IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER I spoke of human life as contained within a cultural envelope that insulates it from nature, and said that the verbal part of this envelope is, or at least starts out as, a mythology. A mythology is made up of myths, and so I should first of all try to explain what the word myth means in the sense, or senses, in which I shall be using it. As a literary critic, I want to anchor the word myth in its critical context. Myth to me, then, means first of all mythos or narrative, words arranged in a sequential order. Every structure in words designed for sequential reading, which excludes practically no structures except telephone books, has a narrative, a mythos, a sequential ordering that begins, in our culture, on the top left-hand corner of page one and ends at the bottom right-hand corner of the last page. Naturally there is a great variety of myths or narratives: some are stories, some arguments, some descriptions, and so on.

However, the use of the term in so broad and general a sense would entangle us in a discussion of the different shapes that language and thought assume, which enable a [28] myth in some contexts to take the form of an argument or a description. We have no time for that, so I shall restrict the word myth to its more familiar sense of culturally early narratives, which come from a time when concepts and arguments and abstractions had not yet appeared in language. Such myths are stories, or sequential acts of personified beings. Every culture produces a mythology of this concrete kind, and it is out of the story patterns contained in such a mythology that literature develops.

My own interest in myth begins with its literary development: to me a literary myth is not a contaminated myth but a matured one. In my perspective as a literary critic the 'real meaning' of a myth emerges slowly from a prolonged literary life, and then its meaning includes everything it has effectively been made to mean during that life. What the Song of Songs 'really means,' for example, is not confined to the village wedding songs and late echoes of fertility ritual out of which it may have originated, but includes what it has been made to mean in Bernard of Clairvaux and St John of the Cross, where it expresses the love of Christ for his people. Theoretically, there is no analogy between a myth and a species: a poet can do what he likes with his myth, and can marry it to any other myth and still produce imaginative offspring. But what is theoretically possible and what poets actually do seem to be different: in practice, poets show a great respect for the integrity of the myths they treat. Samuel Butler remarked that a chicken was merely an egg's device for producing more eggs; similarly, a poet often seems to be merely a myth's device for reproducing itself again in a later period.

Anthropologists, on the other hand, and others who are interested primarily in the immediate social and cultural [29] functions of myths, find myths most useful to them at the earliest possible stage, before the free play of the creative imagination has begun to turn them into what we think of as literature. The distinction between myth and literature is strictly speaking impossible, as no myth can exist except in some sort of narrative formulation, but still it is possible to isolate, in some cultures, what is essentially a pre-literary mythology. In the highly developed cultures surrounding the Bible the problem hardly exists. Myth and literature are already indistinguishable in the Gilgamesh epic, which is much older than any part of the Bible.

But the Bible is exceptional in having a strongly doctrinal emphasis, in its story of creation, which is clearly not intended to be primarily literary or imaginative. What it is intended to be will, I hope, become clearer as we go on, but we have to approach it first on the poetic level all the same. The status of the opening of Genesis as a factual historical record is no longer an issue for many of us, and to try to accept it as one is merely running scared. To go back to the argument of Oscar Wilde's essay on 'The Decay of Lying' discussed in the previous chapter, it is only when the creation story is considered factually false that it can be of any conceivable use to us. The hero of Eliot's Family Reunion complains that his family understands 'only events, not what has happened.' It is myth, and only myth, that tells us what has happened.

It becomes clear in many modern studies of myth, such as those of Mircea Eliade, that it is only when a myth is accepted as an imaginative story that it is really believed in. As a story, a myth becomes a model of human experience, and its relation to that experience becomes a confronting and present experience. The truth of the story of the fall of Adam [30] and Eve does not depend on the possibility that an archaeologist may eventually dig up their skeletons. It depends on its power to convey the present sense of alienation in human consciousness, the sense of being surrounded by a nature not ours. Such a myth bears the same relation to the law in the first five books of the Bible that a parable of Jesus bears to the teaching of the gospel.

