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Hamlet's mill 

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Virgo Leo Cancer. Qmmi Aries Pisces Aquarius Caerkokjius 

Hamlet’s Mill 

Also by Giorgio de Santillana 


Galileo’s dialogue on the great world systems 


storia del pensiero scientifico (with F. Enriques) 



Contradicting many current notions about 
cultural evolution, this exploratory book inves¬ 
tigates the origins of human knowledge in the 
archaic, preliterate world. Selecting Shake¬ 
speare’s Hamlet as a congenial introductory 
figure, the authors begin their journey proper 
with Amlodhi, Hamlet’s counterpart in Scandi¬ 
navian myth. 

The mythical Amlodhi was the owner of a 
fabulous Mill which, in his day, ground out 
peace and plenty. Later, in decaying times, it 
ground out salt. Now, at the bottom of the sea, 
it grinds rock and sand, and has created a vast 
whirlpool, the Maelstrom, which leads to the 
land of the dead. The ultimate significance of 
this Mill, and of many similar mythical con¬ 
structions, is what the authors set themselves 
to discover. 

The trail, pursued necessarily by induction, 
leads around the world through many lands, 
Iceland, Norway, Finland, Italy, Persia, India, 
Mexico, and Greece, to mention only a few. It 
also recedes in time until the beginning is 
reached several millennia ago in Mesopotamia. 

As innumerable clues emerge and begin to 
interlock, several conclusions become inescap¬ 
able. First, all the great myths of the world 
have a common origin. Next, the geography of 
myth is not that of the earth. The places referred 
to in myth are in the heavens and the actions 
are those of celestial bodies. Myth, in short, 
was a language for the perpetuation of a vast 
and complex body of astronomical knowledge. 

The implication of these findings is no less 
startling for being self-evident. If, hundreds 
of centuries ago, man’s mind could formulate 
a consistent and magnificently intricate cos¬ 
mology, then clearly that mind had already 
transcended the influence of any evolutionary 
process. The authors say, along with the now 
forgotten Dupuis at the close of the eighteenth 
century: “Mythology is the work of science; 
science alone will explain it.” 

The archaic concept of the universe was 
stern and merciless, but there was a harmony 
in it of all things and beings, including men, 

a power and beauty that persuade the spirit 
as completely as the detailed evidence convinces 
the mind. 

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God creating the stars, with the planetary spheres shown inside, according to 
the Ptolemaic order. Each sphere is marked by a star, the fourth sphere, that of 
the sun, being indicated by a half-visible circle. 

Hamlet’s Mill 

essay on myth and the frame of time 


Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science 



apl. Professor fiir Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften 
J. W. Goethe-Universitdt Frankfurt 





Much of the research for this book was supported by a grant from 
the Twentieth Century Fund. 

Lines from “As I Walked Out One Evening,” by W. H. Auden. Copyright 
© 1940 and renewed 1968 by W. H. Auden. Reprinted from Collected 
Shorter Poems 192-1-1957, by W. H. Auden, by permission of Random 
House, Inc. 

Line from Ulysses by James Joyce, reprinted by permission of Random 
House, Inc. Copyright 1914, 1918 by Margaret Caroline Anderson. Copyright 
1934 by The Modern Library. Copyright 1942, 1946 by Nora Joseph Joyce. 
New edition, corrected and reset, 1961. 

First Printing 

Copyright © 1969 by Giorgio de Santillana and H. von Dechend 
All rights reserved including the right to reproduce this 
book or parts thereof in any form 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 69-15267 
Printed in the United States of America 


To the memory of my parents 
David de Santillana 
Emilia de Santillana Maggiorani 


As the senior, if least deserving, of the authors, I shall open the 

Over many years I have searched for the point where myth and 
science join. It was clear to me for a long time that the origins of 
science had their deep roots in a particular myth, that of invariance. 
The Greeks, as early as the 7th century b.c., spoke of the quest of 
their first sages as the Problem of the One and the Many, sometimes 
describing the wild fecundity of nature as the way in which the 
Many could be deduced from the One, sometimes seeing the Many 
as unsubstantial variations being played on the One. The oracular 
sayings of Heraclitus the Obscure do nothing but illustrate with 
shimmering paradoxes the illusory quality of “things” in flux as 
they were wrung from the central intuition of unity. Before him 
Anaximander had announced, also oracularly, that the cause of 
things being born and perishing is their mutual injustice to each 
other in the order of time, “as is meet,” he said, for they are bound 
to atone forever for their mutual injustice. This was enough to 
make of Anaximander the acknowledged father of physical science, 
for the accent is on the real “Many.” But it was true science after 
a fashion. 

Soon after, Pythagoras taught, no less oracularly, that “things 
are numbers.” Thus mathematics was born. The problem of the ori¬ 
gin of mathematics has remained with us to this day. In his high old 
age, Bertrand Russell has been driven to avow: “I have wished to 
know how the stars shine. I have tried to apprehend the Pytha¬ 
gorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little 
of this, but not much, I have achieved.” The answers that he found, 
very great answers, concern the nature of logical clarity, but not 
of philosophy proper. The problem of number remains to perplex 

Preface • viii 

us, and from it all of metaphysics was born. As a historian, I went 
on investigating the “gray origins” of science, far into its pre-Greek 
beginnings, and how philosophy was born of it, to go on puzzling 
us. 1 condensed it into a small book, The Origins of Scientific 
Thought. For both philosophy and science came from that foun¬ 
tainhead; and it is clear that both were children of the same myth. 1 
In a number of studies, I continued to pursue it under the name of 
“scientific rationalism”; and I tried to show that through all the 
immense developments, the “Mirror of Being” is always the object 
of true science, a metaphor which still attempts to reduce the 
Many to the One. We now make many clear distinctions, and have 
come to separate science from philosophy utterly, but what remains 
at the core is still the old myth of eternal invariance, ever more 
remotely and subtly articulated, and what lies beyond it is a multi¬ 
tude of procedures and technologies, great enough to have changed 
the face of the world and to have posed terrible questions. But they 
have not answered a single philosophical question, which is what 
myth once used to do. 

If we come to think of it, we have been living in the age of 
Astronomical Myth until yesterday. The careful and rigorous edi¬ 
fice of Ptolemy’s Almagest is only window dressing for Plato’s 
theology, disguised as elaborate science. The heavenly bodies are 
moving in “cycle and epicycle, orb in orb” of a mysterious motion 
according to the divine decree that circular motions ever more 
intricate would account for the universe. And Newton himself, 
once he had accounted for it, simply replaced the orbs with the 
understandable force of gravitation, for which he “would feign no 
hypotheses.” The hand of God was still the true motive force; 
God’s will and God’s own mathematics went on, another name for 
Aristotle’s Prime Mover. And shall we deny that Einstein’s space- 
time is nothing other than a pure pan-mathematical myth, openly 
acknowledged at last as such? 

I was at this point, lost between science and myth, when, on the 
occasion of a meeting in Frankfurt in 1959 ,1 met Dr. von Dechend, 

1 The Pythagorean problem is at the core of my Origins. My efforts came even¬ 
tually to fruition in my Prologue to Parmenides of 1964 (reprinted in Reflections 
on Men and Ideas [1968], p. 80). 

ix • Preface 

one of the last pupils of the great Frobenius, whom I had known; 
and with her I recalled his favorite saying: “What the hell should I 
care for my silly notions of yesterday?” We were friends from the 
start. She was then Assistant to the Chair of the History of Science, 
but she had pursued her lonely way into cultural ethnology, starting 
in West Africa on the tracks of her “Chef,” which were being 
opened up again at the time by that splendid French ethnologist, 
the late Marcel Griaule. She too had a sense that the essence of myth 
should be sought somewhere in Plato rather than in psychology, 
but as yet she had no clue. 

By the time of our meeting she had shifted her attention to Poly¬ 
nesia, and soon she hit pay dirt. As she looked into the archaeologi¬ 
cal remains on many islands, a clue was given to her. The moment 
of grace came when, on looking (on a map) at two little islands, 
mere flyspecks on the waters of the Pacific, she found that a strange 
accumulation of vmraes or cult places could be explained only one 
way: they, and only they, were both exactly sited on two neat 
celestial coordinates: the Tropics of Cancer and of Capricorn. 

Now let Dechend take over the narrative: 

“To start from sheer opposition to ruling opinions is not likely to 
lead to sensible insight, at least so we think. But anyhow, I did not 
start from there, although there is no denying that my growing 
wrath about the current interpretations (based upon discouraging 
translations) was a helpful spur now and then. In fact, there was 
nothing that could be called a ‘start,’ least of all the intention to 
explore the astronomical nature of myth. To the contrary, on my 
side, having come from ethnology to the history of science, there 
existed ‘in the beginning’ only the firm decision never to become 
involved in astronomical matters, under any condition. In order to 
keep safely away from this frightening field, my subject of inquiry 
was meant to be the mythical figure of the craftsman god, the 
Demiurge in his many aspects (Hephaistos, Tvashtri, Wayland the 
Smith, Goibniu, Ilmarinen, Ptah, Khnum, Kothar-wa-Hasis, Enki/ 
Ea, Tane, Viracocha, etc.). Not even a whiff of suspicion came 
to me during the investigation of Mesopotamian myths—of all cul¬ 
tures!—everything looked so very terrestrial, though slightly pe¬ 
culiar. It was after having spent more than a year over at least 

Preface • x 

10,000 pages of Polynesian myths—collected in the 19th century 
(there are many more pages available than these)—that the anni¬ 
hilating recognition of our complete ignorance came down upon me 
like a sledge hammer: there was no single sentence that could be 
understood. But then, if anybody was entitled to be taken seriously, 
it had to be the Polynesians guiding their ships securely over the 
largest ocean of our globe, navigators to whom our much praised 
discoverers from Magellan to Captain Cook confided the steering 
of their ships more than once. Thus, the fault had to rest with us, 
not with Polynesian myth. Still, I did not then ‘try astronomy for a 
change’—there njoas a strict determination on my part to avoid this 
field. I looked into the archaeological remains of the many islands, 
and there a clue was given to me (to call it being struck by light¬ 
ning would be more correct) which I duly followed up, and then 
there was no salvation anymore: astronomy could not be escaped. 
First it was still ‘simple’ geometry—the orbit of the sun, the Trop¬ 
ics, the seasons—and the adventures of gods and heroes did not make 
much more sense even then. Maybe one should count , for a change? 
What could it mean, when a hero was on his way slightly more 
than two years, ‘returning’ at intervals, ‘falling into space,’ coming 
off the ‘right’ router There remained, indeed, not many possible 
solutions: it had to be planets (in the particular case of Aukele-nui- 
a-iku, Mars). If so, planets had to be constitutive members of every 
mythical personnel; the Polynesians did not invent this trait by 

This text of Professor von Dechend, in its intellectual freedom 
and audacity, bears the stamp of her inheritance from the heroic 
and innocent and cosmopolitan age of German science around the 
eighteen-thirties. Its heroes, Justus von Liebig and Friedrich Woeh- 
ler, were the objects of her work done before 1953. Another of 
those virtues, scornful indignation, will come to the fore in the 
appendices, which are so largely the product of her efforts. 

Now I resume: 

Years before, I had once looked at Dupuis’ UOrigme de tons les 
cultes, lost in the stacks of Widener Library, never again consulted. 
It was a book in the 18th-century style, dated “An III de la Repu- 

xi • Preface 

blique.” The title was enough to make one distrustful—one of those 
“enthusiastic” titles which abounded in the 18th century and prom¬ 
ised far too much. How could it explain the Egyptian system, I 
thought, since hieroglyphics had not yet been deciphered? (Atha¬ 
nasius Kircher was later to show us how it was done out of Coptic 
tradition.) I had dropped the forbidding tome, only jotting down 
a sentence: “Le mythe est ne de la science; la science seule l’expli- 
quera.” I had the answer there, but I was not ready to understand. 

This time I was able to grasp the idea at a glance, because I was 
ready for it. Many, many years before, I had questioned myself, in 
a note, about the meaning of fact in the crude empirical sense, as 
applied to the ancients. It represents, I thought, not the intellectual 
surprise, not the direct wonder and astonishment, but first of all an 
immense, steady, minute attention to the seasons. What is a solstice 
or an equinox? It stands for the capacity of coherence, deduction, 
imaginative intention and reconstruction with which we could 
hardly credit our forefathers. And yet there it was. I saw. 

Mathematics was moving up to me from the depth of centuries; 
not after myth, but before it. Not armed with Greek rigor, but with 
the imagination of astrological power, with the understanding of 
astronomy. Number gave the key. Way back in time, before writ¬ 
ing was even invented, it was measures and counting that provided 
the armature, the frame on which the rich texture of real myth was 
to grow. 

Thus we had returned to the true beginnings, in the Neolithic 
Revolution. We agreed that revolution was essentially technologi¬ 
cal. The earliest social scientist, Democritus of Abdera, put it in 
one striking sentence: men’s progress was the work not of the mind 
but of the hand. His late successors have taken him too literally, 
and concentrated on artifacts. They have been unaware of the 
enormous intellectual effort involved, from metallurgy to the arts, 
but especially in astronomy. The effort of sorting out and identify¬ 
ing the only presences which totally eluded the action of our hands 
led to those pure objects of contemplation, the stars in their courses. 
The Greeks would not have misapprehended that effort: they 
called astronomy the Royal Science. The effort at organizing the 

Preface • xii 

cosmos took shape from the supernal presences, those alone which 
thought might put in control of reality, those from which all arts 
took their meaning. 

But nothing is so easy to ignore as something that does not yield 
freely to understanding. Our science of the past flowered in the 
fullness of time into philology and archaeology, as learned volumes 
on ancient philosophy have continued to pour forth, to little avail. 
A few masters of our own time have rediscovered these “prelit¬ 
erate” accomplishments. Now Dupuis, Kircher and Boll are gone 
like those archaic figures, and are equally forgotten. That is the de¬ 
vouring way of time. The iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her 

It is well known how many images of the gods have to do with 
the making of fire, and an American engineer, J. D. McGuire, dis¬ 
covered that also certain Egyptian images, until then unsuspected, 
presented deities handling a fire drill. Simple enough: fire itself was 
the link between what the gods did and what man could do. But 
from there, the mind had once been able to move on to prodigious 
feats of intellect. That world of the mind was fully worthy of those 
Newtons and Einsteins long forgotten—those masters, as d’Alem¬ 
bert put it, of whom we know nothing, and to whom we owe 

We had the idea. It was simple and clear. But we realized that we 
would run into formidable difficulties, both from the point of view 
of modern, current scholarship and from the no less unfamiliar ap¬ 
proach needed for method. I called it playfully, for short, “the 
cat on the keyboard,” for reasons that will appear presently. For 
how can one catch time on the wing? And yet the flow of time, 
the time of music, was of the essence, inescapable, baffling to the 
systematic mind. I searched at length for an inductive way of pre¬ 
sentation. It was like piling Pelion upon Ossa. And yet this was the 
least of our difficulties. For we also had to face a wall, a veritable 
Berlin Wall, made of indifference, ignorance, and hostility. Hum¬ 
boldt, that wise master, said it long ago: First, people will deny 
a thing; then they will belittle it; then they will decide that it 
had been known long ago. Could we embark upon an enormous 

xiii • Preface 

task of detailed scholarship on the basis of this more than dubious 
prospect? But our own task was set: to rescue those intellects of 
the past, distant and recent, from oblivion. “Thus saith the Lord 
God: ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these 
slain, that they may live.’ ” Such poor scattered bones, ossa vehe- 
menter sicca, we had to revive. 

This book reflects the gradually deepening conviction that, first 
of all, respect is due these fathers of ours. The early chapters will 
make, I think, for easy reading. Gradually, as we move above tim¬ 
berline, the reader will find himself beset by difficulties which are 
not of our making. They are the inherent difficulties of a science 
which was fundamentally reserved, beyond our conception. Most 
frustrating, we could not use our good old simple catenary logic, 
in which principles come first and deduction follows. This was not 
the way of the archaic thinkers. They thought rather in terms of 
what we might call a fugue, in which all notes cannot be constrained 
into a single melodic scale, in which one is plunged directly into the 
midst of things and must follow the temporal order created by their 
thoughts. It is, after all, in the nature of music that the notes cannot 
all be played at once. The order and sequence, the very meaning, of 
the composition will reveal themselves—with patience—in due time. 
The reader, I suggest, will have to place himself in the ancient 
“Order of Time.” 

Troilus expressed the same idea in a different image: “He that 
will have a cake out of the wheat must needs tarry the grinding.” 

Giorgio de Santillana 


Illustration from a postcard. Copyright 1962 by Verlag Karl Alber. 
Reprinted by permission of Verlag Karl Alber, Freiburg im Breisgau. 

Figures 1 and 2 on page 2 1 in “Etudes sur la cosmologie des Dogon et 
dcs Bambara du Soudan Francais” by D. Zahan and S. de Ganay, Africa , 
vol. 21, 1951. Copyright 1951 by D. Zahan, S. de Ganay, and the Inter¬ 
national African Institute. Reprinted by permission of the International 
African Institute, London. 

Figure 6 on page 21 in The Carta Marina of Olans Magnus: Venice 
1539 and Rome lyyz by Edward Lynam, Tall Tree Library Publication 
12, 1941. Reprinted by permission of Tall Tree Library, Jenkintown, Pa. 

Illustrations on page 26 and facing page 48 in Gesammelte, Werke, vol. 
8, by Johannes Kepler, ed. Franz Hammer, 1963. Reprinted by permis¬ 
sion of C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munich. 

Illustration on page 179 in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 1, by Johannes 
Kepler, ed. Max Caspar, 1938. Reprinted by permission of C. H. Beck’¬ 
sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munich. 

Figures 63 and 64 on pages 44 and 45 in The Flammarion Book of As¬ 
tronomy, ed. Camille Flammarion, Simon and Schuster, 1964. Copy¬ 
right 1955 by Librairie Flammarion. Reprinted by permission of Flam¬ 
marion Publishers, Paris. 

Figure 177 on page 742 in “Primitive Methods of Drilling” by J. D. 
McGuire, Annual Report of the U.S. National Museum, 1894. Re¬ 
printed by permission of the Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 

Figures 724 and 970 on pages 663 and 748 in Gesammelte Abhandlungen, 
vol. 4, by E. Seler, i960. Copyright i960 by Akademische Druck- und 
Verlagsanstalt. Reprinted by permission of Akademische Druck- und 
Verlagsanstalt, Graz. 

xv • Acknowledgments 

Illustration on page 96 of the Codices Selecti Phototypice Impressi, vol. 
8, ed. Dr. F. Anders, 1967. Copyright 1952 by Akademische Druck- 
und Verlagsanstalt. Reprinted by permission of Akademische Druck- 
und Verlagsanstalt, Graz. 

Illustration on page 434 in UUranographie Chinoise by G. Schlegel, 
1875. Reprinted by permission of Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague. 

Figure 104 on page 377 in Science and Civilisation in China , vol. 3, by 
J. Needham, 1959. Copyright 1959 by Cambridge University Press. 
Reprinted by permission of Cambridge University Press, New York. 

Plate II facing page 22 in Die Geschichte der Sternkunde by E. Zinner, 
1931. Reprinted by permission of Springer Verlag, Berlin. 

Figures 36, 70, 71, and 75 on pages 91, 117, and 120 in Die Erschemun- 
gen am Sternenhimmel by H. v. Baravalle, 1962. Copyright 1962 by 
Verlag Freies Geistesleben. Reprinted by permission of Verlag Freies 
Geistesleben, Stuttgart. 

Illustration on page 289 in The Dawn of Astronomy bv J. N. Lockyer, 
1894. Reprinted by permission of the Massachusetts Institute of Tech¬ 
nology Press, Cambridge, Mass. 

Figure 15 on plate IV in Catalogue of Engraved Gems ? Greek , Etruscan 
and Roman by G. M. A. Richter, 1956. Reprinted by permission of the 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund, 31.11.14, New York. 

Figure 70 on page 540 in “Animal Figures on Prehistoric Pottery from 
Mimbres Valley, New Mexico” by J. W. Fewkes. Reprinted by permis¬ 
sion of the American Anthropological Association from the American 
Anthropologist , vol. 18, 1916, Washington, D.C. 

Figures 1427 and 1444 on plates 107 and 109 in La Glyptique Mesopo- 
tamienne Archdique by P. Amiet, 1961. Reprinted by permission of the 
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris. 

Figures 7 and 9 on pages 66 and 69 in Anfdnge der Astronomie by B. L. 
van der Waerden, 1965. Copyright 1965 by N. V. Erben P. NoordhofFs 
Uitgeverszaak, renewed 1968 by Birkhauser Verlag. Reprinted by per¬ 
mission of Birkhauser Verlag, Basel. 



Figure 17 on page 99 in UArbre Cosmique dans la Pensee populaire et 
dans la Vic quotidienne du Nord-Ouest Africain by Viviana Paques, 
1964. Copyright 1965 by Institut d’Ethnologic. Reprinted by permis¬ 
sion of Institut d’Ethnologic, Paris. 

Illustrations on pages 67 and 68 in “Ein zweites Goldland Salomos” by 
J. Dahse, Z eitschrift fur Ethnologic, vol. 43, 1911. Reprinted bv per¬ 
mission of I)r. Giinther Hartmann. 

Drawing of the Precession of the Equinoxes by Stefan Fuchs. Reprinted 
by permission of Stefan Fuchs, University of Frankfurt, Germany. 

We arc indebted to Mrs. Katharina Lommel, Staatliches Museum fur 
Volkerkunde, Miinchcn, for obtaining most of the illustrations used in 
our book. 









The Chronicler’s Tale 



The Figure in Finland 



The Iranian Parallel 



History, Myth and Reality 


Intermezzo: A Guide for the Perplexed 



The Unfolding in India 



Amlodhi’s Quern 



The Many-Colored Cover 



Shamans and Smiths 



Amlodhi the Titan and His Spinning Top 



The Twilight of the Gods 



Samson Under Many Skies 



Socrates’ Last Tale 



Of Time and the Rivers 



The Whirlpool 



The Waters from the Deep 



The Stone and the Tree 



The Frame of the Cosmos 



The Galaxy 




The Fall of Phaethon 



The Depths of the Sea 



The Great Pan Is Dead 



The Adventure and the Quest 



Gilgamesh and Prometheus 


Epilogue: The Lost Treasure 













The Precession of the Equinoxes, shown in the order of 

signs, with the dates marked on the left. endpaper 

R. Eisler, The Royal Art of Astronomy, Herbert Joseph Ltd., London, 1946. 

God creating the stars. frontispiece 

Courtesy Verlag Karl Alber, Freiburg im Breisgau. 

The Precession of the Equinoxes. 

Courtesy Stefan Fuchs, University of Frankfurt. 

“The internal motion of the cosmic tree,” according to 
North-West Africans. 

Courtesy Institut d'Ethnologie, Paris. 

The ways of the Demiurge during creation. 

Courtesy International African Institute, London. 

Mount Meru, the world mountain, rising from the sea. 

A. Gruenvoedel, Altbuddhistische Kultstaetten in Chinesisch Turkestan, D. 
Reimer, Berlin, 1912. 

The collapse of the hourglass-shaped Meru. 

A. Gruenvoedel, Altbuddhistische Kultstaetten in Chinesisch Turkestan, D. 
Reimer, Berlin, 1912. 

The Carta Marina of Olaus Magnus. 

Courtesy Tall Tree Library, Jenkintovon, Pa. 

The whirlpool, here called “Norvegianus Vortex.” 

Athanasius Kircher, Mundus Subterraneus, 1665. 

The subterranean flow of rivers. 

Athanasius Kircher, Mundus Subterraneus, 166$. 

How Kronos continually gives to Zeus “all the measures of 
the whole creation.” 

Courtesy C. H. Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munich. 






The Precession of the Poles. 

Courtesy Flavrmarion Publishers , Paris. 

Horus and Seth in the act of drilling or churning. 

Egyptian Mythology, The Hamlyn Group, Middlesex, 196$. 

The “incomparably mighty churn" of the Sea of Milk. 

A. B. Keith, Indian Mythology, MAR 6, 1917. 

The simplified version of the Amritamanthana. 

Courtesy Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 

The Maya Codex Tro-Cortesianus presents the same event. 
Courtesy Akademische Druck- und V erlagsanst alt, Graz. 

The Mesopotamian constellation of Bow and Arrow. 

Courtesy Birkhauser Verlag, Basel. 

The Chinese constellation of Bow and Arrow. 

Courtesy Martinus Nijboff, The Hague. 

The star maps for the celestial globe. 

Courtesy Cambridge University Press, New York. 

Drawing the bow at Sirius, the celestial jackal. 

J. C. Ferguson, Chinese Mythology, ,\(AR 8, 1917. 

The so-called “Round Zodiac’’ of Dendera. 

Courtesy Springer Verlag, Berlin. 

The Polyhedra inscribed into the planetar}’ orbits. 

Courtesy C. H. Becksche V erlagsbuchhandlung, Munich. 

A detailed illustration of the motions of the Trigon of Great 

Courtesy C. H. Becksche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munich. 

“The shepherd is shown on the left sighting first the pole star.” 

R. Eisler, The Royal Art of Astronomy, Herbert Joseph Ltd., London, 


I 4 2_I 43 










xxi • Illustrations 

The Chinese picture illustrates the surveying of the universe. 

Sir Aurel Stein, Innermost Asia, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1928. 

A terra-cotta mask of Humbaba/Huwawa. 

S. Langdon, Semitic My thology, MAR 5, 1931. 

Tlaloc, the so-called “rain-god" of Mexico. 

Courtesy Akademiscke Dmck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz. 

The movements of the planets Mercury and Saturn. 

Courtesy Verlag Freies Geistesleben, Stuttgart. 

The Egyptian goddess Serqet, or Selket. 

Courtesy Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, Cambridge. 

A green jasper scarab of Greco-Phoenician origin shows the 
Scorpion lady. 

Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fimd, 31.11.14, New York 

The Scorpion goddess in the Maya Codex Tro-Cortesianus. 
Courtesy Akademische Dmck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz. 



The Mesopotamian cylinder seal shows in the upper part the 
“God Boat.” 

Courtesy Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris. 

The “God Boat*’ surrounded by the crescent moon, three 
single stars, and constellations. 

Courtesy Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris. 

The “God Boat’’ in the Maya Codex Tro-Cortesianus. 

Courtesy Akademiscke Dmck - und Verlagsanstalt, Graz. 

The “God Boat” on the Arabian celestial globe made by Tabari. 

P. Casanova, Bulletin of the Institut Francois d'Archeologie Orientale 2, 
Editions A. & J. Picard et Cie ., Paris, 1902. 



The Pegasus-square, called “1-Iku," with the circumjacent 



Courtesy Birkkduser Verlag, Basel. 

Illustrations • 

The same Babylonian constellation, according to A. Ungnad. 

A. Ungnad, Das iciedergefundene Paradies, 1923. 

The same square in the round and rectangular zodiacs of Dendera. 

A. Ungnad , Das iciedergefundene Paradies y 1923, 

A calabash from the Guinea Coast, Africa. 

Courtesy Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, Muenster/Westfalen. 

Another calabash from the Guinea Coast. 

Courtesy Zeitschrift fiir Ethnologie, Muenster/Westfalen. 

The zodiacal Pisces, as drawn by the Toba Batak of Sumatra. 

A. Maass, Tijdschrift voor Indiscke Taal-, Land-, en Volkenkunde 64, 66, 

AN ew World picture, described as “composite animal.” 

Courtesy American Anthropological Association , Washington , D.C. 




Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Aka- 
demie der Wissenschaften 


Worterbuch der Aegyptischen 

AEG. Z. 

Zeitschrifr fur Aegyptische Sprache 
und Altertumskunde 


Archiv fur Orientforschung 


American Journal of Semitic Lan¬ 
guages and Literature 


Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating 
to the Old Testament 

AN. OR. 


Analecta Orientalia (Roma) 

Altorientalische Texte zum Alten 


Abhandlungen der Preussischen Aka- 
demie der Wissenschaften 


Annual Report 


Annual Report of the Bureau of 
American Ethnology (Washington) 


Archiv fur Religionswissenschaft 


A. Jeremias: Das Alte Testament im 
Lichte des Alten Orients 


Atharva Veda 


Baessler Archiv (Berlin) 


Bureau of American Ethnology 


Bulletin of the American Schools of 
Oriental Research 


Bulletin de l’lnstitut Frangais d’Arche- 
ologie Orientale (Cairo) 


Bernice Pauahi Bishop 

Museum (Honolulu) 


Berichte iiber die Verhandlungen der 
Sachsischen Gesellschaft der Wissen¬ 
schaften (Leipzig) 


Bibliotheca Teubneriana 


Enuma elish, the Babylonian Creation 


Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics 
(ed. James Hastings) 

Abbreviations • 



Folklore Fellows Communications 


Finnisch-Ugrische Forschungen 


Gilgamesh Epic 


A. Jeremias: Handbuch der Altorien- 
talischen Geisteskultur 


Hebrew Union College Annual (Cin¬ 


Internationales Archiv fiir Ethnogra- 
phie (Leiden) 


Journal of the American Oriental So¬ 


Journal of Cuneiform Studies 


Journal of Near Eastern Studies 


Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 


Journal de la Societe des Africanistes 


Loeb Classical Library 


Mitteilungen der Anthropologischen 
Gesellschaft Wien 


Mythology of All Races (Boston) 




Mitteilungen der Yorderasiatischen 


Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 


Orientalia, New Series (Roma) 


A. Deimel: Pantheon Babylonicum 


Revue d'Assyriologie et d'Archeologie 


Revue Celtique 


Realencyclopaedie der Klassischen 
Altertumswissenschaften (ed. Pauly- 


Rheinisches Museum fur Philologie 


Reallexikon der Assyriologie 


Ausfiihrliches Lexikon der griechis- 
chen und romischen Mythologie 




Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Aka- 
demie der YYissenschaften 


Sacred Books of the East 

XXV • 



Sitzungsberichte der Heidelbergcr 
Akademie der Wissenschaften 


Sitzungsberichte der Oesterreichischen 
Akademie der Wissenschaften 


Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen 
Akademie der Wissenschaften 


J. Grimm: Teutonic Mythology 

WB. MYTH. Worterbuch der Mythologie 


Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde des 


Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie und vor- 
derasiatische Archaeologie 


Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgen- 
landischen Gesellschaft 


Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie 


Zeitschrift des Vereins fur Volkskunde 



The unbreakable fetters which 
bound down the Great Wolf 
Fenrir had been cunningly 
forged by Loki from these: the 
footfall of a cat, the roots of a 
rock, the beard of a woman, the 
breath of a fish, the spittle of a 

The Edda 

Toute vue des choses qui n'est 
pas etrange est fausse. 



J- his is meant to be only an essay. It is a first reconnaissance of a 
realm well-nigh unexplored and uncharted. From whichever way 
one enters it, one is caught in the same bewildering circular com¬ 
plexity, as in a labyrinth, for it has no deductive order in the 
abstract sense, but instead resembles an organism tightly closed in 
itself, or even better, a monumental “Art of the Fugue.” 

The figure of Hamlet as a favorable starting point came by 
chance. Many other avenues offered themselves, rich in strange 
svmbols and beckoning with great images, but the choice went to 
Hamlet because he led the mind on a truly inductive quest through 
a familiar landscape—and one which has the merit of its literary 
setting. Here is a character deeply present to our awareness, in 
whom ambiguities and uncertainties, tormented self-questioning and 
dispassionate insight give a presentiment of the modern mind. His 
personal drama was that he had to be a hero, but still try to avoid 
the role Destiny assigned him. His lucid intellect remained above 
the conflict of motives—in other words, his was and is a truly con- 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 


temporary consciousness. And yet this character whom the poet 
made one of us, the first unhappy intellectual, concealed a past as 
a legendary being, his features predetermined, preshaped by long¬ 
standing myth. There was a numinous aura around him, and many 
clues led up to him. But it was a surprise to find behind the mask 
an ancient and all-embracing cosmic power—the original master of 
the dreamed-of first age of the world. 

Yet in all his guises he remained strangely himself. The original 
Amlodhi,* as his name was in Icelandic legend, shows the same 
characteristics of melancholy and high intellect. He, too, is a son 
dedicated to avenge his father, a speaker of cryptic but inescapable 
truths, an elusive carrier of Fate who must yield once his mission is 
accomplished and sink once more into concealment in the depths of 
time to which he belongs: Lord of the Golden Age, the Once and 
Future King. 

This essay will follow the figure farther and farther afield, from 
the Northland to Rome, from there to Finland, Iran, and India; 
he will appear again unmistakably in Polynesian legend. Many 
other Dominations and Powers will materialize to frame him 
within the proper order. 

Amlodhi was identified, in the crude and vivid imagery of the 
Norse, by the ownership of a fabled mill which, in his own time, 
ground out peace and plenty. Later, in decaying times, it ground 
out salt; and now finally, having landed at the bottom of the sea, it 
is grinding rock and sand, creating a vast whirlpool, the Mael¬ 
strom (i.e., the grinding stream, from the verb vmla , “to grind”), 
which is supposed to be a way to the land of the dead. This imagery 
stands, as the evidence develops, for an astronomical process, the 
secular shifting of the sun through the signs of the zodiac which 
determines world-ages, each numbering thousands of years. Each 
age brings a World Era, a Twilight of the Gods. Great structures 
collapse; pillars topple which supported the great fabric; floods and 
cataclysms herald the shaping of a new world. 

The image of the mill and its owner yielded elsewhere to more 

* The indulgence of specialists is asked for the form of certain transliterations 
throughout the text; for example, Amlodhi instead of Amlodi, Grotte instead of 
Grotti, etc. (Ed.) 


sophisticated ones, more adherent to celestial events. In Plato's pow¬ 
erful mind, the figure stood out as the Craftsman God. the Demi¬ 
urge. who shaped the heavens; but even Plato did not escape the 
idea he had inherited, of catastrophes and the periodic rebuilding 
of the world. 

Tradition will show that the measures of a new world had to be 
procured from the depths of the celestial ocean and tuned with the 
measures from above, dictated by the “Seven Sages." as they are 
often cryptically mentioned in India and elsewhere. They turn out 
to be the Seven Stars of Ursa, which are normative in all cosmo¬ 
logical alignments on the starry sphere. These dominant stars of the 
Far North are peculiarly but systematically linked with those which 
are considered the operative powers of the cosmos, that is. the 
planets as they move in different placements and configurations 
along the zodiac. The ancient Pythagoreans, in their conventional 
language, called the two Bears the Hands of Rhea (the Lady of 
Turning Heaven), and called the planets the Hounds of Per¬ 
sephone. Queen of the Underworld. Far away to the south, the 
mysterious ship Argo with its Pilot star held the depths of the past: 
and the Galaxy was the Bridge out of Time. These notions appear 
to have been common doctrine in the age before history—all over 
the belt of high civilizations around our globe. They also seem to 
have been bom of the great intellectual and technological revolu¬ 
tion of the late Neolithic period. 

The intensity and richness, the coincidence of details, in this 
cumulative thought have led to the conclusion that it all had its 
origin in the Near East. It is evident that this indicates a diffusion 
of ideas to an extent hardly countenanced by current anthropology. 
But this science, although it has dug up a marvelous wealth of de¬ 
tails. has been led by its modern evolutionary and psychological 
bent to forget about the main source of myth, which was astronomy 
—the Royal Science. This obliviousness is itself a recent turn of 
events—barely a century old. Today expert philologists tell us that 
Saturn and Jupiter are names of vague deities, subterranean or at¬ 
mospheric, superimposed on the planets at a “late" period; they 
neatly sort out folk origins and “late" derivations, all unaware that 
planetary periods, sidereal and synodic, were known and rehearsed 

Hamlet’s Mill • 4 

in numerous ways by celebrations already traditional in archaic 
times. If a scholar has never known those periods even from elemen¬ 
tary science, he is not in the best position to recognize them when 
they come up in his material. 

Ancient historians would have been aghast had they been told 
that obvious things were to become unnoticeable. Aristotle was 
proud to state it as known that the gods were originally stars, even 
if popular fantasy had later obscured this truth. Little as he believed 
in progress, he felt this much had been secured for the future. He 
could not guess that W. D. Ross, his modern editor, would conde¬ 
scendingly annotate: “This is historically untrue.” Yet we know 
that Saturday and Sabbath had to do with Saturn, just as Wednes¬ 
day and Mercredi had to do with Mercury. Such names are as old 
as time; as old, certainly, as the planetary heptagram of the Har- 
ranians. They go back far before Professor Ross’ Greek philology. 
The inquiries of great and meticulous scholars such as Ideler, Lep- 
sius, Chwolson, Boll and, to go farther back, of Athanasius Kircher 
and Petavius, had they only been read carefully, and noted, would 
have taught several relevant lessons to the historians of culture, but 
interest shifted to other goals, as can be seen from current anthro¬ 
pology, which has built up its own idea of the “primitive” and what 
came after. 

One still reads in that most unscientific of records, the Bible, that 
God disposed all things by number, weight and measure; ancient 
Chinese texts say that “the calendar and the pitch pipes have such 
a close fit, that you could not slip a hair between them.” People read 
it, and think nothing of it. Yet such hints might reveal a world of 
vast and firmly established complexity, infinitely different from 
ours. But the experts now are benighted by the current folk fantasy, 
which is the belief that they are beyond all this—critics without 
nonsense and extremely wise. 

In 1959 I wrote: 

The dust of centuries had settled upon the remains of this great 
world-wide archaic construction when the Greeks came upon the 
scene. Yet something of it survived in traditional rites, in myths and 
fairy tales no longer understood. Taken verbally, it matured the 

5 • Introduction 

bloody cults intended to procure fertility, based on the belief in a 
dark universal force of an ambivalent nature, which seems now to 
monopolize our interest. Yet its original themes could flash out again, 
preserved almost intact, in the later thought of the Pythagoreans and 
of Plato. 

But they are tantalizing fragments of a lost whole. They make one 
think of those “mist landscapes” of which Chinese painters are mas¬ 
ters, which show here a rock, here a gable, there the tip of a tree, and 
leave the rest to imagination. Even when the code shall have yielded, 
when the techniques shall be known, we cannot expect to gauge the 
thought of those remote ancestors of ours, wrapped as it is in its 

Their words are no more heard again 
Through lapse of many ages . .. 

We think we have now broken part of that code. The thought 
behind these constructions of the high and far-off times is also lofty, 
even if its forms are strange. The theory about “how the world 
began” seems to involve the breaking asunder of a harmony, a kind 
of cosmogonic “original sin” whereby the circle of the ecliptic 
(with the zodiac) was tilted up at an angle with respect to the 
equator, and the cycles of change came into being. 

This is not to suggest that this archaic cosmology will show any 
great physical discoveries, although it required prodigious feats of 
concentration and computing. What it did was to mark out the 
unity of the universe, and of man’s mind, reaching out to its farthest 
limits. Truly, man is doing the same today. 

Einstein said: “What is inconceivable about the universe, is that 
it should be at all conceivable.” Man is not giving up. When he 
discovers remote galaxies by the million, and then those quasi-stellar 
radio sources billions of light-years away which confound his specu¬ 
lation, he is happy that he can reach out to those depths. But he 
pays a terrible price for his achievement. The science of astro¬ 
physics reaches out on a grander and grander scale without losing its 
footing. Man as man cannot do this. In the depths of space he loses 
himself and all notion of his significance. He is unable to fit himself 
into the concepts of today’s astrophysics short of schizophrenia. 
Modern man is facing the nonconceivable. Archaic man, however, 
kept a firm grip on the conceivable by framing within his cosmos 

Hamlet’s Mill • 6 

an order of time and an eschatology that made sense to him and 
reserved a fate for his soul. Yet it was a prodigiously vast theory, 
with no concessions to merely human sentiments. It, too, dilated 
the mind beyond the bearable, although without destroying man’s 
role in the cosmos. It was a ruthless metaphysics. 

Not a forgiving universe, not a world of mercy. That surely not. 
Inexorable as the stars in their courses, miserationis parcissimae, the 
Romans used to say. Yet it was a world somehow not unmindful of 
man, one in which there was an accepted place for everything, 
rightfully and not only statistically, where no sparrow could fall 
unnoted, and where even what was rejected through its own error 
would not go down to eternal perdition; for the order of Number 
and Time was a total order preserving all, of which all were mem¬ 
bers, gods and men and animals, trees and crystals and even absurd 
errant stars, all subject to law and measure. 

This is what Plato knew, who could still speak the language of 
archaic myth. He made myth consonant with his thought, as he 
built the first modern philosophy. We have trusted his clues as 
landmarks even on occasions when he professes to speak “not quite 
seriously.” He gave us a first rule of thumb; he knew what he was 
talking about. 

Behind Plato there stands the imposing body of doctrine attrib¬ 
uted to Pythagoras, some of its formulation uncouth, but rich with 
the prodigious content of early mathematics, pregnant with a sci¬ 
ence and a metaphysics that were to flower in Plato’s time. From it 
come such words as “theorem,” “theory,” and “philosophy.” This 
in its turn rests on what might be called a proto-Pythagorean phase, 
spread all over the East but with a focus in Susa. And then there 
was something else again, the stark numerical computing of Baby¬ 
lon. From it all came that strange principle: “Things are numbers.” 

Once having grasped a thread going back in time, then the test 
of later doctrines with their own historical developments lies in 
their congruence with tradition preserved intact even if half under¬ 
stood. For there are seeds which propagate themselves along the 
jetstream of time. 

- • Introduction 

And universality is in itself a test when coupled with a firm de¬ 
sign. When something found, say. in China turns up also in Baby¬ 
lonian astrological texts, then it must be assumed to be relevant, for 
it reveals a complex of uncommon images which nobody could 
claim had risen independently by spontaneous generation. 

Take the origin of music. Orpheus and his harrowing death may 
be a poetic creation born in more than one instance in diverse 
places. But when characters who do not play the lyre but blow 
pipes get themselves flayed alive for various absurd reasons, and 
their identical end is rehearsed on several continents, then we feel 
we have got hold of something, for such stories cannot be linked by 
internal sequence. And when the Pied Piper turns up both in the 
medieval German myth of Hamelin and in Mexico long before 
Columbus, and is linked in both places with certain attributes like 
the color red. it can hardly be a coincidence. Generally, there is 
little that finds its way into music by chance. 

Again, when one finds numbers like 108, or 9 X 13. reappearing 
under several multiples in the Vedas, in the temples of Angkor, in 
Babylon, in Heraclitus' dark utterances, and also in the Norse Val¬ 
halla. it is not accident. 

There is one way of checking signals thus scattered in early data, 
in lore, fables and sacred texts. What we have used for sources may 
seem strange and disparate, but the sifting was considered, and it 
had its reasons. Those reasons will be given later in the chapter 
on method. I might call it comparative morphology. The reservoir 
of myth and fable is great, but there are morphological ‘'markers - ' 
for what is not mere storytelling of the kind that comes naturally. 
There is also wonderfully preserved archaic material in “secondary" 
primitives, like American Indians and West Africans. Then there 
are courtly stories and annals of dynasties which look like novels: 
the Feng Sken Yen I. the Japanese Xibongi. the Hawaiian Kuvru- 
iipo. These are not merely fantasy-ridden fables. 

In hard and perilous ages, what information should a well-bom 
man entrust to his eldest son? Lines of descent surely, but what else? 
The memory of an ancient nobility is the means of preserving the 

Hamlet’s Mill • 8 

arcana imperii, the arcana legis and the arcana mundi, just as it was 
in ancient Rome. This is the wisdom of a ruling class. The Poly¬ 
nesian chants taught in the severely restricted Whare-'wananga were 
mostly astronomy. That is what a liberal education meant then. 

Sacred texts are another great source. In our age of print one is 
tempted to dismiss these as religious excursions into homiletics, but 
originally they represented a great concentration of attention on 
material which had been distilled for relevancy through a long pe¬ 
riod of time and which was considered worthy of being committed 
to memory generation after generation. The tradition of Celtic 
Druidism was delivered not only in songs, but also in tree-lore 
which was much like a code. And in the East, out of complicated 
games based on astronomy, there developed a kind of shorthand 
which became the alphabet. 

As we follow the clues—stars, numbers, colors, plants, forms, 
verse, music, structures—a huge framework of connections is re¬ 
vealed at many levels. One is inside an echoing manifold where 
everything responds and everything has a place and a time assigned 
to it. This is a true edifice, something like a mathematical matrix, a 
World-Image that fits the many levels, and all of it kept in order 
by strict measure. It is measure that provides the countercheck, for 
there is much that can be identified and redisposed from rules like 
the old Chinese saying about the pitch pipes and the calendar. 
When we speak of measures, it is always some form of Time that 
provides them, starting from two basic ones, the solar year and the 
octave, and going down from there in many periods and intervals, 
to actual weights and sizes. What modern man attempted in the 
merely conventional metric system has archaic precedents of great 
complexity. Down the centuries there comes an echo of Al-Biruni’s 
wondering a thousand years ago, when that prince of scientists dis¬ 
covered that the Indians, by then miserable astronomers, calculated 
aspects and events by means of stars—and were not able to show 
him any one star that he asked for. Stars had become items for them, 
as they were to become again for Leverrier and Adams, who never 
troubled to look at Neptune in their life although they had com¬ 
puted and discovered it in 1847. The Mayas and the Aztecs in their 


• Introduction 

unending calculations seem to have had similar attitudes. The con¬ 
nections were what counted. Ultimately so it was in the archaic 
universe, where all things were signs and signatures of each other, 
inscribed in the hologram, to be divined subtly. And Number 
dominated them all (appendix — i). 

This ancient world moves a little closer if one recalls two great 
transitional figures who were simultaneously archaic and modem in 
their habits of thought. The first is Johannes Kepler, who was of 
the old order in his unremitting calculations and his passionate de¬ 
votion to the dream of rediscovering the ‘'Harmony of the Spheres." 
But he was a man of his own time, and also of ours, when this dream 
began to prefigure the polyphony that led up to Bach. In somewhat 
the same way, our strictly scientific world view has its counterpart 
in what John Hollander, the historian of music, has described as 
"The Untuning of the Sky.” The second transitional figure is no 
less a man than Sir Isaac Newton, the very inceptor of the rigor¬ 
ously scientific view. There is no real paradox in mentioning New¬ 
ton in this connection. John Maynard Keynes, who knew Newton 
as well as many of our time, said of him: 

Newton was not the first of the Age of Reason. He was the last of the 
magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great 
mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the 
same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual world rather 
less than 10,000 years ago . . . Why do I call him a magician? Because 
he looked on the whole universe and all that is in it as a riddle , as a 
secret which could be read by applying pure thought to certain evi¬ 
dence, certain mystic clues which God had laid about the world to 
allow a sort of philosopher's treasure hunt to the esoteric brother¬ 
hood. He believed that these clues were to be found partly in the 
evidence of the heavens and in the constitution of elements (and that 
is what gives the false suggestion of his being an experimental natural 
philosopher), but also partly in certain papers and traditions handed 
down by the brethren in an unbroken chain back to the original 
cryptic revelation in Babylonia. He regarded the universe as a crypto¬ 
gram set by the Almighty—just as he himself wrapt the discovery of 
the calculus in a cryptogram when he communicated with Leibniz. 
By pure thought, by concentration of mind, the riddle, he believed, 
would be revealed to the initiate . 1 

1 Newton the Man,"* in The Royal Society. Newton Tercentenary Celebrations 
(194-L p. 29- 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


Lord Keynes’ appraisal, written ca. 1942, remains both uncon¬ 
ventional and profound. He knew, we all know, that Newton 
failed. Newton was led astray by his dour sectarian preconceptions. 
But his undertaking was truly in the archaic spirit, as it begins to 
appear now after two centuries of scholarly search into many cul¬ 
tures of which he could have had no idea. To the few clues he 
found with rigorous method, a vast number have been added. Still, 
the wonder remains, the same that was expressed by his great 
predecessor Galileo: 

But of all other stupendous inventions, what sublimity of mind must 
have been his who conceived how to communicate his most secret 
thoughts to any other person, though very far distant either in time 
or place, speaking with those who are in the Indies, speaking to those 
who are not yet bom, nor shall be this thousand or ten thousand 
years? And with no greater difficulty than the various arrangement 
of two dozen little signs upon paper? Let this be the seal of all the 
admirable inventions of man. 

Way back in the 6th century a.d., Gregoire de Tours was writ¬ 
ing: “The mind has lost its cutting edge, we hardly understand the 
Ancients.” So much more today, despite our wallowing in mathe¬ 
matics for the million and in sophisticated technology. 

It is undeniable that, notwithstanding our Classics Departments’ 
labors, the wilting away of classical studies, the abandonment of 
any living familiarity with Greek and Latin has cut the ovipha- 
loessa, the umbilical cord which connected our culture—at least at 
its top level—with Greece, in the same manner in which men of the 
Pythagorean and Orphic tradition were tied up through Plato and 
a few others with the most ancient Near East. It is beginning to 
appear that this destruction is leading into a very up-to-date Middle 
Ages, much worse than the first. People will sneer: ‘‘Stop the 
World, I want to get off.” It cannot be changed, however; this is 
the way it goes when someone or other tampers with the reserved 
knowledge that science is, and was meant to represent. 

But, as Goethe said at the very onset of the Progressive Age, 
“Noch ist es Tag, da riihre sich der Mann! Die Nacht tritt ein, 
wo niemand wirken kann.” (“It is still day, let men get up and 

11 • Introduction 

going—the night creeps in, when there is nothing doing.”) There 
might come once more some kind of “Renaissance” out of the 
hopelessly condemned and trampled past, when certain ideas come 
to life again, and we should not deprive our grandchildren of a last 
chance at the heritage of the highest and farthest-off times. And if, 
as looks infinitely probable, even that last chance is passed up in 
the turmoil of progress, why then one can still think with Poli- 
ziano, who was himself a master humanist, that there will be men 
whose minds find a refuge in poetry and art and the holy tradition 
“which alone make men free from death and turn them to eternity, 
so long as the stars will go on, still shining over a world made for¬ 
ever silent.” Right now, there is still left some daylight in which to 
undertake this first quick reconnaissance. It will necessarily leave 
out great and significant areas of material, but even so, it will in¬ 
vestigate many unexpected byways and crannies of the past. 

Chapter I 

The Chronicler's Tale 

. . . you of changeful counsel, 
undefiled Titan of exceeding 
strength, you who consume all 
and increase it again, you who 
hold the indestructible bond by 
the unlimited order of the Aeon, 
wily-minded, originator of gen¬ 
eration, you of crooked coun¬ 
sel .. . 

From the Orphic Hymns 


Xhe proper gate through which to enter the realm of pre- 
Shakespearean Hamlet is the artless account given by Saxo Gram¬ 
maticus (c. 1150-c. 1216) in books III and IV of his Gesta Dano- 
rum. What follows is the relevant part of book III in Elton’s 
translation, only slightly shortened. 

The story begins with the feats of Orvendel, Amlethus’ father— 
especially his victory over King Koll of Norway—which drove 
Orvendel’s brother Fengo, “stung with jealousy,” to murder him 
(appendix #2). “Then he took the wife of the brother he had 
butchered, capping unnatural murder with incest.” (So Saxo 
qualifies it.) 

Amleth beheld all this, but feared lest too shrewd a behaviour 
might make his uncle suspect him. So he chose to feign dullness, and 
pretend an utter lack of wits. This cunning course not only con¬ 
cealed his intelligence, but ensured his safety. Every day he remained 
in his mother’s house utterly listless and unclean, flinging himself on 
the ground and bespattering his person with foul and filthy dirt. His 


• The Chronicler's Tale 

discoloured face and visage smutched with slime denoted foolish and 
grotesque madness. All he said was of a piece with these follies; all 
he did savoured of utter lethargy . . . 

He used at times to sit over the fire, and, raking up the embers with 
his hands, to fashion wooden crooks, and harden them in the fire, 
shaping at their tips certain barbs, to make them hold more tightly 
to their fastenings. When asked what he was about, he said that he 
was preparing sharp javelins to avenge his father. This answer was 
not a little scoffed at, all men deriding his idle and ridiculous pursuit; 
but the thing helped his purpose afterwards. Now it was his craft in 
this matter that first awakened in the deeper observers a suspicion of 
his cunning. For his skill in a trifling art betokened the hidden talent 
of a craftsman . . . Lastly, he always watched with the most punctual 
care over his pile of stakes that he had pointed in the fire. Some 
people, therefore, declared that his mind was quick enough, and fan¬ 
cied that he only played the simpleton . . . His wiliness (said these) 
would be most readily detected, if a fair woman were put in his way 
in some secluded place, who should provoke his mind to the tempta¬ 
tions of love . . . , if his lethargy were feigned, he would seize the 
opportunity, and yield straightway to violent delights. 

So men were commissioned to draw the young man in his rides into 
a remote part of the forest, and there assail him with a temptation of 
this nature. Among these chanced to be a foster-brother of Amleth, 
who had not ceased to have regard to their common nurture . . . He 
attended Amleth among his appointed train . . . and was persuaded 
that he would suffer the worst if he showed the slightest glimpse of 
sound reason, and above all if he did the act of love openly. This was 
also plain enough to Amleth himself. For when he was bidden mount 
his horse, he deliberately set himself in such a fashion that he turned 
his back to the neck and faced about, fronting the tail; which he pro¬ 
ceeded to encompass with the reins, just as if on that side he would 
check the horse in its furious pace . . . The reinless steed galloping 
on, with the rider directing its tail, was ludicrous enough to behold. 

Amleth went on, and a wolf crossed his path amid the thicket; when 
his companions told him that a young colt had met him, he retorted 
that in Fengo’s stud there were too few of that kind fighting. This 
was a gentle but witty fashion of invoking a curse upon his uncle’s 
riches. When they averred that he had given a cunning answer, he 
answered that he had spoken deliberately: for he was loth to be 
thought prone to lying about any matter, and wished to be held a 
stranger to falsehood; and accordingly he mingled craft and candour 
in such wise that, though his words did lack truth, yet there was 
nothing to betoken the truth and betray how far his keenness went. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 14 

Again, as he passed along the beach, his companions found the rud¬ 
der 1 of a ship which had been wrecked, and said they had discov¬ 
ered a huge knife. “This,” said he, “was the right thing to carve such 
a huge ham”; by which he really meant the sea, to whose infinitude, 
he thought, this enormous rudder matched. 

Also, as they passed the sandhills, and bade him look at the meal, 
meaning the sand, he replied that it had been ground small by the 
hoary tempests of the ocean. His companions praising his answer, he 
said that he had spoken wittingly. Then they purposely left him, that 
he might pluck up more courage to practice wantonness. 

The woman whom his uncle had dispatched met him in a dark spot, 
as though she had crossed him by chance; and he took her and would 
have ravished her, had not his foster-brother, by a secret device, given 
him an inkling of the trap . . . Alarmed, and fain to possess his desire 
in greater safety, he caught up the woman in his arms and dragged 
her off to a distant and impenetrable fen. Moreover, when they had 
lain together, he conjured her earnestly to disclose the matter to none, 
and the promise of silence was accorded as heartily as it was asked. 
For both of them had been under the same fostering in their child¬ 
hood; and this early rearing in common had brought Amleth and the 
girl into great intimacy. 

So, when he had returned home, they all jeeringly asked him whether 
he had given way to love, and he avowed that he had ravished the 
maid. When he was next asked where he did it, and what had been 
his pillow, he said that he had rested upon the hoof of a beast of 
burden, upon a cockscomb, and also upon a ceiling. For, when he was 
starting into temptation, he had gathered fragments of all these things, 
in order to avoid lying . . . 

The maiden, too, when questioned on the matter, declared that he 
had done no such thing; and her denial was the more readily credited 
when it was found that the escort had not witnessed the deed. 

But a friend of Fengo, gifted more with assurance than judgment, 
declared that the unfathomable cunning of such a mind could not be 
detected by a vulgar plot, for the man’s obstinacy was so great that 
it ought not to be assailed with any mild measures . . . Accordingly, 
said he, his own profounder acuteness had hit on a more delicate way, 
which was well fitted to be put in practice, and would effectually 
discover what they desired to know. Fengo was purposely to absent 
himself, pretending affairs of great import. Amleth should be closeted 
alone with his mother in her chamber; but a man should first be com¬ 
missioned to place himself in a concealed part of the room and listen 
heedfully to what they talked about . . . The speaker, loth to seem 

1 Saxo, however, wrote gubernaculum , i.e., steering oar (3.6.10; Gesta Danonmi, 
C. Knabe and P. Herrmann, eds. [1931], p. 79). 

15 • The Chronicler's Tale 

readier to devise than to carry out the plot, zealously proffered him¬ 
self as the agent of the eavesdropping. Fengo rejoiced of the scheme, 
and departed on pretence of a long journey. Now he who had given 
this counsel repaired privily to the room where Amleth was shut up 
with his mother, and lay down skulking in the straw. But Amleth had 
his antidote for the treachery. 

Afraid of being overheard by some eavesdropper, he at first resorted 
to his usual imbecile ways, and crowed like a noisy cock, beating his 
arms together to mimic the flapping of wings. Then he mounted 
the straw and began to swing his body and jump again and again, 
wishing to try if aught lurked there in hiding. Feeling a lump beneath 
his feet, he drove his sword into the spot, and impaled him who lay 
hid. Then he dragged him from his concealment and slew him. Then, 
cutting his body into morsels, he seethed it in boiling water, and 
flung it through the mouth of an open sewer for the swine to eat, 
bestrewing the stinking mire with his hapless limbs. Having in this 
wise eluded the snare, he went back to the room. Then his mother 
set up a great wailing and began to lament her son’s folly to his face 
but he said: “Most infamous of women! dost thou seek with such 
lying lamentations to hide thy most heavy guilt? Wantoning like a 
harlot, thou hast entered a wicked and abominable state of wedlock, 
embracing with incestuous bosom thy husband’s slayer . . With 
such reproaches he rent the heart of his mother and redeemed her to 
walk in the ways of virtue. 

When Fengo returned, nowhere could he find the man who had sug¬ 
gested the treacherous espial . . . Amleth, among others, was asked in 
jest if he had come on any trace of him, and replied that the man had 
gone to the sewer, but had fallen through its bottom and been stifled 
by the floods of filth, and that he had then been devoured by the 
swine that came up all about that place. This speech was flouted by 
those who heard; for it seemed senseless, though really it expressly 
avowed the truth. 

Fengo now suspected that his stepson was certainly full of guile, and 
desired to make away with him, but durst not do the deed for fear of 
the displeasure, not only of Amleth’s grandsire Rorik, but also of his 
own wife. So he thought that the King of Britain should be employed 
to slay him, so that another could do the deed, and he be able to feign 
innocence . . . 

Amleth, on departing, gave secret orders to his mother to hang the 
hall with knotted tapestry, and to perform pretended obsequies for 
him a year from thence; promising that he would then return. 

Two retainers of Fengo then accompanied him, bearing a letter 
graven in wood . . . ; this letter enjoined the King of the Britons to 

Hamlet’s Mill • 16 

put to death the youth who was sent over to him. While they were 
reposing, Amleth searched their coffers, found the letter, and read 
the instructions therein. Whereupon he erased all the writing on the 
surface, substituted fresh characters, and so, changing the purport of 
the instructions, shifted his own doom upon his companions. Nor was 
he satisfied with removing from himself the sentence of death and 
passing the peril on to others, but added an entreaty that the King of 
Britain would grant his daughter in marriage to a youth of great 
judgment whom he was sending to him. Under this was falsely marked 
the signature of Fengo. 

Now when they had reached Britain, the envoys went to the king and 
proffered him the letter which they supposed was an implement of 
destruction to another, but which really betokened death to them¬ 
selves. The king dissembled the truth, and entreated them hospitably 
and kindly. Then Amleth scouted all the splendour of the royal ban¬ 
quet like vulgar viands, and abstaining very strangely, rejected that 
plenteous feast, refraining from the drink even as from the banquet. 
All marvelled that a youth and a foreigner should disdain the care¬ 
fully cooked dainties of the royal board and the luxurious banquet 
provided, as if it were some peasant’s relish. So, when the revel broke 
up, and the king was dismissing his friends to rest, he had a man sent 
into the sleeping room to listen secretly, in order that he might hear 
the midnight conversation of his guests. Now, when Amleth’s com¬ 
panions asked him why he had refrained from the feast of yestereve, 
as if it were poison, he answered that the bread was flecked with 
blood and tainted; that there was a tang of iron in the liquor; while 
the meats of the feast reeked the stench of a human carcase, and were 
infected by a kind of smack of the odour of the charnel. He further 
said that the king had the eyes of a slave, and that the queen had in 
three ways shown the behaviour of a bondmaid. Thus he reviled with 
insulting invective not so much the feast as its givers. And presently 
his companions, taunting him with his old defect of wits, began to 
flout him with many saucy jeers . . . 

All this the king heard from his retainer; and declared that he who 
could say such things had either more than mortal wisdom or more 
than mortal folly . . . Then he summoned his steward and asked him 
whence he had procured the bread . . . The king asked where the 
corn had grown of which it was made, and whether any sign was to 
be found there of human carnage? The other answered, that not far 
off was a field, covered with the ancient bones of slaughtered men, 
and still bearing plainly all the signs of ancient carnage . . . The 
king . . . took the pains to learn also what had been the source of the 
lard. The other declared that his hogs had, through negligence, 
strayed from keeping, and battened on the rotten carcase of a robber, 

ij • The Chronicler's Tale 

and that perchance their pork had thus come to have something of a 
corrupt smack. The king, finding that Amleth’s judgment was right 
in this thing also, asked of what liquor the steward had mixed the 
drink? Hearing that it had been brewed of water and meal, he had 
the spot of the spring pointed out to him, and set to digging deep 
down; and there he found rusted away, several swords, the tang 
whereof it was thought had tainted the waters. Others relate that 
Amleth blamed the drink because, while quaffing it, he had detected 
some bees that had fed in the paunch of a dead man; and that the 
taint, which had formerly been imparted to the combs, had reap¬ 
peared in the taste. The king . . . had a secret interview with his 
mother, and asked her who his father had really been. She said she 
had submitted to no man but the king. But when he threatened that 
he would have the truth out of her by a trial, he was told that he was 
the offspring of a slave . . . Abashed as he was with shame for his low 
estate, he was so ravished with the young man’s cleverness that he 
asked him why he had aspersed the queen with the reproach that she 
had demeaned herself like a slave? But while resenting that the court¬ 
liness of his wife had been accused in the midnight gossip of a guest, 
he found that her mother had been a bondmaid . . . 

Then the king adored the wisdom of Amleth as though it were in¬ 
spired, and gave him his daughter to wife; accepting his bare word 
as though it were a witness from the skies. 

Moreover, in order to fulfill the bidding of his friend, he hanged 
Amleth’s companions on the morrow. Amleth, feigning offence, 
treated this piece of kindness as a grievance, and received from the 
king, as compensation, some gold which he afterwards melted in the 
fire, and secretly caused to be poured into some hollowed sticks. 

When he had passed a whole year with the king he obtained leave to 
make a journey, and returned to his own land, carrying away of all 
his princely wealth and state only the sticks which held the gold. On 
reaching Jutland, he exchanged his present attire for his ancient 
demeanour, which he had adopted for righteous ends . . . 

Covered with filth, he entered the banquet-room where his own 
obsequies were being held, and struck all men utterly aghast, rumour 
having falsely noised abroad his death. At last terror melted into 
mirth, and the guests jeered and taunted one another, that he, whose 
last rites they were celebrating as though he were dead, should ap¬ 
pear in the flesh. When he was asked concerning his comrades, he 
pointed to the sticks he was carrying, and said, “Here is both the one 
and the other.” This he observed with equal truth and pleasantry . . . 
for it pointed at the weregild of the slain as though it were them¬ 

Hamlet’s Mill • 18 

Thereon, w ishing to bring the company into a gayer mood, he joined 
the cupbearers, and diligently did the office of plying the drink. 
Then, to prevent his loose dress hampering his walk, he girded his 
sword upon his side, and purposely drawing it several times, pricked 
his fingers with its point. The bystanders accordingly had both sword 
and scabbard riveted across with an iron nail. Then, to smooth the 
way more safely to his plot, he went to the lords and plied them 
heavily with draught upon draught, and drenched them all so deep 
in wine, that their feet were made feeble with drunkenness, and they 
turned to rest within the palace, making their bed where they had 
revelled . . . 

So he took out of his bosom the stakes he had long ago prepared, and 
went into the building, where the ground lay covered with the bodies 
of the nobles wheezing off their sleep and their debauch. Then, cut¬ 
ting away its supports, he brought down the hanging his mother had 
knitted, which covered the inner as well as the outer walls of the hall. 
This he flung upon the snorers, and then applying the crooked stakes, 
he knotted and bound them in such insoluble intricacy, that not one 
of the men beneath, however hard he might struggle, could contrive 
to rise. After this he set fire to the palace. The flames spread, scatter¬ 
ing the conflagration far and wide. It enveloped the whole dwelling, 
destroyed the palace, and burnt them all while they were either 
buried in deep sleep or vainly striving to arise. 

Then he went to the chamber of Fengo, who had before this been 
conducted by his train into his pavilion; plucked up a sword that 
chanced to be hanging to the bed, and planted his own in its place. 
Then, awakening his uncle, he told him that his nobles were perishing 
in the flames, and that Amleth was here, armed with his old crooks 
to help him, and thirsting to exact the vengeance, now long overdue, 
for his father’s murder. Fengo, on hearing this, leapt from his couch, 
but was cut down while, deprived of his own sword, he strove in 
vain to draw the strange one . . . O valiant Amleth, and worthy of 
immortal fame, who being shrewdly armed with a feint of folly, 
covered a wisdom too high for human wit under a marvellous dis¬ 
guise of silliness! and not only found in his subtlety means to protect 
his own safety, but also by its guidance found opportunity to avenge 
his father. By this skillful defence of himself, and strenuous revenge 
for his parent, he has left it doubtful whether we are to think more 
of his wit or his bravery. 

It is a far cry from Saxo’s tale and its uncouth setting to the 
Renaissance refinements of Shakespeare. This is nowhere more ob¬ 
vious than in the scene in the Queen’s hall, with its heaped straw 

19 * The Chronicler's Tale 

on the floor, its simmering caldrons, its open sewer, and the crude 
manner of disposing of “Polonius,” all befitting the rude Middle 
Ages. The whole sad, somber story of the lonely orphan prince is 
turned by Saxo into a Narrenspiel, yet a strong tradition permeates 
the artless narrative. Hamlet is the avenging power whose superior 
intellect confounds evildoers, but his intellect also brings light and 
strength to the helpless and ill-begotten who are made to recognize 
their misery. There is nothing pleasant in the revelation brought 
home to the English king, yet he humbles himself before the ruth¬ 
less insight and “adores” Hamlet’s wisdom as “though it were in¬ 
spired.” More clearly than in Shakespeare, Hamlet is the ambivalent 
power dispensing good and evil. It is clear also that certain episodes, 
like the exchange of swords with Fengo, are crude and pointless 
devices going counter to the heroic theme. These are set dramati¬ 
cally right only when handled by Shakespeare, but they seem to 
indicate an original rigid pattern based on the Ruse of Reason, as 
Hegel would say. Evil is never attacked frontally, even when con¬ 
vention would require it. It is made to defeat itself. Hamlet must 
not be conceived as a heroic misfit, but as a distributor of justice. 
Shakespeare has focused exactly right. He has avoided restoring the 
brutal, heroic element required by the saga, and made the drama 
instead wholly one of the mind. In the light of a higher clarity, who 
can ’scape whipping? 

It would be pointless to compare all over again the several ver¬ 
sions of the Hamlet scheme in the north and west of Europe, and 
in ancient Rome. This has been done very effectually. 2 Thus, it 
is possible to rely on the “identity” of the shadowy Icelandic 
Amlodhi (in a so-called fairy tale his name is Brjam), who is first 
mentioned in the ioth century, and appears anew in Iceland as a 
Danish reimport in the “Ambales Saga,” written in the 16th or 17th 
century. Parallels to Amlethus’ behavior and career have been found 

2 Besides F. Y. Powell’s introduction and appendix to Elton’s translation of Saxo 
Grammaticus’ The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Gra?nmaticus 
(1894), already cited at the opening of the chapter, see the following: P. Herr¬ 
mann, Die Heldensagen des Saxo Grammaticus (1922); I. Gollancz, Hamlet in Ice¬ 
land (1898); R. Zenker, Bo eve-Amlethus (1905); E. N. Setala, “Kullervo-Hamlet,” 
FUF (1903, 1907, 1910). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 20 

in the Sagas of Hrolf Kraki, of Havelok the Dane, as well as in 
several Celtic myths. 3 

In the version reported by Saxo, Hamlet goes on to reign suc¬ 
cessfully. The sequel of his adventures is taken up in book IV of 
the Chronicle, but this narrative shows a very different hand. It is 
an inept job, made of several commonplaces from the repertory of 
ruse and fable, badly stitched together. When Hamlet, in addition 
to the English King’s daughter, is made to marry the Queen of 
Scotland, and bring his two wives home to live together in har¬ 
mony, we can suspect an incompetent attempt to establish a dynas¬ 
tic claim of the House of Denmark to the realm of Britain. Hamlet 
eventually falls in battle, but there is not much in the feats re¬ 
counted to justify Saxo’s dithyrambic conclusion that if he had 
lived longer he might have been another Hercules. The true per¬ 
sonage has been overlaid beyond recognition, although there still 
clings to him a numinous aura. Curiously enough, the misconstruing 
of Hamlet’s story in the direction of success continues today. In 
the recent Russian film version of Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet is 
shown as a purposeful, devious and ruthless character, bent only on 
carrying off a coup d’etat. Yet, in Saxo’s first part, the tragic 
meaning is clearly adumbrated when Hamlet’s return is timed to 
coincide with his own obsequies. The logic requires that he perish 
together with the tyrant. 

The name Amleth, Amlodhi, Middle English Amlaghe, Irish 
Amlaidhe, stands always for “simpleton,” “stupid,” “like unto a 
dumb animal.” It also remained in use as an adjective. Gollancz has 
pointed out that in “The Wars of Alexander,” an alliterative poem 
from the north of England largely translated from the Historia de 
Preliis, Alexander is twice thus mentioned contemptuously by his 

Thou Alexander, thou ape, thou amlaghe out of Greece 
Thou little thefe, thou losangere (1), thou lurkare in cities .. . 

3 See, for Hrolfssaga Kraki, scil., the youth of Helgi and Hroar, and the related 
story of Harald and Haldan (told in Saxo’s seventh book): Zenker, Boeve-Amle- 
thus, pp. 121-26; Herrmann, Die Heldensagen, pp. 27if.; Setala, “Kullervo-Hamlet,” 
FUF 3 (1903), pp. 74E 

2i • The Chronicler's Tale 

Darius, inquiring about Alexander’s appearance, is shown by his 
courtiers a caricature graphically described: 

And thai in parchment him payntid , his person him shewid, 

Ane amlaghe , ane asaleny (z), ane ape of all othire, 

A wirling (3 ), a wayryngle (4), a ivaril-eghid (5) shrewe, 

The caitifeste creatour, that cried (6) was evire 4 

This image of the “caitiffest creature” goes insistently with cer¬ 
tain great figures of myth. With the figure of Hamlet there goes, 
too, the “dog” simile. This is true in Saxo’s Amlethus, in Ambales, in 
the Hrolfssaga Kraki, where the endangered ones, the two princes 
Helgi and Hroar (and in Saxo’s seventh book Harald and Haldan), 
are labeled dogs, and are called by the dog-names “Hopp and Ho.” 

Next comes what looks at first like the prototype of them all, the 
famous Roman story of Lucius Junius Brutus, the slayer of King 
Tarquin, as told first by Titus Livius. (The nickname Brutus 
again connotes the likeness to dumb brutes.) Gollancz says of it: 

The merest outline of the plot cannot fail to show the striking like¬ 
ness between the tales of Hamlet and Lucius Iunius Brutus. Apart 
from general resemblance (the usurping uncle; the persecuted 
nephew, who escapes by feigning madness; the journey; the oracular 
utterances; the outwitting of the comrades; the well-matured plans 
for vengeance), there are certain points in the former story which 
must have been borrowed directly from the latter. This is especially 
true of Hamlet’s device of hiding the gold inside the sticks. This 
could not be due to mere coincidence; and moreover, the evidence 
seems to show that Saxo himself borrowed this incident from the 
account of Brutus in Valerius Maximus; one phrase at least from the 
passage in the Memorabilia was transferred from Brutus to Hamlet 
(Saxo says of Hamlet “obtusi cordis esse,” Valerius “obtusi se cordis 
esse simulavit”). Saxo must have also read the Brutus story as told by 
Livy, and by later historians, whose versions were ultimately based on 
Dionysius of Halicarnassus. 5 

To juxtapose the twin brothers Hamlet and Brutus, here is the 
earlier portion of the tale of Brutus as told by Livy (7.56). The 
subsequent events connected with the rape of Lucrece are too well 
known to need repeating. 

4 (1) liar; (2) little ass; (3) dwarf; (4) little villain; (5) wall-eyed; (6) created. 

5 Gollancz, pp. xxi-xxiv. 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 


While Tarquin was thus employed (on certain defensive measures), 
a dreadful prodigy appeared to him; a snake sliding out of a wooden 
pillar, terrified the beholders, and made them fly into the palace; and 
not only struck the king himself with sudden terror, but filled his 
breast with anxious apprehensions: so that, whereas in the case of 
public prodigies the Etrurian soothsayers only were applied to, being 
thoroughly frightened at this domestic apparition, as it were, he re¬ 
solved to send to Delphi, the most celebrated oracle in the world; 
and judging it unsafe to entrust the answers of the oracle to any other 
person, he sent his two sons into Greece, through lands unknown at 
that time, and seas still more unknown. Titus and Aruns set out, and, 
as a companion, there was sent with them Junius Brutus, son to 
Tarquinia, the king’s sister, a young man of a capacity widely dif¬ 
ferent from the assumed appearance he had put on. Having heard 
that the principal men in the state, and among the rest his brother, 
had been put to death by his uncle, he resolved that the king should 
find nothing in his capacity which he need dread, nor in his fortune 
which he need covet; and he determined to find security in contempt 
since in justice there was no protection. He took care, therefore, to 
fashion his behaviour to the resemblance of foolishness, and submit¬ 
ted himself and his portion to the king’s rapacity. Nor did he show 
any dislike of the surname Brutus, content that, under the cover of 
that appellation, the genius which was to be the deliverer of the 
Roman people should lie concealed, and wait the proper season for 
exertion . . . He was, at this time, carried to Delphi by the Tarquinii, 
rather as a subject of sport than as a companion; and is said to have 
brought, as an offering to Apollo, a golden wand inclosed in a staff 
of cornel wood, hollowed for the purpose, an emblem figurative of 
the state of his own capacity. When they were there, and had exe¬ 
cuted their father’s commission, the young men felt a wish to enquire 
to which of them the kingdom of Rome was to come; and we are told 
that these words were uttered from the bottom of the cave.—“Young 
men, whichever of you shall first kiss your mother, he shall possess 
the sovereign power at Rome” . . . Brutus judged that the expression 
of Apollo had another meaning, and as if he had accidentally stum¬ 
bled and fallen, he touched the earth with his lips, considering that 
she was the common mother of all mankind. 

For most conventional-minded philologists, Brutus was the an¬ 
swer to a prayer, even to the gold enclosed in a stick. They had the 
sound classical source, from which it is reassuring to derive develop¬ 
ments in the outlying provinces. They felt their task to be at an end. 
With a few trimmings of seasonal cults and fertility rites, the whole 

23 • The Chronicler's Tale 

Amlethus package was wrapped, sealed and delivered, to join the 
growing pile of settled issues. 

Yet even the Roman version was not without its disturbing 
peculiarities. Livy reports only the answer to the private question 
of the two princes. But if Tarquin had sent them to Delphi, it 
was to get an answer to his own fears. And the answer is to be 
found in Zonaras’ compendium of the early section of Dio Cassius’ 
lost Roman history. Delphic Apollo said that the king would lose 
his reign “when a dog would speak with human voice.” 6 There is 
no evidence that Saxo read Zonaras. 

There is also a strange variant to Tarquin’s prophetic nightmare 
reported by Livy. It does not lack authority, for it is mentioned 
in Cicero’s De divinatione (1.22) and taken from a lost tragedy on 
Brutus by Accius, an early Roman poet. Says Tarquin: “My dream 
was that shepherds drove up a herd and offered me two beautiful 
rams issued of the same mother. I sacrificed the best of the two, but 
the other charged me with its horns. As I was lying on the ground, 
gravely wounded, and looked up at heaven, I saw a great portent: 
the flaming orb of the sun coming from the right, took a new course 
and melted.” Well may the Etruscan soothsayers have been exer¬ 
cised about the rams and the changed course of the sun in the same 
image, for they were concerned with astronomy. This problem 
will be dealt with later. An interesting variant of this dream is found 
in the Ambales Saga, and it can hardly have come from Cicero. 7 

However all that may be, there is more than enough to suspect 
that the story goes back even farther than the Roman kings. Ac¬ 
cordingly scholars undertook to investigate the link with the Per¬ 
sian legend of Kyros, which turned out not to be rewarding. But 
Saxo himself, even if he read Valerius Maximus, contains features 
which are certainly outside the classical tradition, and he shows 
another way. 

From the Narrenspiel the account of Hamlet’s ride along the 
shore is worth a second look: He notices an old steering oar ( guher - 

6 Zenker, pp. 

7 Gollancz, p. 105. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 

2 4 

naculuvi) left over from a shipwreck, and he asks what it might be. 
“Why,” they say, “it is a big knife.” Then he remarks, “This is 
the right thing to carve such a huge ham”—by which he really 
means the sea. Then, Saxo goes on, “as they passed the sandhills 
and bade him look at the meal, meaning the sand, he replied that it 
had been ground small by the hoary tempests of the ocean. His 
companions praising his answer, he said he had spoken wittingly.” 

It is clear that Saxo at this point does not know what to do with 
the remarks, for he has always pointed out that Amlethus’ answers 
were meaningful. “For he was loth to be thought prone to lying 
about any matter, and wished to be held a stranger to falsehood, 
although he would never betray how far his keenness went.” This 
being the systematic theme of Hamlet’s adventure, a theme worked 
out and contrived to show him as a Sherlock Holmes in disguise, 
the two remarks quoted are the only ones left to look pointlessly 
silly. They do not fit. 

In fact, they come from a vastly different story. Snorri Sturluson, 
the learned poet of Iceland (1178-1241), in his Skaldskaparmal 
(“The Language of the Bards”) explains many kenningar of famous 
bards of the past. He quotes a verse from Snaebjorn, an Icelandic 
skald who had lived long before. This kenning has been the despair 
of translators, as is the case in any very ancient, partly lost poetic 
language. There are no less than three terms in the nine lines that 
can be considered hapax legomena, i.e., terms which occur only 
once. The most authoritative translation is that of Gollancz and 
here it is: 

’Tis said, sang Snaebjorn, that far out, off yonder ness, the Nine Maids 
of the Island Mill stir amain the host-cruel skerry-quern—they who 
in ages past ground Hamlet’s meal. The good chieftain furrows the 
hull’s lair with his ship’s beaked prow. Here the sea is called Am- 
lodhi’s mill. 8 

That is enough. Whatever the obscurities and ambiguities, one 
thing is clear: goodbye to Junius Brutus and the safe playgrounds 
of classical derivations. 

8 Gollancz, p. xi. 

25 ' The Chronicler's Tale 

This deals with the gray, stormy ocean of the North, its huge 
breakers grinding forever the granite skerries, and Amlodhi is its 
king. The quern has not vanished from our language. It is still the 
surf mill. Even the British Island Pilot, in its factual prose, conveys 
something of the power of the Nine Maids, whose very name is 
echoed in the Merry Men of Mey on Pentland Firth: 

When an ordinary gale has been blowing for many days, the whole 
force of the Atlantic is beating against the shores of the Orkneys; 
rocks of many tons in weight are lifted from their beds, and the roar 
of the surge may be heard for twenty miles; the breakers rise to the 
height of 6o feet . . . 

As the storm heightens, “all distinction between air and water is 
lost, everything seems enveloped in a thick smoke.” Pytheas, the 
first explorer of the North, called it the “sea lung,” and concluded 
this must be the end of the earth, where sky and water rejoin each 
other in the original chaos. 

This introduces a much more ancient and certainly independent 
tradition, whose sources are in early Norse myth—or at least run 
through it from a still more ancient lineage. 

Chapter II 

The Figure in Finland 


N ow the discussion leaps. without apologies, over the impas¬ 
sable fence erected by modern philologists to protect the linguistic 
family of Indo-European languages from any improper dealings 
with strange outsiders. It is known that Finland. Esthonia and Lap- 
land are a cultural island, ethnically related to the Hungarians and 
to other faraway Asian peoples: Siryenians. Yotyaks. Cheremis- 
sians. Mordvinians. Moguls. Ostyaks. They speak languages which 
belong to the Ugro-Finnish family, as totally unrelated to Ger¬ 
manic as Basque would be. These languages are described as '‘ag¬ 
glutinative" and often characterized by vowel harmonization, such 
as is found in Turkish. These cultural traditions until quite recently 
were segregated from the Scandinavian environment. Even if West¬ 
ern culture—and Christianity with it—seeped through among the 
literati from the Middle Ages on. their great epic, the Kalev j/j, 
remained intact, entrusted as it was to oral transmission going back 
in unchanged form to very early times. It shows arrestingly primi¬ 
tive features, so primitive that they discourage any attempt at a 
classical derivation. It was collected in writing only in the 19th 
century by Dr. Elias Lonnrot. But even in this segregated tradi¬ 
tion, startling parallels were found with Norse and Celtic myth, 
which must go back to times before their respective recorded his¬ 
tories. The main line of the poem will be dealt with later. Here, it 
is important to look at the story of Kullervo Kalevanpoika ("the 
son of Kaleva"). which has been carefully analyzed by E. X. 
Setala in his masterly inquiry “Kullervo-Hamlet.” 1 His material is 
1 FUF 5 (1903). pp. 61-9-. 188-255; 7 (1907). pp. iSS-::4; to (1910), pp. 44-127- 

27 • The Figure in Finland 

necessary, as well as that collected by Kaarle Krohn, 2 in order 
to take into account many variants (which Lonnrot has not incor¬ 
porated into the runes 31-36 of the official Kalevala ) dealing with 

The first event is the birth of Kullervo’s father and uncle, who 
are, according to rune 31, swans (or chickens), driven from one 
another by a hawk. Usually it is told that a poor man, a plowman, 
made furrows around a tree trunk (or on a small hill) which split 
open, and out of it were born two boys. One of them, Kalervo, 
grew up in Carelia, the other, Untamo, in Suomi-Finland. The 
hate between the brothers arises usually in the following manner: 
Kalervo sows oats before the door of Untamo, Untamo’s sheep eat 
them, Kalervo’s dog kills the sheep; or there is a quarrel about the 
fishing grounds (rune 31.19ft.). Untamo then produces the war. 
In fact, he makes the war out of his fingers, the army out of his 
toes, soldiers of the sinews of his heel. But there are versions where 
Untamo arms trees and uses them as his army. He kills Kalervo and 
all his family, except Kalervo’s wife, who is brought to Untamo’s 
home and there gives birth to our hero, Kullervo. The little one 
is rocked in the cradle for three days, 

when the boy began his kicking, 
and he kicked and pushed about him, 
tore his swaddling clothes to pieces, 
freed himself from all his clothing, 
then he broke the lime-wood cradle? 

At the age of three months, 

when a boy no more than knee-high, 
he began to speak in this wise: 

“Presently when 1 am bigger, 

And my body shall be stronger, 

HI avenge my father's slaughter, 

2 Kalevalastudien 6. Kullervo (1928). 

3 Translated by W. F. Kirby (Everyman’s Library). The original rough meter 
has been made to sound like a poor man’s Hiawatha, but it was the original metric 
model for Longfellow. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


And viy mother's tears atone for." 

This 'was heard by Untamoinen, 

And he spoke the r words which follow: 

“He will bring my race to ruin, 

Kalervo reborn is in him ." 

And the old crones all considered, 
how to bring the boy to ruin, 
so that death might come upon him. 

Untamo tries hard to kill the child, with fire, with water, by hang¬ 
ing. A large pyre is built, Kullervo is thrown into it. When the 
servants of Untamo come after three days to look, 

knee-deep sat the boy in ashes, 
in the embers to his elbows, 
in his hands he held a coal-rake, 
and was stirring up the fire. 

Setala reports a version where the child, sitting in the midst of the 
fire, the (golden) hook in his hand, and stirring the fire, says to 
Untamo’s servants that he is going to avenge the death of his father. 4 
Kullervo is thrown into the sea; after three days they find him sit¬ 
ting in a golden boat, with a golden oar, or, according to another 
version, he is sitting in the sea, on the back of a wave, measuring 
the waters 

Which perchance might fill two ladles, 

Or if more exactly measured, 

Partly was a third filled also. 

Next, they hang the child on a tree, or a gallows is erected—again 
with frustrating results: 

Kullervo not yet has perished, 

Nor has he died on the gallows . 

Pictures on the tree he's carving, 

4 “Kullervo-Hamlet,” FUF 7, p. 192. 

29 • The Figure in Finland 

In his hands he holds a graver. 

All the tree is fiUed with pictures, 

All the oak-tree filled with carvings. 

One tradition says that he is carving the names of his parents 
with a golden stylus. After this the sequence of events is difficult 
to establish. There are variants, where Kullervo performs his re¬ 
venge very soon—he merely goes to a smithy and procures the 
arms. Or he is at once sent out of the country to the smith to serve 
as cowherd and shepherd. But in rune 5/, he is first given smaller 
commissions: to guard and rock a child—he blinds and kills it. Then 
he is sent to clear a forest, and to fell the slender birch trees. 

Five large trees at length had fallen, 

Eight in all he felled before him . 5 

He sits down afterwards and speaks (31.2738.). 

“Le??ipo [the Devil] may the work accomplish, 

Hiisi now may shape the timber /” 

In a stump he struck his axe-blade, 

And began to shout full loudly, 

And he piped, and then he whistled, 

And he said the words which follow: 
u Let the woods be felled around me, 

Overthrown the slender birch-trees, 

Far as sounds my voice resounding, 

Far as I can send my whistle. 

Let no sapling here be growing, 

Let no blade of grass be standing, 

Never while the earth endureth, 

5 There is a strange Dindsencha (this word applies to the explanations of place- 
names which occur repeatedly in Irish tradition; see W. Stokes, “The Prose Tales 
in the Rennes Dindsenchas,” RC 16 , pp. 278f.) about the felling of five giant trees 
—three ash trees, one oak, one yew. “The oak fell to the south, over Mag n-Ailte, 
as far as the Pillar of the Living Tree. 900 bushels was its crop of acorns, and three 
crops it bore every year . . . apples, nuts, and acorns. The ash of Tortu fell to the 
South-east, that from Usnach to the North. The yew north-east, as far as Druinn 
Bairr it fell. The ash of Belach Dahli fell upwards as far as Carn Uachtair Bile. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


Or the golden moon is shining, 

Here in Kalervo's son's forest, 

Here upon the good man's clearing ." 6 

In the Kalevala, Untamo next orders Kullervo to build a fence, 
and so he does, out of whole pines, firs, ash trees. But he made no 
gateway into it, and announced: 

He who cannot raise him birdlike, 

Nor upon two wings can hover, 

Never may he pass across it, 

Over Kalervo's son's fencing! 

Untamo is taken aback: 

Here's a fence without an opening . . . 

Up to heaven the fence is builded, 

To the very clouds uprising. 7 

6 The Esthonian Kalevipoeg (=son of Kaleva, the same as Finnish Kalevan- 
poika) makes the soil barren wherever he has plowed with his wooden plow 
(Setala, FL T F 7, p. 215), but he, too, fells trees with noise—as far as the stroke of his 
axe is heard, the trees fall down (p. 203). As for Celtic tradition, one of the 
Rennes Dindsenchas tells that arable land is changed into woodland because 
brother had killed brother, “so that a wood and stunted bushes overspread Guaire’s 
country, because of the parricide which he committed” (Stokes, RC 16, p. 35). 
Whereas J. Loth ( Les Mabinogion du Livre Rouge de Hergest , vol. /, p. 272, 
n. 6) gives the names of three heroes who make a country sterile: “Morgan 
Mwynvawr, Run, son of Beli, and Llew Llaw Gyffes, who turn the ground red. 
Nothing grew for a year, herb or plant, where they passed: Arthur was more 
‘rudvawc’ than they. 'Where Arthur had passed, for seven years nothing would 
grow.” Rudvawc means “red ravager,” as we learn from Rachel Bromwich 
(Trioedd Ynys Fry dein: The Welsh Triads [1961], p. 35). Seven years was the 
cycle of the German Wild Hunter; Arthur was a Wild Flunter, too. The “Waste 
Land” is, moreover, a standard motif of the legends spun around the Grail and 
the Fisher King. All this will make sense eventually. 

"This might originally have been the same story as the one about Romulus 
drawing a furrow around the new city and killing Remus for jumping over it. 
In the Roman tradition, the murder makes no sense. Without following up this 
key phenomenon here, we would like to say that in Finland the stone labyrinth 
(the English “Troy town”) is called Giant’s Fence, and also St. Peter’s Game, 
Ruins of Jerusalem, Giant’s Street, and Stone Fence (see W. H. Matthews, 
Mazes and Labyrinths , p. 150). Whereas Al-Biruni ( India /, p. 306), when dealing 
with Lanka (Ceylon)—i.e., Ravana’s labyrinth that was conquered by Rama and 
Hanuman—remarks that in Muslim countries this “labyrinthic fortress is called 
Yavana-Koti, which has been frequently explained as Rome.” 

31 • The Figure in Finland 

Kullervo does some more mischief, threshing the grain to mere 
chaff, ripping a boat asunder, feeding the cow and breaking its 
horn, heating the bath hut and burning it down—these are the usual 
feats of the “Strong Boy’’ (the “Starke Hans’’ of German tales, 
who with us became Paul Bunyan). So, finally, he is sent out of the 
country, to the house of Ilmarinen the divine smith, as a cowherd. 
There is, however, a remarkable variant where it is said that he 
was “sent to Esthonia to bark under the fence; he barked one year, 
another one, a little from the third; three years he barked at the 
smith as his uncle, at the wife [or servant] of the smith as his 
daughter-in-law.’’ This sounds strange indeed, and the translator 
himself added question marks. There is a still stranger parallel in 
the great Irish hero Cuchulainn, a central figure of Celtic myth, 
whose name means “Dog of the Smith Culan.” This persistent dog¬ 
gishness will bear investigation at another point and so will Smith 
Ilmarinen himself. 

The wife of Ilmarinen (often called Elina, Helena) makes Kul¬ 
lervo her herdsman, and maliciously bakes a stone into his lunch 
bread so that he breaks his knife, the only heirloom left from his 
father. A crow then advises Kullervo to drive the cattle into the 
marshes and to assemble all the wolves and bears and change them 
into cattle. Kullervo said: 

“Wait thou, wait thou, whore of Hiisi, 

For my father’s knife I'm weeping, 

Soon wilt thou thyself he weeping." (55.1 zyff.) 

He acts on the crow’s advice, takes a whip of juniper, drives the 
cattle into the marshes, and the oxen into the thicket. 

Half of these the wolves devoured, 

To the bears he gave the others, 

And he sang the wolves to cattle, 

And he changed the bears to oxen. 

Kullervo carefully instructs the wolves and the bears on what they 
are expected to do, and (jj.isjfi.) 

Hamlet’s Mill • 32 

Then he wade a pipe of cow-bone, 

And a whistle made of ox-horn, 

From Tuomikki's leg a cow-horn, 

And a flute from heel of Kirjo, 

Then upon the horn blew loudly, 

And upon his pipe made music. 

Thrice upon the hill he blew it, 

Six times at the pathway's opening. 

He drives the “cattle” home, Helena goes to the stables to milk, 
and is torn by wolf and bear. 

This fierce retaliation gives point to an event that is only a feeble 
joke in Saxo’s version. A wolf crosses Hamlet’s path, and he is told 
it is a horse. “Why,” he remarks, “in Fengb’s stud there are too 
few of that kind fighting.” Saxo tries to explain: “This was a gentle 
but witty fashion of invoking a curse upon his uncle’s riches.” It 
makes little sense. One suspects here instead an echo of the theme 
revealed by Kullervo, who drives home wolves and bears in place 
of cattle. The hero’s mastery of wild beasts evokes memories of 
classical myth. This has not escaped Karl Kerenyi, 8 whose com¬ 
ment is useful, although not his line of psychological speculation: 
“It is impossible to try to derive Finnish mythology from the Greek, 
or conversely. Yet it is also impossible not to notice that Kullervo, 
who is the Miraculous Child and the Strong Servant in one, shows 
himself at last to be Hermes and Dionysos. He appears as Hermes 
in the making of musical instruments tied up with the destruction 
of cattle . . . He shows himself as Dionysos in what he does with 
wild beasts and with his enemy. It is Dionysos-like behavior—if we 
see it through the categories of Greek myth—to make wolves and 
bears appear by magic as tame animals, and it is again Dionysos-like 
to use them for revenge against his enemy. We recognize with awe 
the tragic-ironic tone of Euripides’ Bacchae, when we read the 
dramatic scene of the milking of wild beasts. An even closer analogy 
is given by the fate of the Etruscan pirates, Dionysos’ enemies, who 
are chastised by the intervention of wild animals . . .” 

8 K. Kerenyi, “Zum Urkind-Mythologen,” Paideimia i (1940), p. 255. 

33 • The Figure in Finland 

In rune 5J ; Lonnrot makes Kullervo return to his parents and 
brothers and sisters. This is unexpected inasmuch as they have been 
killed a number of runes earlier, although the crux of the many 
rune songs is that the names of the heroes are far from stable and, 
as has already been said, the original order of things is impossible 
to reconstruct. But one event stands out. A sister is not at home. On 
one occasion the hero meets a maiden in the woods, gathering ber¬ 
ries. They lie together and realize later in conversing that they are 
brother and sister. The maiden drowns herself, but Kullervo’s 
mother dissuades him from suicide. So he goes to war, and in so 
doing he fulfills his revenge. First he asks the great god Ukko for 
the gift of a sword (5^.242!?.). 

Then the sword he asked was granted, 

And a sax or d of all most splendid, 

And he slaughtered all the people, 

Untamo's whole tribe xas slaughtered, 

Burned the houses all to ashes, 

And with flame completely burned therm, 

Leaving nothing but the hearthstones, 

Sought but in each yard the rowan. 

Returning home. Kullervo finds no living soul; all have died. When 
he weeps over his mother’s grave, she awakes, 

And beneath the mould made answer: 

“Still there lives the black dog, Musti, 

Go with him into the forest, 

At thy side let him attend thee.” 

There in the thicket reside the blue forest-maidens, and the mother 
advises him to try to win their favor. Kullervo takes the black 
dog and goes into the forest, but when he comes upon the spot 
where he had dishonored his sister, despair overcomes him, and he 
throws himself upon his own sword. 

Here at last a point is made explicitly which in other stories 
remains a dark hint. There is a sin that Hamlet has to atone for. 
The knowledge that Kullervo and his sister killed themselves for 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


unwitting incest calls to mind the fact that in Saxo the adolescent 
Prince is initiated to love by a girl who does not betray him “be¬ 
cause she happened to be his foster-sister and playmate since child¬ 
hood.” This seems contrived, as if Saxo had found there a theme 
he does not grasp. The theme becomes manifest in King Arthur. It 
is ambiguous and elusive, but all the more inexorable in Shakespeare. 
Hamlet must renounce his true love, as he has to renounce himself 
in his predicament: 

“Get thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? 
. . . What should such fellows as I do nawling between earth and 
heaven? We are arrant knaves all; believe none of us. Go thy ways 
to a nunnery.” 

In the play-within-a-play, the Prince feels free to step out of 

Lady, shall I lie in your lap? 

No, my lord. 

I mean, my head upon your lap? 

Ay, my lord . 

Do you think I meant country matters? 

1 think nothing, my lord . 

That is a -fair thought to lie between maid's legs . 

What is, my lord? 

Nothing . 

But the die is cast. Ophelia’s suicide by drowning, like Kullervo’s 
sister’s, brings about the death of her lover—and of her brother too. 
The two aspects join in the final silence. At least Hamlet, ever con¬ 
scious, has had a chance to describe in despair the insoluble knot 
of his guilt: 

“I loved Ophelia; forty thousand brothers 

could not with all their quantity of love 

make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?” 

And now Kullervo. Setala’s analysis of the whole parallel goes as 

35 ' The Figure in Finland 

As concerns generalities: brother kills brother; one son survives, 
who sets his mind on revenge from earliest childhood; the uncle 
tries to kill him, but he succeeds in achieving his revenge. As con¬ 
cerns details: Setala wants to identify the stakes and hooks, which 
the hero in all northern versions shapes or carves, sitting at the 
hearth—Brjam does it in a smithy—with the golden hook or rake 
that little Kullervo, sitting in the middle of the fire, holds in his 
hands, stirring the flames. Each hero (including Kullervo in one of 
the versions found by Setala) makes it clear that he means to avenge 
his father. 

With some puzzlement Setala brings out one other point which 
will turn out to be crucial later on. In every northern version there 
is some dark utterance about the sea. The words are weird. Hamlet 
wants to “cut the big ham” with the steering oar; the child Kullervo 
is found measuring the depth of the sea with an oar or with a ladle. 
Kalevipoeg, the Esthonian counterpart of Kullervo Kalevanpoika, 
measures the depth of lakes with his height. Amlodhi-Ambales, sit¬ 
ting by a bottomless mountain lake, says only: “Into water wind 
has come, into water wind will go.” 


Chapter lit 

The Iranian Parallel 

For from today new feasts and 
customs date 

Because tonight is born Shah Kai 



J_ he Hamlet theme moves now to Persia. Firdausi’s Shahnama, 
the Book of Kings, is the national epic of Iran, 1 and Firdausi 
(ca. a.d. 1010) is still today the national poet. At the time Firdausi 
wrote, his protector, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna, had shifted the 
center of his power to India, and the Iranian empire had long been 
only a memory. With prodigious scholarship, Firdausi, like Homer 
before him, undertook to organize and record the Zendic tradition, 
which extended back from historic times into the purely mythical. 
The first section on the Pishdadian and Kaianian dynasties must be 
considered mythical throughout, although it does reach into his¬ 
toric times and encompasses four of the nine volumes of the Book 
of Kings in the English translation. Khusrau (Chosroes in Greek) is 
also the name of a line of historical rulers, one of whom, Khusrau 
Anushirvan, gave sanctuary to the last philosophers of Greece, the 
members of the Platonic Academy driven out by Justinian in 
a.d. 529. But Firdausi’s Kai Khusrau is the towering figure of his 
own mythical age. Almost one-fifth of the whole work is allotted 
to him. He is actually the Haosravah of the Z end Avesta, and also 

1 We cite here the English translation of Arthur and Edward Warner (1905- 

37 • The Iranian Parallel 

the Rigvedic Sushravah, an identity which raises again the much 
discussed question of a common Indo-European “Urzeit,'’ the time 
of origins. 

The common features of Saxo’s Amlethus and Kai Khusrau are 
so striking that Jiriczek, and after him Zenker, undertook detailed 
comparative studies. 2 But they concluded that the Greek saga of 
Bellerophon might provide a common origin, and that was the end 
of their quest. Classical antiquity has a magnetic quality for the 
scholarly mind. It acts upon it like the Great Lodestone Mountain 
in Sindbad. The frail philological bark comes apart as soon as 
Greece looms over the horizon. Bellerophon’s somber tale would 
provide a parallel too, but does that have to be the end of the trail? 
As Herodotus ruefully remarks, his own Hellenic antiquity goes 
back in recorded memory but a few centuries; beyond that, it 
blends with the Indo-European patrimony of legends. 

In the vast flow of the Shahnama, one prominent feature is the 
perpetual war between “Untamo” and “Kalervo,” here the two 
rival peoples of Turan and Iran. Because the vicissitudes of the 
Kaianian dynasty of Iran are spread over a narrative twice as long 
as both epics of Milton combined, it is necessary here to concentrate 
on one essential aspect. 

The Iranian plot shows some “displacement” in that Afrasiyab 
the Turanian kills, instead of his brother, his nephew Siyawush who 
is also his son-in-law, so that the “avenger” of this crime is bound 
to come forth as the common grandson of the hostile Turanian 
Shah Afrasiyab and his brother, the noble Iranian Shah Kai Ka’us 
(the same one who plays no small role in the Rigveda as Kavya 
Ushanas, and in the Avesta as Kavi Usan). Siyawush, as commander 
of his father’s army, offers peace to the Turanian Afrasiyab, who 
accepts the offer because he has had a catastrophic dream. 3 This 
dream resembles those of Tarquin and Ambales. Kai Ka'us does not 
trust Afrasiyab and declines peace. Siyawush, not wishing to break 
his own treaty with Turan, goes to live with Afrasiyab. 

2 O. L. Jiriczek. “Hamlet in Iran/* ZVV w (1900), pp. 353-64; R. Zenker. Boeve- 
Amlethus (1905), pp. 207-8:. 

3 Firdausi, Warner trans., vol. 2, pp. 232F 

Hamlet’s Mill • 38 

Afrasiyab honors the young man in every way, and gives him a 
large province which he rules excellently, i.e., in the “Golden Age” 
style of his father Kai Ka’us. Siyawush marries first a daughter of 
the Turanian Piran, then Shah Afrasiyab gives him his own 
daughter Farangis. But there is a serpent in that garden. Afrasiyab’s 
jealous brother Garsiwas, an early Polonius, plots so successfully 
against Siyawush that Afrasiyab finally sends an army against the 
blameless young ruler. Siyawush is captured and killed. The wid¬ 
owed Farangis escapes, accompanied by Piran (Siyawush’s first 
father-in-law) to Piran’s home where she gives birth to a boy of 
great beauty, Kai Khusrau, Afrasiyab’s and Kai Ka’us’ common 

One dark and moonless night, while birds, wild beasts 
And cattle slept, Piran in dream beheld 
A spletidour that outshone the sun itself, 

While Siyawush, enthroned and sword in hand, 

Called loudly to him saying: “Rest no more! 

Throw off sweet sleep and think of times to come . 

For from today new feasts and customs date, 

Because to-night is born Shah Kai Khusrau!" 

The chieftain roused him from his sweet repose: 

Gulshahr the sunny-faced woke . Piran 
Said unto her: “Arise, Betake thyself 
To minister to Farangis, for I 
Saw Siyawush in sleep a moment since, 

Surpassing both the sun and ?noon in lustre, 

And crying: ‘Sleep no more, but join the feast 
Of Kai Khusrau, the monarch of the world!' " 

Gulshahr came hasting to the Moon and saw 
The prince already born; she went with cries 
Of joy that made the palace ring again 
Back to Pira?i the chief . “Thou wouldest say," 

She cried, “that kmg and Moon are fairly matched/” 4 

4 Firdausi, Warner trans., vol. 2, pp. 325L 


;9 * The Iranian Parallel 

With this prophetic dream of a great new age begins a long time 
of trials for the predestined hero. The boy grows up among the 
shepherds; he becomes a great hunter with a crude bow and arrows 
that he makes for himself without arrowheads or feathers, like 
Hamlet whittling his stakes. Grandfather Afrasiyab. being afraid of 
the boy. orders the prince brought to him so that he can convince 
himself his victim is harmless. Although Afrasiyab has sworn sol¬ 
emnly not to hurt Khusrau. Piran urges the boy to play the village 
idiot for his own safety. YHien the tyrant questions him with 
feigned benevolence. Kai Khusrau answers in the very same style as 
Amlethus did. in riddles which sound senseless and indicate that 
young Khusrau likens himself to a dog. The usurper feels relieved: 
“The fellow is a fool!” 

Now. the tale of vengeance, unduly abbreviated by Saxo's report 
and in other versions, is told by Firdausi with an appropriately 
majestic setting and on a grand scale. The anger of Iran and the 
world, stemming from the death of Siyawush. is orchestrated apo¬ 
calyptically into a cosmic tumult: 

The world was all revenge and thou hadst said: 

"It is a seething sea. r Earth had no room 
For walking , air was ambushed by the spears; 

The stars began to fray , and time and earth 
Washed hands in mischief .. . 5 

Still, the two archcriminals manage to escape and hide with inex¬ 
haustible resourcefulness. Afrasiyab even plays Proteus in the waters 
of a deep salt lake, constantly assuming new shapes to evade cap¬ 
ture. Finally, two volumes and a multitude of events later. Afrasiyab 
and the evil counsellor are caught with a lasso or a net and both 

Only by going back to the Avestan tradition can one make sense 
of the many vicissitudes to which the Yashts or hymns of the 
A vesta allude repeatedly. 6 The Shahs Kai Khusrau and Afrasiyab 

5 Firdausi. Warner trans., vol. r. p. 54:. 

6 Yasht 541-49: 75.56-64.. -4. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 40 

were contending in a quest for the enigmatic Hvarna, rendered as 
the “Glory,” or the Charisma of Fortune. To obtain it the Shahs 
kept sacrificing a hundred horses, a thousand oxen, ten thousand 
lambs to the goddess Anahita, who is a kind of Ishtar-Artemis. Now 
this Glory “that belongs to the Aryan nations, born and unborn, 
and to the holy Zarathustra” was in Lake Vurukasha. Afrasiyab, 
Shah of the non-Aryan Turanians, was not entitled to it. But leav¬ 
ing his hiding place in an underground palace of iron “a thousand 
times the height of man” and illuminated by artificial sun, moon 
and stars, he tried three times to capture the Hvarna, plunging into 
Lake Vurukasha. However, “the Glory escaped, the Glory fled 
away, the Glory changed its seat.” There will be more discussion 
of Afrasiyab’s attempts and his “horrible utterances,” in the chapter 
“Of Time and the Rivers.” The Glory was, instead, allotted to Kai 
Khusrau, and it was bestowed upon him without much ado. At this 
point it is fair to say that Hvarna stands for Legitimacy, or 
Heavenly Mandate, which is granted to rulers, but is also easily 
withdrawn. Yima (Jamshyd), the earliest “world ruler,” lost it 
three times. 

The story of diving Afrasiyab has had many offshoots in Eurasian 
folklore. There the Turanian Shah is spelled “Devil,” and God 
causes him to dive to the bottom of the sea, so that in the meantime 
one of the archangels, or St. Elias, can steal a valuable object which 
is the legal property of the Devil. Sometimes the object is the sun, 
sometimes the “divine power,” or thunder and lightning, or even a 
treaty between God and Devil which had turned out to be un¬ 
profitable for God. 

There remains the essential denouement. During those eventful 
years, Kai Ka’us held joint rulership with his grandson, secure in 
the Glory. Shortly after the victory over the upstart, Kai Ka’us dies 
and Kai Khusrau ascends the Ivory Throne. For sixty years, says 
the poem, “the whole world was obedient to his sway.” It is strik¬ 
ing that there is no word of any event after Kai Ka’us’ death. May¬ 
be it is because all has been achieved. Happy reigns have no history. 
But it is told that Kai Khusrau falls into deep melancholy and soul- 


41 • The Iranian Parallel 

searching. 7 He fears he may “grow arrogant in soul, corrupt in 
thought” like his predecessors Yima (Jamshyd) and, among others, 
Kai Ka’us himself, who had tried to get himself carried to heaven 
by eagles like the Babylonian Etana. So he makes the supreme 

“And now I deem it better to depart 
To God in all my glory . . . 

Because this Kami crown and throne will pass.” 

The great Shah, then, who had once stated (at his first joint en¬ 
thronement) : 

“ The whole world is my kingdom , all is mine 
From Pisces downward to the Bull's head ” 8 

prepares his departure, takes leave of his paladins, waving aside 
their supplications and those of his whole army: 

A cry rose from the army of Iran: 

The sun hath wandered from its way in heaven! 

