

However, the sibyl with its Latin face

Is asleep under the arch of Constantine

And nothing disturbed the severe gantry.  » (Delfica)

Did Nerval believe in the breath of the sibyl, in the order of the day?

Orpheus, Nerval, prophetic poets.

During the Renaissance, Marsile Ficin presented Orpheus as an explorer of Chaos and a theologian of love.

« Orpheus in Argonautics imitating the Theology of Mercury Trismegist, when he sings the principles of things in the presence of Chiron and the heroes, that is, angelic men, he puts Chaos before the world, & before Saturn, Iupiter and the other gods, and within Chaos, he welcomes Love, saying Love is very ancient, by itself perfect, of great counsel. Plato in Timaeus similarly describes Chaos, and here puts Love. »i

Chaos is before the gods, – before the very sovereign God, Jupiter. And in Chaos, there is Love!

« Finally, in all of us, Love accompanies Chaos, and precedes the world, excites the things that sleep, illuminates the dark ones: gives life to the dead things: forms the unformed, and gives perfection to the imperfect. » ii

This « good news » was first announced by Orpheus.

« But the unique invisible perpetual light of the divine Sun, by its presence, always gives comfort, life and perfection to all things. Of what divinely sang Orpheus, saying:

God the Eternal Love all things comforts

And on all of them is spread, animated and supported. »

Orpheus bequeathed to humanity these simple pearls: « Love is more ancient and younger than other Gods ». « Love is the beginning and the end. He is the first and last of the gods. »

Finally, Ficin specifies the figure of the last of all the gods: « There are therefore four kinds of divine fury. The first is the Poetic Fury. The second is the Mystical, that is, the Sacred. The third is Divination. The fourth is the Affection of Love. Poetry depends on the Muses: The Mystery of Bacchus: The Deviation of Apollo: & The Love of Venus. Certainly Soul cannot return to unity unless it becomes unique. » iii

The One. The Love. The Union. This is the message of Orpheus.

To learn it first, Orpheus had to have lost Eurydice.

To hear it, what do we have to lose?

iMarsile Ficin. Discours de l’honneste amour sur le banquet de Platon, Oraison 1ère, Ch. 2, (1578)

ii Marsile Ficin. Discours de l’honneste amour sur le banquet de Platon, Oraison 1ère, Ch. 2, (1578)

iii Ibid., Oraison 7, Ch. 14

Devouring the dead God


 

Orpheus, who went down to the underworld, has an amazing resumé. He invented poetry, which is no small thing. He called Apollo « the living eye of Heaven », and « the one who shapes everything in the world ». He also saw with his own eyes the primordial Chaos dominated by Love.

The main sources on Orpheus are two poets, Virgil and Ovid. Referring to some Christian and Neoplatonist authors, he was also recruited to embody a kind of pagan image of the Word.

The name Orpheus, has no recognized etymology but Chantraine believes that it can be linked to the Indo-European *orbho, « separate, remove », hence the Latin orbus, « deprived of ». This refers, of course, to Eurydice.

The myth of Orpheus dates back to before the 6th century BC since a statue of Orpheus playing the lyre was found dating back to 560 BC.

Orpheus gave his name to a mystical current, orphism, known by hymns, and various texts and archaeological inscriptions including the Golden Lamellae. The general idea is that the soul, soiled from the beginning, must undergo a cycle of reincarnations from which only initiation into the mysteries of Orpheus can bring it out. Then she is allowed to join the Gods.

Orphism has never been a socially organized religion. On the contrary, orphism challenged the established order, rejected the values of the Greek cities and their cults. One became orphic by personal choice, after initiation.

Onomacrite was responsible for the writing of the first compilation of poems and orphic hymns. This singular character had been commissioned by Pisistrate, around 525 BC, to prepare the first complete edition of Homer’s poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. He was also a diviner, an initiate in mysteries, who traded in oracles. Herodotus tells us that Greek tyrants, dethroned and refugees at the court of Persia, the Pisistratids, called upon his talents to invent oracles in order to incite Xerxes I to start the second medieval war in 481 B.C.

Religion and politics were in close alliance. The city of Delphi and its Pythia, oracle of Apollo, had also taken the side of the Persians. The battle of Salamis proved them wrong. After the Greek victory, Delphi claimed to have been protected by divine intervention. Herodotus attests it: « As the Barbarians approached the temple of Minerva Pronaea, lightning fell on them; rocky quarters, detaching themselves from the top of the Parnassus and rolling with a horrible noise, crushed a great number of them. At the same time, voices and war cries were heard coming out of the temple of Minerva Pronaea. » i

Aristophanes makes fun of Orphic sects in The Birds. He denounces its charlatanism. Plato and Theophrastus present them as gyrovagal priests, selling cheap purifications to a gullible public.

 

However, the Orphic ideas were conscientiously taken up by neo-Pythagoreans and Neo-Platonists.

The main myth of orphism is the killing of Dionysus by the Titans, who cut him into pieces and then devoured him. Furious, Zeus struck down the latter, and from their ashes were born humans.

Men therefore have a double ancestry. They descend from the Titans, but also from the Gods, through the flesh of devoured Dionysus, also being part of the ashes from which humans are derived. There is an analogy, if not obvious at all, with Christian communion.

Christ was put to death, and his followers share his flesh and blood in memory of him.

Let’s go back to the Dionysian myth.

Persephone, Dionysus-Zagreus’ mother, never forgave the murder and devouring of her son. She then condemned man to wander unceasingly, from incarnation to incarnation. How could offspring from the ashes, from the corpses of the Titans, these eaters of God, be allowed to enter the divine world?

The gold or bone slides found in various tombs indicate that the Orphic and Pythagorean sects gave the initiates hope of deliverance upon their arrival in the afterlife. But on one condition, not to go the wrong way. If one turns left, it’s the fatal mistake. One falls into the spring of Lethe, which plunges the soul into oblivion. If you turn right, it’s the right choice. You find the source of the goddess Mnemosyne who reminds souls of their memory and reminds them of their divine origin.

The golden slice that the deceased initiate takes with him to his grave is a kind of reminder:

« You will find a spring to the left of Hades’ house,

and near her, standing up, a white cypress tree:

from this source, stay away from it.

You will find a second source, the cold water that flows

of Lake Mnemosyne; in front of them stand guards.

Say: « I am the son of the Earth and the Starry Sky;

my race is heavenly, and you know that too…

I am dried up from thirst and I will perish: give me therefore

quickly the cold water that flows from Lake Memory.

And they themselves will give you something to drink from the divine source;

and from that moment on, among the other heroes, you will rule.

And from that moment on, with the other heroes, you will be sovereign. » ii

iHérodotus, VIII, 35-38

iiLamelles d’or orphiques. Instructions pour le voyage d’outre-tombe des initiés grecs, lamelle de Pétélia ( 5th century BC), Ed. by Giovanni Pugliese Carratelli, Les Belles Lettres, 2003, p. 61.