Milton's Paradise Lost is a poem about the creation of the world and the fall of man written by a poet convinced of the factual reliability of the Biblical story. Yet even Milton draws a distinction between the kind of instruction that the unfallen Adam receives from Raphael and the instruction that the fallen Adam receives from Michael. Raphael tells Adam the story of the fall of Satan, which except for an allusion or two in the Bible is entirely Milton's invention. The implication is that teaching by means of parables is the only appropriate kind of teaching for a free man. Michael summarizes for Adam the story of the Bible, events which are future to Adam but will certainly occur, implying that man's freedom of will has been curtailed to the vanishing point. All Milton's reverence for the Bible as a book of promise and a charter of human freedom cannot conceal the fact that this kind of knowledge is debased and sinister knowledge: that is, knowledge of an already determined future is part of the forbidden knowledge that Adam should never have had.

Our next task is to bring out the peculiar characteristics of the story of creation in Genesis as a myth. The word mythology implies, by its very existence, that story-myths have a tendency to stick together to form an interconnected series of stories. It would be usual for such a mythology to begin with a creation myth, and there are as many varieties of creation myths as there are societies to produce them. In the early [31] Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures that we are concerned with, however, two types of creation myth seem to dominate. Perhaps it will be easiest to explain this by a creation myth of my own about creation myths. Let us assume a primeval myth-maker, standing alone in the garden of Eden, about to design a creation myth a priori, wholly detached from his social context and conditioning. No such person could exist, but we may learn something from postulating him. The kind of creation myth he will come up with, then, will depend on whether he is looking up or down at the time he is constructing it.

If he looks down, he sees the earth with its progression of seasons, the place from which all living things, animals and plants, are born and to which they return when they die. A creation myth based on these phenomena would be a sexual creation myth, assuming that the world took shape originally in the same way that it still renews itself every spring, or renews life in birth. In the beginning there was winter, and then came the spring; or, in the beginning there was a female body, and something got born from it. No feature is invariable or without many exceptions in mythology, but one very obvious figure for such a myth to focus on would be that of an earth-mother, the womb and tomb of all life. For such an earth-mother, from whom all living things emerge and to whom all dying things return, would be the direction of all death as well as the source of all life, and would consequently have a sinister aspect as well as a cherishing one. The cycle over which she would preside is what Plato might call the cycle of the different. Newborn animals are not the reborn forms of their parents; the flowers that bloom in the spring are not the same as those that bloomed last spring.
One immensely simplifying principle in such a creation myth is that death, along with the pain and solitude that go with it, would not be a problem. Death is built in to a myth which is primarily a myth about living things, all of which die. Life is unintelligible without death: there may be a continuous force that propels the birth of new life, but such a life-force merely uses the individual: it does not exist for his sake.

If our myth-maker looks up, he sees the cycle of the sun and the slower cycle of the moon. This suggests rather a cycle of the same: it seems to be unmistakably the same sun that comes up the next morning, the same moon that waxes and wanes, and in the background, except for the five planets that also have their appointed courses, there are, as it seems, the cycling but unchanging stars. We hear of some societies that 'believe' that a new sun is created each day: anthropologists in particular are fond of reminding us that some societies will believe anything, including no doubt some societies of anthropologists. However, our assumed myth-maker is not believing anything yet: he is merely constructing. Milton, speaking of pagan mythology, uses the phrase 'they fabled,' instead of 'they believed': it sounds more tendentious, and Milton meant it to be so, but it is also more accurate, because fabling, unlike belief, is an activity that we can get some evidence for. For this version of creation mythology, the periodic return of the sun, moon, and stars sets the pattern for the cycle of the seasons, reflecting the work of an intelligent being who, like the God of the Old Testament, does not change, or, like the creating deity of Plato's Timaeus, imitates such a being.

The sky-begotten creation myth, then, would suggest the subordinating of becoming to being, of cyclical change to a [33] power of stability that controls cyclical change and is not subject to it. Such a creation myth would not start with birth from sexual union but with some power assumed to be superior to both. It would be, in short, an artificial creation myth. The world must originally have been made, including the world of living things, however universal the process of birth and death may still be among living things. And just as the sexual creation myth most readily suggests an earth-mother, so the artificial myth would correspondingly suggest a sky-father. Sky, because of the predominance of the heavenly bodies in the materials of the myth, and father, because this creator goes about his own mysterious business without nursing his children.