The dream of Tarquin finds here an early echo. The Shah appoints 
as his successor Luhrasp and wanders off to a mountaintop, accom¬ 
panied by five of his paladins, to whom he announces in the eve¬ 
ning, before they sit down for the last time to talk of the great past 
they have lived together: 

“ What time the radiant sun shall raise its flag , 

And turn the darksome earth to liquid gold , 

Then is the time when I shall pass away 
And haply with Surush 9 for company .” 

Toward dawn he addresses his friends once more: 

“Farewell for ever! When the sky shall bring 
The sun again ye shall not look on me 

7 Firdausi, Warner trans., vol. 4, pp. 272#. 

8 Firdausi, Warner trans., vol. 2 , p. 407. 

9 Surush = Avestic Sraosha, the “angel” of Ahura Mazdah. 


Hamlet’s Mill • 42 

Henceforth save in your dreams. Moreover be not 
Here on the morrow on these arid sands , 

Although the clouds rain musk , for frora the Mountains 
Will rise a furious blast and snap the boughs 
And leafage of the trees, a storm of snow 
Will shower down from heaven's louring rack , 
towards Iran ye will not find the track” 

The chieftains' heads were heavy at the news . 

The warriors slept in pain, and when the sun 
Rose over the hills the Shah had disappeared. 

The five paladins are lost and buried in the snowstorm. 10 

10 This theme of sleep in the “hour of Gethsemane” will occur more than once, 
e.g., in Gilgamesh. The myth of Quetzalcouatl is even more circumstantial. The 
exiled ruler is escorted by the dwarves and hunchbacks, who are also lost in the 
snow along what is now the Cortez Pass, while their ruler goes on to the sea and 
departs. But here at least he promises to come back and judge the living and the 

Chapter IV 

History, Myth and Reality 

“Let us try, then, to set forth in 
our statement what things these 
are, and of what kind, and how 
one should learn them ... It is, 
indeed, a rather strange thing to 
hear; but the name that we, at 
any rate, give it—one that people 
would never suppose, from inex¬ 
perience in the matter—is astron¬ 
omy; people are ignorant that he 
who is truly an astronomer must 
be wisest, not he who is an as¬ 
tronomer in the sense understood 
by Hesiod . . . ; but the man who 
has studied the seven out of the 
eight orbits, each travelling over 
its own circuit in such a manner 
as could not ever be easily ob¬ 
served by any ordinary nature 
that did not partake of a marvel¬ 
lous nature.” 

Epinomis 989 E-990 b 


JL he strange exd of the Iranian tale, which concludes with an 
ascent to heaven like that of Elias, leaves the reader wondering. If 
this is the national epos (almost one half of it in content), where is 
the epic and the tragic element? In fact, there is a full measure of 
the Homeric narrative in Firdausi that had to be left aside, there are 
great battles as on the windy plains of Troy, challenges and duels, 
the incredible feats of heroes like Rustam and Zal, abductions and 
intrigues, infinite subplots to the tale, enough for a bard to entertain 

Hamlet’s Mill • 44 

his patrons for weeks and to ensure him a durable supply of 
haunches of venison. But the intervention of the gods in the tale 
is not so humanized as in the Iliad, although it shows through re¬ 
peatedly in complicated symbolism and bizarre fairy tales. The con¬ 
flict of will and fate is not to the measure of man. What has been 
traced above is a confusing story of dynastic succession under a 
shadowy Glory, a Glory without high events, keyed to a Hamlet 
situation and an unexplained melancholy. The essence is an unsub¬ 
stantial pageant of ambiguous abstractions, an elusive ballet of 
wildly symbolic actions tied to ritual magic and religious doctrines, 
with motivations which bear no parallel to normal ones. The whole 
thing is a puzzle to be interpreted through hymns—very much as 
in the Rigveda. 

But here at last there is given apertis verbis one key to the imag¬ 
ery: Khusrau’s crowning words: 

“The whole world is my kingdom: all is mine 
From Pisces downward to the Bull's head." 

If a hero of the western hemisphere were to proclaim: “All of 
this continent is mine, from Hatteras to Eastport,” he would be 
considered afflicted with a one-dimensional fancy. Does that stretch 
of coast stand in his mind for a whole continent? Yet here the 
words make perfect sense because Kai Khusrau does not refer to the 
earth. He designates that section of the zodiac comprised between 
Pisces and Aldebaran, the thirty degrees which cover the constel¬ 
lation Aries. It means that his reign is not only of heaven, it is essen¬ 
tially of Time. The dimension of heaven is Time. Kai Khusrau 
comes in as a function of time, preordained by events in the zodiac. 

“For from today new feasts and customs date ...” 

Why Aries, and what it all imports, is not relevant at this point. It 
turns out that “ruler of Aries” was the established title of supreme 
power in Iran , 1 and it may have meant as much or as little as “Holy 

1 Persia “belongs” to Aries according to Paulus Alexandrinus. See Boll’s Sphaera, 
pp. 296L, where it is stated that this was the oldest scheme. It is still to be found 
in the Apocalypse. Moses’ ram’s horns stand for the same world-age. 

45 * History , Myth and Reality 

Roman Emperor” in the West. What counts is that Rome is a place 
on earth, whose prestige is connected with a certain historical pe¬ 
riod, whereas Aries is a zone of heaven, or rather, since heaven 
keeps moving, a certain time determined by heavenly motion in 
connection with that constellation. Rome is a historic fact, even 
“Eternal Rome,” which was once and then is left only to memory. 
Aries is a labeled time, and is bound to come back within certain 

Even if Kai Khusrau is conceived as a worldly ruler in an epos 
which prefaces history, it is clear that no modern historical or 
naturalistic imagination can provide the key to such minds as those 
of the Iranian bards out of whose rhapsodies the learned Firdausi 
organized the story. No basis in history can be found, no fertility 
or seasonal symbolism can be traced into it, and even the psycho¬ 
analysts have given up trying. This type of thought can be defined 
in one way: it is essentially cosmological. 

This is not to make things uselessly difficult, but to outline the 
real frame of mythical thought, such as is actually quite familiar 
and yet by now hardly recognized. It even appears in the mode of 
lyrical meditation, at least in the English of Fitzgerald: 

Iram indeed is gone with all its Rose 
And Jamshyd's Sev'n-ringed Cup where no one knows 
But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields 
And still a Garden by the Water blows . 

And look—a thousand Blossoms with the Day 
Woke—and a thousand scatter'd into Clay 

And the first Summer month that brings the Rose 
Shall take Jamshyd and Kai Kubad away . 

But come with old Khayyam , and leave the lot 
Of Kai Kubad and Kai Khosrau forgot . . . 

Omar Khayyam may speak as a weary skeptic or as mystical Sufi, 
but all he speaks of is understood as real. The heroes of the past are 
as real as the friends for whom he is writing, as the vine and the 
roses and the waters, as his own direct experience of flux and im- 

Hamlet’s Mill • 46 

permanence in life. When he makes his earthenware pots to feel 
and think, it is no literary trope; it is the knowledge that all tran¬ 
sient things are caught in the same transmutation, that all substance 
is one: the stuff that pots and men and dreams are made of. 

This is what could be called living reality, and it is singularly 
different from ordinary or objective reality. When the poet thinks 
that this brick here may be the clay that was once Kai Khusrau, he 
rejoins Hamlet musing in the graveyard: “To what base uses we 
return, Horatio! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of 
Alexander till’a find it stopping a bung-hole?” Here are already 
four characters, two of them unreal, two lost in the haze of time, 
yet all equally present in our game, whereas most concrete charac¬ 
ters, say the Director of Internal Revenue, are not, however they 
may affect us otherwise. In that realm of “true existence” we shall 
find stars and vines and roses and water, the eternal forms, and it 
will include also the ideas of mathematics, another form of direct 
experience. The world of history is outside it as a whole. Khayyam 
does not, any more than Firdausi a generation later, mention the 
glories of Cyrus and Artaxerxes, but only mythical heroes, just as 
our own Middle Ages ignored history and spoke of Arthur and 
Gawain. It had been all “once upon a time,” and if Dante brings 
back myth so powerfully to life, it is because his own contempora¬ 
ries believed themselves truly descended from Dardanus and Troy, 
and wondered whether the Lord Ulysses might not still be alive; 
whereas Kaiser Barbarossa, asleep in his Kyffhauser mountain—that 
must surely be a fable like Snow White. Or is it? Fairy tales are 
easily dismissed for their familiar sound. But it might turn out that 
such great imperial figures turned into legend have a hidden life of 
their own, that they follow the laws of myth laid down long before 
them. Even as King Arthur did not really die but lives on in the 
depth of the mystic lake, according to Merlin’s prophecy, so God¬ 
frey of Viterbo (c. 1190), who had been in Barbarossa’s service, 
alone brings the “true” version. It is the orthodox one in strangely 
preserved archaic language: the Emperor sleeps on in the depth of 
the Watery Abyss (cf. chapter XI and appendix #33) where the 
retired rulers of the world are. 

47 ' History, Myth and Reality 

Voire, ou sont de Constantinople 
L'empereurs aux poings dorez . . . 

A distinction begins to appear between myth and fable. Hamlet 
is showing himself in the aspect of a true myth, a universal one. He 
is still that now. And Khayyam was the greatest mathematician of 
his time, the author of a planned calendar reform which turned out 
to be even more precise than the one that was adopted later as the 
Gregorian calendar, an intellect in whom trenchant skepticism 
could coexist with profound Sufi intellection. He knew full well 
that Jamshyd’s seven-ringed cup is not lost, since it stands for the 
seven planetary circles of which Jamshyd is the ruler, just as Jam¬ 
shyd’s magic mirror goes on reflecting the whole world, as it is the 
sky itself. But it is natural to let them retain their iridescent mys¬ 
tery, since they belong to the living reality, like Plato’s whorls and 
his Spindle of Necessity. Or like Hamlet himself. 

What then were Jamshyd or Kai Khusrau? To the simple, a 
magic image, a fable. To those who understood, a reflection of 
Time itself, obviously one of its major aspects. They could be 
recognized under many names in many places, even conflicting al¬ 
lusions. It was always the same myth, and that was enough. It 
expressed the laws of the universe, in that specific language, the 
language of Time. This was the way to talk about the cosmos. 

All that is living reality, sub specie transeuntis, has a tale, as it 
appears in awesome, or appalling, or comforting aspects, in the 
“fearful symmetry” of tigers or theorems, or stars in their courses, 
but always alive to the soul. It is a play of transmutations which 
include us, ruled by Time, framed in the eternal forms. A thought 
ruled by Time can be expressed only in myth. When mythical 
languages were universal and self-explanatory, thought was also 
self-sufficient. It could seek no explanation of itself in other terms, 
for it was reality expressed as living. As Goethe said, “Alles Ver- 
gangliche—ist nur ein Gleichnis.” 

Men today are trained to think in spatial terms, to localize ob¬ 
jects. After childhood, the first question is “where and when did it 
happen?” As science and history invade the whole landscape of 

Hamlet’s Mill • 48 

thought, the events of myth recede into mere fable. They appear 
as escape fantasies: unlocated, hardly serious, their space ubiquitous, 
their time circular. 

Yet some of those stories are so strong that they have lived on 
vividly. These are true myths. These personages are unmistakably 
identified, yet elusively fluid in outline. They tell of gigantic figures 
and superhuman events which seem to occupy the whole living 
space between heaven and earth. Those figures often lend their 
names to historical persons in passing and then vanish. Any attempt 
to tie them down to history, even to the tradition of great and 
catastrophic events, is invariably a sure way to a false trail. His¬ 
torical happenings will never “explain” mythical events. Plutarch 
already knew as much. Instead, mythical figures have invaded his¬ 
tory under counterfeit presentments, and subtly shaped it to their 
own ends. This is a working rule which was established long ago, 
and it has proved constantly valid if one is dealing with true myth 
and not with ordinary legends. To be sure, mythical figures are 
born and pass on, but not quite like mortals. There have to be char¬ 
acteristic styles for them like The Once and Future King. Were 
they once? Then they have been before, or will be again, in other 
names, under other aspects, even as the sky brings back forever its 
configurations. Surely, if one tried to pinpoint them as persons and 
things, they would melt before his eyes, like the products of sick 
fantasy. But if one respects their true nature, they will reveal that 
nature as junctions. 

Functions of what? Of the general order of things as it could be 
conceived. These figures express the behavior of that vast complex 
of variables once called the cosmos. They combine in themselves 
variety, eternity, and recurrence, for such is the nature of the cos¬ 
mos itself. That the cosmos might be infinite seems to have re¬ 
mained beyond the threshold of awareness of humankind up to the 
time of Lucretius, of Bruno and Galileo. And Galileo himself, who 
had serious doubts on the matter, agreed with all his predecessors 
that surely the universe is eternal, and that hence all its changes 
come under the law of periodicity and recurrence. “What is eter¬ 
nal,” Aristotle said, “is circular, and what is circular is eternal.” 

49 ' History, Myth and Reality 

That was the mature conclusion of human thought over millennia. 
It was, as has been said, an obsession with circularity. There is 
nothing new under the sun, but all things come back in ever-varying 
recurrence. Even the hateful word “revolution” referred once only 
to those of the celestial orbs. The cosmos was one vast system full 
of gears within gears, enormously intricate in its connections, which 
could be likened to a many-dialed clock. Its functions appeared and 
disappeared all over the system, like strange cuckoos in the clock, 
and wonderful tales were woven around them to describe their 
behavior; but just as in an engine, one cannot understand each part 
until one has understood the way all the parts interconnect in the 

Similarly, Rudyard Kipling in a droll allegory, “The Ship That 
Found Herself,” once explained what happens on a new ship in her 
shakedown voyage. All the parts spring into clamorous being as 
each plays its role for the first time, the plunging pistons, the groan¬ 
ing cylinders, the robust propeller shaft, the straining bulkheads, 
the chattering rivets, each feeling at the center of the stage, each 
telling the steam about its own unique and incomparable feats, until 
at last they subside into silence as a new deep voice is heard, that 
of the ship, who has found her identity at last. 

This is exactly what happens with the great array of myths. All 
the myths presented tales, some of them weird, incoherent or out¬ 
landish, and some epic and tragic. At last it is possible to understand 
them as partial representations of a system, as functions of a whole. 
The vastness and complexity of the system is only beginning to take 
shape, as the parts fall into place. The only thing to do is proceed 
inductively, step by step, avoiding preconceptions and letting the 
argument lead toward its own conclusions. 

In the simple story of Kai Khusrau, the Hamlet-like features are 
curiously preordained, although it is not clear to what end. The 
King’s power is explicitly linked, in time and space, with the mov¬ 
ing configurations of the heavens. It is common knowledge that 
heaven in its motion does provide coordinates for time and place 
on earth. The navigator’s business is to operate on this connection 
between above and below. But in the early centuries, the connec- 

Hamlet’s Mill • 50 

tion was infinitely richer in meaning. No historical monarch, how¬ 
ever convinced of his charisma, could have said: “The whole world 
is my kingdom, all is mine from Pisces to Aldebaran.” Earthly 
concepts seem to have been transferred to heaven, and inversely. 
In fact, this world of myth imbricates uranography and geography 
into a whole which is really one cosmography, and the “geographi¬ 
cal” features referred to can be mystifying, as they may imply 
either of these domains or both. 

For instance, when the “rivers” Okeanos or Eridanos are men¬ 
tioned, are they not conceived as being first in heaven and then 
eventually on earth, too? It is as if any region beyond ancient man’s 
direct ken were to be found simply “upwards.” True events, even 
in an official epic like the Shahnama, are not “earth-directed.” They 
tend to move “upwards.” This is the original form of astrology, 
which is both vaster and less defined than the later classic form 
which Ptolemy set forth. Even as the cosmos is one, so cosmogra¬ 
phy is made up of inextricably intertwined data. To say that events 
on earth reflect those in heaven is a misleading simplification to 
begin with. In Aristotelian language, form is said to be metaphys¬ 
ically prior to matter, but both go together. It is still necessary to 
discover which is the focus of “true” events in heaven. 

To recapitulate for clarity, whatever is true myth has no his¬ 
torical basis, however tempting the reduction, however massive and 
well armed the impact of a good deal of modern criticism on that 
belief. The attempt to reduce myth to history is the so-called “eu- 
hemerist” trend, from the name of Euhemeros, the first debunker. 
It was a wave of fashion which is now receding, for it was too 
simpleminded to last. Myth is essentially cosmological. As heaven in 
the cosmos is so vastly more important than our earth, it should not 
be surprising to find the main functions deriving from heaven. To 
identify them under a variety of appearances is a matter of mytho¬ 
logical judgment, of the capacity to recognize essential forms 
through patient sifting of the immense amount of material. 

Hamlet “is” here Kullervo, there Brutus or Kai Khusrau, but 
always recognizably the same. Jamshyd reappears as Yama among 
the Indo-Aryans, as Huang-ti, the Yellow Emperor, in China, and 

51 • History, Myth and Reality 

under many other names. There was always the tacit understanding, 
for those who spoke the archaic language, who were involved in 
the archaic cosmos, that he is everywhere the same function. And 
who is the Demiurge? He has many names indeed. Plato does not 
care to explain in our terms. Is this personage a semi-scientific fic¬ 
tion, the manufacturer of a planetarium, just as the Lost Continent 
of Atlantis is a semi-historical fiction? The author himself says only 
that such stories are “not quite serious.” Yet they are surely not a 
spoof. Plato, who shaped what is called philosophy and its language, 
who was the master of its penetrating distinctions, reverts to the 
language of myth when he feels he has to; and he uses that ancient 
language as if to the manner born. 2 

In this accounting for past myths, the heart of the problem re¬ 
mains elusive. Kipling was a writer still marvelously attuned to the 
juvenile mind that lives in most of us. But the fact is that myth it¬ 
self, as a whole, is a lost world. The last forms—or rehearsals—of 
a true myth took place in medieval culture: the Romance of Alex¬ 
ander, and the Arthurian myth as it is found in Malory.* 

There are other stories—we call them history—of man’s conquest 
over nature, the telling of the great adventure of mankind as a 
whole. But here it is only faceless social man who is winning man’s 
victories. It is not the history of technology; it is, if anything, 
science fiction that can bring in the adventures of the future. Science 
fiction, when it is good, is a wholly valid attempt at restoring a 
mythical element, with its adventures and tragedies, its meditations 
on man’s errors and man’s fate. For true tragedy is an essential com¬ 
ponent or outcome of myth. Possibly, history can be given a minute 

2 In his Seventh Letter (341C-344D) he denies strongly that scientific ‘‘names'’ and 
“sentences” ( onomata , remata) could assist in obtaining essential insight. Cf. also 
Clemens Alexandrinus, Stromata 5.9.58. 

* Still, there have been modern attempts deserving the name of myth. One, of 
course, is Sir Thomas More’s Utopia , which has taken on so much meaning through 
the centuries. We realize today that it, too, was partly oracular. And we should 
not forget Alice in Wonderland, the perfect nonsense myth, as significant and as 
nonsensical as the Kalevala itself. This parallel will appear relevant at the end of 
the appendices. Today, there is Austin Wright’s Islandia, which appeared in 1942, 
and its present sequel, The Islar, by Mark Saxton, to be published in the autumn 
of 1969. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


of timeliness and then dismissed with its load of interpretations and 
apprehensions that last as long as the reading—but the real present, 
the only thing that counts, is the eternal Sphinx. 

Today’s children, that impassive posterity to whom all reverence 
is due, know where to look for myths: in animal life, in the Jungle 
Books, in the stories of Lassie and Flipper, where innocence is un¬ 
assailable, in Western adventures suitably arranged by grownups 
for the protection of law and order. Much of the rest sedulously 
built up by mass media is modern prejudice and delusion, like the 
glamor of royalty, or the perfection of super-detergents and cos¬ 
metics: super-stitio, leftovers. So one might feel tempted to say: 
actually, however, no particle of myth today is left over, and we 
have to do only with a deliberate lie about the human condition. 
Tolkien’s efforts at reviving the genre, whatever the talent em¬ 
ployed, carry as much conviction as the traditional three-dollar bill. 

The assumed curious child would have been pleased only if he 
had been told the “story” of the engine just as Kipling tells it, which 
is hardly the style of a mechanical engineer. But suppose now the 
child had been confronted with the “story” of a planet as it emerges 
from the textbooks of celestial mechanics, and had been asked to 
calculate its orbits and perturbations. This would be a task for a 
joyless grownup, and a professional one at that. Who else could 
face the pages bristling with partial differential equations, with long 
series of approximations, with integrals contrived from pointless 
quadratures? Truly a world of reserved knowledge. But if, on the 
other hand, a person living several thousand years ago had been 
confronted with cunningly built tales of Saturn's reign, and of his 
exorbitant building and modeling activities—after he had “separated 
Heaven and Earth” by means of that fateful sickle, that is, after he 
had established the obliquity of the ecliptic ... If he had heard of 
Jupiter’s ways of command and his innumerable escapades, popu¬ 
lating the earth with gentle nymphs forever crossed in their quest 
for happiness, escapades that were invariably successful in spite of 
the constant watchfulness of his jealous “ox-eyed” or sometimes 
“dog-eyed” spouse ... If this person also learned of the fierce ad¬ 
ventures of Mars, and the complex mutual involvement of gods 

53 • History , Myth and Reality 

and heroes expressing themselves in terms of action and unvarying 
numbers, he would have been a participant in the process of mythi¬ 
cal knowledge. This knowledge would have been transmitted by 
his elders, confirmed by holy commands, rehearsed by symbolic 
experiences in the form of musical rites and performances involving 
his whole people. He would have found it easier to respect than 
comprehend, but it would have led to an idea of the overall texture 
of the cosmos. In his own person, he would have been part of a 
genuine theory of cosmology, one he had absorbed by heart, that 
was responsive to his emotions, and one that could act on his aspira¬ 
tions and dreams. This kind of participation in ultimate things, now 
extremely difficult for anyone who has not graduated in astro¬ 
physics, was then possible to some degree for everyone, and no¬ 
where could it be vulgarized. 

That is what is meant here by mythical knowledge. It was under¬ 
stood only by a very few, it appealed to many, and it is forever 
intractable for those who approach it through “mathematics for the 
million'’ or by speculations on the unconscious. In other words, 
this is a selective and difficult approach, employing the means at 
hand and much thought, limited surely, but resistant to falsifi¬ 

How, in former times, essential knowledge was transmitted on 
two or more intellectual levels can be learned from Germaine 
Dieterlen's introduction to Marcel Griaule's Conversations veith 
Ogotevivieli , which deals with Dogon education and with the per¬ 
sonal experience of the members of La Mission Griaule , who had to 
wait sixteen years before the sage old men of the tribe decided to 
“open the door.’' 3 The description is revealing enough to be quoted 
in full: 

In African societies which have preserved their traditional organiza¬ 
tion the number of persons who are trained in this knowledge is 
quite considerable. This they call ‘‘deep knowledge" in contrast with 
“simple knowledge" which is regarded as “only a beginning in the 
understanding of beliefs and customs" that people who are not fully 
instructed in the cosmogony possess. There are various reasons for 
the silence that is generally observed on this subject. To a natural 

3 M. Griaule, Conversations v'ith Ogotemnieli (1965), pp. xiv-xvii. 

Hamlet’s Mill 

’ 54 

reserve before strangers who, even when sympathetic, remain un¬ 
consciously imbued with a feeling of superiority, one must add the 
present situation of rapid change in African societies through con¬ 
tact with mechanization and the influence of school teaching. But 
among groups where tradition is still vigorous, this knowledge, which 
is expressly characterized as esoteric, is only secret in the following 
sense. It is in fact open to all who show a will to understand so long 
as, by their social position and moral conduct, they are judged worthy 
of it. Thus every family head, every priest, every grown-up person 
responsible for some small fraction of social life can, as part of the 
social group, acquire knowledge on condition that he has the pa¬ 
tience and, as the African phrase has it, “he comes to sit by the side 
of the competent elders” over the period and in the state of mind 
necessary. Then he will receive answers to all his questions, but it 
'will take years. Instruction begun in childhood during assemblies 
and rituals of the age-sets continues in fact throughout life. 

These various aspects of African civilization gradually became clear 
in the course of intensive studies undertaken among several of the 
peoples of Mali and Upper Volta over more than a decade. In the 
case of the Dogon, concerning whom there have already been nu¬ 
merous publications, these studies have made possible the elaboration 
of a synthesis covering the greater part of their activities. 

We should now record the important occurrence during the field 
expedition of 1947 which led to the writing of this particular study. 
From 1931 the Dogon had answered questions and commented on 
observations made during previous field trips on the basis of the in¬ 
terpretation of facts which they call “la parole de face”; this is the 
“simple knowledge” which they give in the first instance to all 
enquirers. Publications of information obtained before the studies in 
1948 relate to this first level of interpretation. 

But the Dogon came to recognize the great perseverance of Marcel 
Griaule and his team in their enquiries, and that it was becoming in¬ 
creasingly difficult to answer the multiplicity of questions without 
moving on to a different level. They appreciated our eagerness for 
an understanding which earlier explanations had certainly not satis¬ 
fied, and which was clearly more important to us than anything else. 
Griaule had also shown a constant interest in the daily life of the 
Dogon, appreciating their efforts to exploit a difficult country where 
there was a serious lack of water in the dry season, and our relation¬ 
ships, which had thus extended beyond those of ethnographical en¬ 
quiry, became more and more trusting and affectionate. In the light 
of all this, the Dogon took their own decision, of which we learned 
only later when they told us themselves. The elders of the lineages 

55 # History, Myth and Reality 

of the double village of Ogol and the most important totemic priests 
of the region of Sanga met together and decided that the more eso¬ 
teric aspects of their religion should be fully revealed to Professor 
Griaule. To begin this they chose one of their best informed mem¬ 
bers, Ogotommeli, who, as will be seen in the introduction, arranged 
the first interview. This first exposition lasted exactly the number of 
days recorded in Dien d'Ean , in which the meandering flow of in¬ 
formation is faithfully reported. Although we knew nothing of it at 
the time, the progress of this instruction by Ogotemmeli was being 
reported on daily to the council of elders and priests. 

The seriousness and importance of providing this expose of Dogon 
belief was all the greater because the Dogon elders knew perfectly 
well that in doing so they were opening the door, not merely to these 
thirty days of information, but to later and more intensive work 
which was to extend over months and years. They never withdrew 
from this decision, and we should like to express here our grateful 
thanks to them. After Ogotemmeli’s death, others carried on the 
work. And since Professor Griaule’s death they have continued with 
the same patience and eagerness to complete the task they had under¬ 
taken. These later enquiries have made possible the publication of the 
many further studies cited in the bibliography, and the preparation 
of a detailed treatise entitled Le Renard Pale , the first part of which 
is now in press. And in 1963, as this is written, the investigation still 


A Guide for the Perplexed 

Tout-puissants etrangers, inevitables astres . . . 

Valery, La Jeune Parque 

This book is highly unconventional, and often the flow of the tales 
will be interrupted to put in words of guidance, in the fashion of 
the .Middle Ages, to emphasize salient points. 

To begin with, there is no system that can be presented in mod¬ 
ern analytical terms. There is no key, and there are no principles 
from which a presentation can be deduced. The structure comes 
from a time when there was no such thing as a system in our sense, 
and it would be unfair to search for one. There could hardly have 
been one among people who committed all their ideas to memory. 

It can be considered a pure structure of numbers. From the 
beginning we considered calling this essay “Art of the Fugue.” 
And that excludes any “world-picture,” a point that cannot be 
stressed strongly enough. Any effort to use a diagram is bound to 
lead into contradiction. It is a matter of times and rhythms. 

The subject has the nature of a hologram, something that has to 
be present as a whole to the mind. 1 Archaic thought is cosmological 
first and last; it faces the gravest implications of a cosmos in ways 
which reverberate in later classic philosophy. The chief implication 
is a profound awareness that the fabric of the cosmos is not only 
determined, but overdetermined and in a way that does not permit 
the simple location of any of its agents, whether simple magic or 

1 In optics, “hologram” is the interference pattern of light with itself; i.e., every 
part of an image is displayed at every point, as if every point looked at every 
source of light. 

57 ' A Guide for the Perplexed 

astrology, forces, gods, numbers, planetary powers, Platonic Forms, 
Aristotelian Essences or Stoic Substances. Physical reality here 
cannot be analytical in the Cartesian sense; it cannot be reduced 
to concreteness even if misplaced. Being is change, motion and 
rhythm, the irresistible circle of time, the incidence of the “right 
moment,” as determined by the skies. 

There are many events, described with appropriate terrestrial 
imagery, that do not, however, happen on earth. In this book there 
is mention of floods. In tradition, not one but three floods are 
registered, one being the biblical flood, equivalents of which are 
mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian annals. The efforts of pious 
archaeologists to connect the biblical narrative with geophysical 
events are highly conjectural. There have been floods in .Mesopo¬ 
tamia causing grievous loss of life. There still are in the river plains 
of China and elsewhere, but none of the total nature that the Bible 

There are tales, too, of cataclysmic deluges throughout the great 
continental masses, in Asia and America, told by peoples veho have 
never seen the sea, or lakes, or great rivers. The floods the Greeks 
described, like the flood of Deucalion, are as “mythical” as the 
narrative of Genesis. Greece is not submersible, unless by tsunamis. 
Deucalion and his wife landed on Mount Parnassus, high above 
Delphi, the “Navel of the Earth,” and were the only survivors of 
this flood, the second, sent by Zeus in order to destroy the men of 
one world-age. Classical authors disagreed on the specification of 
which world-age. Ovid voted for the Iron Age. Plato’s Solon keeps 
his conversation with the Egyptian priest on a mythical level, and 
his discussion of the two types of world destruction, by fire or 
water, is astronomical. 

The “floods” refer to an old astronomical image, based on an ab¬ 
stract geometry. That this is not an “easy picture” is not to be 
wondered at. considering the objective difficulty of the science of 
astronomy. But although a modern reader does not expect a text on 
celestial mechanics to read like a lullaby, he insists on his capacity 
to understand mythical “images” instantly, because he can respect 
as “scientific” only page-long approximation formulas, and the like. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 58 

He does not think of the possibility that equally relevant knowledge 
might once have been expressed in everyday language. He never 
suspects such a possibility, although the visible accomplishments of 
ancient cultures—to mention only the pyramids, or metallurgy— 
should be a cogent reason for concluding that serious and intelli¬ 
gent men were at work behind the stage, men who were bound to 
have used a technical terminology. 

Thus, archaic “imagery” is strictly verbal, representing a specific 
type of scientific language, which must not be taken at its face 
value nor accepted as expressing more or less childish “beliefs.” 
Cosmic phenomena and rules were articulated in the language, or 
terminology, of myth, where each key word was at least as “dark” 
as the equations and convergent series by means of which our 
modern scientific grammar is built up. To state it briefly, as we are 
going to do, is not to explain it—far from it. 

First, what was the “earth”? In the most general sense, the 
“earth” was the ideal plane laid through the ecliptic. The “dry 
earth,” in a more specific sense, was the ideal plane going through 
the celestial equator. The equator thus divided two halves of the 
zodiac which ran on the ecliptic, 2 3%° inclined to the equator, one 
half being “dry land” (the northern band of the zodiac, reaching 
from the vernal to the autumnal equinox), the other representing 
the “waters below” the equinoctial plane (the southern arc of the 
zodiac, reaching from the autumnal equinox, via the winter solstice, 
to the vernal equinox). The terms “vernal equinox,” “winter 
solstice,” etc., are used intentionally because myth deals with time, 
periods of time which correspond to angular measures, and not with 
tracts in space. 

This could be neglected were it not for the fact that the equi¬ 
noctial “points”—and therefore, the solstitial ones, too—do not re¬ 
main forever where they should in order to make celestial goings-on 
easier to understand, namely, at the same spot with respect to the 
sphere of the fixed stars. Instead, they stubbornly move along the 
ecliptic in the opposite direction to the yearly course of the sun, 
that is, against the “right” sequence of the zodiacal signs (Taurus-* 
Aries-»Pisces, instead of Pisces—>Aries->Taurus). 

59 ' A Guide for the Perplexed 

This phenomenon is called the Precession of the Equinoxes, and 
it was conceived as causing the rise and the cataclysmic fall of ages 
of the world. Its cause is a bad habit of the axis of our globe, which 
turns around in the manner of a spinning top, its tip being in the 
center of our small earth-ball, whence our earth axis, prolonged to 
the celestial North Pole, describes a circle around the North Pole 
of the ecliptic, the true “center'’ of the planetary system, the radius 
of this circle being of the same magnitude as the obliquity of the 
ecliptic with respect to the equator: 23^°. The time which this 
prolonged axis needs to circumscribe the ecliptical North Pole is 
roughly 26,000 years, during which period it points to one star after 
another: around 3000 B.c. the Pole star was alpha Draconis; at the 
time of the Greeks it was beta Ursae Minoris; for the time being it 
is alpha Ursae Minoris; in a.d. 14,000 it will be Vega. The equi¬ 
noxes, the points of intersection of ecliptic and equator, swinging 
from the spinning axis of the earth, move with the same speed of 
26,000 years along the ecliptic. 

The sun’s position among the constellations at the vernal equinox 
was the pointer that indicated the “hours” of the precessional cycle 
—very long hours indeed, the equinoctial sun occupying each zodi¬ 
acal constellation for about 2,200 years. The constellation that rose 
in the east just before the sun (that is, rose heliacally) marked the 
“place” where the sun rested. At this time it was known as the 
sun’s “carrier,” and as the main “pillar” of the sky, the vernal 
equinox being recognized as the fiducial point of the “system,” 
determining the first degree of the sun’s yearly circle, and the first 
day of the year. (When we say, it was “recognized,” we mean that 
it was spelled “carrier” or “pillar,” and the like: it must be kept in 
mind that we are dealing with a specific terminology, and not 
with vague and primitively rude “beliefs.”) At Time Zero (say, 
5000 b.c. —there are reasons for this approximate date), the sun 
was in Gemini; it moved ever so slowly from Gemini into Taurus, 
then Aries, then Pisces, which it still occupies and will for some 
centuries more. The advent of Christ the Fish marks our age. It was 
hailed by Virgil, shortly before Anno Domini: “a new great order 
of centuries is now being born . . .” which earned Virgil the 

Hamlet’s Mill • 60 

strange title of prophet of Christianity. The preceding age, that of 
Aries, had been heralded by Moses coming down from Mount Sinai 
as “two-horned,” that is, crowned with the Ram’s horns, while his 
flock disobediently insisted upon dancing around the “Golden 
Calf” that was, rather, a “Golden Bull,” Taurus. 

Thus, the revolving heavens gave the key, the events of our globe 
receding into insignificance. Attention was focused on the supernal 
presences, away from the phenomenal chaos around us. What 
moved in heaven of its own motion, the planets in their weeks and 
years, took on ever more awesome dignity. They were the Persons 
of True Becoming. The zodiac was where things really happened, 
for the planets, the true inhabitants, knew what they were doing, 
and mankind was only passive to their behest. It is revealing to look 
at the figure drawn by a West Sudanese Dogon at the request of 
Professor Zahan, showing the world egg, with the “inhabited world” 
between the tropics, “le cylindre ou rectangle du monde.” 2 The 
Dogon are fully aware of the fact that the region between the ter¬ 
restrial tropics is not the best of inhabitable quarters, and so were 
their teachers of far-off times, the archaic scientists who coined the 
terminology of myth. What counted was the zodiacal band be¬ 
tween the celestial tropics, delivering the houses, and the inns, the 
“masks” (prosopa), and the disguises to the much traveling and 
“shape-shifting” planets. 

How far this point of view was from modern indifference can 
hardly be appreciated except by those who can see the dimensions 
of the historical chasm that opened with the adoption of the Coper- 
nican doctrine. What had been for Sir Thomas Browne an o alti¬ 
tude) crowded with religious emotions, presences and presentiments 
has become a platitude that could at best inspire a Russian cosmo¬ 
naut with the triumphant observation: “I have been up in the sky, 
and nowhere did I find God.” Astronomy has come down into the 
realm of exterior ballistics, a subject for the adventures of the Space 

2 D. Zahan and S. de Ganay, “Etudes sur la cosmologie des Dogon,” Africa 21 
(1951), p. 14. 

A diagram of the Preces¬ 
sion of the Equinoxes. The 
symmetrical drawing shows 
that the phenomenon occurs 
at both poles. 

“The internal motion of the 
cosmic tree,” according to 
North-West Africans. “In 
the firmament that motion 
marks the rotation of the 
stars above the earth and be¬ 
low the earth, around the 
fixed poles indicated by the 
axis formed by the elements 
in the middle of the cosmic 

The ways of the Demiurge during creation, 
according to the Bambara. 

“In order to make heaven and earth, the demiurge 
stretched himself into a conical helix; the turnings-back 
of that spiral are marked graphically by the sides of two 
angles which represent also the space on high and the 
space below.” 

“In order to mix the four elements (air, fire, water, 
earth) of which all things are formed, and to distribute 
them down to the borders of space which he had deter¬ 
mined by girdling it, the demiurge travels through the 
universe turning on himself. These movements are fig¬ 
ured by four spirals bound one to the other which repre¬ 
sent at the same time the circular voyage, the four angles 
of the world in which the mixing of the elements takes 
place, and the motion of matter.” 

Mount Meru, the world mountain, rising from the sea, surmounted by holy radia¬ 
tion, with sun and moon circling around it, as depicted in an old Buddhist cave 
sanctuary in Chinese Turkestan. 

ffiuEQSG tI 

The collapse of the hourglass-shaped Meru, caused by Buddha’s death, with sun 
and moon rolling down; the moon shows the hare contained in it. Many collapsing 
world-pillars, unhinged mill-trees, and the like have been mentioned in this book, 
and this is one of the few pieces of pictorial evidence for a crumbling skambha. 

61 ’ A Guide for the Perplexed 

One might say that it takes a wrenching effort of the imagination 
to restore in us the capacity for wonder of an Aristotle. But it 
would be misleading to talk of “us” generally, because the average 
Babylonian or Greek showed as little inclination to wonder at order 
and law in nature as our average contemporaries do. It has been and 
will be the mark of a true scientific mind to search for, and to 
wonder at, the invariable structure of number behind the manifold 
appearances. (It needs the adequate “expectation,” the firm con¬ 
fidence in “sense —and “sense” does mean number and order for us, 
since the birth of high civilization—to discover the periodical sys¬ 
tem of the elements or, further on, Balmer’s series.) Whence it is 
much easier for a great scientist—for instance, Galileo, Kepler, or 
Newton—to appreciate master feats of early mathematicians than 
it is for the average humanist of all ages. No professional historian 
of culture is likely to understand better the intellectual frame of 
mind of the Maya than the astronomer Hans Ludendorff has done. 

It is not so much the enormous number of new facts established 
by scientists in the many centuries between antiquity and the 20th 
century which separates us from the outlook of our great scientific 
ancestors but the “deteriorated” expectations ruling our time. 
Kepler’s quest, were he living today, would be to discover a modi¬ 
fied perspective from which to rediscover the Harmonice Mundi 
on another scale. But, after all, what else if not such a quest for the 
establishment of a new kind of cosmos is the work on the “general 
field formula”- This time, the cosmos, as covered by the coming- 
to-be formula, will be understandable and will make “sense” only 
for the best mathematicians, to the complete exclusion of the com¬ 
mon people, and it will hardly be a “meaningful” universe such as 
the archaic one had been. 

To come back to the key words of ancient cosmology: if the 
words “flat earth” do not correspond in any way to the fancies of 
the flat-earth fanatics who still infest the fringes of our society 
and who in the guise of a few preacher-friars made life miserable 
for Columbus, so the name of “true earth” (or of “the inhabited 
world”) did not in any way denote our physical geoid for the 

Hamlet’s Mill • 62 

archaics. It applies to the band of the zodiac, two dozen degrees 
right and left of the ecliptic, to the tracks of the “true inhabitants” 
of this world, namely, the planets. It comprises their various oscilla¬ 
tions and curlicues from their courses, and also the “dragon,” well 
known from very early times, which causes eclipses by swallowing 
the sun and moon. 

On the zodiacal band, there are four essential points which domi¬ 
nate the four seasons of the year. They are, in fact, in church 
liturgy the quatuor tempora marked with special abstinences. They 
correspond to the two solstices and the two equinoxes. The solstice 
is the “turning back” of the sun at the lowest point of winter and at 
the highest point of summer. The two equinoxes, vernal and 
autumnal, are those that cut the year in half, with an equal balance 
of night and day, for they are the two intersections of the equator 
with the ecliptic. Those four points together made up the four 
pillars, or corners, of what was called the “quadrangular earth.” 

This is an essential feature that needs more attention. We have 
said above that “earth,” in the most general sense, meant the ideal 
plane laid through the ecliptic; meanwhile we are prepared to im¬ 
prove the definition: “earth” is the ideal plane going through the 
four points of the year, the equinoxes and the solstices. Since the 
four constellations rising heliacally at the two equinoxes and the 
two solstices determine and define an “earth,” it is termed quad¬ 
rangular (and by no means “believed” to be quadrangular by 
“primitive” Chinese, and so on). And since constellations rule the 
four corners of the quadrangular earth only temporarily, such an 
“earth” can rightly be said to perish, and a new earth to rise from 
the waters, with four new constellations rising at the four points of 
the year. Virgil says: “lam redit et Virgo .. .” (already the Virgin 
is returning). (It is important to remember the vernal equinox as the 
fiducial point; it is from this fact that a new earth is termed to rise 
from the waters. In reality, only the new vernal equinoctial con¬ 
stellation climbs from the sea onto the dry land above the equator 3 — 
the inverse happens diametrically opposite. A constellation that 

3 In a similar sense, Petronius’ Trimalchio says about the month of May: “totus 
coelus taurulus fiat” (“the whole sky turns into a little bull”). 

63 ' A Guide for the Perplexed 

ceases to mark the autumnal equinox, gliding below the equator, is 
drowned.) This “formula” will make it easier to understand the 
myth of Deucalion, in which the devastating waves of the flood 
were ordered back by Triton’s blowing the conch: the conch had 
been invented by Aigokeros, i.e., Capricornus, who ruled the win¬ 
ter solstice in the world-age when Aries “carried” the sun. 

At Time Zero, the two equinoctial “hinges” of the world had 
been Gemini and Sagittarius, spanning between them the arch of 
the Milky Way: both bicorporeal signs 4 —and so were Pisces, and 
Virgo with her ear of wheat, at the two other corners—to mark 
the idea that the way (the Milky Way itself) was open between 
earth and heaven, the way up and the way down where men and 
gods could meet in that Golden Age. As will be shown later, the 
exceptional virtue of the Golden Age was precisely that the cross¬ 
roads of ecliptic and equator coincided with the crossroads of 
ecliptic and Galaxy, namely in Gemini and Sagittarius, both con¬ 
stellations “standing” firmly at two of the four corners of the 
quadrangular earth. 

At the “top,” in the center high above the “dry” plane of the 
equator, was the Pole star. At the opposite top, or rather in the 
depth of the waters below, unobserved from our latitudes, was the 
southern pole, thought to be Canopus, by far the brightest star of 
these regions, more remarkable than the Southern Cross. 

This brief sketch of archaic theory indicates—to repeat—that 
geography in our sense was never meant, but a cosmography of the 
kind needed even now by navigators. Ptolemy, the great geogra¬ 
pher of antiquity, had been thinking of nothing else. His Geog¬ 
raphy is a set of coordinates drawn from the skies, and transferred 
onto an uncouth outline map of our globe, with a catalogue of 
earthly distances added on by sailors and travelers to pinpoint, or 
confirm, the positions of countries around the Mediterranean world. 
It was an uncouth outline map, for it covered only a few countries 
known around the Mediterranean region. Nothing was shown be¬ 
yond the latitude 16 0 south of the equator and 63° north, cor- 

4 These constellations were, originally, called “bicorporeal” for reasons very 
different from those given by Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos z.ii. 

Hamlet’s Miix • 64 

responding to Iceland. Nothing west beyond the Canary Islands or 
east of the easternmost city of China, an arc of longitude fixed for 
simplicity at 180°, twelve equinoctial hours from end to end, the 
breadth over the whole latitudes being nine equinoctial hours. A 
large part of the space is blank and the limits are assigned, as they 
should be, astronomically. This is what the ancients knew after a 
thousand years of exploration, and they handed it down to the 
Renaissance. They called it the oikoumene , the inhabited earth. 

One may well understand how the archaics gave this name for 
purely astronomical reasons to the zodiacal band, about as wide in 
degrees but embracing the whole globe. The world, the cosmos, 
was above, revolving majestically in twenty-four hours, and it lent 
itself to the passionate exploration of cosmographers through the 
starlit night. Astrology was the inevitable outcome of astronomy 
through those ages. The early Greeks derived their mathematics 
from astronomy. In those centuries, their insatiable curiosity de¬ 
veloped a knowledge of our earth and the events on it which drove 
them to create the beginnings of our science. But soon after Aris¬ 
totle, the Stoics reverted to the oriental pattern and reinstalled 
astrology. Three centuries of pre-Socratic thought had equipped 
them with an interest in physics, but with it they had nowhere to 
go. They still had no experimental science as we mean it. What 
they needed was an interpretation of influences, to go with the 
all-in-all that the cosmos has to be. Stoic physics was a seductive 
presentment of a field theory, but it was a counterfeit. Nothing 
was to come of it because the true implications of the archaic 
cosmos, no less than those of the Platonic, were incompatible with 
anything that our physics can think of. In Stoic physics there is no 
simple location, no analytical space. 

It should be understood once and for all that the gulf between 
the archaic world and ours was as wide as science itself. Prodigies 
of exactitude and computation could not bridge it. Only the astro¬ 
nomical map could. Whitehead has summed it up succinctly: “Our 
science has been founded on simple location and misplaced con¬ 
creteness.” Modern physics has turned the original words'into 

65 • A Guide for the Perplexed 

queries. For Newton, it had the force of evidence: “No person 
endowed with a capacity of rational understanding will believe that 
a thing acts where it is not.” Newton himself put the first query, 
by stating the theory of gravitation—mathematically irresistible, 
physically unexplainable. He could only accept it: “I do not under¬ 
stand it, and I am going to feign no suppositions.” The answer was 
to come only with Einstein. It amounted to pure mathematical 
rationalization, which did away with simple location, and with 
concreteness altogether. The edifice of Descartes lay in ruins. 
Nonetheless, the mind of civilized man clung to both principles 
invincibly, as being equal to common sense. It was a model case of 
habit having become second nature. The birth of experimental 
physics was a decisive factor in the change. 

No such common sense obtained once upon a time, when time 
was the only reality, and space had still to be discovered—or in¬ 
vented—by Parmenides after 500 b.c. (See G. de Santillana, “Pro¬ 
logue to Parmenides,” in Reflections on Men and Ideas [1968], pp. 

The task then was to recover from the remote past an utterly 
lost science, linked to an equally lost culture—one in which an¬ 
thropologists have seen only illiterate “primitive man.” It was as if 
the legendary “Cathedrale Engloutie” emerged from the depth of 
prehistory with its bells still ringing. 

The problem was also clear: this lost science, immensely sophis¬ 
ticated, had no “system,” no systematic key that could be a basis 
for teaching. It existed before systems could be thought of. It was, 
to repeat, a spontaneously generated “Art of the Fugue.” That is 
why it took us so many years to work it out. 

The archaics’ vision of the universe appears to have left out all 
ideas of the earth suspended, or floating, in space. Whether or not 
this was really so cannot be decided yet: there are peculiar rumors 
to be heard about innumerable “Brahma-Eggs,” that is, spheres like 
our own, in India. The Maori of New Zealand claimed, as the 
Pythagoreans had done, that every star had mountains and plains, 
and was inhabited like the earth. Varahamihira (5th century a.d.) 


Hamlet’s Mill • 66 

even stated that the earth was suspended between magnets. 5 For 
the time being, one must continue to assume that the earth was 
simply the center of the world, and a sphere, and that there was no 
trace of Galilean relativism which is so natural to us, posing so 
many problems of motion. The Greeks still had the old idea, but 
they asked themselves questions about it. What moved was the sky, 
but questions about the sky posed abstruse problems. The greatest 
one was, of course, the slow motion of the tilt of the sky, described 
above, which went through a Great Year of 26,000 years. 

The Greek astronomers had enough instrumentation and data to 
detect the motion, which is immensely slow, and they saw that it 
applied to the whole of the sky. Hipparchus in 127 b . c . called it 
the Precession of the Equinoxes. There is good reason to assume 
that he actually rediscovered this, that it had been known some 
thousand years previously, and that on it the Archaic Age based its 
long-range computation of time. Modern archaeological scholars 
have been singularly obtuse about the idea because they have cul¬ 
tivated a pristine ignorance of astronomical thought, some of them 
actually ignorant of the Precession itself. The split between the two 
cultures begins right here. But apart from this, although the schol¬ 
ars unanimously cling to the accepted conventions about the tempo 
of historical evolution, they widely disagree when it comes to 
judging the evidence in detail. The verdicts concerning the famil¬ 
iarity of ancient Near Eastern astronomers with the Precession 
depend, indeed, on arbitrary factors: namely, on the different 
scholarly opinions about the difficulty of the task. Ernst Dittrich, 
for instance, remarked that one should not expect much astronomi¬ 
cal knowledge from Mesopotamians around 2000 b . c . “Probably 
they knew only superficially the geometry of the motions of sun 
and moon. Thus, if we examine the simple, easily observable mo¬ 
tions by means of which one could work out chronological deter¬ 
minants with very little mathematical knowledge, we find only the 

5 Pancasiddhantika, chapter XII (Thibaut trans., p. 69): “The round ball of the 
earth, composed of the five elements, abides in space in the midst of the starry 
sphere, like a piece of iron suspended between magnets.” 


• A Guide for the Perplexed 

Precession. There was also a learned Italian Church dignitary, 
Domenico Testa, who snatched at this curious argument to prove 
that the world had been created ex nihilo, as described in the first 
book of Moses, an event that supposedly happened around 4000 
b.c. If the Egyptians had had a background of many millennia to 
reckon with, who, he asked, could have been unaware of the Pre¬ 
cession- “The very sweepers of their observatories would have 
known.” 6 7 Hence tune could not have begun before 4000, Q.E.D. 

The comparison of the views just quoted with those upheld by 
the majority of modem scholars shows that one's own subjective 
opinions about what is easy and what is difficult might not be the 
most secure basis for a serious historiography of science. As Hans 
Ludendorff once pointed out, it is an unsound approach to Maya 
astronomy to start from preconceived convictions about what the 
Maya could have known and what they could not possibly have 
known: one should, instead, draw conclusions only from the data 
as given in the inscriptions and codices. s That this had to be stressed 
explicitly reveals the steady decline of scientific ethics. 

We today are aware of the Precession as the gentle tilting of our 
globe, an irrelevant one at that. As the GI said, lost in the depth of 
jungle misery, when his friends took refuge in their daydreams: 
“When I close my eyes, I see only a mule's behind. Also when I 
don't.'' This is. as it were, today's vision of reality. Today, the Pre¬ 
cession is a well-established fact. The space-time continuum does 
not affect it. It is by now only a boring complication. It has lost 
relevance for our affairs, whereas once it was the only majestic 
secular motion that our ancestors could keep in mind when they 
looked for a great cycle which could affect humanity as a whole. 
But then our ancestors M ere astronomers and astrologers. They 
believed that the sliding of the sun along the equinoctial point af¬ 
fected the frame of the cosmos and determined a succession of 

6 “Gibt es astronomische Fixpunkte in der iiltesten babylonischen Chronologie: 
OLZ !y (1912), col. 104. 

7 11 Zodiaco di Dendera Illustrate? (1S22), p. 17. 

s “Zur astronomischen Deutung der Maya-Inschrifren,” SPAW (1936), p. 85. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 68 

world-ages under different zodiacal signs. They had found a large 
peg on which to hang their thoughts about cosmic time, which 
brought all things in fateful order. Today, that order has lapsed, 
like the idea of the cosmos itself. There is only history, which has 
been felicitously defined as “one damn thing after another.” 

And yet, were history really understood in this admittedly flat 
sense of things happening one after another to the same stock of 
people, we should be better off than we are now, when we almost 
dare not admit the assumption from which this book starts, that our 
ancestors of the high and far-off times were endowed with minds 
wholly comparable to ours, and were capable of rational processes 
—always given the means at hand. It is enough to say that this flies 
in the face of a custom which has become already a second nature. 

Our period may some day be called the Darwinian period, just as 
we talk of the Newtonian period of two centuries ago. The simple 
idea of evolution, which it is no longer thought necessary to ex¬ 
amine, spreads like a tent over all those ages that lead from primitiv¬ 
ism into civilization. Gradually, we are told, step by step, men 
produced the arts and crafts, this and that, until they emerged into 
the light of history. 

Those soporific words “gradually” and “step by step,” repeated 
incessantly, are aimed at covering an ignorance which is both vast 
and surprising. One should like to inquire: which steps? But then 
one is lulled, overwhelmed and stupefied by the gradualness of it 
all, which is at best a platitude, only good for pacifying the mind, 
since no one is willing to imagine that civilization appeared in a 

One could find a key in a brilliant TV production on the Stone¬ 
henge problem given a few years ago. With the resources of the 
puissant techniques of ubiquity, various authorities were called to 
the screen to discuss the possible meaning of the astronomical align¬ 
ments and polygons discovered in the ancient Megalith since 1906, 
when Sir Norman Lockyer, the famous astronomer, published the 
results of his first investigation. Specialists, from prehistorians to 
astronomers, expressed their doubts and wonderments down to the 
last one, a distinguished archaeologist who had been working on 

69 • A Guide for the Perplexed 

the monument itself for many years. He had more fundamental 
doubts. How could one not realize, he said, that the builders of 
Stonehenge were barbarians, “howling barbarians” who were, to 
say the least, utterly incapable of working out complex astronomi¬ 
cal cycles and over many years at that? The uncertain coincidences 
must be due to chance. And then, with perverse irony, the mid¬ 
winter sun of the solstice appeared on the screen rising exactly be¬ 
hind the Heel Stone, as predicted. The “mere” coincidences had 
been in fact ruled out, since Gerald Hawkins, a young astronomer 
unconcerned with historical problems, had run the positions 
through a computer and discovered more alignments than had been 
dreamed of. Here was the whole paradox. Howling barbarians 
who painted their faces blue must have known more astronomy 
than their customs and table manners could have warranted. The 
lazy word “evolution” had blinded us to the real complexities of 
the past. 

That key term “gradualness” should be understood to apply to a 
vastly different time scale than that considered by the history of 
mankind. Human history taken as a whole in that frame, even ra- 
ciation itself, is only an evolutionary episode. In that whole, Cro- 
Magnon man is the last link. All of protohistory is a last-minute 

But while the biologists were wondering, something great had 
come upon the scene, arriving from unexpected quarters. Sir James 
George Frazer was a highly respected classical scholar who, while 
editing the Description of Greece by Pausanias, was impressed with 
the number of beliefs, practices, cults and superstitions spread over 
the classical landscape of Greece in classical times. This led him to 
search deeper into the half-forgotten strata of history, and out of 
it came his Golden Bough. The historian had turned ethnologist, 
and extended his investigations to the whole globe. Suddenly, an 
immense amount of material became available about fertility cults 
as the universal form of earliest religion, and about primitive magic 
connected with it. This appeared to be the humus from which 
civilization had grown—simple deities of the seasons, a dim multi¬ 
tude of peasants copulating in the furrows and building up rituals 

Hamlet’s Mill • 70 

of fertility with human sacrifice. Added to this, in political circles, 
there came the vision of war as both inherent in human nature and 
ennobling—the law of natural selection applied to nations and 
races. Thus, many materials and much history went to build the 
temple of evolutionism. But as the theory moved on, its high- 
minded aspects began to wane; psychoanalysis moved in as a tidal 
wave. For if the struggle for life (and the religions of the life force) 
can explain so much, the unconscious can explain anything. As we 
know today only too well. 

The universal and uniform concept of gradualness thus defeated 
itself. Those key words (gradualness and evolution) come from the 
earth sciences in the first place, where they had a precise meaning. 
Crystallization and upthrust, erosion and geosynclinals are the re¬ 
sult of forces acting constantly in accordance with physical laws. 
They provided the backdrop for Darwin’s great scenario. When it 
comes to the evolution of life, the terms become less precise in 
meaning, though still acceptable. Genetics and natural selection 
stand for natural law, and events are determined by the rolling of 
the dice over long ages. But we cannot say much about the why 
and the how of this instead of that specific form, about where spe¬ 
cies, types, cultures branched off. Animal evolution remains an 
overall historical hypothesis supported by sufficient data—and by 
the lack of any alternative. In detail, it raises an appalling number 
of questions to which we have no answer. Our ignorance remains 
vast, but it is not surprising. 

And then we come to history, and the evolutionary idea reap¬ 
pears, coming in as something natural, with all scale lost. The 
accretion of plausible ideas goes on, its flow invisibly carried by 
“natural law” since the time of Spencer. It all remains within an 
unexamined kind of Naturphilosophie. For if we stopped to think, 
we would agree that as far as human “fate” is concerned organic 
evolution ceased before the time when history, or even prehistory, 
began. We are on another time scale. This is no longer nature act¬ 
ing on man, but man on nature. People like to think of a constancy 
of laws which apply to us. But man is a law unto himself. 

71 * A Guide for the Perplexed 

When, riding on the surf of the general “evolutionism,” Ernst 
Haeckel and his faithful followers proposed to solve the “world 
riddles” once and for all, Rudolf Virchow 9 warned time and again 
of an evil “monkey wind” blowing round; he reminded his col¬ 
leagues of the index of excavated “prehistoric” skulls and pointed 
to the unchanged quantity of brain owned by the species Homo 
sapiens. But his contemporaries paid no heed to his admonitions; 
least of all the humanists who applied, without blinking, the strictly 
biological scheme of the evolution of organisms to the cultural 
history of the single species Homo sapiens. 

In later centuries historians may declare all of us insane, because 
this incredible blunder was not detected at once and was not re¬ 
futed with adequate determination. Mistaking cultural history for 
a process of gradual evolution, we have deprived ourselves of every 
reasonable insight into the nature of culture. It goes without saying 
that the still more modern habit of replacing “culture” by “society” 
has blocked the last narrow path to understanding history. Our 
ignorance not only remained vast, but became pretentious as well. 

A glimpse at some Pensees might show the abyss that yawns 
between us and a serious thinker of those golden days before the 
outbreak of “evolution.” This is what Pascal asked: “What are our 
natural principles but principles of custom? In children they are 
those which they have received from the habits of their fathers, as 
hunting in animals. A different custom will cause different natural 
principles.” And: “Custom is a second nature which destroys the 
former. But what is nature? For is custom not natural? I am much 
afraid that nature is itself only a first custom, as custom is a second 
nature.” 10 

This kind of question, aimed with precision at the true problem¬ 
atical spots, would have been enough to make hash of social an¬ 
thropology two centuries ago, and also of anthropological sociol¬ 
ogy. Although fully aware of the knot of frightening problems 

9 In several of his addresses to the “Versammlungen deutscher Naturforscher und 

10 Pensees, nos. 92, 93 (Trotter trans. [1941], p. 36). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 72 

arising from the results of the most modern neurophysiology—the 
building up of microneurons in the brain after birth, etc.—we are 
by no means entitled to feign any hypotheses beyond saying that 
the master brain who will, sooner or later, fashion a new philo¬ 
sophical anthropology deserving the title, one that will account for 
all the new implications, will find himself up against these same few 
questions of Pascal. 

Some words have still to be said about the problem that is at the 
very root of the many misunderstandings, that of translation. Most 
of the texts were written—if they were ever originally written— 
in remote and half-obliterated languages from the far past. The 
task of translation has been taken over by a guild of dedicated, 
highly specialized philologists who have had to reconstruct the dic¬ 
tionaries and grammars of these languages. It would be bad grace 
to dismiss their efforts, but one must take into account several layers 
of error: (1) personal or systematic errors, arising from their pre¬ 
conceptions and from well-implanted prejudices (psychological 
and philosophical) of their age; (2) the very structure of our own 
language, of the architecture of our own verbal system, of which 
very few individuals are aware. There was once a splendid article 
by Erwin Schroedinger, with the title “Are there quantum jumps?” 
which laid bare many such misunderstandings inside the well- 
worked area of modern physics. 11 And all this ties up with another 
major source of error that comes from the underestimation of the 
thinkers of the far past. We instinctively dismiss the idea that five 
to ten thousand years ago there may very well have been thinkers 
of the order of Kepler, Gauss, or Einstein, working with the means 
at hand. 

In other words, we must take language seriously. Imprecise lan¬ 
guage discloses the lack of precision of thought. We have learned to 
take the language of Archimedes or Eudoxos seriously, simply be¬ 
cause it can translate directly into modern forms of thought. This 
should extend to forms of thought utterly different from ours in 
appearance. Take that great endeavor on the hieroglyphic language, 

11 British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 3 (1952), pp. ii2ff. 

73 * A Guide for the Perplexed 

embodied in the imposing Egyptian dictionary of Erman-Grapow. 
For our simple word “heaven” it shows thirty-seven terms whose 
nuances are left to the translator and used according to his lights. 
So the elaborate instructions in the Book of the Dead, referring to 
the soul’s celestial voyage, translate into “mystical” talk, and must 
be treated as holy mumbo jumbo. But then, modern translators be¬ 
lieve so firmly in their own invention, according to which the 
underworld has to be looked for in the interior of our globe—in¬ 
stead of in the sky—that even 370 specific astronomical terms 
would not cause them to stumble. 

One small example may indicate the way in which texts are “im¬ 
proved.” In the inscriptions of Dendera, published by Diimichen, 
the goddess Hathor is called “lady of every joy.” For once, Diimi- 
chen adds: “Literally . . . ‘the lady of every heart circuit.’ ” 12 
This is not to say that the Egyptians had discovered the circulation 
of the blood. But the determinative sign for “heart” often figures 
as the plumb bob at the end of a plumb line coming from a well- 
known astronomical or surveying device, the merkhet. Evidently, 
“heart” is something very specific, as it were the “center of grav¬ 
ity.” 13 And this may lead in quite another direction. The Arabs 
preserved a name for Canopus—besides calling the star Kalb at-tai- 
man (“heart of the south”): 14 Suhail el-wezn, “Canopus Pondero- 
sus,” the heavy-weighing Canopus, a name promptly declared 
meaningless by the experts, but which could well have belonged to 
an archaic system in which Canopus was the weight at the end of 
the plumb line, as befitted its important position as a heavy star at 
the South Pole of the “waters below.” Here is a chain of inferences 
which might or might not be valid, but it is allowable to test it, 
and no inference at all would come from the “lady of every 
joy.” The line seems to state that Hathor (= Hat Hor, “House of 
Horus”) “rules” the revolution of a specific celestial body— 
whether or not Canopus is alluded to—or, if we can trust the trans- 

12 Hon-t, rer het-neb; see J. Duemichen, “Die Bauurkunde der Tempelanlagen 
von Edfu,” Aeg.Z. 9 (1871), p. 28. 

13 See Aeg.Wb. 2, pp. 55E for the sign of the heart (ib) as expressing generally 
“the middle, the center.” 

14 S. Mowinckel, Die Sternnamen im Alien Testament (1928), p. 12. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


lation “every,” the revolution of all celestial bodies. As concerns the 
identity of the ruling lady, the greater possibility speaks for Sirius, 
but Venus cannot be excluded; in Mexico, too, Venus is called 
“heart of the earth.” The reader is invited to imagine for himself 
what many thousands of such pseudo-primitive or poetic interpre¬ 
tations must lead to: a disfigured interpretation of Egyptian in¬ 
tellectual life. 

The problem of astrology —The greatest gap between archaic 
thinking and modern thinking is in the use of astrology. By this is 
not meant the common or judicial astrology which has become 
once again a fad and a fashion among the ignorant public, an escape 
from official science, and for the vulgar another kind of black art 
of vast prestige but with principles equally uncomprehended. It is 
necessary to go back to archaic times, to a universe totally unsus¬ 
pecting of our science and of the experimental method on which it 
is founded, unaware of the awful art of separation which distin¬ 
guishes the verifiable from the unverifiable. This was a time, rich 
in another knowledge which was later lost, that searched for other 
principles. It gave the lingua franca of the past. Its knowledge was 
of cosmic correspondences, which found their proof and seal of 
truth in a specific determinism, nay overdeterminism, subject to 
forces completely without locality. The fascination and rigor of 
Number made it mandatory that the correspondences be exact in 
many forms (Kepler in this sense is the last Archaic). The multi¬ 
plicity of relations seen or intuited brought the idea to a focus in 
which the universe appeared determined not on one but on many 
levels at once. This was the signature of “panmathematizing idea¬ 
tion.” This idea may well have led up to a pre-established harmony 
on an infinite number of levels. Leibniz has shown us how far 
it could go, given modern tools: the universe conceived all at once, 
complete with its individual destinies for all time, out of an “efful- 
guration” of the divine mind. Some prehistoric or protohistoric Py¬ 
thagorean Leibniz, whose existence is far from inconceivable, may 
well have cherished this impossible dream, going to the limit more 
innocently than our own historic sage. Starting from the power of 

75 * A Guide for the Perplexed 

Number, a whole logic is thinkable in this view. Fata regunt orbem, 
certa stant omnia lege. 

The only thinker of Antiquity who could be proof against this 
temptation was Aristotle, for he thought that forms were only 
potential in the beginning, and came into actualization only in the 
course of their lifetime, thus undergoing their fate as individuals. 
But that is because Aristotle refused mathematics from the start. 
He had the grounds for opposing universal synchronicity (the word 
and the idea were invented by C. G. Jung, replacing space with 
time, which goes to show that the archaic scheme has more lives 
than a cat). 

Yet, here again. Dante comes to the fore as a witness; for, by art 
of Gramarye, as the simple used to say. he spans the whole itinerary, 
or shall we say the cheminement de la pensee, between two world 
epochs. An Aristotelian to the core, steeped in the discipline of 
Thomism. hence by inheritance anti-mathematical, his spirit in its 
sweep understands the stars, in the sense of their Pythagorean im¬ 
plications. In his ascent to the realm of heaven, he encounters his 
friend and onetime companion of his wanton and romantic youth. 
Charles Martel ( Paradiso , vm.34-37), who tells him what it means 
to be of the elect: “We circle in one orbit, at one pace, with one 
thirst, along with the heavenly Princes whom thou didst once ad¬ 
dress from the world —“You M ho by Understanding Move the 
Third Heaven.” This is one of his early poems, a celebrated one 
at that, and it relates to the heavenly intelligences in a spirit of 
unrestrained Platonic worship. The progress of his song through 
the three realms will show him more and more wrapped in Platonic 
harmonies, much as he had dreamed of in his youth, and it will 
actually confirm his belief in astrology as a divine grant which keeps 
nature in order. Thus, the requirements of both doctrines have been 
saved: the arrangement of nature by genus and species (Aristotle) 
and the free development of one's own self (Aquinas) in a kind of 
Plotinian compromise overshadowed by the “Harmony of the 
Spheres.” Such was Dante's own inimitable “art of Gramarye. 

Chapter V 

The Unfolding in India 

They reckon ill who leave me 

When Me they fly, I am the 

I am the doubter and the doubt 
I am the hymn the Brahmin sings. 

Emerson, Brahma 


JL he parallel between the Tale of Kai Khusrau and the final 
plot of the vast Hindu epic, the Mahabharata , has received attention 
for over a century. It was noticed by the great Orientalist James 
Darmesteter. The translators of Firdausi are not unaware of it, and 
they analyze the last phase of events as follows: 

The legend of Kai Khusrau’s melancholy, his expedition into the 
mountains, and his attainment to heaven without having tasted death 
has its parallel in the Mahabharata , where Yudhishthira, the eldest of 
the five Pandavas, becoming weary of the world, resolves to retire 
from the sovereignty and acquire merit by pilgrimage. On hearing of 
his intentions his four brothers—Bhima, Arjuna, and the twins Na- 
kula and Sahadeva—resolve to follow his example and accompany 
him. Yudhishthira appoints successors to his various kingdoms. The 
citizens and the inhabitants of the provinces, hearing the king’s 
words, became filled with anxiety and disapproved of them. “This 
should never be done”—said they unto the king. The monarch, well 
versed with the changes brought about by time, did not listen to 
their counsels. Possessed of righteous soul, he persuaded the people 
to sanction his views . . . Then Dharma’s son, Yudhishthira, the King 
of Pandavas, casting off his ornaments, wore barks of trees . . . The 
five brothers, with Draupadi forming the sixth [she was the joint 
wife of the brothers], and a dog forming the seventh, set out on their 
journey. The citizens and the ladies of the royal household followed 

77 • The Unfolding in India 

them for some distance . . . The denizens of the city then returned 
[exactly as Kai Khusrau’s subjects had done]. The seven pilgrims 
meanwhile had set out upon their journey. They first wandered east¬ 
ward, then southward, and then westward. Lastly they faced north¬ 
ward and crossed the Himalaya. Then they beheld before them a 
vast desert of sand and beyond it Mount Meru. One by one the pil¬ 
grims sank exhausted and expired, first Draupadi, then the twins, then 
Arjuna, then Bhima; but Yudhishthira, who never even looked back 
at his fallen comrades, still pressed on and, followed by the faithful 
dog who turns out to be Dharma (the Law), in disguise, entered 
Heaven in his mortal body, not having tasted death. 

Among minor common traits, Warner stresses particularly these: 

Both journey into the mountains with a devoted band, the number 
of them is the same in both cases, and both are accompanied by a 
divine being, for the part of the dog in the Indian legend is indicated 
in the Iranian as being taken by Surush, the angel of Urmuzd. In 
both, the leaders pass deathless into Heaven, and in both their mor¬ 
tal comrades perish. One legend therefore must be derived from the 
other, or else, and this seems to be the better opinion, they must be 
referred to a common origin of great antiquity. 1 

Of great antiquity these legends must be, indeed; otherwise there 
would not be a very similar end ascribed to Enoch and to Quetzal- 
couatl. In fact, just as Kai Khusrau’s paladins did not listen to the 
Shah’s advice not to remain with him until k his ascension—the crowd 
had been left behind, anyhow—so Enoch 

urged his retinue to turn back: “Go ye home, lest death overtake you, 
if you follow me farther.” Most of them—800,000 there were— 
heeded his words and went back, but a number remained with him 
for six days. . . On the sixth day of the journey, he said to those still 
accompanying him, “Go ye home, for on the morrow I shall ascend 
to heaven, and whoever will then be near me, he will die.” Neverthe¬ 
less, some of his companions remained with him, saying: “Whither¬ 
soever thou goest, we will go. By the living God, death alone shall 
part us.” On the seventh day Enoch was carried into the heavens in 
a fiery chariot drawn by fiery chargers. The day thereafter, the kings 
who had turned back in good time sent messengers to inquire into the 
fate of the men who had refused to separate themselves from Enoch, 
for they had noted the number of them. They found snow and great 
hailstones upon the spot whence Enoch had risen, and, when they 
searched beneath, they discovered the bodies of all who had remained 

1 Firdausi, Shahnama (Warner trans.), vol. 4 , pp. 136ff. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 78 

behind with Enoch. He alone was not among them; he was on high 

in heaven. 2 

Quetzalcouad’s paladins, “the slaves, the dwarves, the hunch 
backed . . . they died there from the cold . . . , upon all of them fell 
the snow,” in the mountain pass between Popocatepetl and Iztacte- 
petl. 3 4 5 Quetzalcouatl, lamenting, and utterly lonely, had some more 
stations to pass, before he took off on his serpent raft, announcing 
he would come back, someday, “to judge the living and the dead” 
(appendix #3). 

Were it only the dry fact of Yudhishthira’s ascension, and the 
end of his companions high up in the mountains, we might have 
avoided the maze of the Mahabharata altogether. But, labyrinthine 
as this epic of twelve volumes truly is—and the same goes for the 
Puranas —Indian myth offers keys to secret chambers to be had 
nowhere else. The Mahabharata tells of the war of the Pandavas 
and the Kauravas, that is the Pandu brothers and the Kuru brothers, 
who correspond to the Iranians and Turanians, to the sons of Ka- 
leva and the people of Untamo, etc. Thus far the general situation 
is not foreign to us. But the epic states unmistakably that this tre¬ 
mendous war was fought during the interval between the Dvapara 
and the Kali Yugad 

This “dawn” between two world-ages can be specified further. 
The real soul and force on the side of the Pandavas is Krishna—in 
the words of Arjuna: “He, who was our strength, our might, our 
heroism, our prowess, our prosperity, our brightness, has left us, and 
departed.” 3 Now Krishna (“the Black”) is the most outstanding 
avatar of Vishnu. And it is only when Krishna has been shot in the 
heel (or the sole of his foot), the only vulnerable spot of his body, 
by the hunter Jara (= old age) that the Pandavas, too, resolve to 
depart—just as Kai Khusrau did after the death of Kai Ka'us. There 
was Kai Khusrau’s statement: “And now I deem it better to de- 

2 L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews (1954), vol. pp. 1 zgtT. 

3 E. Seler, Einige Kapitel a us deni G eschichtsw erk des Fray B. de Sahagun 
(1927). p. 290. 

4 Mbh. 7.2 (Roy trans., vol. /, p. 18). See H. Jacobi's Mahabharata (1903). p. 2. 

5 Vishnu Parana j.38 (trans. H. H. Wilson [1840; 3d ed. 1961], p. 4S4). 

79 • 

The Unfolding in India 

part . . . Because this Kaian crown and throne will pass.” And this 
happens at the following crucial point: 

When that portion of Vishnu (that had been born by Vasudeva and 
Devakij returned to heaven, then the Kali age commenced. As long 
as the earth was touched by his sacred feet, the Kali age could not 
affect it. As soon as the incarnation of the eternal Vishnu had de¬ 
parted, the son of Dharma, Yudhishthira, with his brethren, abdicated 
the sovereignty . . . The day that Krishna shall have departed from 
the earth will be the first of the Kali age ... it will continue for 
360,000 years of mortals. 6 

And as Krishna is reunited with Vishnu, as Arjuna returns into 
Indra, 7 and Balarama into the Shesha-Serpent, so it will happen to 
the other heroes. Thus, when Yudhishthira is finally rejoined with 
his whole Pandu-Family in heaven, the poet Sauti explains, 

“That the various heroes, after exhausting their Karma, become re¬ 
united with that deity of which they were avatars.” 8 

Yudhishthira is reunited with Dharma, disguised as a faithful dog. 9 
Seen from this vantage point, the Finnish epic appears as a last dim 
and apparently meaningless reflection. Kullervo goes with the black 
dog Musti, the only living soul left from his home, into the forest 
where he throws himself upon his sword. 

Now what about Krishna, most beloved deity of the Hinduistic 
Pantheon? Some of his innumerable deeds and victorious adventures 
before his “departure” will look familiar. 

6 Vishnu Fur ana ^.24 (Wilson trans., p. 390). Cf. 5.38, pp. 48 if.: “and on the same 
day that Krishna departed from the earth the powerful dark-bodied Kali age 
descended. The ocean rose, and submerged the whole of Dvaraka,” i.e., the town 
which Krishna himself had built, as told in Vishnu Pur ana j.23, p. 449. 

7 See Vishnu Furana j.12 (Wilson trans., p. 422;, where Indra tells Krishna, “A 
portion of me has been bom as Arjuna.” 

8 Mbh. 18 .5 (Swargarohanika Parva) (Roy trans., vol. 12, pp. 287-90). See also 
Jacobi, p. 191. 

9 Arrived at the last stage of deterioration, we find Dharma, the Dog, in a fairy 
tale from Albania: The youngest daughter of a king—her two sisters resemble 
Regan and Goneril—offers to go to war in her father’s place, asking for three suits 
only, and for the paternal blessing. “Then the king procured three male suits, and 
gave her his blessing, and this blessing changed into a little dog and went with the 
princess.” (J. G. von Hahn: Griechische und Albanische Mdrchen [1918., vol. a, 
p. 146.). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 80 

Young Krishna is the persecuted nephew of a cruel uncle, Kansa 
(or Kamsa), both being, as Keith 10 styles it, “protagonists in a ritual 
contest.” This is not modestly understating it, but grossly mislead¬ 
ing. Kansa is an Asura (appendix #4), and Krishna is a Deva, and 
that means, again, that the affair concerns the great divine “Parties” 
(Iranians-Turanians, and the like). The uncle, warned beforehand 
through prophecies about the danger coming from the eighth son 
of Devaki and Vasudeva, kills six children of this couple, but the 
seventh (Balarama) and eighth (Krishna) are saved and live with 
herdsmen. There young Krishna performs some of the deeds of the 
“Strong Boy.” 

If Kullervo, three days old, destroyed his cradle, we might ex¬ 
pect something spectacular from Krishna, and we are not disap¬ 

On one occasion, whilst iVladhusudana was asleep underneath the 
wagon, he cried for the breast, and kicking up his feet he overturned 
the vehicle, and all the pots and pans were upset and broken. The 
cowherds and their wives, hearing the noise, came exclaiming: “Ah! 
ah!” and they found the child sleeping on his back. “Who could have 
upset the wagon?” said the cowherds. “This child,” replied some 
boys, who witnessed the circumstance; “w r e saw him,” said they, 
“crying, and kicking the wagon w 7 ith his feet, and so it w 7 as over¬ 
turned: no one else had any thing to do v T ith it.” The cow r herds w r ere 
exceedingly astonished at this account. 11 

One day the child repeatedly disobeyed his mother and she 
became angry. 

Fastening a cord round his w r aist, she tied him to the wooden mortar 
Ulukhala, and being in a great passion, she said to him, “Now, you 
naughty boy, get av T ay from hence if you can.” She then went to her 
domestic affairs. As soon as she had departed, the lotus-eyed Krishna, 
endeavouring to extricate himself, pulled the mortar after him to the 
space between the two ariuna trees that grew 7 near together. Having 
dragged the mortar between these trees, it became wedged awry 
there, and as Krishna pulled it through, it pulled down the trunks of 
the trees. Hearing the crackling noise, the people of Vraja came to 
see w T hat w r as the matter, and there they beheld the tw r o large trees, 

10 A. B. Keith, Indian Mythology (1917), p. 126. For the deeds of Krishna, see 
pp. 174ft. 

11 Vishnu Fur ana 5.6 (Wilson trans., p. 4o6f.). 


The Unfolding in India 

with shattered stems and broker, branches, prostrate on the ground, 
with the child fixed between them, with a rope round his belly, 
laughing, and showing his little white teeth, just budded . . . The 
elders of the cowherds . . . looked upon these circumstances with 
alarm, considering them of evil omen. “We cannot remain in this 
place." said they, "let us go to some other part of the forest." 

Thus, they go to Yrindavana, exactly where the child had 
wished. The Harivamsha explains the move to Yrindavana in this 

Krishna converts the hairs of his body into hundreds of wolves, who 

so harass and alarm the inhabitants of Yraja—the said cowherds—. 

that they determine to abandon their homes. 12 

In the Indian myth, for once, the episode of Krishna's hairs turn¬ 
ing into hundreds of wolves seems a mere trifle, compared with 
Kullervo’s wolves which “he sang to cattle, and he changed the 
bears to oxen." the more so. as Krishna’s only "harass and alarm" 
the cowherds. These wild beasts, however, indispensable to the 
"Urkind." whether Kullervo or Dionysos—see above, p. 30—are 
present in Krishna's story, and this is remarkable enough. 

Kansa, 13 hearing of the deeds of Krishna and Rama, determines to 
have the boys brought to his capital Mathura and there to procure 
their death, if he cannot slay them before. Needless to say. all is in 
vain: Krishna kills Kansa and all his soldiers, and places Kansa's 
father on the throne. 

Krishna does not pretend to be a fool, the smiling one. He merely 
insists again and again on being a simple mortal when everybody 
wishes to adore him as the highest god. which he is. Nor is he 
known particularly as an "avenger." He was delegated from higher 
quarters to free the earth—“overburdened" as it was with Asura— 
as he had done time and again in his former avatars. Krishna belongs 
here, however, because Indian tradition has preserved the con¬ 
sciousness of the cosmic frame, and it is this alone that gives mean- 

12 Vishnu Purj7u j.6 (Wilson trans*, pp. 4o6f.). 

13 That Aincle”—really “the great Asura Kalanemi who was killed by the power¬ 
ful Yishru . . . revived in Kansa. the son of Ugrasena*’ ( Vishnu Pvrjnj y\ [W ilson 
trans.. p. 396]). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 82 

ing to the incidence of war and the notion of crime and punishment 
as they appear in myth. 

It is useful to keep philosophy and mythology carefully sepa¬ 
rated, and yet the many gods and heroes who avenge their fathers 
—beginning with “Horus-the-avenger-of-his-father” and “Ninurta 
who has avenged his father”—have their function destined to them, 
as has the long line of wicked uncles. These figures pay reparation 
and atonement to each other for their mutual injustice in the order 
of time, as Anaximander said. Anaximander was a philosopher. 
Despite its fantastic language the Indian epic has an affinity with his 
thought. Vishnu returns regularly in his capacity of “avenger,” 
collecting the “reparations” of the bad uncle “according to the 
order of time.” In the Mahabharata he does so under the name of 
Krishna, but he will come again in the shape of another avatar to 
clean the earth of the Asura who overburden it. The Asura, too, 
grow into “overbearing characters” strictly according to the order 
of time. Under the name of Kalki the Vishnu figure is expected to 
introduce a new Krita Yuga (Golden Age), when our present Kali 
Yuga has come to its miserable end. 

It is this regular returning of avatars of Vishnu which helps 
clarify matters. Because it is Vishnu’s function to return as avenger 
at fixed intervals of time, there is no need in the epic to emphasize 
the revenge taken by Krishna on Uncle Kansa. But in the West, 
where the continuity of cosmic processes as told by myth has been 
forgotten—along with the knowledge that gods are stars—the very 
same revenge is given great importance because it is an unrepeated 
event accomplished by one figure, whether hero or god, and this 
hero or god is, moreover, understood to be the creation of some 
imaginative poet. The introduction of Indian tradition makes it 
possible to rediscover the context in which such characters as 
Saxo’s Amlethus, such typically unlucky fellows as Kullervo, have 
significance. Once it is fully realized that “the day Krishna shall 
have departed from the earth will be the first of the Kali Yuga,” 
the proper perspective is established. Our hero stands precisely on 
the threshold between a closed age and a new Time Zero. In fact, 
he closes the old one. 

83 • The Unfolding in India 

The most inconspicuous details become significant when ob¬ 
served from this point of view. For instance Saxo, without giving 
it much thought, divided the biography of Amlethus in two parts 
(incidentally involving the hero in bigamy), in the same way as 
Firdausi told us nine-tenths of Kai Khusrau’s adventures in the 
book on Kai Ka’us. This is actually the more puzzling of the two 
as Firdausi states: ‘‘For from today new feasts and customs date / 
Because tonight is born Shah Kai Khusrau.” Firdausi, who was well 
versed in astrology, insisted on the Shah’s birthday because, in the 
astrological sense, birth is the decisive moment. But here, and in 
related cases where chronology is at issue, it is the moment of 
death, of leaving the stage, that counts. Krishna’s departure gives 
the scheme away. Al-Biruni, in his chapter on ‘‘The Festivals of 
the Months of the Persians,” describing the festival Nauroz (“New 
Day”) in the first month of spring, writes: 

On the 6th day of Farwardin, the day Khurdadh, is the Great Nau¬ 
roz, for the Persians a feast of great importance. On this day—they 
say—God finished the creation, for it is the last of the six days . . . 
On this day God created Saturn, therefore its most lucky hours are 
those of Saturn. On the same day—they say—the Sors Zarathustrae 
came to hold communion with God, and Kai khusrau ascended into 
the air. On the same day the happy lots are distributed among the 
people of the earth. Therefore the Persians call it “the day of hope." 14 

The so-called Kaianian Dynasty—the “Heroes” according to 
Al-Biruni’s Chronology 15 —succeeding the first Pishdadian Dynasty 
(“the Just”), is supposed to have started with Kai Kubad, his son 
Kai Ka’us, and the latter’s grandson Kai Khusrau, and to have 
ended with Sikander, Alexander the Great, with whose death a new 
era actually began. But it is obvious that something new begins 
with Kai Khusrau’s assumption into heaven. Thus, the Warners 
state that with our Shah “the old epic cycle of the poem comes to 
an end, and up to this point the Kaianian may be regarded as the 
complement of the Pishdadian dynasty.” 16 

14 Al-Biruni, The Chronology of Ancient Nations (trans. C. E. Sachau [1879], 
p. 201). 

« P. 112. 

16 Firdausi, Shahnama (Warner trans.), vol. pp. 8f. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 84 

In his introduction to the Firdausi translation, however, the 
Warners claim that the poem is divided into two periods, one 
mythic, the other historic: 17 

This distinction is based not so much on the nature of the subject- 
matter as on the names of the chief characters. At a certain point in 
the poem the names cease to be mythic and become historic. The 
mythic period extends from the beginning of the narrative down to 
the reigns of the last two Shahs of the Kaianian dynasty . . . The 
Shahs in question are Dara, son of Darab, better known as Darius 
Codomanus, and Sikander (Alexander).” 18 

Firdausi makes it clear that the mythic period ends only with the 
death of Alexander, the two last Shahs being Darius Codomanus 
and Alexander who overcame him. After him begins the “historic” 
period of the poem. In other words, “history” begins only when the 
Iranian empire vanishes from the scene, to be replaced by the suc¬ 
cessors of Alexander. To remove from history the great and solidly 
historical feats of Darius I, Xerxes, Cambyses, etc., is paradoxical 
for a poem which is meant to celebrate the Iranian empire. Pre¬ 
sumably Firdausi meant that so long as the Zoroastrian religion 
reigned, time was holy and thus belonged to myth rather than 
ordinary history. This is confirmed by a strange statement of the 
Warners: “Rightly or wrongly, Zoroastrian tradition couples Alex¬ 
ander with Zahhak and Afrasiyab as one of the three arch-enemies 
of the faith.” 19 

The great myths of the Avestan religion have overcome chronol¬ 
ogy and reshaped it to their purpose. The true kings of Persia have 
disappeared notwithstanding their glory, and are replaced by myth¬ 
ical rulers and mythical struggles. Kai Khusrau rehearses a “Jam- 
shyd” role in his beginnings, and with his ascent to heaven—the 
date of which marks New Year from now on—the Holy Empire 

17 The time structure is a very complicated one, and we cannot manage with a 
subdivision of two “periods” at all, the less so, as the reigns of the Shahs overlap 
with the rather miraculous lifetimes of the “heroes” or Paladins (Rustam, Zal, etc.). 
The same goes for the “primordial” emperors of China and their “vassals.” But 
God protect us from meddling with lists of alleged “kings” from whichever area, 
but particularly from the Iranian tables! 

18 Firdausi, vol. /, pp. 49F 

19 Firdausi, vol. i, p. 59. 

85 * The Unfolding in India 

really comes to a close. The struggle has been between gods and 
demons throughout. 

We have been following the story of powers coming to an end, 
embodied first in the Iranian then in the Indian “kings,” a story 
which is differently emphasized by two different legends. Each 
legend has a disturbing similarity to the other, and each removes 
the narration from any known classic pattern, forcing the events 
to a catastrophic conclusion which is clearly commanded by Time 
itself, and by a very different chain of causes than that indicated 
by the actual sequence of events in the texts. 

To avoid misunderstanding it should be emphasized that it is not 
possible yet to know precisely who is who, or to make positive 
identifications such as saying that Brjam is Yudhishthira or Krishna. 
But the hints provided by Iranians and Indians may lead to a better 
understanding of Kullervo (“Kaleva is reborn in him”), and may 
indicate that the feat of the doggish fool Brutus in driving out the 
Kings was significant on a higher level than the political. This is 
not to deny that the Kings were expelled, but rather to point to 
a special set of firmly coined “figures of speech” derived from 
“large” changes or shifts (such as the onset of Kali Yuga) that 
could be, and were, applied to minor historical events. 

Chapter VI 

Amlodhi’s Quern 

The stone which the builders refused 
is become the head stone of the corner. 

Psalm cxviii.2 2 ; Luke xx.17 

Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken, 
but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. 

Luke xx. 18 

w„ suggestive insights from other continents, it is time to 
take a fresh look at Shakespeare’s Gentle Prince, a cultivated, 
searching intellectual, the glass of fashion and the mold of form 
in the Danish Court, who was known once upon a time as a per¬ 
sonage of no ordinary power, of universal position, and, in the 
North, as the owner of a formidable mill. 

Well trained by the Church, Saxo could write excellent and 
ornate Latin, a rare achievement in his time. Though inspired by 
his patriotism to write the great chronicles of his own country, he 
was in Denmark an isolated if respectable fish in a small provincial 
pond. He remained oriented to the cultural pole of his times, which 
was Iceland. From there he had to draw most of his materials even 
if he helped to Danicize them, as we see in the story of Hamlet 
where all the features point toward a local dynastic story. But what 
he drew from Iceland were pieces of already “historical” lore. He 
could not draw, as did Snorri Sturluson, on the resources of a high 
position at the very center of Iceland’s rich bilingual culture, and 
on the experience of a wide-ranging and adventurous life. He could 
never have formed, like Snorri, the great project of reorganizing 

87 # Amlodhfs Quern 

the corpus of pagan and skaldic tradition inside an already Christian 
frame. Saxo seems to have known Icelandic fairly well, but not 
enough to understand the precious and convoluted language of 
ancient poetry. He was unsure of his bearings and simply arranged 
his story as best he could even though the name of Hamlet’s father, 
Orvendel (see appendix #2), should have been sufficient to warn 
him of its derivation from high myth. It is Snorri who provides a 
piece of decisive information: and it appears, as earlier noted, in 
chapter 16 of his Skaldskaparmal (“Poetical Diction”), a collection 
of kenningar , or turns of speech from ancient bards. It is couched 
in a language that even modern scholars can translate only tenta¬ 
tively. Appendix #5 contains a discussion of the many versions. 
The one quoted again here is that of Gollancz (p. xi), which ap¬ 
pears to be the most carefully translated: 

T’is said, sang Snaebjorn, that far out, off yonder ness, the Nine 
Maids of the Island Mill stir amain the host-cruel skerry-quern—they 
who in ages past ground Hamlet’s meal. The good chieftain furrows 
the hull’s lair with his ship’s beaked prow. Here the sea is called 
Amlodhi’s Mill. 

The Mill is thus not only very great and ancient, but it must also 
be central to the original Hamlet story. It reappears in the Skalds - 
kaparmal, where Snorri explains why a kenning for gold is “Fro- 
dhi’s meal.” 1 Frodhi appears in the chronicles, but his name is really 
an alias of Freyr, one of the great Vanir or Titans of Norse myth. 
But Snorri, who likes to give things a historical ring as befits his 
Christian upbringing, fixed his Frodhi to “the same time when Em¬ 
peror Augustus established peace in the whole world, and when 
Christ was born.” Under King Frodhi the general state of things 
was similar to that of the Golden Age, and it was called “Frodhi’s 
peace.” Saxo follows suit and attributes unsuspectingly a duration 
of thirty years to this peace. 2 

1 Skaldskap. 42, according to Brodeur (1929), pp. 163-69, and Neckel and 
Niedner (Thule 20 [1942]), pp. 195f. The other translators of Snorri’s Edda 
cannot agree on the manner of dividing the work into chapters, if they do not 
desist from doing so at all, as R. B. Anderson (1880), pp. 206-13, parts of whose 
translation we quote here. (Simrock [n.d.], pp. 89-93, niakes it chapter 63.) 

2 P. Herrmann, Die Heldensagen des Saxo Graimnaticas (1922), pp. 376ff. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 88 

Now Frodhi happened to be the owner of a huge mill, or quern, 
that no human strength could budge. Its name was Grotte, “the 
crusher.” We are not told how he got it, it just happened, as in a 
fairy tale. He traveled around looking for someone who could work 
it, and in Sweden he recruited two giant maidens, Fenja and Menja, 
who were able to work the Grotte. It was a magic mill, and Frodhi 
told them to grind out gold, peace and happiness. So they did. But 
Frodhi in his greed drove them night and day. He allowed them 
rest only for so long as it took to recite a certain verse. One night, 
when everybody else was sleeping, the giantess Menja in her anger 
stopped work, and sang a dire song. 

This obscure prophetic imprecation, as MuellenhofT has shown, 
is the oldest extant document of skaldic literature, antedating 
Snorri’s tale by far. It contains the biography of the grim sisters: 

Frode! you 'were not / Wary enough ,— 

You friend of men ,— / When maids you bought! 

At their strength you looked , / And at their fair faces , 

But you asked no questions / About their desce?it. 

Hard was Hrungner / And his father; 

Yet was Thjasse / Stronger than they , 

And Ide and Orner / Our friends , and 

The mountain-giants' brothers, / Who fostered us two. 

Not would Grotte have come / From the mountains gray , 

Nor this hard stone / Out from the earth; 

The maids of the mountain-giants / Would not thus be grinding 
If we two knew / Nothing of the mill. 

Such were our deeds / In former days , 

That we heroes brave / Were thought to be. 

With spears sharp / Heroes we pierced , 

So the gore did run / And our swords grew red. 

Now we are come / To the house of the king , 

No one us pities. / Bond-women are we. 

Dirt eats our feet / Our limbs are cold , 

The peace-giver we turn. / Hard it is at Frode's. 

89 • Amlodhi’s Quern 

Now hold shall the hands / The lances hard, 

The weapons bloody / Wake now , Frode! Wake now , Frode! 

If you woidd listen / To our songs ,— 

To sayings old. 

Fire l see burn / Zfojf <9/ burg ,— 

The war news are awake. / That is called warning. 

A host hither / Hastily approaches 
To burn the king's / L<?/Zy dwelling. 

No longer you will sit / Ow throne of Hleidra 
And ride o'er red / Rings and the mill. 

Now must we grind / TT/YA #// <?z/r might ; 

iV<? warmth will we get / From the blood of the slain. 

Now my father's daughter / Bravely turns the mill. 

The death of many / Men she sees. 

Now broke the large / Braces 'neath the mill ; — 

The iron-bound braces. / us yet grind! 

Let us yet grind! / Yrsa's son 

Shall on Frode revenge / Half dan's death. 

He shall Yrsa's / Offspring be named, 

And yet Yrsa's brother. / Both of us know it. 

However obscure the prophecy, it brought its own fulfillment. 
The maidens ground out for Frodhi’s “a sudden host,” and that 
very day Mysingr, the Sea-King, landed and killed Frodhi. Mysingr 
(“son of the Mouse”—see appendix #6) loaded Grotte on his ship, 
and with him he also took the giantesses. He ordered them to grind 
again. But this time they ground out salt. 

“And at midnight they asked whether Mysingr were not weary 
of salt. He bade them grind longer. They had ground but a little 
while, when down sank the ship,” 

u the huge props flew off the bin, 
the iron rivets burst , 
the shaft tree shivered , 

Hamlet’s Mill • 90 

the bin shot down, 

the massy mill-stone rent in twain ” 3 

“And from that time there has been a whirlpool in the sea where 
the water falls through the hole in the mill-stone. It was then that 
the sea became salt.” 

Here ends Snorri’s tale (appendix #7). Three fundamental and 
far-reaching themes have been set: the broken mill, the whirlpool, 
the salt. As for the curse of the miller women, it stands out alone 
like a megalith abandoned in the landscape. But surprisingly it can 
also be found, already looking strange, in the world of Homer, two 
thousand years before. 4 

It is the last night, in the Odyssey (20.103-19, Rouse trans.), 
which precedes the decisive confrontation. Odysseus has landed in 
Ithaca and is hiding under Athena’s magic spell which protects him 
from recognition. Just as in Snorri, everybody sleeps. Odysseus 
prays to Zeus to send him an encouraging sign before the great 

Straightaway he thundered from shining Olympus, from on high 
from the place of the clouds; and goodly Odysseus was glad. More¬ 
over, a woman, a grinder at the mill, uttered a voice of omen from 
within the house hard by, where stood the mills of the shepherd of 
the people. At these handmills twelve women in all plied their task, 
making meal of barley and of wheat, the marrow of men. Now all the 
others were asleep, for they had ground out their task of grain, but 
one alone rested not yet, being the weakest of all. She now stayed her 
quern and spake a word, a sign to her Lord [epos phato sema anakti]. 
“Father Zeus, who rulest over gods and man, loudly hast thou thun¬ 
dered from the starry sky, yet nowhere is there a cloud to be seen: 
this is surely a portent thou art showing to some mortal. Fulfil now, I 
pray thee, even to miserable me, the word that I shall speak. May the 
wooers, on this day, for the last and latest time make their sweet 
feasting in the halls of Odysseus! They that have loosened my knees 
with cruel toil to grind their barley meal, mav they now sup their 

“The weakest of all,” yet a giant figure in her own right. In the 
tight and shapely structure of the narrative, the episode is fitted 

3 These five verses are taken from Gollancz (p. xiii), the three previous and 
the two last lines from Brodeur (pp. i6zf.); otherwise, we followed the Anderson 

4 It was J. G. von Hahn (Sag'wissenschaftliche Stadien [1876], pp. 401L) who 
first pointed to the similarity of the episodes in Snorri’s Edda and in the Odyssey . 

Hcrum pt:tu \ 

aptiniS ututU r 1 l 

arc titwrum f l 

The Carta Marina of Olaus Magnus (16th century) shows the “horrenda caribdis,” 
i.e., the Maelstrom, on the lower right, with ships, destructive sea-animals, and ice¬ 
bergs on the left. 


The whirlpool, here called “Norvegianus Vortex,” but usually spoken of as “gurges 
mirabilis” by Athanasius Kircher, as depicted in his Mundns Subt err emeus. 


Kircher’s rather curious conception of the subterranean flow of rivers may have 
been evoked by Socrates’ last tale, but transposed to a strictly geological level. 
This drawing illustrates the subterranean connection between the whirlpool west 
of Norway and the Baltic Sea. 

91 • Amlodhi s Quern 

with art, yet it stands out like a cyclopean stone embedded in a 
house. There are many such things in Homer. 

Going back to Grotte, the name has an interesting story. It is 
still used today in Norwegian for the “axle-block,” the round 
block of wood which fills the hole in the millstone, and in which 
the end of the mill axle is fixed. In the Faroer as well as in the 
Shetland dialect, it stands for “the nave in the millstone.” The 
original Sanskrit nabhi covers both “nave” and “navel,” and this 
point should be kept in mind. In the story, it is obviously the nave 
that counts, for it created a hole when the mill tree sprang out of 
it, and the whirlpool formed in the hole. But “navel of the sea" was 
an ancient name for great whirlpools. Gollancz. with sound instinct, 
saw the connection right away: 

Indeed, one cannot help thinking of a possible reference to the mar¬ 
vellous Maelstroem, the greatest of all whirlpools, one of the wonders 
of the world; Umbilicus viaris according to the old geographers. 
l 'S ur S es mira bilis omnium totius orbis t err arum celeberrimus et maxi - 
mus" as Fr. Athanasius Kircher describes it in his fascinating folio 
“Mundus SubterraneusA According to Kircher, it was supposed that 
every whirlpool formed around a central rock: a great cavern opened 
beneath; down this cavern the water rushed; the whirling was pro¬ 
duced as in a basin emptying through a central hole. Kircher gives a 
curious picture of this theory, with special reference to the Mael¬ 
stroem . 5 

Clearly, the Mill is not a “chose transitory,” as lawyers say in 
their jargon. It must belong to the permanent equipment of the 
ancient universe. It recurs all the time, even if its connotations are 
rarely pleasant. From another corner of memory, there come the 
lines of Burns’ “John Barleycorn": 

They wasted o'er a scorching flame 
The marrozv of his bones 
But a miller used him worst of all 

For he crushed him between tivo stones. 

The mock tragedy of the yearly rural feast is part of the immense 
lore on fertility rites that Frazer has unfolded, with the ritual 
lamentations over the death of Tammuz, Adonis, the “Grain- 
Osiris” of Egypt; and no one would deny that the Tammuz festival 
5 I. Gollancz, Hamlet m Iceland (1S9S). p. xiv. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 92 

was a seasonal ritual celebrating the death and rebirth of vegetation. 
It has entered the commonplaces of our knowledge. But was this 
the original meaning? An irresistible preconception leads to the 
thought that when peasant rites are found tied to vegetation, there 
is the most elementary and primitive level of myth from which all 
others derive. It carries, too, its own moral tidings: “if the grain die 
not . . . ,” which led on to higher religious thought. 

In truly archaic cults, however, such as that of the Ssabians of 
Harran, reflected also in Ibn Wa’shijja’s “Book of Nabataean Agri¬ 
culture,” the death and grinding up of Tammuz is celebrated and 
lamented by the images of all the planetary gods gathered in the 
temple of the Sun suspended “between earth and heaven,” in the 
same way as they once cried and lamented over the passing of 
Jamshyd (or Jambushad as they then called him). This is a strange 
and unusual note, very un-agrarian, which deserves more careful 

But this leads back to the Norse myth of the Mill, and in fact 
to Snorri himself, who in his “Fooling of Gylfi” commented on a 
verse from the Vafthrudnismal which has been much discussed 
since. In this ancient poem, the end of Ymer is recounted. Ymer is 
the “initial” world giant from whose scattered body the world was 
made. Snorri states that Ymer’s blood caused a flood which 
drowned all giants except Bergelmer, who, with his wife, “betook 
himself upon his hidr and remained there, and from there the race 
of giants are descended.” The word hidr, as Snaebjorn said, stands 
for Mill. But in Vafthrudnismal (ch. 35), Odin asks the wise giant 
Vafthrudner of the oldest event he can think of, and gets this 
answer: “Countless ages ere the earth was shapen, Bergelmer was 
born. The first thing I remember—is when he a var \udr uni lagidr ” 
(appendix #8). Rydberg renders the words as “laid on a mill,” and 
understands them as “laid under a millstone.” Accordingly, he ex¬ 
plains Snaebjorn’s lidmeldr, which the great mill grinds, as “limb 
grist.” 6 As will appear later, there is a different interpretation to 

6 V. Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology (1907), p. 575. 


• Amlodhis Quern 

The problem, however, keeps turning up. In the Lokasenna 
(43^)7 Freyr, the original master of Grotte, is brought directly 
into action. The occasion is a banquet to which Aegir invited the 
gods. Loke uninvited made his appearance there to mix harm into 
the ale of the gods and to embitter their pleasure. But when Loke 
taunts Freyr, Byggver, the faithful retainer, becomes angry on his 
master’s behalf: 

“Had l the ancestry 

of In guitar Freyr 

and so honoured a seat 

know I would grind you 

finer than marrow, you evil crow, 

and crush you limb by limb.’’' 

To which Loke replies: 


“What little boy is that 
whom l see wag his tail 
and eat like a parasite? 

Near Freyr's ears 
always you are 

and clatter 'neath the mill-stone." 

There are several more clues which hint that this mill upon which 
Bergelmer was “heaved” was a very distinct if unattractive mytho¬ 
logical feature, and they cannot be dealt with here. But if it should 
be remarked that Bergelmer was not in a state to produce offspring 
for the giants, if he really was laid under the millstone, there is 
also an example from Mexico, the “jewel-bone” or “sacrificial 
bone” which Xolotl or Quetzalcouatl procures from the “under¬ 
world,” bringing it to Tamoanchan (the so-called “House of de¬ 
scending”). There, the goddess Ciua couatl or Quilaztli grinds the 
precious bone on the grindstone, and the ground substance is put 
into the jewel bowl (chalchiuhapaztli ). Several gods maltreat 
themselves, making blood flow from their penises on the “meal." 
Out of this mixture mankind is fashioned. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 94 

These stories may not be in exquisite taste, but at least they are 
grotesque and contorted enough to rid us of reliance on the natural 
or intuitive understanding of artless tales sung by rustics dancing 
on the green. Real cosmological similes are anything but intuitive. 

One question remains from this discussion. Who was Snaebjorn, 
that dim figure, a few of whose lines have revealed so much? The 
scholars have gone searching, and have unearthed a veritable trea¬ 
sure in the ancient “Book of Iceland Settlements.” It links the poet 
with the first discovery of America. In that book, writes Gollancz: 

There is a vivid picture of a tenth-century Arctic adventurer, Snae¬ 
bjorn by name, who went on a perilous expedition to find the un¬ 
known land, “Gunnbjorn’s Reef,” after having wrought vengeance, 
as became a chivalrous gentleman of the period, on the murderer of a 
fair kinswoman. It is generally accepted, and there can be little doubt, 
that this Snaebjorn is identical with the poet Snaebjorn. 

His family history is not without interest. His great-grandfather, 
Eywind the Easterling, so called because he had come to the Hebrides 
from Sweden, married the daughter of Cearbhall, Lord of Ossory, 
who ruled as King of Dublin from 882 to 888, “one of the principal 
sovereigns of Europe at the time when Iceland was peopled by the 
noblemen and others who fled from the tyranny of Harold Harfagr.” 
Cearbhall was descended from Connla, the grandson of Crimhthann 
Cosgach, the victorious King of Ireland, who is said to have flourished 
about a century before the Christian era. Lann or Flann, the half- 
sister of Cearbhall, was married to Malachy I., King of Ireland, whose 
daughter Cearbhall had married. Flann was the mother of King 
Sionna and of the Lady Gormflaith, whom a cruel fate pursued; a 
king’s daughter, the wife of three kings, [she was] forced at last to 
beg for bread from door to door. About the date of Snaebjorn’s 
Arctic expedition (circa 980), his cousin, Ari Marson, is said to have 
landed on “White Man’s Land,” or “Great Iceland,”—that part of 
the coast of North America which extends from Chesapeake Bay, 
including North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida,—and 
became famous as one of the earliest discoverers of the New World. 7 

Thus Snaebjorn, as a member of an Irish royal family, typifies 
the mutual influence of Celtic and Scandinavian culture, between 
a.d. 800 and 1000, that influence which has been traced into the 
Eddie songs by Vigfusson in his Corpus Foeticuvi Boreale. The 

7 Gollancz, pp. xviif. 

95 * Amlodhi's Quern 

Hamlet story itself typifies that exchange. For an earlier and simpler 
form of it may have been brought to Iceland from Ireland, whither 
the Vikings had originally taken the story of the great Orvendel’s 

This places Hamlet within the circle not only of Norse tradition, 
but of that prodigious treasury of archaic myth which is Celtic 
Ireland, from which many lines have been traced to the Near 
East. The universality of the Hamlet figure becomes more under¬ 

Chapter VII 

The Many-Colored Cover 

There is a mill which grinds by 
itself, swings of itself, and scat¬ 
ters the dust a hundred versts 
away. And there is a golden pole 
with a golden cage on top which 
is also the Nail of the North. 
And there is a very wise tomcat 
which climbs up and down this 
pole. When he climbs down, he 
sings songs; and when he climbs 
up, he tells tales. 

Tale of the Ostyaks of the Irtysh 


JL he Kalevala is vaguely known by the general public as the 
national epic of Finland. It is a tale of wild fancy, enticing absurdity 
and wonderfully primitive traits, actually magical and cosmological 
throughout. It is all the more important in that the Ugro-Finnic 
tradition has different roots from Indo-European ones. 

Until the 19th century the epic existed only in fragments en¬ 
trusted to oral transmission among peasants. From 1820 to 1849, 
Dr. Elias Lonnrot undertook to collect them in writing, wander¬ 
ing from place to place in the most remote districts, living with the 
peasantry, and putting together what he heard into some kind of 
tentative sequence. Some of the most valuable songs were discov¬ 
ered in the regions of Archangel and Olonetz in the Far North, 
which now belong again to Russia. The 1849 final edition of Lonn¬ 
rot comprises 22,793 verses in fifty runes or songs. A large amount 
of new material has been discovered since. 

The poem has taken its name from Kaleva, a mysterious ancestral 
personage who appears nowhere in the tale. The heroes are his 

97 * The Many-Colored Cover 

three sons: Vainamoinen, 1 “old and truthful,” the master of magic 
song; Ilmarinen, the primeval smith, the inventor of iron, who can 
forge more things than are found on land or sea; and the “beloved,” 
or “lively,” Lemminkainen, a sort of iVrctic Don Juan. Kullervo, 
the Hamlet-like one whose story was told earlier, fair-haired Kul¬ 
lervo “with the bluest of blue stockings,” is another “son of Kaleva,” 
but his adventures seem to unfold separately. They tie up only at 
one point with Ilmarinen, and seem to belong to a different frame 
of time, to another world-age. 

