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Mythopoeic Imagination

Giambattista Vico - Lucian of Samosata Wiki

“Two great remnants of Egyptian antiquity have come down to us. One of them is that the Egyptians reduced all preceding world time to three ages; namely, the age of gods, the age of heroes, and the age of men. The other is that during these three ages three languages had been spoken, corresponding in order to the three aforesaid ages; namely, the hieroglyphic or sacred language, the symbolic or figurative (which is the heroic) language, and the epistolary or vulgar language of men employing conventional signs for communicating the common needs of their life. — Giambattista Vico

An epoch begins with a divine consciousness of cosmic myth in the age of the gods. By the time of the following age of heroes half the cosmic myth is gone, and, with it, half the divine consciousness. By the time of the age of men the myth and the consciousness halve again, leaving only a quarter of the original. Finally, in the ultimate age of barbarism and chaos, little of the original myth of divine consciousness remains at all. But as entropy reaches its limit in chaos, there is a reversal in the cycle, a cosmic form is generated out of the only ground large enough for it, namely, chaos. Chaos creates the fertile decay in which the seeds leftover from the previous age of gods spring to life to create a new cosmic myth and a new age of gods. We spiral back to the past in a future on a higher plane.

As an illustration of this historical process, consider the Sumerian civilization. The first age was definitely the age of the gods; men insisted that they did not build the great cities, that gods from the sky built them and brought to man all the arts of civilization. As the colony began to grow and prosper, the gods departed, leaving only a steward, an ensi, to look after things in their absence. The gods said they would return, but given the relativistic time-shift, what may be only a short journey for them could take thousands of years of our historical time. But the memory of man is short; soon the ensis began to exercise power on their own terms, and stewardship evolved into kingship. For awhile the kings ruled with respect for the old cosmic mythology, but with faction replacing faction, it was only a matter of a few centuries before the skepticism of the rulers was shared by the whole populace.

As secularism and the philosophy of naked power grew, the cosmic myths that held the civilization together and rooted it in the universe were torn apart. Men no longer believed in anything. Since the society no longer held together on its own, it was compressed by force and militaristic terror. The military state, whether of Sargon of Agade or Moctezuma of Mexico, is the last desperate collectivization of a disintegrating society. But states organized for conquest inevitably organize their enemies to conquer them…The three ages of Sumerian civilization can be summarized in the following beliefs of the rulers: (1) “The gods rule through me”; (2) “I rule for the gods”; and (3) “I rule!”

It is easy to see the structure of Sumerian civilization because it is over and we are far enough away to observe its general form. But it is harder to perceive the form of our own immediate historical condition. Cultural transformations are so large that they are invisible to normal individuals. If you went around in England in the 1790s asking how it felt to be living in an age of industrial revolution, most people would not know what you were talking about. But if you went to see “the lunatic” William Blake, he would tell you about the meaning of the great transformation by moving back and forth from one end of history to the other in a notation especially designed for ideas that large — mythology.”

“Events that are too large to be perceived in immediate history register in the unconscious in the collective form of myth, and since artists and visionaries possess strongly mythopoeic imaginations, they can express in the microcosm of their works what is going on in the macrocosm of mankind. Because they lack economic power, they are open to other possibilities, and they can cultivate other faculties. Ironically, it is only the man who is free to do without technology who is in a position to master it.”

Stunned Records. “Mythopoeic Imagination.” 08-15-2012. <>.

vico/mythopoeic-imagination.txt · Last modified: 2014/01/14 23:20 (external edit)