An artificial creation myth suggests planning and intelligence, and planning and intelligence suggest a creator who could have originally produced only a perfect or model world, a world with no death or disease or decay in it at all. This model world is apparently the one described as being made in the first chapter of Genesis, where every aspect of creation calls for the comment 'and God saw that it was very good,' so good that he spent the seventh day of creation contemplating it. To account for the contrast between the model world that such a God must have made and the actual world that we find ourselves in now, a myth of a human 'fall' must be added, an alienation myth which expresses the present human condition but does not attach it directly to the work of creation. Even in Plato's Timaeus, just mentioned, where the world is made by a demiurge, an artificer working in imitation of a model, whatever is wrong with our world is presumably part of the great failure of all imitations to reproduce their models accurately that, for Plato, recurs in human art.
The question 'when did it all begin?', however inevitable it may seem, is a totally unanswerable question, because it is impossible to conceive a beginning of time. One may of course say that there was a creation which created time as well as everything else, or that our perception and experience of time are a result of our fallen state, but these are only verbal formulas concealing the fact that the beginning of time is an unthinkable thought. The sexual creation myth is no better off: to the problem of whether the chicken or the egg came first there is no answer. St Augustine mentions someone who, irritated by questions about what God was doing 'before' he made the world, said he was preparing a hell for those who ask such questions. This is really another way of saying that the doctrine of divine creation is among other things a linguistic device for shutting off the question 'what happened before anything else happened'? There is nevertheless an essential imaginative issue bound up with the word 'beginning,' which is the opening word of the Bible. We derive our notions of beginnings and ends from our own births and deaths, the two crucial events in which we first join a moving belt of phenomena and finally drop off it. The moving belt itself cannot really be thought of as beginning or ending, but, because we begin and end, we insist that beginning and ending must be somehow much more important than merely continuing.

Hence the artificial creation myth, where the world was made by an intelligent sky-father, the one that wins out in the biblical tradition, is also a myth in which an absolute beginning is postulated, as something superior to all the continuity which follows. In the complete form of the myth an absolute beginning implies an absolute end. But such an end would have to be the end of death, not of life, a death of [35] death in which life has become assimilated to the unending. Thus the biblical creation myth takes us back to one of the most 'primitive' of all views: that death, the most natural of all events, the one thing we know will always happen, is nevertheless somehow wrong and unnatural, not part of the original scheme of things. The author of the Book of Wisdom gazes serenely at the facts of his experience, every one of which confirms the law that there are no exceptions to dying, and remarks: 'For God made not death; the generations of the world are healthful; and there is no poison of destruction in them, nor is there a kingdom of death upon the earth.'

The sense of the importance of beginning and ending in traditional Christianity has in it a thick streak of what last night we called paranoia, and has produced some very bizarre situations. In the seventeenth century, the age of Galileo and Newton, biblical scholars were still gravely explaining that the time of creation was probably the spring equinox of 4004 BC, around two in the afternoon. And during the past century there have been several assemblages of faithful gathered to await an 'end of the world,' often on the top of a mountain, the existence of which in itself indicates many millions of years of both age and of life expectancy for the earth.

For the artificial or sky-father myth, the metaphorical kernel for this conception of a total 'beginning' would not be birth, but the experience of waking up from sleep. It is in the process of awakening to consciousness that we are most clearly aware of the sense of a beginning in a world both new and familiar, which we are quite sure is real, whatever the world 'before' it was. The curious insistence in the biblical account on a sequence of 'days,' and the recurring refrain [36] 'and the evening and the morning were the first day,' etc., seem to be emphasizing the importance of this metaphor. In Milton's Paradise Lost and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel the sense of the creation of Adam as an awakening of consciousness out of the sleep of matter is even stronger.

How there could be uncomplicated 'days' of creation when the sun was created only on the fourth day is an old puzzle, and even St Augustine felt that if God said 'days' he must have had some mental reservation about the word. Yet the institution of the Sabbath, and the importance given to the calendar week, seem still to be based on the connection of creation with the contrast of day and night, waking and sleeping. The fact that even in contemporary English the words 'sunlight' and 'daylight' are different words may suggest a remote period in which daylight was not causally associated with the sun, but it is doubtful if the original 'light' of Genesis can be reduced to this kind of confusion.