It is time now to deal with the main line of events. The epic opens 
with a very poetical theory of the origin of the World. The virgin 
daughter of the air, Ilmatar, descends to the surface of the waters, 
where she remains floating for seven hundred years until Ukko, the 
Finnish Zeus, sends his bird to her. The bird makes its nest on 
the knees of Ilmatar and lays in it seven eggs, out of which the 
visible world comes. But this world remains empty and sterile until 
Vainamoinen is born of the virgin and the waters. Old since birth, 
he plays the role, as it were, of “midwife” to nature by causing 
her to create animals and trees by his magic song. An inferior 
magician from Lapland, Youkahainen, challenges him in song and is 
sung step by step into the ground, until he rescues himself by 
promising Vainamoinen his sister, the lovely Aino. But the girl 
will not have Vainamoinen, he looks too old. She wanders off in 
despair and finally comes to a lake. She swims to a rock, seeking 
death; “when she stood upon the summit, on the stone of many 
colors, in the waves it sank beneath her.” Vainamoinen tries to 
fish for her, she swims into his net as a salmon, mocks him for not 
recognizing her, and then escapes forever. Vainamoinen decides 
to look for another bride, and embarks upon his quest. His goal is 
the country of Pohjola, the “North country,” a misty land “cruel 
to heroes,” strong in magic, vaguely identified with Lapland. Events 
unfold as in a dream, with surrealistic irrelevance. The artlessness, 
the wayward charm and the bright nonsense suggest Jack and the 
Beanstalk, but behind them appear the fossil elements of a tale 
as old as the world—at least the world of man’s consciousness— 

1 The name is Vainamoinen, due to vowel harmonization, but we had pity on 
the typesetter. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 98 

whose meaning and thread were lost long ago. The pristine archaic 
themes remain standing like monumental ruins. 

The main sequence is built around the forging and the conquest 
of a great mill, called the Sampo (rune 10 deals with the forging, 
runes 39-42 with the stealing of the Sampo). 

Comparetti’s studies have shown that the Sampo adventure is a 
distinct unit (like Odysseus’ voyage to the underworld), “a mythic 
formation which has remained without any action that can be nar¬ 
rated” and which was then fitted more or less coherently into the 
rest of the tradition. 2 Folk legend has lost its meaning, and treats the 
Sampo as some vague magic dispenser of bounty, a kind of Cornu¬ 
copia, but the original story is quite definite. 

Vainamoinen, “sage and truthful,” conjurer of highest standing, 
is cast upon the shore of Pohjola much as Odysseus lands on Skyra 
after his shipw r reck. He is received hospitably by Louhi, the Mis¬ 
tress (also called the Whore) of Pohjola, who asks him to build for 
her the Sampo, without explanation. He tells her that only Umari- 
nen, the primeval smith, can do it, so she sends Vainamoinen home 
on a ship to fetch him. Ilmarinen, who addresses his “brother” and 
boon companion rather flippantly as a liar and a vain chatterer, is 
not interested in the prospect, so Vainamoinen, ancient of days and 
wise among the wise, has recourse to an unworthy trick. He lures 
the smith with a story of a tall pine, which, he says, is growing 

Near where Osmo's field, is bordered. 

On the crown the moon is shining, 

In the boughs the Bear is resting. 

Ilmarinen does not believe him; they both go there, to the edge of 
Osmo’s field, 

Then the smith his steps arrested, 

In amazement at the pine-tree, 

With the Great Bear in the branches, 

And the moon upon its summit. 

Ilmarinen promptly climbs up the tree to grasp the stars. 
2 D. Comparetti, The Traditional Poetry of the Finns (1898). 

99 • The Many-Colored Cover 

Then the aged V ainamoinen, 

Lifted np his voice in singing: 

“Awake, oh Wind, oh Whirlwind 
Rage with great rage, oh heavens, 

Within thy boat, wind, place him 
Within thy ship, oh east wind 
With all thy swiftness sweep him 
To Pohjola the gloomy”* 

Then the smith, e'en Ilmarinen 
Journeyed forth, and hurried onwards, 

On the tempest forth he floated, 

On the pathway of the breezes, 

Over moon, and under sunray, 

On the shoulders of the Great Bear 
Till he reached the halls of Pohja, 

Baths of Sariola the gloomy. 

In this utterly unintended manner, Ilmarinen lands in Pohjola, and 
not even the dogs are barking, which astonishes Louhi most of all. 
She showed herself hospitable, 

Gave the hero drink in plenty, 

And she feasted him profusely, 

then spoke to him thus: 

“O thou smith, o Ilmarinen, 

Thou the great primeval craftsman, 

If you can but forge a Sampo, 

With its many-coloured cover, 

From the tips of swan's white wing-plumes, 

From the milk of barren heifer, 

From a little grain of barley 
From the wool of sheep in summer, 3 4 
Will you then accept this maiden 
As reward, my charming daughter?" 

3 The magic spell, published in the Variants and translated by Comparetti, was 
sung by Ontrei in 1855. 

4 See the epigraph to the Introduction, p. 1. 

Hamlet’s Mill • ioo 

Ilmarinen agrees to the proposal, and looks around three days for a 
proper spot on which to erect his smithy, “in the outer fields of 
Pohja.’ , The next three days his servants keep working the bellows. 

On the first day of their labour 
He himself, smith Ilmarinen, 

Stooped him down, intently gazing, 

To the bottom of the furnace, 

If perchance amid the fire 
Something brilliant had developed. 

From the flames there rose a crossbow, 

Golden bow from out the furnace; 

’Twas a gold bow tipped with silver, 

And the shaft shone bright with copper . 

And the bow was fair to gaze on, 

But of evil disposition 

And a head each day demanded, 

And on feast-days two demanded, 

He himself, smith Ilmarinen, 

Was not much delighted with it, 

So he broke the bow to pieces, 

Cast it back into the furnace. 

The next day, Ilmarinen looks in anew, 

And a boat rose from the furnace, 

From the heat rose up a red boat, 

And the prow was golden-coloured, 

And the rowlocks were of copper. 

And the boat was fair to gaze on, 

But of evil disposition; 

It woidd go to needless combat, 

And would fight when cause was lacking. 

Ilmarinen casts the boat back into the fire, and on the following day 
he gazes anew at the bottom of the furnace, 

ioi • The Many-Colored Cover 

And a heifer then rose upward, 

With her horns all golden-shining, 

With the Bear-stars on her forehead; 

On her head appeared the Sun-disc. 

And the cow was fair to gaze on, 

But of evil disposition; 

Always sleeping in the forest, 

On the ground her milk she wasted. 
Therefore did smith llmarinen 
Take no slightest pleasure in her, 

And he cut the cow to fragments, 

Cast her back into the furnace. 

The fourth day: 

And a plough rose from the furnace, 

With the ploughshare golden-shining, 
Golden share, and frame of copper, 

And the handles tipped with silver. 

And the plough was fair to gaze on, 

But of evil disposition, 

Ploughing up the village cornfields, 
Ploughing up the open meadows, 
Therefore did smith llmarinen 
Take no slightest pleasure in it. 

And he broke the plough to pieces, 

Cast it back into the furnace, 

Called the winds to work the bellows 
To the utmost of their power. 

Then the winds arose in fury, 

Blew the east wind, blew the west wind, 
And the south wind yet more strongly, 
And the north wind howled and blustered. 

Thus they blew one day, a second, 

And upon the third day likewise. 

Fire was flashing from the windows, 

Hamlet’s Mill 

From the doors the sparks were flying 
And the dust arose to heaven, 

With the clouds the smoke was mingled. 
Then again smith llmarinen, 

On the evening of the third day, 
Stooped him down, and gazed intently 
To the bottom of the furnace, 

And he saw the Sampo forming, 

With its many-coloured cover. 

Thereupon smith llmarinen, 

He the great primeval craftsman, 
Welded it and hammered at it, 

Heaped his rapid blows upon it, 

Formed with cunning art the Sampo. 

And on one side was a corn-mill, 

On another side a salt-mill, 

And upon the third a coin-mill. 

Now was grinding the new Sampo, 

And revolved the pictured cover, 
Chestfuls did it grind till evening, 

First for food it ground a chestful, 

And another ground for barter, 

And a third it ground for storage. 

Now rejoiced the Crone of Pohja, 

And conveyed the bulky Sampo, 

To the rocky hills of Pohja, 

And within the Mount of Copper, 

And behind nine locks secured it. 

There it struck its roots around it, 
Fathoms nine in depth that measured, 
One in Mother Earth deep-rooted, 
hi the strand the next was planted, 

In the nearest mount the third one. 

103 ’ The Many-Colored Cover 

Ilmarinen does not gain his reward, not yet. He returns without 
a bride. For a long while we hear nothing at all about the Sampo. 
Other things happen: adventures, death, and resuscitation of Lem- 
minkainen, then Vainamoinen’s adventures in the belly of the ogre. 
This last story deserves telling. Vainamoinen set about building a 
boat, but when it came to putting in the prow and the stern, he 
found he needed three words in his rune that he did not know, 
however much he sought for them. In vain he looked on the heads 
of the swallows, on the necks of the swans, on the backs of the 
geese, under the tongues of the reindeer. 5 He found a number of 
words, but not those he needed. Then he thought of seeking them 
in the realm of Death, Tuonela, but in vain. He escaped back to the 
world of the living only thanks to potent magic. He was still miss¬ 
ing his three runes. He was then told by a shepherd to search in the 
mouth of Antero Vipunen, the giant ogre. The road, he was told, 
went over swords and sharpened axes. 

Ilmarinen made shoes, shirt and gloves of iron for him, but 
warned him that he would find the great Vipunen dead. Neverthe¬ 
less, the hero went. The giant lay underground, and trees grew 
over his head. Vainamoinen found his way to the giant’s mouth, 
and planted his iron staff in it. The giant awoke and suddenly 
opened his huge mouth. Vainamoinen slipped into it and was swal¬ 
lowed. As soon as he reached the enormous stomach, he thought 
of getting out. He built himself a raft and floated on it up and down 
inside the giant. The giant felt tickled and told him in many and no 
uncertain words where he might go, but he did not yield any runes. 
Then Vainamoinen built a smithy and began to hammer his iron on 
an anvil, torturing the entrails of Vipunen, who howled out magic 
songs to curse him away. But Vainamoinen said, thank you, he was 
very comfortable and would not go unless he got the secret words. 
Then Vipunen at last unlocked the treasure of his powerful runes. 

5 In the Eddie lay of Sigrdrifa, the valkyria enumerates the places where can be 
found hugruna, i.e., the runes that give wisdom and knowledge, among which are 
the following: the shield of the sun, the ear and hoof of his horses, the wheel of 
Rognir’s chariot, Sleipnir’s teeth and Bragi’s tongue, the beak of the eagle, the 
clutch of the bear, the paw of the wolf, the nail of the Norns, the head of the 
bridge, etc. (Sigrdr. vs. 13-17). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 104 

Many days and nights he sang, and the sun and the moon and the 
waves of the sea and the waterfalls stood still to hear him. Vaina- 
moinen treasured them all and finally agreed to come out. Vipunen 
opened his great jaws, and the hero issued forth to go and build his 
boat at last. 

The story then switches abruptly to introduce Kullervo, his ad¬ 
ventures, incest and suicide. When Kullervo incidentally kills the 
wife that Ilmarinen had bought so dearly in Pohjola, the tale re¬ 
turns again to Ilmarinen’s plight. He forges for himself “Pandora,” 
a woman of gold. Finding no pleasure with her, he returns to 
Pohjola and asks for the second daughter of Louhi. He is refused. 
Ilmarinen then captures the girl, but she is so spiteful and unfaith¬ 
ful that he changes her into a gull. Then he visits Vainamoinen, 
who asks for news from Pohjola. Everything is fine there, says 
Ilmarinen, thanks to the Sampo. They decide, therefore, to get hold 
of the Sampo, even against Louhi’s will. The two of them go by 
boat, although Ilmarinen is much more in favor of the land route, 
and Lemminkainen joins them. The boat gets stuck on the shoulder 
of a huge pike. Vainamoinen kills the fish and constructs out of his 
jawbones (appendix #10) the Kantele, a harp which nobody can 
play properly except Vainamoinen himself. There follows a com¬ 
pletely Orphic chapter about Vainamoinen’s Kantele music, the 
whole world falling under its spell. Finally, they arrive at Pohjola, 
and Louhi, as was to be expected, will not part with the Sampo, nor 
will she share it with the heroes. Vainamoinen then plays the Kan¬ 
tele until all the people of Pohjola are plunged in sleep. Then the 
brothers go about stealing the Sampo, which turns out to be a diffi¬ 
cult task. 

Then the aged Vainamoinen 
Gently set himself to singing 
At the copper mountain's entrance, 
There beside the stony fortress, 
And the castle doors axere shaken, 
And the iron hinges trembled. 

The Many-Colored Cover 

10 5 * 

Thereupon smith Umarinen, 

Aided by the other heroes, 

Overspread the locks with butter, 
with bacon rubbed the hinges, 

77 ? /•/?€’ doors should make no jarring, 

the hinges make no creaking. 

Then the locks he turned with fingers, 
And the bars and bolts he lifted, 

And he broke the locks to pieces, 

And the viighty doors were opened. 

Then the mighty V ainamoinen 
Spoke aloud the words that follow: 
u O thou lively son of Lempi, 

Of my friends the most illustrious, 
Come thou here to take the Sampo, 

And to seize the pictured cover” 

Then the lively Lermninkainen, 

He the handsome Kaukomieli, 

Always eager, though unbidden, 

Ready, though men did not praise him, 
Came to carry off the Sampo, 

And to seize the pictured cover . . . 

Levrminkainen pushed against it, 

Tumed himself, and pushed against it, 
On the ground his knees down-pressing, 
But he could not move the Sampo, 
Could not stir the pictured cover, 

For the roots were rooted firmly, 

In the depths nine fathoms under. 

There was then a bull in Pohja, 

Which had grown to size enormous, 
And his sides were sleek and fattened, 
And his sinews from the strongest; 

Hamlet’s Mill 

Horns he had in length a fathom, 

One half more his muzzle's thickness, 
So they led him from the meadow, 

On the border of the ploughed field, 

Up they ploughed the roots of Sampo 
Those which fixed the pictured cover, 
Then began to move the Sampo, 

And to sway the pictured cover. 

Then the aged Vainamoinen, 

Secondly, smith llmarinen, 

Third, the lively Lemminkainen, 
Carried forth the mighty Sampo, 

Forth from Pohjola's stone mountain, 
From within the hill of copper, 

To the boat away they bore it, 

And within the ship they stowed it. 

In the boat they stowed the Sampo, 

In the hold the pictured cover, 

Pushed the boat into the water, 

In the waves its sides descended. 

Asked the smith, said llmarinen, 

And he spoke the words which follow: 
“ Whither shall we bear the Sampo, 
Whither now we shall convey it, 

Take it from this evil country, 

From the wretched land of Pohja?" 

Vainamoinen, old and steadfast, 
Answered in the words which follow: 
U Thither will we bear the Sampo, 

And will take the pictured cover, 

To the misty island's headland, 

At the end of shady island. 

There in safety can we keep it, 

107 • The Many-Colored Cover 

There it can remain for ever, 

There's a little spot remaining, 

Yet a little plot left over, 

Where they eat not and they fight not, 

Whither swordsmen never wander . 

The Sampo, then, is brought on board the ship—just as Mysingr 
the pirate brought Grotte on board his boat—and the heroes row 
away as fast as possible. Lemminkainen wants music—you can row 
far better with it, he claims. Yainamoinen demurs, so Lempi's son 
sings quite by himself, with a voice loud but hardly musical, indeed, 

On a stump a crane was sitting, 

On a mound from swamp arising. 

And his toe-bones he was cowning, 

And his feet he was uplifting, 

And was terrified extremely 
At the song of Lemminkainen, 

Left the crane his strange employment. 

With his harsh voice screamed in terror, 

Over Pohjola in terror. 

And upon his coming thither, 

When he reached the swamp of Pohja, 

Screaming still, and screaming harshly, 

Screaming at his very loudest, 

Waked in Pohjola the people, 

And aroused the evil nation. 

Thus, pursuit begins; impediment after magic impediment is thrown 
across their path by Louhi. wretched hostess of Pohjola, but \ aina- 
moinen overcomes them. He causes her warship to be wrecked 
upon a cliff which he has conjured forth, but on that occasion his 
beloved Kantele, the harp, sinks to the bottom of the sea. Finally, 
Louhi changes herself into a huge eagle which fills all the space 
between waves and clouds, and she snatches the Sampo away. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 108 

From the boat she dragged the Sampo, 

Down she pulled the pictured cover, 

From the red boat's hold she pulled it, 

’Mid the blue lake's waters cast it, 

And the Sampo broke to pieces, 

And was smashed the picture cover. 

Fragments of the colored cover are floating on the surface of the 
sea. Vainamoinen collects many of them, but Louhi gets only one 
small piece; hence Lapland is poor, Suomi (Finland) well off and 
fertile. Vainamoinen sows the fragments of Sampo, and trees came 
out of it: 

From these seeds the plant is sprouting 
Lasting welfare is commencing, 

Here is ploughing, here is sowing, 

Here is every kind of increase. 

Thence there comes the lovely sunlight, 

O'er the mighty plains of Suomi, 

And the lovely land of Suomi. 

Vainamoinen constructs a new Kantele, of birch wood this time, 
and with the hairs of a young maiden as strings—but the strings 
come last. Before that he asks, 

u Now the frame l have constructed, 

From the trunk for lasting pleasure, 

Whence shall now the screws be fashioned, 

Whence shall come the pegs to suit me? 

'Twas an oak with equal branches, 

And on every branch an acorn, 

In the acorns golden kernels, 

On each kernel sat a cuckoo. 

When the cuckoos all were calling, 
l?i the call five tones were sounding 
Gold from out their mouths was flowing, 
Silver too they scattered round them, 

109 # The Many-Colored Cover 

On a hill the gold was flowing, 

On the ground there flowed the silver , 

And from this he made the harp-screws , 

And the pegs from that provided .” 

Once more, Vainamoinen begins to play on his irresistible instru¬ 
ment, but this time Louhi manages to capture sun and moon. She 
was able to do so because 

. . . the moon came from his dwelling , 

Standing on a crooked birch-tree , 

And the sun came from his castle , 

Sitting on a fir-tree's summit , 

To the kantele to listen , 

Filled with wonder and rejoicing. 

The grasping Louhi hides sun and moon in an iron mountain. 
Ilmarinen forges a substitute sun and moon, but they will not shine 
properly. Eventually, Louhi sets free the luminaries, since she has 
become afraid of the heroes; repeatedly she complains that her 
strength has left her with the Sampo. 

But time is running out, too, on the ancient Vainamoinen. All that 
is left for him to do is kindle a new fire, and he does. Beginning 
far back, he had sung all there was to sing. 

Day by day he satig unwearied , 

Night by night discoursed unceasing , 

Sang the songs of by-gone ages , 

Hidden words of ancient wisdom , 

Songs which all the children sing not , 

All beyond men's comprehension , 

In these ages of misfortune , 

When the race is near its ending . 

Now a Miraculous Child was born, heralding a new era. Yaina- 
moinen knew that there was not room for both of them in the 
world. If the child lived, he must go. He said good-bye to his 

Hamlet’s Mill • 

i io 

And began his songs of magic, 

For the last time sang them loudly, 

Sang himself a boat of copper, 

With a copper deck provided. 

In the stern himself he seated, 

Sailing o'er the sparkling billows, 

Still he sang as he was sailing: 

“May the time pass quickly o'er us, 

One day passes, comes another, 

And again shall I be needed, 

Men will look for me and miss me, 

To construct another Sampo, 

And another harp to make me, 

another moon for gleaming, 

And another sun for shining. 

When the sun and moon are absent, 

In the air no joy remaineth 

Then the aged Vainamoinen 
Went upon his journey singing, 

Sailing in his boat of copper, 

In his vessel made of copper, 

Sailed away to loftier regions, 

To the land beneath the heavens. 

Actually, there are more runes which tell of Vainamoinen’s de¬ 
parture, as we learn from Haavio. He plunges 

to the depths of the sea; 
to the lowest sea 

to the lowest bowels of the earth 
to the lowest regions of the heavens 
to the doors of the great mouth of death . 

Or, he sailed 

into the throat of the maelstroem 
into the mouth of the maelstroem, 
into the gullet of the maelstroem, 
into the maw of the monster of the sea . 

hi • The Many-Colored Cover 

This is the Vortex that swallows all waters, the one that comes 
of the destruction of Grotte, which must be dealt with later. Its 
Norse name is Hvergelmer; its most ancient name is Eridu. But 
that name belongs to another story and world. 

It is difficult for moderns to grasp the quality of that ancient 
recitation, the laulo, of only a few notes going on interminably 
with freely improvised verbal “cadenzas,” yet with a core of for¬ 
mulas rigidly preserved in the canonic form. It is not actually folk 
poetry in the accepted sense even though its “copyists,” its “print¬ 
ers” and its “publishers” are only peasants with an iron memory. 6 
An old laulaja who recited the origin of the world told Lonnrot: 
“You and I know that this is the real Truth about how the world 
began.” He said this after centuries of Christendom, never doubt¬ 
ing, for the essence of the rune was an incantation, sung or mur¬ 
mured (cf. the German rauneri), which brings things back to their 
actual beginning, to the “deep origins.” To heal a wound from a 
sword, the laulaja had to sing the rune of the “origin of iron,” and 
one wrong word would have ruined its power. In this way frag¬ 
ments of ageless antiquity remained embedded in living folk poetry. 
Those whom the Greeks called the “nameless ones,” typhlos aner, 
who had preserved the epic rhapsodies, reach out to meet us almost 
in our days, in those humble villages of the Far North, their names 
of our own time: Arhippa Perttunen, Simana of Mekrijarvi, Okoi 
of Audista, Ontrei, the Pack Peddler. 

Out of the whole bewildering story, one thing is established 
beyond controversy, that the Sampo is nothing but heaven itself. 
The fixed adjective kirjokansi, “many-coloured,” did apply to the 
cover of the heavenly vault in Finnish folk poetry, as Comparetti 
and others showed long ago. As for the name Sampo, it resisted the 
efforts of linguists, until it was found that the word was derived 
from the Sanskrit skambha, pillar, pole. 7 Because it “grinds,” 
Sampo is obviously a mill. But the mill tree is also the world axis, 
so the inquiry returns to the Norse mill, and to the complex of 
meanings involved in the difficult word ludr (with radical r) which 

6 M. Haavio, Vainarnoinen, Eternal Sage (1952), p. 40 (quoting Setala). 

7 See chapter VIII. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 

I 12 

stands for the timbers of the mill and reappears as “loor,” a 
wind instrument. This involves time both ways: the setting and the 
scansion of time. This does not present embarrassing ambiguity, but 
a richer meaning, which must have appeared heaven-sent to early 

The Sampo is—or was—the dispenser of all good things and this 
is delightfully underscored by the many variants which insist that 
because most of it fell into the sea, the sea is richer than the land. 
Men were bound to compare the teeming life of Arctic waters with 
the barren land in the Far North. But the Sampo did undergo a 
catastrophe as it was being moved, and that clinches the parallel 
with Grotte. The astronomical idea underlying these strange repre¬ 
sentations has been described in the Intermezzo, and will be taken 
up again in chapter IX. 

Chapter VIII 

Shamans and Smiths 

Of this base metal may be filed a 

That will unlock the door they 
howl without. 

Omar Khayyam 

Xn addition to the Sampo, there are many myths embedded in 
the KalevalcCs narrative sequence whose analysis would yield sur¬ 
prises. There was the contest of Vainamoinen with Youkahainen 
(see p. 97), a malevolent Lapp magician who seems to be his con¬ 
stant opponent. Youkahainen tries to overcome the ancient sage by 
asking cosmogonic riddles, but Vainamoinen “sings” the Lapp step 
by step into the bog up to his throat, and sings his magic formulae 
“backwards” to free him only when the Lapp has promised him 
Aino, his only sister. There was also the tale of Vainamoinen 
searching in the dead giant’s belly for three lost runes. These, unless 
they are treated as “just so stories,” look very much like “erratic 
boulders” deposited in Finland by the glacial movement of time. 
For once, it is possible to trace the archaic formation back to 
Egypt. 1 A young Egyptian called Setna (or Seton Chamwese) 
wanted to steal the magic book of Thot from the corpse of Nefer-ka 
Ptah, one of the great Egyptian gods, who was often portrayed as a 
mummy. Ptah, however, was awake and asked him: “Are you able 
to take this book away with the help of a knowing scribe, or do you 
want to overcome me at checkerboards? Will you play ‘Fifty- 
Two’?” Setna agreed, and the board with its “dogs” (pieces) being 

1 G. Roeder, Altaegyptische Erzdhlungen imd Mdrchen {1927), p. 149; A. Wiede¬ 
mann, Herodots Z writes Bitch (1890), p. 455. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


brought up, Nefer-ka Ptah won a game, spoke a formula, laid the 
checkerboard upon Setna’s head and made him sink into the ground 
up to his hips. On the third time, he made him sink up to his ears; 
then Setna cried aloud for his brother, who saved him. 

There is also a Finnish folktale which repeats the well-known 
Babylonian story of Etana and the Eagle. 2 Here, instead of the 
King, it is the “Son of the Widow” (no reason is given for this 
epithet, which appears to belong to Perceval in the first line, but 
we find it again in later Masonic tradition) 3 who is taken up into 
the air by a griffin and sees the earth growing smaller and smaller 
under him. When the earth appears “no bigger than a pea” (analo¬ 
gous similes are to be found also in Etana), the griffin plunges 
straightaway to the bottom of the sea, where the hero finds a cer¬ 
tain object for which he had looked everywhere, and finally he is 
restored to land. This looks like the full story of what in the Baby¬ 
lonian cuneiform is interrupted halfway through because the tablet 
is broken off: it might be the first version of the legend of Alex¬ 
ander exploring the Three Realms. 

The anomalous position of Kullervo in the Kalevala remains a 
puzzle. Where Lonnrot put him in the sequence, he remains a 
displaced person, seeming to come, as was noted, from another 
age. There are many such incongruities. On the basis of the 
variants discovered, it has been boldly suggested that he was sup¬ 
posed to appear only after the departure of Vainamoinen—in fact, 
that he himself is the nameless Miraculous Child who compelled 
Vainamoinen to quit the scene, and that would be why the two 
never met. The people now understand the Child to be Christ him¬ 
self, but that is the normal transforming influence of the Church. 
The Child in Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue was also later thought to be 
Christ, and Virgil earned a reputation as a magician on the strength 

2 See M. Haavio, Der Etancmiythos in Finnland (1955), pp. 8-12; also S. Langdon, 
The Legend of Etana and the Eagle (1932), pp. 46-50. 

3 Such words have long lives. At the height of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, 
the first man over the wall was Gen. Armistead, who fell into the breach mortally 
wounded. To those who picked him up, the general kept repeating: “I am a Son 
of the Widow”—obviously the password of a secret military brotherhood that his 
captors did not understand, nor the historian either. 

115 • Shamans and Smiths 

of his supposed prophecy. Actually, the mother says of Vaina- 
moinen’s and her illegitimate little son (50.199^): “He shall be a 
mighty conqueror, strong as even Vainamoinen.” This struck the 
English editor of the Kalevala, the more so as the baby is also called 
“the two-week-old Kaleva.” For Kullervo is both in Finnish and in 
Esthonian tradition the son of Kaleva—“Kalevanpoika” or “Kale- 
vipoeg”—much more explicitly than the other heroes, who are 
“sons”, only generically. It would fit into the mythical picture, for 
reasons which will soon be evident, to have a time-bound tragic 
avatar of Vainamoinen, following upon the timeless sage. 

But then, who is Kaleva- He is a mysterious entity that shines 
by his absence, and yet is the eponymous presence through the 
whole poem. The connotation of “giant” is attached to him: in some 
of the Finnish versions of the Old Testament, the gigantic Rephaim 
and Enakim are called “children of Kaleva.” But there are many 
reasons for understanding the word as smith. 4 Kaleva might be a 
smith even more primeval than Ilmarinen. There is a strange line 
in the spell describing the origin of iron: “Poor Iron, man Kaleva, 
at that time thou wast neither great nor small.” In any case, the 
current notion that Kaleva is a “personification” of Finland, a sort 
of Britannia with her trident, can be dismissed as unserious. Those 
were no times for rhetorical figures. Kaleva remains for the present 
a significant void. But Setala notes that the Russian by Uni, the 
close neighbors of the Esthonian runes, sing the feats of Koly- 
vanovic, the son of Kolyvan, and say next to nothing of Kolyvan 

The Russian texts give the full name as Samson Kolyvanovic, 
just as in Finland it is Kullervo Kalevanpoika. Here perhaps by 
chance a name turns up which runs like a barely visible thread 
through the whole tradition. We have Samson in the Kalevala right 
in the first rune; his name is Sampsa Pellervoinen, who “sows the 
trees” and also helps Vainamoinen to cut them down. 0 His name, 

4 E. N. Setala, “Kullervo-Hamlet,” FUF 7 (1907), p. 249. See also K. Krohn, 
Kalevalastttdien i. Einleitung (19:4), pp. 93-101. 

5 Krohn suggests deriving Sampsa from Sampo. Comparetti would like it the 
other way around. Neither is convinced or convincing, but they both show that 
the name of Samson is a rarity which has to be accounted for. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 116 

“the man of the field” or the “earth-begotten,” shows him to be 
a rural deity, which might translate into the Greek Triptolemus, or 
the Etruscan Aruns Velthymnus. One can no longer tell what his 
role was in the original order of the poem. It is enough that he is 
there. The lore of the Mill begins to extend beyond reach. It will be 
no surprise, then, to find Lykophron, the master mythologist, speak¬ 
ing of Zeus the Miller (435). With it, paradoxically, goes again 
the name of Mylinos, “Miller,” given to the leader of the Battle of 
the Giants against the Gods. The struggle was seen obviously as one 
for the control of the Mill of Heaven. 

It is, then, maybe not by chance that the name of Samson appears 
in the Far North. For Samson himself, Samson Agonistes, should 
have a place of honor among the giant Heroes of the Mill. He is in 
fact the first one in our literature. We are told (Judges xvi.21) how 
he ground away, “eyeless in Gaza, at the mill, with slaves,” until 
his cruel captors unbound him to “make sport” for them in their 
temple, and with his last strength he took hold of the middle pillars 
and brought the temple crushing down on the heads of the Philis¬ 
tines. Like Menja, he had taken his revenge. 

But Samson leads beyond the confines of this topic into a world¬ 
wide context. He brings more abstruse concepts into play. He had 
better be reserved for the next chapter. 

Now, at the end of the strange story of the Sampo, one is en¬ 
titled to ask: does all this make much sense by itself? Is it relevant 
at all beyond literary history? Comparetti, the great old scholar 
who in the last century tackled the difficult study of Finnish poetry, 
set himself a neat and classic philological question. Would it help 
us to understand the birth of the Homeric poems? Yes, he says. Yet 
he admits that the Homeric question remains open. In other words, 
the famous “commission of Orphic and Pythagorean experts set up 
by Pisistratus to collect the scattered rhapsodies” can hardly have 
produced by itself any more than Lonnrot could, such works as 
the Iliad and the Odyssey. Hence in conclusion there must still have 
been a Homer. Which goes to show that the conventional idea of 
epic genius ends up in mystery even for the comparative philologist. 
But Comparetti is prompt to point out that those experts were no 


117 • Shamans and Smiths 

scholars in today’s sense, belonging as they did to a period when 
myth, poetry and intellectual creation were all one. 

It might have been better perhaps to take the question from the 
other end. Supposing that Lonnrot had been himself some kind of 
“Orphic and Pythagorean” in the old sense, might he not have pro¬ 
duced a better reconstruction than the—surely intelligent—stitch¬ 
ing together to which he had to limit himself? Was he not hampered 
by his ignorance of the archaic background? Firdausi did actually 
know the astrological doctrines through which his scattered sources 
made coherent sense, and this is undoubtedly what allowed him to 
weld his Shahnama into a real whole. Lonnrot was not, but the 
“short songs” of Finnish peasant tradition were too far removed 
from the original thought for anyone to recapture it. His successors 
who unearthed a bewildering number of variants to every single 
rune have left the confusion intact. Instead of forcing the bulky 
piece into an arbitrary whole, the Finnish Folklore Fellows (F. F. 
for short) have taken up comparative mythology, the only means 
by which order can be established eventually. 

As concerns Homer and the presupposed Homeric rhapsodies, 
this is dangerous territory. Not so much because Homer belongs in 
fee simple to the redoubtable guild of Homeric scholars—Compa- 
retti as a respectable member of the guild could afford deviations— 
but essentially because it is not fitting to try to reduce to a “scheme” 
what remains a prodigious and subtle work of art, the limpidity and 
immediacy of which should not be spoiled. It is unfortunately a 
common prejudice that to work out high theoretical allusions con¬ 
tained in the text reduces the text to an irrelevant conundrum, 
whereas, for instance, the Catalogue of Ships studied literally re¬ 
veals hidden beauties to the reader. It is enough to suggest here that 
Homer found pre-existent materials at hand, squared blocks and 
well-cut ashlars, which he transformed into poetry. One of those 
prefabricated pieces, the Curse of the Miller Woman, is located 
in chapter VI, and there is more such evidence to come. Homer’s 
craft lay really in reshaping and humanizing these materials so well 
that they became inconspicuous. In the case of the Greek tragedies 
more is known, thanks to Apollodorus. His “Library” of myths, 

Hamlet’s Mill • 118 

supplemented by Frazer’s wonderful notes, shows that the “Li¬ 
brary” provided the “book” for every tragedy, those that we have 
and those that are lost, those written and those never written. Yet it 
took an Aeschylus or a Sophocles to transform the meaning, to 
make out of it a work of art. 

Much closer to hand, and better known, are the sources of the 
Divine Comedy —history, philosophy and myth, measures and inter¬ 
vals—which provide a virtually complete structure without gaps. 
Yet because of this, Dante is all the more a true creator. Clearly, it 
is the very idea of “poet,” poietes, which has to be redefined in 
moving closer to traditional sources. Veteres docti poetae as Ovid 
said, himself not the least of them. “Learned” is the key word, not 
in theoretical tropes and allegories, but in the living substances of 
mythical doctrine. 

But here again common usage is misleading. Today, a learned 
man is usually one who understands what it is all about. Dante was 
certainly one. But was it so in remote ages? There is reason to doubt 
it. An esoteric doctrine, as defined by Aristotle, is one which is 
learned long before being understood. Much of the education of 
Chinese scholars was until very recently along those lines. Under¬ 
standing remained something apart. It might never come at all, and 
at best would come when the learning was complete. There were 
other ways. 

One can give an extreme case from Rome. Athenaeus 6 says that 
there was a much-applauded mime, Memphis by name, who in a 
brief dance was said to convey faultlessly the whole essence of the 
Pythagorean doctrine. It is not said that he understood it: he may 
have had an inkling, and the rest was his extraordinarily sharpened 
sense of expression. He had, so to speak, a morphological under¬ 
standing that he could only express in action. His public understood 
surely no more than he: but they would be strict and unforgiving 
judges. Dictum sapienti sat, the wise would say. But here even the 
one word was missing. His spectators would shout deliriously none¬ 
theless, in their own demotic language: “I dig you, Jack.” And for 

6 Deipnosophistai ;.2od. See also Lucian’s De Saltatione 7 0. 

119 * Shamans and Smiths 

the slightest lapse from the exact form, they were ready with eggs 
and overripe tomatoes. Here is a case of true communication which 
does not need understanding. It takes place only through the form, 
morphe. In mystery rites there were things which “could not be 
said” ( arrheta ) but could only be acted out. 

Such happenings must be kept in mind when trying to determine 
how well the poet understood the material handed on to him. Cre¬ 
ative misunderstanding may have been of the essence of his “free¬ 
dom”: but strict respect was there nonetheless. The rune of the 
“origin of iron” (the ninth of the Kalevala) was incomprehensible 
to the laulaja, yet he knew he had to recite this “deep origin” to 
control the lethal powers of cold iron. Magic and mantic implica¬ 
tions were present always in the grim business of the smith, as they 
were in the high business of the poet. Understanding lay beyond 

Every era, of course, has freely invented its own ballads, ro¬ 
mances, songs and fables to entertain it. That is another matter. 
This concerns the poet, poietes, as he was understood in early times. 
There was an original complex of meaning which comprised the 
words poet, vates, prophet, seer. Every knowledge and law, Vico 
wrote with a flash of genius two centuries ago, must once upon a 
time have been “serious poetry,” poesia seriosa. It is in this sense 
that Aristotle in a sophisticated age still refers respectfully to “the 
grave testimony of [early] poets.” 

Now that documents of the earliest ages of writing are available, 
one is struck with a wholly unexpected feature. Those first prede¬ 
cessors of ours, instead of indulging their whims with childlike 
freedom, behave like worried and doubting commentators: they 
always try an exegesis of a dimly understood tradition. They move 
among technical terms whose meaning is half lost to them, they deal 
with words which appear on this earliest horizon already “tottering 
with age” as J. H. Breasted says, words soon to vanish from our 
ken. Long before poetry can begin, there were generations of 
strange scholiasts. 

The experts have noted the uncertainty prevailing in the succes¬ 
sors of old texts, the attempts in them to establish correct names 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


and their significance from obsolete formulas and ideograms. 
S. Schott, dealing with early star lists of Egypt, 7 points to the per¬ 
plexity of later generations concerning the names of constellations, 
even those of the “greatest gods of the Decans, Orion and Sothis, 
who in Ancient Egyptian are called by the names of old hiero¬ 
glyphs, without anybody knowing, in historical times, what these 
hieroglyphs had meant, once upon a time. During the whole long 
history of these names we meet attempts at interpretation.” This 
last sentence goes for every ancient text, not only for the names 
contained therein: there is no end of commentaries on the Pyramid 
Texts, the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead, 8 on the Rigveda, 
the I-Ging, just as on the Old Testament. 9 W. von Soden regrets 
that we depend on the documents of the “Renaissance of Sumerian 
culture” (around 2100 b.c.) instead of having the real, old material 
at our disposal. 10 The mere fact that Sumerian was the language of 
the educated Babylonian and Assyrian, the existence of the many 
Sumerian-Akkadian “dictionaries” and the numerous translations 
of the Gilgamesh epic betray the activity of several academies re¬ 
sponsible for the officially recognized text editions. One can almost 
see the scholars puzzling and frowning over the texts. And in 
Mexico it was the same. In Chimalpahin’s Memorial Breve we find 
notes such as “In the year ‘5-house’ certain old men explained some 
pictographs to the effect that king Hueymac of Tollan [the mythi¬ 
cal Golden Age city] had died.” 11 This took place before the com¬ 
ing of the Spaniards. The Greek “Renaissance,” no less than those 
of the previous millennia in the Near East, was the result of such 
an antiquarian effort. Hesiod still bears the mark of it. 

These few notions should be present in any ideas about “trans¬ 
mission.” The word need in no way imply “understanding” on 

7 W. Gundel, Dekane und Dekansternbilder (1936), p. 5. 

8 See, for example, G. Roeder, Urkunden zur Religion des Alten Aegypten 
(1915), pp. 185L, i99f., 224. 

9 J. Dowson (A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology, p. 60) bluntly calls 
the Brahmanas “a Hindu Talmud.” 

10 “Licht und Finsternis in der sumerischen und babylonisch-assyrischen Reli¬ 
gion,” Studium Generate is (i960), p. 647. 

11 Chimalpahin, Memorial Breve, trans. W. Lehmann and G. Kutscher (1958), 
p. 10. 

121 • Shamans and Smiths 

the part of those who transmit, and this is true from early ages 
down to contemporary minstrels. As has been pointed out, it is easy 
to slip into ordinary literary history if the origins are not seriously 
investigated. Does the tale of the Sampo have a wider interest than 
this? A few handsome cosmic motifs scattered through the tale of 
magic might still have reached Finland through the “corridors of 
Time” from other cultures without any meaning attached. In short, 
it might all be “folk poetry” in the usual sense. 

The editors of the Kalevala themselves insistently described the 
background as “shamanistic,” by which they simply understood 
some kind of primitive “religion.” It corresponded in their minds 
to primeval, instinctive magic, to be found in all five continents, 
associated with the tribal “medicine man.” Then came Frazer to 
introduce the cleavage between “magic” and “religion” as distinct 
forms, to complicate matters further. Shamanism remained until 
recently a catchword of an uncertain sort—a portmanteau term for 
specialists, a vague notion for the public, of the kind that gives one 
the pleasant impression of understanding what it is all about—like 
that other too-famous term, mana. One of the present authors is 
willing to admit ruefully that he once stressed the link of Pytha¬ 
goras and Epimenides with Thracian shamans, with no more 
thought than to show that there was much in them of the ageless 
medicine man. 12 This was several years ago, and it seemed to cor¬ 
respond to the state of the art. It is no longer so. To have uncovered 
the inadmissibility of the general usage of the term is the merit of 
Laszlo Vajda’s short but dense and logical study on the subject. 13 
Vajda has shown that no historical verdict based on such generali¬ 
ties is valid. It is inadmissible to reduce shamanism to memories of 
Eskimo angekoks or to a “technique of induced ecstasy,” or to 
derive such phenomena from the Asiatic North where, undeniably, 
this particular kind of queerness is fostered. 

“Shaman” is a Tungusian word. Shamanism has its epicenter in 
Ural-Altaic Asia, but it is a very complex phenomenon of culture 

12 G. dc Santillana, The Origins of Scientific Thought (1961), p. 54. 

13 “Zur Phaseologischen Stellung des Schamanismus,” in Ural-Altaische Jahr- 
biicher 31 (1959), pp. 456-85. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


which can be explained neither by psychologists nor by sociologists, 
but only by way of historical ethnology. To put it in a few words, 
a shaman is elected by spirits, meaning that he cannot choose his 
profession. Epileptics and mentally unhinged persons are obvious 
privileged candidates. Once elected, the future shaman goes to 
“school.” Older shamans teach him his trade, and only after the 
concluding ceremony of his education is he accepted. This is, so 
to speak, the visible part of his education. The real shamanistic ini¬ 
tiation of the soul happens in the world of spirits—while his body 
lies unconscious in his tent for days—who dismember the candidate 
in the most thorough and drastic manner and sew him together 
afterwards with iron wire, or reforge him, so that he becomes a 
new being capable of feats which go beyond the human. The duties 
of a shaman are to heal diseases which are caused by hostile spirits 
who have entered the body of the patient, or which occur because 
the soul has left the body and cannot find the way back. Often 
the shaman is responsible for guiding the souls of the deceased to 
the abode of the dead, as he also escorts the souls of sacrificed ani¬ 
mals to the sky. His help is needed, too, when the hunting season 
is bad; he must find out where the game is. In order to find out all 
the things which he is expected to know, the shaman has to ascend 
to the highest sky to get the information from his god—or go into 
the underworld. On his way he has to fight hostile spirits, and/or 
rival shamans, and tremendous duels are fought. Both combatants 
have with them their helping spirits in animal form, and much 
shape-shifting takes place. In fact, these fantastic duels form the 
bulk of shamanistic stories. The last echoes are the so-called “magic- 
flights” in fairy tales. The shaman’s soul ascends to the sky when he 
is in a state of ecstasy; in order to get into this state, he needs his 
drum which serves him as a “horse,” the drumstick as a “whip.” 14 
Now, the “frame” within which the shaman proper acts, that is, the 

14 The shamans also use as a “main artery” a stream flowing through all levels of 
the sky, and they identify it with the Yenissei—a conception which will become 
clearer at a later point of this inquiry. (U. Holmberg, Finno-Ugric and Siberian 
Mythology [1964], pp. 307^). 

123 * Shamans and Smiths 

world conception of Ural-Altaic shamanism, has been successfully 
traced back to India (under its Hinduistic and Buddhistic aspects, 
including Tibetan Lamaism and Bon-po) as well as to Iran. When 
reading Radloff’s many volumes, one runs into insufficiently dis¬ 
guised Bodhisatvas at every corner (Manjirae = Alanjusri; Mait- 
erae, or Maidere = Maitreya, etc.), but the best organized material 
has been provided by Uno Holmberg (Uno Harva), 15 who has been 
quoted here and will be quoted frequently. 

-This world conception, however, with its three “domains,” with 
seven or nine skies, one above the other, and with corresponding 
“underworlds,” with the “world-pillar” running through the cen¬ 
ter of the whole system, crowned by the “north Nail,” or “World 
Nail” (Polaris), goes farther back than Indian and Iranian culture, 
namely to the most ancient Near East, whence India and Iran de¬ 
rived their idea of a “cosmos”—a cosmos being in itself by no 
means an obvious assumption. The shaman climbing the “stairs” or 
notches of his post or tree, pretending that his soul ascends at the 
same time to the highest sky, does the very same thing as the Meso¬ 
potamian priest did when mounting to the top of his seven-storied 
pyramid, the ziqqurat, representing the planetary spheres. 16 

15 See the bibliography. 

16 Nine skies, instead of seven, within the sphere of fixed stars, result from the 
habit of including among the planets the (invisible) “head” and “tail” of the 
“Dragon,” which is to say the lunar nodes, conjunctions or oppositions in the 
vicinity of which cause the eclipses of Sun and Moon; the revolution of these 
“draconitic points” is c. i 8 J 4 years. This notion, upheld in medieval Islamic astrol¬ 
ogy, is Indian, but apparently not of Indian origin, as will come out eventually. 
Reuter, Germanische Hivmielskimde (1934), pp. 29iff., thinks that the Teutonic 
idea of nine planets including the draconitic points goes back to the common “Ur- 
zeit” of Indo-Europeans, and refers to Luise Troje, Die 13 and 12 im Traktat Pelliot 
(1925), pp. yf., 25, 149E Even if the “Dragon” should go back to this time, we do 
not take the Indo-Europeans, whether united or not, for the inventors of this idea. 
As concerns Islamic and Indian tradition, see the most thorough and thoughtful 
inquiries by Willy Hartner, “The Pseudoplanetary Nodes of the Moon’s Orbit in 
Hindu and Islamic Iconographies,” in Ars Islamica $ (1938), Pt. 1; Le Frobleme de 
la planete Ka’id (1955); “Zur Astrologischen Symbolik des ‘Wade Cup’,” in Fest¬ 
schrift Kiichnel (1959), pp. 234-43. Whether we shall find the time to deal in 
the appropriate form with the tripartite Universe in this essay remains doubtful. 
This much can be safely stated: it goes back to “The Ways of Anu, Enlil, and 
Ea” in Babylonian astronomy. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 

I2 4 

From the majestic temple at Borobudur in Java to the graceful 
stupas which dot the Indian landscape, stretches a schematized re¬ 
minder of the seven heavens, the seven notches, the seven levels. 
Says Uno Holmberg: “This pattern of seven levels can hardly be 
imagined as the invention of Turko-Tatar populations. To the in¬ 
vestigator, the origin of the Gods ruling those various levels is no 
mystery, for they point clearly to the planetary gods of Babylon, 
which already in their far-away point of origin, ruled over seven 
superposed starry circles.” 17 This was also the considered conclusion, 
years ago, of Paul Mus. To have taken the conception of several 
skies and underworlds as natural, ergo primitive, was a grievous 
blunder which distorted the historical outlook of the last two cen¬ 
turies. It stems from the fact that philologists and Orientalists have 
lost all contact with astronomical imagination, or even the funda¬ 
mentals of astronomy. When they find something which savors 
undeniably of astronomical lore, they find a way to label it under 
“prelogical thought” or the like. 

But even apart from the celestial “ladder,” and the sky-travel of 
the shaman’s soul, a close look at shamanistic items always discloses 
very ancient patterns. For instance, the drum, the most powerful 
device of the shaman, representing the Universe in a specific way, 
is the unmistakable grandchild of the bronze lilissu drum of the 
Mesopotamian Kalu-priest (responsible for music, and serving the 
god Enki/Ea). 18 The cover of the lilissu drum must come from a 
black bull, “which represents Taurus in heaven,” says Thureau- 
Dangin. 19 Going further, W. F. Albright and P. E. Dumont 20 

17 Der Baum des Lebens (1922), p. 123. 

18 See B. Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien (1925), vol. 2, p. 66. 

19 Rifuels accadiens (1921), p. 2. See also E. Ebeling, Tod und Leben nach den 
Vorstellungen der Babylonier (1931), for a cuneiform text in which the hide is 
explicitly said to be Anu (p. 29), and C. Bezold, Babylomsch-Assyrisches Glossar 
(1926), p. 210 s.v. “sugugalu, ‘the hide of the great bull,’ an emblem of Anu.” We 
might point, once more, to the figure of speech used by Petronius’ Trimalchio, 
who, talking of the month of May, states: “Totus coelus taurulus fiat” (“the whole 
heaven turns into a little bull”). 

20 “A Parallel between Indian and Babylonian Sacrificial Ritual,” JAOS $4 (1934), 
pp. 107-28. 

I2 5 

• Shamans and Smiths 

compared the sacrifice of the Mesopotamian bull, the hide of which 
was to cover the lilissu drum, with the Indian Ashvamedha, a huge 
horse sacrifice which only the most successful king (always a 
Kshatrya) could afford. They found that the Indian horse must 
have the Krittika, the Pleiades, on his forehead, and this too, accord¬ 
ing to Albright, is what the Akkadian text prescribes concerning 
the bull. This should be enough to indicate the level of phenomena 
brought into play. 

The striking of the drum covered with that specific bull hide was 
meant as a contact with heaven at its most significant point, and in 
the Age of Taurus (c. 4000-2000 b.c.) this was also explicitly said 
to represent i\nu, now casually identified as “God of Heaven.” But 
Anu was a far more exact entity. In cuneiform script, Anu is writ¬ 
ten with one wedge, which stands for the number 1 and also for 60 
in the sexagesimal system (the Pythagoreans would have said, he 
stands for the One and the Decad). All this does not mean some 
symbolic or mystical, least of all magical quality or quantity, but 
the fundamental time measure of celestial events (that is, motions). 21 
Striking the drum was to involve (this time, yes, magically) the 
essential Time and Place in heaven. 

It is not clear whether or not the Siberian shamans were still 
aware of this past. The amount of highly relevant star lore collected 
by Holmberg, and the innumerable figures of definitely astronomi¬ 
cal character found on shamanistic drums could very well allow 
for much more insight than the ethnologists assume, but this is 
irrelevant at this point. What is plain and relevant is that the Si¬ 
berian shamans did not invent the zodiac, and all that goes with it. 

There is no need for a detailed inspection of Chinese mythical 
drums, merely a few lines from an “Ocean of Stories”: 

In the Eastern Sea, there is to be found an animal which looks like an 

ox. Its appearance is green, and it has no horns. It has one foot only. 

When it moves into the water or out of it, it causes wind or rain. Its 

21 Compare the sexagesimal round of days in customary notation of the oracle 
bones of Shang China, ijth century b.c., about which Needham states that it is 
“probably an example of Babylonian influence on China” (Science and Civilisation 
in China [1962], vol. 4, Pt. 1, p. 181). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 126 

shining is similar to that of the sun and the moon. The noise it makes 

is like the thunder. Its name is K’uci. The great Huang-ti, having 

captured it, made a drum out of its skin. 22 

This looks prima facie like the description of an ancient case of 
delirium tremens, but the context makes it sober enough. This is a 
kind of Unnatural Natural History which has small regard for living 
species, but deals with events from another realm. The One-Legged 
Being, in particular, can be followed through many appearances 
beginning with the Hunrakan of the Mayas, whose very name 
means “one-leg.” From it comes our “hurricane,” so there is no 
wonder that he disposes of wind, rain, thunder and lightning in 
lavish amounts. But he is not for all that a mere weather god, since 
he is one aspect of Tezcatlipoca himself, and the true original One- 
Leg that looks down from the starry sky—but his name is not 
appropriate yet. 

And so back by unexpected ways to mythical drums and their 
conceivable use. A lot more might be found by exploring that 
incredible storehouse of archaic thought miraculously preserved 
among the Mande peoples of West Sudan. 23 In the large and com¬ 
plicated creation myth of the Mande, there are two drums. The 
first was brought down from heaven by the bardic ancestor, shortly 
after the Ark (with the eight twin-ancestors) had landed on the 
primeval field. This drum was made from Faro’s skull and was 
used for producing rain. (The experts style Faro usually “le Moni- 

22 M. Granet, Danses et legendes de la Chine ancienne (1959), p. 509. Such 
imagery is by no means unique. E.g., the Taittiriya Sanhita says: “The pressing 
stone [of the Soma-press] is the penis of the sacrificial horse, Soma is his seed; 
when he opens his mouth, he causes lightning, when he shivers, it thunders, when 
he urinates, it rains” ( — Shatapatha Brahmana / — Brihad Aranyaka 
Upanishad /.1; see R. Pischel and K. F. Geldner, Vedische Studien , vol. /, p. 86). 

It will come out later why it is important to supplement these strange utterances 
with the statement of the Shatapatha Brahmana: “In the water having its origin 
is the horse,” which sounds ever so inconspicuous until E. Sieg ( Die Sagen- 
stoffe des Rigveda, p. 98) obliges the non-Sanskritist by giving the Sanskrit words 
in transcription, i.e., “tfprwyanir va asvah”; apsu is something more specific than 
just water; it is, in fact, the very same topos as the Babylonian apsu (Sumerian: 
abzu ). 

23 In East Africa, the drum occupied the place that the Tabernacle had in the 
Old Testament, as Harald von Sicard has shown in Ngoma Lungundu: Eme afri- 
kanische Bundeslade (1952). 

127 * Shavians and Smiths 

teur,” thus avoiding mislabeling him as culture hero, savior or god.) 
The first sanctuary was built, and the “First Word” revealed (30 
words there were) to mankind through the mouth of one of the 
twin-ancestors, who “talked the whole night, ceasing only when 
he saw the sun and Sirius rising at the same time.” When the “Second 
Word” was to be revealed (consisting of 50 words this time), and 
again connected with the heliacal rising of Sirius, the ancestor “de¬ 
cided to sacrifice in the sanctuary on the hill the first twins of mixed 
sex. He asked the bard to make an arm-drum with the skin of the 
twins. 24 The tree, from which he carved the drum, grew on the hill 
and symbolized Faro’s only leg.” 25 

Here again are important one-legged characters, of whom there 
are a bewildering number with various functions all over the world. 
It is not necessary to enter that jungle, except to note that the tem¬ 
porary mock-king of Siam, who was set up for yearly expiatory 
ceremonies, also had to stand on one leg upon a golden dais during 
all the coronation ceremonies, and he had the fine-sounding title of 
“Lord of the Celestial Armies.” 26 The Chinese K’uei is then no iso¬ 
lated character. The Chinese myth is more explicit than the others 
and becomes more understandable because the Chinese were ex¬ 
tremely sky-conscious. Their sinful monsters are thrown into pits 
or banished to strange mountain regions for the sin of having upset 
the calendar. 

As for K’uei himself, engagingly introduced as a green oxlike crea¬ 
ture of the Eastern Sea, he will grow more bewildering as his nature 
unfolds. Marcel Granet writes that the Emperor Shun made K’uei 
“master of music”—actually ordered no less a power than the 
Sun (Chong-li) to fetch him from the bush and bring him to 
court, because K’uei alone had the talent to bring into harmony 

24 It is an hourglass-shaped drum, with two skins, said “to recall the two geo¬ 
graphic areas, Kaba and Akka, and the narrow central part of the drum is the 
river itself [Niger] and hence Faro’s journey.” 

25 Germaine Dieterlen, “The Mande Creation Story,” Africa 27 (1957), pp. 124- 
38; cf. JSA 25 (1955), pp. 39-76. See also Marcel Griaule, “Symbolisme des tam¬ 
bours soudanais,” Melanges historiques offerts a M. Masson 1 (1955), pp. 79-86; 
Griaule and Dieterlen, Signes Graphiqaes Soudanais (1951), p. 19. 

26 XV. Deonna, Un divertissement de table u a cloche-pied ” (1959), p. 33. See 
J. Frazer, The Dying God (Pt. Ill of The Golden Bough), pp. 149F 

Hamlet’s Mill • 128 

the six pipes and the seven inodes, and Shun, who wanted to bring 
peace to the empire, stood by the opinion that “music is the essence 
of heaven and earth.” 27 K’uei also could cause the “hundred animals” 
to dance by touching the musical stone, and he helped Yii the 
Great, that indefatigable earth-mover among the Five First Em¬ 
perors, to accomplish his labor of regulating the “rivers.” And it 
turns out that he was not only Master of the Dance, but Master of 
the Forge as well. He must have been a remarkable companion for 
Yii the Great, whose dancing pattern (the Step of Yii) “per¬ 
formed” the Big Dipper. 28 

Enough of drums, and of their shamanic use. They have at least 
ceased to seem like tribal tom-toms. They are connected with time, 
rhythm and motion in heaven. 

Moving now to another great theme, in fact a very great one, it 
is possible to trace back the significance of the blacksmith in Asiatic 
shamanism, particularly the celestial blacksmith who is the legiti¬ 
mate heir to the divine “archi-tekton” of the cosmos. Several repre¬ 
sentatives of this type, whom we call Deus Faber, still have both 
functions, being architects and smiths at the same time, e.g., the 
Greek Hephaistos, who builds the starry houses for the gods and 
forges masterworks, and the Koshar-wa-Hasis of Ras Shamra, who 
builds Baal’s palace and forges masterworks also. 

The Yakuts claim: “Smith and Shaman come from the same 
nest,” and they add: “the Smith is the older brother of the Sha¬ 
man,” 29 which might be valid also for Vainamoinen, coupled with 
Ilmarinen, who is said to have “hammered together the roof of the 
sky.” It is the primeval Smith who made the Sampo, as we know, 
and forged sky and luminaries in Esthonia. It is no idle fancy that 
the representative of the celestial smith, the King, is himself fre¬ 
quently titled “Smith.” Jenghiz Khan had the title “Smith” 30 and 

27 Granet, Darises et lege?ides, pp. 311, 505-508. 

28 We are indebted for this last piece of information to Professor N. Sivin. 

29 P. W. Schmidt, Die asiatischen Hirtenvolker (1954), pp. 346f. Concerning the 
terrestrial blacksmith: the many iron pieces which belong to the costume of a 
shaman can be forged only by a blacksmith of the 9th generation, i.e., eight of his 
direct ancestors must have been in the profession. A smith who dared forge a 
shamanistic outfit without having those ancestors would be torn by bird-spirits. 

30 A. Alfoldi, “Smith As a Title of Dignity” (in Hungarian), in Magyar Nyeh 
28 (1932), pp. 205-20. 

i29 * Shamans and Smiths 

the standard of the Persian Empire was the stylized leather apron 
of the Smith Kavag (appendix #n). The Chinese mythical em¬ 
perors Huang-ti and Yii are such unmistakable smiths that Marcel 
Granet drew historic-sociological conclusions all the way, forget¬ 
ting the while that Huang-ti, the Yellow Emperor, is acknowl¬ 
edged to be Saturn. And just as the Persian Shahs held their royal 
jubilee festival after having reigned thirty years, which is the Satur¬ 
nian revolution, so the Egyptian Pharaoh also celebrated his jubilee 
after thirty years, true to the “inventor” of this festival, Ptah, who 
is the Egyptian Saturn, and also Deus Faber. It was necessary to 
enter this subject in depth abruptly and lay stress on these few 
selected data, because otherwise the charming and harmless-looking 
Finnish runes would not be seen for what they are, the badly dam¬ 
aged fragments of a once whole and “multicolored cover.” It does 
no harm to stamp Vainamoinen a “shaman” as long as one remains 
aware of the background of shamanism. In fact, there is again a 
vision in depth from seeing that Vainamoinen has discarded the 
drum which remains the one instrument of his Lapp cousins; he has 
created the harp, and this means that he must be seen as the Orpheus 
of the North. 

Last survivals are not easily recognized. It needs experience, and 
it cannot be expected that an unsuspecting reader of “folk poetry” 
would spot well-known divine characters when they come his way 
clad in Longfellow’s meter. For instance, in reading Kalevala 
y.ioyff., it is not easy to discover the mighty Iranian God of Time, 
Zurvan akarana, who is portrayed as standing upon the world egg, 
carrying in his hands the tools of the architect: 

Then was born smith Ilmarinen 
Thus was born and thus was nurtured 
Born upon a hill of charcoal, 

Reared upon a plain of charcoal, 

In his hands a copper hammer, 

And his little pincers likewise. 

Ilmari was born at night time, 

And at day he built his smithy. 

Since Christendom was very successful in destroying old traditions, 
Altaic and Siberian survivals are often found in far better shape 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


than Finnish runes, but even the Lapps still speak of “Waralden ol- 
niay, ‘World Man’ . . . and this is the same as Saturnus.” 31 Nor are 
Jupiter and Mars absent, the former being called Idora Galles 
(Thorkarl), the latter Bieka Galles, the “Wind Man.” 32 Voguls, 
Yakuts and Mongols tell of God’s seven sons, or seven gods (or 
nine), among whom are a “Scribe Man,” 33 and a “Man observing the 
World.” The latter has been compared straightaway with Kullervo 
by Karl Kerenyi, 34 who claims his name to be the literal translation 
of Avalokiteshvara, the very great Bodhisatva, known in China as 
Kuan-yin, literally “deserving (musical) modes.” One wonders 
whether this “World-observer” does not go back much farther: 
to Gilgamesh. We have to keep in mind that the Babylonians called 
their texts after their opening words; e.g., the Creation Epic they 
called Emima elish, i.e., “When above”; accordingly, what we call 
the Epic of Gilgamesh was with them Sha naqba irnuru, “Who saw 
everything.” Such are the bewildering changes rung by time on 
great and familiar themes. And there is more. Actually, when still 
young, this Vogulian “World-observing Man”—Avalokiteshvara 
himself, this great and worshiped deity of Buddhist countries— 
was, like Kullervo, a much-plagued orphan, first in the house of 
his uncle, then in the house of “the Russian” and in that “of the 
Samoyed.” After years of misery—quite specific “measured” mis¬ 
ery 35 —he kills all his tormentors. The revenge he takes is for 

31 This information comes from Johan Radulf (1723), quoted by K. Krohn, 
“Priapkultus,” FUF 6 (1906), p. 168, who identifies Waralden olmay with Freyr. 
G. Dumezil, La Saga de Hadingus (1950), identifies him with Njordr. 

32 K. Krohn, “Windgott und Windzauber,” FUF 7 (1907), pp. 173F, where the 
god is once called Ilmaris. 

33 The Ostyaks talk even of a golden Book of Destiny, and Holmberg points out 
that the Ostyaks who have no writing are not likely to have hit upon such notions 
by themselves. (Holmberg, Der Baum des Lebens , p. 97). Cf. the entire chapter, 
“The Seven Gods of Fate” (pp. 113-33 °f same work) and Holmberg’s Finno- 
Ugric and Siberian Mythology , p. 415. 

34 “Zum Urkind-Mythologem,” in Paideuma 2 (1940), pp. 245ft. See now C. G. 
Jung and K. Kerenyi, Essays on a Science of Mythology (1949), pp. 30-39. 

35 E.g., in the house of “the Russian,” he is kept in the door hinge (in the English 
translation this and other details are blurred to insignificance), and dishwater is 
emptied upon him. To be damned to play door hinge is one of the hellish punish¬ 
ments in Egypt, because the hinge is supposed to turn in the victim’s eye. As con¬ 
cerns the heart-warming custom of abusing one’s celestial fellow travelers as sink 

131 • Shamans and Smiths 

himself. His father, who had lowered down the beloved son from 
the sky in a cradle, remained aloft. 

These hints will suffice for the time being. It does not matter 
whether or not pieces, or even the whole, of cosmological tradition 
came late to the Ural-Altaic populations, that is, whether Mani- 
cheism had a part in their propagation. The Manicheans took over 
the whole parcel of old traditions, changing only the signs, as hap¬ 
pens with every Gnostic system. Gnostics never have been of the 
inventive sort. Their very title, derived from their key word, gives 
the scheme away, gnosis tes hodou — knowledge of the way. The 
“Way” which had to be learned by heart is that which leads out- 
wards-upwards through the planetary spheres, past the threatening 
“watchtowers” of the zodiac to the desired timeless Light be¬ 
yond the sphere of fixed stars, above the Pole star: beyond and 
above everything, where the unknown god (agnostos theos) resides 
eternally. 36 

This “Way 1 ’ is not exactly the same for everybody, and the larg¬ 
est highroads are not everlasting, but the principle remains un- 

or toilet: we find this in the Eddie Lokasenna (34), where Loke says of Xjordr 
that he was used as chamber pot by Hymir's daughters; with the Polynesian case 
of Tawhaki, whose father Hema is abused in the very same manner, we deal in the 
chapter on Samson (see p. 1-5); this model of a “Horus-avenger-of-his-father” 
fulfills not only his filial duty, he does it by means of Amlethus' own “Xet-trick.” 
The Samoyed binds the pitiable ‘‘World-observing Man’’ to his sledge with an 
iron wire of thirty fathoms length. We do not know yet what this means precisely. 
We know that victorious characters use the vanquished as this or that vehicle, 
saddle horse, etc.—Marduk uses Tiamat as “ship,” as does Osiris with Seth: X’inur- 
ta’s “Elamitic chariot, carrying the corpse of Enmesharra” is drawn by “horses 
who are the death-demon of Zu” (Ebeling, Tod und Leben . p. 33); Tachma Rupa 
rides on Ahriman for thirty years around the two ends of the earth (\asht 7^.29; 
Yasht /_9, the Zamyad Yasht, is the one dedicated to Hvarna)—but these code 
formulae have not yet been broken. 

36 Absurd as it sounds, the many Gnostic sects who hated nothing more than 
philosophers and mathematicians have never denied or doubted the validity of 
their “evil” teachings. Sick with disgust, they learned the routes of ascension 
through (or across) those abominable spheres ruled by number, created by the 
evil powers. Surely, their “Father of Greatness” would not have created such a 
thing as a cosmos. Tradition does use the most peculiar vehicles for its motion 
through historical time. Or should one say, tradition did use? Face to face with 
the outbreaking revolution of “simple souls” against whichever rational thought, 
there is small reason for hope that our contemporary gnostics will hand down any 
tradition at all. 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 


changed. The shaman travels through the skies in the very same 
manner as the Pharaoh did, well equipped as he was with his Pyra¬ 
mid Text or his Coffin Text, which represented his indispensable 
timetable and contained the ordained addresses of every celestial 
individual whom he was expected to meet. 37 The Pharaoh relied 
upon his particular text as the less distinguished dead relied upon 
his copy of chapters from the Book of the Dead, and he was pre¬ 
pared (as was the shaman) to change shape into the Sata serpent, 
a centipede, or the semblance of whatever celestial “station” must 
be passed, and to recite the fitting formulae to overcome hostile 
beings. 38 

To sum it up—whether Shamanism is an old or a relatively young 
offshoot of ancient civilization is irrelevant. It is not primitive at all, 
but it belongs, as all our civilizations do, to the vast company of 
ungrateful heirs of some almost unbelievable Near Eastern ancestor 
who first dared to understand the world as created according to 
number, measure and weight. 

If the Finnish runes and Altaic legends sound harmless enough, 
so do the popular traditions of most of the European countries, in¬ 
cluding Greece: the kind of mythology known through Bulfinch. 
But here at least there are additional less popular traditions which 
have preserved more of the severe spirit and style of old. So the 
(13th) Orphic Hymn to Kronos addresses the god as “Father of 

37 The ephemerides on the inner side of the coffin lids of the Middle Kingdom, 
and the astronomical ceilings in tombs of the New Kingdom, as well as the 
“Ramesside Star Clocks,” made navigation still easier for the royal soul. 

38 Many of the heavenly creatures do all the damage they possibly can; they try, 
for instance, to rob the dead of his text without which he would be helpless, and 
generally their conduct, as described in the literature of the Hereafter, is weird. 
Thus, in chapter 32 of the Book of the Dead, the crocodile of the West is accused 
of eating certain stars; the properly equipped soul, however, knows how to play up 
to the celestial monsters, and the traveler addresses the Northern crocodile with 
the words: “Get thee back, for the goddess Serqet is in my interior and I have not 
yet brought her forth.” The goddess Serqet is the constellation Scorpius. As con¬ 
cerns the Sata serpent, “whose years are infinite . . . who dwells at the farthest 
ends of the earth . . . who renews his youth everyday” (Book of the Dead, ch. 87), 
he makes himself suspect of representing the sphere of Saturn, whereas the centi¬ 
pede is not likely to fit any “body” besides Moon or Mercury; that it is no con¬ 
stellation is certain. 

133 * Shamans and Smiths 

the blessed gods as well as of man, you of changeful counsel, . . . 
strong Titan who devours all and begets it anew [lit. “you who 
consume all and increase it contrariwise yourself”], you who hold 
the indestructible bond according to the apeirona (unlimited) order 
of Aion, Kronos father of all, wily-minded Kronos, offspring of 
Gaia and starry Ouranos . . . venerable Prometheus.” Such sayings 
suddenly thrust information out of the usual patterns and show the 
true professional minds of ancient mythology working out their 
theorems. The only conventional attribute is “Son of Ouranos and 
Gaia.” Kronos is termed a Titan, because the word “God” belongs 
properly to the Olympian generation, whereas Saturn’s empire is 
not of “this world,” any more than that of the Indian Asura and 
the king of the golden Krita Yuga, Varuna; and the formula is 
found still in the medieval “Kaiser-Sage.” At the end of Thidrek’s 
(Theodoric’s) reign when there are only corpses left, a dwarf ap¬ 
pears and asks the king to follow him; “your empire is no more in 
this world.” 39 More puzzling, Kronos “is” that other Titan, Prome¬ 
theus, that other adversary of the “gods,” the Lighter of Fire. He 
“is” many more characters, too, but it will take some time to clear 
this up. We are at the heart of an “implex.” 

“Who holdest the unbreakable bond . . .” Assyrian Ninurta, too, 
holds “the bond of heaven and earth.” We shall also hear of a magi¬ 
cal invocation (see p. 147) that addresses Kronos as “founder of the 
world we live in.” These words are, however, insufficient and 
ambiguous. Not only are translations imprecise generally, but in 
our times of accelerated decay of language even the best-intentioned 
reader is likely to overlook such words as “bond” or “to found.” 
If instead he were to read “inch scale” and “to survey”—a divine 
foundation is every time a “temenos”—he would promptly react 
in a different manner. Kronos-Saturn has been and remains the one 
who owns the “inch scale,” who gives the measures, continuously, 
because he is “the originator of times,” as Macrobius says, although 

39 W. Grimm, Die Deutsche Heldensage (1957), p. 338: “Du solt mit mir gan.dyn 
reich ist nit me in dieser welt.” The corresponding most popular folktale shows 
Theodoric of Verona ravished by a demon horse and cast headlong into the crater 
of Etna. 

I Iamlet’s Mill 

• J 34 

the poor man mistakes him for the sun for this very reason. 40 But 
“Helios the Titan” is not Apollo, quite explicitly. 

Apart from this, apart also from Plutarch’s report, according to 
which Kronos, sleeping in that golden cave in Ogygia, dreams what 
Zeus is planning, 41 there is an Orphic fragment of greater weight, 
preserved in Proclus’ commentary on Plato’s Cratylus . 42 The Orphic 
text being one of the delicate sort, we quote some sentences only: 

The greatest Kronos is giving from above the principles of intelligi¬ 
bility to the Demiurge [Zeus], and he presides over the whole “crea¬ 
tion” [ demiourgia ]. That is why Zeus calls him “Demon” according 
to Orpheus, saying: “Set in motion our genus, excellent Demon!” 
And Kronos seems to have with him the highest causes of junctions 
and separations ... he has become the cause of the continuation of 
begetting and propagation and the head of the whole genus of Titans 
from which originates the division of beings [diairesis ton onton\. 

The passage ends thus: “Also Nyx prophesies to him [i.e., occa¬ 
sionally] but the father does so continuously [prosechos], and 
he gives him all the measures of the whole creation.” 43 

In Proclus’ style, the same phenomena which look simply flat and 
childish, mere “etymologizing,” when handled by others, sound 
extremely difficult—which they actually are. So let us shortly com¬ 
pare how Macrobius deals with the responsibility of Kronos for the 
“division of beings” (Sat. / .8.6—7) • After having mentioned the cur¬ 
rent identification of Kronos (Saturn) and Chronos (Time), so 
often contested by philologists, Macrobius states: 

They say, that Saturn cut off the private parts of his father Caelus 
[Ouranos], threw them into the sea, and out of them Venus was born 
who, after the foam [aphros] from which she was formed, accepted 
the name of Aphrodite. From this they conclude that, when there 
was chaos, no time existed, insofar as time is a fixed measure derived 
from the revolution of the sky. Time begins there; and of this is be- 

40 Sat. 1. 22.8: Satnrmis ipse , qui anctor est temporum. 

41 De facie in orbe hmae 941: “Hosa gar ho Zeus prodianoeitai, taut’ oneiropolein 
ton Kronon.” 

42 Fr. 155, Kern, p. 194. 

43 Kai panta ta metra tes holes demiourgias endidosin. We might even say: 
Kronos “grants” him all the measures. 

How Kronos continually gives to Zeus “all the measures of the whole creation”: 
Kepler’s presentation of the Trigon built up by the Great Conjunctions of Saturn 
and Jupiter every twenty years. The motion of this Trigon along the zodiacal 
signs subdivided the cycle of the Precession, acting as a kind of vernier for this 
great cycle. To go around the whole zodiac, it takes one angle of the Trigon 
roughly 2400 years; to move from one sign of an elementary triplicity to the next 
sign of the same element takes about 800 years. 


• Shamans and Smiths 

lieved to have been born Kronos who is Chronos, as was said before 
[see appendix it 12]. 44 

The fact is that the “separation of the parents of the world,” 
accomplished by means of the emasculation of Ouranos, stands for 
the establishing of the obliquity of the ecliptic: the beginning of 
measurable time. (The very same “event” was understood by .Mil- 
ton as the expulsion from Paradise [appendix #13].) And Saturn 
has been “appointed” to be the one who established it because he is 
the outermost planet, nearest to the sphere of fixed stars. 40 “This 
planet was taken for the one who communicated motion to the 
Universe and who was, so to speak, its king”; this is what Schlegel 
reports of China ( VUranographie Cbinoise, pp. 6z 8flF.). 

Saturn does give the measures: this is the essential point. How are 
we to reconcile it with Saturn the First King, the ruler of the 
Golden Age who is now asleep at the outer confines of the world- 
The conflict is only apparent, as will be seen. For now it is essential 
to recognize that, whether one has to do with the .Mesopotamian 
Saturn, Enki/Ea, or with Ptah of Egypt, he is the “Lord of 
Measures”—spell it me in Sumerian, parshu in Akkadian, maat in 
Egyptian. And the same goes for His Majesty, the Yellow Emperor 
of China—yellow, because the element earth belongs to Saturn— 
“Huang-ti established everywhere the order for the sun, the moon 
and the stars.” 46 The melody remains the same. It might help to 

44 Ex quo intcllegi volunt, cum chaos esset, tempora non fuisse, siquidem tempus 
est certa dimensio quae ex caeli conversione colligirur. Tempus coepit inde, ab 
ipso natus putatur Kronos qui, ut diximus, Chronos est. 

45 It is not hidden from us that the indestructible laws of philology do not allow 
for the identification of Kronos and Chronos, although in Greece to do so “was 
customary at all times” (M. Pohlenz, in RE //, col. 1986). We have, indeed, no acute 
reason to insist upon this generalizing identification—the “name” of a planet is a 
function of time and con-stellation—yet it seems advisable to emphasize, on the 
one hand, that technical terminology has its own laws and is not subject to the 
jurisdiction of linguists, and to point, on the other hand, to one of the Sanskrit 
names of Saturn, i.e., “Kala,” meaning “time” and “death,” and “blue-black” (A. 
Scherer, Gestirnna?nen bei den indogemianischen Volkern [1953], PP- 84E)—a 
color which suits the planet perfectly, all over the world—and to point, moreover, 
to a passage from the Persian Minokheird (West trans. in R. Eisler, Weltemnantel 
und Hivimelszelt [1910], p. 410): “The creator, Auharmazd (Jupiter) produced 
his creation . . . with the blessing of Unlimited Time (Zurvan akarana).” 

46 M. Granet, Chinese Civilization (1961), p. 12. 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 136 

understand the general idea, but particularly the lucubration of 
Proclus, to have a look at the figure drawn by Kepler, which 
represents the moving triangle fabricated by “Great Conjunctions,” 
that is, those of Saturn and Jupiter. One of these points needs 
roughly 2,400 years to move through the whole zodiac. The next 
chapter will show why this is of high importance: here it suffices to 
point to one possible manner in which measures are given “con¬ 

Saturn, giver of the measures of the cosmos, remains the “Star 
of Law and Justice” in Babylon, 47 also the “Star of Nemesis” in 
Egypt, 48 the Ruler of Necessity and Retribution, in brief, the Em¬ 
peror. 49 In China, Saturn has the title “Genie du pivot,” as the god 
who presides over the Center, the same title which is given to the 
Pole star. 50 This is puzzling at first, and so is the laconic state¬ 
ment coming from Mexico: “In the year 2-Rced Tczcatlipoca 
changed into Mixcouatl, because Mixcouatl has his seat at the North 
pole and, being now Mixcouatl, he drilled fire with the fire sticks 
for the first time.” It is not in the line of modern astronomy to 
establish any link connecting the planets with Polaris, or with any 
star, indeed, out of reach of the members of the zodiacal system. 
Yet such figures of speech were an essential part of the technical 
idiom of archaic astrology, and those experts in ancient cultures 
who could not understand such idioms have remained completely 
helpless in the face of the theory. What has Saturn, the far-out 
planet, to do with the pole? Yet, if he cannot be recognized as the 
“genie of the pivot,” how is it possible to support Amlodhi’s claim 
to be the legitimate owner of the Mill? 

47 P. Jensen, Die Kosmolo&ie der Babylonier (1890), p. 115; Meissner, Babylonien 
und Assyria 7 (1925), vol. 2, pp. 145, 410; P. F. Gossmann, Ylanetarium Babylomcnm 
(1950), 230. 

48 Achilles Tatius, sec A. Bouchc-Lcclcrq, UAstrologie Grecqne (1899), p. 94; 
W. Gundel, Neue Astrologische Texte des Hermes Trismegistos (1936), pp. 260, 

4<J “The title basileus is stereotyped with Kronos” (M. Mayer, in Roscher s.v. 
Kronos, col. 1458; see also Cornford in J. E. Harrison’s Themis , p. 254). For 
China, sec G. Schlegcl, Wrcmographie Chinoise (1875), pp. 361, 630ft. Even the 
Tahitian text “Birth of the Heavenly Bodies” knows it: “Saturn was king” (T. 
Henry, Ancient Tahiti [ 1928J, pp. 359ft.). 

50 Schlegcl, L'Uranographie Chinoise , pp. 525, 628ft. 

Chapter IX 

Amlodhi the Titan and His Spinning Top 

Tops of different sorts, and jointed dolls, 
and fair golden 

apples from the clear-voiced Hcspcrides . . . 

Orpheus the Thracian 

Though I am not by nature rash or splenetic 
Yet there is in me something dangerous 
Which let thy wisdom fear . . . 

Hamlet, Act V 

reasonable case has been made for the extreme antiquity 
and continuity of certain traditions concerning the heavens. Even if 
Amlodhi’s Quern, the Grotte and the Sampo as individual myths 
cannot be traced back beyond the Middle Ages, they arc derived 
in different ways from that great and durable patrimony of astro¬ 
nomical tradition, the Middle East. 

Now it is time to locate the origin of the image of the Mill, and 
further, what its alleged breakup and the coming into being of the 
Whirlpool can possibly mean. 

The starting place is Greece. Cleomedcs (c. a.d. 150), speaking 
of the northern latitudes, states (7.7): “The heavens there turn 
around in the way a millstone does.” Al-Farghani in the East takes 
up the same idea, and his colleagues will supply the details. They 
call the star Kochab, beta Ursae Minoris, “mill peg,” and the stars 
of the Little Bear, surrounding the North Pole, and Fas al-rahha 
(the hole of the mill peg) “because they represent, as it were, a hole 
(the axle ring) in which the mill axle turns, since the axle of the 
equator (the polar axis) is to be found in this region, fairly close 

Hamlet’s Mill • 138 

to the star Al-jadi (hc-goat, Polaris: alpha Ursae Minoris).” These 
are the words of the Arab cosmographer al-Kazvini. Ideler com¬ 
ments: 1 

Kotb , the common name of the Pole, means really the axle of the 
movable upper millstone w hich goes through the lower fixed one, 
what is called the “mill-iron.” On this ambiguity is founded the anal¬ 
ogy mentioned by Kazvini. The sphere of heaven was imagined as a 
turning millstone, and the North Pole as the axle bearing in which the 
mill-iron turns .. . Fas is explained by Giggeo ... as rima, scissura etc. 
. . . The Fas al-rahha of our text, which stands also in the Dresden 
globe beside the North Pole of the Equator, should therefore repre¬ 
sent the axle bearing. 

Farther to the east, in India, the Bloagavata Pur ana tells us how 
the virtuous prince Dhruva was appointed as Pole star. 2 The par¬ 
ticular “virtue” of the prince, which alarmed even the gods, is 
worth mentioning: he stood on one leg for more than a month, 
motionless. This is what was announced to him: “The stars, and 
their figures, and also the planets shall turn around you.” Accord¬ 
ingly, Dhruva ascends to the highest pole, “to the exalted seat of 
Vishnu, round which the starry spheres forever wander, like the 
upright axle of the corn mill circled without end by the labouring 

The simile of the oxen driven around is not alien to the West. It 
has remained in our languages thanks to the Latin Septemtriones , 
the seven threshing oxen of Ursa Major: “that we are used to call¬ 
ing the Seven Oxen,” according to Cicero’s translation of Aratus. 

On a more familiar level there is a remark by Trimalchio in Pe- 
tronius ( Satyricon 39): “Thus the orb of heaven turns around like 
a millstone, and ever does something bad.” It was not a foreign idea 

1 Ludwig Ideler: Untersuchung iiber den Ursprung und die Bedeutung der Stern - 
namen (1809), pp. 4, 17. 

2 F. Normann, Mythen der Sterne (1925), p. 208. See now The Sriniad-Bhaga- 
vatam of Krishna-Dijeaipayana Vyasa 5.3 (trans. J. N. Sanyal, vol. 2, pp. 248!.): 
“Just as oxen, fastened to a post fixed in the center of a threshing floor, leaving 
their own station, go round at shorter, middle or longer distances, similarly fixed 
on the inside and outside of the circle of time, stars and planets exist, supporting 
themselves on Dhruva; and propelled by the wind, they range in every direction 
till the end of a kalpa.” 


139 ’ Amlodhi the Titan and His Spinning Top 

to the ancients that the mills of the gods grind slowly, and that the 
result is usually pain. 

Thus the image travels far and wide by many channels, reaches 
the North by way of Celtic-Scandinavian transmission and appears 
in Snaebjorn’s account of his voyage of discovery in the Arctic. 
There should be added to those enigmatic lines of his what is known 
now of the background in Scandinavian lore. The nine grim god¬ 
desses who “once ground Amlodhi’s meal,” working now that 
“host-cruel skerry quern” beyond the edge of the world, are in 
their turn only the agents of a shadowy controlling power called 
Mundilfoeri, literally “the mover of the handle” (appendix #15). 
The word mundil, says Rydberg, “is never used in the old Norse 
literature about any other object than the sweep or handle with 
which the movable millstone is turned,” 3 and he is backed by 
Vigfusson’s dictionary which says that “mundil” in “Mundilfoeri” 
clearly refers to “the veering round or revolution of the heavens.” 

The case is then established. But there is an ambiguity here 
which discloses further depths in the idea. “ ‘Moendull’ comes from 
Sanskrit ‘Manthati,’ ” says Rydberg, “it means to swing, twist, bore 
(from the root manth-, whence later Latin mentula ), which occurs 
in several passages in the Rigveda. Its direct application always 
refers to the production of fire by friction.” 4 

So it is, indeed. But Rydberg, after establishing the etymology, 
has not followed up the meaning. The locomotive engineers and 
airplane pilots of today who coined the term “joy stick” might have 
guessed. For the Sanskrit Pra-mantha is the male fire stick, or churn 
stick, which serves to make fire. And Pramantha has turned into 
the Greeks’ Prometheus, a personage to whom it will be necessary 

3 V. Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology (1907), pp. 581ft. Webster's New Interna¬ 
tional Dictionary , 2d ed., lists “mundle”: A stick for stirring. Obsolete except for 
dialectical use. (We are indebted for this reference to Airs. Jean Whitnack.) 

4 To term it “friction” is a nice way to shut out dangerous terms: actually, the 
Sanskrit radical math , manth means drilling in the strict sense, i.e., it involves al¬ 
ternate motion (see H. Grassmann, Worterbuch zum Rig-Veda [1955], pp. 976ft) 
as we have it in the famous Amritamanthana, the Churning of the Milky Ocean, 
and this very quality of India’s churn and fire drill has had far-reaching influence 
on cosmological conceptions. 


I Iamlet’s Mill • 140 

to come hack frequently. What seems to be deep confusion is in 
reality only two differing aspects of the same complex idea. The 
lighting of fire at the pole is part of that idea. But the reader is not 
the first to be perplexed by an imagery which allows for the pres¬ 
ence of planets at the pole, even if it were only for the purpose of 
kindling the “fire” which was to last for a new age of the world, 
that world-age which the particular “Pramantha” was destined to 
rule. The handle, “mocndull,” and the fire drill arc complemen¬ 
tary: both have had great developments which superimpose on each 
other and on a multitude of myths. The obstacles which imagina¬ 
tion has to overcome are the associations which arc connected spon¬ 
taneously with “fire,” that is, the real burning fire in chimney or 
hearth, and the kind of “fire” associated with the mentioned “joy 
stick.” Both arc irrelevant as far as cosmological terminology is 
concerned, but they lent the linguistic vehicle which was used to 
carry the ideas of astronomy and alchemy. 

It should be stated right now that “//re” is actually a great circle 
reaching from the North Pole of the celestial sphere to its South 
Pole , whence such strange utterances as Rigveda y.13.6: “Agni! 
I low the felly 5 the spokes, thus you surround the gods.” (Agni is 
the so-called “fire-god,” or the personified fire.) The Atharva Veda 
says, moreover, that the fire sticks belong to the skambha , 6 the 
world’s axis, the very skambha from which the Sampo has been 
derived (see above, p. 111). 

The identity of the Mill, in its many versions, with heaven is 
thus universally understood and accepted. But hitherto nobody 
seems to have wondered about the second part of the story, which 
also occurs in the many versions. 1 low and why docs it always 
happen that this Mill, the peg of which is Polaris, had to be wrecked 
or unhinged? Once the archaic mind had grasped the forever- 
enduring rotation, wlvat caused it to think that the axle jumps out 
of the hole? What memory of catastrophic events has created this 

5 The rim of the wheel in which the spokes fit. 

(i /0.8.20. Cf. RV to. 24.4 and to. 184.3 with Gcldncr’s remark that in this stanza of 
the Atharva Veda the fire sticks are treated as a great secret and attributed to 

141 ‘ A/nlodhi the Titan and His Spinning Top 

story of destruction- Why should Yainamoinen (and he is not the 
only one) state explicitly that another Mill has to be constructed 
(see p. 11 o) r Why had Dhruva to be appointed to play Pole star— 
and for a given cycle?’ For the story refers in no way to the crea¬ 
tion of the world. One might even ask. as the alternative solution 
to Rydberg's challenging “limb-grist." whether Bergelmer was not 
heaved in the same manner “upon the millstone." that is. appointed 
to play Pole star (see above, p. 92). 

The simple answer lies in the facts of the case. The Pole star 
docs get out of place, and every few thousand years another star 
has to be chosen which best approximates that position. It is well 
known that the Great Pyramid, so carefully sighted, is not oriented 
at our Pole Star but at alpha Draconis. which occupied the position 
at the pole 5.000 years ago. But. as has been mentioned above ( In¬ 
termezzo. p. 66). it is the more difficult for moderns to imagine 
that in those far-off ages men could keep track of such impercep¬ 
tible shifting, as many of them are not aware of the mere facts. As 
Dr. Alexander Pogo. the Palomar astronomer, has written in frus¬ 
tration: "I give up quoting further examples of the obstinate belief 
of our Egyptologists in the immobility of the heavenly pole."* 

Yet there is quite a collection of myths to show that once upon 
a time it was realized that the sphere of fixed stars is not meant to 
circle around the same peg forever and ever. Several myths tell how 
Polaris is shot down, or removed in some other way. That is re¬ 
served for an appendix (=15). 

Most of these myths, however, come under a misleading name. 
They have been understood to deal with the end of the world. But 
there are extremely few “eschatological" myths entitled to this 
label. For example, the Twilight of the Gods is understood as the 
world's end, yet there is unambiguous testimony to the contrary 
from the Yoluspa and other chapters of the Edda. What actually 
comes to an and is a world, in the sense of a world-age. The catas- 

'The Vishnu Puranj /.12 (cf. 2.S. p. 1S7 of the Wilson translation) betrays the 
Indian predilection for huge and unrealistic numbers and periods: Dhnwa is meant 
to last one kjlp.r —4.5:0,000 years. 

s “Zum Problem der Idenrihkation der nordlichen Sternbilder der alten Aegyp- 
ter.’' ISIS 16 (1951). p. 10;. 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 


trophe cleans out the past, which is replaced by “a new heaven 
and a new earth,” and ruled by a “new” Pole star. The biblical 
flood was also the end of a world, and Noah’s adventure is re¬ 
hearsed in many traditions and many forms all over the planet. The 
Greeks knew of three successive destructions. 

Coherence will be re-established in this welter of traditions if it 
is realized that what is referred to is that grandest of heavenly 
phenomena, the Precession of the Equinoxes. The phenomenon has 
been dealt with in the Intermezzo already, but it is essential enough 
to be taken up more than once. Being so slow, and in a man’s age so 
imperceptible, it has been taken for granted 9 that no one could have 
detected the Precession prior to Hipparchus’ alleged discovery 
of the phenomenon, in 127 b.c. Hipparchus discovered and proved 
that the Precession turns around the pole of the ecliptic. 10 It is said 
that it must have taken an almost modern instrumentation to detect 
the motion over the brief space of a century, and this is certainly 
correct. Nobody claims, however, that the discovery was deduced 
from observations during one century. And the shift of 1 degree in 
72 years, piling up over centuries, will produce appreciable shifts 
in certain crucial positions, if the observers have enough intentness 
of mind and know how to keep records. The technique of observa¬ 
tion was relatively simple. It was based on the heliacal rising of 
stars, which remained a fundamental feature in Babylonian astron¬ 
omy. The telescope of early times, as Sir Norman Lockyer has said, 
was the line of the horizon. If you came to realize that a certain star, 
which was wont to rise just before the equinoctial sun, was no 
longer visible on that day, it was clear that the gears of heaven 
had shifted. If that star was the last one of a given zodiac figure, it 
meant that the equinox was moving into a new figure. Nor is there 
any doubt—as was already said—that far antiquity was already 
aware of the shifting of the Pole star. But was it capable of con- 

9 I.c., during the last hundred years, at least. In former times, when the Humani¬ 
ties had not vet been “infected” by the biological scheme of evolution, the 
scholars showed better confidence in the capacities of the creators of high civili¬ 

10 See Ptolemy, Symaxis 7.3 (Manitius trans., vol. 2 , pp. 16f.). The magnitude 
calculated by Hipparchus and accepted by Ptolemy was 1 degree in ioo years. 

The Precession of the Poles 

> • PcwnoJNojt 

Limit of the northern circumpolar stars from Paris, today and in about 13.000 years* 
time (or again, 13,000 years agoL The center of the limit circle rotates around the 
pole of the ecliptic, and we have indicated its trajectory, which makes it possible 
to draw the limit circle for intermediate dates. 

The Precession of the Poles 

Limit of the southern circumpolar stars from Paris (that is to say, of those stars 
which never rise above the horizon at Paris in the course of diurnal motion), now 
and in 13,000 years’ time (or 13,000 years ago). 

143 * Amlodhi the Titan and His Spinning Top 

necting both motions? This is where modern specialists, operating 
each from his own special angle of vision, have long hesitated. 

What is the Precession? Very few have troubled to learn about 
it, yet to any man of our time, who knows the earth to be spinning 
around on her axis, the example of a spinning top with its inclined 
axis slowly shifting around in a circle makes the knowledge intui¬ 
tive. Anyone who has played with a gyroscope will know all about 
the Precession. As soon as its axis is deflected from the vertical, the 
gyroscope will start that slow and obstinate movement around the 
compass which changes its direction while keeping its inclination 
constant. The earth, a spinning top with an axis inclined with re¬ 
spect to the sun’s pull, behaves like a giant gyroscope, which per¬ 
forms a full revolution in 25.920 years. 

Antiquity was not likely to grasp this, since dynamics came into 
this world only with Galileo. Hipparchus and Ptolemy could not 
understand the mechanism. They could only describe the motion. 
We must try to see through their eyes, and think only in terms of 
kinematics. Over a period of a thousand years ancient observers 
could discern in the secular shifting of the Great Gyroscope (it is 
here in fact that the word “secular” now used in mechanics origi¬ 
nates) a motion through about ten degrees. Once attuned to the 
secular motion, they were able to detect, in the daily whirring of 
heaven around the pole, in its yearly turning in the round of the 
seasons, in the excruciatingly slow motion of the pole over the 
years, a point which seemed intrinsically more stable than the pole 
itself. It was the pole of the ecliptic, 11 often referred to as the Open 
Hole in Heaven because in that region there is no star to mark it. 
The symmetries of the machine took shape in their minds. And 
truly it was the time machine, as Plato understands it, the “moving 
image of eternity.” The “mighty marching and the golden burn¬ 
ing,” cycle upon cycle, even down to shifts barely perceptible over 
the centuries, were the Generations of Time itself, the cyclical sym- 

11 Sec A. Bouche-Leclerq, VAstrologie Grecque (1899), p. 122: “On sait que le 
pole par excellence etait pour les Chaldeens le pole de Tecliptique, lequel est dans 
la constellation du Dragon.” Cf. also A. Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1653), vol. 
2, pt. 2, p. 205: “Ponebant Aegyptii non Aequatorem, sed Zodiacum basis loco; ita 
ut centrum hemispherii utriusque non polum Mundi, sed polum Zodiaci referret.” 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 


bol of everlastingness: for, as Aristotle says, what is eternal is circu¬ 
lar, and what is circular is eternal. 

Vet this uniformly working time machine could be marked 
with important stations. The gyroscopic tilt causes a continual 
shifting of our celestial equator, which cuts the inclined circle of 
the ecliptic along a regular succession of points, moving uniformly 
from east to west. Now the points where the two circles cross are 
the equinoctial points. Hence the sun, moving on the ecliptic 
through the year, meets the equator on a point which shifts steadily 
with the years along the ring of zodiacal signs. This is what is meant 
by the Precession of the Equinoxes. They “precede” because they 
go against the order of the signs as the sun establishes this in its 
yearly march. The vernal equinox—we called it the “fiducial point” 
previously—which was traditionally the opening of spring and the 
beginning of the year, will take place in one sign after another. This 
gives great meaning to the change of signs in which the equinoctial 
sun happens to rise. 

Some additional words of guidance may be called for here, where 
“signs” are mentioned—those “in” which the sun rises. For roughly 
two thousand years official terminology has used only zodiacal 
“signs,” each of which occupies 30 degrees of the 360 degrees of the 
whole circle. These signs have the names of the zodiacal constella¬ 
tions, but constellations and signs are not congruent, the equinoctial 
sign (— i° — 30°) being called Aries regardless of the constellation 
that actually rises before the equinoctial sun. In our time, the constel¬ 
lation rising heliacally on March 21 is Pisces, but the “sign” preserves 
the name Aries, and will continue to do so when in the future 
Aquarius rules the vernal equinox. So much for sign versus constel¬ 
lation. 12 As concerns the second ambiguous expression, namely, the 

12 Here, we leave out of consideration the much discussed question of exactly 
when signs of equal length were first introduced; allegedly it was very late (see be¬ 
low, p. 431, n. 1). The actual constellations differ widely in length—the huge Scor¬ 
pion, e.g., covers many more degrees than 30, whereas the Ram is of modest dimen¬ 
sions. One would think that this lack of uniformity would have so hampered the 
ancient astronomers in making their calculations that they would have worked out 
a more convenient frame of coordinates in sheer self-defense. 

145 * Amlodhi the Titan and His Spinning Top 

sun’s rising “in” a constellation (or a sign)—this means that the sun 
rises together with this constellation, making it invisible. There are 
several reasons for assuming that a constellation (and a planet which 
happened to be there), “in” which the equinoctial sun rose, was 
termed to be “sacrificed,” “bound to the sacrificial post,” and the 
like; and this might explain eventually why Christ, who opened the 
world-age in which Pisces rose heliacally in the spring, was under¬ 
stood as the sacrificed lamb. When Pisces is the last constellation 
visible in the east before sunrise, the sun rises together, i.e., “in,” the 
constellation following next, the Ram. 

Since the beginning of history, the vernal equinox has moved 
through Taurus, Aries, and Pisces. This is all that historic experi¬ 
ence has shown mankind: a section of about one-quarter of the 
whole main circle of the machine. That it would come back full 
circle was at best an inference. It might also, for all men knew, 
have been part of an oscillation, back and forth, and in fact there 
were two schools of thought about it, and the oscillation theory 
seems to have exercised a greater attraction upon the mythographers 
of old. 

For us, the Copernican system has stripped the Precession of its 
awesomeness, making it a purely earthly affair, the wobbles of an 
average planet’s individual course. But if, as it appeared once, it 
was the mysteriously ordained behavior of the heavenly sphere, or 
the cosmos as a whole, then who could escape astrological emotion? 
For the Precession took on an overpowering significance. It became 
the vast impenetrable pattern of fate itself, with one world-age suc¬ 
ceeding another, as the invisible pointer of the equinox slid along 
the signs, each age bringing with it the rise and downfall of astral 
configurations and rulerships, with their earthly consequences. 
Tales had to be told for the people about how successions of ruler- 
ships arose from an origin, and about the actual creation of the 
world, but for those in the know the origin was only a point in 
the precessional circle, like the o = 24 of our dials. Our clocks today 
show two pointers only; but the tale-tellers of those bygone days, 
facing the immense and slow-moving machine of eternity, had to 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 146 

keep track of seven planetary pointers besides the daily revolution 
of the fixed sphere and of its secular motion in the opposite direc¬ 
tion. All these motions meant parts of time and fate. 

That things are not as they used to be, that the world is obvi¬ 
ously going from bad to worse, seems to have been an established 
idea through the ages. The unhinging of the Mill is caused by the 
shifting of the world axis. Motion is the medium by which the 
wrecking is brought about. The Adill is “transported,” be it Grotte 
or Sampo. The Grotte Song says explicitly that the giantesses first 
ground forth enemy action whereby the Mill was carried away and 
then, shortly afterwards, ground salt and wrecked the machine. It 
was the end of “Frodhi’s peace”—the Golden Age. Even in Snaeb- 
jorn’s famous lines, the grim goddesses “out at the edge of the world” 
are those “who ground Amlodhi’s meal in ages past.” They can 
hardly be doing it now, because the wrecked millstone is at the bot¬ 
tom of the sea, with its hole become the funnel of the whirlpool. So 
that Mill has been transferred to the waters, and it is now the sea 
itself which has become “Amlodhi’s churn.” The heavenly Mill has 
been readjusted, it goes on working in a new age. It churned once 
gold, then salt, and today sand and stones. But one cannot expect the 
rough Norse mythography to follow it in these legends, which are 
centered upon storm and wreck, the end of that first age. 

Even Hesiod is far from clear about the early struggles and cata¬ 
clysms; it is enough that in his Works and Days he marks a succes¬ 
sion of five ages. A more coherent picture can only be built out of 
the convergence of several traditions, and this shall be the task of 
further chapters. But right now, there is at least one age designated 
as the first, when the Mill ground out peace and plenty. It is the 
Golden Age, in Latin tradition, Saturnia regna, the reign of Saturn; 
in Greek, Kronos. In this dim perplexing figure there is an extraordi¬ 
nary concordance throughout world myths. In India it was Yama; 
in the Old Persian Avesta it was Yima xsaeta, 13 a name which became 
in New Persian Jamshyd; in Latin Saeturnus, then Saturnus. Saturn 

13 See H. Collitz, “Konig Yima und Saturn,” Festschrift Vavry (1933), pp. 86-108. 
See also A. Scherer, Gestirnnamen bei den indogermanischen Vdikern (1953), 
p. 87. 

147 * Amlodhi the Titan and His Spinning Top 

or Kronos in many names had been known as the Ruler of the 
Golden Age, of that time when men knew not war and bloody 
sacrifices, not the inequality of classes—Lord of Justice and Mea¬ 
sures, as Enki since Sumerian days, the Yellow Emperor and legis¬ 
lator in China. 

If one wants to find the traces of his sunken Mill in classical 
mythology, they are not lacking. 14 The oldest is to be found where 
one would not expect it, in the Great Magical Papyrus of Paris, 
which is dated about the first half of the fourth century a.d. 15 In 
its recipes is the “much demanded Oracle of Kronos, the so-called 
Little Mill”: 

Take two measures of sea salt and grind it with a handmill, repeating 
all the while the prayer that I give you, until the God appears. If you 
hear while praying the heavy tread of a man and the clanking of 
irons, this is the god that comes with his chains, carrying a sickle. Do 
not be afraid, for you are covered by the protection that I give you. 
Be wrapped in white linen such as the priests of Isis wear [here fol¬ 
low a number of magic rites]. The prayer to be said while grinding 
is as follows: I call upon thee, great and holy One, founder of the 
whole world we live in, who sufferest wrong at the hands of thy own 
son, thee whom Helios bound with iron chains, so that All should not 
come to confusion. Man-Woman, father of thunder and lightning, 
thou who rulest also those below the earth. [There follow more rites 
of protection, then the formula of dismissal]: Go, Lord of the World, 
First Father, return to your own place, so that the All remain well 
guarded. Be merciful, O Lord . 16 

14 Although the Telchines are entitled to be investigated thoroughly, we can only 
mention them here: this strange family of “submarine magic spirits” and “demons 
of the depth of the sea”—they are followers of Poseidon in Rhodes—have invented 
the mill-, i.e., their leader did so— My las, “the miller.” Knowing beforehand, it was 
said, of the predestined flood which was to destroy Rhodes, these former inhabi¬ 
tants left for Lycia, Cyprus and Crete, the more so, as they also knew that Helios 
was going to take over the island after the flood. On the other hand, these envious 
creatures—they have the “evil eye,” too—are accused of having ruined the whole 
vegetation of Rhodes by sprinkling it with Styx-water. As will come out later 
(see “Of Time and the Rivers,” p. 200), the waters of Styx are not so easily 
to be had; that the Telchines, the “mill gods” ( theoi mylantioi) had access to Styx 
proves beyond doubt that these earliest defoliators had turned, indeed, into citizens 
of the deep sea. See Griechische Mythologie, Preller-Robert (1964), vol. 1, pp. 
650#.; Al. Mayer, Giganten und Titanen in der antiken Sage und Knnst (1887), 
pp. 45, 98, 101; H. Usener, Gotternamen (1948), pp. 198F 

15 K. Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae (1928), vol. /, p. 64. 

16 4. 3o8ff., Preisendanz, vol. 1, p. 173. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 148 

Sorcerers and conjurors are the most conservative people on 
earth. Theirs is not to reason why; they call upon the Power in 
terms they no longer understand, but they have to give an exact list 
of the archaic attributes of the fallen god, and even grind out sea 
salt from the Little Mill, the model of the whirlpool that marked his 
downfall. What had once been science has become with them pure 
technology, bent on preservation. A. Barb once coined a simile— 
he had revealed religion in mind, however, not science; dealing with 
the relation between magic practices and religion, he pointed to 
Matt, xxiv.28, Luke xvii.37: “Wheresoever the carcase is, there will 
the eagles be gathered together,” and “Too many critical scholars 
have been ready to assume that the carcase is therefore a creation 
of the eagles. But eagles do not create; they disfigure, destroy and 
dispense what life has left, and we must not mistake the colourful 
display of decay for the blossoms and fruit of life.” 17 Poignant as 
this image is, namely, in establishing the proper consecutio tem- 
porum, it leaves out of consideration the preserving function of 
magic and superstition: where would the historian of culture be 
left without those “eagles”? 

For all the titles and attributes here listed, there is justification in 
archaic myth. Right here, only one point is of importance. The 
Lord of the Mill is declared to be Saturn/Kronos, he whom his 
son Zeus dethroned by throwing him off his chariot, and banished 
in “chains” to a blissful island, where he dwells in sleep, for being 
immortal he cannot die, but is thought to live a life-in-death, 
wrapped in funerary linen, until his time, say some, shall come to 
awaken again, and he will be reborn to us as a child. 

17 “St. Zacharias,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes n (1948), 
p. 95. It has not escaped his attention, by the way, that it should be vultures. 

Chapter X 

The Twilight of the Gods 


J_ here was oxce, then, a Golden Age. Why, how, did it come 
to an end? This has been a deep concern of mankind over time, 
refracted in a hundred myths, explained in so many ways which 
always expressed sorrow, nostalgia, despondency. Why did man 
lose the Garden of Eden? The answer has always been, because of 
some original sin. But the idea that man alone was able to commit 
sin, that Adam and Eve are the guilty ones, is not very old. The 
authors of the Old Testament had developed a certain conceit. 
Christianity then had to come to rescue and restore cosmic propor¬ 
tions, by insisting that God alone could offer himself in atonement. 

In archaic times, this had seemed to be self-evident. The gods 
alone could run or wreck the universe. It is there that we should 
search for the origin of evil. For evil remains a mystery. It is not 
in nature. The faultless and all-powerful machine of the heavens 
should have yielded only harmony and perfection, the reign of 
justice and innocence, rivers flowing with milk and honey. It did, 
but that time did not last. Why did history begin to happen? His¬ 
tory is always terrible. Philosophers from Plato to Hegel have 
offered their own lofty answer: pure Being was confronted of a 
necessity with Non-Being, and the result was Becoming, which is 
an uninsurable business. This was substantially the original answer 
of archaic times, but because of the lack of abstractions, it had to be 
derived in terms of heavenly motions. 

Aristotle, the Master of Those Who Know, has cleared up this 
matter in a most important, yet little noted passage of Book Lambda 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


of Metaphysics (1074b) where he talks about Kronos, Zeus, Aphro¬ 
dite, etc.: 

Our forefathers in the most remote ages [archaioi kai panpalaioi ] 
have handed down to their posterity a tradition, in the form 
f schema] of a myth, that these bodies are gods and that the divine 
encloses the whole of nature. The rest of the tradition has been added 
later in mythical form . . . ; they say that these gods are in the form 
of men or like some of the other animals . . . But if one were to 
separate the first point from these additions and take it alone—that 
they thought the first substances to be gods, one must regard this as 
an inspired utterance, and reflect that, while probably each art and 
each science has often been developed as far as possible and has again 
perished, these opinions, with others, have been preserved until the 
present like relics [leipsana] of the ancient treasure. 

Aristotle, being a true Greek, cannot conceive of progress in our 
sense. Time proceeds for him in cycles of flowering and decay. 
But this absence of modern preconceptions had left his mind open 
to an ancient certainty. This certainty is what shines through the 
mist of ages and through a language dimly understood. It was atten¬ 
tion to the events of heaven which shaped men’s minds before re¬ 
corded history; but since there was as yet no writing, these thoughts 
have receded, as astrophysicists would say, over the “event hori¬ 
zon.” They can survive only through fragments of tale and myth 
because these made up the only technical language of those times. 

