Sistine Chapel - Cumaean Sibyl
Copy after Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling
In his studies of Michelangelo's art Blake copied from a print the Cumaean Sibyl. Michelangelo and Blake owed a debt to Greek art and thought although their principal obligation was to the Hebrew narratives of the Old Testament. The distilled wisdom of the Greeks was embodied in the female sibyls parallel to the Hebrew wisdom being embodied in the prophets. The sibyls provided their guidance through oracles offered to supplicants seeking advice. The words of the prophets were written in books and collected by scholars to be read for their instruction and edification. The sibyls acted through intuitive processes which reached directly into the psyche, whereas the prophets used historical experiences to speak to the intellect with the aim of modifying man's understanding. There is no evidence that the methods of the sibyls were less influential on Blake's attempts to communicate than were the prophets'. Blake wrote poetry not law.
ON HOMERS POETRY, (E 269) "Every Poem must necessarily be a perfect Unity, but why Homers is peculiarly so, I cannot tell: he has told the story of Bellerophon & omitted the judgment of Paris which is not only a part, but a principal part of Homers subject But when a Work has Unity it is as much in a Part as in the Whole. the Torso is as much a Unity as the Laocoon As Unity is the cloke of folly so Goodness is the cloke of knavery Those who will have Unity exclusively in Homer come out with a Moral like a sting in the tail: Aristotle says Characters are either Good or Bad: now Goodness or Badness has nothing to do with Character. an Apple tree a Pear tree a Horse a Lion, are Characters but a Good Apple tree or a Bad, is an Apple tree still: a Horse is not more a Lion for being a Bad Horse. that is its Character; its Goodness or Badness is another consideration. It is the same with the Moral of a whole Poem as with the Moral Goodness& Morality, are secondary considerations & belong to Philosophy & not to Poetry, to Exception & not to Rule, to Accident & not to Substance. the Ancients calld it eating of the tree of good & evil. The Classics, it is the Classics! & not Goths nor Monks, that Desolate Europe with Wars. ON VIRGIL Sacred Truth has pronounced that Greece & Rome as Babylon & Egypt: so far from being parents of Arts & Sciences as they pretend: were destroyers of all Art. Homer Virgil & Ovid confirm this opinion & make us reverence The Word of God, the only light of antiquity that remains unperverted by War. Virgil in the Eneid Book VI. line 848 says Let others study Art: Rome has somewhat better to do, namely War & Dominion Rome & Greece swept Art into their maw & destroyd it a Warlike State never can produce Art. It will Rob & Plunder & accumulate into one place, & Translate & Copy & Buy & Sell & Criticise, but not Make. Mathematic Form is Eternal in the Reasoning Memory. Living Form is Eternal Existence. Grecian is Mathematic Form Gothic is Living Form"Vision of Last Judgment, (E 554)
"The Last judgment is one of these Stupendous
Visions. I have represented it as I saw it. to different People it appears differently as every thing else does for tho on Earth things seem Permanent they are less permanent than a Shadow as we all know too well The Nature of Visionary Fancy or Imagination is very little Known & the Eternal nature & permanence of its ever Existent Images is considerd as less permanent than the things of Vegetative & Generative Nature yet the Oak dies as well as the Lettuce but Its Eternal Image & Individuality never dies. but renews by its seed. just as the Imaginative Image returns by the seed of Contemplative Thought the Writings of the Prophets illustrate these conceptions of the Visionary Fancy by their various sublime & Divine Images as seen in the Worlds of Vision ... The Greek Muses which are not Inspiration as the Bible is. Reality was Forgot & the Vanities of Time & Space only Rememberd & calld Reality Such is the Mighty difference between Allegoric Fable & Spiritual Mystery Let it here be Noted that the Greek Fables originated in Spiritual Mystery & Real Vision and Real Visions Which are lost & clouded in Fable & Alegory while the Hebrew Bible & the Greek Gospel are Genuine Preservd by the Saviours Mercy The Nature of my Work is Visionary or Imaginative it is an Endeavour to Restore the Golden Age This world of Imagination is the World of Eternity it is the Divine bosom into which we shall all go after the death of the Vegetated body This World is Infinite & Eternal whereas the world of Generation or Vegetation is Finite & Temporal There Exist in that Eternal World the Permanent Realities of Every Thing which we see are reflected in this Vegetable Glass of Nature All Things are comprehended in their Eternal Forms in the Divine body of the Saviour the True Vine of Eternity The Human Imagination who appeard to Me as Coming to Judgment. among his Saints & throwing off the Temporal that the Eternal might be Establishd. around him were seen the Images of Existences according to a certain order suited to my Imaginative Eye" Vision of Last Judgment,(E 560) "A Mother Meets her
Family in the Arms of their Father these are representations of the Greek Learned & Wise as also of those of other Nations such as Egypt & Babylon in which were multitudes who shall meet the Lord coming in the Clouds"