It is natural to think that the earth-mother myth is the older of the two, being the myth more appropriate for an agricultural society, as its rival was for the more urban, tool-using, and patriarchal society that succeeded it. Certainly in Hesiod, one of the fountainheads of Greek mythology, the sky-father Zeus is thought of as a relative late-comer, the third at least of a series of sky-gods, who establishes his supremacy by force over a much older earth-mother. The latter retires sullenly below with her defeated titans, chthonic powers who, either as titans or as giants, meet us many times in many mythological guises. In the first chapter of Genesis the artificial sky-father myth seems to have it all his own way. But there are two creation myths in Genesis, and the second or so-called Jahwist one, which begins in Genesis 2:4, is clearly much the older. In this account we start with [37] the watering of a garden. The garden is a symbol of the female body in the Bible, recurring in the Song of Songs, where the body of the bride is described as 'a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed.' In the same account, too, Adam is formed (Genesis 2:7) from a feminine adamah or dust of the ground. Not all the sexual myth has been excluded: enough has been vestigially left in to suggest that some still earlier creation myths are being incorporated.

However, both creation myths in the Bible seem at first sight intolerably patriarchal. Deity is associated exclusively with the male sex; man was created first and woman out of his body, in contrast to the later 'fallen' cycle of birth from a mother; the fall was precipitated by the female, and as a result the male is to have dominance over her. There is no question that the story has got mixed up with patriarchal social ideology, and no question either that it has been constantly invoked and ruthlessly exploited to rationalize doctrines of male supremacy. But within the myth itself, there is an element in the symbolism of male and female which is distinguishable from the social relations of men and women. It would be useful if Western thought had developed something like the classical Chinese conceptions of yang and yin, which would express something of the imaginative and mythological relations of male and female without perverting them in this way. Aristotle, for example, remarked that sex was an analogue to his distinction of form and matter, without drawing morals about the social superiority of males. But there is probably no such thing as an unperverted myth, nor is there likely to be for a long time.

The myth of a fall, being as we said an alienation myth, expresses the sense that the identity we are given at birth is, somehow or other, not our real or our whole identity. Such a [38] sense is readily connected with the conception of God as a parent, because the parent stands for the whole of whatever has existed before us that has made our own existence possible. As that, the parent is the handiest symbol to express the feeling that we are born with an unknown identity which is both ourselves and yet something other and greater than ourselves. Of the two parental figures, the mother is the less convincing for this purpose, because the mother is the parent we must break from in order to get born. To come into life is to be delivered from a mother, but the deliverance is temporary, and the emphasis on the male in the Bible is connected with its resistance to the cyclical fatality of all religions founded on Mother Nature.

The Genesis account of the fall speaks of two trees, the tree of life and the tree of forbidden knowledge. The latter clearly has something to do with the beginning of sexual experience as we know it, and is symbolized by a limp serpent crawling away on the ground. Metaphorically, the two trees would be the same tree, which would imply a tree of life with a fully erect serpent of wisdom climbing up its branches, as in the version of Indian yoga known as Kundalini. The sexuality of the tree of life would in that case have something about it of what has been called the myth of the lost phallus, a power of sexual experience where the relation of male to female has got free from the sado-masochistic cycle that dominates so much of our attitude to sex.

In the sexual creation myth with its earth-mother, the earth-mother is in the early stages of symbol of natura naturans, nature as a bursting forth of life and energy, its divine personalities the animating spirits of trees, mountains, rivers, and stones. This is the basis of what is called paganism, the instinctive faith of the paganus or peasant who is [39] closest to the natural environment and furthest from the centre of the insulating envelope of culture. In the later stages of such 'paganism,' the preoccupation with cyclical movement climbs up into the sky and annexes the sense of natura naturata, nature as a structure or system which also manifests itself in cycles. Here the earth-mother expands into what Robert Graves calls the 'Triple Will,' the diva triformis or goddess of heaven, earth and hell, Luna, Diana, and Hecate, who meets us in so many other female trinities, the Fates, the Norns, the three goddesses confronting Paris. The cosmological vision such a myth suggests is one of cyclical fatality, where, as in the riddle of Oedipus, the three phases of infancy, manhood, and old age succeed one another without change.