Yet an enormous intellectual achievement is presupposed in this 
organization of heaven, in naming the constellations and in tracing 
the paths of the planets. Lofty and intricate theories grew to ac¬ 
count for the motions of the cosmos. One would wonder about this 
obsessive concern with the stars and their motion, were it not the 
case that those early thinkers thought they had located the gods 
which rule the universe and with it also the destiny of the soul 
down here and after death. 

In modern language, they had found the essential invariants 
where Being is. In paying respect to those forefathers, Aristotle 
shows himself clearly aware that his philosophical quest started with 

One should pay attention to the cosmological information con¬ 
tained in ancient myth, information of chaos, struggle and violence. 

ij i # The Twilight of the Gods 

They are not mere projections of a troubled consciousness: They 
are attempts to portray the forces which seem to have taken part 
in the shaping of the cosmos. Monsters, Titans, giants locked in 
battle with the gods and trying to scale Olympus are functions and 
components of the order that is finally established. 

A distinction is immediately clear. The fixed stars are the essence 
of Being, their assembly stands for the hidden counsels and the 
unspoken laws that rule the Whole. The planets, seen as gods, 
represent the Forces and the Will: all the forces there are, each of 
them seen as one aspect of heavenly power, each of them one 
aspect of the ruthless necessity and precision expressed by heaven. 
One might also say that while the fixed stars represent the kingly 
power, silent and unmoving, the planets are the executive power. 

Are they in total harmony? This is the dream that the contem¬ 
plative mind has expressed again and again, that Kepler tried to fix 
by writing down the notes of his “Harmony of the Spheres,” and 
that was consecrated in the “turning over” of the sky. This is the 
faith expressed by ancient thinkers in a Great Year, in which all the 
motions brought back all the planets to the same original configura¬ 
tion. But the computations created doubt very early and with it 
anxiety. Only rarely is there an explicit technical statement of those 
views. Here is one from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Osiris 

“Hail, Thot! What is it that hath happened to the divine children of 
Nut? They have done battle, they have upheld strife, they have made 
slaughter, they have caused trouble: in truth, in all their doing the 
mighty have worked against the weak. Grant, O might of Thot, that 
that which the God Atum hath decreed (may be accomplished)! And 
thou regardest not evil nor art thou provoked to anger when they 
bring their years to confusion and throng in atid push to disturb their 
months; for in all that they have done unto thee, they have worked 
iniquity in secret. rn 

Thot is the god of science and wisdom; as for Atum, he precedes, 
so to speak, the divine hierarchy. Described only in metaphysical 
terms, he is the mysterious entity from which the All sprang: his 

1 Chapter 175, i-8, W. Budge trans. The italics are ours. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 

l 5 2 

name might be Bcginning-and-End. He is thus the Presence and the 
secret Counsel whom one feels tempted to equate with the starry 
sky itself. His decree must be of immutable perfection. But here it 
appears that there are forces which have worked iniquity in secret. 
They appear everywhere, these forces, and regularly they are de¬ 
nounced as “overbearing,” or “iniquitous,” or both. But these 
“forces” are not iniquitous right from the beginning: they turn out 
to be, they become overbearing in the course of time. Time alone 
turns the Titans, who once ruled the Golden Age, into “workers of 
iniquity” (compare appendix #12). The idea of measure stated or 
implied will show the basic crime of these “sinners”: it is the over¬ 
reaching, overstepping of the ordained degree, and this is meant 
literally. 2 Says the Mahabharata about the Indian Titans, the Asura: 
“assuredly were the Asura originally just, good and charitable, knew 
the Dharma and sacrificed, and were possessed of many other vir¬ 
tues . . . But afterwards as they multiplied in number, they became 
proud, vain, quarrelsome . . . they made confusion in everything. 
Thereupon in the course of time . . they were doomed. 3 

Thus severe consequences must be expected when Gen. vi. 1 com¬ 
mences with the formula, “when men began to multiply on the 
face of the earth . .And sure enough, ten verses later, Gen. vi.i 1, 
the time for grave decisions has come: “And God said to Noah, 
‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh!’ ” More outspoken 
is the 18th chapter of the Book of Enoch, where an Angel acts as 
Enoch’s guide through the celestial landscape. In showing him the 
quarters destined for iniquitous personalities, the Angel tells Enoch: 
“These stars which roll around over the fire are those who, at rising 
time, overstepped the orders of God: they did not rise at their ap- 

2 It is only the careless manner in which we usually deal with precise terms that 
blocks the understanding: e.g., Greek ?noira, also written moros , is translated as 
“fate,” “destiny,” sometimes as “doom”; moira is one degree of the 360° of the 
circle; when we keep this in mind we understand better such lines as Od. /. 
34-35, where Aegisthus is accused twice of having done deeds “ hyper moron ” 
beyond degree. How could one overstep one’s destiny? How could one be over¬ 
measured against fate? This would invalidate the very concept of “destiny.” 

3 V. Fausboll, Indian Mythology according to the Mahabharata (1902), pp. 40F 


153 • The Twilight of the Gods 

pointed time. And He was wroth with them, and He bound them 
for 10,000 years until the time when their sin shall be fulfilled.” 4 

Yet one must beware of simplifications. The wording, “assuredly 
were the Asura originally just, good and charitable,” goes for the 
Titans, too, the forces of the first age of the world. But seen 
through the “eyeglasses” of the preceding state of things, Titans, 
Asura and their like had committed atrocities first. And so did 
Saturn, the “originator of times,” and in the drastic measure he 
took to accomplish the “separation of the parents of the world,” 
which stands for the falling apart of the axes of equator and 
ecliptic. Before this separation time did not exist. These “united 
parents”—heartlessly called “chaos” by Macrobius—resented the 
breaking up of the original eternity by the forces which worked 
iniquity in secret. 5 These forces as they appear in the Enuma elish, 
the so-called Babylonian Creation Epic, are the children of Apsu 
and Tiamat and they crowded in between their parents. “They 
disturbed Tiamat as they surged back and forth; yea, they troubled 
the mood of Tiamat. Apsu could not lessen their clamor . . . Un¬ 
savory were their ways, they were overbearing.” 6 

Not having “multiplied” yet, this first generation of the world 
established the Golden Age under the rule of Him of many names 
—Enki, Yima, Freyr and many more. “But these sons whom he 
begot himself, great Heaven [megas Ouranos ] used to call Titans 
[Strainers] in reproach, for he said that they strained and did pre¬ 
sumptuously a fearful deed, and that vengeance for it would come 
afterwards,” as Hesiod has it ( Theogony 207-10). 7 And so it 
would, after their “multiplication,” when they overstrained the 

4 E. Kautzsch, ed., Die Apokryphen tind Pseudoepigraphen des Alten Testaments 
(1900), vol. 2, pp. 249E 

5 There is no complete unanimity among mythographers, though; in Hesiod’s 
Theogony, Gaia “rejoiced greatly in spirit” (173) when Kronos promised to do 
away with Father Ouranos according to Gaia’s very own plan and advice. 

6 EE Tabl. 7.22-28 (E. Speiser trans.), ANET, p. 61. 

7 This translation by H. G. Evelyn-White (LCL) pays no regard to a “pun,” a 
rather essential one, indeed. Hesiod makes use, side by side in these few lines, of 
both radicals from which “Titan” was supposed to have been derived: titaind, “to 
strain,” and tisis, “vengeance.” 

Hamlet’s Mill • 

1 54 

measure. And it was bound to happen again when future genera¬ 
tions would construct “forbidden ways to the sky,” 8 or build a 
tower which happened to be too high. The one secure measure, the 
“golden rope” of the solar year, 9 is stretched beyond repair. The 
equinoctial sun had been gradually pushed out of its Golden Age 
“sign.” it had started on the way to new conditions, new configura¬ 
tions. This is the frightful event, the unexpiable crime that was 
ascribed to the Children of Heaven. They had nudged the sun out 
of place, and now it was on the move, the universe was out of kilter 
and nothing, nothing—days, months or years, the rising or setting of 
stars—was going to fall into its rightful place any more. The equi¬ 
noctial point had nudged and nuzzled its way forward, in the very 
same way as a car with automatic gearshift will nuzzle its way for¬ 
ward unless we put it in neutral—and there was no way of putting 
the equinox in neutral. The infernal pushing and squeezing of the 
Children of Heaven had separated the parents, and now the time 
machine had been set rolling forever, bringing forth at every new 
age “a new heaven and a new earth,” in the words of Scripture. As 
Hesiod says, the world had entered now the second stage, that of 
the giants, who were to wage a decisive battle with the restraining 
forces before their downfall. 

The vision of a whole world-age with its downfall is given by 
the Edda. It comes in the very first poem, the Song of the Sibyl, the 
Voluspa, in which the prophetess Vala embraces past and future in 
adequately strange and obscure language. At the beginning of the 
Age of the Aesir, the gods gather in council, and give names to 
sun and moon, days and nights and seasons. They order the years 
and assign to the stars their places. On Idavollr (the “whirl-field”; 
ida = eddy), they establish their seat “in the Golden Age” and play 
checkers with golden pieces, and all is happiness until “the three 
awful maidens” come (this is another mystery). 10 But once before, 

8 Claudiamis 26.69-71, speaking of the Aloads, who piled Ossa upon Olympus. 

9 See e.g., RV 5.85.5: “This great feat of the famous Asurian Varuna I shall pro¬ 
claim who, standing in the air, using the Sun as an inch scale, measured the earth.” 

10 The three maidens from Jotunheimr are not the Norns, this much can be safely 
said, but should be Gulveig the “thrice born,” whom the Aesir killed “thrice, and 
still she is living” (Voluspa 8): one more “iniquity” asking for vengeance. 

155 ' The Twilight of the Gods 

it is hinted, there has been a “world war” between Aesir and Vanir, 
which was terminated by a sharing of power. In a vision in which 
past and future blend in a flash, Vala sees the outcome and an¬ 
nounces it to the “high and low children of Heimdal,” that is, to 
all men. She asks them to open their eyes, to understand what the 
gods had to know: the breaking of the peace, the murder of Thjassi, 
Odin himself abetting the crime and nailing Thjassi’s eyes to 
heaven. With this a curtain is lifted briefly over a phase of the 
past. For Thjassi belongs to the powers that preceded the Aesir. 
In Greek terms, the Titans came before the gods. The main Vana 
or Titanic powers (in Rydberg’s thoughtful reconstruction) are 
the three brothers, Thjassi/Volund, Orvandil/Eigil, and Slagfin: 
the Maker, the Archer, and the Musician. This finally locates Or- 
vandil the Archer, the father of Amlethus. He is one of the three 
“sons of Ivalde,” just as their counterparts in the Finnish epic are 
the “sons of Kaleva.” 11 And Ivalde, like Kaleva, is barely mentioned, 
never described, at least not under the name Ivalde: there is a 
glimpse at him under his other name, Wate. Like Kaleva, he is a 
meaningful void. But all this is of the past. The Sibyl’s vision is 
projected toward the onrushing end. True, Loke has been chained 
in Hell since he brought about the death of Balder, the great Fenrir 
wolf is still fettered with chains, once cunningly devised by Loke 
himself, and they are made up of such unsubstantial things as the 
footfall of a cat, the roots of a rock, the breath of a fish, the spittle 
of a bird. 12 

Now the powers of the Abyss are beginning to rise, the world is 
coming apart. At this point Heimdal comes to the fore. He is the 
Warner of Asgard, the guardian of the Bridge between heaven and 
earth, the “Whitest of the Aesir,” but his role, his freedom of 
action, is severely limited. He has many gifts—he can hear grass 
grow, he can see a hundred miles away—but these powers seem to 

11 Strange to say, the three brothers, Volund, Eigil and Slagfin, are called “synir 
Finnakonungs,” i.e., “sons of a Finnish king” (J. Grimm, TM, p. 380). 

12 Again, strange to say, this very kind of “un-substance”— including the milk of 
Mother Eagle, and the tears of the fledglings—had to be provided for by Tibetan 
Bogda Gesser Khan, who also snared the sun. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 156 

remain ineffectual. He owns the Gjallarhorn, the great battle horn 
of the gods; he is the only one able to sound it, but he will blow it 
only once, when he summons the gods and heroes of Asgard to 
their last fight. 

Nordic speculation down to Richard Wagner has dwelt with 
gloomy satisfaction on Ragnarok, 13 the Twilight of the Gods, which 
will destroy the world. There is the prediction in the Song of 
the Sibyl, and also in Snorri’s Gylfagmning: when the great dog 
Garm barks in front of the Gnipa cave, when the Fenrir wolf 
breaks his fetters and comes from “the mouth of the river,” 14 his 
jaws stretching from heaven to earth, and is joined by the Midgard 
Serpent, then Heimdal will blow the Gjallarhorn, the sound of 
which reaches through all the worlds: the battle is on. But it is 
written that the forces of order will go down fighting to atone for 
the initial wrong done by the gods. The world will be lost, good 
and bad together. Naglfar, the ship of the dead, built with the 
nail parings of the living, will sail through the dark waters and 
bring the enemy to the fray. Then, adds Snorri: 

The heavens are suddenly rent in twain, and out ride in shining squad¬ 
rons iMuspel’s sons, and Surt with his flaming sword, at the head of 
the fylkings. 15 

13 For the etymology of ragnarok, see Cleasby-Vigfusson, An Icelandic-English 
Dictionary, in which regin (whence ragna) is defined as “the gods as the makers 
and rulers of the universe”; rok as “reason, ground, origin” or “a wonder, sign, 
marvel”; and ragna rok as “the history of the gods and the world, but especially 
with reference to the last act, the last judgment.” The word rokr, a possible alter¬ 
nate to rok, is defined as “the twilight . . . seldom of the morning twilight,” and 
“the mythological phrase, ragna rokr, the twilight of gods, which occurs in the 
prose Edda (by Snorri), and has since been received into modern works, is no 
doubt merely a corruption from rok, a word quite different from rokr .” 

Taking into consideration that the whole war between the Pandavas and the 
Kauravas, as told in the Mahabharata, takes place in the “twilight” between 
Dvapara and Kali Yuga, there is no cogent reason to dismiss Snorri’s ragna rokr 
as a “corruption.” But then, the experts also condemned Snorri’s comparison be¬ 
tween Ragnarok and the Fall of Troy: the logical outcome of their conviction that 
“poetry” is some kind of creatio ex nihilo, whence the one question never raised 
is whether the poets might not be dealing with hard scientific facts. 

14 Lokasenna 41; see also V. Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology (1907), p. 563. 

15 Gylf. 5 1. 

157 * The Twilight of the Gods 

All-engulfing flames come out with Surt “the Black,” who kills 
Freyr, the Lord of the Mill. Snorri makes Surt “Lord of Gimle” 
and likewise the king of eternal bliss “at the southern end of the 
sky.” 16 He must be some timeless force which brings destructive 
fire to the world; but of this later. 

Hitherto all has been luridly and catastrophically and murkily 
confused as it should be. But the character of Heimdal raises a 
number of sharp questions. He has appeared upon the scene as “the 
son of nine mothers”; to be the son of several mothers is a rare dis¬ 
tinction even in mythology, and one which Heimdal shares only 
with Agni in the Rigveda, 17 and with Agni’s son Skanda in the 
Mahabharata. Skanda (literally “the jumping one” or “the hopping 
one”) is the planet Mars, also called Kartikeya, inasmuch as he was 
borne by the Krittika, the Pleiades. The Mahabharata 18 insists on 
six as the number of the Pleiades as well as of the mothers of Skanda 
and gives a very broad and wild description of the birth and the 
installation of Kartikeya “by the assembled gods ... as their gen¬ 
eralissimo,” which is shattering, somehow, driving home how little 
one understands as yet. 19 

The nine mothers of Heimdal bring to mind inevitably the nine 
goddesses who turn the mill. The suspicion is not unfounded. Two 
of these “mothers,” Gjalp and Greip, seem to appear with changed 

16 Gylf. 17;, cf. R. B. Anderson, The Younger Edda (1880), p. 249. That Surt is 
Lord of Gimle is a particularly important statement; it will not be found in the 
current translations of Snorri, but only in the Uppsala Codex: “there are many 
good abodes and many bad; best it is to be in Gimle with Surt” (Rydberg, p. 651). 

17 RV /0.45.2 points to nine births, or mothers; 7.141.2 tells of the seven mothers 
of Agni’s second birth. Most frequently, however, Agni has three “mothers,” cor¬ 
responding to his three birthplaces: in the sky, on the earth, in the waters. 

18 Mbh. £.44-46 (Roy trans. vol. 7, pp. 130-43). It should be emphasized, aloud 
and strongly, that in Babylonian astronomy Mars is the only planetary representa¬ 
tive of the Pleiades. See P. F. Gossmann, Flanetariwn Babylonicum (1950), p. 279: 
“In der Planetenvertretung kommt fur die Plejaden nur Mars in Fragc.” 

19 The least which can be said, assuredly: Mars was “installed” during a more or 
less close conjunction of all planets; in Mbh. £45 (p. 133) it is stressed that the 
powerful gods assembled “all poured water upon Skanda, even as the gods had 
poured water on the head of Varuna, the lord of waters, for investing him with 
dominion.” And this “investiture” took place at the beginning of the Krita Yuga, 
the Golden Age. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 158 

names or generations as Fenja and Menja. 20 Rydberg claims Heim- 
dal to be the son of Mundilfocri. The story is then astronomical. 
Where docs it lead? Thanks to the clues provided by Jacob Grimm, 
Rydberg and O. S. Reuter, and thanks to many hints hidden in the 
Rigveda, Atharva Veda and at other unexpected places, one can 
offer a probable conclusion: Heimdal stands for the world axis, 
the skambha. His head is the “measurer” (mjotudr) of the same 
measures that the Sibyl claims to understand: “Nine worlds I know, 
nine spaces of the measure-tree which is beyond (fyr ) the earth.” 
“Measure-tree” is the translation of mjotvidr,- 1 which so-called 
poetic versions usually render as “world tree.” The word fyr ap¬ 
pears here again; it connotes priority; in this verse 2 of Voluspa it 
is translated as “below” in most of the cases. The question “who 
measures what?” would require an extensive analysis; here, with 
no need for so many details, it is important only to learn that Heim¬ 
dal is honored by a second name, Hallmskidi (appendix #16). 
This name is said to mean a bent, bowed or slanted stake or post. 
To be bent or inclined befits the world axis and all that belongs 
to it, with the one exception of the observer who stands exactly at 
the terrestrial North Pole. Why not call it “oblique” or slanting 
right away? 22 Whether bent or oblique, Grimm rightly says that it 

20 For the names of these mothers, see Hyndluljod 38; for Gjalp and Greip, 
daughters of the giant Geirroed, see Snorri’s Skaldskaparmal 2, and Thorsdrapa , 
broadly discussed by Rydberg (pp. 932-52), who established Greip as the mother 
of the “Sons of Ivalde.” R. Much claims the identity of Geirroed with Surt (“Der 
germanische Himmelsgott,” in Ablandlungen zur germanische Pbilologie [1898], 
p. 221). The turning up of a plurality of mothers in the ancient North, and in India 
(see also J. Pokorny, “Ein neun-monatiges Jahr im Keltischen,” OLZ 21 [1918], 
pp. 130-33) might induce the experts eventually to reopen the trial of those per¬ 
fectly nonsensical seven or nine, even fourteen, “motherwombs” which haunt the 
Babylonian account of the creation of man. (Cf. E. Ebeling, Tod und Leben 
[1931], pp. 172-77; E. A. Speiser (trans.), “Akkadian Myths and Epics,” ANET, 
pp. 99E; W. von Soden, Or. 26, pp. 309ft.) 

21 O. S. Reuter, Germanische Hivrmelskunde (1934), pp. 236, 319. As concerns 
mjotudr (measurer) and its connection with Sanskrit matar and with meter, men- 
sar , etc., see Grimm, TM, pp. 22, 1290. Reuter (p. 236) quotes Lex. Poet. Boreale 
408, where mjotudr = fate. 

22 We have more of this mythological species of oblique posts or trees—e.g., the 
Rigvedic “sacrificial post”—and even Bears are not afraid to inhabit the one or the 
other. See F. G. Speck and J. Moses, The Celestial Bear Comes Down to Earth: 
The Bear Sacrifice Ceremony of the Manse e-Mohican in Canada (1945). 

159 ’ The Twilight of the Gods 

is “worthy of remark that Hallinskidi and Heimdal are quoted 
among the names for the ram. 23 Heimdal is the “watcher" of the 
much-trodden Bridge of the gods which finally breaks down at 
Ragnarok; his “head” measures the crossroads of ecliptic and 
equator at the vernal equinox in Aries, 24 a constellation which is 
called “head” also by Cleomedes, 25 and countless astromedical illus¬ 
trations show the Ram ruling the head (Pisces the feet). Accord¬ 
ingly, one might say that the Sibyl addresses herself to “the high 
and low children of Aries.” 

Recalling Rigvedic Agni, son of seven to nine mothers like Heim¬ 
dal, and remembering what has been said of “fire,” that it means 
a great circle connecting the celestial poles, the scheme becomes 
more understandable. Heimdal stands for the equinoctial colure 
which “accompanies” the slowly turning, wholly abstract and invis¬ 
ible axis along the surface of the sphere. It will emerge presently 
that “axis” always means the whole “frame” of a world-age, given 
by the equinoctial and solstitial colures. 26 More understandable also 
becomes another epithet of Heimdal, namely, Vindler , of which 
Rydberg states (p. 595): “The name is a subform of vindill and 
comes from vinda, to twist or turn, wind, to turn anything around 
rapidly. As the epithet ‘the turner 1 is given to that god who 
brought friction-fire (bore-fire) to man, and who is himself the 
personification of this fire, then it must be synonymous with ‘the 
borer.' ” 

23 TAl, p. 234. Rydberg (p. 593) spells it: ‘‘In the old Norse poetry Vedr (wether, 
ram) Heimdal and the Heimdal epithet hallinskidi, are synonymous.” 

24 A. Ohlmarks, Heividalls Horn und Odins Auge (1937), p. 144, makes the god 
a he-goat. That would not be bad, either, if he is right, since Capella, alpha 
Aurigae, “capricious” all over, whether male or female, has the name “asar bar- 
dagi = Fight of the Aesir” (Reuter, p. 279). Of Auriga-Erichthonios we shall hear 
more in the future. 

20 Instead of “head” ( kephalos ), Nonnos calls Aries mesomphaios , “midnavel,” 
of Olympus. 

26 It should be remarked that Snorri's identification ( Gylf . 13) of the bridge 
Bifroest with the rainbow made scholars rush to rescue a definitely regular phenom¬ 
enon from the hazardous existence which is allotted to a rainbow; they voted for 
the Milky Way instead. With this we are not likely to agree. See A. Ohlmarks, 
“Stellt die mythische Bifroest den Regenbogen oder die Milchstrasse dar?” Medd. 
Lunds Astron. Observ. (1941), ser. 11, no. no, and Reuter, p. 2S4, quoting addi¬ 
tional literature. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 160 

The Sibyl’s prophecy does not end with the catastrophes, but it 
moves from the tragic to the lydic mode, to sing of the dawning of 
the new age: 

Now do l see 

the Earth anew 

Rise all green 

fro 7 n the waves again . . . 

Then fields nnsowed 
bear ripetted fruit 
All ills grow better . 

Even if that generation of gods has perished, the younger ones re¬ 
main: Balder and Hoder, also the two sons of Thor, and Vidar the 
son of Odin. The House of the Wise Vanir is not affected as a 
whole, even if Freyr fell in battle. As the Vanir belong to a past age, 
this crisis apparently does not concern them. There is in fact a cer¬ 
tain perversely nightmarish or neurotic unreality about the tragedy 
as a whole. The Wolfs fetters were made of nothing but he was 
able to snap them only when the time came, when Odin and the 
Sun had to be devoured. The next instant, young Vidar kills the 
monster simply by thrusting his shoe down his throat (he has one 
shoe only, just like Jason). It is guilt and the ensuing chaos, more 
than actual forces, which dragged down the Establishment once 
the appointed time came, as decreed by fate and sounded on the 

What happens after (or happened, or will happen sometime, for 
this myth is written in the future tense), is told in the Voluspa, but 
it is also amplified in Snorri’s Gylfaginning (53), a tale of a strange 
encounter of King Gylfi with the Aesir themselves, disguised as 
men, who do not reveal their identity but are willing to answer 
questions: “What happens when the whole world has burned up, 
the gods are dead, and all of mankind is gone? You have said earlier, 
that each human being would go on living in this or that world.” 
So it is, goes the answer, there are several worlds for the good and 
the bad. Then Gylfi asks : “Shall any gods be alive, and shall there 
be something of earth and heaven?” And the answer is: 

161 • The Twilight of the Gods 

“The earth rises up from the sea again, and is green and beautiful and 
things grow without sowing. Vidar and Vali are alive, for neither the 
sea nor the flames of Surt have hurt them and they dwell on the 
Eddyfield, where once stood Asgard. There come also the sons of 
Thor, Modi and Magni, and bring along his hammer. There come 
also Balder and Hoder from the other world. All sit down and con¬ 
verse together. They rehearse their runes and talk of events of old 
days. Then they find in the grass the golden tablets that the Aesir once 
played with. Two children of men will also be found safe from the 
great flames of Surt. Their names, Lif and Lifthrasir, and they feed 
on the morning dew and from this human pair will come a great 
population which will fill the earth. And strange to say, the sun, be¬ 
fore being devoured by Fenrir, will have borne a daughter, no less 
beautiful and going the same ways as her mother.” 

Then, all at once, concludes Snorri’s tale wryly, a thunderous 
cracking was heard from all sides, and when the King looked again, 
he found himself on the open plain and the great hall had vanished. 

The times and tenses are deliberately scrambled, but the state¬ 
ments, even if elliptical, are pregnant with ancient meaning. The 
rediscovery of the pieces of the game lying around in the grass, 
already told in the Voluspa, becomes clearer if one thinks of the 
Rigveda, where the gods themselves are said to go around like 
ayas, that is, casts of dice. 27 It becomes more understandable still 
when one considers that the name of the Indian world-ages fYuga) 
has been taken from the idiom of dicing. 28 But both data could be 
dismissed as unrevealing were it forgotten that in several kinds of 
“proto-chess”—to use an expression of J. Needham—board games 
and dicing were combined: the number of eyes thrown by the dice 
determined the figure which was to be moved. 29 That this very rule 
was also valid for tafl, the board game mentioned in the Voluspa, 
has been shown by A. G. van Hamel. 30 Thus, the dice forced the 
hands of the chess player—a game called ‘‘planetary battles” by the 
Indians, and in 16th-century Europe still termed “Celestial War, or 

27 r V /0.116.9; in 10. 34.8, the dice are called vrata, i.e., an organized “gang” 
under a king; the king is Rudra. 

2g Krita, Treta, Dvapara, Kali, this last one being the worst cast (which the 
Greeks termed “dog”). See H. Liiders, Das Wiirfelspiel hn Alten lndien (1907;, 
pp. 41,63b 

29 H. Liiders, p. 69; see also S. Culin, Chess and Playing Cards (1898), p. 857. 

30 ‘The Game of the Gods,” Arkiv fur Nordisk Filologi 50 (1934), p. 230. 

I Jam let’s Mill • 


Astrologer’s Game,” 31 whereas the Chinese chessboard shows the 
.Milky Wav dividing the two camps. Which goes to show that the 
Icelanders knew what they were talking about. 

Finally, there is one remarkable and disturbing coincidence from 
the same direction. It is known that in the final battle of the gods, 
the massed legions on the side of “order” are the dead warriors, the 
“Einherier” who once fell in combat on earth and who have been 
transferred by the Valkyries to reside with Odin in Valhalla—a 
theme much rehearsed in heroic poetry. On the last day, they issue 
forth to battle in martial array. Says the Grimnismal (23): “Five 
hundred gates and forty more—are in the mighty building of Wal- 
halla—eight hundred ‘Einherier’ come out of each one gate—on 
the time they go out on defence against the Wolf.” 

That makes 432,000 in all, a number of significance from of old. 

This number must have had a very ancient meaning, for it is also 
the number of syllables in the Rigveda. But it goes back to the basic 
figure 10,800, the number of stanzas in the Rigveda (40 syllables 
to a stanza) which, together with 108, occurs insistently in Indian 
tradition. 10,800 is also the number which has been given by Elera- 
clitus for the duration of the Aion, according to Censorinus ( De die 
natali 18), whereas Berossos made the Babylonian Great Year to 
last 432,000 years. Again, 10,800 is the number of bricks of the 
Indian fire-altar (Agnicayana) , 32 

“To quibble away such a coincidence,” remarks Schroder, “or 
to ascribe it to chance, is in my opinion to drive skepticism beyond 
its limits.” 33 Shall one add Angkor to the list? It has five gates, and 
to each of them leads a road, bridging over that water ditch which 
surrounds the whole place. Each of these roads is bordered by a row 
of huge stone figures, 108 per avenue, 54 on each side, altogether 
540 statues of Deva and Asura, and each row carries a huge Xaga 

31 A. Bernhardi, “Vier Konige,” BA 19 (1936), pp. 171 f. See J. Needham, Science 
and Civilization in China , vol. 4, Pt. I: Physics (1962), p. 325, about a book on 
chess published in 1571 under the title Uranomachia sen Astrologorum Ludus. 

32 See J. Filliozat, “L’Inde et les echanges scientifiques dans l’antiquite,” Cahiers 
d'histoire mondiale 1 (1953), pp. 358F 

33 F. R. Schroder, Altgermanische Knltnrproblevie (1929), pp. 8of. 

Horus and Seth in the act of drilling or churning. Horus has the head of a falcon; 
the head of Seth-Typhon shows the peculiar mixture of dog and ass which are 
characteristic of the so-called “Seth-beast.” This feature is continuously mislabeled 
the “uniting of the two countries,” whether Horus and Seth serve the churn or, 
as is more often the case, the so-called “Nile-Gods.” 

o~\ a : 

£ z r r 

t^y~r-rVt ' 

;V r -U' < 

The “incomparably mighty churn” of the Sea of Milk, as described in the Mahab- 
harata and Rcimayana. The heads of the deities on the right are the Asura, with 
unmistakable “Typhonian” characteristics. They stand for the same power as the 
Titans, the Turanians, and the people of Untamo, in short, the “family” of the 
bad uncle, among whom Seth is the oldest representative, pitted against Horus, 
the avenger of his father Osiris. 


The simplified version of the Amritamanthana (or Churning of the Milky Ocean) 
still shows Mount Mandara used as a pivot or churning stick, resting on the tor¬ 
toise. And here, also, the head on the right has “Typhonian” features. 

The Maya Codex Tro-Cortcsianus presents the same event in a different “projec¬ 
tion.” The illustration is harder to decode—as all Maya pictures arc—but the rope, 
the tortoise, and the churn (indicating an hourglass?) can be made out, and kin, 
the sign of the sun, glides along the serpent-rope. 

163 • The Twilight of the Gods 

serpent with nine heads. Only, they do not “carry” that serpent, 
they are shown to “pull” it, which indicates that these 540 statues 
are churning the Milky Ocean, represented (poorly, indeed) by the 
water ditch, 34 using Mount .Mandara as a churning staff, and Vasuki, 
the prince of the Nagas, as their drilling rope. (Just to prevent mis¬ 
understanding: Vasuki had been asked before, and had agreeably 
consented, and so had Vishnu’s tortoise avatar, who was going to 
serve as the fixed base for that “incomparably mighty churn,” and 
even the Milky Ocean itself had made it clear that it was whiling to 
be churned.) The whole of Angkor thus turns out to be a colossal 
model set up for “alternative motion” with true Hindu fantasy and 
incongruousness to counter the idea of a continuous one-way 
Precession from west to east. 

Now there is a last paragraph in the Gylfaginning, which is usu¬ 
ally considered an afterword, and its authorship is in doubt, for it is 
supposed that Snorri’s Edda was completed by Olaf Hvitaskald 
(d. 1259), Snorri’s nephew. In any case, this addition is somewhat 
out of the previous context, but it reinforces it: 

The Aesir now sat down to talk, and held their counsel, and remem¬ 
bered all the tales that were told to Gylfi. They gave the very same 
names that had been named before to the men and places that were 
there. This they did for the reason that, when a long time had elapsed, 
men should not doubt that those to whom the same names were 
given, were all identical. There was one who is called Thor, and he 
is Asa-Thor, the old. He is Oeku-Thor (Chariot-Thor) and to him 
are ascribed the great deeds by Hektor in Troy. 

As for the rebirth of the world, another “Twilight” comes to 
mind. It is in the Kuvndipo, a Polynesian cosmogonic myth from 
Hawaii. “Although we have the source of all things from chaos, it 
is a chaos which is simply the wreck and ruin of an earlier world.” 35 

Nov; turns the swinging of time over on the burnt-out world 
Back goes the great turning of things upwards again 
As yet sunless the time of shrouded light; 

i4 R. von Heine-Geldern, “Weltbild und Bauform in Sudostasien,” in Wiener 
Beitrdge zur Kunst- nnd Kulturgeschicte 4 (1930), pp. 4if. 

35 R. B. Dixon, Oceanic Mythology (1910), p. 15. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 164 

Unsteady , as in dim moon-shimmer, 

From out MakaliFs night-dark veil of cloud 

Thrills, shadow-like, the prefiguration of the world to be , 36 

So sang an Oceanian Empedocles long ago. The poem was drawn 
from very old royal tradition, just as Virgil had drawn his from 
the story of the Gens Julia, for the true original line of Hawaiian 
kings was supposed to come from Kane, the Demiurge God of the 

36 A. Bastian, Die Heilige Sage der Polynesier (1881), pp. 69—121. Along with 
Roland B. Dixon, who translated the last three lines above, we have relied on the 
German of Bastian, who was an outstanding authority on Polynesian culture and 
language. Modern experts have their own way. M. Beckwith ( Hawaiian Mythology 
[1940], p. 58) translates these lines thus: “At the time when the earth became hot/ 
At the time when the heavens turned about/At the time when the earth was 
darkened/To cause the moon to shine/The time of the rise of the Pleiades.” 

As concerns Makalii (Maori: Matariki; Micronesian and Melanesian dialects 
spell it Makarika , and the like), it is the name for the Pleiades, although more often 
we come across the phrase “the net of Makalii” (the correct form: Huihui-o- 
Matariki, i.e., the cluster of M.). The “person” Makalii, to whom this net belongs, 
as well as a second one (see p. 175) which we have reason to take for the Hyades, 
remains in the dark. See E. Tregear, The Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dic¬ 
tionary (1891) s.v. Matariki; N. B. Emerson, Unwritten Literature of Hawaii 
(1909), p. 17; M. W. Makemson, The Morning Star Rises: An Account of Poly¬ 
nesian Astronomy (1941), nos. 327, 380; Beckwith, p. 368; K. P. Emory, Tuamo- 
tuan Religious Structures and Ceremonies (1947), p. 61. For the Hyades and 
Pleiades as “celestial hunting nets” of the Chinese sphere, see G. Schlegel, VUrano- 
graphie Chinoise (1875; repr. 1967), pp. 365-70. 

Chapter XI 

Samson Under Many Skies 

Why w as my breeding ordered and prescribed 
As of a person separate to God. 

Designed for great exploits, if I must die 
Betrayed, captived. and both my eyes put out. . . 
O dark dark dark, amid the blaze of noon. 
Irrevocably dark, total eclipse 
Without all hope of day! 

O first-created beam, and thou great Word. 

“Let there be light, and light was over all" 

Why am I thus bereaved thy prime decree? 

Smson Agonistes 


-L he story of Samson stands out in the Bible as a grand tissue 
of absurdities. Sunday school pupils must long have been puzzled 
about his weapon for killing Philistines. But there is much more to 
puzzle about (Judges xv): 

15. And he found a new jawbone of an ass. and put forth his hand 
and took it. and slew a thousand men therewith. 

16. And Samson said, with the jawix>ne of an ass. heaps upon heaps, 
with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men. 

17. And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that 
he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place 

18. And he was sore athirst, and called on the Lord, and said. Thou 
hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and 
now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? 

19. But God clave an hollow place that was in the jaw , and there 
came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, 
and he revived: wherefore he called the name thereof En-hakTo-re. 
which is in LeTii unto this day. 

20. And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines tw enty' years. 

11 am let’s Mill • 166 

The passage lias been bowdlerized in the Revised Version to 
make it more plausible, but verse 18 is an unshakable reminder that 
this was not an ordinary bone, or even “the place” of it as suggested 
recently. For that jaw is in heaven. It was the name given by the 
Babylonians to the Hyadcs, which were placed in Taurus as the 
“Jaw of the Bull.” If we remember the classic tag “the rainy 
Hyadcs” it is because Hyades meant “watery.” In the Babylonian 
creation epic, which antedates Samson, Marduk uses the Hyades as 
a boomeranglike weapon to destroy the brood of heavenly mon¬ 
sters. The whole story takes place among the gods. It is known, 
too, that Indra’s powerful weapon, Vajra, the Thunderbolt made 
of the bones of horse-headed Dadhyank, was not of this earth (see 
appendix #19). 

The story is so universal that it must be seen as spanning the 
globe. In South America, where bulls were still unknown, the 
Arawaks, the Tupi, the Quechua of Ecuador spoke of the “jaw of 
the tapir,” which was connected with the great god, Hunrakan, the 
hurricane, who certainly knows how to slay his thousands. In our 
sky, the name of the celestial Samson is Orion, the mighty hunter, 
alias Nimrod. He remains such even in China as “War Lord Tsan,” 
the huntmaster of the autumn hunt, but the Hyades are changed 
there into a net for catching birds. In Cambodia, Orion himself 
became a trap for tigers; in Borneo, tigers not being available, pigs 
have to substitute; and in Polynesia, deprived of every kind of big 
game, Orion is found in the shape of a huge snare for birds. It is this 
snare that Maui, creator-hero and trickster, used to catch the Sun- 
bird; but having captured it, he proceeded to beat it up, and with 
what?—the jawbone of Muri Ranga Whenua, his own respected 

If one brings Samson—the biblical Shimshon—back to earth, he 
becomes a preposterous character, or rather, no character at all, 
except for his manic violence and his sudden passions. It comes as 
a shock, after reading that chaotic and whimsical life, to find: “And 
he judged Israel twenty years.” For if anyone was bereft of judg¬ 
ment, it was this berserker. As Frazer remarks, one doubts whether 
he particularly adorned the bench. Yet there is a mysterious im- 

167 • Samson Under Many Skies 

portance to his person. On him was piled a hoard of classic fairy 
tales, like “the man whose soul was placed elsewhere” (the ex¬ 
ternal soul), and the insistent motif of fatal betrayal by women, the 
motif of Herakles and Llew Llaw Gyffes. More than that, he is 
an incongruous montage of nonhuman functions which could no 
longer be put together intelligibly, and were crowded together 
with cinematographic haste. Even his feats as a young Herakles, tear¬ 
ing a lion apart, change over in a flash to the generation of bees 
from a carcass, recalling the time-honored bougonia of the fourth 
book of Virgil’s Georgies . 

Of the many nonsense feats there are some which take particular 
relief from the context. Samson was displeased (Judges xiv-xv) 
because the wife of his heart, a Philistine, had given away to the 
children of her people the meaning of his riddle on the lion: “Out 
of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth 
sweetness,” so that he was held to pay forfeit for his last bet. 

xiv. 19. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he went down 
to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and 
gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. 
And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father’s house. 

20. But Samson’s wife was given to his companion, whom he had used 
as his friend. 

xv. 1. But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat 
harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go 
in to my wife into the chamber. But her father would not suffer him 
to go in. 

2. And her father said, I verily thought that you hadst utterly hated 
her; therefore I gave her to your companion. Is not her younger sister 
fairer than she? Take her, I pray thee, instead of her to your com¬ 

3. And Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless 
than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure. 

4. And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took fire¬ 
brands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst be¬ 
tween two tails. 

5. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the 
standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and 
also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives. 

6. Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they an¬ 
swered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken 

Hamlet’s Mill • 168 

his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, 
and burnt her and her father with fire. 

7. And Samson said unto them. Though ye have done this, yet will I 
be avenged of you, and after that I will cease. 

8 . And lie smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he 
went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam. 

Leaving the great Shimshon there sitting in the top of the rock, 
a brief interlude before he goes out again on his own wayward, 
rash and splenetic way to provoke his enemies, one is moved to 

To catch and corral three hundred foxes, and tie them in pairs 
by the tail, just to work off a spite, seems more the daydream of 
a juvenile delinquent or a Paul Bunyan or a “Starke Hans” than the 
feat of a warrior. It is as if Scripture had remembered that he had 
to stand out as a great hunter, but had misplaced the occasion of 
his hunts. .After all, lions are not to be found behind every hedge¬ 
row, and foxes might do, if only to annoy. But we know from Ovid 
(Fasti 4,6 31 ff.) that in April, at the feast of Ceres, foxes with burn¬ 
ing fur were chased through the Circus. This might be the real 
context. The modern “fertility rite” explanations are so futile that 
it might be more to the point to be reminded of the three hundred 
elite “dogs” that Gideon recruited for his band, and which still 
stand unexplained. One should also consider a more important occa¬ 
sion to which attention has been drawn by Felix Liebrecht: the 
“Sada-Festival,” during which animals were kindled and chased, 
burning, through the whole Iranian countryside. This, however, 
would lead back to Firdausi’s Book of Kings, and beyond that to 
the whole problem of Kynosoura, that cannot be tackled at this 
point because it calls for an examination of all that was implied by 
the starting of celestial fires. 

But the main theme of the story will appear more clearly if it is 
transposed in an utterly different narrative convention, the adven¬ 
tures of Susanowo the Japanese god. They are found in the Japanese 
Scriptures, in this case the Nihongi, compiled about the 8th century 
a.d. but going back to unknown times. They are the full equivalent 
of what the Bible was in our recent past, and even more, for “this 

169 • Samson Under Many Skies 

body of legend, folklore to us but credible history to the people of 
the archipelago, is tangled in the roots of everything Japanese.” 
The quotation is from Post Wheeler, who prepared the latest edi¬ 
tion of the Japanese mythical corpus. To quote him further: “In 
no other land do we find a people’s sacred legend so interknit with 
the individual’s daily thoughts and life. Its episodes peer at us from 
every nook and byway. The primeval myth of the slaughter of the 
Eight-Forked-Serpent by the deity Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male, 
brother of Bright-Shiner the Sun-Goddess, is pictured on Japan’s 
paper currency. I have seen it produced au grand serieux at Tokyo’s 
Imperial Theatre, in the same week as one of Ibsen’s tragedies and a 
Viennese light opera.” 1 

Most of Hebrew mythology wears the hempen homespun of 
peasants and patriarchs from Palestine. Japanese myth bears the 
mark of an already refined perverse feudal world, back of which 
there is the baroque elegance and fantasy of late Chinese culture. 
With this premise, here is the story of the Japanese Samson, Susa- 
nowo, whose name means Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male. No better 
set of attributes for Mars; he is also officially a god, since his sister 
Amaterasu, the sun-goddess, is still today the worshiped ancestor 
of the Imperial dynasty; the courtly precedences are neatly estab¬ 
lished. The hero need no longer masquerade as a boor from the 
tribe of Dan who raged in Ashkelon and destroyed himself in Gaza. 

Now Susanowo was banished from the sky for having thrown 
the hind part of his backward-flayed piebald stallion in the weaving 
hall of his sister Amaterasu. These sudden discourteous gestures 
seem to be part of the code: Enkidu had thus thrown the hind 
quarter of the Bull from Heaven in the face of Ishtar, but here 
there is the additional code feature (it is code) of the backward- 
flayed animal. Susanowo’s gesture caused the Sun-lady to withdraw 
in anger into a cave: the world was plunged into darkness. The 
80,000 gods assembled in the Milky Way to take counsel, and at last 
came upon a device to coax the Sun out of the cave and end the 
great blackout. It was a low-comedy trick, part of the stock-in- 

1 P. Wheeler, The Sacred Scriptures of the Japanese (1952), pp. vf. 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 


trade that is used to coax Ra in Egypt, Demeter in Greece (the 
so-called Demeter Agelastos or Unlaughing Demeter) and Skadi 
in the North—obviously another code device. 2 

Now light was restored to the world, but on earth the hero-god 
moving out of the darkness had nowhere to lay his head; he wan¬ 
dered around and succeeded in killing the “Eight-Forked-Serpent,” 
thus saving a damsel. 

Afterwards he arranged “The Drawing of the Lands,” and the 
sowing of more land, giving the islands the shape which they 
have now. Finally, Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male, having traveled 
about the limits of the sky and the earth, even to the Sky-Upright- 
Limiting-Wall, dwelt on Mount Bear-Moor and finally went to the 
Lower World, also called the Nether-Distant-Land. 

To this his place came a Jason, namely the Kami (Divine Prince) 
Great-Land-Master, looking for some helpful device against his 
brothers, “the 80 Kami” who had succeeded in killing him several 
times (Sky-Producer revived him). Before reaching the house, he 
married Susanowo’s daughter, Princess-Forward, and this Medea 
was to support him faithfully, so that he survived the different 
“stations” which Susanowo had prepared for him 3 as proper guest 
rooms: the fire, the snake-house, the centipede-and-wasp-house 
(Dostoyevsky’s Svidrigailov must have been a great seer): 

Then Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male, having shot a humming arrow 
into the midst of a great grass-moor, sent him to fetch it, and when 
he had entered the moor, set fire to it on all sides. But when Great- 
Land-Master found no place of exit, there came a mouse which said, 
“The inside is hollowly hollow; the outside is narrowly narrow.” Even 
as it spoke thus, he trod on the spot, and falling into the hollow, hid 
himself until the fire had burned over, when the mouse brought him 
the humming arrow in its mouth, and the arrow’s feathers were 
brought in like manner by its young ones. 

2 The obscene dance of old Baubo, also called Iambe in Eleusis, parallels the 
equally unsavory comic act of Loke in the Edda . The point in all cases is that the 
deities must be made to laugh (cf. also appendix #36). 

3 For a comparison of the sequence of troublesome caves, holes, or “houses” that 
heroes of the Old World as well as of the New World have to pass through, see L. 
Frobenius, Das Zeitalter des Sonnengottes (1904), pp. 37if. 

• Savison Under Many Skies 

l 7 l 

Now his wife, Princess-Forward, weeping, made preparation for the 
funeral, and her father, deeming Great-Land-Master dead, went out 
and took stand on the moor, but he found his guest standing there, 
who brought the arrow and gave it to him. Then the great Kami 
Susanowo took him into the palace and into a great-spaced room, 
where he made Great-Land-Master pick the lice from his head, 
among which were many centipedes. His wife, however, gave him 
aphananth berries and red earth, and he chewed up the berries and 
spat them out with the red earth which he held in his mouth, so that 
the great Kami, believing him to be chewing and spitting out the 
centipedes, began to feel a liking for him in his heart and fell asleep. 

Then Great-Land-Master bound Brave-Swift-Impetuous-A tale’s hair 
fast to the palace rafters, and blocking up the door with a five-hun¬ 
dred-man-lift rock, took his wife Princess-Forward on his back, 
possessed himself of the Kami’s great life-preserving sword, his bow- 
and-arrows, and his Skv-speaking lute, and fled. But the Sky-speaking 
lute smote against a tree so that the earth resounded, and the great 
Kami [Susanowo] started from sleep at the sound and pulled down 
the palace. 

While he was freeing his hair from the rafters, however, Great- 
Land-Master fled a long way; so pursuing after him to the Level- 
Pass-of-the-Land-of-Night, and gazing on him from afar, Brave- 
Swift-Impetuous-Male called out to him, saying, “With the great, 
life-preserving sword and the bow-and-arrow which you carry, pur¬ 
sue your low-born brethren till they crouch on the hill-slopes and are 
swept into the river currents! And do you, fellow! make good your 
name of Great-Land-Master, and your name of Spirit-of-the-Living- 
Land, and making my daughter Princess-Forward your chief wife, 
make strong the pillars of your palace at the foot of Mount Inquiry 
in the lowest rock bottom, and rear its crossbeams to the Plain-of-the- 
High-Sky, and dwell there!” 

Then, bearing the great sword and book, Great-Land-Master pur¬ 
sued and scattered the eighty Kami, saying, “They shall not be 
permitted within the circle of the blue fence of mountains.” He 
pursued them till they crouched on every hill-slope, he pursued them 
till they were swept into every river, and then he began to rule the 
Land. (Therefore the place where he overtook them was called Come- 
Overtake.) 4 

Later on, the “Genesis” part of the Nihongi will be shown to 
meet the requirements of archaic theory very exactly. Even inci¬ 
dents that seem like minor embellishments, the little mouse in her 

4 Wheeler, pp. 44!. 

11 am let’s Mill • 

7 2 

burrow, arc really recurrent elements in the ancient fugue. Because 
it is necessary to deal with one theme at a time, much of the talc 
of Susauowo appears wildly arbitrary although no more so than 
that of Samson. Also the narrative is confusingly interwoven with 
other classic plots, recognizably those of Theseus and the Argo¬ 
nauts. And yet there Susanowo is, a maker of darkness at noon, 
Samson strength-in-hair, who “went away with the pin of the 
beam, and with the web,” walking off with rafters and rocks and 
gates and posts, pulling down a palace (his own, for a change), 
smiting and scattering iow-born workers of iniquity “not to be 
permitted again within the circle of the blue fence.” But the 
Nihovgi shows the ampler scheme in which the old order is 
smashed and the new foundation of an order is undertaken: “make 
strong the pillars of your palace at the foot of Mount Inquiry in 
the lowest rock-bottom, and rear its crossbeams to the Plain-of- 
thc -1 ligh Sky, and dwell there.” 

The god has not only judged and apportioned, he has also estab¬ 
lished and sowed for the future in his capacity as the new king 
of the Underworld; he has gone to sleep in his Ogygia, and ap¬ 
pointed his successor as ruler of the new age. Further, the Great- 
Land-Master had to procure something in the Ncthcr-Distant-Land 
(in Japan the dead go down there by land with countless wind¬ 
ings, whereas the whirlpool in the ocean is good only for trans¬ 
porting there the “sinful dirt”). He had been sent there to get 
“counsel” from Susanowo (who identified him at the first glance 
as: “This is the Kami Ugly-Malc-of-thc-Rccd-Plains”), he eventu¬ 
ally got it, and added to it the precious life-preserving sword which 
Susanowo had found in the tail of the Eight-Forked Dragon, and 
the “bow-and-arrows,” and his Orphic Sky-speaking lute, not to 
forget Princess-Forward. A complicated affair. But the Great- 
Land-Master undeniably plays a Jupiter role against Susanowo’s 
Mars, the more so, as his beloved Princess-Forward turns out to be 
extremely jealous. 

Now, after this Far Eastern interlude, Samson’s own tragedy can 
he seen in better focus (Judges xvi) : 

i - ; • Sjmson Under Mamy S<:c$ 

19. And Delilah] made him sleep upon her knees; and she called 
for a man. and she caused him to shave ofr the seven locks of his head; 
and she began to afflict him. and his strength went from him. 

:o. And she said. The Philistines be upon thee. Samson. And he 
awoke out of his sleep, and said. I will go out as at other times before, 
and shake myself. And he wist not that the Lord was departed from 

:i. But the Philistines took him. and put out Inis eyes, and brought 
him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did 
grind in the prison house. [Appendix — 17] 

Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was 

: Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to 

offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to re ; oice: for they 
said. Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. 

24. And w hen the people saw him. they praised their god: for they 
said. Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the 
destroyer of our countin', which slew many of us. 

25. And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they 
said. Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for 
Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport; and they 
set him between the pillars. 

26. And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand. Sutler 
me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth. that I 
may lean upon them. 

2 Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of 
the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three 
thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport. 

2$. And Samson called unto the Lord, and said. O Lord God. remem¬ 
ber me. pray thee, and strengthen me. I pray thee, only this once. O 
God. that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two 

29. And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which 
the house stood, and on which it was borne up. of the one with his 
right hand, and of the other with his left. 

;o. And Samson said. Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed 
himself with all his might: and the house fell upon the lords, and 
upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at 
his death were more than they which he slew in his life. 

Such is the great story, and it has gone through innumerable 

The general design of the tragedy is obviously faulty, more even 
than most Bible narratives which are superbly indifferent to such 

Hamlet’s Mill • 174 

considerations. If Samson had been bred as “a person separate to 
God,” by the care of the Lord “who sought an occasion against the 
Philistines,” he does not compare with chiefs like Joshua and 
Gideon. He remains, mythically speaking, a misguided missile. Most 
great feats of the mythistorical past would not have rated the atten¬ 
tion of news media, but Samson’s achievements make so little sense, 
even on the micro-scale of Palestine power politics, that Milton 
finds it hard to justify the ways of God to man. Certain “central” 
events like the fall of royal houses, whether in Greece or Babylon 
or Denmark, are capable of a truer and deeper reverberation. That 
is why great motifs like “darkness at noon” and “pulling down the 
edifice” combine into a larger theme, obviously cosmic, which is 
here obscured. The Nihongi is truer to this larger style. 

In the arabesque of interlaced motifs, one can mark those where 
the theme of “pulling down the structure” is in evidence. The 
powerful Maori hero Whakatau, bent on vengeance, 

laid hold of the end of the rope which had passed round the posts of 
the house, and, rushing out, pulled it with all his strength, and 
straightaway the house fell down, crushing all within it, so that the 
whole tribe perished, and Whakatau set it on fire. 5 

This is familiar. At least one such event comes down dimly from 
history. It happened to the earliest meetinghouse of the Pytha¬ 
gorean sect, and it is set down as a sober account of the outcome 
of a political conflict, but the legend of Pythagoras was so artfully 
constructed in early times out of prefabricated materials that doubt 
is allowable. The essence of true myth is to masquerade behind 
seemingly objective and everyday details borrowed from known 
circumstances. However that may be, in many other stories the 
destruction of the building is linked with a net. Saxo’s Amlethus 
does not pull down pillars; he reappears at the banquet set by the 
king for his own supposed funeral, like Great-Land-Master himself. 
He throws the knotted carpet net prepared by his mother over the 
drunken crowd and burns down the hall. In Japan the parallel does 
not go farther than that but it has its own relevance nevertheless. 
It suggests the fall of the House of Atreus. The net thrown by 
5 See Sir George Grey, Polynesian Mythology (1956; 1st ed. 1855), pp. 97L 

175 * Samson Under Many Skies 

Clytemnestra over the king struggling in his bath cannot have come 
in by chance. But this is an uncertain lead as yet. 

The Sacred Book of the ancient Maya Quiche, the famous Popol 
Vnh (the Book of Counsel) tells of Zipacna, son of Vucub-Caquix 
(=Seven Arara). He sees 400 youths dragging a huge log that they 
want as a ridgepole for their house. Zipacna alone carries the tree 
without effort to the spot where a hole has been dug for the post 
to support the ridgepole. The youths, jealous and afraid, try to kill 
Zipacna by crushing him in the hole, but he escapes and brings 
down the house on their heads. They are removed to the sky, in a 
“group,” and the Pleiades are called after them (appendix #18). 

Then there is a true avenger-of-his-father, the Tuamotuan Ta- 
haki, who, after long travels, arrives in the dark at the house of 
the goblin band who tortured his father. He conjures upon them 
“the intense cold of Havaiki” (the other world) which puts them 
to sleep. 

Then Tahaki gathered up the net given to him by Kuhi, and carried 
it to the door of the long house. He set fire to the house. When the 
goblin myriads shouted out together “Where is the door?” Tahaki 
called out: “Here it is.” They thought it was one of their own band 
who had called out, and so they rushed headlong into the net, and 
Tahaki burned them up in the fire. 6 

What the net could be is known from the story of Kaulu. This 
adventurous hero, wanting to destroy a she-cannibal, first flew up 
to Makalii the great god, and asked for his nets, the Pleiades and the 
Hyades, into which he entangled the evil one before he burned 
down her house. 7 It is clear who was the owner of the nets up there. 
The Pleiades are in the right hand of Orion on the Farnese Globe, 8 
and they used to be called the “lagobolion” (hare net). The Hyades 
were for big game. 9 

At the end of this far-ranging exploration, it is fair now to ask, 
who could Samson have been? Clearly a god, and a planetary 

6 J. F. Stimson, The Legends of Maui and Tahaki (1934), pp. 51, 66. 

7 A. Fornander, Hawaiian Antiquities (1916-1920), vol. 4 , pp. 35of.; vol. 5, p. 368. 

8 R. Eisler, Orpheus the Fisher (1921), pp. 25F 

9 G. Schlegel, VUranographie Chinoise (1967), pp. 351-58, 365-70. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 176 

Power, for such were the gods of old. As Brave-Swift-Impetuous- 
Male, as the Nazirite Strong One, he has all the countersigns that 
belong to Mars, and to none other. Clearly, while trying to draw 
the concluding episode of the investigation of Amlethus-Kronos, 
King of the Cosmic Mill, something else has come into view, the 
new and formidable personage of Mars—or Ares as the Greeks 
called him. He will come back more than once. Yet there is no 
question but that the name of Samson comes up quite spontane¬ 
ously in connection with the Sampo, the original quern. It was 
clearly and unequivocally within the Amlethus design. At this 
point, the intrusion of this new planetary Power must be recog¬ 
nized. Even Susanowo substitutes for Kronos in his very reign of 
the Underworld. It would have been desirable to present the 
Powers separately, and each in his own shape, as will be done 
farther on. But the many-threaded tale has its own rules, and this 
exemplifies an important one. There are no Powers more diverse 
than Saturn and Mars; yet this is not the only time they will appear 
as a confusing and unexplained doublet of the two. 

One of the motifs, destruction, is often associated with the Am¬ 
lethus figure. The other belongs more specifically to Mars. There 
is a peculiar blind aspect to Mars, insisted on in both Harranian 
and Mexican myths. It is even echoed in Virgil: u caeco Marte .” 
But it does not stand only for blind fury. It must be sought in the 
Nether World, which will come soon. Meanwhile, here is the first 
presentation of the double figure of Mars and Kronos. In Mexico, 
it stands out dreadfully in the grotesque forms of the Black and the 
Red Tezcatlipoca. There is a certain phase in the Great Tale, obvi¬ 
ously, in which the wrecking powers of Mars unleashed make up 
a fatal compound with the avenging implacable design of Saturn. 
Shakespeare has, with his preternatural insight, alluded to both 
when he made Hamlet warn the raging Laertes before their final 

Though I am not by nature rash and splenetic 

Yet there is in me something dangerous 

Which let thy wisdom fear .. . 

177 ’ Samson Under Many Skies 

But obviously there is more, and what emerges here lifts the veil 
of a fundamental archaic design. The real actors on the stage of 
the universe are very few, if their adventures are many. The most 
“ancient treasure”—in Aristotle’s word—that was left to us by our 
predecessors of the High and Far-Off Times was the idea that the 
gods are really stars, and that there are no others. The forces reside 
in the starry heavens, and all the stories, characters and adventures 
narrated by mythology concentrate on the active powers among 
the stars, who are the planets. A prodigious assignment it may seem 
for those few planets to account for all those stories and also to run 
the affairs of the whole universe. What, abstractly, might be for 
modern men the various motions of those pointers over the dial 
became, in times without writing, where all was entrusted to images 
and memory, the Great Game played over the aeons, a never- 
ending tale of positions and relations, starting from an assigned 
Time Zero, a complex web of encounters, drama, mating and 

Lucian of Samosata, that most delightful writer of antiquity, the 
inventor of modern “science fiction,” who knew how to be light 
and ironic on serious subjects without frivolity, and was fully aware 
of the “ancient treasure,” remarked once that the ludicrous story 
of Hephaistos the Lame surprising his wife Aphrodite in bed with 
Mars, and pinning down the couple with a net to exhibit their 
shame to the other gods, was not an idle fancy, but must have 
referred to a conjunction of Mars and Venus, and it is fair to add, 
a conjunction in the Pleiades. 

This little comedy may serve to show the design, which turns out 
to be constant: the constellations were seen as the setting, or the 
dominating influences, or even only the garments at the appointed 
time by the Powers in various disguises on their way through their 
heavenly adventures. 

No one could deny, in the case of the Amlethus-Samson epiph¬ 
any, that this fierce power, or momentary combination of powers, 
wears here the figure of Orion the blind giant, called also Nimrod 
the Hunter, brandishing the Hyades, working the Mill of the 

Hamlet’s Mill • 178 

Stars, like Talos, the bronze giant of Crete. For the feature which 
clinches the case has been named. Orion was blind, the only blind 
figure of constellation myth. He was said to have regained his sight 
eventually, as befits an eternal personage. But this is how legend 
portrays him, wading through the rushing flood of the whirlpool 
at his feet (where he will appear again), guided by the eyes of little 
Tom Thumb sitting on his shoulder, whose name, Kedalion, sug¬ 
gests a low-comedy occupation. But who are we to impose Mrs. 
Grundy on the assembly of heaven? 

Chapter XII 

Socrates Last Tale 

A 1 suo aspetto tal dentro mi fei 
Qual si fe' Glauco nel gustar delTerba 
Che il fe' consorro in mar degli altri dei. 

Dante, Pjradiso i .6- 


V V hat a max has to say in the last hours of his life deserves 
attention. Most especially if that man be Socrates, awaiting execu¬ 
tion in his jail and conversing with Pythagorean friends. He has 
already left the world behind, has made his philosophical will and 
is now quietly communing with his own truth. This is the close of 
the Pkaedo ( io~D— 115.x). and it is expressed in the form of a myth. 
Strangely enough, innumerable commentators have not taken the 
trouble to scrutinize it. and have been content to extract from it 
some pious generalities about the rewards of the soul. Yet it is a 
thoughtful and elaborate statement, attributed to an authority 
whom Socrates (or Plato) prefers not to name. It is clothed in a 
strange ph ysical garb. It is worth accepting Plato's suggestion to 
take it with due attention. Socrates is quietly moving into the other 
world, he is a denizen of it already, and his words stand, as it were, 
for a rite of passage: 

“The story goes that when a man dies his guardian deity, to whose lot 
it fell to watch over the man while he was alive, undertakes to con¬ 
duct him to some place where those who gather must submit their 
cases to judgment before journeying to the other world; and this they 
do with the guide to whom the task has been assigned of taking them 
there. When they have there met with their appropriate fates and 
waited the appropriate time, another guide brings them back here 
again, after many long cycles of time. The journey, then, is not as 
Aeschylus' Telephys describes it: he says that a single track leads to 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


the other world, but I don’t think that it is ‘single’ or ‘one’ at all. 
If it w ere, there would be no need of guides; no one would lose the 
way, if there were only one road. As it is, there seem to be many 
partings of the way and places where three roads meet. I say this, 
judging by the sacrifices and rites that are performed here. The 
orderly and wise soul follows on its way and is not ignorant of its 
surroundings; but that which yearns for the body, as I said before, 
after its long period of passionate excitement concerning the body 
and the visible region, departs only after much struggling and suffer¬ 
ing, taken by force, with great difficulty, by the appropriate deity. 
When it arrives where the others are, the unpurified soul, guilty of 
some act for which atonement has not been made, tainted with 
w icked murder or the commission of some other crime which is akin 
to this and w r ork of a kindred soul, is shunned and avoided by every¬ 
one, and no one will be its fellow r -traveller or guide, but all by itself 
it wanders, the victim of every kind of doubt and distraction, until 
certain periods of time have elapsed, and wffien they are completed, it 
is carried perforce to its appropriate habitation. But that soul which 
has spent its life in a pure and temperate fashion finds companions 
and divine guides, and each dw r ells in the place that is suited to it. 
There are many wonderful places in the w r orld, and the world itself 
is not of such a kind or so small as is supposed by those who generally 
discourse about it; of that a certain person has convinced me.” 

“How do you mean, Socrates?” asked Simmias. “I too have heard a 
great deal about the w r orld, but not the doctrine that has found favour 
with you. I w r ould much like to hear about it.” 

“Well, I don’t think it requires the skill of a Glaucus 1 to relate my 
theory; but to prove that it is true would be a task, I think, too dif¬ 
ficult for the skill of Glaucus. In the first place I wrould probably not 
even be capable of proving it, and then again, even if I did know how 
to, I don’t think my lifetime would be long enough for me to give 
the explanation. There is, however, no reason why I should not tell 
you about the shape of the earth as I believe it to be, and its various 

“That will certainly do,” said Simmias. 

“I am satisfied,” he said, “in the first place that if it is spherical and 
in the middle of the universe, it has no need of air or any other force 
of that sort to make it impossible for it to fall; it is sufficient by itself 
to maintain the symmetry of the universe and the equipoise of the 

1 Whoever this (unidentified) Glaucus is, he has nothing to do with the Glaucus 
of Anthedon mentioned in the epigraph, a fisherman who on eating a certain plant 
was overtaken by a transmutation and threw himself into the sea where he became 
a marine god. 

181 • Socrates' Last Tale 

earth itself. A thing which is in equipoise and placed in the midst of 
something symmetrical will not be able to incline more or less 
towards any particular direction; being in equilibrium, it will remain 
motionless. This is the first point,” he said, “of which I am con¬ 
vinced !” 2 

“And quite rightly so,” said Simmias. 

“And again, I am sure that it is very big,” he said, “and that we who 
live between the Phasis river and the pillars of Hercules inhabit only 
a small part of it, living round the coast of the sea like ants or frogs 
by a pond, while many others live elsewhere, in many similar regions. 
All over the earth there are many hollows of all sorts of shape and 
size, into which the water and mist and air have collected. The earth 
itself is a pure thing lying in the midst of the pure heavens, in which 
are the stars; and most of those who generally discourse about such 
things call these heavens the ‘ether.’ They say that these things I have 
mentioned are the precipitation of the ‘ether’ and flow continually 
into the hollows of the earth. We do not realize that we are living in 
the earth’s hollows, and suppose that we are living up above on the 
top of the earth — just as if someone living in the middle of the sea¬ 
bed were to suppose that he was living on the top of the sea, and 
then, noticing the sun and the stars through the water, were to 
imagine that the sea was sky; through sluggishness and weakness he 
might never have reached the top of the sea, nor by working his way 
up and popping up out of the sea into this region have observed how 
much purer and more beautiful it is than theirs; nor even heard about 
it from anyone who had seen it. That is exactly what has happened 
to us: we live in a hollow in the earth, but suppose that we are living 
on top of it; and we call the air sky, as though this were the sky, and 
the stars moved across it. But the truth of the matter is just the same 
—through weakness and sluggishness we are not able to pass through 
to the limit of the air. If anyone could climb to the air’s surface, or 
grow wings and fly up, then, as here the fishes of the sea pop their 
heads up and see our world, so he would pop his head up and catch 
sight of that upper region; and if his nature were such that he could 
bear the sight, he would come to realize that that was the real sky and 
the real light and the real earth. This earth of ours, and the stones, 
and all the region here is corrupted and corroded, just as the things 
in the sea are corroded by the brine; and in the sea nothing worth 
mentioning grows, and practically nothing is perfect—there are just 
caves and sand and indescribable mud and mire, wherever there is 

2 Thus far, this is Anaximander and his Principle of Sufficient Reason. But we 
cannot draw further conclusions: Socrates is, here, deep in his own myth already, 
and far beyond Ionian physics which, in his opinion, ought not to be taken 

11 am let’s Mill • 182 

earth too, and there is nothing in any way comparable with the 
beautiful things of our world; but those things in the upper world, in 
their turn, would be seen far to surpass the things of our world. If it 
is a good thing to tell a story then you should listen, Simmias, and 
hear what the regions on the earth beneath the sky are really like.” 

“We should certainly very much like to hear this story, Socrates,” 
said Simmias. 

“In the first place, then, my friend, the true earth is said to appear to 
anyone looking at it from above like those balls which are made of 
twelve pieces of leather, variegated, a patchwork of colours, of which 
the colours that we know here—those that our painters use—are sam¬ 
ples, as it were. There the whole earth is made of such colours, and 
of colours much brighter and purer than these: part of it is purple, 
of wondrous beauty, and part again golden, and all that part which is 
white is whiter than the whiteness of chalk or snow; and it is made 
up of all the other colours likewise, and of even more numerous and 
more beautiful colours than those that we have seen. Indeed these 
very hollows of the earth, full of water and of air, are said to present 
a kind of colour as they glitter amid the variety of all the other 
colours, so that the whole appears as one continuous variegated pic¬ 
ture. And in this colourful world the same may be said of the things 
that grow up—trees and flowers and all the fruits; and in the same 
way again the smoothness and transparency and colours of the stars 
are more beautiful than in our world. Our little stones, these highly 
prized ones, sards and jaspers and emeralds and so on, are but frag¬ 
ments of those there; there, they say, everything is like this, or even 
more beautiful than these stones that we possess. The reason is that 
the stones there are pure, and not corroded or corrupted, as ours are, 
by rust and brine, as a result of all that has collected here, bringing 
ugliness and diseases to stones and to soil, and to animals and to plants 
besides. The earth itself, they say, is ornamented with all things, and 
moreover with gold and silver and all things of that sort. They are 
exposed to view on the surface, many in number and large, all over 
the earth, so that the earth is a sight for the blessed to behold. There 
are many living creatures upon it, including men; some live inland, 
some live round about the borders of the air as we do on the coasts 
of the sea, while others again live on islands encompassed by air near 
the mainland. In a word, what the water and the sea are to us, for our 
purposes, the air is to them; and what the air is to us, the ‘ether’ is to 
them. Their climate is such that they are free from illnesses, and live 
much longer than the inhabitants of our world, and surpass us in sight 
and hearing and wisdom and so on, by as much as the pureness of 
air surpasses that of water, and the pureness of ‘ether’ surpasses that 
of air. Moreover they have groves and temples sacred to the gods, in 

183 • Socrates' Last Tale 

which the gods really dwell, and utterances and prophesies and visions 
of the gods; and other such means of intercourse are for them direct 
and face to face. And they see the sun and moon and stars as they 
really are, and their blessedness in other respects is no less than in 

“This is the nature of the earth as a whole, and of the regions round 
about it, and in the earth, in the cavities all over its surface, are many 
regions, some deeper and wider than that in which we live, others 
deeper but with a narrower opening than ours, while others again are 
shallower than this one and broader. All of these are connected with 
each other by underground passages, some narrower, some wider— 
bored through in many different places; and they have channels along 
which much water flows, from one region to another, as into mixing- 
bowls; and they have, too, enormous ever-flowing underground 
rivers and enormous hot and cold springs, and a great deal of fire, 
and huge rivers of fire, and many rivers also of wet mud, some clearer, 
some denser, like the rivers of mud that flow before the lava in Sicily, 
and the lava itself; and they fill the several regions into which, at any 
given time, they happen to be flowing. They are all set in motion, 
upwards and downwards, by a sort of pulsation within the earth. 
The existence of this pulsation is due to something like this: one of 
the chasms of the earth is not only the biggest of them all, but is 
bored right through the earth—the one that Homer meant, when he 
said that it is Very far off, where is the deepest abyss of all below 
the earth.’ Homer elsewhere—and many other poets besides—have 
called this Tartarus. Now into this chasm all the rivers flow together, 
and then they all flow back out again; and their natures are deter¬ 
mined by the sort of earth through which they flow. The reason why 
all these streams flow out of here and flow in is this, that this fluid 
has no bottom or resting place: it simply pulsates and surges upwards 
and downwards, and the air and the wind round about it does the 
same; they follow with it, whenever it rushes to the far side of the 
earth, and again whenever it rushes back to this side, and as the breath 
that men breathe is always exhaled and inhaled in succession, so the 
wind pulsates in unison with the fluid, creating terrible, unimaginable 
blasts as it enters and as it comes out. Whenever the water withdraws 
to what we call the lower region, the streams flow into the regions 
on the farther side of the earth and fill them, like irrigating canals; 
and whenever it leaves those parts and rushes back here, it fills the 
streams here afresh, and they when filled flow through their several 
channels and through the earth, and as each set of streams arrives at 
the particular regions to which its passages lead, it creates seas and 
marshes and rivers and springs; and then, sinking back again down 
into the earth, some encircling larger and more numerous regions, 
others fewer and smaller, these streams issue back into Tartarus again 

Hamlet’s Mill • 184 

—some of them at a point much lower down than that from which 
they were emitted, others only a little lower, but all flow in below 
the place from which they poured forth. Some flow into the same 
part of Tartarus from which they sprang, some into the part on the 
opposite side; and others again go right round in a circle, coiling 
themselves round the earth several times like snakes, before descend¬ 
ing as low as possible and falling back again. 

“It is possible to descend in either direction as far as the centre, but 
not beyond, for the ground on either side begins to slope upwards in 
the face of both sets of streams. 

“There are many large streams of every sort, but among these many 
there are four that I would mention in particular. The largest, the 
one which flows all round in a circle furthest from the centre, is that 
which is called Oceanus; over against this, and flowing in the opposite 
direction, is Acheron, which flows through many desert places and 
finally, as it flows under the earth, reaches the Acherusian lake, where 
the souls of most of the dead arrive and spend certain appointed 
periods before being sent back again to the generations of living 
creatures. The third of these rivers issues forth between these two, 
and near the place where it issues forth it falls into a vast region 
burning with a great fire, and forms a marsh that is larger than our 
sea, boiling with water and mud. Thence it makes its way, turbulent 
and muddy, and as it coils its way round inside the earth it arrives, 
among other places, at the borders of the Acherusian lake, but it does 
not mix with the water of the lake; and having coiled round many 
times beneath the earth, it flows back at a lower point in Tartarus. 
This is the river they call Pyriphlegethon, and volcanoes belch forth 
lava from it in various parts of the world. Over against this, again, the 
fourth river flows out, into a region that is terrible and wild, all of a 
steely blue-grey colour, called the Stygian region; and the marsh 
which the river forms as it flows in is called the Styx. After issuing 
into this marsh and receiving terrible powers in its waters, it sinks 
down into the earth, and coiling itself round proceeds in the opposite 
direction to that of Pyriphlegethon, and then meets it coming from 
the opposite way at the Acherusian lake. The water of this river 
likewise mixes with no other, but itself goes round in a circle and then 
flows back into Tartarus opposite to Pyriphlegethon; and the name 
of this river, according to the poets, is Cocytus. 

“Such is the nature of the world; and when the dead reach the region 
to which their divine guides severally take them, they first stand trial, 
those who have lived nobly and piously, as well as those who have 
not. And those who are found to have lived neither particularly well 
nor particularly badly journey to Acheron, and embarking on such 
vessels as are provided for them arrive in them at the lake. There they 

185 • Socrates' Last Tale 

dwell and are purified; paying due penalties, they are absolved from 
any sins that they have committed, and receive rewards for their 
good deeds, each according to his merits. Those who are iudged in¬ 
curable because of the enormity of their crimes, having committed 
many heinous acts of sacrilege or many treacherous and abominable 
murders or crimes of that magnitude, are hurled by their fitting des¬ 
tiny into Tartarus, whence they never more emerge. Those who are 
judged to be guilty of crimes that are curable but nevertheless great 
—those, for example, who having done some act of violence to father 
or mother in anger live the rest of their lives repenting of their 
wickedness, or who have killed someone in other circumstances of a 
similar nature—must fall into Tartarus; but when they have fallen in 
and stayed there a year, the wave casts them forth—the murderers 
along Cocytus, those who have struck their fathers or mothers along 
Pyriphlegethon; and when they are being carried past the Acheru- 
sian lake, they shout and cry out to those whom they have murdered 
or outraged, and calling upon them beg and implore them to let them 
come out into the lake, and to receive them; and if they can prevail 
upon them, they come out and cease from their woes, but if not, they 
are carried again into Tartarus, and from there once more into the 
rivers, and they do not stop suffering this until they can prevail upon 
those whom they have wronged, for such is the sentence that the 
judges have pronounced upon them. Lastly, those who are found to 
have lived exceptionally good lives are released from these regions 
within the earth and allowed to depart from them as from a prison, 
and they reach the pure dwelling place up above and live on the sur¬ 
face of the earth; and of these, those who have sufficiently purified 
themselves by means of philosophy dwell free from the body for all 
time to come, and arrive at habitations even fairer than these, habita¬ 
tions that it is not easy to describe; and there is not time to make the 
attempt now. But for these reasons, Simmias, which we have dis¬ 
cussed, we should do all in our power to achieve some measure of 
virtue and of wisdom during our lives, for great is the reward, and 
great the hope. 

“No man of sense should affirm decisively that all this is exactly as I 
have described it. But that the nature of our souls and of their habita¬ 
tions is either as I have described or very similar, since the soul is 
shown to be immortal—that, I think, is a very proper belief to hold, 
and such as a man should risk: for the risk is well worth while. And 
one should repeat these things over and over again to oneself, like a 
charm, which is precisely the reason why I have spent so long in 
expounding the story now. 

‘Tor these reasons, then, a man should have no fears about his soul, if 
throughout his life he has rejected bodily pleasures and bodily adorn¬ 
ments, as being alien to it and doing more harm than good, and has 

Hamlet’s Mill • 186 

concentrated on the pleasures of learning, and having adorned his soul 
with adornments that are not alien to it, but appropriate—temperance 
and justice and courage and freedom and truth—continues to wait, 
thus prepared, for the time to come for him to journey to the other 
world. As for you, Simmias and Cebes and all you others, you will 
make your several journeys later, at an appointed time; but in my 
case, as a character in a tragedy might put it, Destiny is already sum¬ 
moning me; and it is almost time for me to go to the bath. I think it 
is better to have a bath before drinking the poison, and not to give 
the women the trouble of washing a corpse .” 3 

The end has an invincible beauty, calm and serene, already shim¬ 
mering with immortality, and yet preserving that light skeptical 
irony which makes “a man of sense” in this world. It puts the seal 
of confidence on what might otherwise be really an incantation 
that one repeats to himself in his last moments. 

Readers who are insensitive to this magic will be tempted to dis¬ 
miss the story as so much poetic nonsense. If Socrates, or rather 
Plato, is really talking of a system of rivers within the earth, then 
he obviously does not understand the first thing about hydraulics, 
and he has only let his fancy run wild. But looking again at the 
setting, one begins to wonder if he is referring at all to the earth as 
we understand it. He mentions a certain place where we live, and 
it looks like a marsh in a hollow or maybe like the bottom of a lake, 
full of rocks, and caverns, and sand, “and an endless slough of 
mud.” The “true earth,” which is like a ball of twelve colored 
pieces, is above us, and one may think instinctively that Plato refers 
to the upper limits of the stratosphere, but of course he has never 
heard of that. He is dealing with “another” world above us, and 
although there are some fantasies of lovely landscapes and animals 
and gems, it is in the “aether” as the Greeks understood it. It is 
above us, and centered like “our” place, whatever that is, on the 
center of the universe. There, the celestial bodies have become clear 
to the mind, and the gods are visible and present already. If they 
have “temples and houses in which they really dwell,” these look 
very much like the houses of the zodiac. Although some features 
are scrambled for keeping up an impression of the wondrous, one 

3 R. S. Bluck trans. (1955), pp. 128-39. 

187 ' Socrates' 1 Last Tale 

suspects that this is heaven pure and simple. Then comes the un¬ 
equivocal geometric countersign. 

That world is a dodecahedron. This is what the sphere of twelve 
pieces stands for: there is the same simile in the Timaeus (55c), 
and then it is said further that the Demiurge had the twelve faces 
decorated with figures (diazo,graph on) which certainly stand for 
the signs of the zodiac. A. E. Taylor insisted rather prosily that 
one cannot suppose the zodiacal band uniformly distributed on a 
spherical surface, and suggested that Plato (and Plutarch after him) 
had a dodecagon in mind and they did not know what they were 
talking about. This is an unsafe way of dealing with Plato, and 
Professor Taylor’s suffisance soon led him to grief. Yet Plutarch 
had warned him: the dodecahedron “seems to resemble both the 
Zodiac and the year.” 

Is their opinion true who think that he ascribed a dodecahedron to 
the globe, when he says that God made use of its bases and the ob¬ 
tuseness of its angles, avoiding all rectitude, it is flexible, and by 
circumtension, like globes made of twelve skins, it becomes circular 
and comprehensive. For it has twenty solid angles, each of which is 
contained by three obtuse planes, and each of these contains one and 
the fifth part of a right angle. Now it is made up of twelve equilateral 
and equangular quinquangles (or pentagons), each of which consists 
of thirty of the first scalene triangles. Therefore it seems to resemble 
both the Zodiac and the year, it being divided into the same number 
of parts as these. 4 

In other words, it is stereometrically the number 12, also the num¬ 
ber 30, the number 360 (“the elements which are produced when 
each pentagon is divided into 5 isosceles triangles and each of the 
latter into 6 scalene triangles”)—the golden section itself. This is 
what it means to think like a Pythagorean. 

Plato did not worry about future professional critics very much. 
He only provided a delectable image, and left them to puzzle it 
out. But what stands firm is the terminology. After the Demiurge 
had used the first four perfect bodies for the elements, says the 
Timaeus, he had the dodecahedron left over, and he used it for the 

4 Qnaestiones Platonicae 5.1, 1003c (R. Brown trans.), in Plutarch's Morals , ed. 
W. W. Goodwin (1870), vol. 5, p. 433. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 188 

frame of the whole. There is no need - to go into the reasons, 
geometrical and numerological, which fitted the “sphere of twelve 
pentagons,” as it was called, for the role. What counts here: it was 
the whole, the cosmos, that was meant. Plato had stood by the origi¬ 
nal Pythagorean tradition, which called cosmos the order of the 
sun, moon and planets with what it comprised. As a free-roving 
soul, you can look at it “from above.” (Archimedes in the Sand- 
reckoner still uses the term cosmos loosely in that sense, at least by 
way of a concession to old usage.) 

To conclude: the “true earth” was nothing but the Pythagorean 
cosmos, and the rivers that flowed from its surface to the center 
and back can hardly be imagined as strictly terrestrial: although 
with that curious archaic intrication of earth and heaven which 
has become familiar and which makes great rivers flow - from heaven 
to earth, it is not surprising to find oneself dealing with “real” fiery 
currents like Pyriphlegethon connected with volcanic fire. But 
where is Styx? Hardly down here, with its landscape of blue. And 
the immense storm-swept abyss of Tartar os is not a cavern under 
the ground, it belongs somewhere in “outer” space. 

This is all the world of the dead, from the surface down and 
throughout. It localizes as poorly as the nether world of the Repub¬ 
lic. The winding rivers which carry the dead and which go back 
on their tracks are suggestive more of astronomy than of hydrau¬ 
lics. The “seesaw” swinging of the earth (n.b.: it has to be the 
“true earth”) might well be the swinging of the ecliptic and the 
sky with the seasons. There is no need now to go into the con¬ 
fusing earthy or infernal details of the description except to note 
that Numenius of Apamea, an important exegete of Plato, comes 
out flatly with the contention that the other world rivers and Tar- 
taros itself are the “region of planets.” But Proclus, an even more 
important and learned exegete, comes out flatly against Numenius. 5 
Enough is known, indeed more than enough of the welter of orien¬ 
tal traditions on the Rivers of Heaven with their bewildering mix¬ 
ture of astronomical and biological imagery, which culminated in 
Anaximander’s idea of the “Boundless Flow,” the Apeiron, to see 

5 See F. Buffiere, Les Mythes d'Homere et la Fensee Grecque (1956), p. 444. 

189 • Socrates' Last Tale 

whence early Greece got its lore. It can be left alone here. But 
Socrates is citing an Orphic version, whence his restraint in naming 
his authorities, and its strange entities, such as Okeanos and Chro¬ 
nos, deserve attention. What is meant here is not Kronos, Saturn, 
but really Chronos, Time. As concerns Okeanos, even Jane Harri¬ 
son, who could hardly be accused of a tendency to search for the 
gods somewhere else than on the surface or in the interior of the 
earth, had to admit: “Okeanos is much more than Ocean and of 
other birth.” 6 In her eyes he is “a daimon of the upper air/’ An im¬ 
portant concession which may lead a long way. 

We bypass for the moment the imposing work of Eisler, Welten- 
mantel und Himmelszelt (1910), an inexhaustible lode but one 
which provides more information than guidance. Onians’ Origins of 
European Thought offers a more recent appraisal. 7 He compares 
Okeanos to Acheloiis, the primal river of water that “was con¬ 
ceived as a serpent with human head and horns.'’ He goes on: 

The procreation element in any body was the psyche, which ap¬ 
peared in the form of a serpent, Okeanos was, as may now be seen, 
the primeval psyche and this would be conceived as a serpent in rela¬ 
tion to procreative liquid . . . Thus we may see, for Homer, who 
refers allusively to the conception shared by his contemporaries, the 
universe had the form of an egg girt about by “Okeanos, who is the 
generation of All” . . . We can perhaps also better understand . . . 
why in this Orphic version [Frgs. 54, 57, 58 Kern] the serpent was 
called Chronos and why, when asked what Chronos was, Pythagoras 
answered that it was the psyche of the universe. According to Phere- 
kydes it was from the seed of Chronos that fire and air and water 
were produced. 

The great Orphic entity was Chronos Aion (the Iranian Zurvan 
akarana), commonly understood as “Time Unbounded,” and in 
“Aion” Professor Onians sees “the procreative fluid with which the 
psyche was identified, the spinal marrow believed to take serpent 
form” and it may well be so, since these are timeless ideas which 
still live today in ophidic cults and in the “kundalini” of Indian 
Yoga. But Aion certainly meant “a period of time,” and age, hence 

6 J. E. Harrison, The?nis (i960), pp. 456E 

7 P. B. Onians: The Origins of European Thought about the Body, the Mind, 
the Soul, the World, Time, and Fate (zd ed. 1953), pp. 249^. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


“world-age” and later “eternity,” and there is no reason to think 
that the biological meaning must have been prior and dominant. It 
is known that for the Orphics Chronos was mated to Ananke, 
Necessity, which also, according to the Pythagoreans, surrounds 
the universe. Time and Necessity circling the universe, this is a 
fairly clear and fundamental conception; it is linked with heavenly 
motions independently from biology, and it leads directly to Plato’s 
idea of time as “the moving image of eternity.” 

It would be helpful if historians of archaic thought would first 
present straight data, without pressing and squeezing their material 
into a shape that reflects their preconceived conclusion, that bio¬ 
logical images must come first in “primitive” psychology, like all 
that is concerned with generation. 

If one wants psychology, one can go back to Socrates in a very 
different phase of his life, where he is really talking psychology in 
the Theaetetus (152E): “When Homer sings the wonder of ‘Ocean 
whence sprang the Gods and Mother Tethys,’ does he not mean 
that all things are the offspring of flux and motion?” The question 
arises, would the ocean be an image of flux except for the tides? But 
Socrates’ Aegean had no tides. The image comes to him from 
Hesiod’s description of Okeanos (Theogony 79off.): “With nine 
swirling streams he winds about the earth and the sea’s wide back, 
and then falls into the main; but the tenth flows out from a rock, a 
sore trouble to the Gods.” That dreaded tenth is the river of Styx. 
Jane Harrison was right. Okeanos is “of another birth” than our 

The authority of Berger can reconstruct the image. 8 The at¬ 
tributes of Okeanos in the literature are “deep-flowing,” “flowing- 
back-on-itself,” “untiring,” “placidly flowing,” “without billows.” 
These images, remarks Berger, suggest silence, regularity, depth, 
stillness, rotation—what belongs really to the starry heaven. Later 
the name was transferred to another more earthbound concept: the 
actual sea which was supposed to surround the land on all sides. 
But the explicit distinction, often repeated, from the “main” shows 
that this was never the original idea. If Okeanos is a “silver-swirl- 
8 E. H. Berger, Mythische Kosmogrciphie der Griechen (1904), pp. iff. 


• Socrates' Last Tale 

ing” river with many branches which obviously never were on sea 
or land, then the main is not the sea either, pontos or thalassa, it has 
to be the Waters Above. The Okeanos of myth preserves these 
imposing characters of remoteness and silence. He was the one who 
could remain by himself when Zeus commanded attendance in 
Olympus by all the gods. It was he who sent his daughters to 
lament over the chained outcast Prometheus, and offered his power¬ 
ful mediation on his behalf. He is the Father of Rivers; he dimly 
appears in tradition, indeed, as the original god of heaven in the 
past. He stands in an Orphic hymn 9 as “beloved end of the earth, 
ruler of the pole,” and in that famous ancient lexicon, the Ety- 
mologicum magnum, his name is seen to derive from “heaven.” 

9 83.7 (ed. Quandt, p. 55): terma philon gaies, arche polou. 

Chapter XIII 

Of Time and the Rivers 

Di, quibus imperium est animarum, umbraeque silentes 
Et Chaos et Phlegethon, loca tacentia late 
Sit mihi fas audita loqui... 

Virgil, Aeneid vi .264 


1^/ocrates’ inimitable habit of discussing serious things while 
telling an improbable story makes it very much worth while to take 
a closer look at his strange system of rivers. 

It appears again in Virgil, almost as a set piece. The Aeneid is 
noble court poetry, and was not intended to say much about the fate 
of souls; one cannot expect from it the grave explicit Pythagorean 
indications of Cicero’s Dream of Scipio. But while retaining con¬ 
ventional imagery and the official literary grand style which befitted 
a glorification of the Roman Empire, it repays attention to its hints, 
for Virgil was not only a subtle but a very learned poet. Thus, 
while Aeneas’ ingress into Hades begins with a clangorous overture 
of dark woods, specters, somber caves and awesome nocturnal rites, 
which betoken a real descent into Erebus below the earth, he soon 
finds himself in a much vaguer landscape, lbant obscari sola sub 
nocte per umbram . . . “On they went dimly, beneath the lonely 
night amid the gloom, through the empty halls of Dis and his 
unsubstantial realm, even as under the grudging light of an incon¬ 
stant moon lies a path in the forest.” 

The beauty of the lines disguises the fact that the voyage really 
is not through subterranean caverns crowded with the countless 
dead, but through great stretches of emptiness suggesting night 

193 * Of Time and the Rivers 

space, and once the party has crossed the rivers and passed the gates 
of Elysium thanks to the magic of the Golden Bough, they are in a 
serene land “whence, in the world above, the full flood of Eridanus 
rolls amid the forest.” Now Eridanus is and was in heaven—surely 
not, in this context, on the Lombard plain. And here also “an 
ampler aether clothes the meads with roseate light, and they know 
their own sun, and stars of their own.” There is no mention here 
of the “pallid plains of asphodel” of Homeric convention. Those 
hovering souls, “peoples and tribes unnumbered,” are clearly on the 
“true earth in heaven,” for it is also stated that many of them await 
the time of being born or reborn on earth in true Pythagorean 
fashion. And there is more than an Orphic hint in the words of 
father Anchises: “Fiery is the vigour and divine the source of those 
life-seeds, so far as harmful bodies clog them not . . .” But when 
they have lived, and died, “it must needs be that many a taint, long 
linked in growth, should in wondrous use become deeply ingrained. 
Therefore, they are schooled with penalties, for some the stain of 
guilt is washed away under swirling floods or burned out in fire. 
Each of us suffers his own spirit.” Some remain in the beyond 
and become pure soul; some, after a thousand years (this comes 
from Plato) are washed in Lethe and then sent to life and new 

This is exactly Socrates’ belief. The words “above” and “below” 
are carefully equivocal, here as there, to respect popular atavistic 
beliefs or state religion, but this is Plato’s other world. 

When Dante took up Virgil’s wisdom, his strong Christian pre¬ 
conceptions compelled him to locate the world of ultimate punish¬ 
ment “physically below.” But his Purgatory is again above, under 
the open sky, and there is no question but that most, if not quite all, 
of Virgil’s world is a Purgatory and definitely “up above” too. 
Socrates’ strange descriptions have remained alive. 

But Virgil offers even more than this. In the Georgies it 

is said: “One pole is ever high above us, while the other, beneath 
our feet, is seen of black Styx and the shades infernal” (sub pedibus 
Styx atra videt Manesque profundi ). What can it mean, except that 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 


Styx flows in sight of the other pole? The circle which began with 
I lesiod is now closed. 1 

Great poets seem to understand each other, and to use informa¬ 
tion usually withheld from the public; Dante carries on where the 
Aeneid left off. As the wanderers, Dante and the shade of Virgil as 
his guide, make their way through the upper reaches of Hell (In¬ 
ferno a ii. 102) they come across a little river which bubbles out of 
the rock. “Its water was dark more than grey-blue”; it is Styx, and as 
they go along it they come to the black Stygian marsh, where are 
immersed the souls of those who hated “life in the gentle light of the 
sun” and spent it in gloom and spite. Then they have to confront 
the walls of the fiery city of Dis, the ramparts of Inner Hell, 
guarded by legions of devils, by the Furies with the dreadful Gor¬ 
gon herself. It takes the intervention of a Heavenly Messenger to 
spring the barred gates with the touch of his wand (a variant of 
Aeneas’ Golden Bough) to admit the wanderers into the City of 
Perdition. As they proceed along the inner circle, there is a river 
of boiling red water, which eventually will turn into a waterfall 
plunging toward the bottom of the abyss (baratro = Tartaros). At 
this point Virgil remarks (xiv.85): “Of all that I have shown you 
since we came through the gate that is closed to none, there is 
nothing you have seen as notable as this stream, whose vapors screen 
us from the rain of fire.” Those are weighty words after all that 
they have gone through; then comes the explanation, a rather far¬ 
fetched one: “In the midst of the sea,” Virgil begins, “there lies a 
ruined country which is called Crete, under whose king [i.e., 
Saturn] the world was without vice.” There, at the heart of Mount 
Ida where Zeus was born of Rhea, there is a vast cavern in which 
sits a great statue. Dante is going back there to an ancient tradition 

1 The symmetry of both polar zones is clearly in the poet's mind. “Five zones 
comprise the heavens; whereof one is ever glowing with the flashing sun, ever 
scorched by his flames. Round this, at the world's ends, two stretch darkling to 
right and left, set fast in ice and black storms. Between them and the middle zone, 
two by grace of the Gods have been vouchsafed to feeble mortals; and a path is 
cut between the two [the ecliptic], wherein the slanting array of the Signs may 
turn" (Georgies 7.233-38). 

195 ’ O/' Time and the Rivers 

to be found in Pliny, that an earthquake broke open a cavern in 
the mountain, where a huge statue was found, of which not much 
was said, except that it was 46 cubits high; but Dante supplies the 
description from a famous vision of Daniel, when the prophet was 
asked by King Nebuchadnezzar to tell him what he had seen in a 
frightening dream that he could not remember. Daniel asked God 
to reveal to him the dream: 

“Thou, O king, sawest, and beheld a great image. This great image, 
whose size was immense, stood before thee; and the form thereof was 
terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of 
silver, his belly and his thighs of bronze. His legs of iron, his feet part 
of iron, and part of clay. 

Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands which smote 
the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them 
to pieces . . . and the stone that brake the image became a great 
mountain and filled the whole earth.” 

At this point Dante takes leave of Daniel, and with that in¬ 
souciance which marks him even when speaking of Holy Prophets, 
whom he treats as his equals, he dismisses the royal shenanigans in 
Babylon. His instinct tells him that the vision must really deal with 
older and loftier subjects, with the cosmos itself. Hence he proceeds 
to complete the vision on his own. The four metals stand for the 
four ages of man, and each of them except the gold (symbol of the 
Age of Innocence) is rent by a weeping crack from whence issue 
the rivers which carry the sins of mankind to the Nether World. 
They are Acheron, Styx and Phlegethon. We have noted that he de¬ 
scribes the original flow of Styx as dark gray-blue, or steel-blue 
(perso), just as written in Hesiod and Socrates that he had never 
read. It may have come to him by way of Servius or Macrobius, no 
matter; what is remarkable is the strictness with which he preserves 
the dimly understood tradition of the lapis lazuli landscape of Styx, 
which will be seen to extend all over the world. As far as Phlege¬ 
thon goes, the course of the stream follows quite exactly what 
Socrates had to say about Pyriphlegethon, the “flaming river.” We 
have seen in the Phaidon a low-placed fiery region traversed by a 
stream of lava, which even sends off real fire to the surface of the 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 196 

earth. "Whereas some interpreters thought it flowed through the in¬ 
terior of our earth, others transferred Pyriphlcgcthon, as well as the 
other rivers, into the human soul, 2 but there is little doubt that it 
was originally, as Dietcrich has claimed, 3 a stream of fiery light in 
heaven, as Eridanus was. In any case, the flaming torrent, as the 
Aeneid calls it, goes down in spirals carefully traced in Dante’s 
topography, until it cascades down with the other rivers to the icy 
lake of Cocytus, “where there is no more descent,” for it is the cen¬ 
ter, the Tartaros where Lucifer himself is frozen in the ice. (Dante 
has been respectful of the Christian tradition which makes the uni¬ 
verse, so to speak, diabolocentric.) But why docs he say that the 
fiery river is so particularly “notable”? 

G. Rabuse 4 has solved this puzzle in a careful analytical study of 
Dante’s three worlds. First, he has found by way of a little-known 
manuscript of late antiquity, the so-called “Third Vatican Mythog- 
rapher,” that the circular territory occupied by the Red River in 
Hell was meant “by certain writers” to be the exact counterpart of 
the circle of Mars in the skies “because they make the heavens to 
begin in the Nether World” (5.6.4). 5 So Numcnius was not wrong 
after all. The rivers are planetary. Dante subscribed to the doctrine 
and worked it out with a wealth of parallel features. Mars to him was 
important because, centrally placed in the planetary system, lie held 
the greatest force for good or evil in action. As the central note in 
the scale, he can also become the harmonizing force. Both Hermetic 
tradition and Dante himself arc very explicit about it. Is he the 
planetary Power that stands for Apollo? That requires future 

2 Cf. Macrobius, Commentary on the Dream of Scipio /.io.ii (Stahl trans., p. 
128): “Similarly, they thought that Phlcgcthon was merely the fires of our wraths 
and passions, that Acheron was the chagrin we experienced over having said or 
done something, . . . that Cocytus was anything that moved us to lamentation or 
tears, and that Styx was anything that plunged human minds into the abyss of 
mutual hatred.” 

3 A. Dietcrich, Nekyia (1893), p. 27. 

4 Der kosmische Aufbau der Jenseitsreiche Dantes (1958), pp. 58-66, 88-95. 

5 Sec Scriptores Rerum Mythicarum Latini , ed. G. H. Bode (1968; 1st cd. 1934) 
vol. /, p. 176: Eundem Phlcgcthontcm nonnulli, qui a caclo infernum incipcrc 
autumant, Alartis circulum dicunt sicut ct Campos Elysios . . . circulum Jovis esse 
conte ndunt. 

197 ' Of Time and the Rivers 

In the sky of Mars in his Paradise Dante placed the sign of the 
Cross (“I come to bring not peace but a sword”), a symbol of reck¬ 
less valor and utter sacrifice, exemplified by his own ancestor the 
Crusader with whom he passionately identified. In the circle of Mars 
in Hell he placed, albeit reluctantly, most of the great characters he 
really admired, from Farinata, Emperor Frederick II, his Chancellor 
Pier della Vigna, to Brunetto, Capaneus and many proud con¬ 
querors. In truth, even Ulysses belongs in it, clothed in the “ancient 
flame,” the symbol of his “ire” more than of his deceit. Virtues 
appear down there with the sign minus; they stand as fiery refusal, 
“blind greed and mad anger” which punish themselves: but their 
possessors are nonetheless, on the whole, noble, as, in the Nihongi, 
Brave-Swift-Impetuous-Male, the force of action par excellence. 
The meek may inherit the earth, but of the Kingdom of Heaven it 
has been written: violenti rapiunt illud. Christ stands in Dante as 
the Heliand, the conquering hero, the judge of the living and the 
dead: rex tremendae majestatis. 

However that may be, the equivalence of above and below, of 
the rivers with the planets, remains established. By artifice Dante 
brings in at this point the figure of the Colossus of Crete, built out 
of archaic mythical material. By identifying the rivers with the 
world-ages, he emphasizes the identity of the rivers with Time: not 
here the Time that brings into being, but that of passing away—the 
Time that takes along with it the “sinful dirt,” the load of errors of 
life as it is lived. 

Men’s minds in the 13th century were still very much alive to the 
archaic structure. But over and above this, by way of the Circle 
of Mars, an unexpected insight appears. Through the solemn Chris¬ 
tian architecture of the poem, through the subtle logical organiza¬ 
tion, beyond the “veil of strange verses” and the intention they 
cloaked, there is a glimpse of what the author cared for more than 
he would say, of the man Alighieri’s own existential choice. Poets 
cannot guard their own truth. Ulysses setting out toward the south¬ 
west in a last desperate attempt foreordained to failure by the order 
of things, trying to reach the “world denied to mortals,” swallowed 
by the whirlpool in sight of his goal, that is the symbol. It is re- 

Hamlet’s Mill • 198 

vcaled not by the poet’s conscious thinking, but by the power of the 
lines themselves, so utterly remote, like light coming from a “quasi- 
stcllar object.” To be sure, the Greek stayed lost in Hell for his 
ruthless resourcefulness in life as much as for his impiety: he was 
branded by Virgil as “dire and fierce”; the sentence was accepted. 
But he was the one who had willed to the last, even against God, 
to conquer experience and knowledge. His Luciferian loftiness re¬ 
mains in our memory more than the supreme harmony of the choirs 
of heaven. 

To pursue this hazardous inquiry the first source is Homer, “the 
teacher of Hellas.” The voyage of Odysseus to Hades is the first 
such expedition in Greek literature. It is undertaken by the weary 
hero to consult the shade of Teiresias about his future. The advice 
he eventually gets is startlingly outside the frame of his adventures 
and of the Odyssey itself (/o-5o8ff.). It will be necessary to come 
back to this strange prophecy. But as far as the voyage itself goes, 
Circe gives the hero these sailing instructions: 

“Set your mast, hoist your sail, and sit tight: the North Wind will 
take you along. When you have crossed over the ocean, you will see 
a low shore, and the groves of Persephoneia, tall poplars and fruit- 
wasting willows; there beach your ship beside deep-eddving Okeanos, 
and go on yourself to the dank house of Hades. 

There into Acheron, the river of pain, two streams flow, Pyriphlege- 
thon blazing with fire, and Cocytos resounding with lamentation, 
which is a branch of the hateful water of Styx: a rock is there, by 
which the two roaring streams unite. Draw near to this, brave man, 
and be careful to do what I bid you. Dig a pit about one cubit’s length 
along and across, and pour into it a drink-offering for all souls . . .” 

Many centuries later, a remarkable commentary on this passage 
was made by Krates of Pergamon, a mathematician and mythog- 
rapher of the Alexandrian period. It has been preserved by Strabo: 6 
Odysseus coming from Circe’s island, sailing to Hades and coming 
back, “must have used the part of the Ocean which goes from the 
hibernal tropic [of Capricorn] to the South Pole, and Circe helped 

6 /. 1.7. Referring to Odyssey 11.639-12.1. See H. J. Alette, Sphairjphoiia (1936), 
pp. 7j, 250. 

199 * Of Time and the Rivers 

with sending the North Wind.” This is puzzling geography, but 
astronomically it makes sense, and Krates seems to have had good 
reasons of his own to make the South Pole the objective. 

The next information comes from Hesiod in his Theogony (775— 
814), and very obscure it is. After having heard of the “echoing 
halls” of Hades and Persephone, he says: 

“And there dwells the goddess loathed by the deathless gods, terrible 
Styx, eldest daughter of backflowing Ocean. She lives apart from the 
gods in her glorious house vaulted over with great rocks and propped 
up to heaven all around with silver pillars. Rarely does the daughter 
of Thaumas, swift-footed Iris, come to her with a message over the 
sea’s wide back. 

“But when strife and quarrel arise among the deathless gods, and 
when any one of them who live in the house of Olympus lies, then 
Zeus sends Iris to bring in a golden iug the great oath of the gods 
from far away, the famous cold water which trickles down from a 
high and beetling rock. 

“Far under the wide-pathed earth a branch of Oceanus flows through 
the dark night out of the holy stream, and a tenth pan of his water is 
allotted to her. With nine silver-swirling streams he winds about the 
earth and the sea’s wide back, and then falls into the main; but the 
tenth flows out from a rock, a sore trouble to the gods. For whoever 
of the deathless gods that hold the peaks of snowy Olympus pours a 
libation of her water and is forsworn, lies breathless until a full year 
is completed, and never comes near to taste ambrosia and nectar, but 
lies spiritless and voiceless on a strewn bed: and a heavy trance 
[coifia] covers him. 

“But when he has spent a long year in his sickness, another penance 
and a harder follows after the first. For nine years he is cut off from 
the eternal gods and never joins their councils or their feasts, nine full 
years. But in the tenth year he comes again to join the assemblies of 
the deathless gods who live in the house of Olympus. Such an oath, 
then, did the gods appoint the eternal and primeval water of Styx to 
be: and it spouts through a rugged place. 

“And there, all in their order, are the sources and limits of the dark 
earth and misty Tartarus and the unfruitful sea [pontos] and starry 
heaven, loathsome and dank, which even the gods abhor. And there 
are shining gates and an immoveable threshold of bronze having un¬ 
ending roots and it is grown of itself. And beyond, away from all 
the gods, are the Titans, beyond gloomy Chaos.’’ 

Hamlet’s Mill • 

2 00 

This is Hesiod’s version of the “Foundations of the Abyss.” Its 
very details make confusion worse confounded, as befits the sub¬ 
ject. The difficult word ogygion, translated often with “primeval,” 
seems to designate things vaguely beyond time and place; one might 
say, the hidden treasure at the end of the rainbow. It was also the 
name for the resting place of Kronos, where he awaited the time 
of his return. But the paradoxical piling up of sources, limits, 
“unending roots” of earth, sea, heaven, and Tartaros too, remove 
any thought of a location at the earth’s core, such as the cryptic 
words were popularly felt to convey. This “deeper than the deep” 
must have been “beyond the other side of the earth,” and for 
reasons of symmetry, opposite to our pole. The shining gates and 
the immovable threshold of bronze are said elsewhere in the text 
to be the gates of Night and Day. Two centuries later, Parmenides, 
taking up Hesiod’s allegorical language, speaks again of those gates 
of Night and Day . 7 But his image becomes clearer, as befits his 
invincibly geometrical imagination. The gates are “high up in the 
aether,” leading to the abode of the Goddess of Truth and Neces¬ 
sity, and in his case too they must be at the Pole for explicit reasons 
of symmetry. We once tentatively suggested the North Pole, but 
many concurrent clues would indicate now the other one, the un¬ 
known, the Utterly Inaccessible. Hesiod says that Styx is a branch 
of Okeanos in heaven, “under the wide-pathed earth”; its dreaded 
goddess lives in a house “propped up to heaven all around with sil¬ 
ver pillars,” the water drips from a high rock. It can be reached by 
Iris coming with her rainbow “from snowy Olympus in the north.” 
This ogygion region, that the gods abhor, has to be both under 
and beyond the earth; this should mean something like “on the 
other side of heaven.” Homer never spoke of “above” and “below” 
in the strict sense. He simply made Odysseus land on a flat shore 
far away. 

But what of the dreadful Styx which seems to be the core of the 
mystery? A river of death, even to gods, who can at least expect to 
come out of their coma at the appointed time. It is inimical to all 

7 G. de Santillana, Prologue to Parmenides , U. of Cincinnati, Semple Lecture, 
1964. Reprinted in Reflections on Man and Ideas (1968), p. 82. 



• Of Time and the Rivers 

matter: it cracks glass, metal, stone, any container. Only a horse's 
hoof is proof against it, says the legend. 5 It adds that to men that 
water is inescapably lethal—except for one day of the year, which 
no one knows, when it becomes a water of immortality. This leads 
finally to the tragic ambiguity which gives drama to the tale of 
Gilgamesh and Alexander. 

