Thursday, April 12, 2012


Upper right portion of Arlington Tempera
From Myspace

Moving clockwise from the image in the last post we get the first intimation that Blake is weaving Homer's Odyssey into the fabric of his picture. As noted earlier Blake and Thomas Taylor were friends during the time that the Neoplatonist Taylor was translating Porphyry's Greek to English. From Chapter 13 of Taylor's translation on the Odyssey we read:

"High at the head a branching olive grows
And crowns the pointed cliffs with shady boughs.
A cavern pleasant, though involved in night,
Beneath it lies, the Naiades delight:
Where bowls and urns of workmanship divine
And massy beams in native marble shine;
On which the Nymphs amazing webs display,
Of purple hue and exquisite array,
The busy bees within the urns secure
Honey delicious, and like nectar pure.
Perpetual waters through the grotto glide,
A lofty gate unfolds on either side;
That to the north is pervious to mankind:
The sacred south t'immortals is consign'd."

Taylor's translation or Porphyry

Blake's picture has moved away from the initial unity in Eternity which was broken by the fall into unconsciousness symbolised by the sleeping charioteer. Appropriately the process of generation is to begin in a cave as human life begins in the Mother's womb. The particular cave Blake uses as his symbol is the Cave of the Nymphs described by Homer. Within the cave in Blake's portrayal are the Naiades with urns upon their heads. Signalling the process which is beginning is a Nymph emptying her urn producing a stream of water flowing down the hillside. Nearby lies a couple reminding us that male and female have been differentiated and will unite in procreation, the process of dividing by uniting which characterises our world.

Two prevalent symbols for Blake of life in this world are water and the female. Water represents the milieu which wipes away the consciousness of the Eternal. The flood introduces the Sea of Time and Space which masks from man his origin. The ability to perceive the Eternal and Infinite, from which man proceeds, is lost in the sensory data from matter. The female is the emanative portion of man which provides the perspective of dualism which leads to the constant dividing, judging and discarding in which man engages. These two processes are introduced in this little portion of the picture and will be developed as we proceed through the clockwise cycle.

Milton, Plate 37 [41], (E 138)
"From Star to Star, Mountains & Valleys, terrible dimension
Stretchd out, compose the Mundane Shell, a mighty Incrustation
Of Forty-eight deformed Human Wonders of the Almighty
With Caverns whose remotest bottoms meet again beyond
The Mundane Shell in Golgonooza, but the Fires of Los, rage
In the remotest bottoms of the Caves, that none can pass
Into Eternity that way, but all descend to Los
To Bowlahoola & Allamanda & to Entuthon Benython"

Four Zoas , Page 43, (E 329)
"Down from the dismal North the Prince in thunders & thick clouds
As when the thunderbolt down falleth on the appointed place
Fell down down rushing ruining thundering shuddering
Into the Caverns of the Grave & places of Human Seed
Where the impressions of Despair & Hope enroot forever
A world of Darkness. Ahania fell far into Non Entity"

Post on the Work of Los.

1 comment:

John Major Jenkins said...

Yes, this is a fascinating example of ancient Neoplatonic doctrines coming down to at least the early 19th century. Raine fleshed this out in Blake, partially, but there is a cosmological or astronomical dimension too. Blakes's painting depicts the incarnation of the soul at the gate in Cancer, and the excarnation at the Gate in Capricorn. Macrobius clarified that these gates are actually where the Milky Way crosses the ecliptic. The soul's journey is symbolized by the sun's motion around the ecliptic, intersecting these crossing points in (roughly) summer and winter. The more precise calculation of this process recognizes the eschatological and World Age component of this conception, and comes to us from the Maya calendar cosmology. On this large temporal level it is the December solstice sun that shifts along the ecliptic, with the precession of the equinoxes, to eventually align with the "gate" in Capricorn (actually Sagittarius). This occurs in the era of the Maya 13-Baktun cycle ending, December 21, 2012. I reconstructed the Neoplatonic and Old World doctrinal inflection of this profound and forgotten Galactic Cosmology in my 2002 book called Galactic Alignment, and also presented it in my many conference talks. John Major Jenkins