At this point it becomes clear that the myth of creation is a part of a larger mythological structure known as the social contract. In paganism the contract which binds together the gods, mankind, and nature in a common recognition of law appears, for instance, at the end of Aeschylus' Oresteia, where the gods ratify the order of nature and to some extent are bound by it themselves. As paganism develops, it becomes clear by imperial Roman times that, as the gods grew out of nature-spirits, they are really expendable in this contract, the only essential god being the divine Caesar. In the biblical creation myth nature is not directly a party to the social contract, which is a 'testament' between God and man, nature having no law of its own except what God bestows on it. Thus in New Testament times the two creation myths had expanded into two contract myths focussed, one on Christ, whose divinity is an incarnation of God in man, the other on Caesar, who is Antichrist so far as he becomes a god by incarnating the link between moral and natural law.
As the longer and slower cycles complete themselves, there may be a sense of hope and renewal before the beginning of another cycle. At the time of Christ, when astrologers saw the sun moving into Pisces, many people talked about the dawn of a new and greater age, just as there are those who talk about an 'age of Aquarius' now. The most famous expression of this was Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, which predicts the arrival of a new golden or Saturnian age when 'the serpent shall die.' But although Christianity promptly seized on this poem as an unconscious prophecy of the birth of the Messiah, Christian writers also totally rejected all cyclical theories of history, whether hopeful or cynical in mood.

There are certain cultural disadvantages in an artificial creation myth, especially when presented as a deductive account of how the world and human life began. As what Plato in the Timaeus calls a probable narrative, or, as one translator has it, 'a likely story,' it reduces us to a passive role, inheriting the results of ancestral mistakes but unable to do anything about them. Thus the seventeenth-century New England poet Michael Wigglesworth represents the heathen at the Last Judgement objecting that it is hardly fair to send them to hell for Adam's sin, considering that they have never heard of Adam. They are told that Adam was designed to be a 'common root' of mankind, so that Adam's sin is their sin too, and they are compelled to agree, according to the poet, that the argument is irrefutable.

Then again, the conception of an artificer God, who starts everything off by making all things in more or less their present form, is not very encouraging for the human artist. If it is true that, as Sir Thomas Browne said, 'Nature is the Art of God'; if the models of human creation, the city and the [41] garden, were created by God before man existed, the human artist seems to be in a hopeless position of competing with God. This is particularly true of painters and sculptors, who have often been regarded with suspicion as potentially makers of idols, dead images set up in rivalry with the maker of living ones. In Islamic culture this prejudice has gone to the point of banning representational art altogether, and similar tendencies have appeared in both Jewish and Christian traditions. In an early Christian romance called the 'Clementine Recognitions,' where the apostle Peter is the hero, some frescoes on a public building are referred to, and it is noted with approval that Peter is impervious to their artistic merit. There is no need to dwell on the iconoclastic movements that have swept over both East and West portions of the Christian world. As remarked in the first chapter, human creativity and divine creation often seem to be at loggerheads.

When painting and sculpture were tolerated, the religious prejudice against them carried on in some forms of critical theory, according to which artists in these areas were merely second-hand copyists of nature. Thus the Elizabethan critic George Puttenham, writing just before Shakespeare's time, says: 'In another respect we say art is neither an aider nor a surmounter but only a bare imitator of nature's works, following and counterfeiting her actions and effects, as the marmoset doth many countenances and gestures of man; of which sort are the arts of painting and carving.' Painting and sculpture flourished because artists and their patrons had the sense to ignore this kind of criticism; but there are other hazards in the conception of a prefabricated created order.

One of these hazards derived from the slow but steady advance of science. Whatever man creates is essentially a [42] machine, an extension of his personality but with no life or will or its own. The effect of physical science, from Copernicus to Newton, was gradually to depersonalize the cosmos, as the earth was displaced from the centre of the universe and the angels from the guardianship of the planets. By the eighteenth century there was a general tendency to think even of the divine creation in terms of an ingenious and complicated mechanism. At the end of the century a standard textbook on natural theology, Paley's Evidences of Christianity, used the analogy of a primitive man picking up a watch on a seashore left by some passing mariner. The primitive was supposed to infer that a watch meant a watchmaker, and similarly we should infer that if a complex world exists, somebody must have designed the complications. Samuel Butler pointed out that this assumed primitive would be much more likely to make a god of the watch, as the Lilliputians thought Gulliver did with his watch when he told them that he seldom did anything without consulting it. But the analogy was regarded as a valid, even an unanswerable argument for a long time, and doubtless still is in some quarters.