It is clear by now that the rivers are understood to be Time— 
the time of heaven. But images have their own logic. Where are the 
sources? The Colossus of Crete is Dante's own invention. Before 
him, there were many other accounts of the cracks from which 
flow the world-ages. Kai Khusrau, the Iranian Amlethus, was per¬ 
secuted by a murderous uncle, established a Golden Age and then 
moved off in melancholy into the Great Beyond. The bad uncle, 
Afrasiyab, in his desperate efforts to seize the holy legitimacy, the 
“Glory" ( Hvarna ), had turned himself into a creature of the deep 
waters and plunged into the mystic Lake Vurukasha, diving after 
the '‘Glory." Three times he dove, but every time “this glory 
escaped, this glory went away": and at every try, it escaped 
through an outlet which led to a river to the Beyond. The name of 
the first outlet was Hausravah, the original Avestan name of Kai 
Khusrau. This should make the epoch and design tolerably plain. 

An equally ancient story of three outlets comes from Hawaii. 
It appears in Judge Fornander's invaluable Account compiled a 
century ago, when the tradition was still alive. The “living waters" 
belong to Kane, the world-creating Demiurge or craftsman god. 
These waters are to be found in an invisible divine country, Pali-uli 
(= blue mountain), where Kane, Ku, and Lono created the first 
man, Kumu honua (“earth-rooted") or alternatively, the living 
waters are on the “flying island of Kane" (the Greek Hephaistos 
lived also on a floating island). Fornander describes the spring of 
this ‘‘living water" as 

beautifully transparent and clear. Its banks are splendid. It had three 
outlets: one for Kane, one for Ku, one for Lono; and through these 
outlets the fish entered the pond. If the fish of this pond were thrown 
* Pausanias £.1S-4-6; cf. J. G. Frazer, Pjustmijs' Descriptio7i of Greece 4. pp. 24$- 
56; also O. Waser, Roscher 4, cols. 15-4. 1576. Pausanias leaves it open whether 
or not Alexander was killed by means of Stygian water, as was fabled. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 202 

on the ground or on the fire, they did not die; and if a man had been 
killed and was after-wards sprinkled over with this water he did soon 
come to life again. 9 

An extraordinary theme has been set, that of the “revived fish” 
which will later show itself as central in Mid-Eastern myth, from 
Gilgamesh to Glaukos to Alexander himself. And then there are 
again the three outlets. These may help individualize the notion of 
Kane’s “spring of life,” which might otherwise sound as common¬ 
place to folklorists as the Fountain of Youth. But something really 
startling can be found in good sound Pythagorean tradition. Plu¬ 
tarch in his essay “Why oracles no longer give answer” tells us 
(422 e) that Petron, a Pythagorean of the early Italian school, a 
contemporary and friend to the great doctor Alcmaeon (c. 550 
b.c.) theorized that there must be many worlds—183 of them. More 
about these 183 worlds was reported by Kleombrotos, one of the 
persons taking part in the conversation about the obsolescence of 
oracles, who had received his information from a mysterious “man” 
who used to meet human beings only once every year near the 
Persian Gulf, spending “the other days of his life in association with 
roving nymphs and demigods” (42 ia). According to Kleombrotos, 
he placed these worlds on an equilateral triangle, sixty to each side, 
and one extra at each corner. No further reason is given, but 

they were so ordered that one always touched another in a circle, like 
those who dance in a ring. The plain within the triangle is . . . the 
foundation and common altar to all these worlds, which is called the 
Plain of Truth, in which lie the designs, moulds, ideas, and invariable 
examples of all things which were, or ever shall be; and about there is 
Eternity, whence flowed. Time, as from a river, into the worlds. 
Moreover, that the souls of men, if they have lived well in this world, 
do see these ideas once in ten thousand years; and that the most holy 
mystical ceremonies which are performed here are not more than a 
dream of this sacred vision. 10 

What is this? A mythical prefiguration of Plato’s metaphysics? 
And why this triangular “Plain of Truth,” which turns out again 

9 A. Fornander, An Account of the Polynesian Race , Its Origin and Migrations 
(1878), vol. /, pp. yzf. Cf. Pomander Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities and 
Folk-Lore y Mem. BPB Mus. 6 (1920), pp. 77f. 

10 Plutarch, De defectu oraculoruniy ch. 22,422BC. 

203 * Of Time and the Rivers 

to be a lake of Living Water? Pythagoreans did not care to explain. 
Nor did Plutarch. 11 But here is at least one original way of linking 
Eternity with the flow of Time. When it came to geometric fan¬ 
tasy, no one could outbid the Pythagoreans. 

11 Proclus (comm, on Plato’s Timaens 138B, ed. Diehl, BT, vol. /, p. 454) claimed 
this to be a “barbarous opinion” (doxe barbarike). He shows no particular interest 
in the triangular plain of truth, alias our “lake” with its outlets, but he has more to 
say about the 180 “subordinate” and the 3 “leading” worlds (hegemonas) at the 
angles, and how to interpret them. To which Festugiere, in his (highly welcome 
and marvelous) translation of Proclus’ commentary, remarks (vol. 2 , p. 336, n. 1): 
“On notera que Proclus donne a la fois moins et plus que Plutarque. A-t-il lu ces 
elucubrations pythagoriciennes elles-memes?” 

Chapter XIV 

The Whirlpool 

Tre volte il fe’ girar con tutte l’acque 
alia quarta voltar la poppa in suso 
e la prora ire in giu, com’altrui piacque 
Infin che’l mar fu sopra noi richiuso. 

Dante, Inferno 

D ante kept to the tradition of the whirlpool as a significant 
end for great figures, even if here it comes ordained by Providence. 
Ulysses has sailed in his “mad venture” beyond the limits of the 
world, and once he has crossed the ocean he sees a mountain loom¬ 
ing far away, “hazy with the distance, and so high I had never 
seen any.” It is the Mount of Purgatory, forbidden to mortals. 

“We rejoiced, and soon it turned to tears, for from the new land 
a whirl was born, which smote our ship from the side. Three times 
it caused it to revolve with all the waters, on the fourth to lift its 
stern on high, and the prow to go down, as Someone willed, until 
the sea had closed over us.” The “many thoughted” Ulysses is on 
his way to immortality, even if it has to be Hell. 

The engulfing whirlpool belongs to the stock-in-trade of ancient 
fable. It appears in the Odyssey as Charybdis in the straits of Mes¬ 
sina—and again, in other cultures, in the Indian Ocean and in the 
Pacific. It is found there too, curiously enough, with the overhang¬ 
ing fig tree to whose boughs the hero can cling as the ship goes 
down, whether it be Satyavrata in India, or Kae in Tonga. Like 
Sindbad’s magnetic mountain, it goes on in mariners’ yarns through 
the centuries. But the persistence of detail rules out free invention. 
Such stories have belonged to the cosmographical literature since 

205 * The Whirlpool 

antiquity. Medieval writers, and after them Athanasius Kircher, 
located the gurges mirabilis, the wondrous eddy, somewhere off the 
coast of Norway, or of Great Britain. It was the Maelstrom, plus 
probably a memory of Pentland Firth. 1 It was generally in the 
direction north-northwest, just as Saturn’s island, Ogygia, had been 
vaguely placed “beyond” the British Isles by the Greeks. 

On further search this juxtaposition seems to be the result of the 
usual confusion between uranography and geography. There is 
frequently a “gap” in the northwest (“Nine-Yin” for the Chinese) 
of the heavens and inasmuch as the skeleton map of earth was de¬ 
rived from that of the sky, the gap was pinned down here as the 
Maelstrom, or Ogygia. Both notions are far from obvious, as are 
the localizations, and it is even more remarkable that they should 
be frequently joined. 

For the Norse (see chapter VI) the whirlpool came into being 
from the unhinging of the Grotte Mill: the Maelstrom comes of the 
hole in the sunken millstone. This comes from Snorri. The older 
verses by Snaebjorn which described Hamlet’s Mill stated that the 
nine maids of the island mill who in past ages ground Amlodhi’s 
meal now drive a “host-cruel skerry-quern.” That this skerry-quern 
means the whirlpool, and not simply the northern ocean, is backed 
up through some more lines which Gollancz ascribes to Snaebjorn; 
not that they were of crystal clarity, but again mill and whirlpool 
are connected: 

The island-mill pours out the blood of the flood goddess’s sisters 

[i.e., the waves of the sea], so that [it] bursts from the feller of the 

land: whirlpool begins strong. 2 

No localization is indicated here, whereas the Finns point to 
directions which are less vague than they sound. Their statement 
that the Sampo has three roots—one in heaven, one in the earth, the 
third in the water eddy—has a definite meaning, as will be shown. 

1 See for Ireland, W. Stokes, “The Prose Tales in the Rennes Dindsenchas,” RC 
16 (1895), no * J 45 : “A great whirlpool there is between Ireland and Scotland on 
the North. It is the meeting of many seas [from NSEW]—it resembles an open 
caldron which casts the draught down [and] up, and its roaring is heard like far- 
off thunder .. 

2 I. Gollancz, Hamlet in Iceland (1898), pp. xvii. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 206 

But then also, Vainamoinen driving with his copper boat into the 
“maw of the Maelstrom” is said to sail to “the depths of the sea,” 
to the “lowest bowels of the earth,” to the “lowest regions of the 
heavens.” Earth and heaven—a significant contraposition. As con¬ 
cerns the whereabouts of the whirlpool, one reads: 

Before the gates of Pohjola, 

Belong the threshold of color-covered Pohjola , 

There the pines roll with their roots , 

The pines fall crown first into the gullet of the whirlpool . 3 

Then in Teutonic tradition, one finds in Adam of Bremen (nth 

Certain Frisian noblemen made a voyage past Norway up to the 
farthest limits of the Arctic Ocean, got into a darkness which the 
eyes can scarcely penetrate, were exposed to a maelstroem which 
threatened to drag them down to Chaos, but finally came quite un¬ 
expectedly out of darkness and cold to an island which, surrounded 
as by a wall of high rocks, contains subterranean caverns, wherein 
giants lie concealed. At the entrances of the underground dwellings 
lay a great number of tubs and vessels of gold and other metals which 
“to mortals seem rare and valuable.” As much as the adventurers 
could carry of these treasures they took with them and hastened to 
their ships. But the giants, represented by great dogs, rushed after 
them. One of the Frisians was overtaken and torn into pieces before 
the eyes of the others. The others succeeded, thanks to our Lord and 
Saint Willehad, in getting safely on board their ships . 4 

The Latin text (Rydberg, p. 422) uses the classical familiar name 
of Euripus. The Euripus, which has already come up in the Phaedo , 
was really a channel between Euboea and the mainland, in which 
the conflict of tides reverses the current as much as seven times a 
day, with ensuing dangerous eddies—actually a case of standing 
waves rather than a true whirl. 5 

3 M. Haavio, Vainamoinen , Eternal Sage (1952), pp. 191-98. 

4 V. Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology (1907), p. 320. 

5 We meet the name again at a rather unexpected place, in the Roman circus or 
hippodrome, as we know from J. Laurentius Lydus (De Mensihus 7.12.), who states 
that the center of the circus was called Euripos; that in the middle of the stadium 
was a pyramid, belonging to the Sun; that by the Sun’s pyramid were three altars, 
of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and below the pyramid, altars of Venus, Mercury and the 

207 * The Whirlpool 

And here the unstable Euripus of the Ocean, which flows back to the 
beginnings of its mysterious source, dragged with irresistible force 
the unhappy sailors, thinking by now only of death, towards Chaos. 
This is said to be the maw of the abyss, that unknown depth in which, 
it is understood, the ebb and flow of the whole sea is absorbed and 
then thrown up again, which is the cause of the tides. 

This is reflection of what had been a popular idea of antiquity. 
But here comes a version of the same story in North America. 6 It 
concerns the canoe adventure of two Cherokees at the mouth of 
Suck Creek. One of them was seized by a fish, and never seen again. 
The other was 

taken round and round to the very lowest center of the whirlpool, 
when another circle caught him and bore him outward. He told after¬ 
wards that when he reached the narrowest circle of the maelstroem 
the water seemed to open below and he could look down as through 
the roof beam of a house, and there on the bottom of the river he had 
seen a great company, who looked up and beckoned to him to join 
them, but as they put up their hands to seize him the swift current 
caught him and took him out of their reach. 

It is almost as if the Cherokees have retained the better memory, 
when they talk of foreign regions, inhabited by “a great company” 
—which might equally well be the dead, or giants with their dogs— 
there, where in “the narrowest circle of the maelstroem the water 
seemed to open below.” It will be interesting to see whether or not 
this impression is justifiable. 7 

Snorri, who has preserved the Song of Grotte for us, does not 
actually name the whirlpool in it, but there is only one at hand. 

Moon, and that there were not more than seven circuits ( kykloi ) around the pyra¬ 
mid, because the planets were only seven. (See also F. M. Cornford's chapter on the 
origin of the Olympic games in J. Harrison's Themis (196:), p. ::S; G. Higgins’ 
AtucaJypsis (19:7), vol. 2, pp. 377ft.) This brings to mind (although not called 
Euripus, obviously, but “the god's place of skulls") the Central American Ball 
Court which had a round hole in its center, termed by Tezozomoc “the enigmatic 
significance of the ball court,” and from this hole a lake spread out before Uitzilo- 
pochtli was born. See W. Krickeberg, “Der mittelamerikanische Ballspielplatz und 
seine religiose Symbolik," Faideuma 5 (194S), pp. 135ft., 155, 162. 

6 J. Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee (1900), p. 340. 

’See illustrations (p. 60) showing Mount Meru in the shape of an hourglass. 

1 1 am let’s Mill * 208 

namely the “Hvergelmer” in 1 lei's abode of the dead, from and to 
which “all waters find their way.” 8 Says Rydberg: 

It appears that the mythology conceived Hvergelmer as a vast reser¬ 
voir, the mother fountain of all the waters of the world. In the front 
rank are mentioned a number of subterranean rivers which rise in 
Hvergelmer, and seek their courses thence in various directions. But 
the waters of earth and heaven also come from this immense fountain, 
and after completing their circuits they return thither. 

Idle myth about Hvergelmer and its subterranean connection with 
the ocean gave our ancestors the explanation of ebb and flood tide. 
High up in the northern channels the bottom of the ocean opened 
itself in a hollow tunnel, \\ hich led down to the “kettle-roarer,” “the 
one roaring in his basin” (hverr = kettle; galm = Anglo-Saxon gealm = 
a roaring). When the waters of the ocean poured through this tunnel 
dow n into the 1 lades-well there was ebb-tide, when it returned water 
from its superabundance then was flood-tide. 

Between the death-kingdom and the ocean there was, therefore, one 
connecting link, perhaps several. Most of the people who drowned 
did not remain with Ran. Acgir's wife, Ran, received them hospita¬ 
bly, according to the Icelandic sagas of the middle ages. She had a 
hall in the bottom of the sea, where they were welcomed and offered 
. . . seat and bed. Her realm was only an ante-chamber to the realms 
of death. 9 

There are several features of the Phaedo here, but they will turn 
up again in Gilgamesh. This is not to deny that Hvergelmer, and 
other whirlpools, explain the tides, as indicated previously. (Perhaps 
it will be possible to find out what tides “mean” on the celestial 
level.) But it is clear that the Maelstrom as the cause of the tides does 
not account for the surrounding features, not even for the few 
mentioned by Rydberg—for instance, the wife of the Sea-god 
Aegir who receives kindly the souls of drowned seafarers in her 
antechamber at the bottom of the sea—nor the circumstance that the 
Frisian adventurers, sucked into the Maelstrom, suddenly find them¬ 
selves on a bright island filled with gold, where giants lie concealed 

8 Grimnis?nxl :6; cf. Snorri, Gy If. 15. 

9 Rydberg, pp. 414. 421L Cf. the notions about the nun Saint Gertrude, patron of 
travelers, particularly on sea voyages, who acted also as patron saint of inns “and 
finally it was claimed that she was the hostess of a public house, where the souls 
spent the first night after death" (.\L Hako, Wiesel ifJ der europliischeri 
Volksuberlicfcrimgy FFC 167 [1956], p. 119). 

209 * The Whirlpool 

in the mountain caves. This island begins to look very much like 
Ogygia I, where Kronos/Saturn sleeps in a golden mountain cave, 
whereas the reception hall of Ran—her husband Aegir was famous 
for his beer brewing, and his hall it was, where Loke offended all 
his fellow gods as reported in the Lokasemia —would suggest rather 
Ogygia II, the island of Calypso, sister of Prometheus, called 
Omphalos Thalasses, the Navel of the Sea. Calypso was the daughter 
of Atlas, “who knew the depths of the whole sea.” She, Calypso, has 
been authoritatively compared 10 to the divine barmaid Siduri, who 
dwells by the deep sea and will be found later on in the tale of 

Mythology, meaning proper poetic fable, has been of great as¬ 
sistance but it can help no further. The golden island of Kronos, 
the tree-girt island of Calypso, remain unlocatable, notwithstanding 
the efforts of Homeric scholars. Through careful analysis of navi¬ 
gational data, one of them (Berard) has placed Calypso in the 
island of Perejil near Gibraltar, another (Bradfield) in Malta, 
others even off Africa. Presumably it should not be too far from 
Sicily, since Ulysses reaches it riding on the mast of his ship, right 
after having escaped from Charybdis in the straits of Messina, in 
the setting that Homer describes so plausibly. It appears throughout 
time in many places. 11 Some data in Homer look like exact geogra¬ 
phy, as Circe's Island with its temple of Feronia, or the Land of the 
Laistrygones, which should be the bay of Bonifacio. But most ele¬ 
ments from past myth, like Charybdis or the Planktai, are illusion- 
istic. They throw the whole geography into a cocked hat, as do 
the Argonauts themselves. 

Without trying to fathom Ogygia, or Ogygos, the adjective 
“Ogygian”—which has been used as a label for the Waters of Styx 
—has also assumed the connotation of “antediluvian.” As for Hver- 
gelmer, “roaring kettle,” it is the “navel of the waters” but it is 
certainly “way down,” as is the strange “Bierstube” of Aegir. And 
when it is found, as it soon will be, that Utnapishtim (the builder 

10 See chapter XXII, “The Adventure and the Quest.” 

11 The last learned attempt to locate it—by H. H. and A. Wolf, Der T Veg des 
Odysseus (1968)—proves as illusionistic as the previous ones. 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 

2 io 

of the Ark, who can lie reached only by the road leading through 
the bar of the divine Siduri and hence also, one would say, through 
the inn of beer-brewing Aegir) lives forever at the “confluence of 
the rivers,” this might have charmed Socrates with his idea of con¬ 
fluences, but it will not make things much clearer. 

Yet there arc some footholds to climb back from the abyss. It is 
known (chapter XII) that Socrates and the poets really referred to 
heaven “seen from the other side.” 

It has been shown that the way through the “navel of the waters” 
was taken by Vainamoinen, and we shall see (chapter XIX) that the 
same goes for Kronos-Phaethon, and other powerful personalities 
as well, who reached the Land of Sleep where time has ceased. One 
can anticipate that the meaning will be ultimately astronomical. 
Hence, backing out of fable, one can turn again for assistance to 
the Royal Science. 

That there is a whirlpool in the sky is well known; it is most prob¬ 
ably the essential one, and it is precisely placed. It is a group of stars 
so named ( zalos) at the foot of Orion, close to Rigel (beta Orionis, 
Rigel being the Arabic word for “foot”), the degree of which was 
called “death,” according to Hermes Trismegistos, 12 whereas the 
Maori claim outright that Rigel marked the way to Hades (Castor 
indicating the primordial homeland). Antiochus the astrologer enu¬ 
merates the whirl among the stars rising with Taurus. Franz Boll 
takes sharp exception to the adequacy of his description, but he 
concludes that the zalos must, indeed, be Eridanus “which flows 
from the foot of Orion.” 13 Now Eridanus, the watery grave of 
Phaethon—Athanasius Kircher’s star map of the southern hemi¬ 
sphere still shows Phaethon’s mortal frame lying in the stream— 
was seen as a starry river leading to the other world. The initial 
frame stands, this time traced in the sky. And here comes a crucial 
confirmation. That mysterious place, pi ndrati, literally the “mouth 
of the rivers,” meaning, however, the “confluence” of the rivers, 
was traditionally identified by the Babylonians with Eridu. But the 

12 Vocatur mors . W. Gundel, Neue Astrologische Texte des Hermes Trismegistos 
(1936), pp. i96f., 216f. 

13 Sphaera (1903), pp. 57, 164-67. 

211 • The Whirlpool 

archaeological site of Eridu is nowhere near the confluence of 
the Two Rivers of Mesopotamia. It is between the Tigris and 
Euphrates, which flow separately into the Red Sea, and placed 
rather high up. The proposed explanation, that it was the expand¬ 
ing of alluvial land which removed Eridu from the joint “mouth" 
of the rivers, did not contribute much to an understanding of the 
mythical topos of pi mrati , and some perplexed philologist sup¬ 
posed in despair that those same archaic people who had built up 
such impressive waterworks had never known which way the 
waters flow and had believed, instead, that the two rivers had their 
source in the Persian Gulf. 

This particular predicament was solved by XV. F. Albright, who 
exchanged “mouth” and “source"; 14 he left us stranded “high and 
dry"—a very typical mythical situation, by the way—in the Arme¬ 
nian mountains around the “source.” And though he stressed, 
rightly, that Eridu-p; narati could not mean geography, he banished 
it straightaway into the interior of the planet. 

The “source” is as unrevealing as the “mouth” has been, and as 
every geographical localization is condemned to be. Eridu, Sumerian 
inul NUN ki , is Canopus, alpha Carinae, the bright star near the South 
Pole, as has been established irrefragably by B. L. van der Waerden, 15 
a distinguished contemporary historian of astronomy. That one or 
another part of Argo was meant had been calculated previously. 16 
And that, finally, made sense of the imposing configuration of 
myths around Canopus on the one hand, and of the preponderance 
of the ‘‘confluence of the rivers" on the other hand. This unique 
topos will be dealt with later. 

One point still remains a problem. The way of the dead to the 
other world had been thought to be the Milky Way, and that since 
the oldest days of high civilization. This image was still alive with 
the Pythagoreans. When and how did Eridanus come in? A reason¬ 
able supposition is that this was connected with the observed shift- 

14 "The Mouth of the Rivers,” AJSL 55 (1919), pp. 161-95. 

15 “The Thirty-six Stars,” JXES 8 (1949), p. 14. “The bright southern star Cano¬ 
pus was Ea’s town Eridu (NUN ki d E-a).” 

16 See P. F. Gossmann, Planetarium Babylonicum (1950), 306. 

Hamlet’s Mill 

2 I 2 

ing of the equinoctial colure 17 due to the Precession. But the analysis 
of this intricate problem of rivers will come in the chapter on the 

One thing meanwhile stands firm: the real, the original, way from 
the whirlpool lies in heaven. With this finding, one may plunge 
again into the bewildering jungle of “earthly” myths concerning 
the Waters from the Deep. 

17 The equinoctial colure is the great circle which passes through the celestial 
poles and the equinoctial points: the solstitial colure runs through both the celes¬ 
tial and ecliptic poles and through the solstitial points. Macrobius has it, strange 
to say, that “they are not believed to extend to the South Pole,” whence kolouros , 
meaning “dock-tailed,” “which are so called because they do not make complete 
circles” (Comm. Somn. Scip. 1. 15.14). The translator, W. H. Stahl (p. 151), refers, 
among others, to Geminus 1.49-50. Geminus, however (5.49, Manitius, pp. 60- 
61), does not claim such obvious nonsense; he states the following: “Kolouroi they 
are called, because certain of their parts are not visible (dia to mere tina auton 
atheoreta ginesthai). Whereas the other circles become visible in their whole ex¬ 
tension with the revolution of the cosmos, certain parts of the Colures remain invi¬ 
sible, ‘docked’ by the antarctical circle below the horizon.” 

Chapter XV 

The Waters from the Deep 

The glacier knocks in the cup¬ 

The desert sighs in the bed, 

And the crack in the tea cup 

A lane to the land of the dead. 

W. H. Auden, “As I Walked 
Out One Evening” 


X- here is a tradition from Borneo of a “whirlpool island” with 
a tree that allows a man to climb up into heaven and bring back 
useful seeds from the “land of the Pleiades.” 1 The Polynesians have 
not made up their mind, apparently, concerning the exact localiza¬ 
tion of their whirlpool which serves in most cases as entrance to the 
abode of the dead; it is supposed to be found “at the end of the sky,” 
and “at the edge of the Milky Way.” 2 

On this side of the Atlantic the Cuna Indians also knew the basic 
scheme, 3 although they, too, failed to give the accepted localization: 
“God’s very own whirlpool” ( tiolele piria ) was right beneath the 
Palluwalla tree, “Saltwater-Tree,” and when the Sun-God, or the 
Tapir, a slightly disguised Quetzalcouatl, chopped down the tree, 
saltwater gushed forth to form the oceans of the world. 

1 A. Maass, “Sternkunde und Sterndeuterei im Malaiischen Archipel” (1924), in 
Tijdschrift Indische Taal-, Land-, en Volkenkunde 64, p. 388. 

2 M. W. Alakemson ( The Morning Star Rises: An Account of Polynesian As¬ 
tronomy [1941], no. 160) suggests Sagittarius. For Samoa, see A. Kraemer, Die 
Sanioa-lnseln (1902), vol. 1, p. 369. For Alangaia, see P. Buck, Mangaian Society 
(1934), p. 198; and R. W. Williamson, Religious and Cosmic Beliefs of Central 
Polynesia (1924), vol. 2, p. 251. 

3 C. E. Keeler, Secrets of the Cuna Eartfonother (i960), pp. 6yff., 78b 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


There arc three elements here, which combine into a curious 
tangle: (a) the whirlpool represents, or is, the connection of the 
world of the living with the world of the dead; (b) a tree grows 
close to it, frequently a life-giving or -saving tree; (c) the whirl 
came into being because a tree was chopped down or uprooted, or 
a mill's axle unhinged, and the like. This basic scheme works into 
many variants and features in many parts of the world, and it pro¬ 
vides a very real paradox or conundrum: it is as if the particular 
waters hidden below tree, pillar, or mill’s axle waited only for the 
moment when someone should remove that plug—tree, pillar, or 
mill’s axle—to play tricks. 

This is no newfangled notion. Alfred Jeremias remarks casually, 
“The opening of the navel brings the deluge. When David wanted 
to remove the navel stone in Jerusalem, a flood was going to start 
[see below, p. 220]. In Hierapolis in Syria the altar of Xisuthros 
[= Utnapishtim] was shown in the cave where the flood dried up.” 4 

The pattern reveals itself in the Indonesian Rama epic. 5 When 
Rama is building the huge dike to Lanka (Ceylon) the helpful mon¬ 
keys throw mountain after mountain into the sea, but all of them 
vanish promptly. Enraged, Rama is going to shoot his magic arrow 
into the unobliging sea, when there arises a lady from the waters 
who warns him that right here was a hole in the ocean leading to 
the underworld, and who informs him that the water in that hole 
was called Water of Life. 

Rama would seem to have won out with his threat since the dike 
was built. But the same story comes back in Greece when Herakles 
crosses the sea in order to steal the cattle of Geryon. Okeanos, 
represented here as a god, works up the waters into a tumult which 
are the waters of the original flood; Herakles threatens with his 
drawn bow, and calm is re-established. 

Neither whirlpool nor confluence are mentioned in these cases, 
but they clearly extend to them. This gives great importance to the 
Catlo’ltq story from the American Northwest that is paradigmatic 
(see chapter XXII) of the maiden who shoots her arrow into the 

4 HAOG, p. 156, n. 7 (“wo die Flut versiegte”). 

5 W. Stutterheim, Rama-Legenden imd Rama-Reliefs in Indonesien (1925), p. 54. 

215 ' The Waters jrom the Deep 

“navel of the waters which was a vast whirlpool,” thus winning 
fire. Some very fundamental idea must be lurking behind the story, 
and a pretty old one, since it was said of Ishtar that it is “she who 
stirs up the apsu before Ea.” 6 

A strange pastime for the heavenly queen, but it seems to have 
been a rather celestial sport. The eighth Yasht of the Avesta, 7 dedi¬ 
cated to Sirius-Tishtriya, says of this star: “We worship the splen¬ 
did, brilliant Tishtriya, which soars rapidly to Lake Vurukasha, 
like the arrow quick-as-lightning, which Urxsa the archer, the 
best archer among the Aryans, shot from Mount Aryioxsutha to 
Mount Huvanvant.” 8 And what does Sirius do to this sea? It causes 
“Lake Vurukasha to surge up, to flood asunder, to spread out; at 
all shores surges Lake Vurukasha, the whole center surges up” (Yt. 
£.31; see also 5-4). Whereas Pliny 9 wants to assure us that “the 
whole sea is conscious of the rise of that star, as is most clearly seen 
in the Dardanelles, for sea-weed and fishes float on the surface, and 
everything is turned up from the bottom.” He also remarks that at 

6 “Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World,” obv. 1 . 27, ANET, p. 107; see also 
W. F. Albright, “The Mouth of the Rivers,” AJSL 55 (1919), p. 184. 

7 Yasht 8.6 and 8 . 37 (H. Lommel, Die Yashts des Awesta [ 1927]). 

8 See for the feat of this unpronounceable archer (Rkhsha) the report given by 
Al-Biruni, who spells him simply Arish (The Chronology of Ancient Nations , 
trans. E. Sachau [1879], p. 205). The background of the tale: Afrasiyab had prom¬ 
ised to restore to Minocihr a part of Eranshar (which had been conquered by him) 
as long and as broad as an arrow shot. Arish shot the arrow on the 13th day of the 
month Tir-Mah, after having announced: “I know that when I shoot with this bow 
and arrow I shall fall to pieces and my life will be gone.” Accordingly, when he 
shot, he “fell asunder into pieces. By order of God the wind bore the arrow away 
from the mountain of Ruyan and brought it to the utmost frontier of Khurasan be¬ 
tween Farghana and Tabaristan; there it hit the trunk of a nut-tree that was so large 
that there had never been a tree like it in the world. The distance between the place 
where the arrow was shot and that where it fell was 1,000 Farsakh.” (See also 
S. H. Taqizadeh, Old Iranian Calendars [1938], p. 44.) Tir or Tira is the name for 
Mercury (see T. Hyde, Veterum Fersarum et Parthorum Religio?iis historia [1760], 
p. 24: “Tir, i.e., Sagitta . . ., quo etiam nomine appellatur Mercurius Planeta propter 
velociorem motum”), but it is also, along with Tishtriya, the name for Sirius (see 
A. Scherer, Gestirnna?nen bei den indogermanischen Volkern [1953], pp. 113f.), 
and the 13th day of every month is dedicated to Sirius-Tishtriya (see Lommel, 
p. 5). We must leave it at that: Sirius-the-arrow has made more mythical “noise” 
than any other star, and also its connection with the ominous number 13 appears 
to be no Iranian monopoly. 

9 31.58. Cf. Aristotle, Historia Animalium £.15.5998-600. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 216 

the rising of the Dog-Star the wine in the cellars begins to stir up 
and that the still waters move (2.107)— an d the Avesta offers as 
explanation (Yt. #.41) that it is Tishtriya, indeed, “by whom count 
the waters, the still and the flowing ones, those in springs and in 
rivers, those in channels and in ponds.” 10 

This is, however, no Iranian invention: the ritual text of the 
Babylonian New Year addresses Sirius as “ mul KAK.SI.DI. who mea¬ 
sures the depth of the Sea.” mul is the prefix announcing the star, 
KAK.SI.DI means “arrow,” and it is this particular arrow which 
is behind most of the bewildering tales of archery. The bow from 
which it is sent on its way is a constellation, built from stars of 
Argo and Canis Major, which is common to the spheres of Meso¬ 
potamia, Egypt and China. 11 And since the name Ishtar is shared by 
both Venus and Sirius, one may guess who “stirs up the apsu 
before Ea.” 

And here is what the “fire” accomplished, according to a Finnish 
rune of origin, 12 after it had been “cradled . . . over there on the 
navel of the sky, on the peak of the famous mountain,” when it 
rushed straightaway through seven or nine skies and fell into the 
sea: “The spark . . . rolled ... to the bottom of Lake Aloe, roaring 
it rushed to the bottom of the sea, down into the narrow depres¬ 
sion (?). This Lake Aloe then, thrice in the summernight, rose 
foaming to the height of its firs, driven in fury beyond its banks. 
Thereupon again Lake Aloe thrice in the summernight dried up its 
waters to the bottom, its perch on the rocks, its pope [small fishes] 
on the skerries.” 

A violent spark this seems to have been; yet—is it not also said 
of the old Sage: “Vainamoinen in the mouth of the whirlpool boils 
like fire in water”? 13 Which goes to show that mythical “fire” means 
more than meets the eye. Actually, the enigmatical events in “Lake 

10 Trans. E. Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His World (1947), p. 587. 

11 There is strong circumstantial evidence of this bow and arrow in Mexico also: 
the bow of the Chichimeca, the Dog-people. 

12 K. Krohn, Magische Ursprungsrunen der Finnen (1924), pp. 115!?. See also F. 
Ohrt, The Spark in the Water (1926), pp. 3f. 

13 M. Haavio, Vai?ia?noinen, Eternal Sage (1952), p. 196. 


The Mesopotamian constellation of Bow and Arrow ( mul BAN and mul KAK.SI.DI, 
or, as reconstructed on the evidence of astronomical cuneiform texts; is Sirius, the “Arrow-Star.” 

T'ien-lang ou Sirius 

r 104 qO 2 

The Chinese constellation built up by the same stars. In China, however, the arrow 
is shorter; Sirius is not the tip of the arrow, but the target: the celestial jackal 

‘/w r*\ >;t ^ v 

The star maps for the celestial globe in the Hsin I Hsiang Fa Yao of 1092 “Mer¬ 
cator’s” projection. The constellation of the bow is seen near the center of the 
lower half. 

Drawing the bow at Sirius, the celestial jackal, as it was done by the mythical 
emperors of Ancient China. 

In the so-called “Round Zodiac” of Dendera (Roman Egypt), the goddess Satit is 
aiming her arrow from the same bow at the star on the head of the Sothiscow— 
Sirius again (on the right, lower half). The Egyptian conception is closer to that 
of the Chinese than to the Babylonian. 

217 * Th e Waters from the Deep 

Aloe” cannot be severed from those occurring in Lake Vurukasha 
and the coming into being of the “three outlets,” the first of which 
had the name Hausravah/Kai Khusrau (see chapter XIII, “Of Time 
and the Rivers,” p. 201). 

Before we move on to many motifs which will be shown as 
related to the same “eddy-field” or whirl, it is appropriate to quote 
in full a version of the fire and water story from the Indians of 
Guyana. This not only provides charming variations, but presents 
that rarest of deities, a creator power neither conceited nor touchy 
nor jealous nor quarrelsome nor eager to slap down unfortunates 
with “inborn sin,” but a god aware that his powers are not really 
unlimited. He behaves modestly, sensibly and thoughtfully and is 
rewarded with heartfelt cooperation from his creatures, at least 
from all except for the usual lone exception. 

The Ackawois of British Guiana say that in the beginning of the 
world the great spirit Makonaima [or Makunaima; he is a twin-hero; 
the other is called Pia] created birds and beasts and set his son Sigu to 
rule over them. iMoreover, he caused to spring from the earth a great 
and very wonderful tree, which bore a different kind of fruit on each 
of its branches, while round its trunk bananas, plantains, cassava, 
maize, and corn of all kinds grew in profusion; yams, too, clustered 
round its roots; and in short all the plants now cultivated on earth 
flourished in the greatest abundance on or about or under that mar¬ 
vellous tree. 

In order to diffuse the benefits of the tree all over the world, Sigu 
resolved to cut it down and plant slips and seeds of it everywhere, and 
this he did with the help of all the beasts and birds, all except the 
brown monkey , who, being both lazy and mischievous, refused to 
assist in the great work of transplantation. So to keep him out of 
mischief Sigu set the animal to fetch water from the stream in a basket 
of open-work, calculating that the task would occupy his misdirected 
energies for some time to come. 

In the meantime, proceeding with the labour of felling the miraculous 
tree, he discovered that the stump was hollow and full of water in 
which the fry of every sort of fresh-water fish was swimming about. 
The benevolent Sigu determined to stock all the rivers and lakes on 
earth with the fry on so liberal a scale that every sort of fish should 
swarm in every water. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 218 

But this generous intention was unexpectedly frustrated. For the 
water in the cavity, being connected with the great reservoir some¬ 
where in the bowels of the earth, began to overflow; and to arrest the 
rising flood Sigu covered the stump with a closely woven basket. This 
had the desired effect. But unfortunately the brown monkey, tired of 
his fruitless task, stealthily returned, and his curiosity being aroused 
by the sight of the basket turned upside down, he imagined that it 
must conceal something good to eat. So he cautiously lifted it and 
peeped beneath, and out poured the flood , sweeping the monkey him¬ 
self away and inundating the whole land. Gathering the rest of the 
animals together Sigu led them to the highest points of the country, 
where grew some tall coconut-palms. Up the tallest trees he caused 
the birds and climbing animals to ascend; and as for the animals that 
could not climb and were not amphibious, he shut them in a cave 
with a very narrow entrance, and having sealed up the mouth of it 
with wax he gave the animals inside a long thorn with which to pierce 
the wax and so ascertain when the water had subsided. After taking 
these measures for the preservation of the more helpless species, he 
and the rest of the creatures climbed up the palm-tree and ensconced 
themselves among the branches. 

During the darkness and storm which followed, they all suffered in¬ 
tensely from cold and hunger; the rest bore their sufferings with 
stoical fortitude, but the red howling monkey uttered his anguish in 
such horrible yells that his throat swelled and has remained distended 
ever since; that, too, is the reason why to this day he has a sort of 
bony drum in his throat. 

Meanwhile Sigu from time to time let fall seeds of the palm into the 
water to judge of its depth by the splash. As the water sank, the 
interval between the dropping of the seed and the splash in the water 
grew longer; and at last, instead of a splash the listening Sigu heard 
the dull thud of the seeds striking the soft earth. Then he knew that 
the flood had subsided, and he and the animals prepared to descend. 
But the trumpeter-bird was in such a hurry to get down that he 
flopped straight into an ant’s nest, and the hungry insects fastened on 
his legs and gnawed them to the bone. That is why the trumpeter- 
bird has still such spindle shanks. The other creatures profited by this 
awful example and came down the tree cautiously and safely. 

Sigu now rubbed two pieces of wood together to make fire , but just 
as he produced the first spark, he happened to look away, and the 
bush-turkey, mistaking the spark for a fire-fly, gobbled it up and 
flew off. The spark burned the greedy bird’s gullet, and that is why 
turkeys have red wattles on their throats to this day. 


219 • The Waters jrom the Deep 

The alligator was standing by at the time, doing no harm to anybody; 
but as he was for some reason an unpopular character, all the other 
animals accused him of having stolen and swallowed the spark. In 
order to recover the spark from the jaws of the alligator Sigu tore out 
the animal’s tongue, and that is why alligators have no tongue to 
speak of down to this very day. 14 

There are many more stories over the world of a plug whose 
removal causes the flood: with the Agaria, an ironsmith tribe of 
Central India, it is the breaking of a nail of iron which causes their 
Golden Age town of Lohripur to be flooded. 15 According to the 
Mongolians, the Pole star is “a pillar from the firm standing of 
which depends the correct revolving of the world, or a stone which 
closes an opening: if the stone is pulled out, water pours out of the 
opening to submerge the earth.” 16 In the Babylonian myth of 
Utnapishtim, “Nergal [the God of the Underworld] tears out 
the posts; forth comes Ninurta and causes the dikes to follow” 
(GE //.ioif.). But the new thing to be faced is the appearance of 
the Ark in the flood, Noah’s or another’s. 

The first ark was built by Utnapishtim in the Sumerian myth; 
one learns in different ways that it was a cube—a modest one, mea¬ 
suring 60 x 60 x 60 fathoms, which represents the unit in the sexa¬ 
gesimal system where 60 is written as 1. In another version, there 
is no ark, just a cubic stone, upon which rests a pillar which reaches 
from earth to heaven. The stone, cubic or not, is lying under a 
cedar, or an oak, ready to let loose a flood, without obvious reasons. 

Confusing as it is, this seems to provide the new theme. In Jewish 
legends, it is told that “since the ark disappeared there was a stone 
in its place . . . which was called foundation stone.” It was called 
foundation stone “because from it the world was founded [or 
started].” And it is said to lie above the Waters that are below the 
Holy of Holies. 

14 W. H. Brett, The Indian Tribes of Guiana (1868), pp. 378-84; Sir Everard F. 
im Thurn, Among the Indians of Guiana (1883), pp. 379-81 (quoted in J. G. 
Frazer, Folklore in the Old Testament [1918], vol. 1, p. 265). The italics are ours. 

15 V. Elwin, The Agaria (1942), pp. 96fT. 

16 G. M. Potanin, quoted by W. Liidtke, “Die Verehrung Tschingis-Chans bei 
den Ordos-Mongolen,” ARW 2 5 (1927), p. 115. 


Hamlet’s Mill • 


This might look like a dream sequence, but it is buttressed by a 
very substantial tradition, taken up by the Jews but to be found 
also in Finno-Ugrian tradition. 17 The Jewish story then goes on: 

When David was digging the foundations of the Temple, a shard was 
found at a depth of 1500 cubits. David was about to lift it when the 
shard exclaimed: “Thou canst not do it.” “Why not?” asked David. 
“Because I rest upon the abyss.” “Since when?” “Since the hour in 
which the voice of God was heard to utter the words from Sinai, ‘I 
am the Lord, your God,’ causing the world to quake and sink into the 
Abyss. I lie here to cover up the Abyss.” 

Nevertheless David lifted the shard, and the waters of the Abyss 
rose and threatened to flood the earth. Ahithophel was standing by 
and he thought to himself: “Now David shall meet with his death and 
I shall be king.” Just then David said: “Whoever knows how to stem 
the tide of waters and fails to do it, will one day throttle himself.” 

Thereupon Ahithophel had the name of God inscribed upon the 
shard, and the shard thrown into the Abyss. The waters at once com¬ 
menced to subside, but they sank to so great a depth that David 
feared the earth might lose her moisture, and he began to sing the 
fifteen “Songs of Ascents,” to bring the waters up again. 

The foundation stone here has become a shard and its name in 
tradition is Eben Shetiyyah, which is derived from a verb of many 
meanings: 18 “to be settled, satisfied; to drink; to fix the warp, to lay 
the foundations of,” among which “to fix the warp” is the most 
revealing, and a reminder of the continuing importance of “frames.” 
Within that “frame” there is a surging up and down of the waters 
below (as in the Phaedo myth) which suggests catastrophes un¬ 
recorded by history but indicated only by the highly colored termi¬ 
nology of cosmologists. Had they only known of a Cardan suspen¬ 
sion, the world might have been conceived as more stable. 

Hildegard Lewy’s researches 19 on Eben Shetiyyah brought up a 
passage in the Annals of Assur-nasir-apli in which the new temple 

17 L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (1954), vol. 4 , p. 96; cf. also vol. /, p. 12; 
vol. 5, p. 14. We are indebted to Irvin N. Asher for the quotation, as well as for 
the ones from Jastrow that follow. Cf. V. J. Mansikka, “Der blaue Stein,” FUF 
11 (1911),p. 2. 

18 The verb is shat an; the meanings are given in Jastrow’s dictionary. 

19 “Origin and Significance of the Magen Dawid,” Archiv Orientalni 18 (1950), 
Pt. 3, pp. 3 44 fF. 

2 2 I 

• The Waters from the Deep 

of Xinurta at Kalhu is described as founded at the depth of 120 
layers of bricks down 4 *to the level of the waters,” or, down to the 
water table. This comes back to the waters of the deep in their 
natural setting. But what people saw in them is something else 
again. If David and the Assyrian king dug down to subsoil water, 
so did the builders of the Ka'aba in Mecca. In the interior of that 
most holy of all shrines there is a well, across the opening of which 
had been placed, in pre-Islamic times, the statue of the god I lubal. 
Al-Biruni says that in the early Islamic period this was a real well, 
where pilgrims could quench their thirst at least at the time of the 
Arab pilgrimage. The statue of I lubal had been meant to stop the’ 
waters from rising. According to the legends, the same belief had 
once been current in Jerusalem. Hence the holy shard. But Mecca 
tells more. Ilildegard Lewy points out that, in pre-Islamic days, the 
god Hubal was Saturn, and that the Holy Stone of the Ka’aba had 
the same role, for it was a cube, and hence originally Saturn. Kep¬ 
ler's polyhedron inscribed in the sphere of Saturn is only the last 
witness of an age-old tradition. 

The humble little shard was brought in by pious legend to try to 
say that what counted was the power of the I loly Name. But the 
real thing was the cube: either as Utnapishtim's ark or, in other 
versions, as a stone upon which rests a pillar which reaches from 
earth to heaven. Even Christ is compared to “a cube-shaped moun¬ 
tain, upon which a tower is erected.” 20 Hocart writes that ‘‘the 
Sinhalese frequently placed inside their topes a square stone repre¬ 
senting Meru. If they placed in the center of a tope a stone repre¬ 
senting the center of the world it must have been that they took the 
tope to represent the world" 11 —which goes without saying. But it 
is said otherwise that this stone, the foundation stone, lies under a 
great tree, and that from under the stone “a wave rose up to the 

This sounds like a late mixture, with no reasons given; the way 
to unscramble the original motifs is to take them separately. 

20 In the ninth simile of the ‘ Pastor of Hermas," according to F. Hampers ( Vom 
Werdegznge der abendLindischen Kaisermystik [ 19:4], p. 53). 

21 Kingship , p. 179 (quoted by P. Mus, R.Trabudur (1935], p. 108, n. i). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


But first, some stock-taking is in order at this point. There are a 
number of figures to bring together. The brown monkey, father of 
mischief in Sigu’s idyllic creation, is familiar under many disguises. 
He is the Serpent of Eden, the lone dissenter. He is Loke who 
persuaded the mistletoe not to weep over Balder’s death, thus 
breaking the unanimity of creatures. Sigu himself, benevolent king 
of the Golden Age, is an unmistakably Saturnian figure, who dwelt 
among his creatures, and so is Iahwe, at least when he still “walked 
with Adam in the garden.” A ruler who “means well” is a Saturnian 
character. No one but Saturn dwelt among men. Says an Orphic 
fragment: “Orpheus reminds us that Saturn dwelt openly on earth 
and among men.” 22 Dionysius of Halicarnassus (/.36.i) writes: 
“Thus before the reign of Zeus, Kronos ruled on this very earth” 
to which Maximilian Mayer crisply annotates: “We find no men¬ 
tion anywhere of such an earthly sojourn on the part of Zeus.” 23 
In a similar way, Sandman Holmberg states with respect to Ptah, 
the Egyptian Saturn: “The idea of Ptah as an earthly king returns 
again and again in Egyptian texts,” and also points to “the remark¬ 
able fact that Ptah is the only one of the Egyptian gods who is 
represented with a straight royal beard, instead of with a bent 
beard.” 24 

The Saturnalia, from Rome to Mexico, commemorated just this 
aspect of Saturn’s rule, with their general amnesties, masters serving 
slaves, etc., even if Saturn was not always directly mentioned. 
When this festival was due in China, so to speak “sub delta Gemi- 
norum”—more correctly, delta and the Gemini stars 61 and 56 of 
Flamsteed—“there was a banquet in which all hierarchic distinctions 
were set aside . . . The Sovereign invited his subjects through the 
‘Song of Stags.’ ” 25 

The cube was Saturn’s figure, as Kepler showed in his Mysterium 
Cosmographicuvi; this is the reason for the insistence on cubic 
stones and cubic arks. Everywhere, the power who warns “Noah” 

22 Orphi cor nv i Fragmenta (1963), frg. 139, p. 186, from Lactantius. 

23 M. Mayer, in Roscher s.v. Kronos, pp. 1458L 

24 M. Sandman Holmberg, The God Ptah (1946), pp. 83, 85. 

25 G. Schlegel, UUraiiographie Chinoise (1875), p. 424. 

... Q . . . . -4 



1 iJr t' 1 

_ l// 

lj||fyij[f i 

*_jr^0^jsg§§Bi I 

-'Jap. \ 

ijH& / \ 


The Polyhedra inscribed into the planetary orbits. Kepler’s drawing is a pure 
geometrical fancy, but it is meant to correspond to the actual relation between 
the radii of the planetary orbits. Most important here is the cube, fitted into the 
outermost sphere of Saturn. 

• The lVjters f t om the Deep 

— 3 

and urges him to build his ark is Saturn, as Jehovah, as Enid, as 
Tane. etc. Sign's basket stopper was obviously an inadequate ver¬ 
sion of the cube seen through the fantasy of basket-weaving na¬ 
tives. This leads to the conclusion that Noah's ark originally had a 
definite role in bringing the flood to an end. An interesting and 
unexpected conclusion for Bible experts. 

One of the great motifs of myth is the wondrous tree so often 
described as reaching up to heaven. There are many of them—the 
Ash Yggdrasil in the Edd.i. the world-darkening oak of the K.i!e- 
fj/j. Pherecydes’ world-oak draped with the starry mantle, and the 
Tree of Life in Eden. That tree is often cut down. too. The other 
motif is the foundation stone, which sometimes becomes a cubic ark. 

These motifs must first be traced through. After reading the 
beautiful story of Sigu's wonder tree, in whose stump are all the 
kinds of fish to populate the world, it needs patience to cope with 
the cubic stone which is found in the middle of the sea. under which 
dwells a mystic character whose guises van.' from a miraculous fish, 
even a whale, to a “green fire.'' the "king of all fires." the "central 
fire." to the Devil himself. The chief source for him are Russian 2 ' 
and Finnish magic formulae, and these "superstitions" ("left-overs”) 
are Stone Age fragments of flinty hardness embedded in the softer 
structure of historic overlay. Magic material withstands change, 
just because of its resistance to the erosion of common sense. As far 
as these magic formulae go. they became embedded in a Christian 
context as the particular populations underwent conversion, but 
they remain as witnesses for a very different understanding of the 
cosmos. For example. Finnish runes on the origin of water state that 
"all rivers come from the Jordan, into which all rivers flow. " that 
"water has its origin in the eddy of the holy river—it is the bathing 
water of Jesus, the tears of God." 2 ’ On the other hand. Scandina¬ 
vian formulae stress the point that Christ "stopped up the Jordan" 
or "the Sea of Noah" ( Mansikka. pp. a-iqf.. 29-. n. 1) which, in its 
rum. fits into the P.istor of Hennas, where Christ is compared to a 
"cube-shaped mountain" (see above, p. ::i). From this it is not 

V. J. Mansikka. Vtcr russiscbe Z.*uberiomtdr. < :qoq •. pp. 1S4-S-, ifc. 19:. 

Krohn. Urspn/ngsnmen. pp. io6f. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


strange that the Cross becomes the “new tree,” marking new cross¬ 
roads. One need not go as far as Russia for that. In the famous 
frescoes of Piero della Francesca in Arezzo there is “the discovery 
of the True Cross.” It begins with the death of Adam, lying at the 
foot of the tree. The wood from the tree will later provide the 
material for the Cross. Later still, St. Helena, mother of Constan¬ 
tine, sees it in a dream and causes the wood to be dug up to become 
the holiest of relics. Piero illustrated nothing that was not in good 
medieval tradition. This is, one might say, sensitive ground. 

Chapter XVI 

The Stone and the Tree 

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan 
A stately pleasure dome decree 
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran 
Through caverns measureless to man 
Down to a sunless sea. 

Coleridge, Kubla Khan 


J-he ground, indeed, is not only sensitive but difficult and shift¬ 
ing as well. If the whirlpool turns up in the theory of the Cross, it 
is certainly without the consent of theologians. Yet the instances so 
far given are not isolated ones. It is necessary to deal with material 
which may appear suspicious to the trained historical reader, who is 
bound to be wary of omne ignotum pro magnifico. One should, 
therefore, preface this chapter with a small case history, which may 
show the infrangible tenacity of certain kinds of transmitted ma¬ 
terial, fragments of a sort official memory is prone to dismiss or 

In the Gospel of Mark hi. 17, the “twins” James and John, the 
sons of Zebedee, are given by Jesus the name of Boanerges, which 
the Evangelist explains as meaning “Sons of Thunder.” 1 This was 
long overlooked but eventually became the title of a work by a 
distinguished scholar, too soon forgotten, Rendel Harris. Here the 
Thunder Twins were shown to exist in cultures as different as 
Greece, Scandinavia and Peru. They call to mind the roles of Magni 
and Modi, not actually called twins, but successors of Thor, in 
Ragnarok. But to quote from Harris: 

1 Kai epetheken autois onoma Boanerges, ho estin hyioi brontes. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 226 

We have shown that it does not necessarily follow that when the 
parenthood of the Thunder is recognised, it necessarily extends to 
both of the twins. The Dioscuri may be called unitedly, Sons of Zeus; 
but a closer investigation shows conclusively that there was a ten¬ 
dency in the early Greek cults to regard one twin as of divine paren¬ 
tage, and the other of human. Thus Castor is credited to Tyndareus, 
Pollux to Zeus . . . The extra child made the trouble, and was credited 
to an outside source. Only later will the difficulty of discrimination 
lead to the recognition of both as Sky-boys or Thunder-boys. An 
instance from a remote civilization will show that this is the right 
view to take. 

For example, Arriaga, in his “Extirpation of Idolatry in Peru” tells 
us that “when two children are produced at one birth, which they 
call Chuchos or Curi, and in el Cuzco Taqui Hua-hua, they hold it 
for an impious and abominable occurrence, and they say, that one of 
them is the child of the Lightning , and require a severe penance, as if 
they had committed a great sin.” 

And it is interesting to note that when the Peruvians, of whom Ar¬ 
riaga speaks, became Christians, they replaced the name of Son of 
Thunder, given to one of the twins, by the name of Santiago, having 
learnt from their Spanish (missionary) teachers that St. James (San¬ 
tiago) and St. John had been called Sons of Thunder by our Lord, a 
phrase which these Peruvian Indians seem to have understood, where 
the great commentators of the Christian Church had missed the 
meaning . . . 

Another curious and somewhat similar transfer of the language of the 
Marcan story in the folk-lore of a people, distant both in time and 
place . . . will be found, even at the present day, amongst the Danes 
. . . Besides the conventional flint axes and celts, which commonly 
pass as thunder-missiles all over the world, the Danes regard the fossil 
sea-urchin as a thunderstone, and give it a peculiar name. Such stones 
are named in Sailing, sebedaei- stones or s'bedaei; in North Sailing 
they are called sepadeje- stones. In Norbaek, in the district of Viborg, 
the peasantry called them Zebedee stones! At Jebjerg, in the parish 
of Cerum, district of Randers, they called them sebedei-stones . . . 
The name that is given to these thunderstones is, therefore, very well 
established, and it seems certain that it is derived from the reference 
to the Sons of Zebedee in the Gospel as sons of thunder. The Danish 
peasant , like the Peruvian savage , recogjiised at once vchat voas ??ieant 
by Boanerges , and called his thunderstone after its patron saint . 2 

This might have given pause to later hyperscholars like Bult- 
mann, before they proceeded to “de-mythologize” the Bible. One 
never knows what one treads underfoot. Conversely, it shows that 

2 R. Harris, Boanerges (1913), pp. 9BF. 


• The Stone and the Tree 

some misunderstanding beyond the knowledge of the experts must 
be accounted for before one deals with the whole information. 
Thus, there is no intention to dismiss the abundant legends and 
runes dealing with the wood of the Cross. Lack of time, however, 
does not allow for a proper investigation, 3 and permits only some 
remarks on Finnish and Russian notions about the “Great Oak,” 
which is the nearest “relative” of Sumerian trees. Says one of the 
Finnish runes: “Long oak, broad oak. What is the wood of its 
root? Gold is the wood of its root. The sky is the wood of the 
oak’s summit. An enclosure within the sky. A wether in the en¬ 
closure. A granary on the horn of the wether.” 4 The next version 
boldly puts “the granary upon the top of the cross.” According to 
a further version, in the crown of the oak is a cradle with a little 
boy, who has an axe upon his shoulder. More stunning notions 
occur in a Russian Apocryph where Satanael planted the tree in 
the paradise intending to get out of it a weapon against Christ: 
“The branches of the tree spread over the whole paradise, and 
it also covered the Sun. Its summit touched the sky, and from its 
roots sprang fountains of milk and honey.” 5 

This latter idea in its turn fits the medieval tradition according 
to which the rivers of Paradise gushed forth from under the Cross. 
There will be other bewildering “trees” in the chapter on Gilga- 
mesh, but there also no attempt will be made to exhaust the huge 
and ambiguous evidence. 

But with the caveats distilled from the Sons of Thunder, and 
similar instances, it is possible to deal with more outlandish data. 
First, there is in the Atharva Veda, a whole hymn dedicated to 
what may be called the world pillar (a highly multivalent pillar), 
called the skambloa from which—see above, p. 111—the Finnish 
Sampo is derived. At this point only one verse will serve, in which 
the fiery monster of the deep is mentioned: 6 

3 For a rich collection of material see F. Kampers, Mittelalterliche Sagen vom 
Paradiese und vcnn Holze des Kreuzes Christi (1897). 

4 K. Krohn, Magische Ursprungsrunen der Finnen (1924), p. 192. 

5 Krohn, p. 197. 

6 To prevent relentless experts from pointing to “fundamental” investigations 
which are, no doubt, unknown to us: the chapter on yaks a in Pischel and Geldner’s 
Vedische Studien is not unknown to us; there are several momentous reasons why 
we prefer to stick to the “obsolete” submarine “monster.” 

Hamlet’s Mill • 228 

AV 10. 7.38. A great monster [yaksa} in the midst of the creation, 

strode in penance on the back of the sea—in it are set whatever gods 

there are, like the branches of a tree roundabout the trunk. 

Or, to take a testimony from “late” astrological sources, these 
statements given by the Liber Hermetis Trismegisti which became 
so famous in the Middle Ages, to the degrees of Taurus (Gundel, 
pp. 54 f., 2i 7 ff.): 

18-20° oritur Navis et desuper Draco viortuus, vocatur Terra 
rises the Ship, and on it the dead Dragon, called Earth 

21-23° oritur qui detinet navem, Deus disponens universum mundwn 
rises he who keeps (or detains) the ship, the God that orders 
the whole universe. [Disponere corresponds to Greek kos- 
uteo. ] 

Whatever it is that rules “below” seems, indeed, a truly omnipo¬ 
tent entity: There are, after all, very few, if any, characters who 
are simply said to “order the whole universe.” 

This remarkable “kosmokrator” will be dealt with; the fiery 
creature deep down in the sea, however, has to be banished into 
an appendix. That it is relevant to the whole scheme can be seen 
from the fact that “Vainamoinen in the mouth of the whirlpool 
boils like fire in the water” 7 (appendix #19). 

The words of Hermes-Three-Times-Great, cryptic as they sound, 
are part of the highly organized technical language of astrologers; 
we mean not those who cast people’s fortunes for pay, but those 
who speculated on the traditional system of the world, and made 
use of whatever there was of astronomy, geography, mythology, 
holy texts of the laws of time and change, to build up an ambitious 
system. Abu Ma’shar and Michael Scotus were later dismissed as 
triflers, false prophets, and magicians, but Tycho and Kepler still 
held them in high esteem: they represented whatever there was 
of real science in the 13th century, and produced many dar¬ 
ing thoughts. The ignotum may conceivably turn out to be 

7 M. Haavio, Vainamoinen, Eternal Sage (1952), p. 196. 

229 * Tk> e Stone and the Tree 

The few disconnected sayings quoted may be called lacking in 
sense and method. They will be shored up with more material. Actu¬ 
ally, we had to sentence this chapter—once “swelling” enough to 
burst every seam—to the most meager of diets until it shriveled to 
its present state of emaciation and apparent lack of coherence. But 
first, one should understand what the latent geometrical design can 
imply, as it broke through, time and again, in the past chapters. 

Chapter XVII 

The Frame o] the Cosmos 

La mythologie, dans son origine, 
est l’ouvrage de la science; la 
science seule l’expliquera. 

Charles Dupuis 

Jn Greek myth, the basic frame of the world is described in the 
famous Vision of Er in the ioth Book of the Republic. In it we find 
Er the Armenian, who was resurrected from the funeral pyre just 
before it was kindled, and who describes his travel through the 
other world (/ 0.6 15ff.). He and the group of souls bound for re¬ 
birth whom he accompanies travel through the other world. They 
come to “a straight shaft of light, like a pillar, stretching from above 
throughout heaven and earth—and there, at the middle of the light, 
they saw stretching from heaven the extremities of its chains; for 
this light binds the heavens, holding together all the revolving 
firmament like the undergirths of a ship of war. And from the 
extremities stretched the Spindle of Necessity, by means of which 
all the circles revolve.” 

Cornford adds in a note: “It is disputed whether the bond hold¬ 
ing the Universe together is simply the straight axial shaft or a 
circular band of light, suggested by the Milky Way, 1 girdling the 
heaven of fixed stars.” 2 Eisler understood it as the zodiac, strange 
to say. 3 Since those “undergirths” of the trireme did not go around 
the ship horizontally, but were meant to secure the mast (the 

1 Cf. O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie imd Religionsgeschichte (1906), p. 
1036, n. 1: “probably the Milky Way.” 

2 Plato’s Republic (Cornford trans.), p. 353. 

3 Eisler, Weltenmantel und Hmmielszelt (1910), pp. 97ff. 

23 1 

• The Frame of the Cosmos 

“tree” of the ship) which points upwards, we stand, on princi¬ 
ple, for the Galaxy, which, however, had to be “replaced” by in¬ 
visible colures in later times. 4 But Er also talks of the adventures of 
the souls between incarnations, and in this context we might rely 
on the Milky Way. Surely the “model” is far from clear, even, on 
Cornford’s concession, obviously intentionally so. And indeed, a 
few paragraphs later, there comes the complete planetarium with 
its “whorls,” the “Spindle of Necessity” held by the goddess, by 
which sit the Fates as they unwind the threads of men’s lives. The 
souls can listen to the Song of Lachesis, if they are still in the 
“meadow,” but the chains and shaft or band are no longer in 
the picture. Plato refuses to be a correct geometrician of the Other 
World, just as he would not be sensible about the hydraulics of 
it. But previously in the Phaedo, Socrates had been ironic about 
the “truths” of science, and insisted that the truths of myth are of 
another order, and rebellious to ordinary consistency. It is here as if 
Plato had juxtaposed a number of revered mythical traditions (in¬ 
cluding the planetary harmony) without pretending to fit them into 
a proper order. And so his image of the “framework” of the cosmos 
is left inconclusive. But somehow the axis and the band and the 
chains stand together, and this, one concludes, was the original idea. 
The rotation of the polar axis must not be disjointed from the 
great circles which shift along with it in heaven. The framework 
is thought of as all one with the axis. This leads back to a Pythago¬ 
rean authority whom Plato was supposed to have followed (Timon 
even viciously said: plagiarized) and whom Socrates often quotes 
with unfeigned respect. It is Philolaos, surely a creative astronomer 
of high rank, from whom there are only a few surviving fragments, 
and the authenticity of these has been rashly challenged by many 
modern philologists. 5 In fragment 12 of Philolaos, there is a brief 
definition of the cosmos, very much in the spirit of Plato’s dode- 

4 Cf. also the discussion in J. L. E. Dreyer, A History of Astronomy from 
Thales to Kepler (1953), pp. 56#. Concerning the “chains,” which he translates 
“ligatures,” Dreyer states: “The ligatures ( desmoi ) of the heavens are the solstitial 
and equinoctial colures intersecting in the poles, which points therefore may be 
called their extremities ( akra ).” 

5 G. de Santillana and W. Pitts, “Philolaos in Limbo,” ISIS 42 (1951), pp. 112-20; 
also in Reflections on Men and Ideas (1968), pp. 190-201. 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 232 

cahedron quoted in chapter XII. “In the sphere there are five ele¬ 
ments, those inside the sphere, fire, and water and earth and air, 
and what is the hull of the sphere, the fifth.” 6 Notwithstanding 
Philolaos’ graceless Doric, the statement is perfectly clear. The 
“hull,” (olkas) was the common name for freighters, built for bulk 
cargo, broad in the beam. It is really more adequate than Plato’s 
slim trireme; and it is closer in shape to what both men meant 
apparently: the dodecahedron, the “hull,” i.e., the sphere, the 
actual containing frame. It is clear from Plato that the “fifth” is the 
sphere that he calls ether which contains the four earthly elements 
but is wholly removed from them. Aristotle was to change it to the 
crystalline heavenly “matter” that he needed for his system, but 
it remained for him a “fifth essence.” There has thus been twice 
repeated the original “hull,” the frame that has been sought. What 
happened, and was noted in chapter VII, was that the etymology 
of Sampo was discovered to be in the Sanskrit skambha. 

The abstract idea of a simple earth axis, so natural today, was 
by no means so logical to the ancients, who always thought of the 
whole machinery of heaven moving around the earth, stable at the 
center. One line always implied many others in a structure. So, 
apparently one must accept the idea of the world frame as an implex 
(as used here and later this word involves the necessary attributes 
that are associated with a concept: e.g., the center and circumfer¬ 
ence of a circle, the parallels and meridians implied by a sphere), 
of which Grotte and Sampo were the rude models with their pon¬ 
derous moving parts. 

Like the axle of the mill, the tree, the skambha, also represents 
the world axis. This instinctively suggests a straight, upright post, 
but the word axis is a simplification of the real concept. There is the 
invisible axis, of course, which is crowned by the North Nail, but 
this image needs to be enriched by two more dimensions. The term 
world axis is an abbreviation of language comparable to the visual 
abbreviation achieved by projecting the reaches of the sky onto a 
flat star map. It is best not to think of the axis in straight analytical 
terms, one line at a time, but to consider it, and the frame to which 
6 See H. Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (1951), vol. 1, pp. 412L 

233 ' The Frame of the Cosmos 

it is connected, as one whole. This involves the use of multivalent 
terms and the recognition of a convergent involution of unusual 

As radius automatically calls circle to mind, so axis must invoke 
the two determining great circles on the surface of the sphere, the 
equinoctial and solstitial colures. Pictured this way, the axis resem¬ 
bles a complete armillary sphere. It stands for the system of coor¬ 
dinates of the sphere and represents the frame of a world-age. 
Actually the frame defines a world-age. Because the polar axis and 
the colures form an indivisible whole, the entire frame is thrown 
out of kilter if one part is moved. When that happens, a new Pole 
star with appropriate colures of its own must replace the obsolete 

Thus the Sanskrit skambha, the world pillar, ancestor of the 
Finnish Sampo, is shown to be an integral element in the scheme 
of things. The hymn 10 .7 of the Atharva Veda is dedicated to the 
skambha, and Whitney, its translator and commentator 7 sounds 
puzzled in his footnote to /0.7.2: “Skambha, lit. ‘prop, support, 
pillar,’ strangely used in this hymn as frame of the universe or held 
personified as its soul.” Here are two verses of it: 

12. In whom earth, atmosphere, in whom sky is set, where fire, moon, 
sun, wind stand fixed, that Skambha tell . . . 

35. The Skambha sustains both heaven-and-earth here; the skambha 
sustains the wide atmosphere, the skambha sustains the six wide 
directions; into the skambha entered this whole existence. 

The good old Sampo sounds less pretentious, but it does have its 
three “roots,” “one in heaven, one in the earth, one in the water- 
eddy.” 8 To make a drawing of a pillarlike tree (let alone a mill), 
with its roots distributed in the manner indicated, would be quite a 
task. Notably it takes the “enormous bull of Pohja”—obviously a 
cosmic bull—to plow up these strange roots: the Finnish heroes by 
themselves had not been able to uproot the Sampo. 

In the case of Yggdrasil, the World Ash, Rydberg tried his hard¬ 
est to localize the three roots, to imagine and to draw them. Since he 

7 Harvard Oriental Series, vol. 8, p. 590. 

8 K. Krohn, Kalevalastudien 4. Sampo (1927), p. 13. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 234 

looked with steadfast determination into the interior of our globe, 
the result was not overly convincing. One of the roots is said to 
belong to the Asa in heaven, and beneath it is the most sacred foun¬ 
tain of Urd. The second is to be found in the quarters of the frost- 
giants “where Ginnungagap formerly was,” and where the well of 
Alimir now is. The third root belongs to Niflheim, the realm of the 
dead, and under this root is Hvergelmer, the Whirlpool (Gy If . 15). 9 

This precludes any terrestrial diagram. It looks as though the 
“axis,” implicating the equinoctial and solstitial colures, runs 
through the “three worlds” which are, to state it roughly and most 
inaccurately, the following: 

(a) the sky north of the Tropic of Cancer, i.e., the sky proper, do¬ 
main of the gods 

(b) the “inhabited world” of the zodiac between the Tropics, the 
domain of the “living” 

(c) the sky south from the Tropic of Capricorn, alias the Sweet- 
Water Ocean, the realm of the dead. 

The demarcation plane between solid earth and sea is represented 
by the celestial equator; hence half of the zodiac is under “water,” 
the southern ecliptic, bordered by the equinoctial points. There 
are more refined subdivisions, to be sure, “zones” or “belts” or 
“climates,” dividing the sphere from north to south and, most im¬ 
portant, the “sky” as well as the waters of the south have a share 
in the “inhabited world” allotted to them. 10 This summary is an 
almost frivolous simplification, but for the time being it may be 

9 We are aware that either Grotte “should” have three roots, or that Yggdrasil 
should be uprooted, and that the Finns do not tell how the maelstrom came into 
being. All of which can be explained; we wish, however, to avoid dragging more 
and more material into the case. Several ages of the world have passed away, and 
they do not perish all in the same manner; e.g., the Finns know of the destruction 
of Sampo and of the felling of the huge Oak. 

10 To clear up the exact range of the three worlds, it would be necessary to 
work out the whole history of the Babylonian “Ways of Anu, Enlil, and Ea” (cf. 
pp. 43if.), and how these “Ways” were adapted, changed, and defined anew 
by the many heirs of ancient oriental astronomy. And then we would not 
yet be wise to the precise whereabouts of Air, Saltwater, and other ambiguous 

235 * The Frame of the Cosmos 

Meanwhile, it is necessary to explain again what this “earth” is 
that modern interpreters like to take for a pancake. The mythical 
earth is, in fact, a plane, but this plane is not our “earth” at all, 
neither our globe, nor a presupposed homocentrical earth. “Earth” 
is the implied plane through the four points of the year, marked by 
the equinoxes and solstices, in other words the ecliptic. And this is 
why this earth is very frequently said to be quadrangular. The four 
“corners,” that is, the zodiacal constellations rising heliacally at both 
the equinoxes and solstices, parts of the “frame” skambha, are the 
points which determine an “earth.” Every world-age has its own 
“earth.” It is for this very reason that “ends of the world” are said 
to take place. A new “earth” arises, when another set of zodiacal 
constellations brought in by the Precession determines the year 

Once the reader has made the adjustment needed to think of the 
frame instead of the “pillar” he will understand easily many queer 
scenes which would be strictly against nature—ideas about planets 
performing feats at places which are out of their range, as both the 
poles are. He will understand why a force planning to uproot (or 
to chop down) a tree, or to unhinge a mill, or merely pull out a 
plug, or a pin, does not have to go “up”—or “down”—all the way 
to the pole to do it. The force causes the same effect when it pulls 
out the nearest available part of the “frame” within the inhabited 

Here are some examples of the manipulation of the frame, begin¬ 
ning with a most insignificant survival. Actually this is a useful 
approach, because the less meaningful the example, the more aston¬ 
ishing is the fact of its surviving. Turkmen tribes of southern 
Turkestan tell about a copper pillar marking the “navel of the 
earth,” and they state that “only the nine-year-old hero Kara Par 
is able to lift and to extract” it. 11 As goes without saying, nobody 
comments on the strange idea that someone should be eager to 
“extract the navel of the earth.” When Young Arthur does it with 
Excalibur, the events have already been fitted into a more familiar 
frame and they provoke no questions. 

n Radloff, quoted by W. E. Roscher, Der Omphalosgedanke (1918), pp. if. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 236 

In its grandiose style, the Mahabharata presents a similar prodigy 
as follows: 

It w as Vishvamitra who in anger created a second world and numer¬ 
ous stars beginning with Sravana . . . He can burn the three worlds 
by his splendour, can, by stamping (his foot), cause the Earth to 
quake. He can sever the great Meru from the Earth and hurl it to any 
distance. He can go round the 10 points of the Earth in a moment . 12 

Vishvamitra is one of the seven stars of the Big Dipper, this at 
least has been found out. But each planet is represented by a star of 
the Wain, and vice versa, so this case does not look particularly 
helpful. 13 

A cosmic event of the first order can be easily overlooked when 
it hides modestly in a fairy tale. The following, taken from the 
Indian “Ocean of Stories,” tells of Shiva: “When he drove his tri¬ 
dent into the heart of Andhaka, the king of the Asuras, though he 
was only one, the dart which that monarch had infixed into the 
heart of the three worlds was, strange to say, extracted.” 14 

A plot can also shrink to unrecognizable insignificance when it 

12 AIbh. 7.71, Roy trans., vol. /, p. 171. 

13 The notion of “numerous [newly appointed] stars beginning with Sravana” 
should enlighten us. Sravana, “the Lame,” is, in the generally accepted order, the 
twenty-first lunar mansion, alpha beta gamma Aquilae, also called by the name 
Ashvatta , which stands for a sacred fig tree but which means literally “below which 
the horses stand” (Scherer, Gestirnnamen , p. 158), and which invites a comparison 
with Old Norse Yggdrasil, meaning “the tree below which Odin’s horse grazes” 
(Reuter, Germanische Himmelskunde , p. 236). Actually, the solstitial colure ran 
through alpha beta gamma Aquilae around 300 b.c., and long after the time when 
it used to pass through one or the other of the stars of the Big Dipper; the 
equinoctial colure, however, comes down very near eta Ursae Alajoris. Consider¬ 
ing that eta maintains the most cordial relations with Alars in occidental astrology, 
Vishvamitra might be eta, and might represent Alars, and that would go well 
with the violent character of this Rishi. But even if we accept this for a working 
hypothesis, there remains the riddle of the “second world,” i.e., “second” with 
respect to which “first” world? Although we have a hunch, we are not going to 
try to solve it here and now. Two pieces of information should be mentioned, 
however: (1) AIbh. 74.44 (Roy trans., vol. 12 , p. 83) states: “The constellations 
[= lunar mansions, nakshatras ] have Sravana for their first”; (2) Sengupta (in 
Burgess’ trans. of Surya Siddhanta , p. xxxiv) claims that “the time of the present 
redaction of the Mahabharata ” was called “Sravanadi kala, i.e., the time when the 
winter solstitial colure passed through the nakshatra Sravana.” 

14 N. AI. Penzer, The Ocean of Story (1924), vol. /, p. 3. 

237 # The Frame of the Cosmos 

comes disguised as history, but this next story at least has been 
pinned down to the proper historical character, and even has been 
checked by a serious military historian like Arrianus, who tells us 
the following: 

Alexander, then, reached Gordium, and was seized with an ardent 
desire to ascend to the acropolis, where was the palace of Gordius and 
his son Midas, and to look at Gordius’ wagon and the knot of the 
chariot’s yoke. There was a widespread tradition about this chariot 
around the countryside; Gordius, they said, was a poor man of the 
Phrygians of old, who tilled a scanty parcel of earth and had but two 
yoke of oxen: with one he ploughed, with the other he drove his 
wagon. Once, as he was ploughing, an eagle settled on the yoke and 
stayed, perched there, till it was time to loose the oxen; Gordius was 
astonished at the portent, and went off to consult the Telmissian 
prophets, who were skilled in the interpretation of prodigies, inherit¬ 
ing—women and children too—the prophetic gift. Approaching a 
Telmissian village, he met a girl drawing water and told her the story 
of the eagle: she, being also of the prophetic line, bade him return to 
the spot and sacrifice to Zeus the King. So then Gordius begged her 
to come along with him and assist in the sacrifice; and at the spot duly 
sacrificed as she directed, married the girl, and had a son called Midas. 

Midas was already a grown man, handsome and noble, when the 
Phrygians were in trouble with civil war; they received an oracle 
that a chariot would bring them a king and he would stop the war. 
True enough, while they were discussing this, there arrived Midas, 
with his parents, and drove, chariot and all, into the assembly. The 
Phrygians, interpreting the oracle, decided that he was the man 
whom the gods had told them would come in a chariot; they there¬ 
upon made him king, and he put an end to the civil war. The chariot 
of his father he set up in the acropolis as a thank-offering to Zeus the 
king for sending the eagle. 

Over and above this there was a story about the wagon, that anyone 
who should untie the knot of the yoke should be lord of Asia. This 
knot was of cornel bark, and you could see neither beginning nor 
end of it. Alexander, unable to find how to untie the knot, and not 
brooking to leave it tied, lest this might cause some disturbance in 
the vulgar, smote it with his sword, cut the knot, and exclaimed, “I 
have loosed it!”—so at least say some, but Aristobulus puts it that 
he took out the pole pin , a dowel driven right through the pole, hold¬ 
ing the knot together, and so removed the yoke from the pole. I do 
not attempt to be precise how Alexander actually dealt with this 
knot. Anyway, he and his suite left the wagon with the impression 

Hamlet’s Mill • 238 

that the oracle about the loosed knot had been duly fulfilled. It is 
certain that there were that night thundcrings and lightnings, which 
indicated this; so Alexander in thanksgiving offered sacrifice next day 
to whatever gods had sent the signs and certified the undoing of the 
knot . 15 

Without going now into the relevant comparative material it 
should be stressed that in those cases where “kings” are sitting in a 
wagon (Greek hai/iaxa), i.e., a four-wheeled truck, it is most of the 
time Charles' Wain. 

Alexander was a true myth builder, or rather, a true myth- 
attracting magnet. He had a gift for attracting to his fabulous per¬ 
sonality the manifold tradition that, once, had been coined for 

But the time is not yet ripe either for Alexander or for Gilga¬ 
mesh, nor for further statements about deities or heroes who could 
pull out pins, plugs and pillars. The next concern is with the deci¬ 
sive features of the mythical landscape and their possible localiza¬ 
tion, or their fixation in time. It is essential to know where and 
when the first whirlpool came into being once Grotte, Amlodhi’s 
Mill, had been destroyed. This is, however, a misleading expression 
because our terminology is still much too imprecise. It would be 
better to say the first exit from, or entrance to, the whirlpool. It 
appears advisable to recapitulate the bits of information that have 
been gathered on the whirlpool as a whole: 

The maelstrom, result of a broken mill, a chopped-down tree, 
and the like, “goes through the whole globe,” according to the 
Finns. So does Tartaros, according to Socrates. To repeat it in 
Guthrie’s words: “The earth in this myth of Socrates is spherical, 
and Tartaros, the bottomless pit, is represented in this mythical 
geography by a chasm which pierces the sphere right through from 
side to side.” 16 

It is source and mouth of all waters. 

It is the way, or one among others, to the realm of the dead. 
Medieval geographers call it “Umbilicus Maris,” Navel of the 
Sea, or “Euripus.” 

^Anabasis of Alexander 2. 3.1-8 (Robson trans., LCL). 

16 Orpheus and Greek Religion (1952), p. 168. 

239 ’ The Frame of the Cosmos 

Antiochus the astrologer calls Eridanus proper, or some abstract 
topos not far from Sirius, “zalos,” i.e., whirlpool. 

M. W. Makemson looks for the Polynesian whirlpool, said to be 
“at the end of the sky,” “at the edge of the Galaxy,” in Sagittarius. 

A Dyak hero, climbing a tree in “Whirlpool-Island,” lands him¬ 
self in the Pleiades. 

But generally, one looks for “it” in the more or less northwest- 
north-northwest direction, a direction where, equally vaguely, 
Kronos-Saturn is supposed to sleep in his golden cave notwithstand¬ 
ing the blunt statements (by Homer) that Kronos was hurled down 
into deepest Tartaros. 

And from those “infernal” quarters, particularly from the (Ogy- 
gian) Stygian landscape, “one”—who else but the souls?—sees the 
celestial South Pole, invisible to us. 

The reader might agree that this summary shows clearly the 
insufficiency of the general terminology accepted by the majority. 
The verbal confusion provokes sympathy for Numenius (see above, 
p. 188), and the Third Vatican Mythographer who took the rivers 
for planets, their planetary orbs respectively. We think that the 
whirlpool stands for the “ecliptical world” marked by the whirling 
planets, embracing everything which circles obliquely with respect 
to the polar axis and the equator—oblique by 23V2 degrees, more 
or less, each planet having its own obliquity with respect to the 
others and to the sun’s path, that is, the ecliptic proper. It has been 
mentioned earlier (p. 206, n. 5) that in the axis of the Roman circus 
was a Euripus , and altars of the three outer planets (Saturn, Jupiter, 
Mars), and the three inner planets (Venus, Mercury, Moon) on 
both sides of the pyramid of the sun, and that there were not more 
than seven circuits because the “planets are seven only.” 

The ecliptic as a whirl is only one aspect of the famous “implex.” 
It must be kept in mind that being the seat of all planetary powers, 
it represented, so to speak, the “Establishment” itself. There is no 
better symbol of the thinking of those planet-struck Mesopotamian 
civilizations than the arrogant plan of the royal cities themselves, 
as it has been patiently reconstructed by generations of Orientalists 
and archaeologists. Nineveh proclaimed itself as the seat of stable 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


order and power by its seven-times crenellated circle of walls, col¬ 
ored with the seven planetary colors, and so thick that chariots 
could run along the top. The planetary symbolism spread to India, 
as was seen in chapter VIII, and culminated in that prodigious 
cosmological diagram that is the temple of Barabudur in Java. 17 It is 
still evident in the innumerable stupas which dot the Indian country¬ 
side, whose superimposed crowns stand for the planetary heavens. 
And here we have the Establishment seen as a Way Up and Be¬ 
yond, as Numenius would have seen immediately, the succession 
of spheres of transition for the soul, a quiet promise of transcen¬ 
dence which marks the Gnostic and Hinduistic scheme. The skele¬ 
ton map will always lack one or the other dimension. The Whirl is 
then a way up or a way down? Heraclitus would say both ways 
are one and the same. You cannot put into a scheme everything at 

This general conception of the whirlpool as the “ecliptical 
world” does not, of course, help to understand any single detail. 
Starting from the idea of the whirlpool as a way to the other world, 
one must look at the situation through the eyes of a soul meaning 
to go there. It has to move from the interior outwards, to “ascend” 
from the geocentric earth through the planetary spheres “up” to the 
fixed sphere, that is, right through the whole whirlpool, the eclip¬ 
tical world. But in order to leave the ecliptical frame, there must 
be a station for changing trains at the equator. One would expect 
this station to be at the crossroads of ecliptical and equatorial coor¬ 
dinates at the equinoxes. But evidently, this was not the arrange¬ 
ment. A far older route was followed. It is true that it sometimes 
looks as though the transfer point were at the equinoxes. The astro¬ 
logical tradition that followed Teukros, 18 for example, provided 
a rich offering of celestial locations for Hades, the Acherusian lake, 
Charon the ferryman, etc., all of them under the chapter Libra. 
But this is a trap and one can only hope that many hapless souls 
have not been deceived. For these astrological texts mean the sign 

17 P. Mus, Barabudur (1935). 

18 F. Boll, Sphaera (1903), pp. 19, 28, 47, 246-51. Antiochus does not mention any 
of these star groups. 

241 • The Frame of the Cosmos 

Libra, not the constellation. All “change stations” are found in¬ 
variably in two regions: one in the South between Scorpius and 
Sagittarius, the other in the North between Gemini and Taurus; 
and this is valid through time and space, from Babylon to Nica¬ 
ragua. 19 Why was it ever done in the first place? Because of the 
Galaxy, which has its crossroads with the ecliptic between Sagit¬ 
tarius and Scorpius in the South, and between Gemini and Taurus 
in the North. 

19 The notion is not even foreign to the cheering adventures of Swi, the Chinese 
Monkey (Wou Tch’eng Ngen , French trans. by Louis Avenol [1957]). One day, 
two “harponneurs des morts” get hold of him, claiming that he has arrived at the 
term of his destiny, and is ripe for the underworld. He escapes, of course. The 
translator remarks (vol. /, p. iii) that it is the constellation Nan Teou, the Southern 
Dipper, that decides everybody’s death, and the orders are executed by these 
“harponneurs des morts.” The Southern Dipper consists of the stars mu lambda 
phi sigma tau zeta Sagittarii (cf. G. Schlegel, VUranographie Chinoise [1875], pp. 
172#.; L. de Saussure, Les Origines de /’Astronomie Chinoise [1930], pp. 452L). 

Chapter XVIII 

The Galaxy 

Voie Lactee, soeur lumineuse 
des blanches rivieres de Canaan, 
et des corps blancs de nos amoureuses, 
nageurs morts suivrons nous d’ahan 
ton cours vers d’autres nebuleuses. 


La Chanson du Mal-Aime 

M E .s spirits were thought to dwell in the Milky Way be¬ 
tween incarnations. This conception has been handed down as an 
Orphic and Pythagorean tradition 1 fitting into the frame of the 
migration of the soul. Macrobius, who has provided the broadest 
report on the matter, has it that souls ascend by way of Capricorn, 
and then, in order to be reborn, descend again through the “Gate 
of Cancer.” 2 Macrobius talks of signs; the constellations rising at 
the solstices in his time (and still in ours) were Gemini and Sagit¬ 
tarius: the “Gate of Cancer” means Gemini. In fact, he states ex¬ 
plicitly (/.12.5) that this “Gate” is “where the Zodiac and the 
Milky Way intersect.” Far away, the Mangaians of old (Austral 
Islands, Polynesia), who kept the precessional clock running in¬ 
stead of switching over to “signs,” claim that only at the evening 
of the solstitial days can spirits enter heaven, the inhabitants of the 

1 See F. Boll, Ans der Offenbarung Johannes (1914), pp. 32, 72 (the first ac¬ 
cepted authority has been Herakleides of Pontos); W. Gundel, RE s.v. Galaxias; 
A. Bouche-Leclerq, UAstrologie Grecque (1899), pp. 22E; F. Cumont, After Life 
in Roman Paganism (1959), pp. 94, 104, 152R 

2 Commentary on the Dream of Scipio /. 12.1-8. 

243 ' The Galaxy 

northern parts of the island at one solstice, the dwellers in the 
south at the other. 3 This information, giving precisely fixed dates, 
is more valuable than general statements to the effect that the Poly¬ 
nesians regarded the Milky Way as “the road of souls as they pass 
to the spirit world.” 4 In Polynesian myth, too, souls are not per¬ 
mitted to stay unless they have reached a stage of unstained perfec¬ 
tion, which is not likely to occur frequently. Polynesian souls have 
to return into bodies again, sooner or later. 5 

Two instances of relevant American Indian notions are worth 
mentioning without discussion. The important thing is that the 
tradition is there, more or less intact. Among the Sumo in Hon¬ 
duras- and Nicaragua their “Mother Scorpion ... is regarded as 
dwelling at the end of the Milky Way, where she receives the souls 
of the dead, and from her, represented as a mother with many 
breasts, at which children take suck, come the souls of the new¬ 
born.” 6 Whereas the Pawnee and Cherokee say: 7 “The souls of 
the dead are received by a star at the northern end of the Milky 
Way, where it bifurcates, and he directs the warriors upon the dim 
and difficult arm, women and those who die of old age upon the 
brighter and easier path. The souls then journey southwards. At the 
end of the celestial pathway they are received by the Spirit Star, 
and there they make their home.” One can quietly add “for a 
while,” or change it to “there they make their camping place.” 
Hagar takes the “Spirit Star” to be Antares (alpha Scorpii). 
Whether or not it is precisely alpha, because the star marks the 
southern “end” of the Galaxy, the southern crossroads with the 

3 W. W. Gill, Myths and Songs from the South Pacific (1876), pp. 156!?., 185#. 

4 E. Best, The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori (1955), p. 45. 

5 Since so many earlier and recent “reporters at large” fail to inform us of tradi¬ 
tions concerning reincarnation, we may mention that according to the Marquesans 
“all the souls of the dead, after having lived in one or the other place (i.e., Paradise 
or Hades) for a very long time, returned to animate other bodies” (R. W. Wil¬ 
liamson, Religious and Cosmic Beliefs of Central Polynesia [1924], vol. /, p. 208), 
which recalls the wording of the case as we know it from book X of Plato’s 

6 H. B. Alexander, Latin American Mythology (1916), p. 185. 

7 S. Hagar, “Cherokee Star-Lore,” in Festschrift Boas (1906), p. 363; H. B. Alex¬ 
ander, North American Mythology , p. 117. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 

2 44 

ecliptic, it is at any rate a star of Sagittarius, or Scorpius. 8 That fits 
“Mother Scorpion’’ of Nicaragua and the “Old goddess with the 
scorpion tail” of the Maya as it also fits the Scorpion-goddess Sel- 
kct-Serqet of ancient Egypt and the Ishara tam.tim of the Baby¬ 
lonians. Ishara of the sea, goddess of the constellation Scorpius, was 
also called “Lady of the Rivers” (compare appendix #30). 

Considering the fact that the crossroads of ecliptic and Galaxy- 
are crisis-resistant, that is, not concerned with the Precession, the 
reader may want to know why the Mangaians thought they could 
go to heaven only on the two solstitial days. Because, in order to 
“change trains” comfortably, the constellations that serve as “gates” 
to the Milky Way must “stand” upon the “earth,” meaning that 
they must rise heliacally either at the equinoxes or at the solstices. 
The Galaxy is a very- broad highway, but even so there must have 
been some bitter millennia when neither gate was directly available 
any longer, the one hanging in midair, the other having turned into 
a submarine entrance. 

Sagittarius and Gemini still mark the solstices in the closing years 
of the Age of Pisces. Next comes Aquarius. The ancients, no doubt, 
would have considered the troubles of these our times, the over¬ 
population, the “working iniquity- in secret,” as an inevitable pre¬ 
lude to a new tilting, a new world-age. 

But the coming of Pisces was long looked forward to, heralded 
as a blessed age. It was introduced by- the thrice-repeated Great 
Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Pisces in the y-ear 6 B.c., the 
star of Bethlehem. Virgil announced the return of the Golden Age 
under the rule of Saturn, in his famous Fourth Eclogue: “Now the 
Virgin returns, the reign of Saturn returns, now a new generation 
descends from heaven on high. Only do thou, pure Lucina, smile on 
the birth of the child, under whom the iron brood shall first cease, 
and a golden race spring up throughout the world!” Although pro- 

8 This is no slip of the tongue; the zodiacal Sagittarius of Mesopotamian bound¬ 
ary stones had, indeed, the tail of a Scorpion: but we just must not be drowned in 
the abyss of details of comparative constellation lore, and least of all in those con¬ 
nected with Sagittarius, two-faced as he is, half royal, half dog. 

245 ' The Galaxy 

moted to the rank of a “Christian honoris causa” on account of this 
poem, Virgil was no “prophet,” nor was he the only one who ex¬ 
pected the return of Kronos-Satum. 9 “lam redit et Virgo, redeunt 
Saturnia regna.” What does it mean? Where has Virgo been, sup¬ 
posedly, so that one expected the constellation “back”? 

Aratus, in his renowned astronomical poem (95-136), told how 
Themis-Virgo, who had lived among humans peacefully, retired at 
the end of the Golden Age to the “hills,” no longer mingling with 
the silver crowd that had started to populate the earth, and that she 
took up her heavenly abode near Bootes, when the Bronze Age 
began. 10 And there is Virgil announcing Virgo’s return. This makes 
it easy to guess time and “place” of the Golden Age. One need only 
turn back the clock for one quarter “hour” of the Precession (about 
6,000 years from Virgil), to find Virgo standing firmly at the sum¬ 
mer solstitial corner of the abstract plane “earth.” “Returning,” that 
is moving on, Virgo would indicate the autumnal equinox at the 
time when Pisces took over the celestial government of the vernal 
equinox, at the new crossroads. 

Once the Precession had been discovered, the Milky Way took 
on a new and decisive significance. For it was not only the most 
spectacular band of heaven, it was also a reference point from 
which the Precession could be imagined to have taken its start. This 
would have been when the vernal equinoctial sun left its position 
in Gemini in the Milky Way. When it was realized the sun had 
been there once, the idea occurred that the Milky Way might mark 
the abandoned track of the sun—a burnt-out area, as it were, a 
scar in heaven. Decisive notions have to be styled more carefully, 
however: so let us say that the Milky Way was a reference “point” 
from which the Precession could be termed to have taken its start, 
and that the idea which occurred was not that the Milky Way 

9 See, for example, A. A. Barb, “St. Zacharias the Prophet and Martyr,” Journal 
of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes u (1948), pp. 54^, and “Der Heilige und 
die Schlangen,” MAGW 82 (1953), p. 20. 

10 Cf. Al-Biruni, dealing with the Indian ages of the world, and quoting the 
above passages from Aratus with a scholion ( Alberuni's India, trans. E. C. Sachau 
[1964], vol. z,pp. 383-85). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 246 

might mark the abandoned track of the sun, but that the Milky 
Way was an image of an abandoned track, a formula that offered 
rich possibilities for “telling” complicated celestial changes. 

With this image and some additional galactic lore, it is now 
possible to concentrate on the formula by which the Milky Way 
became the way of the spirits of the dead, a road abandoned by the 
living. The abandoned path is probably the original form of the 
notions insistently built around a projected Time Zero. If the Pre¬ 
cession was seen as the great clock of the Universe, the sun, as it 
shifted at the equinox, remained the measure of all measures, the 
“golden cord,” as Socrates says in Plato’s Theaetetus (153c). In 
fact, apart from the harmonic intervals, the sun was the only ab¬ 
solute measure provided by nature. The sun must be understood to 
be conducting the planetary fugues at any given moment as Plato 
also showed in the Timaeus. Thus, when the sun at his counting 
station moved on toward the Milky Way, the planets, too, were 
termed to hunt and run this way. 

This does not make very sound geometrical sense, but it shows 
how an image can dominate men’s minds and take on a life of its 
own. Yet the technical character of these images should not be 
forgotten, and it is to prevent this that the verbs “to term” and “to 
spell out” are used so often instead of the customary expression “to 

To the American Plains Indians, the Milky Way was the dusty 
track along which the Buffalo and the Horse once ran a race across 
the sky. 11 For the Fiote of the African Loango Coast the race was 
run by Sun and Moon. 12 The East African Turu took it for the 
“cattle track” of the brother of the creator, 13 which is very close to 
the Greek legend of Herakles moving the herd of Geryon. 14 The 
convergence of so many animal tracks along this heavenly way is, 
once again, not a pointless conjunction of fancies. The Arawak of 
Guyana call the Galaxy “the Tapir’s way.” This is confirmed in a 

11 J. Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee , 19th ARBAE 1897-98 (1900), p. 443. 

12 E. Pechuel-Loesche, Volkskunde von Loango (1907), p. 135. 

13 S. Lagercrantz, “The Milky Way in Africa,” Ethnos (1952), p. 68. 

14 See W. Gundel, RE s.v. Galaxias. 

247 * The Galaxy 

tale of the Chiriguano and some groups of the Tupi-Guarani of 
South America. According to Lehman-Nitsche, these people speak 
of the Galaxy as “the way of the true father of the Tapir,” a Tapir- 
deity which is itself invisible. 15 Now, if this hidden deity turns out 
to be Quetzalcouatl himself, ruler of the Golden Age town Tollan, 
no other than “Tixli cumatz,” the tapir-serpent dwelling in the 
“middle of the sea’s belly,” as the Maya tribes of Yucatan describe 
him, 16 the allusions begin to focus. Finally, the actual scheme is 
found in that Cuna tradition described earlier: the Tapir chopped 
down the “Saltwater Tree,” at the roots of which is God’s whirl¬ 
pool, and when the tree fell, saltwater gushed out to form the 
oceans of the world. 

Should the Tapir still seem to lack the appropriate dignity, some 
Asiatic testimonies should be added. The Persian Bundahishn calls 
the Galaxy the “Path of Kay-us,” after the grandfather and co¬ 
regent of Kai Khusrau, the Iranian Hamlet. 17 Among the Altaic 
populations the Yakuts call the Milky Way the “tracks of God,” 
and they say that, while creating the world, God wandered over the 
sky; more general in use seems to have been the term “Ski-tracks of 
God’s son,” whereas the Voguls spelled it out “Ski-tracks of the 
forest-man.” And here the human tracks fade out, although the 
snowshoes remain. For the Tungus the Galaxy is “Snowshoe-tracks 
of the Bear.” But whether the figure is the son of God, the forest- 
man, or the Bear, he hunted a stag along the Milky Way, tore it up 
and scattered its limbs in the sky right and left of the white path, and 
so Orion and Ursa Major were separated. 18 The “Foot of the Stag” 
reminded Holmberg immediately of the “Bull’s Thigh” of ancient 
Egypt—Ursa Major. With his penetrating insight he might easily 
have gone on to recognize, in that potent thigh, the isolated “one- 
leg” of Texcatlipoca, Ursa Major again, in Mexico—the day-sign 

15 O. Zerries, “Sternbilder als Ausdruck jagerischer Geiteshaltung in Siidamer- 
ika,” Paideinna j (1951), pp. 22of. 

16 E. Seler, Gesammelte Abhandlungen (1961), vol. 4 , p. 56. 

17 Bdh. V B 22, B. T. Anklesaria, Zand-Akasih. Iranian or Greater Bundahishn 
(1956), pp. 69, 71. 

18 U. Holmberg, Die religidsen Vorstellungen der altaischen Volker (1938), pp. 
201 f. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 248 

“Crocodile” (Cipactli) had bitten it off—the great Hunrakan 
(= 1 leg) of the Maya Quiche. 19 

There is an insistent association here, right below the surface, 
which is still revealed by the old Dutch name for the Galaxy, 
“Brunelstraat.” Brunei, Bruns, Bruin (the Brown) is the familiar 
name of the bear in the romance of Reynard the Fox, and is as 
ancient as anything that can be traced. 20 It is a strange lot of charac¬ 
ters that were made responsible for the Milky Way: gods and 
animals leaving the path that had been used at “creation” time. 21 But 
where did they go, the ones mentioned, and the many whom we 
have left out of consideration? It depends, so to speak, from where 
they took off. This is often hard to determine, but the subject of 
“tumbling down” will be dealt with next. 

As for Virgo, who had left the “earth” at the end of the Golden 
Age, her whereabouts in the Silver Age could have been described 

19 Going farther south, he would have found there again the lining up of Ursa 
and Orion and the violent tearing up of celestial figures. Says W. E. Roth (“An 
Inquiry into the Animism and Folk-lore of the Guiana Indians,” 30th ARBAE 
1908-09 [1915], p. 262; cf. Zerries, pp. 220L) of the Indians of Guiana: “All the 
legends relating to the constellations Taurus and Orion have something in common 
in the detail of an amputated arm or leg.” And that goes for parts of Indonesia too. 
But then, Ursa Major is the thigh of a Bull, and the zodiacal Taurus is so badly 
amputated, there is barely a half of him left. More peculiar still, in later Egyptian 
times it occurs, if rarely, that Ursa is made a ram’s thigh (see G. A. Wainwright, 
“A Pair of Constellations,” in Studies Presented to F. L. Griffith [1932], p. 373); 
and on the round zodiac of Dendera (Roman period) we find a ram sitting on that 
celestial leg, representing Ursa, and it even looks back, as befits the traditional 
zodiacal Aries. We must leave it at that. 

20 The notion of the Milky Way as “Brunelstraat” seems to be present in ancient 
India: the Atharva Veda 18. 2.31 mentions a certain path or road called rikshaka. 
Riksha is the bear in both senses, i.e., the animal and Ursa Major (see H. Grass- 
mann, Worterbuch zum Rig-Veda [1915] s.v. Riksha). Whitney (in his translation 
of AV, p. 840) suggested rikshaka as a road “infested by bears (?).” A. Weber, 
however, proposed to identify rikshaka with the Milky Way (“Miszellen aus dem 
indogermanischen Familienleben,” in Festgruss Roth [1893], P* U8). Since the 
whole hymn AV 18. 2 contains “Funeral Verses,” and deals with the voyage of the 
soul, that context too would be fitting. (That the souls have to first cross a river 
“rich with horses” is another matter.) 

21 The shortest abbreviation: the Inca called Gemini “creation time” (Hagar, in 
14th International Amerikanisten-Kongress [1904], p. 599L). But the very same 
notion is alluded to, when Castor and Pollux (alpha beta Geminorum) are made 
responsible for the first fire sticks, by the Aztecs (Sahagun) and, strange to say, 
by the Tasmanians. (See below, chapter XXIII, “Gilgamesh and Prometheus.”) 

249 * The Galaxy 

as being “in mid-air.” Many iniquitous characters were banished to 
this topos; either they were thrown down, or they were sent up 
—Lilith dwelt there for a while, and King David , 22 also Adonis , 23 
even the Tower of Babel itself, and first of all the Wild Hunter 
(appendix #20). This assembly of figures “in mid-air” helps to 
give meaning to an otherwise pointless tale, a veritable fossil 
found in Westphalian folklore: “The Giants called to Hackelberg 
[= Odin as the Wild Hunter] for help. He raised a storm and 
removed a mill into the Milky Way, which after this is called the 
Mill Way .” 24 There are other fossils, too, the wildest perhaps being 
that of the Cherokee who called the Galaxy “Where the dog ran.” 
A very unusual dog it must have been, being in the habit of stealing 
meal from a corn mill owned by “people in the South” and running 
with it to the North; the dog dropped meal as he ran and that is 
the Milky Way . 25 It is difficult here to recognize Isis scattering ears 
of wheat in her flight from Typhon . 26 And yet, the preference of 
the very many mythical dogs, foxes, coyotes—and even of the 
“way-opening” Fenek in West Sudan—for meal and all sorts of 
grain—more correctly “the eight kinds of grain”—a trait which is 
hardly learned by eavesdropping on Mother Nature, could have 
warned the experts to beware of these doggish characters. They are 
not to be taken at their pseudo-zoological face value. 

Thus, everybody and everything has left the course, Wild 
Hunter, dog and mill—at least its upper half, since through the 
hole in the lower millstone the whirlpool is seething up and down. 

22 See J. A. Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthem (1711), vol. 1, p. 165; vol. 2, 
pp. 417#. 

23 “Es ton eera,” see F. K. Movers, Die Phonizier (1967), vol. /, p. 205. 

24 J. Grimm, TM, pp. 1587E 

25 Mooney, pp. 253, 443. 

26 See R. H. Allen, Star Names (1963), p. 481; W. T. Olcott, Star Lore of All 
Ages (1911), p. 393. 

Chapter XIX 

The Fall of Phaethon 

Quel del sol, che suiando, fu combusto 
Per Forazion della terra devota 
Quando fu Giove arcanamente giusto 

Dante, Purg. xxi x.i 18 


-L he great and official myth concerning the Galaxy is Phae- 
thon’s transgression and the searing of the sky in his mad course. 
Manilius tells it in his astrological poem : 1 

. . . this was once the Path 
Where Phoebus drove; and that in length of Years 
The heated track took Fire and burnt the Stars. 

The Colour changed, the Ashes strewed the Way, 

And still preserve the marks of the Decay: 

Besides, Fame tells, by Age Fame reverend grown, 

That Phoebus gave his Chariot to his Son, 

And whilst the Youngster from the Path declines 
Admiring the strange Beauty of the Signs, 

Proud of his Charge, He drove the fiery horse, 

And would outdo his Father in his Course . 

The North grew warm, and the unusual Fire 
Dissolv'd its Snow, and made the Bears retire; 

Nor was the Earth secure, each Contrey mourn'd 
The Common Fate, and in its City's burn'd . 

Then from the scatter'd Chariot Lightning came, 

1 /.730-49. Anonymous translation (T.C.) London, 1697; reprinted 1953 by Na¬ 
tional Astrological Library, Washington, D.C., p. 44. 

251 • The Fall of Phaethon 

And the whole Skies were one continued Flame. 

The World took Fire, and in new kindled Stars 

The bright remembrance of its Fate it bears. 

The myth of Phaethon has been told broadly and with magnifi¬ 
cent fantasy by Ovid (Met. 1. 747-2.400) and by Nonnos ( Dio- 
nysiaka Book 38). Gibbon in his old age, commemorating his own 
adolescence, speaks of his rapt discovery of the beauty of Latin 
poetry as he read Ovid’s description of the tragic venture of 
Phaethon. The story goes on that Helios, taking his oath by the 
waters of Styx, promised to fulfill any wish of his rash young son 
Phaethon, who was visiting him for the first time. The boy had only 
one desire, to drive the Sun’s chariot once, and the most desperate 
requests of his father could not move him to change his mind. 
Although knowing well that nothing could prevent the fatal ending 
of this adventure, Helios did his best to teach Phaethon all the dan¬ 
gers lurking at every step of the way—a welcome occasion for 
both poets to elaborate the paternal admonitions into some kind of 
“introduction to astronomy.” As the father feared, Phaethon was 
incapable of managing the horses and came off the proper path; 
Ovid has it that the boy dropped the reins at the sight of Scorpius. 
Unbelievable confusion results; no constellation remains in its place, 
and the Earth is terribly scorched. In despair “she” cries aloud to 
Jupiter to make him act immediately: “Look how your heavens 
blaze from pole to pole—if fire consumes them the very universe 
will fall to dust. In pain, in worry, Atlas almost fails to balance the 
world’s hot axis on his shoulders.” 2 And Nonnos states (38.35 off.): 
“There was tumult in the sky shaking the joints of the immovable 
universe; the very axle bent which runs through the middle of the 
revolving heavens. Libyan Atlas could hardly support the self¬ 
rolling firmament of stars, as he rested on his knees with bowed 
back under this greater burden.” 

Zeus has to intervene and hurls his thunderbolt at the boy. Phae¬ 
thon falls into the river Eridanus where, according to Apollonios 

2 Met. 2. 294-97: circumspice utrumque:/ fumat uterque polus quos si vitiaverit 
ignis/atria vestra nient Atlas en ipse laborat/ vixque suis umeris candentem sustinet 


Hamlet’s Mill • 252 

Rhodios, the stench of his half-burned corpse made the Argonauts 
sick for several days when they came upon it in their travels 

The Phaethon story has often been understood to commemorate 
some great flashing event in the skies, whether comet or meteor. 
Everyone rushes by instinct—more accurately, habit—for a so- 
called natural explanation. But on examination, the case turns out 
not to be so easy. The narrating of the cataclysm may be fanciful 
and impressionistic, as if the poets enjoyed an emotional release 
from the regularity of celestial orbs, but their account also makes 
technical sense, as anyone would suspect who has read Stegemann’s 3 
solid inquiry into Nonnos as the heir to Dorotheos of Sidon’s tight- 
knit astrology. As for Ovid, his standing as a scholar is by now 
unchallenged and, in fact, he hints at rigid cosmological formulae 
with surprising authority. In his description of the “hidden moun¬ 
tains” emerging from the waves, when the seas shrank into sand 
(2.260S .)—they rise as “new islands.” How much better does this 
image of “mountain peaks” and “islands” illustrate the stars of a 
constellation rising, one after the other (at vernal equinox), than, 
for instance, the Icelandic wording of the emerging of “a new 

In any case, an independent confirmation emerges in Plato’s 
version of the crisis, as he gives it in Timaeus 22CE. The Egyptian 
priest talking with Solon states that the legend of Phaethon “has the 
air of a fable; but the truth behind it is a deviation [parallaxis ] of 
the bodies that revolve in heaven round the earth, and a destruction, 
occurring at long intervals, of things on earth by a great conflagra¬ 
tion.” This is a clear statement, and one in accordance with Ovid 
and with Nonnos, as it should be, since it has to do with a Pytha¬ 
gorean tradition: Aristotle tells us so. 4 

3 Astrologie and Universalgeschichte (1930). 

4 Meteorologica /.8.345A: “The so-called Pythagoreans give two explanations. 
Some say that the Milky Way is the path taken by one of the stars at the time 
of the legendary fall of Phaethon; others say that it is the circle in which the sun 
once moved. And the region is supposed to have been scorched or affected in 
some other such way as a result of the passage of these bodies.” See also H. Diels, 
Doxographi, pp. 364L = Aetius m.i. (In former times when classical authors were 
not yet eagerly prefixed with as many “pseudos” as possible, this was Plutarch, 
De placitis 5.1.) 

