Sunday, July 13, 2014

BLAKE & SOCRATES

One of the visionary heads which Blake drew under the encouragement of Varley was of the Greek scholar and teacher Socrates. According to Crabb Robinson Blake felt closely akin to Socrates:

"In this he seemed to explain humanly what he had done, but he at another time spoke of his paintings as being what he had seen in his visions. And when he said my visions it was in the ordinary unemphatic tone in which we speak of trivial matters that every one understands and cares nothing about. In the same tone he said repeatedly, the 'Spirit told me.' I took occasion to say—You use the same word as Socrates used. What resemblance do you suppose is there between your spirit and the spirit of Socrates?' The same as between our countenance.' He paused and added—'I was Socrates.' And then, as if correcting himself, 'A sort of brother. I must have had conversations with him. So I had with Jesus Christ. I have an obscure recollection of having been with both of them.'"


Yale Center for British Art
Visionary Head
Socrates


The reservations which Blake had about Socrates seemed to be that he presented himself as a philosopher not as a mystic. Blake could appreciate most enthusiastically one who acknowledged a debt to visionary experience as the source of his knowledge. Blake considered that philosophers dealt in abstract mental constructs rather than direct intuitive experience accessed through the imagination. To Blake morality as taught by Socrates was an impediment to spiritual development if it was not subservient to the indwelling Spirit through which man had direct and immediate access to the truth.
 

Laocoon, (E 275) 
"If Morality was Christianity Socrates was the Saviour"
Song of Los, Plate 3, (E 67)
"When Rintrah gave Abstract Philosophy to Brama in the East:
(Night spoke to the Cloud!
Lo these Human form'd spirits in smiling hipocrisy. War
Against one another; so let them War on; slaves to the eternal Elements)
Noah shrunk, beneath the waters;                                 
Abram fled in fires from Chaldea;
Moses beheld upon Mount Sinai forms of dark delusion:

To Trismegistus. Palamabron gave an abstract Law:
To Pythagoras Socrates & Plato.

Times rolled on o'er all the sons of Har, time after time        
Orc on Mount Atlas howld, chain'd down with the Chain of Jealousy
Then Oothoon hoverd over Judah & Jerusalem
And Jesus heard her voice (a man of sorrows) he recievd
A Gospel from wretched Theotormon.

The human race began to wither, for the healthy built            
Secluded places, fearing the joys of Love
And the disease'd only propagated:
So Antamon call'd up Leutha from her valleys of delight:
And to Mahomet a loose Bible gave.
But in the North, to Odin, Sotha gave a Code of War,             
Because of Diralada thinking to reclaim his joy.
Plate 4
These were the Churches: Hospitals: Castles: Palaces:
Like nets & gins & traps to catch the joys of Eternity
     And all the rest a desart;
Till like a dream Eternity was obliterated & erased."

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