The absurdities of the argument from design, more particularly of its illustrations, such as congratulating the Creator for his ingenuity in dividing the orange into sections for convenience in eating, had brought it into discredit even before Darwin's time. One cannot get very far with speculation on the mental level of a small child who assumes that a cat's tail is a specially designed handle for pulling it around. Yet the Darwinian revolution, transferring the designing power from God to a natural process, and showing that the argument from design was a projecting on God of the fact that man designs things, came as a profound shock to many [43] intelligent people. Clearly the artificial myth of a creation had intellectual resources that we have so far not given it credit for.

The account of creation in Genesis is close to a group of sardonic folk tales, some of them much older than the Bible, that tell us how man had immortality nearly in his grasp, but was cheated out of it by malicious or frightened deities. It is hard to hear in its rather casual cadences what St Paul heard in it, the iron clang of a gate shut forever on human hopes. Neither is it easy to see in it the doctrine that man by his fall opened up a second and lower level of nature. The notion that nature fell with man is necessary to account for all imperfections in nature, ranging from human sin to thorns on the rosebush -- an early Canadian Methodist circuit rider speaks of the clouds of mosquitoes he encountered in the New Brunswick forests as 'mementoes of the fall.' But the fall of nature has to be read into the Genesis account, because it is not there: we are told only that God cursed the ground, a curse he removed after the flood.

In many creation myths the creation starts off with an event that comes much closer than Sophocles' Oedipus Rex does to illustrating what Freud means by an Oedipus complex. A sky-father and an earth-mother are locked in connubial sleep until their son separates them, and creates an intervening world of air and light. Similarly in Genesis, light and air (the 'firmament') are created first: the firmament separates the waters above from the waters below, and according to the Book of Enoch the waters above are male and the waters below female. In Christianity it is also a Son who does the creating, though no female principle is involved at this stage. The Son, however, is identified with the Word that calls things into being: the Word says fiat lux, and [44] light appears. According to Hegel, creation is the symbol of absolute thought passing over into nature, nature being both the contrary and the dialectical complement of thought. Being a philosopher, Hegel assumed that the biblical Word and the philosopher's thought were essentially the same thing: poets, however, might see in the conception of a creating Word a more versatile power, capable of more things than dialectic. We seem to catch a glimpse, in fact, of a divine consciousness descending into experience. When man falls to a lower level of nature, the divine consciousness follows him there, until the process is completed by the Incarnation, the Word then becoming flesh, identical with human consciousness so far as it is human.

The assumption seems to be here that the term 'Word,' however metaphorical, has a very real connection with what in ordinary speech we mean by words, the elements of articulate consciousness. There are not many creation myths which give 'Word' so central a creative function: one of those that do is the Mayan Central American myth preserved in what is called the Popol Vuh. Here a primordial silence is broken by 'the word' which begins the story of creation: of all creatures, man is placed in authority because he alone could use articulate language, in contrast to the grunts and squeals of the beasts. But as man continued to praise his gods, the gods grew restive, and began to wonder if all this articulateness did not threaten their privileged position. Hence, as in many Near Eastern myths, the gods plot to destroy man by a deluge for fear he will become too big for his breeches.

Naturally the Genesis account cannot explicitly present God as jealous or frightened of man, but there is a curious suggestion of it:
[45] And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
Here God seems to be speaking to a council of other gods or angels, expressing a fear of some threat coming from mankind so great that he cannot even finish his sentence. It seems clear that man is in possession of something formidable connected with knowledge, whatever the knowledge of good and evil may imply. Even the Christian version of the myth implies that as soon as God speaks and becomes the Word of God, he has condemned himself to death; as soon as man falls with the power of speech, he becomes the potential murderer of God.

As further rationalized by Christian theology, this situation is explained as follows. Man is born into physical nature, the world of animals and plants, at least as they live at present, and this world is theologically 'fallen.' It was not the home originally destined for man, and man cannot adjust to it as the animals do. There is a higher order of nature which God intended man to live in, and everything that is good for man, such as law, morality, and religion, helps to raise him towards his own proper level of human nature. Many things are natural to man that are not natural to animals, such as consciousness, wearing clothes, being in a state of social discipline, and the like. In fact on this higher level of human nature there is really no distinction between nature and art. The complement of Sir Thomas Browne's principle that nature is the art of God is the principle that Edmund Burke was still insisting on at [46] the end of the eighteenth century, that 'art is the nature of man.'