• The Fall of Phaethon 

2 5 3 

The Pythagoreans were neither idle storytellers, nor were they 
even mildly interested in unusual sensational “catastrophes” caused 
by meteors, and the like. Actually, the Egyptian priest said to Solon, 
concerning the legend of Phaethon, “the story current also in your 
part of the world.” Where, then, is the story in Egypt- Since the 
Egyptian cosmological language was more technical, in the old 
sense, than that of the Greeks, it will take some time to find out 
the exact parallel. Anyhow, in Egypt the down-hurled Phaethon 
would have been termed “the lost eye,” or rather one among the 
“lost eyes.” The eye was “lost” in the so-called “mythical source 
of the Nile,” the source of all waters. So it is surprising that Ovid 
knew (Met. 2.254ft.) that because of Phaethon’s fall, “Nile ran in 
terror to the end of the earth to hide its head which now is still 
unseen.” 5 Leaving the Egyptian case for the time being, it is appro¬ 
priate here to cite two widely separated survivals concerned with 
the Phaethon theme. They are useful because they come from 
points far removed from the Greek landscape and consequently 
cannot be connected with any local catastrophes which are sup¬ 
posed to have made such a tremendous impression on the Greek 
mind. The Fiote of the African Loango Coast, already mentioned, 
say: “The Star Way [Galaxy] is the road for a funeral procession 
of a huge star which, once, shone brighter from the sky than the 
Sun.” 6 Conveniently short, and no technicalities. The Northwest 
American version is broader. Because of the absence of chariots in 
pre-Columbian America, 7 the Phaethon figure of the Bella Coola 
Indians, who had come to visit his father Sun by means of an 
arrow-chain, wants to carry Sun’s torches in his stead. Helios agrees, 
but he warns his son not to make mischief and burn people. “In 
the morning,” he says, “I light one torch, slowly increasing their 
number until high-noon. In the afternoon I put them out again 
little by little.” The next morning, “Phaethon,” climbing the path 
of the Sun, not only kindled all the torches he had, he did so much 
too early, so that the earth became red hot: the woods began to 

5 Xilus in extremum fugit perterritus orbem/ occuluitque caput, quod adhuc 

6 E, Pechuel-Loesche, Volksunde von Loango (1907), p. 135. 

7 See H. S. Gladwin, Men out of Asia (1947), pp. 356-59, for this “feature.’’ 

Hamlet’s Mill • 254 

burn, the rocks split, many animals jumped into the waters, but the 
waters began to boil, too. “Young woman,” the mother of the Bella 
Coola Phaethon, covered men with her coat and succeeded in sav¬ 
ing them. But Father Sun hurled his offspring down to earth, telling 
him: “From now on you shall be the Mink!” 8 

It is necessary to revive some other very ancient ideas lost to our 
time. That Eridanus was the river Po in northern Italy was a com¬ 
mon and simple notion in the Greece of Euripides. In one of his 
great tragedies (Hippolytus ), the chorus yearns for a flight away 
from the world of guilt, to mountains and clouds, to lands far off: 

Where the waters of Eridanus are clear 
And Phaethon"s sad sisters by his grave 
Weep into the water , and each tear 
Gleams , a drop of amber , in the waves. 

Any hearer would have understood that Phaethon’s sad sisters 
were the poplars lining the banks of the river, and that the “drop 
of amber” was an allusion to the riches of the “amber route” which 
led from the Baltic Sea to the familiar reaches of the Adriatic. So 
far so good. But what can be made of Strabo, a still later author 
(j.215) who called Eridanus “nowhere on earth existing” and thus 
referred clearly to the constellation Eridanus in heaven, and what 
does Aratus (360) mean when he talks of “those poor remains of 
Eridanus” because the river was “burnt up through Phaethon’s 
fall.” Is this the very same river, ample and lined with poplars, 
which runs into the delta of the Po? 

Apollonios of Rhodes, in recounting the heroic travels of the 
Argonauts, carefully preserved the double level of meaning, for the 
adventures are set in an earthly context, yet they make, geographi¬ 
cally speaking, no sense at all. The explorers do sail up the Po, 
where they are confronted, as was said, with the stench of Phae- 

8 W. Krickeberg, Indicinermdrchen aas Nordamerika (1924), pp. 224L, 396. Cf. E. 
Selcr, Gesammelte Abhandlungeii, vol. p. 19. A mere mink might appear to us, 
today, as insignificant, like the tapir, or as the “Mouse-Apollo”—we fall for mere 
“words” and “names” only too easily. This particular Mink introduces the tides, 
steals the fire, fights with the “winds,” playing Adapa, Prometheus, Phaethon all 
at the same time. 


• The Fall of Fhaethon 

thon's remains—but those might be located higher up in a waterfall 
in the Alps, near the Dammastock. as one distinguished scholar 
would like to suggest. For the Argo moves from the Po into Lake 
Geneva and the Rhone, goes down it to the sea again and sails out 
following the same longitude; then, by a considerable feat of por¬ 
tage crosses the Sahara all the way to the coast of West Africa, and 
reaches Fernando Po. This is at least how those who understand 
the text as geography read it without blinking. Surely, it is closer 
to common sense to treat Eridanus as a feature of the skies, where 
it is already clearly marked together with Argo; and to treat the 
other features accordingly will give at least a significant story, al¬ 
though it will not dispel the mystery of the Argonauts. 

Thus tradition holds that after the dreadful fall of Phaethon. and 
when order was re-established. Jupiter ‘‘catasterized" Phaethon, 
that is. placed him among the stars, as Auriga (Greek Heniochos 
and Erichthonios); and at the same time Eridanus was catasterized. 
Manilius hinted at this event only with the lines “The world took 
fire, and in new kindled stars / the bright remembrance of its fate 
it bears.” Xonnos gave a more detailed report (3S. 424-31) : 9 10 

But father Zeus fixed Phaethon in Olympus, like a charioteer, and 
bearing that name. As he holds in the radiant Chariot of the heavens 
with shining arm. he has the shape of a Charioteer starting upon his 
course, as if even among the stars he longed again for his father’s car. 
The fire-scorched river also came up to the vault of the stars with 
consent of Zeus, and in the starry circle rolls the meandering stream 
of burning Eridanus. 

Now, in times when myth was still a serious form of thought, 
objects were not identified in heaven which did not belong there 
in the first place. The problem which arose later is the one raised 
by Richard H. Allen, who remarks that “the Milky Wav was 
long known as Eridanus. the Stream of Ocean,”' 0 and by the 
translator of Xonnos. W. PL D, Rouse, who shortly annotated 
Eridanus as “the Milky Way." It takes some nerve to say of the 

9 See also F. X. Kugler, SibylVuilscher Sternk^mpf und Fhaethon (19:7). pp. 44, 
49 ' 

10 Star Xjmes (1963), p. 4-4. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 256 

Galaxy that it meanders—actually the Greek text has it that it 
moves like a helix (helissetai ). But apart from this incongruent 
image of the “helixing” Milky Way, the myth of Phaethon was 
meant by the Pythagoreans to tell of the departure of the Sun and 
planets from their former path, and the enthroning of Eridanus, 
which together with Auriga was to take over the function of the 
Milky Way: that is why they were “catasterized” together. Ad¬ 
mittedly, one faces a frightening confusion between the rivers in 
heaven and those on earth, and the names which were given to both 
kinds of streams, but with patience the threads can be disentangled. 

Taking the rivers of our globe first, it was not only the Po that 
received the name of Eridanus, but the Rhone, 11 and the Nile and 
the Ganges. Finally in Higgins’ Anacalypsis there is a quote, with¬ 
out the ancient source but reasonably reliable: “Ganges which also 
is called Po.” 12 Thus it is not surprising that much later, in medieval 
times, several redactions of the Alexander Romance show different 
opinions about the river used by the king to travel to paradise in 
order to win immortality. In a French prose novel of the 14th 
century Alexander sails the Nile upstream, whereas in a Latin ver¬ 
sion of the 12th century, he uses the Ganges: as the Indians had told 
him, the Ganges had its source in paradise. 13 So have, indeed, all 
great rivers of myth. 

In the sky, the number of candidates for election is three. Besides 
the Milky Way, Eratosthenes’ authoritative Catasterisms called the 
constellation Eridanus Nile or Ocean. 14 But the astrologers Teukros 
and Valens listed Eridanus among the paranatellonta of Aquarius. 
Paranatellonta are the constellations that “rise at the same time” as 
a given one, i.e., in this instance, as Aquarius. That is, they called 
the gush from the jug of Aquarius Eridanus. More awkward still, 

11 For Po and Rhone and the joining of their waters, see A. Dieterich, Nekyia 
(1893), p. 2 7> quoting Pliny and Pausanias. 

12 (1927 repr.), p. 357: Ganges qui et Padus dicitur. As concerns the general idea 
of Eridanus being in India, see O. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie (1906), p. 394, 
referring to Ktesias. 

13 F. Kampers, Mittelalterliche Sagen vom Paradiese (1897), pp. 72f. 

14 No. 37 (Robert ed. [1878], pp. i76f.). 

257 ' The Fall of Phaethon 

this gush from Aquarius’ jar was meant to join our constellation 
Eridanus below Piscis Austrinus. 15 Says Manilius (/ .43 8ff.): 

Next swims the Southern Fish, which bears a Name 
From the South-Wind, and spreads a feeble Flame. 

To him the Flouds in spacious windings turn 
One fountain flows from cold Aquarius' Urn; 

And meets the other where they ]oyn their Streams 
One Chanel keep, and mix the starry Beams. 

Eratosthenes’ Catasterisms bring one more complication into the 
picture, but it is one which leads, finally, to the decisive insight. 
Differing from those of Aratus (36of.) and from Ptolemy, it counts 
Canopus in the constellation Eridanus, instead of Argo, and thus 
gives the river a different direction. 16 The whole “Gordian knot” of 
misapprehensions hinges upon the name Eridanus, and one can do 
nothing better than to follow the good example set by Alexander 
and “pull out the pole pin.” Eridanus, lacking a decent Greek 
etymology, finds a reasonable derivation from Eridu, as was pro¬ 
posed by Kugler, Eridu being the seat of Enki-Ea, Sumerian 
mul NUN ki = Canopus (alpha Carinae) . n Eridu marked, and meant, 
the “confluence of the rivers,” a topos of highest importance, to 
which, beginning with Gilgamesh, the great “heroes” go on a 
pilgrimage trying in vain to gain immortality—including Moses 
according to the 18th Sura of the Koran. Instead of this unobtain¬ 
able boon, they gain “the measures,” as will be seen. “Eridu” being 
known as the “confluence of the rivers,” Eridanus had to join, by 
definition so to speak, some “river” somewhere in the South, or it 
had to flow straightaway into Eridu-Canopus, as the Catasterisms 
claimed. There have been more drastic “solutions” still. The first is 
given by Servius (to Aeneid 6.6$ 9) who pretends Eridanus and 

15 F. Boll, Sphaera (1903), pp. 135-38. 

16 See L. Ideler, Sternnamen (1809), p. 231; see also E. Alaass, Co?mnentarioriun 
in Aratum Reliquiae (1898), p. 259. 

17 B. L. van der Waerden, JNES 8 (1949), p. 13; see also P. F. Gossmann, Plane - 
tarium Babylo?iicnm (1950), 306; J. Schaumberger, 5. Erg. (1935), pp. 334F 

Hamlet’s Mill • 258 

Phaethon were one and the same. 18 The second, presented by 
Michael Scotus, 19 agrees with Servius concerning the identity of 
Phaethon and Eridanus, but does much more. He places into the 
“sign” Eridanus the “Figura sonantis Canoni”—consisting of seven¬ 
teen stars—which he calls Canopus and claims that Canopus touches 
Argo. And about this enigmatic personage Scotus says that he “hin¬ 
dered the work of the Sun by the tone of his lute, because the 
horses listened to it, and enraged Jupiter pierced him with the 
lightning.” 20 

Eridanus was understood by the astrologers to be the whirlpool 
(zalos ), as has been seen, flowing through the underworld with 
its many realms, including those from which one sees the celestial 
South Pole. Virgil wrote in the Georgies (/.242^): “One pole is 
ever high above us, while beneath our feet is seen the other, of black 
Styx and the shades infernal.” But why was Auriga catasterized at 
the same time as Eridanus, and what is the “function” which these 
two constellations had to take over from the Milky Way? The 
Galaxy was and remains the belt connecting North and South, 
above and below. But in the Golden Age, when the vernal equinox 
was in Gemini, the autumnal equinox in Sagittarius, the Milky 
Way had represented a visible equinoctial colure; a rather blurred 
one, to be true, but the celestial North and South were connected 
by this uninterrupted broad arch which intersected the ecliptic at 
its crossroads with the equator. The three great axes were united, 
the galactic avenue embracing the “three worlds” of the gods, the 
living and the dead. This “golden” situation was gone, and to Eri¬ 
danus was bequeathed the galactical function of linking up the 
“inhabited world” with the abode of the dead in the (partly) invis¬ 
ible South. Auriga had to take over the northern obligations of the 

18 Fabula namque haec est: Eridanus Solis filius fuit. hie a patre inpetrato curru 
agitare non potuit, et cum eius errore mundus arderet, fulminatus in Italiae fluvium 
cecidit: et tunc a luce ardoris sui Phaethon appellatus est, et pristinum nomen 
fluvio dedit: unde mixta haec duo nomina inter Solis filium et fluvium invenimus. 

19 Cf. appendix #10, Vainamoinen’s Kantele. 

20 See Boll, pp. 273-75, 540-42: Alii dicunt quodcum impediret opus soiis sono 
canoni, quia equi attendebant dulcedini sonorum, iratus Jupiter eum percussit 

259 * The Fall of Phaethon 

Galaxy, connecting the inhabited world with the region of the 
gods as well as possible. There was no longer a visible continuous 
bond fettering together immortals, living and dead: Kronos alone 
had lived among men in glorious peace. 

And here there is a proposition to be made. In order to evaluate it, 
one has to consider the fact that alpha Aurigae is Capella, the Goat. 
This remarkable figure was the nurse of infant Zeus in the Dictaean 
Cave, and out of her skin Hephaistos was later to make the Aegis: 
Amaltheia. Capella-Amaltheia’s Horn was the Horn of Plenty for 
the immortals, and the source of Nectar and Ambrosia. Mortals 
called it “second table,” dessert so to speak. 21 But there are two 
shreds of Orphic tradition which seem to be revealing, both handed 
down to us by Proclus. The first says that Demeter separated the 
food of the gods, splitting it up, as it were, into a liquid and a solid 
“part,” that is, into Ambrosia and Nectar. 22 The second declares 
that Rhea became Demeter after she had borne Zeus. 23 And Eleusis, 
for us a mere “place name,” was understood by the Greeks as 
“Advent”—the New Testament uses the word for the Advent of 
Christ. Demeter, formerly Rhea, wife of Kronos, when she “ar¬ 
rived,” split up the two kinds of divine food having its source in 
alpha Aurigae. In other words, it is possible that these traditions 
about Demeter refer to the decisive shifting of the equinoctial 
colure to alpha Aurigae. 

But one should also look at some other traditions. Turning to 
India, which is often helpful in its abundance, it was the Ganges 
that stood for the Galaxy, almost as a matter of course, 24 but the 
Mahabharata and the Puranas tell at least how the link was con¬ 
ceived: Ganga was born of the Milky Way. Says the Vishnu 
Pur ana: 25 

21 See Athenaeus, Deipnosophistai 643a; also 783c, 542a. 

22 Or phi cor inn Fragmenta, ed. O. Kern (1963), frg. 189, p. 216 (Proclus in 
Cratylus 404b, p. 92, 14 Pasqu.); cf. G. Dumezil, Le Festin d'lmmortalite (1924), 
p. 104. See also Roscher, in Roscher s.v. Ambrosia: sitos kai methy, sithos kai 
oinos, etc. 

23 Orphi corum Fragmenta , frg. 145, p. 188. 

24 The same goes for the Jaxartes and Ardvi Sura Anahita of Iranian tradition; 
see H. S. Nyberg, Die Religionen des Alten Iran (1966), pp. 26of. 

25 2.8 (Wilson trans., p. 188). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 260 

I l iving the source in the nail of the great toe of Vishnu’s left foot, 
Dhruva (Polaris) receives her, and sustains her day and night devoutly 
on his head; and thence the seven Rishis practise the exercise of 
austerity in her waters, wreathing their braided locks with her waves. 
The orb of the moon, encompassed by her accumulated current, 
derives augmented lustre from this contact. Falling from on high, 
as she issues from the moon, she alights on the summit of Meru (the 
World Mountain in the North), and thence flows to the four quarters 
of the earth, for its purification . . . The place whence the river pro¬ 
ceeds, for the purification of the three worlds, is the third division 
of the celestial regions, the seat of Vishnu. 

It was, in fact, a colossal event to have “the stream Air-Ganges 
fall down from Heaven,” and its violence was only restrained by 
Shiva’s receiving it in the curls of his hair. One might add that he 
bore it there “for more than 100 years, to prevent it from falling 
too suddenly upon the mountain.” The Indian imagination is free¬ 
wheeling, and cares little for time sequence, but it is clear that the 
flow is perpetual. Were it not for Shiva’s hair acting as a catch¬ 
ment, the earth would have been flooded by the Waters Above. 
They come, as was just quoted, from the third region of the sky, 
the “path of Vishnu” between Ursa Major and the Pole Star. Wil¬ 
son stated in 1840: “The situation of the sources of the Ganges in 
heaven identifies it with the Milky Way.” 26 

But if the flow is perpetual, it still had a point of “beginning” and 
this is found in the Bhagavata Purana (Wilson, p. 138, n. 11): 
“The river flowed over the great toe of Vishnu’s left foot, which 
had previously, as he lifted it up, made a fissure in the shell of the 
mundane egg, and thus gave entrance to the heavenly stream.” How 
can the Milky Way pour its waters over Polaris? And how can it 

26 The Chinese report as given by Gustave Schlegel (UUranographie Chinoise 
[1875; repr. 1967], p. 20) is shorter but it points to the same fanciful conception. 
“La fleuve celeste se divise en deux bras pres du pole Nord et va de la jusqu’au 
pole Sud. Un de ses bras passe par l’asterisme Nan-teou (lambda Sagittarii), et 
l’autre par 1 ’asterisme Toung-tsing (Gemeaux). Le fleuve est l’eau celeste, coulant 
a travers les cieux et se precipitant sous la terre.” 

Nan-teou is the “Southern Bushel”: mu lambda phi sigma tau zeta Sagittarii; the 
Northern Bushel = the Big Dipper. 

Although we agree with Phyllis Ackerman’s view (in Forgotten Religions [1950], 
p. 6): “The Nile, however, (like many, if not all sacred rivers originally—com¬ 
pare the Ganges) is the earthly" continuation of the Milky Way,” we maintain 
that the mere recognition does not help to restore sense and meaning to the myth. 

2 61 • The Fall of Phaethon 

flow to the four quarters of the earth? Indian diagrams remained 
fanciful, in the same way as Western medieval ones. It takes some 
time for one who looks at the great tympanon at Yezelay to realize 
that here is a space-time diagram, as it were, of world history cen¬ 
tered on the figure of Christ. The effect is all the greater for the 
transpositions. It was not wholly absurd, either, for archaic cos¬ 
mology to have double locations, one. for instance, on the ecliptic 
and one circumpolar. If Tezcatlipoca drilled fire at the pole to 
“kindle new stars,’’ if the Chinese Saturn had his seat there too, so 
could Vishnu’s toe have bilocation: one “above" in the third region, 
the other in beta Orionis-Rigel (the Arabian word for “foot"), the 
“source” of Eridanus. (And might not Rigel-the-source stand also 
for Oervandil’s Toe, catasterized by Thor?) For Rigel marked the 
way to Hades in the tradition of the Maori of New Zealand as well 
as in the Book of Hermes Trismegistos. 

Fanciful, assuredly, but neither the real .Milky Way nor the ter¬ 
restrial Ganges offered any basis for the imagery of a river flowing 
to the four quarters of the earth “for the purification of the three 
worlds.” One cannot get away from the “implex” and it is now 
necessary to consider the tale of a new skeleton map, alias skambha: 
the equinoctial colure had shifted to a position where it ran through 
stars of Auriga and through Rigel. Skavibha, as we have said, was 
the World Tree consisting mostly of celestial coordinates, a kind 
of wildly imaginative armillary sphere. It all had to shift when one 
coordinate shifted. 

There are stylistic means other than “catasterizations,” that is. 
being promoted to heaven among the constellations, to describe 
changed circumstances in the sky. Thus, a Babylonian cuneiform 
tablet states: “The Goat-Star is also called the witch-star; the 
divine function of Tiamat it holds in its hands.” The Goat-Star 
( mul UZA = enzu), apart from representing Venus, “rises together 
with Scorpius” and has been identified with Vega. 27 If one can rely 
on this identification, it seems to describe the situation as seen from 
across the sky: the shifting from Sagittarius to Scorpius, and Vega 

27 Gossmann, 145; van der W’aerden, JXES S, p. :o. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 262 

taking over the northern part of the “function” of the Galaxy. 
That Tiamat is the Milky Way, and no “Great Mother” in the 
Freudian sense, any more than Ganga, Anahita and others, seems by 
now obvious. And the same is true of Egyptian Nut , 28 but the 
story has different terms there: Mother Nut is changed into a cow 
and ordered to “carry Ra.” (It is, by the way, a “new” Ra: the 
older Ra made it quite clear that he wanted to retire for good, 
going somewhere “where nobody could reach” him) (appendix 

28 The Arabian name of the Galaxy is sufficiently tale-telling: “Mother of the 
Sky” (u??i as-sania), and in northern Ethiopia it is called “Em-hola,” i.e., “Mother 
of the Bend [Mutter der Kruemmung].” See E. Littmann, “Sternensagen und As- 
trologisches aus Nordabessinien,” ARW n (1908), p. 307; Ideler, p. 78. 

Chapter XX 

The Depths of the Sea 

Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? 

Or hast thou walked in the search of the depth? 

Job xxxyiii. / 6 

It will help now to take a quick comparative look at the differ¬ 
ent “dialects” of mythical language as applied to “Phaethon” in 
Greece and India. The Pythagoreans make Phaethon fall into Eri- 
danus, burning part of its water, and glowing still at the time when 
the Argonauts passed by. Ovid stated that since that fall the Nile 
hides its sources. Rigveda y.73.3 says that the Great Varuna has hid¬ 
den the ocean. The Mahabharata tells in its own style why the 
“heavenly Ganga” had to be brought down. 1 At the end of the 
Golden Age (Krita Yuga) a class of Asura who had fought against 
the “gods” hid themselves in the ocean where the gods could not 
reach them, and planned to overthrow the government. So the gods 
implored Agastya (Canopus, alpha Carinae = Eridu) for help. The 
great Rishi did as he was bidden, drank up the water of the ocean, 
and thus laid bare the enemies, who were then slain by the gods. But 
now, there was no ocean anymore! Implored by the gods to fill the 
sea again, the Holy One replied: “That water in sooth hath been 
digested by me. Some other expedient, therefore, must be thought 
of by you, if ye desire to make endeavour to fill the ocean.” It was 
this sad state of things which made it necessary to bring the 
Galaxy “down.” This is reminiscent of the detail in the Jewish 
tradition about Eben Shetiyyah, that the waters sank down so 

1 Mbh. 3.104-105 (Roy trans., vol. 2 , pt. 2, pp. 230E); see also H. J. Jacobi, ERE, 
vol. p. i8ia; S. Sorenson, Mahabharata Index (1963), p. i8a. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 264 

deeply that David had to recite the “fifteen songs of ascension” to 
make them rise again. 

Now \gastya, the great Rishi, had a “sordid” origin similar to 
that of Krichthonios (Auriga), who was born of Gaia, “the Earth,” 
from the seed of Hephaistos who had dropped it while he was 
looking at Athena. 2 In the case of the Rishi: 

He originated from the seed of Mitra and Varuna, which they 
dropped into a water-jar on seeing the heavenly Urvashi. From this 
double parentage he is called Maitravaruni, and from his being born 
from a jar he got the name Khumbasambhava.” 3 [Khumba is the 
name of Aquarius in India and Indonesia, allegedly late Greek 

On the very same time and occasion there also was “born” as son 
of .Mitra and Varuna—only the seed fell on the ground not in the 
jar—the Rishi Vasishtha. This is unmistakably zeta Ursae Majoris, 
and the lining up of Canopus with zeta, more often with Alcor, the 
tiny star near zeta (Tom Thumb, in Babylonia the “fox”-star) has 
remained a rather constant feature, in Arabic Suhayl and as-Suha. 
This is the “birth” of the valid representatives of both the poles, 
the sons of Mitra and Varuna and also of their successors. To 
follow up the long and laborious way leading from Rigvedic 
Alitravaruna (dual) to the latest days of the Roman Empire where 
we still find a gloss saying “mithra funis, quo navis media vincitur ” 
—“mithra is the rope, by which the middle of the ship is bound,” 
would overstep the frame of this essay by far. Robert Eisler 4 rely¬ 
ing upon his vast material, connected this fetter of “rope,” mithra, 

2 Besides Greece and India, the motif of the dropped seed occurs in Caucasian 
myths, particularly those which deal with the hero Soszryko. The “Earth” is re¬ 
placed by a stone, Hephaistos by a shepherd, and Athena by the “beautiful Satana,” 
who watches carefully the pregnant stone and who, when the time comes, calls in 
the blacksmith who serves as midwife to the “stone-bom” hero whose body is blue 
shining steel from head to foot, except the knees (or the hips) which are damaged 
by the pliers of the smith. The same Soszryko seduces a hostile giant to measure 
the depth of the sea in the same manner as Michael or Elias causes the devil to 
dive, making the sea freeze in the meantime. 

3 7*33*i3— ! 4; Brihad-Devata 5.152^.; Sorenson, p. i8b. Let us mention that the 
Egyptian Canopus is himself a jar-god; actually, he is represented by a Greek 
hydria (see RE s.v. Kanopos). 

4 Weltemnantel wid Himmelszelt (1910), pp. 175L 


• The Depths of the Sea 

right away with the “ship’s belt” from the tenth book of Plato’s 

Of the inseparable dual A litra varuna, Varuna is still of greater 
relevance, particularly because it is he who “surveyed the first 
creation” (RV £.41.10), he who hid the Ocean—Ovid had it that 
the sources of the Nile were hidden—and he who is himself called 
“the hidden Ocean” (RV £.41.8). Varuna states about himself: “I 
fastened the sky to the seat of the Rita” (RV 4.42.2). And at that 
“seat of Rita” we find Svarnara, said to be “the name of the celestial 
spring . . . which Soma selected as his dwelling. 5 This is no other 
“thing” than Hvarna (Babylonian melamvm) which the “bad 
uncle” Afrasiyab attempted to steal by diving to the bottom of 
Lake Vurukasha, although Hvama belonged to Kai Khusrau (see 
above, pp. 40, 201). Thus in whichever dialect the phenomenon is 
spelled out. the fallen ruler of the Golden Age is held to dwell near¬ 
est to the celestial South Pole, particularly in Canopus which marks 
the steering oar of Argo, Canopus at the “confluence of the rivers.” 
This is true whether Varuna fastened the sky to the seat of the Rita 
(and his own seat), whether Enki-Ea-Enmesharra, dwelling in 
Eridu, held all the norms and measures (Rita, Sumerian me: Akka¬ 
dian: ptrrsu) —Thorkild Jacobsen called him very appropriately the 
“Lord modus operandi”—or whether Kronos-Saturn kept giving 
“all the measures of the whole creation” to Zeus while he himself 
slept in Ogygia-the-primeval. 

And there is little doubt, in fact none, that Phaethon (in the 
strange transformation scenes of successive ages) came to be under¬ 
stood as Saturn. There is the testimony of Erastosthenes’ Catas- 
terisms, 6 according to which the planet Saturn was Phaethon who 

5 See H. Liiders, Varuna , vol. 2: Varuna und das Rita (1959), pp. 396-401 (RV 

4.21.3; 8 .6. 39; p.70.6). Soma is addressed as “lord of the poles,” and to 

Agni is given the epithet svarnaram thrice (RV 2.2.1; 6.154; £.19.1; cf. Liiders, 
p. 400). But we did hear before about “Agni, like the felly the spokes, so you sur¬ 
round all the gods,” and Soma and Agni supplement each other, as will come out 
eventually, but not in this essay; the proportions Mitra: Varuna, Agni: Soma, 
Ambrosia: Nectar are not as easily computed as wishful thinking might expect. 

6 No. 43 (Robert ed., pp. 194L). E.g., Hyginus 11 42, dealing with the planets, be¬ 
ginning with Jupiter: “Secunda Stella dicitur Solis, quam alii Satumi dixerunt; hanc 
Eratosthenes a Solis filio Phaetonta adpellatam dicit, de quo complures dixerunt, 
ut patris inscienter curru vectus incenderit terras; quo facto ab love fulmine per- 
cussus in Eridanum deciderit et a Sole inter sidera sit perlatus.” 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 266 

fell from the chariot into Eridanus, and Stephanus of Byzantium 7 
calls Phacthon a Titan. There is, moreover, the Orphic wording of 
the ease: “After Kronos had emasculated Ouranos, Zeus threw his 
father | Kronos] from the chariot and ‘entartarosed’ him” right 
away, if we translate the word literally. 8 Essential key words are 
easily mistaken for petty details, as in this case the “chariot,” from 
which Kronos/Phaethon was thrown into “Tartaros.” The vehicle 
in question is the two-wheeled race car, Greek harma, Latin currus, 
Babylonian narkabtu. It is the chariot of Auriga in Babylonia, sur¬ 
viving in the “Sphaera barbarica” of astrologers, 9 whereas in our 
Sphere the Charioteer is bereft of any vehicle. And, indeed, no other 
than Erichthonios (a Greek name for Auriga, besides Heniochos) 
is claimed to have invented the two-wheeled race car drawn by four 
horses (Erat. Catast. no. 13, pp. 98-101) which has to be distin¬ 
guished carefully from the even more important four-wheeled truck, 
the Big Dipper, that is, Greek hamaxa, Latin plaustruvi, Sumerian mul 
MAR.GID.DA = Charles’ Wain. 

Slightly perplexing traditions have come down in cuneiform 
texts, but they clearly allude to the same “event.” So, for in¬ 
stance, “The Elamitic chariot, without seat, carries the corpse of 
Enmesharra. The horses which are harnessed to it are the death- 
demon of Zu. The king who stands in the chariot is the hero-king, 
the Lord Ninurta.” Leaving aside the two last sentences which are, 
in reality, not so pitch dark as they look at first glance, the trans¬ 
lator, Erich Ebeling, 10 leaves no doubt that the “Elamitic chariot” 
is identical with the constellation “Chariot of Enmesharra,” which 
the authorities on Babylonian astronomy have identified with beta 
and zeta Tauri. 11 This Enmesharra now has a “telling” name: 
En./lfE.SARRA is “Lord of all the me,” that is, he is Lord of 
“norms and measures,” also called “Lord of the World Order,” 

7 s.v. Eretria (Eretrios, “Son of Phaethon, and this was one of the Titans”). 
See AI. Mayer, Giganten imd Titanen (1887), pp. 70, 124. 

8 Hieronymi et Hellanici theogonia (Athenagoras), see Kern frg. 58, p. 138; cf. 
also R. Eisler, Weltenmantel imd Himmelszelt (1910), p. 338. 

9 Cf. Boll, Sphaera, pp. io8ff. (Teukros and Valens). 

10 Tod und Leben nach den Vorstellungen der Babylonier (1931), pp. 29, 33^ 

11 Gossmann, p. 89; Schaumberger, 3. Erg., p. 327; E. F. Weidner, in RLA 3, 
P- 77 - 

267 • The Depths of the Sea 

“Lord of the Universe = Ea” and, this is important, “the weighty 
one in the underworld” and “the sovereign of the underworld.” 12 

The “underworld” is misleading, though; the word is Arallu. The 
experts ge’nerally—not the Assyriologists alone—prefer to talk of 
navies, in plural, given to the one “underworld,” instead of trying 
to find out the precise whereabouts of the several provinces of that 
huge country, and to establish which name might properly fit every 
quarter. As if one did not know of the plurality of “hells” and 
“heavens.” Here, however, it is not necessary to bring order into 
the quarters of the Mesopotamian Hades, and for the time being, it 
suffices that the Lord of the World Order, Enmesharra, is Enki-Ea, 
because it is known anyhow that he dwells “at the seat of Rita”: 
Eridu-Canopus. And since “Enmesharra’s chariot” is the vehicle of 
Auriga, beta zeta Tauri, there can be little doubt that the tradition 
of Phaethon’s fall was already a Sumerian myth (appendix #22). 
And as in Greece, where the drastic version of the Orphics, of 
Hesiod and others are found side by side with those of Plutarch 
and Proclus, according to which Kronos gives with paternal grace 
“all the measures of the whole creation” to his son Zeus, 13 so, too, 
we have in Mesopotamia cruel-sounding variations besides “reason¬ 
able” ones. For example, when Marduk builds his “world” and 
receives fifty new names, his father Ea gives him his very own 
name, stating (EE 7.141L): “His name shall be Ea. All my com¬ 
bined rites he shall administer; all my instructions he shall carry 
out.” And as concerns Ea under the name of Enmesharra, Edzard 
states: “An incantation of Neo-Assyrian times, using an epithet of 
Enmesharra ‘Who transferred scepter and sovereignty to Anu and 
Enlil’ possibly hints to the voluntary abdication of the god.” 14 

One of the questions begging answers is, 'which measures are 
meant, and how does Saturn accomplish his assignment “to give 

12 D. O. Edzard, “Die Mythologie der Sumerer und Akkader,” Wb. Myth., vol. 
/, p. 62; P. Michatz, Die Gotterliste der Serie Anu ilu A-nu-um (Phil. Diss.; 1909), 
p. 12; K. Tallqvist, Sumerische Namen der Totenwelt (1934), p. 62, and Akka- 
dische Gotterepitheta (1938), pp. 304, 437. 

13 See also Lucian who makes Kronos say: “No, there was no fighting, nor does 
Zeus rule his empire by force; I handed it to him and abdicated quite voluntarily.” 

14 Edzard, p. 62. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 268 

them continuously” to Jupiter? And, even if it is accepted that his 
“seat” is Canopus, how can he possibly give the measures from 
there? Without pretending to understand the scheme well for the 
time being, there arc some explanations which seem to be the most 
plausible ones. 

Above (p. 136), attention was called to the significance of the 
revolution of that Trigon which is built up by “Great Conjunc¬ 
tions” of Saturn and Jupiter, and was still understood by Kepler 
(sec figure). Now, whoever tries to imagine the degree of difficulty 
which faced the oldest “mythographers” will realize how welcome 
it must have been to find periods which fitted into each other at 
least approximately. This Trigon of Great Conjunctions presented 
itself as the instrument by which one could “narrow down” the 
almost imperceptible tempo of the Precession. To move through 
the whole zodiac, one of the angles of the Trigon needs approxi¬ 
mately 3 X 79414 — 2383 years. That comes tolerably near to one 
double-hour of the greatest “day” of the Precession of 25,900 years 
(appendix #23). A new zodiacal sign was termed to “rule” start¬ 
ing from the day of a great conjunction at the place of the “pas¬ 
sage.” The marginal point of Greek time-reckoning was the date 
of the first Olympic Games: they had been founded in memory 
of the wrestling of Kronos and Zeus, Pausanias said. The celestial 
constellation, however, ruling the different traditional dates of the 
first Olympic Games does not justify this claim; in other words, it 
is not known y'et which particular great conjunction it was in the 
memory of which the Games were supposed to have been intro¬ 
duced. Our own era, the Age of Pisces, started with a great con¬ 
junction in Pisces, in the year 6 b.c. 

By means of this Trigon, Saturn does give panta ta metra con¬ 
tinuously to his “son” Zeus, and this same Trigon appears to be 
called “genus” in the Orphic fragment already quoted (155 Kern), 
where Zeus addresses Kronos with the words, “Set in motion our 
genus, excellent Demon.” And Proclus alluded to it in his statement 
(ibid.), “And Kronos seems to have with him the highest causes of 
junctions and separations.” And still according to Macrobius he 

269 * The Depths of the Sea 

was the “originator" of time (Sat. 7.22.8: “Saturnus ipse qui auctor 
est temporum.’’). 15 

So much for Saturn the unalterable planet gliding along his orb. 
Saturn as the fallen ruler of the Golden Age and retired to Eridu 
is a much harder proposition. Although there is also evidence to the 
contrary, there are many indications that the South Pole—Canopus 
—was taken for static, exempted from the Precession. 16 And this 

15 See R. Klibansky, E. Panofskv, and R. Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy (1964), 
pp. 154L Cf. pp. 333L, with quotations from the Latin translation of Abu Ma’shar, 
where Saturn “significat . . . quantitates sive mensuras rerum,” and where “eius est 
... rerum dimensio et pondus.” 

16 We have neither time nor space to deal sufficiently with the relevant and 
copious information on the “joyful” South Pole (see L. Ideler, Stemnamen , 
pp. 265L), the “Kotb Suhayl” of the Arabians, called thus after Canopus, which is 
recognized in Fezzan as Tetoile primordiale Sahel, identifie au premier ciel con- 
tenant les constellations a venir” (V. Paques, Uarbre cosviique [1964], p. 36) — 
the primordial star, “presented under the form of an egg that contained all the 
things that were to be born” (Paques, p. 47). To begin discussing the static 
South Pole, one might well start with the “Seven Sleepers of Ephesus,” who were 
thought to be on board the Argo —even if this is explicitly stated only in very 
late Turkish tradition (16th century)—particularly from Louis Massignon’s article, 
“Notes sur les Xuages de Magellan et leur utilisation par les pilotes arabes dans 
TOcean Indien: sous le signe des VII Dormants” (Revtie des Etudes Islavnques 
[1961], pp. 1-18 = part VII of Massignon's series of articles on the Seven Sleepers 
in Islamic and Christian tradition; part I appeared in the same review in 1955, 
part VIII in 1963), and in the very substantial review article by T. Monod, 
“Le ciel austral et Torientation (autour d'un article de Louis Massignon)” (Bulle- 
tin de l'lnstitut Frcmgais d'Afrique Xoire [1963], vol. 25, ser. B, pp. 415-26). In 
both articles one finds, besides the surprising notion of the happy South, note¬ 
worthy information about human migrations directed toward the South in several 
continents. Massignon derived the “lucky” significance of the Kotb Suhayl and the 
Magellanic Clouds from historical events; i.e., from the expectations of exiled and 
deprived peoples escaping from the perpetual wars and raids in the northern coun¬ 
tries: “Xomades ou marins, ces primitifs expatries n’eurent pour guides, dans leur 
migrations et leur regards desesperes, que les ‘etoiles nouvelles du ciel austral” 
(1961, p. 12). Monod (p. 422), however, pointed to the crucial key word as given 
by Ragnar Xumelin ( Les Migrations Hwnaines [1939], p. 27072.), who remarked: 
“II est possible que beaucoup de ces mysterieuses peregrinations se proposaient 
comme but de trouver Tetoile immobile ? dont parle la tradition. Le culte de l’Etoile 
Polaire peut avoir provoque de tels voyages,” annihilating thus with the second 
sentence the treasure which he had detected in the first. But Massignon and 
Monod also missed the decisive factor, namely, that the South Pole of the ecliptic 
is marked by the Great Cloud, and that Canopus is rather near to this south ecliptic 
pole, whereas the immovable center in the North of the universe is not distin¬ 
guished by any star, as has been said previously. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 270 

would mean—at least it might mean, because it fits so well into 
those notions of “time and the rivers”—that expired periods return 
“home” into timclessncss, that they flow into eternity whence they 
came. Access to the Confluence of the Rivers, Mouth and Source 
of aeons and eras, the true scat of immortality, has always been 
denied to any aspect of “time, the moving likeness of eternity.” For 
eternity excludes motion. But from this desired motionless home, 
source and mouth of times, the world-ruler has to procure the 
normed measures valid for his age; they are always based on time, 
as has been said. Again it is the same whether it was Marduk who 
first “crossed the heavens and surveyed the regions. He squared 
Apsu’s quarter, the abode of Nudimud [= Ea]. As the lord mea¬ 
sured the dimensions of Apsu,” and then erected his palace as the 
“likeness” of Apsu, or whether it was Sun the Chinese Monkey 
who fetched his irresistible weapon from the “navel of the deep”— 
an enormous iron pillar by means of which, once upon a time, 
Yu the Great had plumbed out the utmost depth of the sea. In any 
case, whether the description is sublime or charmingly nonsensical, 
it is literally the “fundamental” task of the Ruler to “dive” to the 
topos where times begin and end, to get hold of a new “first day.” 
As the Chinese say, in order to rule over space one has to be master 
of time. 

The reader may suspect by now that Hamlet has been forever 
forgotten. The way has been long and circuitous, but the connec¬ 
tion is still there. Even in so late and damaged a tradition as that 
of Saxo Grammaticus, every motif once made sense in high and 
far-off times. If it is difficult to recognize the central significance of 
the “oar” of Odysseus, 17 how much more difficult is it to spot the 

For the fun of it, a note of Monod’s should be quoted here (p. 421): “Quand 
Voltaire nous dit que Zadig ‘dirigeait sa route sur les etoiles’ et que ‘la constella¬ 
tion d’Orion, et le brillant astre de Sirius le guidaient vers le pole de Canope’, nous 
retrouvons dans cette derniere expression un temoignage du role joue par Canopus 
dans l’orientation astronomique. II n’y a pas lieu, bien entendu, de vouloir la cor- 
riger en ‘port de Canope’; cf. Voltaire, Romans et contes , ed. Gamier i960, note 
49, p. 621.” Where shall we ever find security from the “improvements” of 

17 Sooner or later, one more object will have to be admitted to the assembly of 
imperial measuring oars, or gubernacula: the enigmatical Egyptian hpt, the so- 

2ji • The Depths of the Sea 

“steering oar of Argo” = Canopus-Eridu, in the childish riddle of 
Amlethus? And yet, the “measuring of the depth of the sea” is there 
all the time; infant-Kullervo dared to do it with a ladle, coming to 
the startling result of “three ladles and a little bit more.” And there 
is an even less suitable measure to be had, a veritable stylus. Jacob 
Grimm gives the story: “The medieval Dutch poem of Brandaen 
. . . contains a very remarkable feature: Brandaen met on the sea 
a man of thumb size, floating upon a leaf, holding in his right hand 
a small bowl, in the left hand a stylus; the stylus he kept dipping 
into the sea and letting water drip from it into the bowl; when the 
bowl was full, he emptied it out, and began filling it again. It 
was imposed on him, he said, to measure the sea until Judgment- 
day.” 18 This particular kind of “instrument” seems to reveal the 
surveyor in charge in this special case. Mercury was the celestial 
scribe and guardian of the files and records, “and he was the in¬ 
ventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geom¬ 
etry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery 
was the use of letters,” as Plato has it (Phaedrus 274). 

It remains to be seen whether or not all the measuring planets 
can be recognized by their particular methods of doing the measur¬ 
ing. It is known how Saturn does it, and Jupiter. Jupiter “throws,” 
and Saturn “falls.” But, as was said before, Saturn giving the meas¬ 
ures as resident in Canopus is hard to imagine. Maybe all the avail¬ 
able keys to this door have not been tried? Observing so many char¬ 
acters occupied with measuring the depth of the sea, one stumbles 
over the strange name given to Canopus by the Arabs: they call it 

called “ship’s device” (Schiffsgerat) of obscure literal meaning, which the Pharaoh 
brought running to a deity in the ritual of the “oar-race.” There was also a “jar- 
race” and a “bird-race,” the Pharaoh carrying a water jar or a bird, respectively. 
In several Pyramid Texts the soul of the dead ruler takes this ship’s device and 
brings it to another celestial department, while the actual rowing of the boat is 
done by the stars (Pyr. 2173A, d; see also 284A, 873D, 1346B). See Aeg. Wb., vol. 5, 
pp. 67-71; A. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar (1957), p. 581; M. Riemschneider, 
Augengott und Heilige Hochzeit (1953), pp. 255E For the different imperial races, 
see the (unsatisfying) investigation by H. Kees, Der Opferta?7Z des Aegyptischen 
Konigs (1912), pp. 74-90, the “oar-race.” 

18 Deutsche Mythologie (1953), pp. 420/373. The English translation (TM, p. 451) 
makes it “pointer” instead of “stylus”; Grimm has “Griffel.” Cf. K. Simrock, 
Handbuch der Deutschen Mythologie (1869), § 125, p. 415. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 272 

“the weight,” and the Tables of Alphonsus of Castile spell it “Suhel 
ponderosus,” the heavy-weighing Canopus. 19 This “weight” is the 
plumb at the end of the plumb line, by means of which this depth 
was measured. So far so good. But where does Saturn come in? He 
can be understood as the “living” plumb line. 20 This would be hard 
to believe if the story of this surveying were not told by the plumb 
line itself, Phaethon. Only when he told it, he had another name, 
as belongs to the manners and customs of celestial characters: 
Hephaistos. 21 

In the first book of the Iliad (7.589!?.), Hephaistos tries to ap¬ 
pease his mother Hera who is very angry with her husband Zeus, 
and says to her: 

“It is hard to fight against the Olympian. There was a time once 
before now I was minded to help you and he caught me by the foot 
and threw me from the magic threshold, and all day long I dropped 
helpless, and about sunset I landed in Lemnos, and there was not much 
life left in me.” 

Hephaistos mentions the event once more, when Thetis asks him 
to forge the shield for her son Achilles (7^.395!?.): 

“She saved me when I suffered much at the time of my great fall 
through the will of my own brazen-faced mother, 22 who wanted to 
hide me, for being lame. Then my soul would have taken much 

19 “Suhail al wazn.” The epithet “wazn” has been given also to other stars of 
the southern sky. For ample discussions of this name, see Ideler, pp. 249-52, 263; 
Allen, pp. 68f.; J. N. Lockyer, The Dawn of Astronomy (1964), p. 294; W. T. 
Olcott, Star Lore of All Ages (1911), p. 133. 

20 The strange “beacon” in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon , which announced the Fall 
of Troy, must have been something of this kind; the context excludes absolutely 
any possible devices of the signal corps. 

21 To avoid misunderstanding, we do not wish to insist upon the absolute identity 
of the fall of Phaethon and the account of the fall as told by Hephaistos in the 
first book of the Iliad. We suspect that the verbal image “Jupiter-hurls-down- 
Saturn” describes the shaping of the Trigon of great conjunctions, not, however, 
of the Trigon generally but of that new Trigon whose first angle was established 
by a conjunction of the Big Two at the beginning of a new world-age. On the 
other hand, this picturesque formula might cover the shifting of the Trigon of 
conjunctions from one Triplicity to the next (cf. appendix #23); these highly 
technical problems cannot be solved yet. 

22 That is not what Homer says, it is kunopis, dog-eyed; Hera seems to have 
been near Sirius at that time. 

“The shepherd is shown on the left sighting first the pole star, and on the right 
observing the transit through the meridian of the stars forming the easily recog¬ 
nized W of Cassiopeia.” 

The Chinese picture illustrates in true archaic spirit (which means that only hints 
are given, and the spectator has to work out for himself the significance of the 
details) the surveying of the universe. The two characters surrounded by constel¬ 
lations are Fu Hsi and Nu Kua, i.e., the craftsman god and his paredra, who 
measure the “squareness of the earth” and the “roundness of heaven” with their 
implements, the square with the plumb bob hanging from it, and the compass. 
The intertwined serpent-like bodies of the deities indicate clearly enough, al¬ 
though in a peculiar “projection,” circular orbits intersecting each other at regular 

273 * The Depths of the Sea 

suffering had not Eurynome and Thetis caught me and held me. 

Eurynome, daughter of Ocean, whose stream bends back in a circle. 

With them I worked nine years as a smith.” 

Indentured as a smith again, like Kullervo. 

Krates of Pergamon 23 explains this feature in the sense that Zeus 
aspired to the measurement of the whole world ( anametresin tou 
pantos). He succeeded in determining the measures of the cosmos 
by “two torches moving with the same speed”: Hephaistos and the 
Sun. Zeus hurled the former down from the threshold to earth at 
the same moment when the latter was starting from point east on 
his way to the west. Both reached their goal at the same time: the 
Sun was setting when Hephaistos struck Lemnos. 

Krates felt convinced that Homer spoke of a sphere, and since 
he himself was most interested in the coordinate system of the 
sphere he did not find it strange to interpret in his own sense the 
shield of Agamemnon ( Iliad //.32L) and of Achilles (/#.468ff.). 24 
He also conceived Odysseus’ sailing from Circe’s island to Hades 
as a voyage from the Tropic of Capricorn to the South Pole. The 
idea is not so strange as it might seem. Zeus, establishing the equi¬ 
noctial colure by hurling down the fictitious “Phaethon,” intro¬ 
duced a new skambha —one remembers Plato about this: “It has 
the air of a fable . . .” 25 But there is also Cornford’s idea of the 

23 It is to the credit of Hans Joachim Mette and his work, Sphairopoiia , Unter- 
suchungen zur Kosmologie des Krates von Yergamon (1936), that we find 
collected every relevant testimonial and fragment concerned with Krates and his 

24 See Mette, pp. 30-42, and his introduction. 

25 We cannot discuss here the Homeric wording of the topos from which Zeus 
threw down Hephaistos: “magic threshold” means nothing, anyhow (apo belou 
thespesioio); there were ancient scholars who claimed that Krates connected this 
“belos” with the Chaldean “Bel”/Baal = Marduk. We leave it at Auriga’s chariot, 
Babylonian narkabtn , the more so, as Marduk, too, used it when tipping over 
Tiamat. The “Babylonian Genesis” does not tell that Marduk hurled people 
around, but there is a cuneiform text (VAT 9947) called by Ebeling ( Tod und 
Lebeti, 37L) “a kind of a calendar of festivals,” where it says: “the 17th is called 
(day) of moving in, when Bel has vanquished his enemies. The 18th is called (day) 
of lamentation, at which one throws from the roof Kingu and his 40 sons.” Kingu 
had the epithet “Enmesharra,” i.e., “Lord of norms and measures”; he was the hus¬ 
band of Tiamat—as Geb was husband of Nut—who gave him the “tablets of fate,” 
which Marduk was going to take away from him after his victory, and 40 is the 

Hamlet’s Mill • 274 

vision of F.r,- 6 according to which Plato’s “souls actually sec in their 
vision not the universe itself, but a model, a primitive orrery in a 
form roughly resembling a spindle . . 

It is sad to observe, and certainly odd, how little scholars trust 
their own eyes and words—as in the case of Jane Harrison who 
remarked on the Titans: “They are constantly driven down below 
the earth to nethermost Tartaros and always reemerging. The very 
violence and persistence with which they are sent below shows that 
they belong up above. They rebound like divine india-rubber 
balls.” 27 It is rather evident that these divine india-rubber balls were 
not really sent below: what was overthrown were the expired ages 
together with the names of their respective rulers. 

But now the galactical stage is empty and it is almost time to 
watch the working of the next skambha grinding out the “destiny” 
for the first postdiluvian generation. But before facing the hero of 
the oldest, the most difficult, and by all means the oddest of epics, 
there is an interval. We seize the occasion to insert a chapter on 
methods, presented by means of a well-known episode. 

number of Enki-Ea (see below, p. 288). The rest is easy to calculate. We are 
hampered by our inappropriate ideas about “names,” and by the misleading labels 
settled upon celestial characters by the translators who make Tiamat, Kingu and 
their clan into “monsters.” 

26 The Republic of Plato, p. 350. 

27 Themis, p. 453E Cf. for a similar sort of mistrusting one’s own evidence, M. 
Mayer, Giganten und Titanen, p. 97. 

Chapter XXI 

The Great Tan Is Dead 

i VF.RYONF. has once read, for it comes up many times in litera- 
ture, of that pilot in the reign of Tiberius, who, as he was sailing 
along in the Aegean on a quiet evening, heard a loud voice an¬ 
nouncing that “Great Pan was dead.” This engaging myth was 
interpreted in two contradictory ways. On the one hand, it an¬ 
nounced the end of paganism: Pan with his pipes, the demon of still 
sun-drenched noon, the pagan god of glade and pasture and the 
rural idyll, had yielded to the supernatural. On the other hand the 
myth has been understood as telling of the death of Christ in the 
19th year of Tiberius: the Son of God who was everything from 
Alpha to Omega was identified with Pan — “All.” 1 

Here is the story, as told by a character in Plutarch’s dialogue 
“On why oracles came to fail” (419 b-e) : 

The father of Aemilianus the orator, to whom some of you have 
listened, was Epitherses, who lived in our town and was my teacher 
in grammar. He said that once upon a time in making a voyage to 
Italy he embarked on a ship carrying freight and many passengers. 

1 O. Weinreich (“Zum Tode des Grossen Pan,” ARW /5 [1910] pp. 467-73) has 
collected the evidence for such strange notions, first found in 1549 (Guillaume 
Bigot), then three years later in Rabelais’ Pantagrnel , and ridiculed in later times, 
e.g., by Fontenelle, in the beginning of the 18th century: “Ce grand Pan qui 
meurt sous Tibere, aussi bien que Jesus-Christ, est le Maistre des Demons, dont 
l’Empire est ruine par cette mort d’un Dieu si salutaire a l’Univers; ou si cette expli¬ 
cation ne vous plaist pas, car enfin on peut sans impiete donner des sens contraires 
a une mesme chose, quoy qu’elle regarde la Religion; ce grand Pan est Jesus-Christ 
luy-mesme, dont la mort cause une douleur et une consternation generate parmy les 
Demons, qui ne peuvent plus exercer leur tirannie sur les hommes. C’est ainsi qu’on 
a trouve moyen de donner a ce grand Pan deux faces bien differentes” (Weinreich, 

Hamlet’s Mill • 276 

lr was already evening when, near the Echinades Islands, the wind 
dropped and the ship drifted near Paxi. Almost everybody w r as av r ake, 
and a good many had not finished their after-dinner wine. 

Suddenly from the island of Paxi v T as heard the voice of someone 
loudly calling Thamus, so that all were amazed. Thamus w r as an 
Egyptian pilot, not known by name even to many on board. Twice 
he was called and made no reply, but the third time he answered; 
and the caller, raising his voice, said, “When you come opposite to 
Palodes, announce that Great Pan is dead.” On hearing this, all, 
said Epitherses, w T ere astounded and reasoned among themselves 
whether it w T ere better to carry out the order or to refuse to meddle 
and let the matter go. Under the circumstances Thamus made up his 
mind that if there should be a breeze, he w'ould sail past and keep 
quiet, but with no wind and a smooth sea about the place he w r ould 
announce w hat he had heard. So, when he came opposite Palodes, and 
there w T as neither w ind nor w r ave, Thamus from the stern, looking 
toward the land, said the w T ords as he heard them: “Great Pan is 
dead.” Even before he had finished there w*as a great cry of lamenta¬ 
tion, not of one person, but of many, mingled w T ith exclamations of 
amazement. As many persons w r ere on the vessel, the story w T as soon 
spread abroad in Rome, and Thamus w T as sent for by Tiberius Caesar. 
Tiberius became so convinced of the truth of the story that he caused 
an inquiry and investigation to be made about Pan; and the scholars, 
w T ho were numerous at his court, conjectured that he w T as the son 
born of Hermes and Penelope. 

Plutarch has not been accepted, and a “simple” explanation was 
suggested. As the ship drifted along shore by a coastal village, the 
passengers were struck by the ritual outcry and lamentations made 
over the death of Tammuz-Adonis, the so-called grain god, as was 
common in the Middle East in high summer. Other confused shouts 
were understood by the pilot Thamus as directed to him. 2 Out of 
that, gullible fantasy embroidered the tale, adding details for credi¬ 
bility as usual. This sounded good enough. The story had been 
normalized, that is, disposed of as insignificant. 

One is still allowed to wonder why such a fuss was made at the 
time about exclamations which must have been familiar to contem¬ 
poraries, and why, unless Plutarch be a liar, that most learned of 
mythologists, the Emperor Tiberius himself, thought the matter 
worth following up. 

2 See F. Liebrecht, Des Gervasius von Tilbury Otia Imperialia (1856) pp. 179-80; 
J. G. Frazer, The Dying God (Golden Bough 3), pp. 7f. 

277 * The Great Pan Is Dead 

Therefore, with all due respect for the scholars involved, it is 
worth trying a different tack. One can assume that it was not all 
background noise, as we say today, but that there was an actual 
message filtered through: “The Great Pan is dead,” Pan ho vie gas 
tethneke, and that it was Thamus who had to announce it. 

It was enough of a message for Tiberius’ committee of experts 
( philologoi ) to decide that it referred to Pan, the son of Penelope 
and of Hermes, number 3 in Cicero’s list given in De natura deorum 
y.j 6. 3 Penelope, whoever she really was, must have had quite a life 
after the events narrated in the Odyssey . 4 Mythology seems to have 
been a careful science in those circles. 

If it is decided to credit the message, one is led to consider a num¬ 
ber of similar stories, some of them collected by Jacob Grimm, 
but the bulk by Mannhardt. 5 They are strictly on the level of 
folktale, which at least preserved their innocence from literate in¬ 
terference. There is a whole set of stories from the Tyrol concerning 
the “Fanggen,” a kind of “Little People” (or giants), dryads or tree 
spirits whose existence is bound to trees, so that the felling of such 
a tree would annihilate a Fangga. They were once willing to live 
with peasants in the form of servant maids and would bring bless¬ 
ings to the home, 6 but would also vanish unaccountably. A favorite 
story is that of the master of the house coming home and telling 
the family of a strange message that he has heard from a voice, such 
as “Yoke-bearer, yoke-bearer, tell the Ruchrinden [Rough-bark] 
that Giki-Gaki is dead on the Hurgerhorn,” or “Yoke-bearer, 

3 Tertius Jove tertio natus er Maia, ex quo et Penelopa Pana natum ferunt. Cf. 
also Herodotus 2. 145. 

4 As concerns the version according to which Pan was the son of Penelope and 
all the suitors, Preller remarks ( Griechische Mythologie [1964], vol. 1, p. 745): ‘‘the 
repulsive myth.” 

5 J. Grimm, TM, pp. 45372., 141 sfcf. pp. 989, 1011-12 (“The Devil's dead, and 
anyone can get to heaven unhindered”); W. Mannhardt, Wald- und Feldkulte, 
vol. 1 (1875), pp. 89-93; vol. 2 (1877), pp. 148!!. 

6 Generally, however, they are claimed to show rather revolting habits, such as 
eating children or disposing of them in another peculiar manner, as, for instance, 
pulverizing them into snuff. Thus, of one Fangga it is said: “Wenn sie kleine Buben 
zu fassen bekam, so schnupfte sie dieselben, wie Schnupftabak in ihre Nase, oder 
rieb sie an alten diirren Baumen, die von stechenden Aesten stamen, bis sie zu 
Staub geraspelt waren.” It seems to be a very deep-seated desire of “higher powers” 
to change divine or human beings into powder and dust. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 278 

yoke-bearer, tell the Stutzkatze [also Stutzamutza, i.e., Docked Cat] 
Hochrinde [High-bark] is dead.” At which point the housemaid 
breaks into a loud lament and runs away forever. 

Or it might be that while the family was sitting at dinner, a voice 
called three times through the window: “Salome, come!” and the 
maid vanished. This story has a sequel: some years later a butcher 
was coming home at midnight from Saalfelden through a gorge, 
when a voice called to him from the rocky wall: “Butcher, when 
you come to such and such a place [zur langen Unkener Wand], 
call into the crack in the rock: ‘Salome is dead.’ ” Before dawn the 
man had come to that point, and he shouted his message three times 
into the crack. And at once there came from the depths of the 
mountain much howling and lamentations, so that the man ran 
home in fear. Sometimes the message delivered is followed by the 
“flyting” of whole tribes of Little People: it was their “king” whose 
death had been announced. 7 It is remarkable that in most of the 
cases registered, the master was addressed as “Yoke-bearer.” No 
one knows why. But the wild woodmaid invariably vanished. 

Felix Liebrecht speaks of the ways of certain ghostly were¬ 
wolves, the “Lubins,” that haunted medieval Normandy. These 
timid ghosts hunted in a pack, but to little point, for instead of turn¬ 
ing on the intruder, they would disperse at the slightest noise, 
howling: “Robert est mort, Robert est mort.” 8 This meaningless 
yarn gains perspective once its trail is followed back to the “Wolf- 
Mountain” in Arcadia and the Lycaean “Wolf-games”—the parent- 
festival of the Lupercalia in Rome—held on this Mountain Lykaios. 
Pan is said to have been born here, 9 and here he had a sanctuary. 
Here also Zeus tilted a “table”—whence the place had the name 
Trapezous—because Lykaon had served him a dish of human meat, 

7 “No is Pippe Kong dod” (Schleswig); otherwise “Konig Knoblauch” (King 
Garlic), “King Urban”; “Hipclpipel is dead” (Lausitz); “Mutter Pumpe is tot” 
(Hessen). Cf. Grimm, p. 453; K. Simrock, Hand buck der Deutschen Mythologie 
(1869), § 125, pp. 4i6fF. Liebrecht, Zur Volkskimde (1879), p. 25772., who gives 
additional references. See also P. Herrmann, Deutsche Mythologie (1898), pp. 89L 

8 Liebrecht, Zur Volkskunde, p. 25772. 

9 Pindar frg. 100 (68); Rhea had borne Zeus there also (Paus. #.38.2L), and on 
top of the mountain was a temenos of Zeus, where nothing and nobody cast a 

279 * The Great Fan Is Dead 

consisting of his own son. Zeus turned Lykaon into a werewolf, and 
in tilting the “table” caused the Flood of Deukalion, the “table,” of 
course, being the earth-plane through the ecliptic. This is the sig¬ 
nificant event of the tale, and the whole is so long no sensible person 
would try to summarize it. 

Next, there is the case of Robert, known as Robert le Diable, 
allegedly a historical character who was supposed to have spells as 
a werewolf and then to do penance by “lying in the guise of a dog 
under the ladder.” And thereby hangs the puzzle of the dynasty 
of the Scaligeri in Verona (we all remember Prince Escalus in 
Romeo and Juliet ) whose powerful founder was Can Grande della 
Scala, “Great Dog of the Ladder,” who became a host to Dante 
wandering in exile, and a patron of the Divine Comedy. His succes¬ 
sors, Mastino, Cansignorio, had dog names too. 10 Now, for the pur¬ 
poses of this essay, this is the end of this line of approach, except 
for two hints for the future. First, Pythagoras called the planets 
“the dogs of Persephone.” Second, there is only one huge ladder, 
the Galaxy, and only one canine character lying under this ladder, 
Sirius. But at this point we are only ringing bells at random. 

What matters here is the tenacious survival of motifs in simple 
surroundings. Moving one step down in folklore, there is a story 
spread all over northern Europe (Mannhardt /, 93) of which this 
is the English version (the end is from a German variant). A 
clowder of cats have met in an abandoned broken-down house, 
where a man is watching them unobserved. A cat jumps on the wall 
and cries: “Tell Dildrum that Doldrum is dead.” The man goes 
home and tells his wife. The house cat jumps up and yowls: “Then 
1 am king of cats!” and vanishes up the chimney. 

This is how the “body” of tradition survives the death of its 
“soul,” fractured, with all ideas gone, preserved like flies in amber. 
Greek gods have become cats and housemaids among illiterate folk; 
the Powers pass, but the information remains. By checking on the 
repeats, one has the message of the Voice in the canonic form: 
“Wanderer, go tell Dildrum that the Great Doldrum is dead.” The 

10 See O. Hofler, “Cangrande von Verona und das Hundesymbol der Lango- 
barden,” in Festschrift Fehrle (1940), pp. 107-37. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 280 

hearer of the message may be an unknown pilot, a passerby, an 
animal, a watcher. The substance is that a Power has passed away, 
and that the succession is open. The cosmos has in its own way 
registered some key event. 

For another example of hardly credible survival, there are 
also the findings of Leopold Schmidt on “Pclops and the Hazel 
Witch,” 11 a collection of tales from the Alpine valleys of South¬ 
ern Tyrol. It is again about housemaids among peasants. The story 
goes that a farm servant accidentally watches the dinner of some 
witches, in which a housemaid is boiled and consumed by her 
fellow witches. A rib is thrown at the young man, and when 
after the meal the witches rebuild and revive the girl, this rib 
is missing and has to be replaced by a hazel branch. At the very 
moment that the farmhand tells his master that his housemaid is 
a hazel witch, the housemaid dies. This is no witch hazel trick— 
it is simply a rehearsing of the archaic tale of Pelops, son of Tanta- 
los, the Titan, who had been boiled and served for dinner by his 
evil father at the table of the gods. The gods, it is said, kept away 
from the food that looked suspicious, all except for Demeter, who, 
lost in her grief for the death of Persephone, absently ate a shoulder 
blade believing it to be mutton. The gods brought the child back to 
life. But a shoulder blade was missing and it was replaced by ivory. 
Pelops went on to become a famous hero, from whom the Pelopon- 
nesos was named, and he won the foot race at Olympia from King 
Oinomaos, thus inaugurating the Olympian games. The two are 
portrayed before the race on the metope of the temple of Zeus in 
Olympia. Oinomaos stands there looking stuffy, Pelops relaxed, and 
above the two the great figure of Apollo with arms outstretched, 
as if to consecrate the event. But Olympia became holy because it 
was the site where Zeus overcame his father Kronos 12 and threw 
him down out of the royal chariot. Near Olympia you can see the 

11 “Pelops und die Haselhexe,” Laos i (1951), pp. 67-78. 

12 Paus. 5.7.10. It is not from mere “religious” motifs that “in the hippodrome 
the pillar which marked the starting point had beside it an altar of the Heavenly 
Tivi?is” (Pind. Olympian Odes 5.56; Paus. 5-/5); cf. F. M. Cornford in Harrison 
(Themis [1962], p. 228); see also above, pp. 2o6f. n. 5, for the Circus Maximus in 

281 • The Great Pan Is Dead 

Kronion hill, which still bears the imprint of the celestial posterior. 
Exeunt the official characters. Only the great Olympic Games re¬ 
mained an “international” event which took place every four years 
and became the Greek way of counting time. What has all that to 
do with a little fairy housemaid in the Austrian Alps, thousands of 
years later? Nothing at first glance, and yet, if one dug deeper into 
the story of this shoulder blade, there would be a good case history 
to be made. 13 Tradition goes on tenaciously, even through ages of 
submerged knowledge. At least, by now, some distance has been 
made well away from the fertility rites of Frazer and others, which 
accounted for things too patly. This is an important gain. 

Returning to Plutarch’s text the dialogue’s chatty style gives an 
impression of casualness, but in these matters Plutarch usually knew 
more than he cared to discuss. There was a pilot, a kybernetes, giv¬ 
ing an announcement from the stern deck ( prumne) of his ship. 
These details seem not to be casual. For there is one stern and one 
pilot which cannot be overlooked in mythology. The stern is that 
of the constellation Argo, a ship which consists of a stern and little 
else. It is understood to be the Ship of the Dead with Osiris on 
board (he is the strategos of the ship, according to Plutarch’s Isis 
and Osiris 359 ef), and the Pilot star in the stern is Canopus itself, 
the site of the great Babylonian god Ea (Sumerian Enki), its name 
in Sumerian being mul NUN ki , and Enki is the father of Tammuz, 
which might lead back to the trail. 

But the striking thing is that Mesopotamian Canopus bears the 

13 There is not only “moskhou omon chryseion,” the golden shoulder of the ox 
in the hands of Mithras (Egyptian Maskheti, the Bull’s Thigh, Ursa Major), and 
Humeri, an antiquated Latin name of Orion, as we know from Varro; the highest 
god, Amma, of the West Sudanese Dogon (or the Clcirias senegalensis, the shadfish, 
an avatar of the Dogon’s “Moniteur Faro,” whose emblem is the very same as 
that of ityphallic Min, the Egyptian Pan) carries in his humeri the first “eight 
grains,” and these 8 sorts of grain (stereotypically including beans) play their 
cosmogonic role from the Dogon to China (cf. for another striking similarity of 
West Sudan and China, the chapter on the “shamanistic” drums, but there are 
many more). There is also the tale from modern Greece (see J. G. von Hahn, 
Griechische und Albanische M'drchen [1918], vol. /, pp. 181-84) of the “Son of 
the shoulder-blade,” one of those “Strong Boys” who, after adventures in spirit 
land, grinds his mother to porridge on a hand mill. How these and other traditions 
are connected with the shoulder blade oracle, if they are connected at all, cannot 
be made out yet. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 282 

name “Yoke-star of the Sea” 14 —the “Yoke-star of the Sky” being 
Draco. 11 ere then there is a death fate, a pilot, and a yoke-bearer 
in an unsuspected but suggestive complex. Dealing with such pro¬ 
found experts of archaic myth as Plato and Plutarch, one is not 
likely to overlook the “Egyptian king Thamus” in Phaedrus (274c- 
27511, see below, chapter XXIII), who drives it home to Thot- 
Hermcs, who was very proud of just having invented writing, that 
this new art was an extremely questionable gain. It must have been 
a mighty “king” who dared to criticize Mercury’s merits. But then, 
the chapter on the Galaxy and the fall of Phaethon will have shown 
that geographical terms are not to be taken at their face value, least 
of all “Egypt,” a synonym of the ambiguous Nile. 

To find something more about the substance of the message we 
shall move many centuries back, to a text certainly ancient, but of 
undetermined date. It is the so-called “Nabataean Agriculture” 
which has little to do with farming but much to do with agrarian 
rites. The author, Ibn Wa’shijja, claimed to have derived it from an 
almost primordial Chaldean source. 15 Modern critics have decided it 
was a fabrication of uncertain origin, a so-called falsification. What¬ 
ever else it may be, original it is not. Such things are built out of tra¬ 
ditional material. Maimonides judged it worth quoting at length, 
Chwolson and Liebrecht analyzed it, comparing it with An- 
Nadim’s report on the Tammuz festival of the Harranians, held in 
the month of July and called el-Buqat, the “weeping women.” 16 
Here first is a passage studied by Liebrecht: 17 

14 See P. F. Gossmann, Flanetarium Babylonicum (1950), 281; J. Schaumberger, 
in Kugler’s 3. Ergdnzwigsheft (1935), p. 325, and n. 2 (one version: the “yoke of 
Ea”); P. Jensen, Die Kosmologie der Babylonier (1890), pp. i6ff., 25; F. Boll- 

C. Bezold, Farbige Sterne (1916), p. 121. 

15 Actually, he (and others) claimed that the book was written by three (or 
even more) authors, namely Ssagrit, Janbushad, and Qutama. The first living in the 
seventh thousand of the 7000 years of Saturn—which he ruled together with the 
Moon—the second at the end of the same millennium, the third appeared after 4000 
years of the 7000-year cycle of the Sun had passed; so that between the beginning 
and the end of the book 18,000 solar years have passed (according to Maqrizi). See 

D. Chwolson, Die Sscibier und der Ssabismns (1856), vol. /, pp. 705E (cf. p. 822 for 
the special alphabet used by Janbushad). So we are up to another “Tris-megistos,” 
three tunes great, not just “thrice.” Time is involved. Hermes is repeated three 
times historically. 

16 Chwolson, vol. 2, pp. 27C, 207, 209. 

17 Z7/r Volkskunde , pp. 25if. 

283 * The Great Pan Is Dead 

It is said that once the Sakain (angels) and the images of the gods 
lamented over Janbushad, just as all Sakain had lamented over Tam- 
muz. The tale goes that the images of the gods gathered from all 
corners of the earth in the temple of the Sun, around the great golden 
image, which hung between heaven and earth. The great image of the 
Sun was in the middle of the temple, surrounded by the images of the 
Sun from everywhere, and also by the images of the Moon, then 
those of Mars, then those of Mercury, of Jupiter, of Venus, and 
finally of Saturn . 18 

Chwolson’s part of the text goes on: 

This idol (that hung between earth and heaven) fell down at this 
point and began to lament Tammuz and to recount his story of sor¬ 
rows. Then all the idols wept and lamented through the night; but on 
the rising of the morning star, they flew off and returned to their 
own temples in all corners of the world. 

Such is the story which, Liebrecht says, was rehearsed in the 
temples after prayers, with more weeping and lamentations. This 
is then the archaic setting. It concerns planetary gods, the great 
cult of Harran. Two of them stand out, almost ex aequo: Tammuz 
and Janbushad. Now this latter is no other than Firdausi’s Jam- 
shyd. 19 It has been seen already (p. 146) that Jamshyd is in Avestic 
Yima xsaeta, the name from which came Latin Saturnus. There is 
no question then, this is about Saturn/Kronos, the God of the 
Beginning, Yima (Indian Yama), the lord of the Golden Age. A 
lament over the passing of Kronos would have been in order even 
in Greece, 20 since he had been dethroned and succeeded by Zeus. 

18 Let us note that the planets are not given in the astronomical order of their 
periods, but in the order given by the heptagram, which describes the days of the 

19 See Liebrecht, p. 25172: “The Babylonian Izdubar [=Gilgamesh] is called 
by Ibn Wa’shijja’s Book on the Nabataean Agriculture ‘Janla-Shad’ (Janbushad), 
i.e. Jamshid . . . Thus Rawlinson in Athenaeum December 7, 1872.” 

20 Cf. the report by Plutarch (Isis and Osiris 363E) on Egypt: “There is also a 
religious lament sung over Cronus. The lament is for him that is born in the re¬ 
gions of the left, and suffers dissolution in the regions on the right; for the 
Egyptians believe that the eastern regions are the face of the world, the northern 
the right, and the southern to the left. The Nile, therefore, which runs from the 
south and is swallowed up by the sea in the north, is naturally said to have its 
birth on the left and its dissolution on the right.” Kronos having been the ruler 
of “galactical times” (Geb “inside” Nut), this makes more sense than meets the 
eye. See also chapter XIII, “Of Time and the Rivers.” 

Hamlet’s Mill • 284 

But who was Tammuz? The grain god dying with the season, the 
rural Adonis, would hardly fit into such exalted company. Now it is 
clear he was astronomical first of all. So much has been written 
about his fertility rites that it took time to locate the real date, given 
by Cumont. 21 The lament over Adonis-Tammuz did not fall simply 
in “late summer”: it took place in the night between July 19 and 20, 
the exact date which marked the opening of the Egyptian year, and 
remained to determine the Julian calendar. For 3000 years it had 
marked the heliacal rising of Sirius. 

Tammuz was extremely durable, for he is found in Sumer as 
Dumuzi, already the object of the midsummer lamentations. It was 
seen that he was worshiped as the son of Enki, who was the 
Sumerian Kronos. The cult went on in Harran as late as the 13th 
century, long after Mohammedanism had engulfed the Ssabian 
population. Notwithstanding the severe displeasure of the Caliph 
of Baghdad, it went through sporadic but intense revivals in an area 
that spread from Armenia to Quzistan. 22 As mentioned, the celebra¬ 
tion was called el-Buqat, “the weeping women.” And the lament 
was mainly over the god who was cruelly killed by being ground 
between millstones, just like John Barleycorn in the rhyme we 
quoted earlier: 23 

They roasted o'er a scorching fire 
The marrow of his bones 
But a miller used him worst of all 
For he ground him between two stones. 

What kind of grinding could it have been? Surely, the lament 
referred in popular consciousness to the death of a corn god, called 
also Adonis (the Lord), slain by a wild boar, but the celestial aspect 

21 “Adonis et Sirius,” Extrait des Melanges Glotz, vol. i (1932), pp. 237-64. But see 
for the different dates of the Adonia, F. K. Movers, Die Phonizier (1841), vol. 1, 
pp. 193-218, esp. p. 203. 

22 See Liebrecht, Gervasius von Tilbury, pp. 180-82; Z.m Volkskimde, pp. 233ff.; 
YV. Robertson Smith, The Religion of the Semites (1937), p. 412 (lamentations 
over “the king of the Djinns,” and over “Uncud, Son of the grape cluster”). 

23 It was Felix Liebrecht who first felt reminded of John Barleycorn. 

285 • The Great Fan Is Dead 

is predominant compared with the agrarian one, and more ancient, 
too; the more so as that “wild boar” was Mars. 24 

This leaves a knotted story to untangle. It is hampered consider¬ 
ably by too many “identifications” taken for granted by the scholars 
who with magnificent zeal have extirpated the dimension of time in 
the whole mythology. Actually, it is not known yet who Tammuz 
is. 25 He looks almost like a title, just as “Horus” was a title. There 
is doubt of his “identity”—as taken in the current sense—with 
Adonis, and with Osiris, 26 Attis, Balder, 27 and others. The “Naba¬ 
taean Agriculture” leaves no doubt that there were lamentations 
over Tammuz and Janbushad/Jamshyd. The Egyptians lamented 
on account of Kronos and AHneros 28 ( Herodotus 2, 79). Tammuz, 
after all, is not the only star who came to fall in the course of the 
Precession. (And was not King Frodhi a repetition of Freyr, Kai 
Khusrau a repetition of Jamshyd, as Apis was the repetition of 
Ptah [the Egyptian Saturn-Hephaistos], and Mnevis that of Ra?) 

This is a long way from Great Pan, and it is not clear yet who 
or what was supposed to have passed away in the time of Tiberius, 
that is, which “Pan.” Creuzer 29 claimed right away that he was Sirius 
—and any suggestion from Creutzer still carries great weight—the 
first star of heaven and the kingpin of archaic astronomy. And 

24 See Nonnos ^/.2o8fF. on Aphrodite: “Being a prophet, she knew, that in the 
shape of a wild boar, Ares with jagged tusk and spitting deadly poison was 
destined to weave fate for Adonis in jealous madness.” Cf. for the other sources, 
Movers, vol. /, pp. 222#. 

25 To give tiniest minima only: Tammuz = Saturn (Jeremias in Roscher s.v. 
Sterne, col. 1443); Tammuz = Mars (W. G. Baudissin, Adonis nnd Esmun 
[1911], p. 117, quoting the Chronicle of Barhebraeus). For the unheard-of number 
of names given to “Tammuz” in Mesopotamia, see M. Witzel, Tammuz-Liturgien 
(1935). For his name “Dragon of the Sky” (Usungal-an-na)= Sin (the Moon) see 
K. Tallqvist, Akkadische Gotterepitheta (1938), p. 482; see also p. 464, where 
Tammuz = “Mutterschafbild” (“mothersheep-image”). 

26 It is worth noticing that the death of Osiris, in his turn, was announced by 
“the Pans and Satyrs who lived in the region around Chemmis (=Ptf?zopolis), and 
so, even to this day, the sudden confusion and consternation of a crowd is called 
a panic” (Plutarch: Isis and Osiris, c. 14, 356D). 

27 All the gods of the North came together, in best “Nabataean” fashion, to weep 
over Balder’s death. 

28 We leave aside, though, the cases Linos, Maneros, Memnon, Bormos, etc. See 
Movers, vol. /, p. 244. 

29 Symbolik nnd Mythologie der Alien Volker (1842), vol. 4, pp. 65ff. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 286 

Aristotle says ( Rhet. 2. 24, 1401 a 15) that, wishing to circumscribe 
a “dog,” one was permitted to use “Dog-star” (Sirius) or Pan, 
because Pindar states him to be the “shape-shifting dog of the 
Great Goddess” (O makar, home me gal as theon kyna pantodapon 
kaleousin Olympioi ). 30 But this is far enough for now. The amazing 
significance of Sirius as leader of the planets, as the eighth planet, 31 
so to speak, and of Pan, the dance-master (choreutes) as well as 
the real kosmokrator, ruling over the “three worlds,” 32 would take 
a whole volume. The important point is that the extraordinary 
role of Sirius is not the product of the fancy of silly pontiffs, but 
an astronomical fact. During the whole 3000-year history of Egypt 
Sirius rose every fourth year on July 20 of the Julian calendar. In 
other words, Sirius was not influenced by the Precession, which 
must have led to the conviction that Sirius was more than just one 
fixed star among others. And so when Sirius fell, Great Pan was 

Now, Creuzer had no monopoly on deriving from Egypt the 
ideas connected with Pan, nor has the derivation been invented in¬ 
dependently here. W. H. Roscher undertook this task in his article 
on “The Legend of the Death of the Great Pan,” 33 being convinced 

30 See also Plato’s Cratylus 408B: ton Pana tou Hermou einai hyon diphye echei 
to eikos. 

31 Creuzer takes Pan-Sirius for Eshmun/Shmun, “the eighth,” great god of 

32 Cf. the Orphic Hymn to Pan (no. 11; see also Hymn 34.25): Pana kalo 
krateron, nomion, kosmoio to sympan/ ouranon ede thalassan ide chthona pam- 
basileian/ kai pyr athanaton . . . Echous phile . . . pantophyes, genetor panton, 
polyonyme daimon/ kosmokrator ... As concerns his love for Echo, Alacrobius 
(Sat. 7.22.7) explains it as harmony of the spheres: quod significat harmoniam 
caeli, quae soli arnica est, quasi sphaerarum omnium de qui'ous nascitur moderatori, 
nec tamen potest nostris umquam sensibus deprehendi. But then, Alacrobius was 
the first among the “sun-struck” mythologists, harmlessly claiming Saturn and 
Jupiter and everybody else, including Pan, to be the Sun. It is not the echo itself 
which is the harmony of the spheres but the syrinx—Pan makes it out of the reeds 
into which his beloved Echo had changed—and the seven reeds of Pan’s pipe are 
indeed the seven planets, the shortest representing the Moon, the longest Saturn. 
(It is worth consideration that in China the echo was understood as the acoustical 
pendant to the shadow, so that under the pillar or tree, in the very center of the 
world, the kien-mu, there is no echo and no shadow.) 

33 “Die Legende vom Tode des Grossen Pan,” in Fleckeisens Jahrbiicher fur klas- 
slsche Philologie (1892), pp. 465-77. Referring to the “Panic” element in Mann- 
hardt’s stories about the Fanggen, Roscher declares it “an accidentally similar 

287 • The Great Fan Is Dead 

that the myth could not be understood by means of Greek ideas and 
opinions, the less so, as Herodotus (2.145) informs us of the 

In Greece, the youngest of the gods are thought to be Heracles, 
Dionysos, and Pan; but in Egypt Pan is very ancient, and once one 
of the “eight gods” who existed before the rest; 34 Heracles is one of 
the “twelve” who appeared later, and Dionysos one of the third order 
who were descended from the twelve. I have already mentioned the 
length of time which by the Egyptian reckoning elapsed between the 
coming of Heracles and the reign of Amasis; Pan is said to be still 
more ancient, and even Dionysos, the youngest of the three, appeared, 
they say, 15000 years before Amasis. They claim to be quite certain 
of these dates, for they have always kept a careful written record of 
the passage of time. But from the birth of Dionysos, the son of 
Semele, daughter of Cadmus, to the present day is a period about 1600 
years only; from Heracles, the son of Alcmene, about 900 years; from 
Pan, the son of Penelope—he is supposed by the Greeks to be the son 
of Penelope and Hermes—not more than about 800 years, a shorter 
time than has elapsed since the Trojan war. 35 

These details are given, without meddling with them, in order to 
draw attention to the modest numbers; whoever takes these elapsed 
years for historical ones, 36 presupposes a special Egyptian (and 
Babylonian, Indian, etc.) frame of mind, a human nature, in fact, 
which is fundamentally different from ours, forgetting that we are 
all members of the very same species, Homo sapiens. 

34 Archaiotatos kai ton okton ton proton legoumenon theon. 

35 Cf. A. Wiedemann, Herodots zweites Buch (1890), pp. 515-18. 

36 See J. Marsham, Canon chronicus Aegypticus, Ebraicus , Graecus (1672), 
p. 9: “Immensa Aegyptiorum chronologia astronomica est, neque res gestas sed 
motus coelestes designat!” See also Ideler ( Beobachtnngen , 1806), p. 93. Apart from 
the sensible 17th century, at the beginning of the 19th century still, the progressive 
delusion was remarkably underdeveloped. 

Chapter XXII 

The Adventure and the Quest 


JL he Epic of Gilgamesh in its first recorded version goes back 
to Sumerian times. 1 It has been rehearsed with variants by Hurrians 
and Hittites, by Babylonians and Assyrians. Even in the best recen¬ 
sions there are large gaps, many tablets are damaged beyond repair, 
and to aggravate these detrimental conditions one must add the 
efforts of a goodly number of specialists which have not helped to 
clarify matters. 

The story has been told many times over and it appears to be 
fairly secure in its main lines, a patrimony of world literature. 
Misleading as this appearance is—the way through those texts being 
incredibly slippery—it is best to leave it at face value for the 
present, giving only a brief outline of the accepted scheme in 
Heidel’s version. Then it will be possible to examine certain difficult 
points which may eventually upset the scheme altogether. 

Gilgamesh is claimed to have been one of the earliest kings of 
Uruk (or Erech). The circumstances of his fabled birth make him 
two-thirds god and one-third man, which makes him—in the sexa¬ 
gesimal system of Mesopotamia—two-thirds of 60 (= Anu) = 40, 
the number which characterized Enki-Ea, whence the latter’s de¬ 
nomination of “Shanabi (=%, i.e., of 60), and Nimin (Sumerian = 
40).” 2 Be that as it may, it is told that he lives in splendor and dis¬ 
soluteness, and makes a nuisance of himself until the gods bring re¬ 
lief to his people by rearing a human being, either twin or counter- 

1 See, for example, S. N. Kramer, “The Epic of Gilgamesh and Its Sumerian 
Sources,” JAOS 64 (1944), p. 11: “the poem was current in substantially the form 
in which we know it, as early as the first half of the second millennium b.c.” 

2 E. Weidner, RLA, vol. 2, p. 379. 

289 • The Adventure and the Quest 

part, 3 who can stand up to him. It is Enkidu, the man of the Wilds, 
a kind of wolf-child as simple as the beasts he plays with, a happy 
son of nature, hairy all over, grown to enormous strength. A harlot 
is sent out to seduce him, and through her he learns love and the 
ways of man, and is lured into the city (appendix #24). 

His first encounter with Gilgamesh is a fierce battle which rocks 
the community house and seems to damage the doorpost (appendix 
#25) until the king manages to subdue Enkidu and decides he is 
worthy of becoming his friend and playmate. 

Together they plan an expedition to the great Forest, to over¬ 
come the terrible ogre Huwawa or Humbaba, 4 5 whom the god Enlil, 
the so-called “god of storm” or “god of air,” had appointed as its 
guardian. Indeed, “Enlil has appointed him as a sevenfold terror 
to mortals ... his roaring is (like that of) a flood-storm, his mouth 
is fire, his breath is death! ” 3 

Even if it is taken for granted that fights with dragons or ogres 
were a popular subject once upon a time, some dry data on this 
“monster” would do no harm. He “is invariably called a god in the 
texts” 6 and appears to correspond to the Elamitic god Humba or 
Humban, who shares the title “the prevalent, the strong” with the 
planets Mercury and Jupiter and with Procyon (alpha Canis Mi- 
noris). He occurs, moreover, in a star list, carrying the determina¬ 
tive mul (Babylonian kakkab ) announcing stars, as mul Humba (appen¬ 
dix #26). The identification with Procyon may eventually turn out 
to be the decisive clue which will reconcile the Sumerian version 
with the many others. 

Ancient texts do not become more lucid if every strange-looking 
aspect is silently omitted, and so it is well to mention that Humbaba 

3 Actually, the goddess Aruru makes him “in the likeness of Anu,” literally “a 
zikru of Anu she conceived in her heart.” But Enkidu is also said to look like 
Gilgamesh “to a hair.” See A. L. Oppenheim, “Mesopotamian Mythology,” Orien¬ 
tal'll 1 7 (1948), pp. 24, 28. 

4 Huwawa in the Old Babylonian and Hittite versions, Humbaba in the Assyrian 

5 Tabl. 5.136f., 109-11, Heidel trans., p. 35. 

6 Langdon, Semitic Mythology (1931), p. 253. See also F. Hommel, Ethnologie 
nnd Geographie des Alten Orients (1926), pp. 35, 42, claiming hum to mean 
“creator,” and talking of Humbaba (= Hum-is-the-father) as of the “guardian of 
the cedar of paradise.” 

Hamlet’s Mill • 290 

is some kind of a “god of intestines.” More than that, his head or 
face is built of intestines, and Langdon (MAR 7, 254) draws atten¬ 
tion to the fact that “the face of this monster ... is designed by a 
single winding line, except eyes.” Bohl, moreover, in his inquiry 
on the Babylonian origin of the labyrinth, 7 pointed out the Babylo¬ 
nian notion of the entrails as a labyrinthic “fortress of intestines.” 

This much about the “person” Humbaba, who is, evidently, no 
primitive monster at all, the less so, as his unattractive face strik¬ 
ingly resembles the features of Tlaloc, the so-called “rain-god” of 
the Aztecs, whose face is built up of two serpents. Precipitate iden¬ 
tifications lead only to mischief, 8 and the “Case Humbaba” is not 
even partly solved, despite many efforts. 

The only established features of the story seem to be that the 
heroes reached the forest of cedars, which is said to extend for “ten 
thousand double-hours” (say, 70,000 miles), and that they cut off 
the head of Humbaba after having felled, apparently, the largest of 
the cedars entrusted to Humbaba’s guard by Enlil, but the feat is 
not accomplished without the powerful help of Shamash-Helios 
“who sends a great storm to blind the monster and put him at their 

Returned to Uruk, Gilgamesh washes his hair and garbs himself 
in festive attire. As he puts on his tiara, Ishtar, the goddess of love 
(in Sumerian, Inanna), is entranced with his looks and asks him to 
marry her. Gilgamesh rejects her, reminding her in scornful words 
of what happened to her previous mates, including the hapless Tam- 
muz, later known as Adonis. 

It is not unusual for a hero to refuse the love, and the unheard-of 
presents, offered by a goddess. In every such case only two celestial 
personalities are possible candidates for this role: the planet Venus, 
and Sirius, alias Sothis, who has some of the reputation of a harlot. 

7 F. M. Bohl, “Zum babylonischen Ursprung des Labyrinths,” in Festschrift 
Deimel (1935), PP- 6-23. 

8 Hommel, Ethnologie und Geographic , p. 35, dealing with an Elamitic star 
list, makes “Amman-ka-sibar (derived from Chumban-uk-sinarra . . . i.e., Chum- 
ban, king of the bolt? . . .) = Ninib-Alars.” We would hazard a premature guess 
that apart from Procyon, Mercury would be the safest bet, the second candidate 
being Jupiter; but the latter would never make a convincing lord of entrails, nor 
would any other outer planet: their orbits do not allow for such notions—and 
Venus is much too regular for this role. 

This terra-cotta mask shows the unlovely face of Humbaba/Huwawa, the guardian 
of the cedar felled by Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The title of “God of the fortress 
of intestines" is also given to him, and some scholars conclude from this title, as 
well as from the pictorial evidence, that Humbaba was the inhabitant and lord 
of the labyrinth, a predecessor of Minotaurus. 

As revolting as the face of Humbaba are the features of Tlaloc, the so-called “rain- 
god” of Mexico. They are revealing, however: constructed out of two serpents, 
Tlaloc’s head represents, as it were, the caduceus of Hermes/Mercury. 

The reason the caduceus, the face of Tlaloc, and the notion of a “god of intes¬ 
tines” point exclusively to Mercury, one of the inferior planets (together with 
Venus) which are nearer to the sun than our planet Earth, becomes evident from 
figures 3-5, which illustrate Mercury’s movements; it becomes even more evident 
if the representations of Mercury’s racing feats within one solar year are com¬ 
pared to those of one of the superior planets within the same time (figure 6). It 
takes Saturn thirty years to accomplish his revolution around the sun, returning 
to the same fixed star; Mercury comes around in eighty-seven days (sidereal 
revolution; 115 days synodical). 

The Egyptian goddess Serqet, or Selket. 

A green jasper scarab of Greco-Phoenician origin (6th~5th century b.c.) shows 
the goddess with “the rear of a four-legged, winged scorpion”; the archaeologists 
recognize “the fore part of Isis,” but the Scorpion lady is clearly in evidence. 

In the Maya Codex Tro-Cortesianus we meet again the “old goddess with the 
scorpion’s tail,” although with a very different graphic convention. In Nicaragua 
and Honduras, “Mother Scorpion, who dwells at the end of the Milky Way,” is 
described as many-breasted. 

291 • The Adventure arid the Quest 

There is the story of Ugaritic Aqht. who shows mocking haughti¬ 
ness to Anat ; 9 of Picus who flatly turns down the offer of Circe and 
who is subsequently turned into the woodpecker by the angry god¬ 
dess; there is Arjuna—a “portion of Indra”—who rejected the 
heavenly Urvashi. whom he regarded as the “parent of my race, 
and object of reverence to me . . . and it behoveth thee to protect 
me as a son ." 10 

There is also Tafa'i of Tahiti (Maori: Tawhaki) who went with 
his five brothers courting an underworld princess. As a test, the 
suitors “were told to pull up by the roots an ava tree which was 
possessed by a demon, and which had caused the death of all who 
had attempted to disturb it." Three of the brothers were devoured 
by the demon; Tafa'i revived them, and then gladly renounced the 
hand of the princess . 11 (Ava = Kawa, and stands for the “next-best- 
substitute" for Amrita. the drink of immortality which is the prop¬ 
erty of the gods; mythologically Polynesian Kawa resembles almost 
exactly the Soma of Vedic literature; even the role of the “Kawa- 
filter" is an ancient Indian reminiscence; and. as befits the pseudo- 
drink-of-immortality, it is stolen, by Maui, or by Kaulu, exactly as 
happens in India, and in the Edda, and elsewhere). 

Meanwhile Ishtar, scorned, goes up to heaven in a rage, and 
extracts from Anu the promise that he will send down the Bull of 
Heaven to avenge her . 12 The Bull descends, awesome to behold. 

9 See C. H. Gordon. Ugaritic Literature (1949), pp. S4-103. This “Legend of 
Aqht'’ is the more relevant, in that the goddess wants nothing but “the Botr ” 
made by the Deus Faber and in Aqht's possession, and promises everything in¬ 
cluding immortality, if the youth will hand over mul BAX. that being its fateful 
name. Cf. above, pp. 215L, for this bow. 

10 Mbh. 545-46. Urvashi, the goddess, ‘"trembling with rage*’ condemned the 
hero to pass his time ""among females unregarded, and as a dancer, and desti¬ 
tute of manhood and scorned as a eunuch.” She raged the more, as she had, in 
anticipation, before actually visiting Ariuna, "‘mentally sported with him on a 
wide and excellent bed laid over with celestial sheets.” Arjuna had to suiter the 
curse of Urvashi in the thirteenth year of the exile of the Pandava, but he re¬ 
gained his power on the expiration of that year. 

11 T. Henry, Ancient Tahiti (1928), pp. 561 ff. 

12 L'garitic Anat, after having been rebuked by Aqht, goes to her father too, 
asking for revenge, and she goes "‘toward ’ll, at the course of the Two Rivers/ 
(at the midst of the streams) of the Two Deeps*’ (Gordon, p. 91). Ginsberg 
translation (AXET, p. 152): “Towards El of the Source of the Floods (in the 
midst of the headwaters) of the Two Oceans.” 

Hamlet’s Mill • 292 

With his first snort he downs a hundred warriors. But the two 
heroes tackle him. Enkidu takes hold of him by the tail, so that Gil- 
gamesh as espada can come in between the horns for the kill. The 
artisans of the town admire the size of those horns: “thirty pounds 
was their content of lapis lazuli.” (Lapis lazuli is the color sacred to 
Styx, as we have seen. In Mexico it is turquoise.) 

Ishtar appears on the walls of Uruk and curses the two heroes 
who have shamed her, but Enkidu tears out the right thigh of the 
Bull of Heaven and flings it in her face, amid brutal taunts (ap¬ 
pendix #27). It seems to be part of established procedure in those 
circles. Susanowo did the same to the sun-goddess Amaterasu, and 
so did Odin the Wild Hunter to the man who stymied him. 

A scene of popular triumph and rejoicings follows. But the gods 
have decided that Enkidu must die, and he is warned by a somber 
dream after he falls sick. 13 

The composition of the epic has been hitherto uncouth and repe¬ 
titious and, although it remains repetitious, it becomes poetry here. 
The despair and terror of Gilgamesh at watching the death of his 
friend is a more searing scene than Prince Gautama’s “discovery” 
of mortality. 14 

“Hearken unto me, O elders, [and give ear] unto me! 

It is for Enk[idu\, my friend, that I weep, 

Crying bitterly like unto a wailing woman 

[My friend], my [younger broth]er (?), x * who chased 

the wild ass of the open country [and] the panther of the steppe. 

Who seized and [killed] the bull of heaven; 

13 Gen. xlix.5-7 is frequently brought into the play here—the “twins” Simeon 
and Levi mutilating the bull—but we leave aside this whole chapter xlix bristling 
with allusions to lost knowledge. 

14 The quotation marks that enclose the word “discovery” are a measure of pre¬ 
caution, advisable in our times ruled by Euhemerism; the most edifying among the 
relevant model cases we found in DiakanofFs review article on Bohl’s translation of 
GE (see below): “F. Al. Th. de Liagre Boehl shares the opinion of A. Schott that 
the problem of human mortality was originally raised in the reign of Shulgi” 
(= Third Ur Period, between 2400 and 2350 b.c., according to T. Jacobsen: The 
Sumerian King List [1939], Table II). This “originally” is enough to show what 
happens to Orientalists once evolutionist platitudes have taken hold of them. 

15 See appendix #28. 

293 * The Adventure and the Quest 

Who overthrew Humbaba, that [dwelt] in the [cedar] forest —/ 

Now what sleep is this that has taken hold of [thee]? 

Thou hast become dark and canst not hear [me]? 9 
But he does not lift [his eyes]. 

He touched his heart, but it did not beat. 

Then he veiled [his] friend like a bride [ . . . ] 

He lifted his voice like a lion 

Like a lioness robbed of [her] whelps . . . 

u When l die, shall I not be like unto Enkidu? 

Sorrow has entered viy heart 
l am afraid of death and roam over the desert . . . 

[Him the fate of mankind has overtaken] 

Six days a?id seven nights 1 wept over him 
Until the worm fell on his face. 

How can l be silent? How can 1 be quiet? 

My friend, whom I loved, has turned to clay.” 16 

Gilgamesh has no metaphysical temperament like the Lord 
Buddha. He sets out on his great voyage to find Utnapishtim the 
Distant, who dwells at “the mouth of the rivers’’ and who can pos¬ 
sibly tell him how to attain immortality. He arrives at the pass of 
the mountain of Mashu (“Twins”), “whose peaks reach as high as 
the banks of heaven—whose breast reaches down to the under¬ 
world—the scorpion people keep watch at its gate—those whose 
radiance is terrifying and whose look is death—whose frightful 
splendor 17 overwhelms mountains—who at the rising and setting of 
the sun keep watch over the sun.” 18 

16 Tabl. S, col. 2; Tabl. y, col. i, 3-5 (Heidel, pp. 62-64); Tabl. 10, col. 2, 5-7, 
11—12 (Heidel, p. 73). 

17 The word which Heidel translates as “frightful splendor” and Speiser 
(ANET) as “halo” is melcmmtu , the Babylonian equivalent of Iranian hvarna , the 
so-called “glory” for the sake of which the bad uncle Afrasiyab dived in vain, 
because it belonged to Kai Khusrau. 

18 That the Mashu mountain (s) does so “every day,” as translated by Heidel, 
Speiser, and others, is obviously wrong. Even if we stipulate, for the sake of peace, 
the idea of a terrestrial mountain, the sun is not in the habit of rising on the 
same spot every day, and it needs no profound astronomical knowledge to become 
aware of this fact. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 294 

The hero is seized “with fear and dismay,” but as he pleads with 
them, the scorpion-men recognize his partly divine nature. They 
warn him that he is going to travel through a darkness no one has 
traveled, but open the gate for him. 

“Along the road of the sun [he went?]—dense is the dark[ness 
and there is no light]” (Tabl. y, col. 4, 46). The successive stretches 
of 1, then 2, then 3 and so on to 12 double-hours he travels in dark¬ 
ness. At last it is light, and he finds himself in a garden of precious 
stones, carnelian and lapis lazuli, where he meets Siduri, the divine 
barmaid, “who dwells by the edge of the sea.” 

Under the eyes of severe philologists, slaves to exact “truth,” 
one dare not make light of this supposedly “geographical” item 
with its faint surrealistic tang. Here is a perfectly divine barmaid 
by the edge of the sea, called by many names in many languages. 
Her bar should be as long as the famed one in Shanghai, for she has 
along her shelves not only wine and beer, but more outlandish and 
antiquated drinks from many cultures, drinks such as honeymead, 
soma, sura (a kind of brandy), kawa, pulque, peyote-cocktail, de¬ 
coctions of ginseng. In short, from everywhere she has the ritual 
intoxicating beverages which comfort the dreary souls who are 
denied the drink of immortality. One might call these drinks Lethe, 
after all (appendix #29). 

Earnest translators have seriously concluded that the “sea” at the 
edge of which the barmaid dwells must be the Mediterranean, but 
there have also been votes for the Armenian mountains. Yet the 
hero’s itinerary suggests the celestial landscape instead, and the 
scorpion-men should be sought around Scorpius. The more so as 
lambda ypsilon Scorpii are counted among the Babylonian mashu- 
constellations, and these twins, lambda ypsilon, play an important 
role also in the so-called Babylonian Creation Epic, as weapons of 

In any case, Siduri, who must be closely related to Aegir and 
Ran of the Edda with their strange “Bierstube,”—as well as to the 
nun Gertrude, in whose public house the souls spent the first night 
after death (see above, p. 208, n. 9)—takes pity on Gilgamesh in 
his ragged condition, listens to his tale of woe but advises him to 
return home and make the best of his life. Even Shamash comes 

295 * The Adventure and the Quest 

to him and tells him: “The life which thou seekest thou wilt not 
find.” But Gilgamesh goes on being afraid of eternal sleep: “Let 
mine eyes see the sun, that I may be sated with light.” 19 And he 
insists on being shown the way to Utnapishtim. Siduri warns: 
“Gilgamesh, there never has been a crossing; and whoever from 
the days of old has come thus far has not been able to cross 
the sea, [but] who besides Shamash crosses [it]? Difficult is the 
place of crossing . . . And deep are the waters of death, which bar 
its approaches.” And she warns him that, at the waters of death, 
“there is Urshanabi, the boatman of L'tnapishtim. Him let thy face 
behold.” 20 

Siduri-Sabitu sits “on the throne of the sea” ( kussu tamtim), and 
W. F. Albright, 21 picking up a notion of P. Jensen, thoroughly com¬ 
pares Siduri and Kalypso, whose island Ogygia is called by Homer 
“the Navel of the Sea” ( omphalos thalasses). Moreover, Albright 
points to “the similar figure of Ishara tamtim,” Ishara of the sea, the 
latter being the goddess of Scorpius, 22 corresponding to the Egyp¬ 
tian Scorpius-goddess Selket, and to “Mother Scorpion .. . dwelling 
at the end of the Milky Way, where she receives the souls of the 
dead; and from her, represented as a mother with many breasts, at 
which children take suck, come the souls of the new-born.” This 
last-mentioned “Mother Scorpion” is a legitimate citizen of ancient 
Nicaragua and Honduras, 23 an offshoot of the Mayas’ “Old God¬ 
dess with a scorpion’s tail.” 24 

At this point there is still another recurrence of the disheartening 
breakdown in communication between scholars. The Orientalists, 
taking the story of Gilgamesh as a “normal epic,” search for traces 

19 Old Babyl. Version, Tabl. /o, col. i, 8, 13 (Heidel, p. 69). 

20 Assyrian Version, Tabl. 10 , col. 2, 21-28 (Heidel, p. 74). Shanabi meaning 40, 
Ur-shanabi means something like ‘'he of 40”; Hommel rendered it ‘‘priest °f 4°-” 

21 W. F. Albright, ‘The Goddess of Life and Wisdom/’ AJSL 36 (1919-20), pp. 

22 See appendix #30. The name of the goddess is pronounced Ish-khara. 

23 H. B. Alexander, Latin American Mythology (1920), p. 185. 

24 The many-breasted Mother Scorpion of Central America goes well with the 
farmer’s calendar of ancient Rome which attributes Scorpius to Diana (see F. Boll, 
Sphaera [1903], p. 473; W. Gundel, RE s.v. Scorpius, p. 602). It remains still dark, 
however, what caused Athanasius Kircher to localize the many-breasted Diana of 
the Ephesians into Aquarius, calling, moreover, this celestial department "Regnum 

Hamlet’s Mill • 296 

of him in the physical landscape of the Near East, ignoring the 
work of equally learned scholars, experts in the heavens, whose 
well-prepared and organized tool kits have long been available to 
help in the search. One wonders whether the Orientalists, intent on 
reconstructing texts, have ever even heard of Boll and Gundel and 
men like them. Perhaps not, because they pass them by without a 
word. In any case, it is appropriate here to mention once again two 
valuable tool kits assembled by Franz Boll, 25 who presents the whole 
tradition on the constellations “Hades,” “Acherusian lake,” “ferry¬ 
man,” with many more details than are needed now, as they have 
survived in astrological tradition. These topoi are found together 
around the southern crossroads of Galaxy and ecliptic, between 
Scorpius and Sagittarius. Boll points out that, instead of the Scor¬ 
pion people, 26 Virgil (Aeneid 6 .i% 6 ) and Dante posted centaurs 
at the entrance of the underworld, representing Sagittarius. And so 
back to the quest; Gilgamesh faces Urshanabi, expecting to be fer¬ 
ried over the waters of death. The boatman demurs: the “stone 
images” have been broken by Gilgamesh (appendix #31). But at 
length he instructs the pilgrim to cut down 120 poles, each sixty 
cubits (thirty yards) in length. With these he must punt the boat 
along, so that his hands may not touch the waters of death. At last 
they reach the far shore; there is Utnapishtim the Distant. The hero 
is puzzled: “I look upon thee, thine appearance is not different, thou 
art like unto me. My heart had pictured thee as one perfect for the 
doing of battle; [but] thou liest (idly) on (thy) side, (or) on thy 
back; [Tell me], how didst thou enter into the company of the 
gods and obtain life (everlasting)?” 27 

25 Sphaera, pp. 19L, 28, 48, 173, 246-51; Aas der Offenbarung Johannis (1914), 
pp. 7iff., 143. See also W. Gundel, Nene Texte de Hermes Trismegistos (1936), 
esp. pp. 235fT. (on p. 207 he votes for Centaurus as guardian of the netherworld 
instead of Sagittarius). 

26 The coronation mantle of Emperor Heinrich II shows woven in the statement: 
Scorpio dam oritur , mortalitas ginnitur {— giguitar) . E. Maass, Commentarioram 
in Aratam Reliquiae (1898), p. 602; R. Eisler, XVeltenmantel and Himmelszelt 
(1910), p. 13: Boll, Aas der Offenbarung , p. 72. We might also point to Ovid’s 
description of the fall of Phaethon, according to which the son of Helios lost 
his nerve, and let go the reins when Scorpius drew near, and to the death of 
Osiris on Athyr 17, the month when the Sun went through Scorpius (Plutarch, 
De Is. Os., c. 13, 356c). 

