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The Dying God

The Dying God

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Published by: Zavier Mainyu on Jan 02, 2012
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The Dying GodAuthor(s): Henri FrankfortReviewed work(s):Source:
Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes,
Vol. 21, No. 3/4 (Jul. - Dec., 1958),pp. 141-151Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 02/01/2012 17:19
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 Journal of theWarburg and Courtauld Institutes.
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THEDYINGGOD
Inaugurallecture asDirector oftheWarburgInstituteandProfessoroftheHistoryof Pre-ClassicalAntiquityin theUniversityof London,IoNovember,1949.
In
1926,a fewyearsbefore his death,Warburgwrote a letter to a friend inwhichhe re-defined hisaims. Hehadstarted,somethirty yearsearlier,byinquiringwhatclassicalantiquityhadreallymeantto themen oftheRenais-sance;butbyandby,hewrote,theproblemhadbecome to discoverwhat thesurvivalofpaganismmeantforEuropeancivilizationas awhole."Paganism"standsherenotonlyfortheGreeksandRomans,butforsomethinguniversal-foranattitude ofmindwhichWarburghimself hadstudiedat firsthandinaprimitivecommunityof IndiansinNorthAmerica.Andby"the survivalofpaganism"hemeant twothings:thesurvival,incivilizedman,ofprimitivefears,passionsandecstasies;butalsothesurvival,asacultural tradition(or,inhisownwords,as asocialmemory),ofartforms,conceptionsandimagesinwhich thosefeelingshadbeenexpressedwithparticularaptness.Warburgheldthat theGreeks,aboveall,hadsucceededincreatingsuchpregnantformulas ofexpression;and heinsistedthat thisfactwasobscuredbytheusualemphasison Greekpoiseandserenity.Saxl,discussingClassicalantiquitynRenaissanceainting
(1934,
PP-iii-iv),wrote thatthe GreeksandRomans"hadintheirmythsaffirmedthepassionateforcesoflife,and had charmedthemintocarefullymeasuredsymbols.... Theprimitiveelementembodiedinthesemythswasthe onedecisive factor whichmadepeopleof theRenaissancefeelthat themythscontainedpowerfulsymbolsoftheir ownfeelings."Aconsiderationof thisprimitiveelementinGreekmythologyraisesthequestionof therelations betweenthe Greeks andtheirpredecessorsinandaroundthe Eastern Mediterranean. Thisisobviouslynotaquestionthatcouldbefullydiscussedwithinthehour.ButIshouldliketodiscuss onespecificinstanceinwhichcomparisonispossible.Theconceptofadying godisfoundinthereligionsofclassicalandpre-classicalantiquity.Thecultofthisgodstirred,atalltimes,deepandcomplex feelings.We havedocumentaryevidenceofitsexistencefrom thebeginningofthe thirdmillennium
B.c.,
andtothat extentitisprimitive.Andthevariationsinthe cultsandmythsofthisgodareagoodillustrationoftheextraordinarycomplexitywhich theproblemof thesurvivalof cultural formsmayassume-theproblemwhich was War-burg's lifelongconcern,andwhichhasremainedcentralto the workoftheInstitutewhich,under Saxl'sdirection,grewoutofWarburg's greatlibrary.Butif wespeak,as wehavedonejustnow,about "thedyinggod"wesimplify;for wesuggestthat thevariousspecificformsinwhichhewasworshipped-Tammuz,Adonis,Osiris,Dionysus-wereultimatelyidentical.Andin thematter ofidentitywemustkeepanopenmind.Forwhen westudythehistoryofasymbol,itispreciselyitsidentitywhich tendsto becomeproblematical.Togiveanexample:thesphinxwasanEgyptiansymbolforthesuperhumanpowerofPharaoh.TheSyrianstookitoverinthesecondmillennium
B.C.
and madeitfemale. TherearenoSyriantexts toexplainitssignificance,butwecanfollow itspictorial history.PhoenicianbronzesandivoriescarriedittoGreeceinthe seventhcentury,whereitappearsinvasepaintingsandalittlelaterinsculpture.Inthefifthcenturytexts once more
'4'
 
142
HENRIFRANKFORT
supplyaninterpretation,andtheyrevealthat,to theGreeks,thesphinxwasamonsterthatposedriddlesand killed men. Canwespeakofasymbol-thesphinx-thatsurvived?Itsphysicalform-a lion'sbodywith ahumanhead-certainlyreachedGreece fromEgyptviaPhoenicia.Moreover,thepara-doxical combinationevidentlyappealedtotheimaginationinallthreecountries. But totheEgyptiansitembodied themarvelofPharaoh'sdivinepower,while theSyrians bysubstitutingfortheking'sheadawoman's headand breastsmadeitequivocal:theattraction ofthe motherorthelover wascombined with thethreatof thebeastofprey.Thisexplains,perhaps,whytheGreeksassociatedthesphinxwiththetragedyofOedipus.Howeverthismaybe,thedying godoffers acloseparalleltoourexample.Theparadoxofdivinitysufferingdeath-liketheparadoxofthelion withhumanfeatures-powerfullystimulated theimaginationofthe Ancients.But themeaningattachedto thefigurewasineach case determinedbytheprofoundlydifferentmentalities ofMesopotamians, Egyptians, SyriansandGreeks.When wespeakof"thedyingGod" asifitwere adistinctconcept, slightlymodified inthevariousreligionswhereitoccurs,we fallvictimtoourownmethods.Wehypostasizethegeneralizations bymeansof whichweorderour material.Sowe talkgliblyof animalgodsand divinekings,astraldeities,earth-gods, dyinggods,andsoon,andforgetthatnone of thesegenerictermsdescribe actualreligiousexperiences.They merelysingleoutoneaspectwhichanumber ofverycomplexdivinepersonageshaveincommon.Approachedinthisway,man'smythopoeicgeniusseemsto beconfinedtoproducingvariations on afewfairlysimplethemes.Butthemonotonyisofourownmaking.If we aresatisfied withthrowingoutacoarse-meshed net ofgeneralizationsweshouldnotbe astonishedthat thecatch itbringsupfrom thepastissopoor.Idonotdeny,ofcourse,thatgeneralizationsarenecessarytools;andIamparticularlyanxiousnottoappearlackinginrespectfor SirJamesFrazerwho used TheDyingGodas the title ofPart III of TheGoldenBough,aworktowhich weallowe so much. Butit seems to me that Frazer washimself,intheend,troubledbytheproblemwearediscussing.Forhisprefacetothethirdand last edition of Part IV ofThe GoldenBough-thatentitledAdonis,Attis,Osiris-soundsacuriousnote ofdiscouragementanddoubt.Hesaysthere(pp. ix-x):S.ThelongerIoccupymyselfwithquestionsofancientmythologythemore diffidentIbecomeofsuccessindealingwiththem. .
.
. If we aretaxed withwastinglifeinseekingto know what can never beknown,andwhat,if itcould bediscovered,wouldnot be worthknowing,whatcanwepleadinourdefence?Ifear,verylittle....These aregrimreflections. Wouldtheynot indicateFrazer'srealizationthatacomparativemethod whichbringstogetherwhatismore orlesssimilar,amethod whichhad enabledhimtocomposeThe GoldenBough,hadnoticeableshortcomingsfor one anxious to understandtheassembledfacts?He haddefined his method atthebeginningofthefirstvolume,as follows:S.recent researches into theearlyhistoryofmanhaverevealedthe

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