The agencies moving man upwards from his 'fallen' state to something closer to his original one certainly include law, religion, morality, and everything genuinely educational. Milton even defines education as the process of repairing the fall of Adam by regaining the true knowledge of God. Whether the arts belong among those educational agencies or not was much disputed. But a large body of opinion did see in this situation a function for the arts, more particularly the verbal arts. In Sidney's Defence of Poetry, for example, published around the time of Shakespeare's earlier plays, we are told that nature, meaning the lower or fallen physical order, presents us with a brazen world and the poets with a golden one; also that art develops a 'second nature,' being natural to man but only to him. Sidney's principle means that art, specifically poetry, can be tolerated in society only so long as, and so far as, its function is essentially an idealizing one. The arts form a rhetorical echo or chorus to the principles of morality and religion. They are there to persuade the more primitive and emotional side of man of the truth of what religion and morality teach, using concrete examples as a simpler analogy to the abstract precepts which are addressed to more mature minds.

Man, therefore, in the traditional Christian myth, is also born with a goal ahead of him, the raising of his state to the human level which is closer to what God intended for him. What is important about this for our present argument is that this means moving closer to the original vision of creation, so that creation here appears as the end of the human journey rather than the beginning of it. The central image of this in our literature is Dante's Purgatorio, where Dante [47] adopts one of the oldest and most widespread symbolic images in the world, the spiral ascent up a mountain or tower to heaven, and makes it the journey of Dante himself as he climbs the mountain of purgatory, shedding one of the seven original sins at each spiral turn. The garden of Eden is at the summit: that is, Dante is moving backwards in time to his own original state, as he would have been if there had been no fall of Adam.

What we have now is a vision of two opposing movements, related to each other in what Yeats would call a double gyre. One is that of a divine consciousness being surrounded by experience as it descends from creation to the final identity of incarnation. The other is that of a human consciousness surrounding experience, as it ascends from its 'fallen' state towards what it was once designed to be. The ascending spiralling movement in Dante reminds us of Donne's image in his Third Satire:
On a huge hill,
Cragged, and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must and about must go;
And what the hill's suddenness resists, win so.
This human vision of recreation is heavily stressed in modern poetry, as in Yeats's 'Sailing to Byzantium,' where the sacred city is a human structure of art and yet preserves a vision of 'sages standing in God's holy fire.' Here creation has finally become one with recreation, and the revelation at the end of human effort is also a recognition of something at the beginning.

In the previous chapter I spoke of the association of human creative powers with two visions: the vision of the [48] tradition of art in the past, and the vision of an idealized society projected on the future. Both these visions, I suggested, arise from a partial release of repression, a qualified escape from the encumbrances of ordinary experience. Beyond the Purgatorio vision in Dante lies the vision of the Paradiso. In the last canto of the Paradiso, after casually mentioning the story of the Sibyl who wrote her oracles on scattered leaves, Dante suddenly sees, in the very presence of God, the whole universe 'legato con amore in un volume,' bound into a single Word with love. As soon as Dante has this vision, it sinks to the lowest depths of repression: he forgot more of it, he says, than man has forgotten of his history since the Argonaut voyage. The implication is that immediately following the last vision of paradise, time moves back again to the opening of the Inferno, with the poet lost again in a tangled wood, where all the voices of repression, or what Dante calls letargo, 'lethargy,' start clamoring that there can never be any way out. But we are expected to see a bit more and forget less, and in particular to see that at the summit of the human journey back to the creation Dante's great poem merges into the vision of a God who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all verbal possibilities.

Dante's journey is a journey back to the creation, the journey of a creature returning to his creator, and the initiative for the journey does not come from Dante himself. It is the energy and grace of the descending movement of the divine word, working through such intermediaries as Beatrice, which impel Dante and make what he does possible. Even in the revolutionary Milton, writing over three centuries later than Dante, man still has no real initiative: liberty, for example, in Milton is nothing that man naturally wants, [49] but is something God is determined he shall have. But within another century or so we begin to move into the intellectual climate we still live in now. Here the central characteristic of traditional myth, the model or plan that existed before the beginning of time which repeats itself constantly in present human life, has totally disappeared. The majority of poets and thinkers today see no model or plan, no human essence or general human nature, established at the beginning of things, only various mutations imposed by cultural and social change. In the next chapter I should like to look at this situation and at some of its results and effects.

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