27 Tabl. //, 3-7 (Heidel, p. 80). 

297 * The Adventure and the Quest 

Utnapishtim is spry enough to tell in great detail the story of the 
Deluge. He tells how Enki-Ea has warned him of Enlil’s decision to 
wipe out mankind, and instructed him to build the Ark, without 
telling others of the impending danger. “Thus shalt thou say to 
them: [I will ... go] down to the apsu and dwell with Ea, my 
[lor]d.” He describes with great care the building and caulking 
of the ship, six decks, one iku (acre) the floor space, as much for 
each side, so that it was a perfect cube, exactly as Ea had ordered 
him to do. This measure “i-iku” is the name of the Pegasus-square, 
and the name of the temple of Marduk in Babylon, as is known 
from the New Year’s Ritual at Babylon, where it is said: “Iku-star, 
Esagil, image of heaven and earth.” 28 Shamash had let Utnapishtim 
know when to enter the ship and close the door. Then the cataracts 
of heaven open, “Irragal [= Nergal] pulls out the masts [appendix 
#32]; Ninurta comes along (and) causes the dikes to give way; 
The Anunnaki 29 raised (their) torches, lighting up the land with 
their brightness; The raging of Adad reached unto heaven (and) 
turned into darkness all that was light. 30 . . . (Even) the gods were 
terror-stricken at the deluge. They fled (and) ascended to the 
heaven of Anu; The gods cowered like dogs (and) crouched in 

28 Trans. A. Sachs, ANET, p. 332, 11 . 27fff. Concerning the Rectangle of Pega¬ 
sus, see B. L. van der Waerden, “The Thirty-Six Stars,” JNES 8 (1949), pp. 13-15; 
C. Bezold, A. Kopff, and F. Boll, Zenit- nnd Aequatorialgestirne am babylonischen 
Fixsternhimmel (1913), p. 11. 

29 These divine beings of the “underworld” (their equivalent “above”: the 
Igigi) were also written A-nun-na-nun ki (Deimel, PB, pp. 57f.), i.e., they belong to 
NUN ki = Eridu (Canopus), the seat of Enki-Ea. The Sumerian name Anunna 
is interpreted as “(Gods who are) the seed of the ‘Prince,’ ” according to A. Falken- 
stein (“Die Anunna in der sumerischen Uberlieferung,” in Festschrift Landsberger 
[1965], pp. 128fF.). See also D. O. Edzard, “Die Mythologie der Sumerer und Ak- 
kader,” in Worterbuch der Mythologie , vol. /, p. 42: “Die ‘fiirstlichen’ Samens 
rsind],” the “Prince” (NUN) being Enki-Ea of Eridu. Concerning NUN = 
“Prince,” defined by T. Jacobsen as “one of authority based on respect only, 
settling disputes without recourse to force,” Falkenstein, politely, mentions: “Ganz 
abweichend K. Oberhuber: Der numinose Begriff ME im Sumerischen, S.6f.” The 
title of this opus (Innsbruck 1963, Innsbrucker Beitriige zur Kulturwissenschaft. 
Sonderheft 17) expresses sufficiently the hair-raising propositions that it contains, 
concerning A 1 E, NUN, and other termini. 

30 Speiser, ANET, p. 94, n. 207, remarks: “The term suharratu . . . does not 
mean ‘rage,’ but ‘stark stillness, bewilderment, consternation,’ ” and he translates 
//.105-06: “Consternation over Adad reaches to the heavens, Who turned to 
blackness all that had been light.” 

Hamlet’s Mill • 298 

distress (?). 31 Ishtar cried out like a woman in travail; the lovely- 
voiced lady of the g[odsJ lamented . . . ‘How could I command 
(such) evil in the assembly of the gods! How could I command war 
to destroy my people, For it is I who bring forth (these) my 
people . .The Anunnaki-gods wept with her; The gods sat bowed 
(and) weeping.” 

The end of the story is almost exactly that of Noah’s landing on 
the mountain, except that Noah sends out a raven and twice the 
dove, whereas Utnapishtim let fly dove, swallow, raven. 32 

When Enlil was still wroth because one family did escape, 
Enki-Ea, “who alone understands every matter” (//.176), took 
him to task: “How, o how couldst thou without reflection bring 
on (this) deluge?” He added severely that Enlil could have pun¬ 
ished only the sinful, and spared the innocent. The remark is one 
that pious exegetes of the Bible are still left to ponder. Then Enlil 
went up to the Ark and apologized. He granted Utnapishtim and 
his wife “to be like unto us gods. In the distance, at the mouth of 
the rivers, Utnapishtim shall dwell” (//. 194-95). 

“But now as for thee,” the old man concludes his tale (/ /. 197fF.), 
turning to Gilgamesh, “who will assemble the gods unto thee, that 
thou mayest find the life which thou seekest? Come, do not sleep 
for six days and seven nights.” 

We gather a gentle hint there from the Ancient of Days (Su¬ 
merian: Ziusudra, with Berossos: Xisuthros), also called Atrahasis, 
“the exceedingly wise.” It amounts to this: “Young man, you have 
come to the land where time has come to a stop, and the immor¬ 
tality granted to us consists in remaining conscious and partaking 
of truth while not being wholly awake. Now you try.” But Gilga¬ 
mesh cannot. “As he sits (there) on his hams, sleep like a rainstorm 
blows upon him” (//.2ooff.). 

31 Speiser: “The gods cowered like dogs, crouched against the outer wall” (//. 

115 )- 

32 One is usually inclined to take such motifs as that of the sending out of birds 
—not to mention the particular species—for minor matters, but A. B. Rooth can 
teach us a remarkable lesson by means of her thorough inquiry: The Raven and 
the Carcass: An Investigation of a Motif in the Deluge Myth in Europe , Asia, and 
North America ( 1962 ). 

299 ' The Adventure ami the Quest 

One can imagine how Atrahasis-Umapishtim would explain some 
essentials during Gilgamesh's sleep. The Exceedingly Wise would 
point to “his like,'' to Kronos sleeping in his golden cave in Ogygia. 
as described by Plutarch. 33 and yet continuously giving “all the 
measures of the whole creation" to his beloved son Zeus, as de¬ 
scribed by Proclus. 34 The Exceedingly Wise would refer freely to 
characters faraway in time 35 and in geographical space, as only he is 
entitled to do—to Kiho-tumu. for instance, creator god of the 
Tuamotu islands. Kiho-tumu “the-All-Source" who sleeps, face 
downward, in “Great-Havaiki-the-Unattainable," and yet takes 
action when the "administration" oversteps the "laws" and measures 
given by him. In the most amiable words Utnapishtim would ad¬ 
monish the children of our century to perceive the divine mummies 
of Ptah and Osiris—Osiris the " strategos" of the Ship Argo —and 
to start to think about the mummies of gods, generally, about the 
idea of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus on board the Argo, about the 
data given in the Liber Hemietis Trismegisti concerning the rele¬ 
vant degrees (in Taurus, dealing with latitudes south of the Ship) 
belonging to Saturn, meaning “continua vero delectatio. diminutio 
substantiae, remissio malorum." Atrahasis would tell of the Chinese 
“Ancient Immortal of the Celestial South Pole." of the numerous 
sleeping Emperors in Mountain Caves (appendix =33)—and the 
hours would pass like seconds, but one knows that Utnapishtim. 
half-dreaming, half-teaching, had all the time an eye on the sleeping 
“hero." He says to his wife: "Is this the strong man who wants life 

33 De facie in or be lunae 941 a. 

34 See frg. no. 55, Orphicorwn Fragmenta . ed. O, Kern (1963). 

35 The oldest and most exact traits have a perplexing talent of surviving, and of 
turning up at unexpected places. Says R. S. Loomis (Arthurian Literature in the 
Middle Ages [1959] pp. 70-71): “We have a unique version of Arthur's survival 
alluded to by Godfrey of Viterbo, secretary to Frederick Barbarossa. about 
1190. Merlin prophesies that though the king will perish from his wounds, he will 
not perish wholly but will be preserved in the depths of the sea and will reign for 
ever as before.” Haze could the secretary to Frederick Barbarossa—an emperor 
who was himself bound to that place where expired ages and their rulers sleep— 
get hold of the “right” version? (We should be glad to learn, moreover, where 
the archaeologist Pierre Plantard [quoted by Gerard de Sede: Les Templiers sont 
parmi nous (196;), p. 2S0] got hold of the information on “Canopus. 1 'oeuil su¬ 
blime de l’architecte, qui s'ouvre tous les 70 ans pour contempler rUnivers."’) 

Hamlet’s Mill • 300 

everlasting?” And then, he wakens the man, on the seventh day, and 
the startled Gilgamcsh reacts thus: “Hardly did sleep spread over 
me, when quickly thou didst touch and rouse me.” 

Les jeux sont puts. Gilgamesh is given a change of raiment and 
told to go home; Urshanabi, the boatman, is told to escort him, and 
there is, evidently, no return again for him to pi ndrdti , to the mouth 
of the rivers. But at the last minute, Utnapishtim’s wife says to her 
husband: “Gilgamesh has come hither, he has become weary, he has 
exerted himself, What wilt thou give (him wherewith) he may re¬ 
turn to his land?” Utnapishtim takes compassion and addresses the 

“Gilgamesh, I will reveal (unto thee) a hidden thing . . . There is a 
plant like a thorn . . . Like a rose (?) its thorn(s) will pr[ick thy 
hands]. If thy hands will obtain that plant, [thou wilt find new life]” 

“New life” sounds misleading, and Speiser remarks: “Note that the 
process is one of rejuvenation, not immortality.” 36 

To get hold of this plant, growing apparently in a tunnel leading 
to the Apsu which the hero has to open, Gilgamesh dives deep, 
weighting himself with stones. But then as he travels home with the 
boatman, he stops to take a bath in a well, a serpent (literally, earth- 
lion) comes up from the water, snatches the plant and, returning 
into the water, sloughs its skin. The last hope is gone—at least so 
it iooks in the translations. 

Since this is not a manual on the Epic of Gilgamesh, this whole 
affair of the plant, the diving, the fateful bath in the well, must 
stand as it is, even though every word in it is no better than a man- 
trap (appendix #34), to come to the point which is of particular 
relevance here. 

Leaving the boat on the shore, Gilgamesh and the boatman walked 
for another 50 double-hours on the way home. 

When they arrived in Uruk, the enclosure, Gilgamesh said to him, to 
Urshanabi, the boatman: “Urshanabi, climb upon the wall of Uruk 
(and walk about); inspect the foundation terrace and examine the 
brickwork, (to see) if its brickwork is not of burnt bricks, And (if) 
the seven wise men did not lay its foundation!” (//.301-305). 

36 Speiser, p. 96, n. 227. 

The Mesopotamian cylinder seal shows in the upper part the “God Boat”; in 
the lower part people are building a ziggurat, the proposition being that the boat 
is bringing the me from Eridu-Canopus, the measures of creation. 

The “God Boat” surrounded by the crescent moon, three single stars, and con¬ 
stellations; recognizable are the Scorpion, the Plow (= mul APIN, Triangulum), 
and perhaps the Lion following directly behind the boat; the jug above the Lion 
might indicate Aquarius. 

The same character clearly occurs in the Maya Codex Tro-Cortesianus, second 


The “God Boat” in the appropriate surroundings on the Arabian celestial globe 
made by Tabari (in the year 684 of the Hijra), after the catalogue of stars of ’Abd 
ar Rahman as Sufi. The name of Suhayl (Canopus) is written below’ the oar of this 
personified boat, i.e., of Argo, closest to the celestial South Pole. 


• The Adventure and the Quest 

But before the Epic started (Tabl. i, 19), it was said that “the 
Seven Wise Ones” had laid the foundation of ramparted Uruk. So 
the ring has been closed. 

But what does it mean? Why is Urshanabi, of all people, asked 
to survey Uruk, enclosed—according to the rule—by seven walls? 
And what have the Seven Sages to do with the foundation of Gilga- 
mesh’s city? 

To take the latter question first: the Seven Sages are the stars 
of the Big Dipper, the Indian Saptarshi, the Seven Rishis. 37 The 
solstitial colure, called the “Line of the Seven Rishis,” happened to 
run through one after the other of these stars during several mil¬ 
lennia (starting with eta, around 4000 b.c.): and to establish this 
colure is “internationally” termed “to suspend the sky”—the Baby¬ 
lonians called the Big Dipper “bond of heaven,” “mother bond of 
heaven,” the Greeks spelled it “Omphaloessa.” 

Next, why is it the business of the boatman from the “confluence 
of the rivers” (that is what pi narati is) to check the measures of 
Uruk? It is established that the boatman’s name was “servant (or 
priest) of 40 or of %>” 38 and that makes him a “piece,” or what¬ 
ever one prefers to designate it, of Enki-Ea, called Shanabi = % 
(of 60 = 40). Enki’s residence is Eridu, at the confluence of the 
rivers, at mul NL T X ki = Canopus (alpha Carinae), the seat of the me, 
the norms and measures. From there these me have to be procured. 
Urshanabi, however, seems to be bound with close family ties to 
Enki-Ea, in fact to be his son-in-law, husband of Nanshe. 39 

Numerous texts and inscriptions show that Enki-Ea, Lord of 
the Apsu, was responsible for the ground plan of “temples,” 
whether celestial or terrestrial ones. The one who actually drew up 
the plans, with the “holy stylus” of Eridu, was Nanshe, Enki’s 

37 And exactly as the Indian texts have a lot to say about the Seven Rishis with 
their sister (and wife) Arundati, so the Mesopotamian ones talk about the “Sebettu 
with their sister Narundi ” (see H. Zimmern, “Die sieben Weisen Babyloniens,” 
ZA 55 [1923], p. 153; Edzard, vol. /, p. 55; H. and J. Lewy, “The Origin of the 
Week,” HUCA 77 [1942-43], p. 44). Arundati = Alcor, the tiny star near zeta 
Ursae Alajoris. 

38 See also Langdon, p. 213. 

39 T. Jacobsen, “Parerga Sumerologica,” JXES 2 (1943), pp. 117E See also 
Edzard, p. 109. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 302 

daughter. And to her, the wife of Urshanabi the boatman, the “holy 
stern of the ship was consecrated.” 40 

Considering that Argo is a stern only, that Eridu-Canopus marks 
the steering oar of Argo, it is fair to conclude that Gilgamesh, 
bringing with him Urshanabi in person, had procured “the me from 
Eridu.” This is how it is styled in the Sumerian “dialect”; 41 in the 
international mythical language the terminus technicus reads “to 
measure the depth of the sea.” (Odysseus, more advanced and ac¬ 
cordingly considerably more modest than Gilgamesh, did not even 
take over a veritable oar from Teiresias. He only procured the lat¬ 
ter’s advice, according to which he was, later, to take an oar and 
carry it inland until he found people who had never heard of or 
seen a ship) (appendix #35). 

Now that Gilgamesh “surveys” the world is stated explicitly in 
a text. (That this truth is uttered involuntarily by the translator 
who meant to express “that he saw everything” makes it the more 
enjoyable.) The invocation, quoted by Lambert, says: 

Gilgamesh, supreme king, judge of the Anunnaki, 

Deliberative prince, the ... of the peoples, 

Who surveys the regions of the world, bailiff of the underworld, 

lord of the (peoples) beneath, 

You are a judge and have vision like a god. 

You stand in the underworld and give the final verdict. 

Your judgement is not altered, nor is your utterance neglected. 

You question, you inquire, you give judgement, you watch and you 

put things right. 

Shamash has entrusted to you verdicts and decisions. 

In your presence kings, regents and princes bow down. 

You watch the omens about them and give the decision. 42 

40 Gudea Cylinder A XIV, in A. Falkenstein and W. von Soden, Sumerische und 
Akkadische Hymnen (1953), p. 152; see also F. Hommel, Die Schuour-Gottin Esch- 
Ghanna und ihr Kreis (1912), p. 57. 

41 See, for example, S. Kramer’s Sumerian Mythology (1944), pp. 64-88; and 
his Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (1952), p. 11. We feel strongly inclined to 
accuse the much discussed “God Boat” (Dieu Bateau) of many seal cylinders of 
“bringing the me from Eridu,” particularly when the seals show a ground plan, 
or a stage tower in the making. See P. Amiet, La Glyptique Mesopotamienne 
Archaique (1961), pp. 177-86, plates 106-109; H. Frankfort, Cylinder Seals (1939), 
pp. 67-70, plates xiv, xv, xix. 

42 In Gilgamesh et sa legende (i960), p. 40. Cf. E. Ebeling, Tod und Leben nach 
den Vorstellungen der Babylonier (1931), p. 127: “der die Weltraume iiberschaut.” 

303 * The Adventure and the Quest 

That neither this nor other clear hints make the slightest impression 
upon once-and-for-all Euhemerists goes without saying. Any un¬ 
prejudiced student would at least ponder for some minutes about 
that opened water-tunnel or the well in which the “hero” was tak¬ 
ing a bath, once he comes to learn about a text, also mentioned by 
Lambert (p. 43), dealing with the digging of wells, where “an in¬ 
struction is given for the utterance of the words ''the well of Gil- 
gamesh ’ .. ., as the well is being dug. Since, when water is reached, 
it must be libated to Shamash, the Anunnaki, and any known spirit, 
the well is thought of as a connexion with the underworld” (appen¬ 
dix #36). 

It seems obvious that sooner or later the data on Gilgamesh 
—incompatible as they sound for the time being—have to be assem¬ 
bled on a common denominator. But this is not likely to be accom¬ 
plished unless the specialists renounce several of their firm precon¬ 
ceptions and make up their minds to a thorough re-examination 
of the whole case. 

For the time being it is worth paying attention to information 
such as that given by Strabo (/tf.1.5) on the tomb of Bel (ho ton 
Belon taphos) in Etemenanki, the Tower of Babylon, and to mind 
the baffling Mesopotamian texts dealing with gods cutting off each 
other’s necks and tearing out each other’s eyes. It well might be 
rewarding to look at the tombs of Anu and of Marduk, 43 to consider 
the fundamental role of the Abaton in Philae, tomb of Osiris, 44 and 
of divine sepulchers generally. The basic difficulty which has to be 

43 Ebeling, pp. 25F, 39; see also G. Meier, “Ein Kommentar zu einer Selbstpradi- 
kation des Marduk aus Assur,” ZA 47 (1942), pp. 241-48. H. Zimmern, “Zum baby- 
lonischen Neufahrsfest,” BVSGW 5 8 (1906), pp. 127-36. S. A. Pallis, The Baby¬ 
lonian Akitu Festival (1926), pp. 105-108, 200-43. 

44 Apart from the Shabaka Inscription, the end of which is of the utmost rele¬ 
vance, the highest Egyptian oath was taken by “Osiris who lies in Philae,” as we 
know from Diodorus; the Greek gods took their most solemn oaths by the waters 
of Styx. We remember Virgil’s information on Styx who sees the celestial South 
Pole, and of the followers of Zeus who, before attacking Kronos, took their oath 
by Ara. “Oath-stars” are to be found, rather regularly, among the southern circum¬ 
polar constellations. As concerns swearing by Gilgamesh, see Ebeling, p. 127. Com¬ 
pare also Pallis (Akitu Festival , p. 238) who compares the “Mysteries of Osiris” in 
Abydos with the Babylonian New Year Festival built around the “dead” Marduk 
(who sits during the ceremonies “in the midst of Tiamat”). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 304 

overcome is our ignorance of the concrete meaning of the technical 
term “tomb,” whether one has to do with the Omphalos of Delphi, 
grave of Python, 45 with the “burial mound of dancing Myrina” 
(Iliad j.814), with the burial mound of Lugh Lamhfada’s foster 
mother, around which the Games of Tailltc were performed, or 
with many others. 

What is haunting is the suspicion that “Uruk” stands for a “new” 
realm of the dead, and that Gilgamesh is the one who was destined 
to “open the way” to this abode and to become its king, and the 
judge of the dead, like Osiris, and also Yama, of whom the Rigveda 
states (/0.14.1-2): (1) “Him, who followed the course of the great 
rivers, and who discovered the way for many, the Son of Vivasvat, 
the gatherer of peoples—King Yama we honor with sacrifice. 
(2) Yama is the one who first discovered the way; this trodden path 
is not to be taken away from us; on that way that our forefathers 
travelled when they left us, on that way the later born follow each 
his trail.” 48 

That neither Yama’s nor Gilgamesh’s “way” was, originally, 
meant to last forever and ever, goes without saying. Again and 
again the me must be brought from Eridu, the Depth of the Sea 
must be measured respectively, and again and again the sky has to 
be “suspended” by means of the “Line of the Seven Rishis”—the 
huge precessional clock does not stop. What has been stopped, in¬ 
stead, is the understanding among the heirs of the mythical language 
who, out of ignorance, failed to adapt this idiom to “preceded” situ¬ 
ations. Without thinking, they changed a movie into a set of stills, 
projected a complex motion into conventional posters, and de- 

45 Omphalos belongs among the words which are easily said and hard to 
“imagine.” Yet, during the Middle Ages, Jerusalem, with the Holy Sepulcher, was 
understood as the Omphalos of the earth and, moreover, the tomb of Adam lo¬ 
calized under the Cross in Golgatha, “in the middle of the earth.” (See, for ex¬ 
ample, Vita Adae et Evae, in F. Kampers, Mittelalterliche Sagen vom Paradiese 
und vom Holze des Kreuzes Christi (1897), pp. 23, io6f.; W. H. Roscher, Omphalos 
(1913), pp. 24-28. 

46 Cf. Atharva Veda 18. 1.50 (Whitney trans.): “Yama first found for us a track, 
that is not a pasture to be borne away, where our former Fathers went forth, there 
(go) those born (of them), along their own roads.” 

305 • The Adventure and the Quest 

stroyed, by this measure, all the sense of a carefully considered 
system. 47 

This might be dismissed as a minor tragedy, but it is just one of 
those “progressive measures” which violently interrupt the con¬ 
tinuity of tradition. There must have been several such eruptive and 
reckless “corrections of style”—otherwise it would be utterly in¬ 
comprehensible that all our most ancient texts consist of “Scholia” 
interpreting one or the other “antediluvian” “Book with seven 
seals.” In the case of that neglected tragedy just mentioned, 48 a 
tragedy coming from absentmindedness, the final blow was dealt 
to the tradition that had established “us,” mankind, as a unity. And 
if we did not have Plato’s Timaeus , it would be a hopeless task 
altogether to understand the reason which made it obligatory in 
those “archaic” times to watch the immense cosmic clock most 
carefully. Plato himself, to be sure, started on the way of all intel¬ 
lect—moving from thought to literature, from literature into phi¬ 
lology, before flowing into nothing; but let us make it clear, this 
official “trend” is not going to detract us from our own uncondi¬ 
tional respect. 

This essay could spend many chapters on the Timaeus, that 
“topos” from which come and to which return all “rivers” of cos¬ 
mological thought, and several more chapters on Phaedrus and 

47 In our most unheeding times, nobody will even notice when in the not too 
remote future Leo will be drowned in the sea when he arrives at the autumnal 
equinox: the constellation of Leo, undisputed “king” of the hot plains, was 
coined at a time when His Majesty of the Zodiac ruled the summer solstice, highest 
and hottest “point” of the sun’s orbit; and who will care for pitiable Aquarius 
having no more water to shed from his jars, once he has arrived at the vernal 
equinox—but, after all, who has considered poor Pisces, lying “high and dry” 
since the times of Christ, the opener of the Age of Pisces? His title “Fish,” i.e., 
Greek Ichthys, is officially explained as being the first letters of “ 7 esous Chreistos 
Theou Fios Soter”—Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior. 

48 Without going into details, we think it possible that it was this very change 
from “constellations” to “signs” and, more generally, the enthronement of that 
astronomical language which alone is recognized as “scientific” by contemporary 
historians, i.e., the terminology of “positional astronomy,” which interrupted Ho¬ 
meric tradition; the Greeks quoted Homer all day long, they interpreted him, they 
broke their heads about the significance of details: his terminology had died long 

Hamlet’s Mill • 306 

Volitikos, on the Epinomis (entartarosed by the label “Pseudo-”), 
but we make it short. We leave aside the very “creation” which 
Timacus styles like the manufacturing of a planetarium—which is 
exactly what makes this creation difficult for non-mathematicians. 
But it can be done without here. What counts is this: When the 
Timacan Demiurge had constructed the “frame,” skambha, ruled 
by equator and ecliptic—called by Plato “the Same” and “the Dif¬ 
ferent”—which represent an X (spell it Khi, write it X) and when 
he had regulated the orbits of the planets according to harmonic 
proportions, he made “souls.” In manufacturing them, he used the 
same ingredients that he used when he had made the Soul of the 
Universe, the ingredients however, being “not so pure as before.” 
The Demiurge made “souls in equal number with the stars (psychas 
isarithmons tois astrois ), and distributed them, each soul to its sev¬ 
eral star.” 

There mounting them as it were in chariots, he showed them the 
nature of the universe and declared to them the laws of Destiny 
(nomous tous heimarmenous). There would be appointed a first in¬ 
carnation one and the same for all, that none might suffer disadvan¬ 
tage at his hands; and they were to be sown into the instruments of 
time; each one into that which was meet for it, and to be born as the 
most god-fearing of living creatures; and human nature being two¬ 
fold, the better sort was that which should thereafter be called 

And he who should live well for his due span of time should journey 
back to the habitation of his consort star and there live a happy and 
congenial life; but failing of this, he should shift at his second birth 
into a woman; and if in this condition he still did not cease from 
wickedness, then according to the character of his depravation, he 
should constantly be changed into some beast of a nature resembling 
the formation of that character, and should have no rest from the 
travail of these changes, until letting the revolution of the Same and 
Uniform within himself draw into its train all that turmoil of fire 
and water and air and earth that had later grown about it, he should 
control its irrational turbulence by discourse of reason and return 
once more to the form of his first and best condition. 

When he had delivered to them all these ordinances, to the end that 
he might be guiltless of the future wickedness of any of them, he 
sowed them, some in the Earth, some in the Moon, some in the other 
instruments of time (Timaeus 41E-42D). 

307 * The Adventure and the Quest 

There is no need to engage in the futile task of arguing the 
fairness of the Demiurge and his statement that all souls had the 
same chances in their first incarnation. That God must needs be 
innocent, and that man is guilty, anyway, is not a subject worth 
arguing with Plato. In fact, this is the hypothesis upon which the 
whole great edifice of Christian religion, and of our jurisdiction, 

In any event, the faultless Demiurge sowed the souls, equal in 
number to the fixed stars, in the “instruments of time” (i.e., the 
planets), among which Timaeus counts the earth; he sowed, actu¬ 
ally, “each one into that which was meet for it.” 

What does that mean? Timaeus alludes here to an old system of 
connecting the fixed and the wandering members of the starry 
community—and not only the zodiacal “houses” and “exaltations” 
of the planets are meant, but fixed stars in general. One knows this 
approach from astrological cuneiform tablets which contain a con¬ 
siderable number of statements on fixed representatives of a planet, 
and vice versa. But there is not enough to explain the rules of this 
sophisticated scheme. To say it with Ernst Weidner: “In any case 
we have to do with a very complicated system. Only a renewed 
collection and revision of the whole material will perhaps allow us 
to solve the still existing riddles.” 49 Ptolemy records the planetary 
character of fixed stars in his Tetrabiblos ( 1 .9 “Of the Power of the 
Fixed Stars”), and so did all ancient and medieval astrologers. And, 
one might add, so did Indian and Mexican astrologers. (See above, 
p. 157, about the privilege enjoyed by Mars and the Pleiades of 
representing each other in Babylonia and India.) 

The souls were, then, taken away from their fixed stars and 
moved to the corresponding planetary representatives, all according 
to rules and regulations. The Demiurge retired—turning into the 
character known under the title “Deus otiosus”—and the Time 
Machine was switched on. 

Cornford, in his translation and commentary on the Timaeus, 
states (p. 146): “In the machinery of the myth it is natural to sup- 

49 RLA 3, pp. 8if. Cf. Bezold in Boll’s Antike Beobachtung farbiger Sterne 
(1916), pp. 102-25 (table, p. 138); A. Jeremias, HAOG (1929), pp. 2ooff. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 308 

pose that the first generation of souls is sown on Earth, the rest 
await their turn, unembodied, in the planets.” 

With all the respect due to Cornford, this is hardly going to 
work, and no “natural” suppositions can be admitted. The Demi¬ 
urge of the Tinmens is too much of a systematist to allow for this 
solution. On the contrary, it stands to reason—if one carefully 
observes tbe manner in which the Craftsman God gradually and 
systematically attenuates his original mixture of Existence, Same¬ 
ness and Difference as described in Timaeiis 35—that some new 
principle, some new “dimension,” has to be introduced right 

Eternity abides in unity highest and farthest “outside.” Within, 
Time, its everlasting likeness, moves according to number, doing so 
by means of the daily turning of the fixed sphere in the sense of 
“the Same,” the celestial equator, and by means of the instruments 
of time, the planets, moving in the opposite direction along “the 
Different,” i.e., the ecliptic. Taken together, they represent the 
“eight motions.” With the next step, from the planets to the living 
creatures, the motion according to number is ruled out. The funda¬ 
mentally different quality of “motion” by generation must replace 
it (much to Plato’s regret). 

The planets, albeit “different” from the eternity abiding in unity 
as well as from the regular motion of the sphere of constellations, 
remain at least “themselves” and seven in number. The soul of man 
is not only reincarnated again and again, but it is subdivided further 
and further, since mankind multiplies, as does the grain to which 
man is so frequently compared. This simile—misinterpreted time 
and again by the fertility addicts—ought to be taken very seriously, 
and literally. The Demiurge did not create the individual souls of 
every man to be born in all future, he created the first ancestors of 
peoples, dynasties, etc., the “seed of mankind” that multiplies and 
is ground to mealy dust in the Mill of Time. The idea of “Fixed 
Star Souls” from which mortal life started, and to which exception¬ 
ally virtuous “souls once released” may return anytime, whereas 
the average “flour” from the mill has to wait patiently for the “last 
day” when it hopes to do the same—this idea is not only a vital part 
of the archaic system of the world, it explains to a certain degree 

309 • The Adventure and the Quest 

the almost obsessive interest in the celestial goings-on that ruled 
former millennia. 

Although still, in our time, most children are admonished to be¬ 
have decently, otherwise they may not have a chance to enter 
heaven, the Christians have abolished the Timaean scheme. They 
condemned as heresy the opinion of Origen according to which 
after the Last Judgment, the revived souls would have an ethereal 
and spherical body ( aitherion te kai sphairoeides) . This fundamen¬ 
tal concept has been given voice in many tongues throughout the 
‘’Belt of High Civilization." Sometimes the imagery is unmistakable, 
sometimes it is ambiguous enough to mislead modern interpreters 
completely, as when the starry “seed" of population groups comes 
our way under the title of a “totem.” But among the unmistakable 
kind is a rabbinical tradition which says that in Adam were con¬ 
tained the 600,000 souls of Israel like so many threads twisted 
together in the wick of a candle; the more so, as it is also said: “The 
Son of David [the Messiah] will not come before all souls that have 
been on the body of the first man, will come to an end.” 50 L T nmis- 
takable, also, is the myth of the Skidi Pawnee of the Great Plains 
dealing with “the last day”: “The command for the ending of all 
things will be given by the North Star, and the South Star will 
carry out the commands. Our people were made by the stars. When 
the time comes for all things to end our people will turn into small 
stars and will fly to the South Star where they belong.” 51 

As mentioned in the chapter on India (p. 77), the Mahabharata 
reports how the Pandavas toiled up the snowy mountain and were 
lost, and how Yudhishthira was finally removed bodily to heaven. 
Although they were planetary “heroes," the wording of how they 
came to their end is revealing with respect to mere human beings. 
The said heroes are called “portions" of the gods, and when the 
third world comes to its end and the Kali Yuga begins—it could 
not begin “as long as the sole of Krishna's holy foot touched the 
earth”—these “portions” are reunited with the gods of whom they 
are a part. Krishna returns into Vishnu, Yudhishthira into Dharma, 

50 J. A. Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthwn (1711), vol. 2 , p. 16 (Emek ham- 

51 H. B. Alexander, North American Mythology (1910), p. 117. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 310 

Arjuna is absorbed by Indra, Bala Rama by the Shesha-Serpent, and 
so forth. 

These examples will do. What they demonstrate is this: the 
Tiniaeus and, in fact, most Platonic myths, act like a floodlight 
that throws bright beams upon the whole of “high mythology.” 
Plato did not invent his myths, he used them in the right con¬ 
text—now and then mockingly—without divulging their precise 
meaning: whoever was entitled to the knowledge of the proper 
terminology would understand them. He did not care much for 
the “flour” after all. 

Living in our days, where nothing is hidden from the press and 
where every difficult science is “made easy,” we are not in the best 
condition to imagine the strict secrecy that surrounded archaic 
science. The condition is so bad, indeed, that the very fact is often 
regarded as a silly legend. It is not. The need for treating science 
as reserved knowledge is gravely stated by Copernicus himself in 
his immortal work, the Revolutions of Celestial Orbs . An adherent 
of the Pythagorean conception since his student days in Italy, he 
acknowledges the inspiration he owes to the great names of the 
School, like Philolaos and Hicetas, that he had learned from the 
classics, and who, he says, had given him the courage to oppose 
the philosophical notions current in his own time. “I care nothing,” 
he writes in his dedication to the Pope, “for those, even Church 
doctors, who repeat current prejudices. Mathematics is meant for 
mathematicians . . .” It is the authority of these ancient masters 
which gave him the independence of judgment to discover the cen¬ 
tral position of the sun in the center of the planetary system. A shy 
and retiring scholar, he appeals to that great tradition, which even 
in the time of Galileo was called “the Pythagorean persuasion,” to 
advance what was commonly considered a revolutionary and sub¬ 
versive theory. But if he did not bring himself to publish until his 
last years, it was not from fear of persecution, but from an ingrown 
aversion toward having the subject bandied around among the pub¬ 
lic. In the first book, he quotes from a “correspondence” among 
ancient adepts which is probably an ancient pastiche, but shows 
their way of thinking: “It would be well to remember the Master’s 

311 • The Adventure and the Quest 

precepts, and to communicate the gifts of philosophy to those who 
have never even dreamt of a purification of the soul. As to those 
who try to impart these doctrines in the wrong order and without 
preparation, they are like people who would pour pure water into 
a muddy cistern; they can only stir up the mud and lose the water.” 

Creating the language of the philosophy of the future, Plato still 
spoke the ancient tongue, representing, as it were, a living “Rosetta 
stone.” And accordingly—strange as it may sound to the specialists 
on Classical Antiquity—long experience has demonstrated this 
methodological rule of thumb: every scheme which occurs in 
myths from Iceland via China to pre-Columbian America, to which 
we have Platonic allusions, is “tottering with age,” and can be ac¬ 
cepted for genuine currency. It comes from that “Protopythago- 
rean” mint somewhere in the Fertile Crescent that, once, coined the 
technical language and delivered it to the Pythagoreans (among 
many other customers, as goes without saying). Strange, admit¬ 
tedly, but it works. It has worked before the time when we decided 
to choose Plato as Supreme Judge of Appeals in doubtful cases of 
comparative mythology, for example, when H. Baumann 32 recog¬ 
nized the myth of Plato’s Symposium (told, there, by Aristophanes) 
as the skeleton key to the doors of the thousand and one myths 
dealing with bisexual gods, bisexual souls, etc. 

Plato knew—and there is reason to assume that Eudoxus did, too 
—that the language of myth is, in principle, as ruthlessly generaliz¬ 
ing as up-to-date “tech talk.” The manner in which Plato uses it, 
the phenomena which he prefers to express in the mythical idiom, 
reveal his thorough understanding. There is no other technique, 
apparently, than myth, which succeeds in telling structure (again, 
remember Kipling, and how he tackled the problem by telling of 
the “ship that found herself”—see above, p. 49). The “trick” is: 
you begin by describing the reverse of what is known as reality, 
claiming that “once upon a time” things were thus and so, and 
worked out in a very strange manner, but then it happened that.. . 
What counts is nothing but the outcome, the result of the happen- 

52 Das Doppelte Geschlecht. Ethnologische Studien znr Bisexnalitaet in Mythos 
nnd Ritns ( 1955 ). 

I L\mlet’s Mill * 312 

ings told. Generally, it is overlooked that this manner of styling is 
a technical device only, and the mythographers of old are accused 
of having “believed” that in former times everything stood on its 
head (sec above, p. 292, n. 14, about the deplorable Mesopotamians 
who were unaware of their own mortality before the Gilgamcsh 
Epic was written). 

Since it is an actual language, the idiom of myth brings with it 
the emergence of poetry. Every classical philologist has to admit, 
for instance, that Hyginus and his like report the mythical plots 
rather faithfully in 3-10 lines of “correct” idiom which sounds 
hardly more interesting than average abstracts, whereas this instru¬ 
mental language, when used by Aeschylus, remains soul-shaking 
even to this day. But, however vast the difference of poetical rank 
among the mythographers, the terminology as such had been coined 
long before poets, whose names are familiar to us, entered the stage. 
To say “terminology,” however, sounds too dry and inadequate, 
for out of this mint have come clear-cut types—surviving for ex¬ 
ample, in the games of our children, in our chess figures and our 
playing cards—together with the adventures destined to them. And 
this spoken imagery has survived the rise and fall of empires and 
was tuned to new cultures and to new surroundings. 

The main merit of this language has turned out to be its built-in 
ambiguity. Myth can be used as a vehicle for handing down solid 
knowledge independently from the degree of insight of the people 
who do the actual telling of stories, fables, etc. In ancient times, 
moreover, it allowed the members of the archaic “brain trust” to 
“talk shop” unaffected by the presence of laymen: the danger of 
giving something away was practically nil. 

And now, coming back for a while to “The Adventure and the 
Quest,” one should emphasize that it is, of course, satisfactory to 
have cuneiform tablets and that it is reassuring that the experts 
know how to read different languages of the Ancient Near East; 
but Gilgamesh and his search for immortality was not unknown in 
times before the deciphering of cuneiform writing. This is the result 
of that particular merit of mythical terminology that it is handed 

313 * The Adventure and the Quest 

down independently from the knowledge of the storyteller. (The 
obvious drawback of this technique is that the ambiguity persists; 
our contemporary experts are as quietly excluded from the dia¬ 
logue as were the laymen of old.) Thus, even if one supposes that 
Plato was among the last who really understood the technical lan¬ 
guage, “the stories” remained alive, often enough in the true old 
wording. Accordingly, one can watch how the hero of the “Ro- 
maunt of Alexander,” in his own right an undisputed historical per¬ 
sonality, slipped on Gilgamesh’s equipment, while at the same time 
slipping off whole chapters of sober history. 

Alexander had to measure the depth of the sea, he was carried by 
eagles up into the sky, and he traveled to the most unbelievable 
“seas” in search of the water of immortality. Expecting it to be in 
Paradise he sailed up the Nile, or the Ganges—but why repeat the 
chapter on Eridanus? A true replica of Gilgamesh, Alexander sailed 
to the magic place whence all waters come and to which they return. 
And if it was, allegedly, a serpent (“earth-lion”) who deprived 
Gilgamesh of the rejuvenating plant, the Alexander of the fable 
was defrauded unwittingly by a fish—just a salted one taken along 
as travel supply. But he was consciously betrayed by the cook 
Andreas (according to Pseudo-Kallisthenes), who had noticed the 
fish coming to life when it fell into the brook and who drank of the 
water himself without telling Alexander of this discovery. The 
king, in his righteous indignation, had him thrown into the sea with 
a millstone around his neck, thus effectually preventing the cook 
from enjoying his immortality. 

The range of significant variations of the many Alexander stories 
precludes anything more than superficial remarks about them, but 
they are relevant to Gilgamesh who has, perforce, been abandoned 
in a darkness which is in large part artificial. It is possible to outline 
some questions that may stir the problem of Gilgamesh out of its 
stagnation. There is also one detail that points in the direction of 
a proposition already put forward concerning Gilgamesh (p. 304). 

Alexander, says the fable, interrogates the Oracle of Sarapis in 
Egypt just as Gilgamesh interviewed Utnapishtim. Sarapis answers 

Hamlet’s Mill • 314 

evasively as concerns rhe span of life allotted to Alexander, but he 
points to the foundation of Alexandria and announces that the king 
will last on in this city “dead and not dead,” Alexandria being his 
sepulcher. In another version Sarapis states: “But after your death, 
you will be placed among the gods, and receive divine worship and 
offerings by many, when you have died and, yet, not died. For your 
tomb will be the very town which you are founding.” 53 

The grotesque monster Huwawa appears to be the pointer. 
Whatever approach is chosen, Huwawa’s connection with Procyon, 
Jupiter and/or Mercury 54 should be taken into consideration, the 
more so, as the Hurrian fragments seem to know the poem under 
the title of “Epic of Huwawa.” 55 And along with this consideration, 
the proper attention will have to be paid to the Babylonian name 
of Cancer, namely Nangar(u), “the Carpenter.” This is essential, 
because in the twelfth tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, preserved only 
in Sumerian language, Gilgamesh complains bitterly of having lost 
his “pukku and mikku,” instead of having left them “in the house 

53 Franz Kampers, Alexander der Grosse (1901), p. 93L 

The derivation of the name Sarapis from Enki-Ea’s name sar apsl, as proposed 
by C. F. Lehmann-Haupt (see also A. Jeremias in Roscher s.v. Oannes, 5.590) 
makes sense; the more so as it does not exclude the connection of Sarapis with 
Apis, since Apis has the title “the repetition of Ptah.” Accidentally, a rather re¬ 
vealing shred of evidence fell into our hands, contained in Budge’s translation of 
the Ethiopic Alexander Romance (London 1896, p. 9): “When Nectanebus, king 
of Egypt and father of Alexander, had escaped to Macedonia, “the men of Egypt 
asked their god to tell them what had befallen their king.” That is what the 
Ethiopian text says, and Budge adds: “In Meusel’s text the god who is being asked 
is called ‘Hephaestus the head of the race of the gods,’ and in Mueller’s he is said 
to dwell in the Serapeum.” 

The common denominator of Ea-sar apsl, Ptah-Hephaistos, “he who is south 
of his wall,” “lord of the triakontaeteris,” is and remains the planet Saturn. Admit¬ 
tedly, we knew this before, but we wish to stress the point that those despised 
“late” traditions of the Romance represent useful “preservation tins”; i.e., if the 
Romance replaces Utnapishtim of the confluence of the rivers with Sarapis we 
can trust that there was a valid equation written down somewhere and known to 
the several redactors—all of them closely related to some “Wagner” and hostile 
toward any potential “Faust.” 

54 It is remarkable that the Tuamotuan “Hiro is said to be Procyon” (M. W. 
Makemson, The Morning Star Rises [1941], p. 270). Hiro (Maori: Whiro), the 
master-thief, is an unmistakable Mercurian character. 

55 H. Otten, in Gilgamesh et sa legende (1958), p. 140. 

315 * The Adventure and the Quest 

of the carpenter,” 56 where they would have been safe, apparently. 57 

Whoever reads the Epic in many translations is not likely to 
overlook the indications of a “fence,” or/and a “doorpost,” or 
frame of a door at such an improbable place as Huwawa’s great 
cedar “forest.” Why not also try to look out for the “enclosing of 
Gog and Magog” accomplished by Alexander and told still in the 
18th Sura of the Koran, the same Sura which deals with the coming 
to life of Moses’ travel-supply-fish at the “confluence of the rivers?” 
This “enclosure” is a great theme of medieval folklore, kept fear- 
somely alive by the sudden appearance of Mongol invasions. The 
story ran that Alexander had built iron gates over the mountain 
passes, that the monstrous brood of the Huns, spawning over the 
limitless plains of the East, had been kept in awe by trumpets sound¬ 
ing from the pass betokening a seemingly immortal conqueror, the 
“two-horned” hero who watched over the passes. But the trumpets 
had suddenly fallen silent, and a dwarf from the horde risked his 
way to the pass, and found the gate deserted. The trumpets were 
nothing but aeolian harps, stilled by a tribe of owls which had 
nested in them. 58 

The ancient story of Gog and Magog, revived from the Arabs, 
plays such a decisive role in the Romance of Alexander that we 
might rely upon the antiquity of the scheme: actually it ought to oc¬ 
cur in our Epic. Considering that Gilgamesh appears to open a new 
passage, the former one has to be closed. This also was done in the 
case of Odysseus. Once he arrived in Ithaca with the stipulations for 
a new treaty with Poseidon, the poor Phaeacians were done for. 

56 A careful investigator has to be aware of the numerous traps along his way as, 
for example, the naughty custom of exchanging Scorpius and Cancer (Cicero for 
instance calls both constellations nepa) which seems to be on account of the simi¬ 
larity between the scorpion and the landcrab (Geocarcinus ruricula). 

57 “Pukku and mikku” (see below, p. 441) are lost “at the crying of a little girl” 
(C. J. Gadd, “Epic of Gilgamesh,” RA 50, p. 132): this sounds slightly improbable. 
It is laughter, if anything, that wrecks the old, and introduces the new age of the 
world. Maui lost his immortality because his companions laughed when he passed 
the “house of death” of the Great-Night-Hina. 

58 Cf. the thorough investigation by A. R. Anderson, Alexander's Gate , Gog and 
Magog , and the Inclosed Nations (1932). An early version of the story comes from 
a much-traveled Franciscan, Ricoldo da Montecroce. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 316 

There was to be no Scheria anymore. This station being closed up, 
growing mountains were to block off the beautiful island of Nau- 
sikaa which was, henceforth, “off limits” for travelers. There are 
some striking parallels available in Central Polynesia: when the 
younger Maui stole the fire from “old Maui” (Mauike, Mahuike, 
etc.) in the underworld, the passage which he had used was shut 
from that day on. This is particularly remarkable because “it was 
by the way of Tiki’s hole that Maui descended into the home of 
Mauike in search of fire.” Tiki (Ti’i) was the “first man,” and 
“Tiki’s hole had been the route by which souls were supposed to 
pass down to (H) Avaiki.” Thus, the souls had to find another way 
“after this hole had been closed,” 59 that is, after young Maui had 
accomplished the theft of fire. 

The notion of fire, in various forms, has been one of the recur¬ 
ring themes of this essay. Gilgamesh, like Prometheus, is intimately 
associated with it. The principle of fire, and the means of producing 
or acquiring it are best approached through them. 

59 W. W. Gill, Myths and Songs from the South Pacific (1876), p. 57; cf. R. W. 
Williamson, Religions and Cosmic Beliefs of Central Polynesia (1924), vol. 2, p. 
252 (Austral Islands, Samoa). 

Chapter XXIII 

Gil earn esb and Prometheus 


.. quand les esprits bienheureux 
Dans la Voie de Laict auront fait 
nouveaux feux .. 

Agripp.1 SAubignt 

Fire is. indeed, a key word, deserving a special inquiry. For the 
time being, however, it is not essential to understand everything 
about the different norms and measures, rules and regulations which 
have to be procured by gods or heroes who are destined to open 
“new ways." One can ignore here the true nature and identity of 
the various "treasures." whether they are called "oar" or “ferry 
man." or "hvama-melammu.” or "golden fleece." or “fire." This is 
not to say that all these terms are different names for the same 
thing, but that they identify several parts of the frame. 1 

It will be useful to recapitulate the ideas of the frame, as it has 
been traced through the Greek precedents. It started out. inno¬ 
cently enough, with the frame of a ship (see above, pp. 13of.), as the 
Greeks did. and finally ended up with the bewildering "world tree" 
called the skmtbha , which even Plato might have found intractable. 
In the end. it is nothing more than the structure of world colures, 
even if it rustles with many centuries of Hindu verbiage. 

1 Even a superficial study of the Chinese novel Feng Sben Yen I i.e„ Popular 
Account of the Promotion to Divinin') which, under the disguise of "historiogra¬ 
phy" dealing with the end of the Shang Dynasty and the beginning of the Chou, 
presents us with a fantastic description of a major crisis benveen world-ages, will 
reveal to the attentive reader the amount of “new deities"—responsible for old 
cosmic functions—who have to be appointed at a new Zero, beginning with 365 
gods, :8 new lunar mansions, etc. 

I Iaailet’s Mill • 318 

Another point to bear in mind is the cosmological relevance of 
“way-openers” and “path-finders” like Gilgamesh. They are the 
ones who bring the manifold measures from that mysterious center, 
called Canopus or Eridu, or “the seat of Rita.” One can illustrate 
the general scheme by means of two adventures. 

The Argonauts, with the Golden Fleece on board, had to pass 
the Symplegades, the clashing rocks. Once a ship with its crew 
came through unharmed 2 —so the “blessed ones” ( makaroi) had 
decided long ago—the Symplegades would stay fixed, and be clash¬ 
ing rocks no longer. 3 After that “accepting the novel laws of the 
fixed earth,” they should “offer an easy passage to all ships, once 
they had learnt defeat.” 4 This is only one station on the long “open¬ 
ing travel” of the Argonauts transporting the Golden Fleece (of a 
ram), undertaken in all probability to introduce the Age of Aries, 5 
but it demonstrates best the relevant point, namely, “the novel 

Another instance—in fact, a crucial one—of an Opening of the 
Way comes to us from the Catlo’Itq in British Columbia. 6 We 
would call it a pocket encyclopedia of myth: 

A man had a daughter who possessed a wonderful bow and arrow, 
with which she was able to bring down everything she wanted. But 
she was lazy and was constantly sleeping. At this her father was angry 
and said: “Do not be always sleeping, but take thy bow and shoot at 
the navel of the ocean, so that we may get fire.” 

2 The Symplegades cut off, however, the ornament of the ship’s stern (aphla- 
stoio akra korymba), where the “soul” of the ship was understood to dwell. We 
do not know yet the precise meaning of this trait. Cf. H. Diels, “Das Aphlaston 
der antiken Schiffe,” in Z eitschrift des Vereins fiir Volkskunde (1915), pp. 61-80. 
It should be emphasized that, contrary to a widespread opinion, the planktai and 
the symplegades are not identical. 

3 Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautica 2.592-606; Pindar, Pyth. 4.210: “but that 
voyage of the demigods made them stand still in death.” 

4 Claudianus 26.8-11. 

5 See the First Vatican Mythographer (c. 24, ed. Bode, vol. /, p. 9) stating 
about “Pelias vel Peleus” that he sent Jason to Colchis, “ut inde detulisset pellem 
auream, in qua Juppiter in caelum ascendit,” i.e., to fetch the Golden Fleece, in 
which Jupiter climbs the sky. See also A. B. Cook, “The European Sky-God,” 
Folk-Lore 1 5 (1904), pp. 27if., for comparable material. 

6 F. Boas, Indianische Sagen von der Nord-Pacifischen Kiiste Amerikas (1895), 
pp. 8of. Cf. Frazer, Myths from the Origin of Fire (1930), pp. 164L; also L. Fro- 
benius, The Childhood of Man (i960), pp. 395L 

319 • Gilgamesh and Prometheus 

The navel of the ocean was a vast whirlpool in which sticks for mak¬ 
ing fire by friction were drifting about. At that time men were still 
without fire. Now the maiden seized her bow, shot into the navel of 
the ocean, and the material for fire-rubbing sprang ashore. 

Then the old man was glad. He kindled a large fire; and as he wanted 
to keep it to himself, he built a house with a door which snapped up 
and down like jaws and killed everybody that wanted to get in. But 
the people knew that he was in possession of the fire, and the stag 
determined to steal it for them. He took resinous wood, split it and 
stuck the splinters in his hair. Then he lashed two boats together, 
covered them with planks, danced and sang on them, and so he came 
to the old man’s house. He sang: “O, I go and will fetch the fire.” 
The old man’s daughter heard him singing, and said to her father: 
“O, let the stranger come into the house; he sings and dances so 

The stag landed and drew near the door, singing and dancing, and at 
the same time sprang to the door and made as if he wanted to enter 
the house. Then the door snapped to, without however touching him. 
But while it was again opening, he sprang quickly into the house. 
Here he seated himself at the fire, as if he wanted to dry himself, and 
continued singing. At the same time he let his head bend forward 
over the fire, so that he became quite sooty, and at last the splinters 
in his hair took fire. Then he sprang out, ran off and brought the fire 
to the people. 

Such is the story of Prometheus in Catlo’ltq. It is more than that. 
For the stag has stood for a long time for Kronos. In the Hindu 
tradition he is Yama who has been met before as Yama Agastya, 
and who, “following the course of the great rivers, discovered the 
way for many.” This stag is spread far and wide in the archaic 
world, with the same connotations. And he is the archaic Prome- 
theus-Kronos, “you who consume all and increase it again by the 
unlimited order of the Aion, wily-minded, you of crooked counsel, 
venerable Prometheus.” In Greek, semne Prometheu . It leaves no 
doubts. The Orphic invocation to Kronos, quoted in the very be¬ 
ginning on p. 12, defines him as “venerable” and couples him with 
the name of Kronos the Titan, and we did not go on to quote 
the awful name of Prometheus so as not to confuse the issue. To 
avoid confusing matters gratuitously, the name Prometheus has 
so far been used sparingly. It summons up a formidable implex. The 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 320 

scholiast of Sophocles who gave the reference, quoting Polemon 
and Lysimachidcs who arc now lost sources, explains: “Prometheus 
was the first and the older who held in his right hand the scepter, 
but Hephaistos later and second.” 7 

These are the underground regions of Greek mythology, still 
barely noticed by the school of Frazer and Harrison in their search 
for prehistoric cults and symbols in the classical world. Yet here 
ancient Greek myth suddenly emerges in full light among Indian 
tribes in America, miraculously preserved. The very unnaturalness 
of the narrative shows how steps were telescoped or omitted 
through the ages. In one moment the Whirlpool emerges as the 
bearer of the fire-sticks of Pramantha and Tezcatlipoca. But why 
should they be in the whirl? Myth has its own shorthand logic to 
relate those floating fire-sticks to the cosmic whirl. And that logic 
goes on tying together the basic themes, the bow and the arrow of 
celestial kingship, the bow and arrow aimed at (or ending in) 
Sirius, Stella marls (compare appendix #2 on Orendel). 

The singing and dancing of the stag is intricately involved with a 
proto-Pythagorean theme. And the theme appears full-fledged in 
still another tale from the Northwest. The Son of Woodpecker, 
before shooting his bow, intoned a song, and as soon as he had 
found the right note, the flying arrows stuck in each other’s necks 
until they built the bridge of arrows to heaven; Sir James Frazer 
himself identified this theme with that of the scaling of Olympus in 
the Gigantomachy. But there is more. Although it is not stated 
explicitly that the “clashing doors” (the precessing equinoxes) of 
the old owner of fire ceased to clash, surely the stag opened a new 
passage by passing the door at the predestined right moment in his 
quest for the “fire.” 

There was little room for invention and variation in this solemn 
play with the great themes, although imagination did retain some 
freedom. Thus one might feel tempted to see pure imagination in 
the feckless laziness of the Old Adan’s Daughter. And yet, was it 
imagination, if one discovers in her the prototype of Ishtar, of 
whom it was said (see above, p. 215) that she “stirs up the apsu 
before Ea”? Lady-archers being a rare species, it is worth considera- 
7 Schol. Soph. O. C. 56 (Mayer, Giganten und Titanen , p. 95). 

321 • Gilgamesh and Prometheus 

tion that the great Babylonian astronomical text, the so-called 
“Series mul APIN” (= Series Plough-Star, the Plough-Star being 
Triangulum), states: “the Bow-star is the Ishtar of Elam, daughter 
of Enlil.” There has been mention of the constellation of the Bow, 
built by stars of Argo and Canis Major, Sirius serving as “Arrow- 
Star” (see above, p. 216 and figure on p. 290). It is no less signifi¬ 
cant that the Egyptian divine archeress, Satit, aims her arrow at 
Sirius, as can be seen on the round Zodiac of Dendera. 

When one discovers a brief tale that miraculously encapsulates 
great myths in a few words, one is led to the suspicion that such 
tales are fragments of long and intricate recitals meant to hold their 
audience for hours; that, actually they represent something like 
“Apollodorus” or “Hyginus” who passed on the essential informa¬ 
tion in brief abstracts. But behind them stood a fully shaped and 
powerful literary tradition along with the Greek poets to give the 
ideas flesh and blood, whereas with an illiterate neolithic people 
such as the Catlo’ltq only the bare skeleton, even “Hygini Fabulae,” 
appears to have survived, unless we assume the informants withheld 
from the ethnologists the richer versions. (A colleague once told 
us about a Tibetan minstrel who, bidden to recite the saga of Bogda 
Gesser Khan, asked whether he should do the large version or the 
small one: the large would have taken weeks to recite properly.) 

It was stated earlier and should be re-stated here that “/zre” 'was 
thought of as a great circle reaching from one celestial pole to the 
other , and also that the fire sticks belong to the skambha (Atharva 
Veda 1 0.8.20), as an essential part of the frame. Among the things 
which helped us to recognize “/zre” as the equinoctial colure , only 
one fact needs mention here, that the Aztecs took Castor and Pollux 
(alpha beta Geminorum) for the first fire sticks, from which man¬ 
kind learned how to drill fire. This is known from Sahagun. 8 Con¬ 
sidering that the equinoctial colure of the Golden Age ran through 
Gemini (and Sagittarius), the fire sticks in Gemini offer a correct 

8 Florentine Codex (trans. Anderson and Dibble), vol. 7, p. 60. See also R. 
Simeon, Dictionnaire de la Langne Nalmatl (1885) s.v. “mamalhuaztli: Les Ge- 
meaux, constellation,” who does not mention, though, that Sahagun identified 
mamalhuaztli with “astijellos,” fire sticks. Also, the Tasmanians felt indebted to 
Castor and Pollux for the first fire (see J. G. Frazer, Myths of the Origin of 
Fire [1930], pp. 3F). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 322 

rhyme to a verse in a Mongolian nuptial prayer which says: “Fire 
was born, when Heaven and Earth separated”; 9 in other words, 
before the falling apart of ecliptic and equator, there was no “fire,” 
the first being kindled in the Golden Age of the Twins. 

There is no certainty yet whether or not there are fixed rules, 
according to which one fire has to be fetched from the North, and 
the other from the South; both methods are employed. The Finns, 
for example, insist on the fire’s “cradle on the navel of the sky,” 
whence it rushes through seven or nine skies into the sea, to the 
bottom if it, in fact. 10 And Tezcatlipoca is claimed to be sitting at 
the celestial North Pole also, when drilling fire in the year 2-Reed, 
after the flood. Whereas it is said of the so-called fire-god of 

Gibil, the exalted hero whom Ea adorned with terrible brilliance 
f = melammu], who grew up in the pure apsu, who in Eridu, the place 
of (determining) fates, is unfailingly prepared, whose pure light 
reaches heaven—his bright tongue flashes like lightning; Gibil’s light 
flares up like the day. 11 

Gibil is also called, briefly, “hero, child of the Apsu.” If the “fire,” 
adorned with “terrible brilliance”—melammu/hvarna—is prepared 
in Eridu, one should be permitted to conclude that it has to be pro¬ 
cured from there, just as the Rigvedic Agni-Matarishvan, one 
among the Agnis, “fires,” had to be sought at the “confluence of 
the rivers” (appendix #38). 

But whether the “fire” comes from “above” or from “below,” 
the divine or semidivine (or two-thirds divine as Gilgamesh) beings 
who bring it from either topos could all be named after their com¬ 
mon function, as is done in Mexico, where Quetzalcouatl is also 
called “Ce acatl” = 1-Reed, 12 and Tezcatlipoca “Omacatl (Ome 

9 U. Holmberg, Die religidsen Vorstellungen der altaischen Volker (1938), p. 99. 

10 K. Krohn, Magische Ursprungsrunen der Finnen (1924), p. 115. 

11 W. F. Albright, “The Mouth of the Rivers,” AJSL 3$ (1919), p. 165; see also 
K. Tallqvist, Akkadische Gotterepitheta (1939), p. 313. 

12 Acatl/Reed represents, indeed, the arrow-stick, the drill stick of the fire drill 
and the “symbol of juridical power.” See E. Seler, Gesavnnelte Abhandlungen 
(1960-61), vol. 2, pp. 996, 1102; vol. 4, p. 224. 

323 * Gilgamesh and Trometheus 

acatl) = 2-Reed. In the same way we might call the corresponding 
heroes of the Old World “i-Narthex,” “2-Narthex,” and so forth, 
after the “reed,” in which the stolen fire was brought by the most 
famous Titan, Prometheus, a “portion” of Saturn. 

Without taking part in the heated discussion on the interpretation 
of the very name Gilgamesh— d GIS.GIN.MEZ/MAS, and other 
forms—one can mention that GIS means “wood, tree,” and MEZ/ 
MAS a particular kind of wood, 13 and that there are reasons for 
understanding our hero as a true Prometheus. 

Here it is worth turning briefly to a text recently translated anew 
and edited by P. Gossmann, the tablets of the Era-Epos. This is a 
grim poem, whose appalling fierceness emerges in almost every 
word, dedicated as it is to the god of Death, Era (also spelled Irra), 
a part of Nergal. The subject matter is wholly mythological, han¬ 
dling the end of a world in terms which would hardly disgrace the 
Edda, and dealing again with the Flood to end all floods in the 
gloomy spirit of Genesis. But here something shines out unmistak¬ 
ably that the commentators on Genesis have missed. They have 
missed it so completely that even in our day some well-intentioned 
Fundamentalists applied for permission to search for the remains of 
the Ark on Mount Ararat. They were impatiently denied access 
by the Soviet authorities, who suspected espionage with a CIA 
cover name. No one, they figured, could be that simpleminded. The 
simplemindedness obviously extends to the researchers of the Su- 
merological Institutes, who went looking for Eridu in the Persian 
Gulf, and for the dwelling of the divine barmaid Siduri on the 
shores of the Mediterranean. But it is evident that the events of the 
Flood in the Era Epic, however vivid their language, apply unmis¬ 
takably to events in the austral heavens and to nothing else. 

It becomes evident that all the adventures of Gilgamesh, even 
if ever so earthily described, have no conceivable counterpart on 
earth. They are astronomically conceived from A to Z—even as the 

13 See R. Labat, Manuel d’Epigraphie Akkadienne (4th ed., 1963), nos. 29 6, 314; 
also F. Delitzch, Assyrischisches Handworterbuch (1896), p. 420 s.v. miskannu; 
Tallqvist, s.v. Gilgamesh. Albright calls Gilgamesh “torch-fecundating hero 
(JAOS 40, p. 318). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 324 

fury of Era docs not apply to some meteorological “Lord Storm” 
but to events which arc imagined to take place among constella¬ 
tions. The authors of Sumer and Babylon describe their hair-raising 
catastrophes of the Flood without a thought of earthly events. 
Their imagination and calculations as well as their thought belong 
wholly among the stars. Their capacity for transposition seems to 
have been utterly lost to us earthlings, of the earth earthy, who 
think only of “primitive” images and primitive experiences, which 
could account for the narrative so intensely and humanly projected. 
Perhaps they are mutants from our type. In any case they seem be¬ 
yond the comprehension of mature contemporary intellects, who 
have adjusted comfortably to the mental standards of Desmond 
Morris’ Naked Ape of their own devising. 

These phantoms being now laid to rest, one finds oneself dealing 
with utterly unknown ancestors, whose biblical rages and passions 
have to be read in an entirely new context. To be sure, the planets 
are still neighbors: Mars, who is Era and Nergal, is only a few 
light-minutes away, Marduk-Jupiter about eight minutes, Saturn an 
hour. But they are all equally lost in cosmic space, their optical 
evidence, like that of ghosts, equally unseizable, equally potent or 
impotent in terms of present physical standards, equally and dread¬ 
fully present according to those other standards. 

Era is sternly reprimanded by Jupiter/Marduk for having sent 
his weapons forth to destroy what remained after the Flood (Ea 
once spoke in the same vein to Enlil after the earlier Flood) but 
Marduk saved seven wise ones ( ummani) by causing them to de¬ 
scend to the Apsu or Abyss, and to the precious 7 /zes-trees by chang¬ 
ing their places. “Because of this work, O hero, which thou didst 
command to be done, where is the 7 ;/e.y-tree, flesh of the gods, 
adornment of kings?” “The mesu-tTtt," says Marduk, “had its 
roots in the wide sea, in the depth of Arallu, and its top attained 
to high heaven.” He asks Era where are the lapis lazuli, the gods 
of the arts, and the seven wise ones of the Apsu. He might well 
ask where is Gilgamesh himself, that deceptively human hero, now 
transformed into a beacon of light from a mes-tTtz of other-worldly 
dimensions. Such is the fate of heroes, as they have been followed 

325 • Gilgamesh and Prometheus 

from Amlodhi onwards, whether they come as a spark hiding in a 
narthex like Prometheus, or fire from the wood splinters in Stag’s 
hairs, or become a beam from Canopus-Eridu. Lost in the depths of 
the Southern Ocean, they were capable of giving the Depths of the 
Sea to our forefathers, and now are able to have the directional 
systems of our missiles lock on them for interplanetary flight—they 
remain points, circles, geometries of light to guide mankind past 
and future on its way. 

And so under the present circumstances it is necessary to leave 
Era’s somber prophecy unfulfilled, relating as it does to a coming 
world age: 

Open the way, I 'will take the road , 

The days are ended, the fixed time has past. 

But with it comes the clearest statement ever uttered by men or 
gods concerning the Precession. Says Marduk: 

When I stood up from my seat and let the flood break in , 
then the judgement of Earth and Heaven went out of joint. .. 

The gods , which trembled , the stars of heaven — 
their position changed , and 1 did not bring them back. 


The Lost Treasure 

by Giorgio de Santillana 

. .. while each art and science has 
often been developed as far as 
possible, and then again perished, 
these opinions, with others, have 
been preserved until the present 
like relics ( leipsana ) of the an¬ 
cient treasure. 

Aristotle, Metaphysics 
Bk. Lambda ioy^b 


ils we* were moving toward the conclusion of this essay, some 
chance or accident or kind intention brought to our eyes, after 
many years, the work of an author who was our guide when we 
tried for a first understanding of the early consciousness of man. It 
was Cassirer’s opus on mythical thought. And with all the respect 
one owes the great historian of Renaissance philosophy, we were 
astounded. We went through the persuasive and limpid prose, 
tracing the gradual growth of the concept from wild and uncouth 
beginnings to the height of Kantian awareness. We gazed again at 
the stately cortege of great scholars and researchers, Humboldt, 
Max Muller, Usener and Wissowa, Frazer and Cumont and so many 
others, the imposing phalanx in which philology, ethnology, his¬ 
tory of religion, archaeology, and not least philosophy, display their 

* Throughout the text the pronoun ive has been used as little as possible because 
it is so difficult to know what it means from one usage to the next. For the next 
several pages, r we necessarily will appear often and will refer solely to us, the 

327 * The Lost Treasure 

well-knit progress in good order, to be finally sifted and cleared 
up by the modern historian of culture. And then, as we reflected 
further that here was the material that was going to provide ad¬ 
vanced survey courses in the immense universities of the future, to 
build the gleaming machinery of electronic-printed and audiovisual 
General Humanities for the Masses, we were suddenly overcome 
with the haunting memory of that unwearied, dedicated, and ridicu¬ 
lous pair, Bouvard and Pecuchet. The merciless irony of Flaubert 
was surely not called for in the case of Cassirer, but the same genius 
who created Madame Bovary was suddenly showing us again the 
shape of certain things to come. A noble enterprise was due to fail, 
worse, was slated already for the coming Dictionnaire des Idees 
Regues. What Flaubert’s pathetic little self-taught characters had 
in common with the sovereign cultural historian was clear: it was 
intellectual pride, judging from the height of Progress, which tele¬ 
scopes the countless centuries of the archaic past into artless primi¬ 
tive prattle, to be understood by analogy with the surviving “primi¬ 
tives” around us. Too much of that primitiveness lies in the eye of 
the beholder. It took the uncanny penetration of trained observers 
like Griaule to uncover suddenly the universe of thought which 
remained hidden to generations of modern Africanists. 

The great merit of Ernst Cassirer lies in his tracing the existence 
of “symbolic forms” from the past in the midst of historic culture. 
Who but he should have been able to discern the lineaments of 
archaic myth? Yet he remained blinded by condescension. Evolu¬ 
tion, a brilliant biological idea of our own past, construed into a 
universal banality, held him in thrall. He could not follow up his 
insight because of the fatal confusion which has established itself 
between biological time, the time of evolution, and the time of man¬ 
kind. The time of man, in which he has lived the life of the mind, 
goes back into the tens of millennia, but it is not the same as biologi¬ 
cal time. Again and again, in our text, we have adverted to this con¬ 
fusion which has hardened to become worse confounded. If Cas¬ 
sirer’s idea of mythical thought is already dated, as are his sources, 
one must expect the survey courses of the future to go farther in 

Hamlet’s Mill • 328 

the same direction with sociological psychology and anthropologi¬ 
cal sociology, until all traces of the past have been wiped out. The 
masses will then have a culture of commonplaces reared on the com¬ 
mon ideas of the last two centuries of history. Even the gifts of a 
Cassirer, who could discern the links between language and thought 
in modern science, left him defenseless when he accepted the most 
jejune reports of missionaries, and the most naive intuitions of the 
obvious from the specialists of his own time. This makes his work 
“passe.” Those are the wages of the sin of intellectual pride. In the 
very process of establishing an identity between non-discursive 
symbolism and “primitiveness,” he cut himself off from the Kantian 

Where are the snows of yesteryear? In the very beginning of 
Myth and Language, a curious equivocation, quite unintentional, 
moves in with the words of Plato from the Phaedrns , a pleasant rail¬ 
lery at the intellectual exercises of the oversubtle with myth and 
“mythologemes.” Clearly Professor Cassirer intends to take the 
reader into camp, and remind him with the authority of the Master 
that sober thought is in order, even concerning this “rustic science.” 
Does he expect one to forget about the Tinmens? For in this, among 
his last Dialogues, Plato deals gravely and solemnly with first and 
last things, with the universe and the fate of the soul. And yet the 
Tinmens is, openly, explicitly, one great myth and nothing else. Is 
it then “unserious,” as Plato perversely would like to have certain 
scholars believe? They have walked into the trap. For Plato not 
only has put into his piece all the science he can obtain, he has 
entrusted to it reserved knowledge of grave import, received from 
his archaic ancestors, and he soberly adjures the reader not to be 
too serious about it, nor even cultural in the modern sense, but to 
understand it, if he can. The scholar is already in a hopeless tangle, 
and Lord help him. 

A simple way out would be to admit that myth is neither irre¬ 
sponsible fantasy, nor the object of weighty psychology, or any 
such thing. It is “wholly other,” and requires to be looked at with 
open eyes. This is what we have tried to do. 

329 • The Lost Treasure 


Wandelt sich schncll auch die Welt 
Wie Wolkengestalten, 

Alles Vollendete fiillt 
Heim zum Uralten.* 

R. M. Rilke, Sonettc an Orpheus 

In order to find bearings, one can go back for a moment to the 
thought of two fundamental moderns: Tolstoy, the last great epic 
writer, and Simone Weil, the last great saint of Christendom, even 
if a Gnostic one. Tolstoy, in his later years, was tormented with 
the question whether a way could be found to make some sense 
out of the events of history as he knew them. He concluded despair¬ 
ingly that sense there is none, that whatever the justifications of 
philosophers, the so-called makers of history are the puppets of fate. 
The reality of war destroyed all semblance of rationality, and left 
only a dreadful confusion. The modern consciousness is brought 
to face the stark events, from which one can draw only pragmatic 
inferences, starting from what is ascertained as the fait accompli . 

And here, maybe, we find ourselves facing one of the Tolstoyan 
paradoxes driven to a point well-nigh unbearable. In his memorable 
and desperate letter of 1908 to Gandhi, then an obscure lawyer, 
which started the latter on his way to the teaching of nonviolence, 
satyagraha, Tolstoy denounces the various forms of violence, mur¬ 
der, and fraud on which society is based, which perpetuate educa¬ 
tion and class distinctions as a whole. In it he included all the official 

And then he pointed to science as the arch-culprit, because it 
teaches man to do violence to himself and to nature essentially. Of 
course, Tolstoy is thinking of the arrogant spirit of scientism with 
its heartless, un-understanding doctrines. It would never have oc- 

* So quickly the world doth change/Like shapes in the clouds/Only the 
Achieved remains/Cradled in Timeless Antiquity. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 330 

curred to him that science is really something else, with its spirit 
of pure research and serene dispassionateness. We would say now 
that technology is the culprit. But the finger is pointed unequivo¬ 
cally at our modern and vulgarizing idea of “science for the masses” 
and the consumer society. Against that, Tolstoy holds the one 
thing, Christian love—pure and simple—as wholly spontaneous, 
natural, and compelling. We might say, keeping away from Tolstoy 
and his illuminations, that what he asserts is respect for life and 
spontaneity, a holy restraint for the arcane ways of the cosmos 
itself, embodied in the community of beings with a conscience. Fie 
forgot perhaps, also, his own striving for harmony, which makes 
of him, in War and Peace, the legitimate successor of the great 
K’wei, that singular “Master of Music” in the new Empire of Let¬ 
ters. A reserved knowledge, that too, and far from our cliche of the 
“common man,” for Christ addressed himself to “those who have 
ears to hear.” 

Simone Weil, lost in the turmoil of the Second World War, 
thought she saw a retrospective answer in the Greeks, in Homer 
himself, who had been called the Teacher of Greece. She called 
the Iliad the “Poem of Force” because it showed Force at the center 
of human history, a powerful and clear mirror of man’s condition 
—with no soothing nonsense added. Death for the vanquished, 
nemesis for the conqueror—these are two members of the equation. 
The strictly geometrical atonement that comes with the abuse of 
force was the principal theme of Greek thought. It persisted 
wherever Greek thought had reached. And yet, Western man, the 
heir of the Judeo-Christian tradition, has lost it—so utterly that 
in no Western language is there a word to express it. The notions 
of limit, of measure, of commensurability, which guided the thought 
of sages have survived only in Greek science and in the catharsis 
of tragedy. This seemed to draw the boundary of understanding. 
It is a strange truth, notes Simone Weil, that men today should be 
geometers only with respect to matter. But Plato’s famous lost lec¬ 
ture on the Good is known to have been based on geometrical 
demonstration. It had been so from the beginning in Greece. Not 
only Anaximander’s ethical statics of the cosmos, but the whole 

^ ^ T 

The Lost Treasure 

Pythagorean theory had been based on those three mathematical 
sciences: number, music, astronomy. Here lay the undeviating heart 
of truth on which the Good can rest, and the rest concerned engi¬ 
neers. Even in Thucydides, there is a kind of reductio ad absurdum . 
And it shows that if the Greeks were no less miserable than we are 
in life, still the great epic idea remains: no hate for the enemy, no 
contempt for the victim. The measures of the cosmos unfolded the 
facts. Force, Necessity, must be conceived as within an order. The 
crucial word remains that of the Timaeus: ‘‘Reason overruled Ne¬ 
cessity by persuading her to guide the greatest part of the things 
that become towards what is best" (48A). There is a great idea 
here. This is how far the mind could read, and yet be able to make 
sense of reality. This is what the Greeks had accepted as the bound¬ 
ary of thought. However original their minds, one might say that 
the inheritance of archaic Measures had built up their patrimony, 

Man has moved beyond that, and has brought the marvelous 
power of mathematics to the conquest of matter, as deep down as 
the core of the atom, as far out as the outer-galactic nebulae. But 
it is just as Simone Weil remarked, men are geometers only with 
respect to matter and energy. The rest one has to leave to events, 
and probabilities, to the physics of the dust. Man remains staring 
at what in his own frame is the denial of thought, the fait accompli. 
One dares not even examine the consequences of this geometry; 
men feel their way apprehensively around such fate-laden corol¬ 
laries as “information" or “overkill/* They turn under one's eyes 
into faits accomplis. The historical view of the past does not lend 
itself to contemplation. But as man tries by means of contrast to 
build up his experience of the true, he finds that truth is at odds 
with his ancient faith in continuity. Scientific prediction moves 
away from “instant catastrophes," on the subatomic level, breaks 
against the perpetual resurgence of falsifiability. Whatever is au¬ 
thentic expression in art, cleansed of context, scatters into the un¬ 
ceasing variety of styles, of responses, of happenings and discov¬ 
eries; not even the specious present, but the fractured instant is for 
us the Now of Time. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 332 


History is a nightmare from 
which I am trying to awake. 

James Joyce, Ulysses 

In contrast with the present world, the archaic past has much to 
speak for it. It was based on a very high culture, an artistic one of 
a high order as everyone knows, and on a scientific culture too. It 
brought the first technological Revolution, on which so-called an¬ 
tiquity was to rest for millennia. Yet it lived on and flowered and 
let the world live. People like to ignore this archaic science because 
it started from the wrong foundations and drew any number of 
wrong conclusions, yet historians know that wrongness is not a test 
for relevance, that a course of reasoning may be scientifically im¬ 
portant independent of its endpoints. Our forebears built up their 
world view from the idea which today would be called geocentric; 
they concluded with speculations about the fate of man’s soul in a 
cosmos in which present geography and the science of heaven are 
still woven together. Worse, maybe, they built them up on a con¬ 
ception of time which is utterly different from the modern metric, 
linear, monotone conception of time. Their universe could have 
nothing to do with ours, derived as it was from the apparent revolu¬ 
tions of the stars, from pure kinematics. It has taken a great in¬ 
tellectual effort on the part of many great scholars to transfer 
themselves back to that perspective. The results have been aston¬ 
ishingly fruitful. For those forebears did not only build up time 
into a structure, cyclic time: along with it came their creative idea of 
Number as the secret of things. When they said “things are num¬ 
bers,” they swept in an immense arc over the whole field of ideas, 
astronomical and mathematical, from which real science was going 
to be born. Those unknown geniuses set modern thought on its 
way, foreshortened its evolution. But their ideas were at least as 
complicated as our own have come to be. 

Cosmological Time, the “dance of stars” as Plato called it, was 
not a mere angular measure, an empty container, as it has now be¬ 
come, the container of so-called history; that is, of frightful and 

The Lost Treasure 

^ ^ 

:> y i 

meaningless surprises that people have resigned themselves to calling 
the fait accompli. It was felt to be potent enough to control events 
inflexibly, as it molded them to its sequences in a cosmic manifold 
in which past and future called to each other, deep calling to deep. 
The awesome Measure repeated and echoed the structure in many 
ways, gave Time the scansion, the inexorable decisions through 
which an instant “fell due/’ 

Those interlocking Measures were endowed with such a tran¬ 
scendent dignity as to give a foundation to reality that all of mod¬ 
ern physics cannot achieve; for. unlike physics, they conveyed the 
first idea of “what it is to be," and what they focused on became 
by contrast almost a blend of past and future, so that Time tended 
to be essentially oracular. It presented, it announced, as it were; it 
oriented men for the event as the Chorus was later to do in a Greek 
tragedy. Whatever idea man could form of himself, the consecrated 
event unfolding itself before him protected him from being the 
“dream of a shadow." 

Again and again, in the course of this essay, we have insisted on 
the vanity of any attempt to give an “image" of the archaic cosmos, 
even were it such an image as Rembrandt drew of the cabalistic 
apparition to the Initiate, or as Faust suddenly saw in the sign of 
the Spirit of Earth. Even as a magic scheme, it would have to be a 
design of insoluble complexity. Far worse did our own scholarly 
predecessors fare when they tried for a model, conceived mechan¬ 
ically. an orrery, a planetarium maybe, such as Plato suggests teas- 
ingly in his deadpan way with his whorls and spindles and frames 
and pillars. A real model might indeed help, he goes on without 
batting an eye. and one realizes it would come into the price range 
of a Zeiss Planetarium, still true to the kinematic rigor of the Powers 
of heaven, but blind to their moving soul in its action—and Plato's 
machinery promptly dissolves into contradictions, no real “model" 
at all. Plato will never yield on his “unseriousness." which for him 
is a matter of principle, a way of leaving mystery alone while re¬ 
specting reason as far as it can go. Another image suggested by the 
past, still older than planetary models, would be the “tissue" woven 
in the skies, the Powers working at the whirring loom of Time, says 
Goethe, as thev weave the living mantle of the Deitv. But as in all 

Hamlet’s Mill • 334 

those images, the real terms are life and harmony, many harmonics, 
such as Pythagoreans went on forever investigating. Our own “re¬ 
construction,” whatever it is, would come as close to a harmony as 
our cat achieves by stretching out full length on a keyboard. Kep¬ 
ler’s mad attempt at writing out the notes of the “Harmony of the 
Spheres” was bound to fail abysmally to express the true lawful¬ 
ness: what Plato called the Song of Lachesis. 

Men have learned to respect it without thinking. Even today, as 
one celebrates Christmas, one invokes the unique gift of that cyclic 
time—the gift of not being historical; its opening into the timeless, 
the virtue of mapping the whole of itself into a vital present, laden 
with ancestral voices, oracles, and rites from the past. With what 
sincerity is left to them, men invoke the remission of ancient sins, 
the rebirth of the Soul even as was done many millennia ago. Peo¬ 
ple beg from that Time the renewed strength to carry on against a 
senseless reality—and still ask their children to aid their unbelief. 

True history goes by myths. Its forces are mythical. As Voltaire 
remarked coolly, it is a matter of which myth you choose. 

The name of Revolutions is a true technical term of astronomic 
knowledge and myth: that which ever returns to the same point. 
It became insistently identified with the idea of the Great Change. 
As soon as men began to misunderstand it, it set History on the 
march with irreversible changes. But in the Middle Ages it still 
promised a return to the undefined Origins, to the Golden Age, 
when Adam delved and Eve span, or, more Christianly, to when 
the Lord still walked on earth. Joachim of Flora (c. 1200) was still 
the prophet of the Great Change that was to be a true accomplish¬ 
ment of ancient prophecies. After the ages of the Father and the 
Son men expected the Age of the Holy Ghost to follow imme¬ 
diately, when all men would be brothers—a great revolutionary 
moment sparked by the order of St. Francis. It lived on in the 
shrunken horizon of Enlightenment, which set the span back to the 
Greeks and Romans as semi-gods. And yet, in those classical times, 
that dream was already there. It was of a return far back to the 
birth of a Miraculous Child. And back far beyond that, to the 
clearer idea of cosmic configurations such as they were when time 
had not yet been set in motion. Here came the Timaeus. 

3 a a 

The Lost Treasure 

The idea lingered on. In the Apocalypses and Cosmogonies, in 
the Yedic poems, rime is scrambled artificially and deliberately into 
elements, lunar stations, or proto-chess, to restore the vision, the 
prophetic or sibylline vision. Out of this thoughtful scrambling of 
elements came the Alphabet. A prodigious conquest, like the mak¬ 
ing of iron, and a grievous gift unto men. as Hesiod might say. 
There is no doubt that one is dealing with the creations of genius, 
even if they were dashes in the darkness, which had found a way 
to perpetuate and propagate themselves. 

It stands to reason that the actual chronicle of the archaic ages 
is full of “barbaric” events. What such migrations as those of the 
Cimmerians, of the Mongols, of the Peoples of the Sea achieved 
in the way of destruction and dispersal is beyond our imagination. 
One calls this the primitive way of life, and blithely conjectures 
extermination in the biological sense, forgetting what biology has 
to say of real conflicts among animal tribes. It is only man. more 
especially modern man. who knows the art of total kill, the quick 
and the slow. But archaic cultures, devoid of history but steeped 
in myth, did not And in events the surprise of the fait accompli, 
stunning and shattering to the mind in the way Auschwitz is to us. 
Mythical experience has its own ways of meeting catastrophe. Men 
were able to see things nobly. Narration became epic. 

The great epic of the Fall of the Xibelungen mirrors in its own 
way the invasion of Attila and his Huns, the “Scourge of God.” 
Official history might counter the Mongol hordes with the Roman 
victory on the Catalaunic fields, but the Attila of legend, chief of 
Gog and Magog, remains more imposing, even as he passes silently 
out of the scene, than Jenghiz or Tamerlane with their historic 
conquests and pyramids of skulls. He has little to act. he is the 
typical emperor of myth. Like Theodoric. like Arthur, like Kai 
Khusrau. he is the unmoved chess king around whom figures move. 
The Xibelungen story shows how mythical thought dealt with the 
crisis. It is Nemesis who destroys the German warriors at the last. 
Attila. “king Etzel.” suffers in his turn, without losing the authority 
of the conqueror. His child dies at the hands of Hagen, last of the 
sinful brood who is cut down as a captive by the infuriated mother, 
destroyed in turn by Hildebrand, reconciled to the conqueror, who 

Hamlet’s Mill • 336 

brings the drama to a catharsis. Attila the I Iun and Theodoric the 
Goth, joined in the tale as allies, are left to weep together the death 
of great heroes. No hatred, no terror left, except at the working of 

From the last night of Troy, extinguished in slaughter, what re¬ 
mains in living myth is the flight of the few survivors toward new 
shores. There they become mythical founding heroes in their turn, 
contended for by the great cities of the West. This is how myth 
deals with its own, and Nemesis is felt at last to catch up with the 
Roman Empire. The spirit of Homer’s epic impassiveness led the 
ancient mind all the way up to the end of the classic world, purged 
of resentment and hatred, but nowhere more impressively than in 
Virgil’s soul-stricken invocation, a vision of doom at a time when 
Rome fancied itself established forever: “Please, gods, have mercy. 
Have we not atoned enough for the original perjury of Troy?” 
lain satis luivms Laomedonteae periuria Troiae . . . But there is no 
atonement in full measure within the unceasing rhythm of cycles 
and megacycles, which builds up a living dialectic of mythical 
imagination. The conquests and subversions which reshaped the 
world with Alexander were surely more important than any feats 
attributed to the legendary king of Uruk; but the latter’s other¬ 
worldly sheen reverberated on the Macedonian, and tradition 
forced him into the pattern of another Gilgamesh, still bent on the 
discovery and conquest of all earth, water, and air, down to the 
end of the world and beyond, still questing in vain after immortal 
life. The molding capacity of established myth created the historic 
episodes that he needed to fit himself into the role, went beyond 
him to build up the “two-horned” demigod, Dhul-Karnein, he who 
erected a brazen wall against the path of destruction from the East, 
the peril of Gog and Magog, a fable that even the later glory of 
the Roman Empire could not imitate. For that kind of time always 
tends to move off into the forms of timelessness. 

Let us go back to the end of the wonderful adventure of Dante’s 
Odysseus, as he moves out of the straits of Gibraltar: 

And having turned our poop towards the morning , 

Our oars we turned to wings in crazy flight 

Always gaining to the left-hand side. 

337 * The Lost Treasure 

That is, he has “turned his poop to the east,” and his prow directly 
west; he proceeds “always gaining to the left-hand side.” In other 
words, it looks as if he were trying to circumnavigate Africa, not 
as Columbus but as Vasco da Gama did, going to India. The gen¬ 
eral direction of his “crazy flight” is actually south, across the 
equator and then the Tropic of Capricorn, just as he has already 
done in Homer under Circe’s sailing directions: “follow the wind 
from the North.” He is still looking for the “experience, beyond 
the sun, of the world without people.” But in Dante’s world scheme, 
he is clearly making for the Antipodes, which means, vaguely, the 
unknown South Seas. 

And, in fact , all the stars of the other pole had come into sight , 
and those of onrs had sunk so low that they did not rise from the sea; 
five times the light of the moon had waxed and waned , when we 
described a tall mountain, dim from the distance , so tall that I 
had never seen any. We rejoiced , and soon it turned to tears . . . 

for it was, as we already know (see chapter XIV, “The Whirl¬ 
pool”), the mount of Purgatory, denied to the living. Hence, Provi¬ 
dence decreed a whirl that swallowed the ship and all its hands, 
and that was the end. 

What was Columbus’ discovery? Hardly more. 

Dante’s description was not really an invention; it was derived 
from texts of his own time, and we find it, bodily transcribed, in 
Columbus’ own extracts and notes, made in the years of waiting 
in Spain, from his favorite readings: “subtle shining secrecies, writ 
in the glossy margent of such bookes .” 1 It is still the land of Eden. 

A long distance by land and sea from our habitable land; it is so high 
that it touches the lower sphere, and the waters of the Flood never 
touched it . . . . The waters which descend from this very high 

mountain form an immense lake. The fall of such waters makes such 
a noise that the inhabitants are born deaf. From that lake as the one 
source flow the four rivers of Paradise: Physon w hich is the Ganges, 
Gyon w hich is the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates .... A fountain there 
is in Paradise w T hich waters the garden of delights and which is dif¬ 
fused in the four rivers. According to Isidore, John of Damascus, 
Bede, Strabo and Peter Comestor . . . Pliny and Solinus, Alarinus of 

1 Shakespeare, The Rape of Lucrece. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 338 

Tyre’s corrections of Ptolemy show that the sea can be crossed with 
favorable winds in a few days, going down per deorsum Africae, 
along the back of Africa . . . for the earth extends from Spain to the 
Indies more than 180°. And the proof is that Ezra savs that 6/7ths of 
the globe are land, Ambrosius and Augustine holding Ezra for a 
prophet . . . the degree being equal to 52 2/3 Roman Miles .... 

The sources of Columbus are well known, one of them being 
Pierre d’Ailly’s famous bn ago Miindi of the 14th century, and an¬ 
other Aeneas Sylvius’ Historia Rerum ubicinnque gestarum of the 
15th. Pierre d’Ailly differs even more from Ptolemy by ruining his 
celestial coordinates, whereas Aeneas Sylvius is no more than a 
compilation, a vague miroir historia! , and yet these are the books in 
which Columbus put his trust, much more than in his maps, and 
rightly so. Even Toscanelli’s famous letter to Martius does no more 
than emphasize Marco Polo’s Cipango (Japan) and set it a thousand 
miles east; which at least encouraged the lonely Genoese, who to 
the end never suspected the existence of the Pacific, and made him 
look for the golden homes of Cipango while he was discovering 
Cuba. His never-never land, his own Island of St. Brandaen, must 
have been in his mind somewhere between the Canaries and the 
Empire of Prester John, along “the back of Africa,” and this was 
enough impetus for him to discover America, or rather invent it 
out of his mythical enthusiasm, still bent on the Garden of Eden 
and its nightingales. As for Toscanelli, the “cosmographer,” his 
impulse lay not so much in his geographical expertise on China as 
in his vaticination of a new world-age. Columbus’ and Toscanelli’s 
clear and very modern intention was “to search for the East by 
way of the West”; but what did it amount to? One of the authori¬ 
ties assured that Aryim, umbilicus maris , wherever it may be, was 
not “in the middle of the habitable earth,” but further, 90° off. 
Another said that the distance between Spain and the eastern edge 
of India was “not much.” Once out in the Atlantic, Columbus had 
to rely on his faith in timeless myth, from Gilgamesh to Alexander. 
To be sure, he had the compass, but his cosmography had lost the 
very idea of the heavens; and, like his Odyssean and medieval fore¬ 
bears, he had to keep searching for the Islands of the Blessed. 

It may be we shall find the Happy Isles, 

and meet the great Achilles , whom we knew . . . 

339 ’ The Lost T re asm e 

What led him to his discovery was his wonderful skill as a navi¬ 
gator, which allowed him to ride out equinoctial storms and never 
lose a ship as he threaded his caravels through the tricky channels of 
the Indies. America was the reward for Paolo Toscanelli’s 2 and 
Christopher Columbus’ Archaic faith. 

The relation of myth to history is very important indeed, but 
the influence of one on the other often goes counter to the inter¬ 
pretations of most debunkers. The famed nightingale from Eden 
that Columbus wrote he heard when he landed on Wading Island 
is only one striking counterexample. But there are more. For in¬ 
stance, myth had influence on the geopolitics of great Eastern con¬ 
querors like Tamerlane and Mohammed II. These two men of 
action, and decisive action, were far from illiterate. They had the 
cultures of two languages at their disposal, Turkish and Persian, and 
their inquisitive minds liked to dwell on great plans of adventure 
toward the West. Yet although they were obsessed with the destruc¬ 
tion of the Empire of Rum (Rome), it has been shown (von 
Hammer) that they had never so much as heard of Caesar and his 
great successors. Their historical information did not go beyond the 
“Romaunt of Alexander” in the Persian version. One is back again 
with Gilgamesh as the prime source. The comparison is all in their 
favor. While the potentates of Europe were loosing themselves in 
miserable quarrels, frittering away their possibilities, and even seek¬ 
ing an alliance with the Turk, only Pope Aeneas Sylvius, sick and 
dying, was finding the words for the occasion: “The barbarians 
have murdered the successor of Constantine together with his peo¬ 
ple, desecrated the temples of the Lord, overthrown the altars, 
thrown to the swine the relics of the martyrs, killed the priests, 
ravished their women and daughters, even the virgins consecrated 
to God; they have dragged along the camp the image of our cruci¬ 
fied Savior, to the cry of ‘there goes the God of the Christians’ and 
have defiled it with filth and spit—and we seem to care for nothing.” 
It was indeed the final tragedy of Christendom, vanishing first 
West, then East. At that point only the conquering Sultan found 
the words for the occasion. “The ruler of the world”—writes 

2 Giorgio de Santillana, “Paolo Toscanelli and His Friends,” in Reflections on 
Men and Ideas (1968), pp. 33-47. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 340 

Tursum Beg, his chronicler—moved up like a spirit, to the summit 
of Saint Sophia; he watched signs of the already coming decay, and 
formed elegiac thoughts: “The spider serves as watchman in the 
porticoes of the cupola of Khusrau. The owl sounds the last post 
in the palace of Afrasiyab. Such is the world, and it is doomed to 
come to an end.” 


What time span did the archaic world embrace within our own 
frame? Its beginning has already been placed in the Neolithic, with¬ 
out setting limits in the past; let prehistoric archaeologists decide. 
The astronomical system seems to conceive of the Golden Age, the 
Saturnian Era, as already mythical, in the proper sense. One can 
then say that it took shape about 4000 b.c ., 3 that it lasted into proto¬ 
history and beyond. 4 The fearful loss of substance that tradition 
suffered in the Greek Middle Ages (the same happened in Egypt 
too, before the Middle Kingdom) has created an almost complete 
gap with what we call Classical Antiquity, but enough did remain to 
ensure a continuity with those ancestors whom Plato and Aristotle 
liked to call “the men close to the Gods” and who were thought 
of in this way even to our Renaissance. In Plato’s philosophy, Ar¬ 
chaic Time stayed intact; it was resolutely understood as “wholly 
other” from extension, wholly incompatible with what Parmenides 
had already grasped in his Revelation, with what Democritus coldly 
theorized. But archaic time is the universe, like it circular and defi¬ 
nite. It is the essence of definition, and so it continues to be through¬ 
out Classical Antiquity, which did not believe in progress but in 
eternal returns. In that world it was Space which, if taken by itself, 
brought in indefiniteness and incoherence. Ultimately, in Plato, 
space was identified with the nature of Non-Being. Plato called 
space the “Receptacle.” This idea, so puzzling for us who think in 
spatial terms and cut up reality, as Bergson said, along dotted lines 
drawn in space, must have been for Plato an easy and natural con¬ 
clusion. He had inherited the idea that reality, or rather Being, was 

3 See W. Hartner, “The Earliest History of the Constellations in the Near East 
and the Motif of the Lion-Bull Combat,” JNES 24 (1965), pp. 1-16, 16 plates. 

4 But we do not know. These people could compute backward as well as forward. 

34 i • The Lost Treasure 

defined in terms of Time above all. It was Space which brought in 
confusion, multiplicity, the resistance to Order, what Plato called 
the Unruly and Irregular which always resist the mind. In the 
beginning, it would seem, space even resisted the mind of the 
Creating Demiurge, for it presented him with the original chaos, 
a kind of foreign body intractably plemmelds kai atakteds, unorga¬ 
nized, devoid of any rhythm. Even the Demiurge must struggle to 
force it into shape, within the limits of his power. 

When did the archiac world come to an end? There are many 
testimonials of the bewildering change. Plutarch, a true pagan, pon¬ 
dered about a.d. 60, why it was “that oracles had ceased to give 
answers.” It is on this occasion that he told the tale of the voice 
that came from the sea, telling the pilot that “the Great Pan was 
dead.” Recounting it on a previous occasion (above, chapter XX, 
p. 277), it was noted that the experts of the Emperor Tiberius de¬ 
cided that it must be Pan no. 3. Another world-age must be passing, 
together with the gods who belonged to it. For traditionalists it was 
indeed one more sign of the passing of the Age of Aries and the ad¬ 
vent of the Age of Pisces. Historically, it is known as the advent of 
the Christian revolution, marked in so many ways by the sign of the 
Fish. It may have taken place with the Edict of Theodosius in 
a.d. 390. It was to be a change so profound that it would have caused 
Plutarch to lose his bearings. It was the end of the Parcae, the god¬ 
desses who lived Fate. The Song of Lachesis had been silenced. In 
a few centuries, it was as if new stars were shining over the heads of 
men brought up in a classical culture. The introduction of new 
gods from the East was certainly a contributory cause of the rapid 
conversion of the Roman elite, which appeared to the Christians a 
miracle in itself. Oracles and omens had been part of the texture of 
circular Time, using the sibylline language which continuously 
threw a rainbow bridge from the past into the future. 

As later developments were to show, the great web of cyclical 
time suffered irreparable harm from the doctrine of the Incarnation, 
but did not snap asunder all at once. For a long time the belief in 
the Second Coming among Christians kept time together. But as it 
became established that the supramundane advent of Christ into the 
world had cleft time into an absolute Before and After, that it was 

Hamlet’s Mill • 342 

a unique event not subject to repetition, then duration became 
simple extension, a waiting for the day of judgment, increasingly 
dependent on the vicissitudes of belief. 

I tried to determine once, from the testimony of artistic experi¬ 
ence, the period when the time frame of reality came to be felt and 
described in terms of three-dimensional space. 5 This first sign of the 
Scientific Revolution, I suggested, coincided with the invention of 
perspective in the 15th century. It arrived, as it were, surrepti¬ 
tiously, originating in the minds of great artists and technologists 
(artist being then the word for artisan). What is clear is that by 
the end of the Renaissance time and space had become what we 
mean by them. 

Newton conceived of the frame of the universe as made up of 
absolute space and time. The mode of thought became natural, and 
not until Einstein did new and greater difficulties arise to resist the 
imagination. Today one should begin to appreciate the divine sim¬ 
plicity of the archaic frame, which took time as the one frame, even 
at the terrible price of making the cosmos itself into the “bubble 
universe.” It was a decisive option. The choice went deep to the 
roots of man’s being. It conditioned Aristotelian theory and condi¬ 
tioned Christian imagination. It constrained even Copernicus and 
Kepler. They both recoiled from unboundedness. That is why 
one sees Aristarchus, Bruno and Galileo not simply as bold gen- 
eralizers or investigators of regularities, but as souls of superhuman 

Aristarchus remained a loner, neglected in his time even by the 
sovereign mind of Archimedes. Twenty centuries later, Bruno was 
less a thinker than an inspired prophet of God’s infiniteness, identi¬ 
cal with the Universe itself. Galileo, the true scientist, still remained 
sufficiently dominated by the circularity he needed in his cosmos so 
that he did not dare to formulate the principle of rectilinear inertia 
which was already present to his mind. He held passionately to the 
circular cosmos. The circle was to him a metaphor of Being that 
he was still willing to accept even at the price of unacceptable epi- 

5 G. de Santillana, “The Role of Art in the Scientific Renaissance,” in Reflec¬ 
tions on Men and Ideas (1968), pp. 137-66. 

343 ' The Lost Treasure 

cycles. However much he supported perfect circularity by sober 
and prosaic reasons, it remained to him first and last a “symbolic 
form,” much as the Seven-ringed cup of Jamshyd, the magic Cal¬ 
dron of Koridwen, as the Cromlech of Stonehenge. The Untuning 
of the World, the dissolution of the Cosmos, was to come only with 

It was said earlier concerning the Mayan astronomers that the 
connections were what counted. In the archaic universe all things 
were signs and signatures of each other, inscribed in the hologram, 
to be divined subtly. This was also the philosophy of the Pytha¬ 
goreans, and it presides over all of classical language, as distinct 
from contemporary language. This was pointed out perceptively by 
a modern critic, Roland Barthes, in Le degre zero de PEcriture. 
“The economy of classical language,” he says, “is rational, which 
means that in it words are abstracted as much as possible in the 
interest of relationship . . . No word has a density by itself, it is 
hardly the sign of a thing, but rather the means of conveying a 
connection.” Today, the object of a modern poem is not to define 
or qualify relations already conventionally agreed; one feels trans¬ 
ported, as it were, from the world of classical Newtonian physics 
to the random world of subatomic particles, ruled by probabilistic 
theory. The beginning of this was felt in Cezanne, in Rimbaud and 
Mallarme. It is “an explosion of words” and forms, liberated words, 
independent objects—discontinuous and magical, not controlled, 
not organized by a sequence of “neutral signs.” The interrupted 
flow of the new poetic language, Barthes remarks, “initiates a dis¬ 
continuous Nature, which is revealed only piecemeal.” Nature be¬ 
comes “a fragmented space, made of objects solitary and terrible, 
because the links between them are only potential.” More, they are 
arbitrary. They are supposed to be of the nature of the ancient 
portentum. The only meaning to be drawn from those links is that 
they are congenial to the mind that made them. The mind has 
abdicated, or it shrinks in apocalyptic terror. In the arts we hear of 
Amorphism, or “disintegration of form,” of the “triumph of inco¬ 
herence” in concrete poetry and contemporary music. The new 
syntheses, if any are still possible, are beyond the horizon. 


Honneur des Hommes, saint Langage 
Discours prophetique et pare . . . 

Valery, La Pythie 


L-ztarting from one theme chosen among many, this self-styled 
first reconnaissance over uncharted ground has come a long and 
tortuous way since the early introduction of the Hamlet figure. 
The discussion has touched immense areas of myth whose probable 
value was indicated by previous discoveries. The treasures of Celtic 
tradition, of Egypt, China, tribal or megalithic India, and Oceania 
have barely been sampled. Nevertheless, the careful, inductive ap¬ 
plication of critical standards of form along the belt of High Civili¬ 
zations has been enough to show the remnants of a preliterate “code 
language” of unmistakable coherence. No apologies are needed for 
having followed the argument where it led, but it is very much to 
be hoped that what has been uncovered will eventually prove suffi¬ 
ciently self-correcting to amend the inevitable errors of this essay. 

What can the initial universe of discourse have been, that insen¬ 
sate scattering of dismembered and disjointed languages of the re¬ 
mote past, of earthy jargons and incommunicable experiences, from 
which, by a stroke of luck, scientific man was born? Clearly, man’s 
capacity for attention, for singling out certain unattainable objects 
in the universe, must have overcome the convolutions and horrors 
of his psyche. There were some men, surely exceptional men, who 
saw that certain wondrous points of light on high in the dark could 
be counted, tracked, and called by name. The innate knowledge 
that guides even migratory birds could have led them to realize that 

345 * Conclusion 

the skies tell—yea, recount—the glory of God, and then to con¬ 
clude that the secret of Being lay displayed before their eyes. 

Their strange ideas, inscrutable to later ages, were the beginnings 
of intellect, and in the course of time they grew into a koine, or 
lingua franca, covering the globe. This common language ignored 
local beliefs and cults. It concentrated on numbers, motions, mea¬ 
sures, overall frames, schemas, on the structure of numbers, on 
geometry. It did all this although its inventors had no experience to 
share with each other except the events of their daily lives and no 
imagery by which to communicate except their observations of 
natural lawfulness. 

Ordered expression, that is expression in accordance with laws 
or rules, comes before organized thought. After that, the spon¬ 
taneous creation of fables occurs when there is a fund of direct 
experience to draw upon. For example, a prehistoric “tech talk,” 
expressing only lawfulness in the grammatical or natural sense, may 
have begun by using terms that came from the earliest technology. 
Later, as experience increased, the same kind of talk using the same 
terms may have been extended to include alchemy and other imag¬ 
eries. In form, these exchanges would be transmuted tales, but 
because of their terminology they would possess an ordering and 
naming capacity that would diffuse stimuli over a sea of diversity. 
Ultimately, they could produce a sign code whereby the stars of 
Ursa became a team of oxen, and so on. 

It is now known that astrology has provided man with his con¬ 
tinuing lingua franca through the centuries. But it is essential to 
recognize that, in the beginning, astrology presupposed an astron¬ 
omy. Through the interplay of these two heavenly concepts, the 
common elements of preliterate knowledge were caught up in a 
bizarre bestiary whose taxonomy has disappeared. With the rem¬ 
nants of the system scattered all over the world, abandoned to the 
drift of cultures and languages, it is immensely difficult to identify 
the original themes that have undergone so many sea-changes. 

The language of the Vedas, for instance, which transposes a 
dazzling wealth of metaphysics into the discourse of hymns, is as 
remote from all other aspects of mythical thought as the stars of 

Hamlet’s Mill • 346 

Ursa themselves are from the verses which, as Masters, the Vedas 
suppose those stars to have written. In these verses, the notion of 
the way to transcendence and the absurdity and wild luxuriance of 
the imagery are certain to confound the Western mind and lead it 
far away from the subject of astronomical origins into a mystical 

And yet the original life of thought, born of the same seeds as the 
Vedas, worked its way in darkness, sent its roots and tendrils 
through the deep, until the living plant emerged in the light under 
different skies. Half a world away it became possible to rediscover 
a similar voyage of the mind which contained not a single linguistic 
clue that a philologist could endorse. From the very faintest of 
hints, the ladder of thought leading back to proto-Pythagorean 
imagery was revealed to the preternaturally perceptive minds of 
Kircher and Dupuis. The inevitable process became discernible, 
going from astronomical phenomena to what might be beyond 
them. Finally perhaps, as Proclus suggested, the sequence leads from 
words to numbers, and then even beyond the idea of number to a 
world where number itself has ceased to exist and there are only 
thought forms thinking themselves. With this progression, the as¬ 
censional power of the archaic mind, supported by numbers, has re¬ 
established the link between two utterly separate worlds. 

The nature of this unknown world of abstract form can also be 
suggested by way of musical symbols, as was attempted earlier. 
Bach’s Art of the Fugue was never completed. Its existing symme¬ 
tries serve only as a hint of what it might have been, and the work 
is not even as Bach left it. The engraved plates were lost and partly 
destroyed. Then, collected once more, they were placed in approxi¬ 
mate order. Even so, looking at the creation as it now is, one is 
compelled to believe that there was a time when the plan as a whole 
lived in Bach’s mind. 

In the same way, the strange hologram of archaic cosmology 
must have existed as a conceived plan, achieved at least in certain 
minds, even as late as the Sumerian period when writing was still a 
jealously guarded monopoly of the scribal class. Such a mind may 
have belonged to a keeper of records, but not of the living word, 

347 ' Conclusion 

still less of the living thought. Most of the plan was never recorded. 
Bits of it reach us in unusual, hesitant form, barely indicated, as in 
the wisdom and sketches of Griaule’s teacher, Ogotemmeli, the 
blind centenarian sage. In the magic drawings of Lascaux, or in 
American Indian tales, one perceives a mysterious understanding 
between men and other living creatures which bespeaks relation¬ 
ships beyond our imagination, infinitely remote from our analytical 

“From now on,” said Father Sun, grieving over Phaethon, his 
fallen child, “you shall be Mink.” What meaning can this have for 
us? For such an understanding between men and men, and other 
living creatures too, we would need the kind of help King Arthur 
had at hand: “Gwryr Interpreter of Tongues, it is meet that thou 
escort us on this quest. All tongues hast thou, and then canst speak 
all languages of men, with some of the birds and beasts.” This abil¬ 
ity was also attributed to Merlin and Gwyon, those masters of 
cosmological wisdom whose names resound through the legends 
of the Middle Ages. In general, all fabulous communication was 
conceived as having such a range, not merely the Aesopian fable 
with its flat, all-too-worldly wisdom. 

Much of this book has been peopled with the inhabitants of a 
Star Menagerie of profoundly meaningful animal characters. The 
forms of animal life have varied from the Fishes who turned into 
hairy Twins to the remarkable succession of doglike creatures 
occurring around the world from Ireland to Yucatan. All of these 
animals have been of great significance, and each was invested with 
key functions in cosmological myth. 

It would be possible, for example, to prepare a most informative 
edition of the Romance of Reynard Fox illustrated entirely with 
reproductions from Egyptian and Mesopotamian ritual documents. 
For it is likely that these documents represent the last form of inter¬ 
national initiatic language, intended to be misunderstood alike by 
suspicious authorities and the ignorant crowd. In any case, the 
language forms an excellent defense against the kind of misuse 
which Plato speaks about with surprising earnestness in Phaedms 
(274D-275B). At the point in question, Thot/Hermes is feeling 

I Iaailet’s Mill • 348 

very proud of himself for having invented letters, and he claims 
that the alphabet will make the Egyptians wiser and improve their 
memory. Plato has the god Thamus, “king of all Egypt,” speak to 

“Most ingenious Theuth,” said the god and king Thamus, “one man 
has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their useful¬ 
ness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you, 
who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to 
ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really pos¬ 
sess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of 
those who learn to use it, because they will not practise their memory. 
Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are 
no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory 
within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of re¬ 
minding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not 
true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and 
will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most 
part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but 
only appear wise.” 1 

Now that Plato’s apprehensions have become fact, there is noth¬ 
ing left of the ancient knowledge except the relics, fragments and 
allusions that have survived the steep attrition of the ages. Part of 
the lost treasure may be recovered through archaeology; some of it 
—Mayan astronomy, for instance—may be reconstructed through 
sheer mathematical ingenuity; but the system as a whole may lie 
beyond all conjecture, because the creating, ordering minds that 
made it have vanished forever. 

1 Translation by H. N. Fowler, LCL. The Jowett translation reads: “The specific 
which you have discovered is an aid not to memory but to reminiscence, and you 
give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth” (oukoun mnemes all’ 
hypomneseos pharmakon heures; sophias de tois mathetais doxan, ouk aletheian 


• Conclusion 


From harmony, from heavenly harmony, 

This universal frame began: 

When nature underneath a heap 
Of jarring atoms lay, 

And could not heave her head, 

The tuneful voice was heard from high, 

“Arise, ye more than dead!” 

Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry, 

In order to their stations leap, 

And Music's power obey. 

From harmony, from heavenly harmony, 

This universal frame began: 

From harmony to harmony 
Through all the compass of the notes it ran, 
The diapason closing full in Man. . . . 

As from the power of sacred lays 
The spheres began to move, 

And sung the great Creator's praise 
To all the Blest above; 

So when the last and dreadful hour 
This crumbling pageant shall devour, 

The trumpet shall be heard on high, 

The dead shall live, the living die, 

And Music shall untune the sky! 

Dryden, “A Song for St. Cecelia's Day” 


Appendix i 

The only master of this kind of observation hitherto has been Marcel 
Griaule (d. 1956) but he left an impressive cohort of disciples. They 
have renewed the understanding of African studies, showing that such 
systems are still alive with the Dogon, whom Griaule “discovered,” in 
the true sense of the word. 

As Germaine Dieterlen writes: “The smallest everyday object may 
reveal a conscious reflection of a complex cosmogony . . . Thus for in¬ 
stance African techniques, so poor in appearance, like those of agri¬ 
culture, weaving and smithing, have a rich, hidden content of signifi¬ 
cance . . . The sacrifice of a humble chicken, when accompanied by 
the necessary and effective ritual gestures, recalls in the thinking of 
those who have experienced it an understanding that is at once original 
and coherent of the origins and functioning of the universe. 

“The Africans,” she continues, “with whom we have worked in the 
region of the Upper Niger have systems of signs which run into thou¬ 
sands, their own systems of astronomy and calendrical measurements, 
methods of calculation and extensive anatomical and physiological 
knowledge, as well as a systematic pharmacopoeia. The principles un¬ 
derlying their social organization find expression in classifications which 
embrace many manifestations of nature. And these form a system in 
which, to take examples, plants, insects, textiles, games and rites are dis¬ 
tributed in categories that can be further divided, numerically expressed 
and related one to another. It is on these same principles that the politi¬ 
cal and religious authority of chiefs, the family system and juridical 
rights, reflected notably in kinship and marriages, have been established. 
Indeed, all the activities of the daily lives of individuals are ultimately 
based on them.” 1 

It goes without saying that we need not subscribe to the author’s 
opinion that the Mande peoples invented “their own systems of astron¬ 
omy ...” 

1 Introducdon to Conversations with Ogotemmeli, Marcel Griaule (1965), p. xiv. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 


Appendix 2 

The father of Saxo’s Amlcthus was Horvandillus , written also Oren- 
dcl, Ercntcl, I'arcndcl, Ocrvandill, Aurvandil, whom the appendix to 
the Hchicvbuch pronounces the first of all heroes that were ever born. 
The few data know n about him are summarized by Jacob Grimm: 1 

I Ic suffers shipwreck on a voyage, takes shelter with a master fisher¬ 
man Eiscn, 2 earns the seamless coat of his master, and afterwards 
wins frau Breide, the fairest of women: king Eigel of Trier was his 
father’s name. The whole tissue of the fable puts one in mind of the 
Odyssey: the shipwrecked man clings to a plank, digs himself a hole, 
holds a bough before him; even the seamless coat may be compared 
to Ino’s veil, and the fisher to the swfneheard, dame Breide’s templars 
w ould be Penelope’s suitors, and angels are sent often, like Zeus’s 
messengers. Yet many things take a different turn, more in German 
fashion, and incidents are added, such as the laying of a naked sw T ord 
betw een the newfy married couple, which the Greek story know T s 
nothing of. The hero’s name is found even in OHG. documents: 
Orendil . . , Orentil ... a village Orendelsal, now Orendensall, in 
Hohenlohe . . . But the Edda has another myth, which w r as alluded 
to in speaking of the stone in Thor’s head. Groa is busy conning her 
magic spell, when Thorr, to requite her for the approaching cure, 
imparts the welcome new 7 s, that in coming from Jotunheim in the 
North he has carried her husband the bold Orvandill in a basket on 
his back, and he is sure to be home soon; he adds by w T ay of token, 
that as Orvandil’s toe had stuck out of the basket and got frozen, 
he broke it off and flung it at the sky, and made a star of it, which is 
called Orvandils-ta. But Groa in her joy at the tidings forgot her spell, 
so the stone in the god’s head never got loose (Snorri’s Skaldskap. 17). 

Powell, 3 in his turn, compares the hero to Orion in his keen interpre¬ 

The story of Orwandel (the analogue of Orion the Hunter) must 
be gathered chiefly from the prose Edda. He was a huntsman, big 
enough and brave enough to cope with giants. He was the friend of 
Thor, the husband of Groa, the father of Swipdag, the enemy of the 

1 T.M, pp. 374L See also K. Simrock, Der imgenahte Rock oder Konig Orendel 
(1845), p. ix. 

2 Also written Ise or Eise, and derived from Isis, by Simrock; considering that the 
fisherman s modest home has seven towers, with 800 fishermen as his servants, Ise/ 
Eisen looks more like the Fisher King of Arthurian Romances. 

3 H his introduction to Elton’s translation of Saxo, p. cxxiii. 

355 * Appendices 

giant Coller and the monster Sela. The story of his birth, and of his 
being blinded, are lost apparently in the Teutonic stories, unless we 
may suppose that the bleeding of Robin Hood till he could not see, 
by the traitorous prioress, is the last remains of the story of the great 
archer’s death. Dr. Rydberg regards him and his kinsfolk as doublets 
of those three men of feats, Egil the archer, Weyland the smith, and 
Finn the harper, and these again doublets of the three primeval artists, 
the sons of Iwaldi, whose story is told in the prose Edda. 

It is not known which star, or constellation, Orvandils-ta was sup¬ 
posed to be. Apart from such wild notions as that the whole of Orion 
represented his toe 4 —to identify it with Rigel, i.e., beta Orionis, would 
be worth discussing—even Reuter tries to convince himself that Corona 
borealis “looks like a toe,” 5 because he could not free himself from the 
fetters of seasonal interpretation of myth, nor dared he attack the ro¬ 
mantic authority of Ludwig Uhland who had coined the dogma that 
Thor carried the sign for spring in his basket; accordingly a constella¬ 
tion had to be found which could announce springtime, and Reuter, 
choosing between Arcturus and Corona, elected the latter. 

It is not his toe alone, however, which grants to Hamlet’s father his 
cosmic background: some lines of Cynewulfs Chidst dedicate to the 
hero the following words: 

Hail, Earendel, brightest of angels thou, 
sent unto men upon this middle-earth! 

Thou art the true refulgence of the sun, 
radiant above the stars, and from thyself 
illuminest for ever all the tides of time. 6 

The experts disagree whether Earendel, here, points to Christ, or to 
Alary, and whether or not Venus as morning star is meant, an identifica¬ 
tion which offers itself, since ancient glosses render Earendel with 
“Jubar ,” 7 and Jubar is generally accepted for Venus on the presupposi¬ 
tion that “morning star” stands every single time for Venus, which is 
certainly misleading: any star, constellation or planet rising heliacally 
may act as morning star. With respect to juba, i.e., literally “the mane 

4 R. H, Allen, Star Names (1963), p. 310. 

5 Germanische Himmelskunde (1934), p. 255. 

6 See TM, p. 375; I. Gollancz, Hamlet in Iceland (1898), p. xxxvii; Reuter, p. 256. 

7 O jubar, angelorum splendidissime . . . See R. Heinzel, Vber das Gedicht von 
Konig Orendel (1892), p. 15. 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 356 

of any animal,” jubar, “a beaming light, radiance,” we have, however, 
Varro’s clear statement: “iuba dicitur Stella Lucifer.” 8 Nonetheless, sev¬ 
eral experts arc against the equation Orendel/Earendel = Venus. 9 
Gollancz abstains from precise identifications, but he procures the one 
more existing piece of evidence concerning the word Earendel: 

In Anglo-Saxon glosses “earendel” ... or “oerendil” is interpreted 
jubar, but “dawn” or “morning star” would probably be a better 
rendering, as in the only other passage known in old English litera¬ 
ture, viz" the Blickling Homilies (p. 163, 1. 3): “Nu seo Cristes 
gebyrd at his aeriste, se niwa eorendel Sanctus Johannes; and nu se 
leoma thaere sothan sunnan God selfa cuman wille”; i.e., And now 
the birth of Christ (was) at his appearing, and the new day-spring 
(or dawn) was John the Baptist. And now the gleam of the true Sun, 
God himself, shall come. 10 

Orendel/Earendel, then, seems to be the foremost among those which 
announce some “advent,” not unlike the passage in the Odyssey (/5.93L) 
dealing with Odysseus’ arrival in Ithaca: “When that brightest of 
stars ( aster phatintatos) rose which comes to tell us that the dawn is 
near, the travelling ship was drawing close to an island.” That might 
point, again, to Venus, but there are reasons to think of Sirius, the 
brightest of all fixed stars, as will come out later. 

Another subject of discussion has been the etymology of the name, and 
since the identity of Orendel might depend on its etymology, we have 
to look into the matter, at least superficially. Jacob Grimm admitted 

I am only in doubt as to the right spelling and interpretation of the 
word: an OHG. orentil implies AS. earendel, and the two would 
demand ON. aurvendill, eyrvendill; but if we start with ON. orven- 
dill, then AS. earendel, OHG. erentil would seem preferable. The 
latter part of the compound certainly contains entil — wentil. 11 The 
first part should be either ora, eare (auris), or else ON. or, gen. orvar 
(sagitta ). Now, as there occurs in a tale in Saxo Grammaticus . . . , a 
Horvendilus filius Gervendili, and in OHG. a name Kerwentil. . . and 

8 See W. Gundel, De stellanim appellatione et religione Romana (1907), p. 106; 
Reuter, pp. 256,295ft. 

9 E.g., A. Scherer, Gestirnnavien (1953), pp. 79-81. 

10 Gollancz, p. xxxviizz. 

II In a footnote, Grimm asks (and we wish we knew the answer!): “Whence did 
Matthesius [in Frisch 2 , 439 s ] get his Tan is the heathens’ Wendel and head bag¬ 
piper?’ Can the word refer to the metamorphoses of the flute-playing demigod? 
In trials of witches, Wendel is a name for the devil, Mones anz. 8, 124.” 

357 * Appendices 

Gerentil . . , and as geir (hasta) agrees better with dr than with eyra 
(auris), the second interpretation may command our assent; a sight 
of the complete legend would explain the reason of the name. I think 
Orentil’s father deserves attention too: Eigil is another old and ob¬ 
scure name . . . Can the story of Orentil’s wanderings possibly be so 
old amongst us, that in Orentil and Eigil of Trier we are to look for 
that Ulysses and Laertes whom Tacitus places on our Rhine? The 
names show nothing in common. 

Scherer (p. 179) states shortly: “Earendel does not belong to ausos 
‘dawn,’ nor to OE. ear ‘ear’ (Ahre), but to OE. ae , ear m. ‘wave, sea,’ 
ON. aurr ‘humidity.’ ” Gollancz, who is inclined to connect Earendel 
with Eastern ( ushas , eos , aurora , etc.), mentions more current deriva¬ 
tions, among which also that from aurr “moisture,” and from the root 
signifying “to burn” in Greek, euo, Latin uro, Ves-uvius, etc. Decisive 
seems to us the derivation from or — arrow, suggested by Grimm, and 
by Uhland, who explained Orendel as the one “who operates with the 
arrow” (in contrast to his grandfather, Gerentil, who worked with the 
ger = spear), and Simrock gives the opinion that the very gloss “Earen¬ 
del Jubar” designates Earendel explicitly as “beam” (or “ray”), “which 
still in MHG. and Italian means ‘arrow.’ ” 12 

Simrock did more. Taking into consideration that in the Heldenbuch 
Orendel is spelled Erendelle, and at some other place Ernthelle, he 
thinks it probable that u Em ” was dropped as epitheton ornans, 13 and he 
concludes from there that the story of Tell shooting the apple from the 
head of his son was once told of Orendel himself. That the historical (?) 
Tell was not the inventor of this famous shot, or even performed it, 
seems rather certain. As Grimm aptly stated: 

The legend of Tell relates no real event, yet, without fabrication or 
lying, as a genuine myth it has shot up anew in the bosom of Switzer¬ 
land, to embellish a transaction that took hold of the nation’s inmost 
being. 14 

Now there is no arrow to be found that could contest with Sirius in 
mythical significance. We know mul KAK.SI.DI, the “Arrow-Star” from 

12 Handbuch der Deutschen Mythologie (1869), § 82, p. 233. 

13 Ibid. See also Simrock, Die Quellen des Shakespeare (1870), pp. 129!.: “Dies 
ward aber wohl in Tell gekiirzt, weil man die erste Silbe fiir jenes vor Namen 
stehende ‘Ehren’ ansah, das nach dem d. Worterb, III 52 aus ‘Herr’ erwachsen, bald 
fiir ein Epitheton ornans angesehen wurde.” 

14 TA 1 5, p. xxxiv. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 358 

Sumer, as well as “Tishtriya,” the arrow from Ancient Iran—it is shot 
from a how built up by stars of Argo and Canis Major (Sumerian: 
mu, B \\). The very same bow is to be found in the Chinese sphere, but 
there the arrow' is shorter and aims at Sirius, the celestial Jackal, whereas 
the same Egyptian arrow is aimed at the star on the head of the Sothis 
Cow, as depicted in the so-called “Round Zodiac” of Dendera—Sirius 
again. In India, Sirius is the archer himself (Tishiya), and his arrow is 
represented by the stars of Orion’s Belt. And about all of them manifold 
legends arc told. Thus, “Earendel, brightest of angels thou,” might well 
point to the brightest among the fixed stars, Sirius. 

But even the derivation from the root aurr — moisture, ear = sea, 
w'ould not exclude Sirius. Quite the contrary. The Babylonian New 
Year’s ritual says: “Arrow Star, who measures the depth of the sea”; 
the Avesta states: “Tishtriya, by whom the waters count.” And as 
Tishtriya, “the Arrow,” watches Lake Vurukasha (see p. 215), so 
Teutonic Egil is the guardian of Hvergelmer, the whirlpool, and of 
Elivagar, south of which “the gods have an ‘outgard,’ a ‘saeter’ which 
is inhabited by valiant watchers —snotrir vikinger they are called in 
Thorsdrapa, 8—who are bound by oaths to serve the gods. Their chief 
is Egil, the most famous archer in the mythology. As such he is also 
called Orvendel (the one busy with the arrow).” 15 

We had better stop getting diffuse concerning Sirius the Arrow and 
his role as guardian and as “measurer of the depth of the sea”; the few 
hints that were given here must suffice to show the level at which to 
look for the father of Hamlet. 

Since, however, we can never resist the temptation to quote beautiful 
poems, we have still to confess our suspicion that the “Stella Maris” is 
Sirius too. Enough is known about Isis/Sirius as guardian-deity of navi¬ 
gators, to whom belongs the “carra navalis,” and was it not “Mary or 
Christ” who was addressed with “Hail, Earendel”? In the same manner, 
the hymn “In Annunciatione Beatae Mariae” begins with the verses: 

Ave, mavis Stella 
Dei mater alma 
atque semper virgo 
felix caeli porta 

15 V. Rydberg, Teutonic Mythology (1907), pp. 424*?., 968ft. 

359 # Appendices 

Sumens illnd Ave 
Gabrielis ore 
fimda nos in pace 
mutans nomen Evae. 

And there is another hymn which was sung, according to the Roman 
Breviary, after Compline during Advent and Christmastide, and which 
has been ascribed to Herimanus Contractus of Reichenau (d. 1054), 
who would appear to have lived and died a cripple in his monastery: 

Alma redemptoris mater , quae pervia caeli 
porta manes et Stella maris , succurre cadenti , 
surgere qui curat , populo , tu quae genuisti 
(natura mirante) tuum sanctum genitorem , 

Virgo prius et posterius , Gabrielis ab ore 
sumens illud Ave , peccatorem miserere. 

“What I have been attempting to suggest,” says the interpreter of this 
hymn, 10 “is that the attraction of this charming mediaeval prayer and 
hymn would seem to come, in large measure, from the intentional am¬ 
biguity, the different levels of meaning, and the sunken imagery . . . 
The ‘nourishing mother’ is perhaps pictured as a fixed constellation in 
the heavens, or perhaps as the morning star, guiding those on the sea. 
She is a celestial passage-way, always passable and ever accessible . . . 
The falling and rising has now (besides the constantly falling sinners) 
perhaps the further overtones of heavenly bodies rising and falling, 
perhaps of ships rising and falling on the sea, and lastly of tottering 
children who need their mother’s help to walk . . . The poem ... is a 
very striking one, and its force derives, in my view, from the subtle 
imagery of the first three lines . . . They offer us a symbol, a verbal 
icon, of the entire situation of man on earth in his struggle to rise to 
the stars, of his need of an otherworldly force which is at once strong 
and loving.” 

16 H. Musurillo, S.J., “The Medieval Hymn, Alma Redemptoris,” Classical 
Journal $2 (1957), pp. 171-74. 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 360 

Appendix 5 

Now, apart from the circumstance that the snowy burial ascribed to 
the followers of Kai Khusrau, Enoch, and Quetzalcouatl could hardly 
be claimed to he an “obvious” feature, the fate of Quetzalcouatl’s com¬ 
panions might further our understanding; more correctly, the topos 
where this event is supposed to have happened might do so. The “five 
mountains” of Mexican myth, their “gods” respectively, the Tepicto- 
ton ,* appear to represent the five Uayeb (= Maya; with the Aztecs: 
Xcmontcmi), the Epagomena, those days gained bv Mercury from the 
Moon during a game of checkers, in order to help Rhea/Nut to days 
“outside of the year,” when she could bring forth the five planets. As a 
matter of fact, in his chapter on the clothes and emblems of the gods, 
Sahagun puts the “Mountain-Gods” at the end of the list . 2 

Worth mentioning might be two more traits which Quetzalcouatl 
shares with his old-world brethren: Quetzalcouatl and Uemac, like Kai 
Ka’us and Kai Khusrau, are said to have ruled together, and Quetzal¬ 
couatl is accused of incestuous relations with his sister, as were Hamlet, 
Kullervo, Yama and, we might add, King Arthur . 3 

Appendix 4 

It is as yet too early in the day to deal with “Uncle Kamsa,” whom 
lexicographers make a u mura-devaP allegedly a “venerator of roots” 
(miila/mura — root). In his Kleine Beitrdge (p. u), Jarl Charpentier 
earnestly wishes us to accept as fact that “among the Indian natives fight¬ 
ing against the invading Aryans, there were such,” namely, “venerators 
of roots” (and venerators of worms as well). Although we do not doubt 
that the species Homo sapiens is capable of any “belief,” we cannot 

1 See E. Seler, Gesammelte Abhandlnngen y vol. 2, p. 507, for an Aztec drawing 
of the Tepictoton. 

2 See T. S. Barthel, “Einige Ordungsprinzipein im Aztekischen Pantheon,” 
Paidewna 10 (1964), pp. 8of., 83. In this paper, Barthel has established, in a 
rather convincing manner, the presence of decans in Mexican astronomy. 

3 See W. Krickeberg, “Mexicanisch-peruanische Parallelen,” in Festschrift 
P. IP. Schmidt , p. 388. 

361 • Appendices 

perceive any cogent reason for subscribing to Charpentier’s view. 
Mula/mura , the “root,” is a Nakshatra, a lunar mansion woven around 
with tales: it is the sting of Scorpius, serving as Marduk’s weapon in the 
“Babylonian Genesis,” and as Polynesian Maui’s fishhook; with the 
Copts it is “statio translationis Caniculae . . . unde et Siot vocatur,” i.e., 
the Coptic table of lunar stations takes lambda upsilon Scorpii as the 
precise opposite of Sirius/Sot his, as we are informed by Athanasius 
Kircher, whereas Indian tables ascribe the role of exact opposition to 
Betelgeuse, ruled by “Rudra-the-destroying-archer.” Although we can¬ 
not pursue these and other tales further here, we think it at least appro¬ 
priate to mention the concrete problems arising with such characters as 
“Uncle Kamsa,” instead of accusing a true Asura of “veneration of 

Appendix 5 

Sem Snaebjoern krad: 

Hvatt kveda hraera Grotta 
hergrimmastan skerja 
lit fyrir jardar skauti 
Eyludrs mu brudir; 
thaer er , lungs, -fyrir laungu 
lid-meldr , skipa hlidar 
baugskerdir ristr bardi 
bol } Amloda molu 
Her er kallat hafit Amloda Kvern . 

Gollancz ( Hamlet in Iceland , p. xi) retranslated his translation into 
Old Norse so that the original and the nolens volens interpreting transla¬ 
tion might be compared. The retranslation runs thus: kveda niu brud¬ 
ir eyludrs hraera hvatt hergrimmastan skerja grotta ut fyrir jardar skauti, 
thaer er fyrir longu molu Amloda lid-meldr; baugskerdir ristr skipa 
hlidar bol lungs bardi. Elton translates the passage: 

“Men say that the nine maidens of the island-mill (the ocean) are 
working hard at the host-devouring skerry-quern (the sea), out beyond 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 362 

the skirts of the earth; yea, they have for ages been grinding at Am- 
lodi's meal-bin (the sea)." 1 

Rydberg, too, oilers a translation: 

“It is said, that Eyludr’s nine women violently turn the Grotte of 
the skerry dangerous to man out near the edge of the earth, and that 
those women long ground Amlode’s //d-grist.” 2 

In spite of the trickiness and the traps of the text Gollancz tries to 
solve the ease; in fact, he tries too frantically (p. xxxvi): “The com¬ 
pound cy-ludr, translated ‘Island-Mill,’ may be regarded as a synonym 
for the father of the Nine Maids. Ludr is strictly ‘ the square case 'within 
'which the lower and upper Quernstones rest, 1 hence the mill itself, or 

With this we w ish to compare O. S. Reuter’s explanation: U ludr — 
Miihlengebalk (dan. Luur — das Geriist zu einer Handmuhle )” ( Ger - 
vianische Himmelskunde, p. 239; he also includes a drawing of the mill). 
On p. 242, note, he renders the lines of Skaldskap. 25: “Neun Scharen- 
briiute riihren den Grotti des Inselmiihlkastens (eyludr) draussen an 
der Erde Ecke (ut fyrir jardar skauti),” adding: “Das (kosmische?) 
Weltmeer ist als ‘Hamlets Miihle’ gesehen.” At least he thought, even if 
within brackets and with a quotation mark, of “cosmic”—Rydberg is 
the only one who has grasped this point completely. 

“Ey-ludr,” Gollancz continues, “is the ‘island quern,’ i.e., ‘the grinder 
of islands,’ the Ocean-Mill, the sea, the sea-god, and, finally, Aegir. 
‘Aegir’s daughters’ are the surging waves of the ocean; they work 
Grotti ‘grinder,’ the great Ocean-Mill (here called ‘skarja grotti,’ the 
grinder of skerries, the lonely rocks in the sea), ‘beyond the skirts of 
the earth’ or perhaps, better, ‘off yonder promontory.’ The latter mean¬ 
ing of the words ‘ut fyrir jardar skauti’ would perhaps suit the passage 
best, if Snaebjorn is pointing to some special whirlpool.” Non liquet: 
neither Aegir = eyludr, nor the nine maidens = waves, whether surg¬ 
ing or not. 

As concerns “off yonder promontory” which sounds ever so poetical 
and indistinct, see J. de Vries: 3 skaut n. Ecke, Zipfel, Schoss, Kopftuch, 
eig. “etw T as Hervorragendes” . .. Dazu skauti m. “Tuch zum Einhiillen,” 
ae. sceata “Ecke, Schoss, Segelschote.” fyr. praep. praef. “vor,” durch, 

1 Saxo Grammaticus, Danish History, p. 402. 

2 Teutonic Mythology, § 80, p. 568. 

3 Altnordisches Etymologisches Worterbuch (1961). 

363 • Appendices 

wegen, trotz, fur .. . —lat. prae “voran, voraus,” lat. prior “der friihere” 
—which tells us either nothing at all or, if we take “prior” for the 
proper translation, tells us the whole “story” by means of one single 
word; in the same manner as the mere fact that the pillars of Hercules 
were “fyr,” called the pillars of Briareos, and before that time, the pil¬ 
lars of Kronos. 

We stick, however, to Gollancz for some more lines. “The real dif¬ 
ficulty,” he says, “in Snorri’s extract from Snaebjoern is ... in its 
last line; the arrangement of the words is confusing, the interpreta¬ 
tion of the most important of the phrases extremely doubtful. ‘Lid- 
meldr’ in particular has given much trouble to the commentators: 
‘meldr,’ at present obsolete in Icelandic, signifies ‘flour or corn in the 
mill’; but the word 7 id* is a veritable crux. It may be either the neuter 
noun ‘lid,’ meaning ‘a host, folk, people,’ or ship, or the masculine 
7 idr? ‘a joint of the body.’ The editors of the Corpus Poeticum Boreale 
read ‘meldr-lid,’ rendering the word ‘meal-vessel’; they translate the 
passage, ‘who ages past ground Amlodi’s meal-vessels = the ocean’; 
but ‘ mala ,’ ‘to grind,’ can hardly be synonymous with ‘ hraera, ‘to 
move,’ in the earlier lines, and there would be no point in the waves 
grinding the ocean. There seems, therefore, no reason why meldr-lid 
should be preferred to lid-meldr, which might well stand for ‘ship- 
meal’ (sea-meal), to be compared with the Eddie phrase ‘graedis 
meldr,’ i.e., sea-flour, a poetical periphrasis for the sand of the shore. 
Rydberg [Teutonic Mythology (1907), pp. 57off. = pp. 388-92 in the 
1889 edition], bearing in mind the connection of the myth concerning 
the fate of Ymer’s descendant Bergelmer, who, according to an inge¬ 
nious interpretation of a verse in Vafthrudnismal ‘was laid under the 
millstone,’ advanced the theory that ‘lid-meldr’ means ‘limb-grist.’ 
According to this view, it is the limbs and joints of the primeval giants, 
which in Amlodi’s mill are transformed into meal . . . Snorri does not 
help us. The note following Snaebjoern’s verse merely adds that here 
the sea is called “Amlodi’s kvern.’ ” 

In a note Gollancz adds that in some other manuscript he found the 
version: “Here the sea is called ‘Amlodi’s meal’” (Atnloda melldur ), 
and concludes: “No explicit explanation is to be found in early North¬ 
ern poetry or saga. ‘Hamlet’s Mill’ may mean almost anything.” It is 
not as bad as that. Moreover, Gollancz (p. xvii, note) detected more 
relevant figures of speech in the four lines cited below which he 

Hamlet’s Mill • 364 

ascribes to Snaebjorn: “The island-mill pours out the blood of the flood 
goddess’s sisters (i.c., waves of the sea), so that (it) bursts from the 
feller of the land: whirlpool begins strong.” 

svad or fit jar fjoetra, 
fiods asynjn bolde 
(roest byrjask roevnnj systra 
rytr, ey my her snyter. 

To which he adds: “In no other drottkvoett verse does eymylver occur: 
cp. eyludr above.” 

Appendix 6 

It is not as easy to dispose of My sing, as the specialists pretend, e.g., 
by preferring to interpret his name as “mouse-gray” instead of the 
equally possible “son of a mouse.” Olrik (pp. 459f.) proposes to identify 
straightaway “King Mysing who killed Frith-Frothi, and the cow that 
struck down Frothi the Peaceful . . . King Mysing is merely a rational¬ 
istic explanation of the ancient monster.” (For the death of Frodi by 
means of a sea cow, see also P. Herrmann’s commentary on Saxo, 
pp. 380-84. This “cow”—in Iceland they remain within the frame of 
zoology and make it a stag—was, according to Saxo, a witch, who was 
pierced through by Frodi’s men. Afterwards they kept Frodi’s death a 
secret for three years, in the same manner as told by Snorri in his 
Heimskringla about Frey.) 

A. H. Krappe, more obseryant, compared Mysing with Apollon 
Smintheus, the old “mouse-god” (ARW 55 [1936], pp. 40-56). He had 
in his mind, however, only the connection—undeniable as it is—between 
mice and rats and the plague, and the dragging-in of Smintheus does 
not much further the understanding of Mysing. This state of things 
was changed with the publication of the work by Henri Gregoire, R. 
Goossens and M. Matthieu, A-Vsklepios, Apollon Smintheus et Rudra: 
Etudes sur le dieu a la taupe et le dieu au rat dans la Grece et dans 
1 Inde,’ although they do not even mention our Mysing, and although 
they loudly praise (p. 157) the merit of “Meillet . . . d’avoir fait 

3 65 • Appendices 

descendre la mythologie du ciel sur la terre”; with Rudra, and with the 
rat of Ganesha (who, by the way, acquired his elephant’s head because 
the planet Saturn, not being invited to the infant’s “baptism,” had 
looked upon the baby with his evil eye, thus destroying his head which 
was successfully replaced by that of an elephant), the mouse plot has 
got much deeper background. Nevertheless, the identity and the role 
of the mouse deity is hardly going to be settled without taking into 
account (1) “the tailed Alus Parik, arrayed with wings; the Sun fet¬ 
tered her to his own ray, so that she could not perpetrate harm; when 
she becomes free, she will do much injury to the world, till she is 
recaptured, having come eye-to-eye with the Sun”; this enigmatical 
winged mouse comes from the world horoscope in the Iranian Bimda- 
hishn (chapter V, A, Anklesaria translation, p. 63); (2) the colorful 
Polynesian myths dealing with the rat that gnawed through the “Nets 
of Alakalii,” i.e., Hyades and Pleiades; she could do so unpunished being 
Makalii’s very own sister; (3) the warriors, in the guise of mice, of 
Llwyd, son of Cil Coed, “who cast enchantment over the seven cantrefs 
of Dyfed ... to avenge Gwawl son of Clud,” in the third branch of the 
Alabinogi. There are more items, to be sure, but we have to leave it 
at that. 

Appendix 7 

We want to stress the point that the haughty verdicts as given by 
Genzmer, Olrik, and others on Snorri’s tale are not unknown to us. Their 
opinions run along these lines: “The last part of the story of Grotti and 
Alysing is ‘How the sea grew salt.’ This is a different motif, in no wise 
connected with the peace of Frothi.” 1 Genzmer’s wording is more 
arrogant still. The transportation of the mill by Alysing and the grind¬ 
ing of salt aboard the ship is “die Anschweissung einer zweiten selb- 
standigen Sage; der grossartig einfache, ahnungsvolle Schluss unserer 
Dichtung wird durch ein solches Anhangsel todlich geschadigt.” 2 

It would be more adequate to state that the myth has been “fatally 
damaged” by the modern experts, and not by Snorri. When we come to 

1 A. Olrik, The Heroic Legends of Denmark (1919), p. 460. 

2 Edda , trans. F. Genzmer (1922), Thule /, p. 181. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 366 

the litrle salr-mill of Kronos, the reader will understand the plot better. 
Olrik (pp. 45 7 f.), however, has some pretty survivals to offer: 

In 1895, Dr. Jakob Jakobsen, the well-known collector of the rem¬ 
nants of the ancient “Norn” language of the Western Islands, was 
informed by an old Shetlander, whose parents had come from the 
Orkneys (Ronaldsev) that near the most northerly of these islands 
there was an eddy called “the Swelki” [that is, Snorri’s svelgr, “sea- 
mill, where the waters rush in through the eye of the mill-stone”]. 
On that spot a mill stood on the bottom of the sea and ground salt; 
and a legend of Grotti-Fenni and Grotti-Menni was connected with 
it. In the course of later investigations in the Orkneys themselves 
(South Ronaldsev) he learned about the sea mill in the Pentland 
Firth grinding salt. In 1909, Mr. A. W. Johnstone was told by a ladv 
from Fair Isle that Grotti Finnie and Lucky Minnie were well known 
in her native island, being frequently invoked to frighten naughty 
children. Although the legend in those parts is in a fragmentary con¬ 
dition, reduced to incoherent survivals, the tenacity of the oral tra¬ 
dition shows how deeply rooted the legend is in these islands. Outside 
of the Orkneys neither Mysing nor his salt mill are known to tradi¬ 
tion except in the songs of the Edda which themselves bear the stamp 
of Western provenience. 

Appendix 8 

Vafthrudnismal 35 is rendered by Gering: “Ungezahlte Winter vor 
der Schopfung / geschah Bergelmirs Geburt. / Als friihestes weiss ich, 
dass der erfahrene Riese / Im Boote geborgen ward.” Simrock translates 
similarly, and he remarks ( Hdb. Dt. Myth., § 9): “Das dunkle Wort 
ludr fur Boot zu nehmen, sind wir sowohl durch den Zusammenhang 
als durch die Mythenvergleichung berechtigt.” 

R. B. Anderson (The Younger Edda [1880], pp. 6of.) translates the 
verse—quoted by Snorri ( Gylf . 7)—as follows: “Countless winters / 
Ere the earth was made, / Was born Bergelmer. / The first I call to 
mind / Flow the crafty giant / Safe in his ark lay.” 

Neckel and Niedner ( Die JUngere Edda , pp. 54L) state that Bergel¬ 
mer and his wife “stieg auf seinen Miihlkasten und rettete sich so.” The 
lines above they render with the words: “Als friihestes weiss ich, dass der 
vielkluge Riese in die FFohe gehoben ward,” adding in a footnote: “Das 
oben mit ‘Mahlkasten’ wiedergegebene Wort iibersetzt man gewohnlich 

367 * Appendices 

mit ‘Boot' oder auch mit TYiege,’ ohne Begriindung und gegen den 
YYortlaut der Prosa. Gegen den gewohnlichen Wortsinn ‘Mahlkasten 
(Muhlsteinbehalter auf Pfosten) spricht nichts. Freilich kennen wir 
den angedeuteten Yorgang des Xaheren nicht und wissen daher auch 
nicht, warum der Riese gehoben (‘gelegt’) werden musste, und wer 
ihn aufhob.” 

The ominous word ludr occurs again in Helgakvida Hundingsbana 
11, 2-4, where Plelge—seeking refuge from king Hunding—works in a 
milk disguised as a female, and almost wrecks the ludr. 

In common with the mythologists who defend the “boat.” in 
Vafthrudnismal 35, feeling entitled to it on account of comparative 
mythology (see Simrock, quoted some lines ago), and whom he fights 
explicitly, Rydberg upholds the notion that the Ark was a ship. It will 
come out later that this general notion is incorrect. 

Appendix p 

As a matter of fact, Simrock already (Handbuch der Deutschen M) - 
tbologie , pp. 240k) ventured to interpret Fengo (Amlethus’ evil uncle) 
as “the grinding." and Amlethus as “the grain”; “wo selbst der Name mit 
Amelmehl [Greek amyloji ], Starkemehl, Kraftmehl ubereinstimmt.” 
He even thought of the possibility (although taking this thought for 
audacious, “gewagt”) to derive the family name of Thidrek’s clan, i.e., 
the name of the Amelunge, from “Amelmehl.” We shan’t dwell upon 
the strange information given by Athenaeus (Deipnosophistai 5.114k) 
about “Achilles, or very fine barley” (cf. Theophr. 8 . 4.2. Aristoph. 
Eq. 819: Achilles cake), or on the surname of Xingishzida. namely 
Zid-zi “Meal of Life” (K. Tallqvist, Akkadiscbe G otter epithet a , p. 406; 
cf. Riemschneider. Augengott , p. 133), and we point only to Ras Shamra 
texts, where the lady Anat ground Mot. (See C. Gordon, Ugarhic 
Literature , p. 45.) H. L. Ginsberg (ANTT, p. 140) translates 1 ab, col. 11: 

She seizes the Godly Mot 
With s-jeords she does cleave him 
With jan she does vcinnov: him 
With fire she does burn him 

I Jam let’s Mill • 368 

With hand-mill she grinds him 
In the field she does sow him. 

Birds cat his remnants 
Consuming his portions 
Flitting from remnant to remnant. 

An astonished footnote states: “But somehow Mot comes to life entire 
in col. vi, and Baal even earlier.” But there is absolutely nothing aston¬ 
ishing enough to shake the firm belief of experts in “chthonic” deities. 

Appendix 10 

For the first Irish harp (emit), see Eugene O’Curry, On the Manners 
and Customs of the Ancient Irish, vol. 5 (1873), pp. 236b; see also Ru¬ 
dolf Thurnevsen, Die irische Helden- und Konigssage bis zum 77. 
Jahrhundert (1921), pp. 264b 

There once lived a couple . . . And the wife conceived a hatred to 
him, and she was flying from him through woods and wilderness; and 
he continued to follow her constantly. And one day that the woman 
came to the sea shore of Camas, . . . she met a skeleton of a whale on 
the strand, and she heard the sounds of the wind passing through the 
sinews of the whale on the strand, and she fell asleep from the sounds. 
And her husband came after her; and he perceived that it was from 
the sounds the sleep fell upon her. And he then went forward into the 
wood, and made the form of a Cruit; 1 and he put strings from the 
sinews of the whale into it; and that was the first Cruit that was ever 

Marbhan’s legend about the beginnings of instruments and verses 

And again Lamec Bigamas had two sons, Jubal and Tubal Cain were 
their names. One son of them was a smith, namely, Jubal; and he dis¬ 
covered from sounds of two sledges (on the anvil) in the forge one 
day, that it was verses (or notes) of equal length they spoke, and he 
composed a verse upon that cause, and that was the first verse that 
was ever composed. 

1 u The word Cruit . . . signifies literally, a sharp high breast, such as of a goose, 
a heron, or a curlew” (O’Curry, loc. cit.). 

369 • Appendices 

The legend goes on to report, why the timpan —another stringed in¬ 
strument, different from the cruit—was called Timpan Naimh (or 
saint’s Timpan), because “at the time that Noah, the son of Lamech, 
went into the Ark, he took with him a number of instruments of 
music into it, together with a Timpan, which one of his sons had, who 
knew how to play it.” When they finally left the ark, Noah caused 
his son to name the instrument after his own name, and only under 
this condition would he give it to him. “So that Noah’s Timpan is its 
name from that time down; and that is not what ye, the ignorant 
timpanists, call it, but Timpan of the saints.” 

We introduce this legend for several reasons; first, because we felt 
reminded at once, as O’Curry did (p. 237), “of Pythagoras, who is 
said to have been led to discover the musical effect of vibrations of a 
chord by observing the sound of various blows on an anvil, though the 
Irish legend . . . does not appear to bear on the tones so much as on 
the rhythm of music.” Second, because here we learn again about two 
successive stringed instruments, separated, so to speak, by a flood; 
Vainamoinen lost his Kantele when going to steal the Sampo, and had 
to construct a new one from wood, afterwards. These traditions must 
be thoroughly compared, one day, with the different lyres of Greece; 
we know that one was destroyed by Apollon—allegedly in a fit of 
repentance—after he had flayed Marsyas, and that Hermes made an¬ 
other one and presented it to Apollon; pike and whale of the northern 
seas have apparently replaced the turtle of Greek myth. We also know 
that the Pleiades, called the Lyre of the Muses by the Orphics, existed 
side by side with Lyra. And iMichael Scotus still knew about a turtle 
figuring, so to speak, as prow of Argo, and “out of which the celestial 
lyre is made.” 2 But before being trapped between the devil and the 
deep sea, we prefer to stop, although this turtle seems to be placed 
exactly there, where it “should” be, considering that upon its back the 
Amritamanthana was accomplished. We shall hear more about that 
considerable and mysterious man, Michael Scotus, later (see p. 258). 

The long and the short of the various traditions is that with a new 
age new instruments, new strings, or, as in the case of Odysseus, a new 
peg are called for: a new “Harmony of the Spheres.” 

2 Testudo eius (navis) est propc quasi prora navis . . . de qua testudine facta 
est lyra cacli. Cf. F. Boll, Sphaera , p. 447. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 370 

Appendix 11 

Christensen, in his work on the Kayanids, 1 states: “La tradition na¬ 
tional fait grand cas du forgeron Kavag, qui s’insurgcait contre Fusur- 
patcur Dahag (le Dahaka dcs Yashts) et hissait son tablier de cuir sur 
tine lance, cc qui fut l’origine du drapeau de Fempire sassanide, appele 
draft e kavyan, ‘drapeau de Kavag.’ Cette legendc, nee d’un malentendu, 
la vraie signification du nom de drafs e kavyan etant ‘le drapeau royal,’ 
est inconnue dans la tradition religieuse.” 

Bv means of such statements—apart from “modestly” insinuating that 
Firdausi spun whole chapters of his Shahnama out of “malentendus”— 
the way to relevant questions is effectively blocked. The story of the 
smith Kavag—also written Kaweh, 2 or Kawa—is told by Firdausi in 
the book dealing with the 1000 years’ rule of Dahak, that fiendish tyrant 
out of whose shoulders grew two serpents 3 that had to be fed with the 
brains of two young men every day. The predestined dragon-slayer, 
and much expected savior, Faridun—Avestan Thraethona—a true pre¬ 
decessor of Kai Khusrau, had been saved from the snares of Dahak as a 
baby, and hidden away in the mountains. When the archdevil Dahak 
claimed the sacrifice of the last son of Kaweh—seventeen sons had 
already been fed to the dragon-heads—the smith started the revolution 
for the sake of Faridun: 

He took a leathern apron, such as smiths 
Wear to protect their legs while at the forge, 

Stuck it upon a spear's point and forthwith 
Throughout the market dust began to rise . . . 

He took the lead, and many valiant men 
Resorted to him; he rebelled and went 
To Faridun. When he arrived shouts rose. 

He entered the new prince's court, who marked 

1 A. Christensen, Les Kayanides (1932), p. 43. 

2 F. Justi, lranisches Namenbuch (1895), p. 160. In the most recent translation of 
the Shahnama (Firdousi: Das Konigsbuch [1967]—so far, only Pt. 1, Bks. 1-5 have 
come out), H. Kanus-Crede boldly identifies the smith Kawa with “awestisch 
Kawata,” i.e., with Kai Kobad, the first Iranian ruler. 

3 Dahak with his two additional serpent heads is the same as the “powerful, rav¬ 
ing Dasa with his 6 eyes and 3 heads” of RV zo.99.6.: Visvarupa, son of Tvashtri, 
and “Schwestersohn der Asura”; cf. Mbh. *2.343 (Roy trans., vol. 10 , p. 572). 

37 i • Appendices 

The apron on the spear and hailed the omen. 

He decked the apron with brocade of Rum 
Of jewelled patterns on a golden ground , 

Placed on the spear point a full moon—a token 

Portending gloriously—and having draped it 
With yellow , red , and violet , he named it 
The Kawian flag. Thenceforth when any Shah 
Ascended to the throne , and donned the crown , 

He hung the worthless apron of the smith 
With still more jewels , sumptuous brocade , 

And painted silk of Chin. It thus fell out 

That Kawa's standard grew to be a sun 

Amid the gloom of night , and cheered all hearts. 

Now, if there was only the “royal” flag to explain, why should Fir¬ 
dausi (or his sources) invent a smith with the name Kaweh (Kavag, 
Kawa), if there was no connection whatever between kingship and the 
smith? Even if we leave out of consideration the widely diffused motif 
of great smiths as foster-fathers and educators of the hero 4 as well as 
the Chinese mythical imperial smiths, and all the material collected by 
Alfoldi in his article on smith as a title of honor among the kings of 
Mongols and Turks: 5 the very name of the dynasty of Iranian kings 
which is of the greatest interest for us, i.e., the Kayanides, is derived 
from Kavi/Kawi. 6 The most “kawian” Shah is Kai Ka’us, whose 
name even contains the relevant word twice, the “Kavi Kavi-Usan,” 
who cannot be separated from Kavy Usa (or Usanas Kavya) of the 
Rigveda and the Mahabharata , 7 who shows several of the decisive char- 

4 To mention only Mimir, Regin, Gobann. Kaweh’s son Kama, by the way, 
whose life was spared thanks to the rebellion, became a famous paladin of Faridun, 
as Wittige/Wittich, son of Waylant the smith, became a strong paladin of Thidrek. 

5 Cf., for Turkish traditions, R. Hartmann, “Ergeneqon,” in Festschrift Jacob 
(1932), pp. 68-79. 

6 For the word kavi, see H. Lommel, Die Ydshts des Avoesta (1927), pp. 171 f.; 
E. Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His World (1947), pp. 100-109. 

7 See Lommel’s article “Kavy U5an,” in Melanges linguistiques offerts a Charles 
Bally (1939), pp. 21 of. That C. Bartholomae ( Altiranisches Worterbuch [1904!, 
col. 405) confesses that he is “unable to find relations” between Iranian Kavi 
Usan and Rigvedian Kavy Usha is a precious gem in the collection of philological 
atrocities. “Falls meine Etymologie richtig ist, entfallt auch die Namensahnlich- 
keit.” Similarity he calls it! It will come out in the course of this essay that his 

Hamlet’s Mill • 372 

acrcrisrics of the Deus Faber. Not alone is he said to have forged the 
w eapon for Indra 8 —instead of Tvashtri—and to have given Soma to 
Indr a who, otherwise, has stolen (or has just drunk) the Soma in the 
“House of Tvashtri" (c.g., RV 5.48.if.), but we are told that, during 
one of the never-ceasing w ars between Asura and Deva for the “three 
worlds," the Asura elected Kavva Ushanas for their “priest” or “mes¬ 
senger," 9 the Deva elected Brihaspati (or Vrihaspati, i.e., Jupiter, in 
Taittiriya Saiihita Agni). Many w*arriors were slain on both sides, but— 
so the Mahabharata tells—“the open-minded Vrihaspati could not revive 
them, because he knew not the science called Sanjivani (re-vivification) 
which Kavva endued with great energy knew so well. And the gods 
w ere, therefore, in great sorrow.” 10 The Bundahishn, in its turn, gives 
the follow ing report in chapter 32, dedicated to “the mansions which 
the Kayans erected with glory, which they call marvels and wonders,” * 11 
in verse n: “Of the mansions of Kay Us one says: ‘One was of gold 
where-in he settled, two were of glass in w hich w ere his stables, and 
two were of steel in which was his flock; there-from issued all tastes, 
and waters of the springs giving-immortality, which smite old-age,— 
that is, w'hen a decrepit man enters by this gate, he comes out as a youth 
of fifteen years from the other gate,—and also dispel death.” According 
to Firdausi, Kai Ka’us had a kind of balm by means of which he could 
have restored Shurab to life, but he did not give it to Shurab’s fathe r 
Rustem who implored him for this gift. 12 To which Lommel remar ks 

proposition to derive the name Usan from “usa- m. (i) Quelle, Brunnen; (2) Ab- 
fluss, Leek . . is no obstacle at all to the understanding of Kavy Usan. Kronos 
too has been derived from Greek krounos , i.e., “source,” “spring” (see Eisler, 
Weltemnantel , pp. 378.,, 385^ reminding us also of the Pythagorean formula con¬ 
cerning the sea: “Kronou dakryon, the tear of Kronos”). 

8 RV 7.51.10; 121.12, 5.34.2, It is particularly the Shushna-myth, where K. V . 
replaces Tvashtri. 

9 Taittiriya Sanhita 2.5.8 (Keith trans., vol. 7, p. 198). 

10 Mbh. 7.76 (Roy trans., vol. 7, p. 185). For this role of Kavva Ushanas, cf. 
Geldner. in R. Pischel and K. F. Geldner, Vedische Studien , vol. 2 (1897), pp. 
166-70; for a life-restoring lake or well, owned by the “wicked Danavas,” see Mbh. 
£.33 (Roy trans., vol. 7, p. 83). In Ireland the Tuatha de Danann were able to 
revivify the slain (in the Second Battle of Mag Tured), the Fomorians were not. 

11 Zand-Akdsih: Iranian or Greater Bundahishn , trans. by B. T. Anklesaria 
(1956), p. 271; cf. Christensen, p. 74. 

12 In the same manner. Lug—the strength and heart of the Tuatha De Danann 
as Krishna was that of the Pandava—denies the revivifying pig’s skin to Tuirill 
who, by means of it, could have restored to life his three sons, Brian, Juchair, and 

373 # Appendices 

(Melanges Bally, p. 212): “Und das ist der hiisslichste Zug im Bilde des 
Kay Kaus, dass er die Herausgabe des Wunderheilmittels verweigert, 
da Rostem und Sohrab, wenn beide am Leben waren, vereint ihm zu 
machtig waren.” It is a rather idle occupation to look for “ugly traits” 
in the “character” of the Demiurge, even if he comes our way in the 
disguise of a Shah. 

These few hints must suffice for now; it is bad enough that the burden 
of “proof” rests with the defenders of sense in our deteriorated century, 
whereas everyone who presupposes non-sense and “malentendus” can 
get away with the most preposterous claims. In other words: even if the 
individual Kaweh/Kavag should have been “invented” by Firdausi, the 
notion of the Deus Faber and Celestial Smith as the disposer and guard¬ 
ian of kingship, 13 as the original and legitimate owner of the “water of 
life,” 14 is by no means an accidental fancy, 15 and the significance and 
meaning of the smith’s apron as “Kawian flag” would have been under¬ 
stood from China to Ireland. 

Appendix 12 

It should be stressed that the disinclination of philologists to allow for 
the “essential” connection of Chronos and Kronos rests upon the stern 
belief that the “god” Saturn has nothing to do with the planet Saturn, 
and upon the supposition that an expert in classical philology has 
nothing whatever to learn from Indian texts. Were it not so, they might 
have stumbled over Kala, i.e., Chronos, as a name of Varna, i.e., Kronos, 
alias the planet Saturn. 

13 To repeat: the “Lord of the Triakontaeteris,” the period of thirty years, i.e., 
the Egyptian and Persian “Royal Jubilee'’ (Saturn’s sidereal revolution), is Ptah- 

14 Also of the intoxicating beverage replacing it; Soma belonged to Tvasthri; Irish 
Goibniu brewed the ale which made the Tuatha De Danann immortal, and the 
beer of the Caucasian smith Kurdalogon played the same role. When Sumerian 
Inanna was almost lost in the underworld, it was Enki who gave to his messengers 
the life-restoring fluid with which to besprinkle the goddess. And, last but not 
least, it is Tane/Kane, the Polynesian Deus Faber, whose are “the Living Waters.” 

15 Leo Frobenius, when accused—as happened sometimes—of having been de¬ 
ceived by African informants who “made up” any amount of fairy tales which 
were not “true,” used to smile benevolently, and to point to what he called 
“stilgerechte Phantasies 

Hamlet’s Mill • 374 

Indians have indeed, written more about their Kala—and the Iranians 
about their Zurvan—than the Greeks about Chronos, but with the 
translated Vedas being what they are, we won’t claim the relevant texts 
to be transparent, nor the scholarly interpretations to be particularly 
elucidating, all of the experts starting, as they do, from the unfounded 
conviction that “astrology” must be a “late” phenomenon. 

To throw “identifications” around, does not lead anywhere, in our 
opinion, so we do not mean to simplify by nailing down, once and for 
all, Kala/Chronos as being the very same as Yama/Kronos/Saturn. To 
recognize Kronos/Saturn as anctor temporum is quite sufficient for the 
time being, 1 and so are the Indian notions, according to which Yama is 
often called Kala; in other passages he is the commander of Kala (and 
Kala, in his turn, the commander of Mrityu, Death). 2 

Kala plays his unmistakable role already in Rigveda 164, but the 
Atharva Veda dedicates to this u god” two whole hymns (19.53 and 
19. 54), and it is worth recalling Eisler’s statement (W eltenmantel, p. 
499): “Zu dieser Kala-Lehres des Atharvaveda ist spater nichts mehr 
dazugekommen; die jiingeren Quellen fiihren nur die Vorstellungen 
weiter aus.” 

Here are some verses from these two hymns dedicated to Kala, 
without the numerous notes and comparisons with other translations, as 
treated by Bloomfield and Whitney (Atharva Veda, trans. by Bloom¬ 
field [1964], pp. 224^): 

19.53: (1) Time, the steed, runs with seven reins (rays), thousand-eyed, 
ageless, rich in seed. The seers, thinking holy thoughts, mount him, all 
the beings (worlds) are his wheels. 

(2) With seven wheels does this time ride, seven naves has he, immor¬ 
tality is his axle. He carries hither all these beings (worlds). Time, the 
first god, now hastens onward. 

(3) A full jar has been placed upon Time; him, verily, we see existing 
in many forms. He carries away all these beings (worlds); they call him 
Time in the highest heaven. 

1 We do not think it is an “accident” that this originator of time begins with the 
letter X, representing the obliquity of the ecliptic in Plato’s Timaeus. 

2 See J. Scheftelowitz, Die Z,eit als Schicksalsgottheit in der indiscloen and irani- 
schen Religion (1929), pp. i8ff. See also Burgess ( Surya Siddhanta , p. 5), who 
generalizes: “To the Hindus, as to us, Time is, in a metaphorical sense, the great 
destroyer of all things; as such, he is identified with Death, and with Yama, the 
ruler of the dead ” 

375 * Appendices 

(4) He surely did bring hither all the beings (worlds), he surely did 
encompass all the beings (worlds). Being their father, he became their 
son; there is, verily, no other force higher than he. 

(5) Time begot yonder heaven, Time also (begot) these earths. That 
which was, and that which shall be, urged forth by Time, spreads out. 

(6) Time created the earth, in Time the sun burns. In Time are all 
beings, in Time the eye looks abroad. . . . 

(8) . . . Time is the lord of everything, he was the father of Prajapati. 

(9) By him this (universe) was urged forth, by him it was begotten, 
and upon him this (universe) was founded. Time, truly, having become 
the brahma (spiritual exaltation), supports Parameshtin (the highest 

(10) Time created the creatures (prajah), and Time in the beginning 
(created) the lord of creatures (Prajapati), the self-existing Kashyapa 
and the tapas (creative fervour) from Time were born. 

/ 57.54: (1) From Time the waters did arise, from Time the brahma 
(spiritual exaltation), the tapas (creative fervour), the regions (of space 
did arise). Through Time the sun rises, in Time he goes down again. 

(2) Through Time the wind blows, through Time (exists) the great 
earth; the great sky is fixed in Time. In Time the son (prajapati) begot 
of yore that which was, and that which shall be. 

(3) From Time the Rks (=the Rig Veda) arose, the Yajus {— the 
Yajur Veda) was born from Time; Time put forth the sacrifice, the 
imperishable share of the gods. 

(4) Upon Time the Gandharvas 3 and Apsarases are founded, upon 
Time the worlds (are founded), in Time this Angiras and Atharvan 
rule over the heavens. 

(5) Having conquered this world and the highest world, and the holy 
(pure) worlds (and) their holy divisions; having by means of the 
brahma conquered all the worlds, Time, the highest God, forsooth, 
hastens forward. 

3 See A. Weber ( Die Vedischen Nachrichten iiber die Nakshatras , Pt. 2, p. 278, 
n. 3) about the Gandharvas as representing the days of the “year” of 360 days, 
according to the Bhagavata Parana 4. 29.21 (Sanyal trans., vol. 2, p. 145); the 
Indians reckoned with several types of “years” at the same time, and so did the 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 376 

W here we alternately read once “beings,” and “worlds,” the San¬ 
skrit word is bhuvana, from the radical bhu- (= Greek phyd-) as dis¬ 
cerned from the radical as-, bhu- meaning “to be” in the sense of per¬ 
petual change, “coming to be and passing away,” as - being reserved for 
the changeless, timeless existence beyond the planetary “instruments of 
time,” the organa chronou of Plato’s Timaeus. As a matter of fact, 
Plato would have understood at once the verbs bhu- and as -, and he 
might well have applauded the utterance of the vanquished Daitya 
KingVali: 4 

“O Indra! Why are you vaunting so much? All persons are prac¬ 
tically urged on by Kala in engaging themselves in an encounter. To 
the heroes, glory, victory, defeat and death gradually come to pass. 
This is the reason that the wise behold this universe as being guided 
by Kala, and they therefore neither grieve nor are elated with joy.” 

Nor is there much “primitive belief” to be squeezed out of such 
statements as “many thousand Indras and other divinities have been 
overtaken by Kala in the course of world periods.” 5 But the classicists 
usually prefer to keep silent about the most revealing sentence of Anaxi¬ 
mander, handed down to us by Cicero (De Natura Deorum 1.25): “It 
is the opinion of Anaximander, that gods are born in long intervals of 
rising and setting, and that they are innumerable worlds (or the —much 
discussed—innumerable worlds. Anaximandri autem opinio est, nativos 
esse deos longis intervallis orientis occidentisque eosque innumerabiles 
esse mundos)”; and if they do not keep silent, they claim it to be 
“much more natural” to understand these intervals as being in space 
than in time (Burnet), by which means every way to understanding is 
effectively blocked. 

This much only for the time being: a broader discussion of Iranian 
Zurvan would wreck our frame; we do not think, however, that Zur- 
van/Chronos represents a “Zoroastrian Dilemma”; to style it thus (with 
Zaehner) is one more mistake: it is not the “beliefs” and “religions” 
which circle around and fight each other restlessly; what changes is the 
celestial situation. 

4 Bhagavata Fur ana 8. u (Sanyal trans., vol. 5, p. 126). 

5 Quoted by Eisler, Weltenmantel, p. 501. What the author (pp. 385L) has to say 
about ‘ anthropomorphic, most primitive empathies” (PEinfiihlungen), connected 
with Ouranos, Ge, Helios and Selene, which are, allegedly, miles away from the 
“step of highly abstract conceptions about eternal Time,” is not only a contra- 
dictio in adjecto, but plain thoughtlessness. 

377 # Appendices 

Appendix 13 

Some say, he bid his angels turn askance 
The poles of earth, twice ten degrees and more 
From the sun's axle, they with labour pushed 
Oblique the centric globe: some say, the sun 
Was bid turn reins from the equinoctial road . . . 

. . . else had the spring 

Perpetual smiled on earth with vernant flowers 
Equal in days and nights, except to those 
Beyond the polar circles; to them day 
Had unbenighted shone; while the low Sun 
To recompense his distance, in their sight 
Had rounded still the horizon, and not known 
Of east or west; which had forbid the snow 
From cold Estotiland, and south as far 
Beneath Magellan. At that tasted fruit 
The sun, as from Thyestean banquet, turn'd 
His course intended; else how had the world 
Inhabited, though sinless, more thait now 
Avoided pinching cold and scorching heat? 

Milton, Paradise Lost, 10 

Appendix 14 

The name Mundilfoeri (Mundel-fere) raises a cluster of problems, and 
nothing is gained by evasive statements such as that given by de Vries 
( Altnord . Etym. Wb., p. 395): u Mundilferi. Name of the father of the 
Moon . . . Mundill . Name of a legendary figure.” 

As concerns mund, feminine, it means “hand” (Cleasby-Vigfusson, 
s.v.), but mund comprises the meaning of tutelage, guardianship (cf. 
German Vor mund). Mund as a neutrum means “point of time, mood, 
humor, measure, and the right time” (de Vries, loc. cit.). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 378 

Mi //hi ill (Mundell) is an unknown “legendary figure,” certainly; we 
should he glad to know what the name indicates precisely, but the spe¬ 
cialists do not tell us. There is a small but promising hint: Gering, in his 
commentan on the Edda (vol. /, p. 168), remarked, “The name occurs 
again among the saekommga heiti Sn. E. II, 154.” Heiti are a kind of 
denominations (Ncckcl renders it “Furnamen”) which the skalds used 
side by side with kemiingar (circumlocutions); the list of “heiti of sea- 
kings” is to be found in the Third Grammatical Tract contained in 
Snorri’s Edda (ascribed to Snorri’s nephew Olaf), and among the 
twenty-four heiti, no. 11 is Mysingr, no. 15 is Mimdill. 1 Everyone who 
is familiar with the many names given to the cosmic personae—specific 
names changing according to the order of time—in Babylonian, Indian, 
Chinese, etc., astronomy, is not likely to fall for the idea that these 
heiti w ere names of historical kings. 2 The consequences resulting from 
the understanding of A lysing and Mundill (together with twenty-two 
more heiti) as representatives of the same cosmic function will not be 
worked out in detail here: he who keeps his eye on the different fords, 
ferrymen, pilots, personified divine ships, and kings of the deep sea that 
cross his path in the course of this essay may eventually work out his 
own solution. As for the word fere (in Mundelfere), Gering feels cer¬ 
tain that it is the same word as OHG ferjo , MHG verge , i.e., ferryman, 
the name meaning “ferryman of Mundell.” Gering refers to Finnur 
Johnsson who understood the mund in the name as “time,” and “ex¬ 
plained the name which he took for the name of the moon, originally, 
as ‘den der bewaeger sig efter bestemte tider,’ ” i.e., somebody who 
moves according to definite times, let us say: according to his timetable 
(or schedule). 

There is no reason at all to take Mundilfori for “originally” the name 
of the moon, this luminary not being the only timekeeper at hand. 
Yafthrudnismal 23 says of the Sun and Moon, the childre/i of Mundil- 
fori , that they circle around the sky serving as indicators of time. 3 

“Ferryman of Time” would make a certain sense, but not enough yet 
to enlighten us about Mundill “himself.” The same goes for Sim- 

1 Den tredje og fjaerde grammathke afhandling i Snorres Edda, ed. by Bjorn 
Alagnusson Olson (1884), III.15 (vol. 2, pp. 154L). 

2 Olson, apparently a hardened euhemerist, stated in a note: “Hoc versu me- 
moriali viginti quatuor nomina archipiratorum sive regulorum maritimorum con- 

3 Gering, loc. cit.: “himen hverfa . . . ‘den Himmel umkreisen’ . . . aldom at 
artale, ‘urn den Alenschen die Zeitrechnung zu ermoglichen.’ Daher fiihrt auch der 
Alond den Namen artale ‘Zeitberechner.’ ” 

379 * Appendices 

rock’s rather imaginative Mundilfoeri = “Achsenschwinger,” i.e., “axis- 
swinger,” but Simrock has at least thought about a sensible meaning, 
and maybe he has hit the mark quite unbeknownst. Ernst Krause, too, 
racked his brains, modestly asking the experts to examine the relation of 
this mundil with Latin mundus . 4 We do not mean to meddle earnestly 
with this particular question, the less so as mundus translated into “the 
world” has become an empty and insignificant word altogether, but it 
certainly is depressing to watch the progressists working out their latest 
“solutions” for Latin mundus, namely, (i) “ornament,” (2) “jewel¬ 
lery of women,” 5 6 without recalling Greek kosmeo which does mean 
also “to adorn,” to be sure, but not “originally,” and not essentially; 
to establish order, especially in the sense of getting an army into line, 
is what kosmeo means, whence kosmos. And we are not entitled to 
give the silliest of all imaginable meanings to such a central word as 

We should like to approach the words in question by means of the 
common objective significance underlying the vast family of word- 
images engendered by the radical manth , math , whence also (Mount) 
Mandara, mandala, Latin mentula (penis), and also our mondull* which 
is supposed to have replaced the older form mandull. True, mandull/ 
mondull is not yet mundill, and mundus is not identical with mandala, 
yet the whole clan of words depends from a central conception stick¬ 
ing firmly to mtit/mnd, and these consonants connote a swirling, drilling 
motion throughout. We are, here, up to a veritable jungle of misunder¬ 
standings, and the closer we look into the “ars interpretandi” of profes¬ 
sionals, the more impenetrable the jungle becomes. But let us try to 
get a shred of sense by laying bare the more or less “subconscious” 
blunders accomplished by the interpreters dealing with the radical 
manth , the heart and center of the Indian Amrita^/z^/^ana, the “Churn¬ 
ing of Ambrosia,” i.e., the Churning of the Milky Ocean in order to 
gain Amrita/Ambrosia, the drink of immortality. It is some sort of 
case history, the “case” being that manth , math appears to have two 
fundamentally different meanings (and some more), fpr which we 

4 Tuisko-Land (1891), p. 326; see also p. 321. 

5 I.e., (1) “Schmuck,” (2) “Putz der Frauen”; see Walde-Hofmann, Lat. Etym. 
Wb., vol. 2 , pp. i26f. 

6 Cf. A. Kuhn ( Die Herabkunft des Feuers und des Gottertranks [1886], p. 116) 
where he refers to Aufrecht: “ mondull m., axis rotarum, cotis rotatilis et similium 
instrumentorum”; ibid, note 2, quoting Egilson: “ mondull m. lignum teres, quo mola 
trusatilis circumagitur, mobile, molucrum; mdndidtre m. manubrium ligneum, quo 
mola versatur.” 

Hamlet’s Mill • 380 

quote Macdonell’s Sanskrit dictionary (p. 218): “ manth —a churning, 
killing, mixed beverage (= the Soma mixture); mantha-ka m. churning 
stick; manth-ana, producing fire by attrition.” On page 214 we find 
s.v. math , manth: “whirl around (agnim), rub (a fire stick), churn, 
shake, stir up, agitate, afflict, crush, injure, destroy, . . . mathita bewil¬ 
dered, . . . strike or tear off, . . . uproot, exterminate, kill, destroy, . . . 
strike or tear off, drag away.” 7 

So far, so good. But why insist on such misleading verbs as “striking” 
or “tearing off,” etc.? Did not we hear about Fenja and Menja who 
“ground out a sudden host” for Frodhi, i.e., Mysing? And this is not an 
isolated instance. We know, for instance, of an extremely relevant Hit- 
tite prayer to the Ishtar of Nineveh who is asked “to grind away from 
the enemies their masculinity, power and health” 8 —the Hittites are 
quite respectable members of the Indo-European family of languages. 
Whether something is gained, or something is lost—peace, gold, health, 
heads, virility, and what else—it is ground out, or ground away, when 
the underlying image is a mola trusatilis; it is drilled out, or drilled 
away, when the motion of the cosmos is understood as alternative mo¬ 
tion, as in the case of the Indian churn. We have sufficient reasons to 
take alternative motion for the older conception, but this is irrelevant 
right here and now; relevant is the general conception, expressed by the 
manifold words engendered by the radical manth / math, that every 
event is due to the rotary motion (whether “true” or alternate, com¬ 
pare appendix #17) of the celestial mill or churn, 9 i.e., of the combined 
motions of the planetary spheres and the sphere of fixed stars. 

At the same moment, when we understand mill and churn as the 
celestial machinery, the stumbling stone of “to drill” versus “to rob, to 
destroy” becomes insignificant, and this is important enough, since it 
helps to clear the decent name of the hotly debated Prometheus. 

7 See also H. Grassmann, Worterbuch zimi Rig-Veda (1955), col. 976L 

8 See L. Wohleb, “Die altromische und hethitische evocatio,” in ARW 2$ (1927), 
p. 209, n. 5: “Ferner mahle den Mannern (namlich des feindlichen Landes) 
Mannheit, Geschlechtskraft(?) Gesundheit weg; (ihre) Schwerter, Bogen, Pfeile, 
Dolch(e) nimm und bringe sie ins Land Chatti.” 

9 We touch only slightly the family of Amlodhi’s kvern; it must be enough to 
state that quairnus means “millstone, mill” in Gothic, whereas Old Norse kirna is 
the churn. Jacob Grimm ( Geschichte der dentsche?i Sprache [1848], p. 47) wanted 
to derive quairnus from zarna, zrno, Lith. girna, Latv. dsirnus = corn, kernel, but 
there seems to be no way from there to English churn, and kirna, the Old Norse 
churn. Kuhn (p. 104) calls attention to Sanskrit curna, ground powder, derived in 
the Petersburger Wb. from carv , to crush, to chew. 

381 • Appendices 

Adalbert Kuhn, surely a great scholar, has dealt broadly with the 
radical nianth , with Mount Mandara, the churning stick used by the 
Asura and Deva for the churning of the Milky Ocean, and he tried 
hard to bring about a happy marriage between this manthana and Greek 
nianthano “to learn,” confronting us with his rather strange opinion of 
what is “natural.” This is what he says (pp. 15ft.): 

Mit der bisher entwickelten Bedeutung der Wurzel manth hat sich 
aber schon in den Veden die aus dem Verfahren naturlich sich ent- 
wickelnde Vorstellung des Abreissens, Ansichreissens, Raubens ent- 
wickelt und aus dieser ist die Bedeutung des Griech. manthdno 
hervorgegangen, welches demnach als ein an sich reissen, sich aneignen 
des fremden Wissens erscheint. Betrachten wir nun den Namen des 
Prometheus in diesem Zusammenhang, so wird wohl die Annahme, 
dass sich aus dem Feuer entziindenden Rauber der vorbedachtige 
Titane erst auf griechischem Boden entwickelt habe, hinlanglich 
gerechtfertigt erscheinen und zugleich klar werden, dass diese Ab- 
straktion erst aus der sinnlichen Vorstellung des Feuer reibers her¬ 
vorgegangen sein konne. Was die Etymologie des Wortes betrifft, so 
hat auch Pott . . . dasselbe auf manthano in der Bedeutung von mens 
provida , provide?itia zurlickgefuhrt . . . , aber er hatte, sobald er das 
tat, das Sanskritverbum nicht unberucksichtigt lassen sollen . . . Ich 
halte daher an der schon fruher ausgesprochenen Erkliirung fest, nach 
welcher Prometheus aus dem Begriff von pramatha, Raub, hervorge¬ 
gangen ist, so dass es einem vorauszusetzenden Skr. pramathyus, der 
Rauberische, Raub liebende, entspricht, wobei jedoch wohl auch 
jener oben besprochene pramantha—i.e. the upright drilling stick— 
auf die Bildung des Wortes mit eingewirkt hat, zumal Pott auch noch 
einen Zeus Promantheus . . . aus Lycophron 537 nachweist, so dass 
in dem Namen auch der Feueranzundende zugleich mit ausgedruckt 

It goes without saying that we do not think it either “natural” or “ob¬ 
vious” to “develop” learning from robbing, or providence from learn¬ 
ing: Prometheus (Lykophron’s Promantheus) -pramantha drilled new 
fire, at a new place, at new crossroads of ecliptic and equator; the 
“gods” did not like that (about which more later). 

Now, pramantha, alias the male fire stick, having the well-known 
naughty connotations, and with the Fecundity-Trust standing around 
the corner, classical philologists fought bitter battles against Kuhn’s 
proposition, for the sake of noble Prometheus who simply should not 
be a fire stick or, worse, the fascinum. The highly emotional classicists 
remained victorious upon the battlefield until very recently, when we 

Hamlet’s Mill • 382 

learn the newest tidings from Mayrhofer, 10 who rules firmly: “ manth , 
‘quirlen’ ist etymologisch von mathmathndti ‘rauben’ (offenbar nasal- 
los) verschieden.” After having dealt with the different meanings of 
the words, already known to us, he continues: “An ausserindischen 
Nachweisen der Vorstufe von ai. math- ‘rauben’ . . . besteht vorerst 
nur die vorsichtig ausgesprochene, aber sehr glaubhafte Zusammenstel- 
lung von ai. pra- math- mit griech. Prometheus, dor. Promatheus 
(Narten) ” 

That is exactly what “progress” means nowadays: that we are offered 
as a brand-new, “cautiously uttered, but very credible connecting of 
Sanskrit pra-math with Greek Prometheus” in 1963, when Kuhn’s sec¬ 
ond edition had been published in 1886. We do not wish to dwell upon 
the claimed “etymological difference” of the radicals manth and math: 
if philologists do not understand a subject, they invent different radi¬ 
cals, which are “mixed” in later times, allegedly, as here math- and 
manth “in post-Vedic times.” 11 

Prometheus was a “pramantha,” as were Quetzalcouatl, Tezcatlipoca, 
the four Agnis, and very many more, drilling or churning with “Mount 
Mandara,” or with Mondull: why not call him Mundilfoeri, the axis- 
swinger? We have, indeed, Altaic stories about one or the other Mun¬ 
dilfoeri “begetting” Sun and Moon. Uno Holmberg states ( Die reli- 
giosen Vorstellungen der altaischen Volker [1938], pp. 22, 63, 8pf.): 

In the myths of the Kalmucks the world mountain—Sumeru, Aleru, 
alias Mandara—appears as the means of creation. The world came 
into being, when four powerful gods got hold of Mount Sumeru, 
and whirled it around in the primordial sea, just as a Kalmuck woman 
turns the churning stick when preparing butter. Out of the vehe¬ 
mently agitated sea came, among others, Sun, Moon, and stars. The 
same significance has, doubtless, the story of the Dorbots, according 
to which once upon a time, before Sun and Moon existed, some being 
began to stir the primordial ocean with a pole of 10,000 furlongs, 
thus bringing forth Sun and Moon. A similar creation is described 
in a Mongolian myth, w here a being coming from heaven—a Lama 
it is supposed to have been, see Holmberg, Finno-Ugric Mythology , 
p. 328—stirs up the primeval sea, until part of the fluid becomes solid. 

10 Kurzgefasstes Etymol. Worterbuch dcs Altindischen , vol. 2 (1963), pp. 567b, 
57 8fL 

11 The worst among the relevant cases is the Greek radical lyk, which the experts 
insist upon being two different ones, i.e., lyk = light, and lyk = wolf, without 
spending a thought on Pythagoras, who taught us: “The planets are the dogs of 
Persephone”; all mythical canines have just everything to do with light. 

383 • Appendices 

These “creation stories” are more or less deteriorated survivals of the 
Amritamanthana, “the incomparably mighty churn,” in the course of 
which one constellation after the other emerged from the wildly agi¬ 
tated Milky Ocean. 12 And the same goes for the “creation” brought 
forth by the Japanese “parents of the world,” who, standing upon the 
Celestial Bridge, stirred with the celestial jewel-spear the primordial sea 
until parts of it thickened and became islands. The Amritamanthana 
survived also in Greece, in the beginning of Iliad 8, and in the myth of 
Plato’s Statesman, and Plutarch spotted it in Egypt: but this subject 
would make another book. The relevant point was, here, to place 
figures as Mundilfoeri, or some surviving Lama, or Vishnu Cakravartin 
on the cosmological stage, where their modes of “creation” make sense. 

12 The collector of merely funny survivals might enjoy the following yarn from 
Switzerland (Grimm, TA 1 , p. 697): “In the golden age when the brooks and lakes 
were filled with milk, a shepherd was upset in his boat and drowned; his body, 
long sought for, turned up at last in the foamy cream, when they were churning, 
and was buried in a cavity which bees had constructed of honeycombs as large as 

Appendix / y 

As concerns the removing of the Pole star, the most drastic version 
is told by the Lapps: 

When Arcturus (alpha Bootis, supposed to be an archer, Ursa Major 
being his bow) shoots down the North Nail with his arrow on the 
last day, the heaven will fall, crushing the earth and setting fire to 
everything. 1 

Other legends prefer to deal with the fate of circumpolar stars, the 
result being the same. 

The Siberian Kirghis call the three stars of the Little Bear nearest the 
Pole star, which form an arch, a “rope” to which the two larger stars 
of the same constellation, the two horses, are fastened. One of the 
horses is white, the other bluish-grey. The seven stars of the Great 
Bear they call the seven watchmen, whose duty it is to guard the 
horses from the lurking wolf. When once the wolf succeeds in killing 

1 U. Holmberg, Finno-Ugric and Siberian Mythology (1964), p. 221. See the 
drawing made by J. Turi in Das Back des Lappen Turi (1912), plate xiv: Arc¬ 
turus = Favtna, Polaris/North Nail = Boaje-naste, or Bohinavlle. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 384 

the horses the end of the w orld will come. I11 other tales the stars of 
the Great Hear are “seven wolves” who pursue those horses. Just 
before the end of the world they will succeed in catching them. Some 
even fancy that the Great Bear is also tied to the Pole Star. When 
once all the bonds are broken there will be a great disturbance in the 
sky. 2 

According to South Russian folklore, a dog is fettered to Ursa Minor, 
and tries constantly to bite through the fetter; wffien he succeeds, the 
end of the world has come. 

Others say that Ursa Major consists of a team of horses with harness; 
every night a black dog is gnawing at the harness, in order to destroy 
the w orld, but he does not reach his aim; at daw T n, w hen he runs to 
a spring to drink, the harness renews itself. 3 

A very strange and apparently stone-old story is told by the Skidi- 
Pawnee about the end and the beginning of the w r orld. 4 

Various portents will precede: the moon will turn red and the sun 
will die in the skies. The North Star is the powder which is to preside 
at the end of all things, as the Bright Star of Evening w T as the ruler 
when life began. The Morning Star, the messenger of heaven, w hich 
revealed the mysteries of fate to the people, said that in the beginning, 
at the first great council wTich apportioned to star folk their stations, 
tw T o of the people fell ill. One of these w r as old, and one w T as young. 
They w T ere placed upon stretchers, carried by stars (Ursa Major and 
Ursa Minor), 5 and the two stretchers w T ere tied to the North Star. 
Now the South Star, the Spirit Star, or Star of Death, comes higher 
and higher in the heavens, and nearer and nearer to the North Star, 
and w T hen the time for the end of life draw r s nigh, the Death Star will 

2 Holmberg, p. 425; cf. Holmberg’s Die religidsen Vorstellungen der altaischen 
Volker (1938), p. 40. 

3 A. Olrik, Ragnarok (1919), pp. 309b The author regards it as “ein neues Motiv, 
dass der Hund am Himmel angebracht ist und mit den Sternbildern zu tun hat. 
Sonst haben wir die Hunde in einem Berg am Ende der Welt.. .” 

4 H. B. Alexander, North American Mythology (1916), pp. n6f. 

5 The Sioux take Ursa Major for a coffin, accompanied by mourners. This pic¬ 
ture is not too “obvious,” so it is significant that Ursa is banat na'sh with the 
Arabs, i.e., the bier and its daughters; the bier is formed by the chest of the wagon, 
El-na’sh, the handle of the Dipper being the daughters. See Ideler, Sternnamen , 
pp. 19b Kunitzsch, Arabische Sternnamen in Europa , p. 149, no. 71, adds that, 
according to Athanasius Kircher, christianized Arabs recognized in the constella¬ 
tion the coffin of Lazarus, followed by the mourners Maryam, Marta, and their 
maid (al-ama). See also Henninger, ZfE 75), p. 81. Due to Islamic influence, the 
constellation is called bintang al'nash , star of the bier, by the people of Minangka- 
bau, Southern Sumatra. (See H. Werner, “Die Verstirnung des Osiris-Mythos,” 
IAfE 16 [1954], P- U4-) 

385 • Appendices 

approach so close to the North Star that it will capture the stars that 
bear the stretchers and cause the death of the persons who are lying 
ill upon those stellar couches. The North Star will then disappear and 
move away and the South Star will take possession of earth and its 
people. The command for the ending of all things will be given by 
the North Star, and the South Star will carry out the commands. Our 
people were made by the stars. When the time comes for all things 
to end our people will turn into small stars and will fly to the South 
Star where they belong/' 

To return to better known provinces, Proclus informs us that the 
fox star nibbles continuously at the thong of the yoke which holds to¬ 
gether heaven and earth; German folklore adds that when the fox 
succeeds, the world will come to its end. 6 This fox star is no other than 
Alcor, 7 the small star g near zeta Ursae Majoris (in India Arundati, the 
common wife of the Seven Rishis, alpha-eta Ursae; see p. 301 about 
Arundati and Elamitic Narundi, sister of the Sibitti, the “Seven*'), 
known as such since Babylonian times. 8 

The same star crosses our way again in the Scholia to Aratus 9 where 
we are told that it is Electra. mother of Dardanus, who left her station 
among the Pleiades, desperate because of Ilion's fall, and retired “above 
the second star of the beam . . . others call this star ‘fox/ ” 

This small piece of evidence may show the reader two things: (1) 
that the Fall of Troy meant the end of a veritable world-age. (For the 
time being, we assume that the end of the Pleiadic age is meant; 
among various reasons, because Dardanos came to Troy after the third 
flood, according to Nonnos.); (2) that Ursa Major and the Pleiades 
figuring on the shield of Achilles, destroyer of Troy, have a precise 
significance, and are not to be taken as testimony for the stupendous 
ignorance of Homer who knew none but these constellations, as the 

6 (Proklos ad Hesiod, opp. 382) Boll and Gundel, in Roscher s.v. Sternbilder, 
col. 876. 

7 For the name Alcor, and its tradition, see Kunitzsch, pp. 12 jf. 

s See F. X. Kugler, S.J.. Ergdnzungsheft zwn 1. u. 2 Buck (1935), pp. 55!.: P. F. 
Gdssmann, Flanetariuvi Babylonicimi: “The star at the beam of the wagon is the fox 
star: Era, the powerful among the gods. In astrological usage, it represents above 
all the planet Mars/Nergal.” See also E. F. Weidner, Hand buck Baby}. Astr. 
(1915), p. 141; E. Burrows, S.J., ‘The Constellation of the Wagon and Recent 
Archaeology,'* in Festschrift Dewiel (1935), pp. 34. 36. The said Xergal, i.e.. Mars, 
to whom “belongs" Alcor in the Series mul APIN, starts the first flood, as we 
learn from Umapishtim—see p. 297—under the name of Era. he succeeds in starting 
a new one, according to the Era-Epos. 

9 257; E. Maass, Covmtentariorum in Araticm Reliquae (1898), p. 391, 11 . 3ft. 

Hamlet’s Mill • 386 

specialists want us to believe. There are, indeed, too many traditions 
connecting Ursa and the Pleiades with this or that kind of catastrophe 
to be overlooked. Among the many we mention only one example from 
later Jewish legends, some lines taken out of a most fanciful description 
of Noah’s flood, quoted by Frazer: 10 

Now the deluge was caused by the male waters from the sky meeting 
the female waters which issued forth from the ground. The holes in 
the sky by which the upper waters escaped were made by God when 
he removed stars out of the constellation of the Pleiades; and in order 
to stop this torrent of rain, God had afterwards to bung up the two 
holes with a couple of stars borrowed from the constellation of the 
Bear. That is why the Bear runs after the Pleiades to this day; she 
wants her children back, but she will never get them till after the 
Last Day. 

10 Folk-Lore in the Old Testament (1918), vol. /, pp. 143!. 

Appendix 16 

For Hallinskidi see Reuter, p. 237; Simrock, Handbuch, p. 277; 
Gering ( Edda trans., p. 320): “gebogene Schneeschuhe habend.” Much 
(in Festschrift Heinzel , p. 259), connecting -skidi with Celtic sketo, 
skeda (English: humerus, scapula) and taking halle for “stone,” ventures 
to propose the reconstruction “he with the stone shoulder . . . which 
would presuppose a similar story as that about Pelops and his ivory 

As concerns mjdtvidr, A. V. Strom renders vol. 2: 1 

Ich erinnere mich neun Welten 
Neun im Baume (oder neun Heime), 
des ruhmvollen Massbaums 
unter der Erde . 

And he quotes Hallberg’s statement: “Der Baum selbst ist das Mass fur 
die Existenz der umgebenden Welt—in der Zeit.” 2 The last remark goes 

1 “Indogermanisches in der Voliispa,” Nnmen 14 (1967), pp. 173. 

2 Why the author, in this excellent article, drags in “ecstatic visions,” remains 
incomprehensible, unless we prefer to call every account of astronomical situa¬ 
tions ecstatic visions,” which would be a true miotvidr to measure the vast abyss 
between sciences and humanities in our time. 

387 # Appendices 

without saying, mythic measures are time measures, generally, but this 
fact is so seldom recognized that this white raven has to be welcomed 
enthusiastically. The “localization under the earth” points to the (in¬ 
visible) South of the world, as will come out later. By which we do not 
mean to say we understood the enigmatical picture of this measuring 

Now, Heimdal and Loke, perpetual enemies as they are, kill each 
other at Ragnarok, but Heimdal’s death is accomplished by means of 
a very strange weapon, i.e., by a “head.” Snorri’s Skaldskaparmal 8 (see 
also 69) offers an ambiguous kenning: “Heimdal’s head is the sword, 
or, the sword is Heimdal’s head,” 3 or we learn that the sword was 
called “miotudr Heimdaler,” and that is, according to Jacob Grimm, 4 
“the measurer (sector, messor).” Thus, Heimdal measures—or is he 
measured?—by means of a sword that is also said to be his very own 
head. Strange goings-on, indeed. Ohlmarks 5 declared the sword to be 
the Sun—a pleasant change for once, otherwise everything and every¬ 
body is the Moon, with him—but although the measuring instrument, 
whether the “golden rope” or not,, usually is the sun (see p. 154 on Va- 
runa, and p. 246 on Theaethetus 153c [the latter is by Plato]), we have 
the suspicion that the case of Heimdal’s head/sword is more compli¬ 
cated, and that it may not be settled until we know much more about 

3 Heimdalur hoefut heidr sverdh-, cf. Simrock, Handbuch , pp. 272b 

4 TM, p. 22 (see also p. 1290); the English translation says “the wolf’s head, 
with which Heimdal was killed,” but the original ( Deutsche Mythologies p. 15) 
does not mention a wolf. 

5 Heimdalls Horn (1937),?. 151. 

Appendix 1 7 

To prevent rash critics from hurling into our faces the—maybe they 
will style it thus—“complete absence of technological knowledge,” we 
hasten to assert that the relevant inquiries are not as foreign to us as 
they might assume. 1 Curwen might point to his enlightened sentence: 

1 To mention only a few useful titles: Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation 
in China , vol. 4, Pt. II, (1965); Gordon Childe’s chapter on “Rotary Motion,” in 
Singer et al., eds., A History of Technology , vol. 1 (1954), pp. i87ff.; Hugo Theo¬ 
dor Horwitz, “Die Drehbewegung in ihrer Bedeutung fur die Entwicklung der 

Hamlet’s Mill • 388 

\Vc are, happily, emerging from that state of blissful ignorance of the 
subject which made possible such an anachronism as Decamps’ well- 
known picture of “Samson grinding in the Prison-house,” wherein 
Samson is seen turning a huge mill-stone by means of a long lever 
like a capstan-bar, after the fashion of the Roman slaves a thousand 
years later. * 2 

There arc, indeed, “a number of reasons for questioning the common 
belief that grainmills were rotary,” as Moritz states (p. 53). And 
whereas Forbes (Studies in Ancient Technology, vol. 3, p. 155, n. 3) 
votes for “rotary querns ... in Assyrian times,” Lynn White (p. 108) 
says: “But while continuous rotary motion was used in this large mola 
versatilis and, of course, in the water mill which appears in the first 
century b.c., it is by no means clear how early such a motion was used 
with querns,” which is certainly true. That true rotary motion was 
used with the potter’s wheel much earlier is unquestionable, which is 
the more relevant, as the potter’s wheel, too, belongs to the cosmological 
instrumentation, e.g., in the hands of Ptah and Khnum. Decisive is the 
Ancient Egyptian instrument for drilling out stone vessels, which was 
perhaps even cranked, but there is no unanimity among the historians 
of technology as to the real nature of this device. In this case and in 
that of the mill, the accent goes with “true” rotary motion, because 
there are two kinds of rotary motion, to which we quote Gordon 
Childe (Singer, p. 187) on the difference “between continuous, true and 
complete rotary motion, and partial or discontinuous rotary motion. 
For true rotary motion, the revolving part of the instrument must be 
free to turn in the same direction indefinitely . There are, however, a 
number of processes which involve a partial turn of the instrument, such 
as boring and drilling by hand. There are even machines like the bow- 
drill or the pole-lather which allow a number, but only a limited num¬ 
ber, of complete revolutions of the revolving part. Partial rotary motion 
of this sort has been used by man much longer than true rotary motion.” 

Now, we do not wish to suppress White’s footnote (p. 109), where 
he claims Fenja’s and Menja’s Grotte to have been an apparatus involv¬ 
ing alternative motion, “no doubt.” This might be the case, although we 

materiellen Kultur,” Anthropos 28 (1933), 29 (1934). John Storck and Walter 
Dorwin Teague, Flour for Man's Bread: A History of Milling (1952); Lynn 
White, Medieval Technology and Social Change (1962)—this title is a grotesque 

2 ‘Querns,” Antiquity 11 (1937), PP- i33f- See also L. A. Moritz, Grain-Mills and 
Flour in Classical Antiquity (1958), p. 12—he makes it a medieval mill. 

389 • Appendices 

do not agree with the “no doubt”: several doubts are permitted. We 
shall abstain, however, from discussing this and similar questions as long 
as we do not understand precisely and thoroughly how the “Churning 
of the Milky Ocean” was thought to work, in India, and in Egypt, 
where the specialists insist upon calling the celestial churn a “symbol of 
uniting the two lands,” and in the survivals in Homer and Plato. For the 
time being we do think that the oldest technological device used in 
cosmological terminology was, indeed, a churn or a drill, implicating 
alternative motion. 

The point is this: whether or not Samson, or Fenja and Menja, waited 
on an oscillating quern or on a true rotary mill is a cosmological ques¬ 
tion, and will hardly be decided by historians of technology. To illus¬ 
trate this, we have a look at that “mill” of the Cherokee Indians, men¬ 
tioned in the chapter on the Galaxy, where it is told that “people in the 
South had a corn mill,” from which meal was stolen again and again; 
the owners discovered the thief, a dog, who “ran off howling to his 
home in the North, with the meal dropping from his mouth as he ran, 
and leaving behind a white trail where now we see the Milky Way, 
which the Cherokee call to this day . . . ‘Where the dog ran.’ ” In his 
supplementary notes (p. 443), Afooney explains: “In the original ver¬ 
sion the mill was probably a wooden mortar, such as was commonly 
used by the Cherokee . . Well, in the “original version,” as told by 
the Cherokee , we may rely on their talking of a mortar—but certainly 
not in the truly “original” myth. There is no possible way whatsoever 
of “developing” out of “primitive” mortars (or grindstones) cosmologi¬ 
cal imagery; in other words: the Cherokee mortar is a “deteriorated” 
mill (whether oscillating or not). 

The cosmic machine (mill, drill, or churn) produces periods of time, 
it brings about the “separation of heaven and earth,” etc. Along the wav 
of diffusion into unfamiliar surroundings, particularly tropical ones 
(lacking grain, plow culture, etc.), the Mill (or churn) ceases to be 
understood, while the memory sticks to an instrument for crushing 
foodstuff. And, suddenly, we are told in several continents how Heaven, 
who once was lying closely upon Earth, withdrew in anger because 
of women who, busy with their mortars, kept bumping with their 
pestles against Heaven’s body. An extremely pointless idea, the origin 
of which is only to be understood when we follow it back to the highly 
complicated machinery which stood at its beginning (historically as 
well as “sinngemass”), and begot quite innocently such strange off¬ 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 390 

Although \vc do not like to apply strictly scientific models to his¬ 
torical phenomena, here we abuse the case of entropy: to derive Grotte 
(the Amritamanthana, etc.) from those utterly nonsensical females 
bumping their pestles against “Heaven” would be on the same level as 
to derive the original substances from the state of randomly mingled 

These minima only for the technological problem. We keep these 
questions under lock and key on purpose, and not because it has not 
dawned upon us that the technological aspect is a very important one. 
On the contrary, we nurse the suspicion that next to nobody has an 
idea of the huge difficulties that arise with churn, mill, and fire drill, if 
one understands them properly as machines which were meant to de¬ 
scribe the motions of nested spheres. 

Appendix 18 

Compare Popol Vith: The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiche Maya 
(Eng. trans. by D. Goetz and S. Alorley, [1951], pp. 99-102). As con¬ 
cerns the escape of Zipacna, compare the distribution map, given by 
Frobenius ( Paideuma 1 [1938], p. 8, map 3—“Der Lausbub im Haus- 

For the whole motif of pillars and houses pulled down, compare 
Eduard Stucken, Astralmythen (1896-1907): pp. 73F for the death of 
Nebrod, according to Cedrenus—of Cain, according to Leo Gram¬ 
maticus Chron. p. 8 (Kain, hos legei Aloyses, tes oikias pesouses ep’auton 
eteleutesen); pp. 329L for the case of Susanowo; p. 348 for Turkish 
Depe Ghoz; pp. 402f. for Zipacna; there, he also wants to incorporate 
Job 1.18. Stucken’s complete blindness to the mere existence of planets 
has prevented him from better understanding; thus, he claims for the 
case of Job 1.18: “Auch hier ist die Orion-Gottheit (Satan-Ahriman), 
welche den Hauseinsturz verursacht, um die Plejaden-Gottheit (Hiob) 
zu ziichtigen.” This blindness is the more astonishing as Stucken has 
read Eisenmenger’s huge opus, “Entdecktes Judenthum” (1711), where 
he should have detected the identity (as claimed by rabbinical litera¬ 
ture) of the planet Mars with the serpent in Paradise, with Kain, Esau, 
Abimelech, Goliath, Sammael, the Scape-Goat, and many others. 

39 i * Appendices 

Appendix ip 

A remarkable amount of information about submarine creatures is 
contained in Mansikka’s inquiry into Russian magic formulae, already 
mentioned; 1 intermingled as the material is with the author’s rather vio¬ 
lent “interpretatio Christiana,” it is well-nigh impossible to lay one’s 
hands on the bare facts. This much can be said, however: in the middle 
of the “Blue Sea” (or “the middle of the whole earth”), there is either 
(a) an island—most of the time called Bujan, from the same radical as 
buoy—“the center of celestial power,” upon which there is a tree, or 
a stone, or a tree upon a stone, sometimes the cross or the “mountain 
of Zion” itself; 2 or there is (b) the “White Altar-Stone,” which is a 
“fiery” one, lying in the navel of the sea without being supported by 
an island; under this stone, there is “a green fire, the king of all fires,” 
or an “eternal, unquenchable fire” that “has to be procured from under 
the stone” (Mansikka, p. 188—we are not told for what purpose the 
fire has to be fetched from there; the text says only “for burning”). 
Sometimes it is said that upon this stone—regardless of its being “holy” 
and the “Stone of the Altar,” and even “Christ’s Throne”—was the 
“habitation of the Devil himself”; 3 in other formulae the point is stressed 
that this fire “scorches and burns the decayed and impure power of 
the devil” (i.e., “die verfallene, unreine Macht des Teufels,” where “ver- 
fallen” may mean either “decayed” or “forfeited”). As long as this 
unquenchable fire remains safely under a stone, nothing dangerous is 
going to happen; accordingly, a German formula (Mansikka, p. 37) 
says: “In Christ’s Garden there is a well, in the well there is a stone, 
under the stone lies a golden snake.” That snake can also be a scorpion, 
as we have just seen (footnote 3). 

1 Vber russische Zauberformeln (1909), pp. 168-213: “The Sea, the Stone, the 
Virgin Mary.” 

2 Thus it is said that “upon the mountains of Zion, upon the white stone stands 
the pillar and the altar of Christ,” or, “a pillar from the earth to heaven.” In a 
prayer Christ is addressed: “O, thou deadly stone pillar” (o, du todliche Steinsaule, 
Mansikka, p. 187). 

3 Mansikka, p. 189; see also the formula on pp. 35b: “Es gibt ein heiliges 
Meer Ozean, in seiner Mitte liegt ein weisser stein, aus dem weissen Stein kommt 
eine grimmige Schlange, der Skorpion, hervor ... In dem teuflischen Sumpf liegt 
der weisse Stein Latyr; auf dem weissen Stein Latyr aber sitzt der leibhaftige 

I Iamlet’s Mill • 392 

The Mordvinians 4 have a long story to tell about God, Tsham-Pas, 
who was rocking to and fro upon a stone in the primordial sea, thinking 
deeply about how to create the world and how to rule it afterward, and 
complaining: “1 have neither a brother nor a companion with whom to 
discuss the matter.” Angrily he spat into the sea, the spittle turned into 
a large mountain from which emerged Saitan and offered himself as part¬ 
ner in the discussion. Tsham-Pas sent his new companion to the bottom 
of the sea to fetch sand, admonishing him to mention his (God’s) name 
before touching the sand. Saitan did not do so, and was burned heavily 
by the flames which came out of the bottom of the sea; this happened 
twice, and Tsham-Pas warned Saitan that, should he not mention the 
divine name when diving for the third time, the flames would consume 
him completely. The bad companion obeyed and brought, finally, the 
sand necessary for the creation. But since he could not abstain from 
playing tricks, God chased him away, saying: “Go away to the bottom 
of the sea, to the other world, in that fire that burned you when you 
were too proud to mention the name of your creator. Sit there and 
suffer for all eternity.” 

In India, where the word “eternity” is not applied as thoughtlessly 
as in European legends, the Harivamsa tells us the following about the 
offspring of the sage Aurva (i.e., “born from the thigh,” mu), as we 
hear from Dowson: 5 6 

The sage was urged by his friends to beget children. He consented, 
but he foretold that his progeny would live by destruction of others. 
Then he produced from his thigh a devouring fire, which cried out 
with a loud voice, ‘I am hungry; let me consume the world.’ The 
various regions were soon in flames, when Brahma interfered to save 
his creation, and promised the son of Aurva a suitable abode and 
maintenance. The abode was to be at Badava-mukha, the mouth of 
the ocean; for Brahma was born and rests in the ocean, and he and the 
newly produced fire were to consume the world together at the end 
of each age, and at the end of time to devour all things with the gods, 
Asuras, and Rakshasas. The name Aurva thus signifies, shortly, the 
submarine fire. It is also called Badavanala and Samvarttaka. It is 
represented as a flame with a horse’s head, and it is also called Kaka- 
dhwaya, from carrying a banner on which there is a crow. 

In the Alahabharataf this story is told by the Rishi Vasishtha (zeta 
Ursae Alajoris) in order to appease his grandson, who likewise wished 

4 O. Dahnhardt, Natursagen (1907-1912), vol. /, pp. 60-62. 

5 J- Dowson, A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology (8th ed. 1953), pp. 32b 

6 AIbh. /.180-82 (Roy trans., vol. /, pp. 410-14). 

393 * Appendices 

to destroy the whole world without delay: “Then, o child, Aurva cast 
the fire of his wrath into the abode of Varuna. 7 And that fire which 
consumeth the waters of the great Ocean, became like unto a large 
horse’s head which persons conversant with the Vedas call by the name 
of Vadavamukha. And emitting itself from that mouth it consumeth 
the waters of the mighty ocean.” 

This fiery horse’s head guides the curious straight into the mazes of 
the Mahabharata and the Shatapatha Brahmana where they are most im¬ 
penetrable because they deal with the enigmatic story of the Rishi 
Dadhyank, whose horse’s head was dwelling in Lake Saryanavant, after 
it had revealed the “secret of madhu” (madhuvidya; madhu — honey 
mead) to the Ashvins, the Dioscures, 8 and out of whose bones (the 
bones of the horse’s skull) Tvashtri forged the thunderbolt for Indra, 
thus enabling him to slay “the 99 vritras” 9 —as Samson killed the Philis¬ 
tines with the jaw-bone of an ass—whereas Vishnu used this head to 
reconquer the Vedas that had been carried away by two Daityas during 
one of those time-swallowing “Yoga-sleeps” of Vishnu. Bereft of the 
Vedas , Brahma, to whom they served as “eyes,” was unable to continue 
the work of creation, so that he implored the Lord of the universe to 
awake. “Praised by Brahma, the illustrious Purusha . . . shook off his 
slumber, resolved to recover the Vedas (from the Daityas that had 
forcibly snatched them away). Applying his Yoga-puissance, he as¬ 
sumed a second form . . . He assumed an equine head of great efful¬ 
gence, which was the abode of the Vedas. The firmament, with all its 
luminaries and constellations, became the crown of his head . . . Having 
assumed this form endued with the equine head . . . the Lord of the 
universe disappeared then and there, and proceeded to the nether 
regions” 10 —to return with the Vedas , successfully, and resuming his 
sleep, as goes without saying. 

In other words, the “equine head” is as important a “form” of Vishnu 
as an enigmatical one, so much so, in fact, that the more “popular” tra¬ 
dition seems to ignore it, although the Great Epic tells us the following: 

7 “The water from which the world took its origin,” according to H. G. Jacobi, 
Mahabharata (1903), p. 20. 

8 Cf. RV 7.116.12; SB (Eggeling trans., vol. 5, pp. 444k); Saunaka’s 
Brihad Devata 5.16.25 (Macdonell trans., vol. 2, pp. 82-85). 

9 Cf. RV 7.84.13; Mbh. 72.343 (R°y trans., vol. 70, p. 578). Compare for the 
whole tradition, K. Ronnow, “Zur Erklarung des Pravargya, des Agnicayana und 
des SautramanI,” in Le Monde Oriental (1929), pp. 113-73; see a l so A. Keith, “In¬ 
dian Mythology,” MAR 6 (1917), pp. 61, 64. 

10 Mbh. 72.348 (Roy trans., vol. 70, p. 605). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 394 

In days of \ore, for doing good to the world, Narayana [Vishnu] 
took birth as the great Rishi Vadavamukha [see above, Aurva’s son, 
the mouth of the ocean, Vadavamukha]. While engaged in practising 
severe austerities on the breast of Aleru, he summoned the Ocean to 
his presence. The Ocean, however, disobeyed his summons [Greek 
Ok can os, too, was in the habit not to make his appearance, when Zeus 
summoned everybody to assemble.] Incensed at this, the Rishi, with 
the heat of his body, caused the waters of the Ocean to become as 
saltish in taste as the human sweat. The Rishi further said, ‘Thy 
water shall henceforth cease to be drinkable. Only when the Equine- 
head, roving within thee, will drink thy waters, they will be as sweet 
as honey.’—It is for this curse that the waters of the Ocean to this 
day arc saltish to the taste and are drunk by no one else than the 
Equine head. 11 

The translator, Pratap Chandra Roy, remarks in a footnote (p. 583), 
without referring to the first book of the epic: 

The Hindu scriptures mention that there is an Equine-head of vast 
proportions which roves through the seas. Blazing fires constantly 
issue from its mouth and these drink up the sea-water. It always makes 
a roaring noise. It is called Vadava-mukha. The fire issuing from it 
is called Vadava-nala. The waters of the Ocean are like clarified but¬ 
ter. The Equine-head drinks them up as the sacrificial fire drinks 
the libations of clarified butter poured upon it. The origin of the 
Vadava fire is sometimes ascribed to the wrath of Urva, a Rishi of 
the race of Jamadagni. Hence it is sometimes called Aurvya-fire. 

None of the authorities quoted hitherto thought it worth mentioning 
where this Vadava-mukha was supposed to be. Only when checking the 
word in Macdonell’s Practical Sanskrit Dictionary (p. 267) did we learn 
—exactly as foreseen, although Macdonell means a terrestrial South 
Pole, presumably—that “vadaba, f. = mare; Vivasvat’s wife, who in 
the form of a mare became the mother of the Ashvins . . . vadaba-agni, 
m. submarine fire (supposed to be situated at the south pole) . . . 
vadaba-mukha, n. mare’s mouth = entrance of hell at the south pole.” 

We are not likely to change these dark plots into a lucid and coherent 
story by dealing, here and now, more closely with Dadhyank, whose 
name is said to mean “milk-curdling,” and who is a “producer of Agni,” 
and by comparing the several characters who are accused of swallowing 
up the ocean: we only hope to guide the attention to one among the 
many unperceived concrete problems. 

11 Albh. 12 .343 (Roy trans., vol. /o, p. 583). 

395 # Appendices 

We might be suspected of proposing to identify the sea-swallowing 
horse’s head w ith the equally thirsty Agastya-Canopus, 12 just to simplify 
the situation, and there are factors which invite such a “solution.” 13 But 
the horse is the animal of Mars, and it is “the khshatriya Apam Napat 
with the swift horses” who “seizes the hvarnah,” hiding it in the “bot¬ 
tom of the deep sea, the bottom of the deep lake”: 14 the “nephew” 
(napat) of the waters (apam), and not the original (and highest) ruler 
of the “mouth of the ocean,” alias pi narati, “the confluence of the 
rivers,” i.e., Canopus, which the Tahitians of old called “Festivity-from- 
whence-comes-the-flux-of-the-sea” (T. Henry, Ancient Tahiti [1928 ], 
p. 363). Aurva’s frightening son is, moreover, a “newly produced fire,” 
as we have heard, and Apam Napat is by no means the one and only 
“Agni”; the Rigveda knows of four “fires,” Agnis, allegedly consumed 
by the sacrificial service, one after the other. No valid insight is likely 
to be gained before we cease to disregard the only mythical dimension 
that counts: time. 

Horses’ heads not being connected with deep waters quite “natu¬ 
rally,” we might close with some stories collected by Jacob Grimm 
(TAd, pp. 597T) which go to show that 

Lakes cannot endure to have their depth gauged. On the Mummelsee , 
when the sounders had let down all the cord out of nine nets with a 
plummet without finding a bottom, suddenly the raft began to sink, 
and they had to seek safety in a rapid flight to land ... A man went 
in a boat to the middle of the Titisee, and payed out no end of line 
after the plummet, when there came out of the waves a terrible cry: 
“Measure me, and I’ll eat you up!” In a great fright the man desisted 
from his enterprise, and since then no one has dared to sound the 

12 See p. 263. Cf. also Varahamihira, The Brihad Sanhita , trans. by H. Kern, in 
JRAS 5 (1871), p. 24. For a related and very peculiar legend of the Maori, see 
The Lore of the Whare-wananga , trans. by S. Smith, in Mem. Polynesian Soc. 5 
(1913), pp. 156f., 164, and M. Makemson, The Morning Star Rises: An Account 
of Polynesian Astronomy (1941), p. 157, for a summary. There, the heavenly 
waters of Rangi-tamaku (i.e., the sky which lies directly above the visible one) be¬ 
came overheated and evaporated, so that whole tribes of celestial fish had to emi¬ 
grate by descending on the “Road of the Spider,” where they met Tawhaki 
ascending on his expedition to avenge his father. 

13 E.g., Stephanus of Byzantium mentions a temple of Poseidon-Canopus; see P. 
Casanova, “De quelques Legendes astronomiques Arabes,” in BIFAO 2 (1902), p. 11. 

14 Yasht 19.5 1; see E. Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His World (1947), p. 571; to the 
Iranian conceptions one has to compare the Rigvedian hymn dedicated to Apam 
Napat (RV 2. 25), where he is said to “shine in the waters,” blazing unquenchably, 
the driver of horses (2. 35.5: “Er hat sich in den Gewassern—apsu—ausgestreckt” 
. . . 2.35.6: “Dort ist der Geburtsort des Rosses und dieser Sonne”). 

Hamlet’s Mill • 396 

depth of the lake . . . There is a similar story . . . about Huntsoe, that 
some people tried to fathom its depth with a ploughshare tied to the 
line, and from below came the sound of a spirit-voice: “i maale vore 
vagge, vi ska I maale jeres lagge!” Full of terror they hauled up the 
line, but instead of the share found an old horse’s skull fastene