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Tag: Hell

Eco: Dante and Abulafia

1280px-The_Hay_Wain_by_Hieronymus_Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), The Haywain or The Hay Wagon Triptych (1516), held after 1907 as accession number P02052 in The Prado Museum, Madrid. Bosch signed this work “Jheronimus Bosch” in the lower right corner of the central panel. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

“If we turn from DVE to Paradise, xxxvi (several years having passed in the meantime), we find that Dante has changed his mind. In the earlier work, Dante unambiguously states that it was from the forma locutionis given by God that the perfect language of Hebrew was born, and that it was in this perfect language that Adam addressed God, calling him El. In Paradise, xxxvi, 124-38, however, Adam says:

La lingua ch’io parlai fu tutta spenta

innanzi che all’ovra incomsummabile

fosse le gente di Nembròt attenta:

ché nullo effetto mai razïonabile,

per lo piacer uman che rinovella

seguendo il cielo, sempre fu durabile. 

Opera naturale è ch’uom favella,

ma, così o così, natura lascia,

poi fare a voi, secondo che v’abbella.

Pria ch’i’ pscendessi all’infernale ambascia 

I s’appellava in terra il sommo bene,

onde vien letizia che mi fascia; 

e EL si chiamò poi: e ciò convene,

ché l’uso dei mortali è come fronda

in ramo, che sen va e altra vene.

“The language that I spoke was entirely extinguished before the uncompletable work [the tower of Babel] of the people of Nembrot was even conceived: because no product of the human reason, from the human taste for always having something new, following the influence of the stars, is ever stable. It is natural that man speaks; but whether this way or that, nature lets you yourselves do as it pleases you. Before I descended into the pains of Hell, on earth the Highest Good was called I–from whence comes the light of joy that enfolds me; the name then became EL: and this change was proper, because the customs of mortals are like the leaves on a branch, one goes and another comes.”

Born of humanity’s natural disposition towards speech, languages may split, grow and change through human intervention. According to Adam, the Hebrew spoken before the building of the tower, when God was named El, was not the same as the Hebrew spoken in the earthly paradise, when Adam called him I.

Dante seems here to oscillate between Genesis 10 and Genesis 11. He must always have known these two texts; what could have induced him to modify his earlier views? An intriguing clue is the strange idea that God had once been called I, a term that not one of Dante’s legion of commentators has ever been able to explain satisfactorily.

Returning for a moment to the last chapter, we remember that for Abulafia, the atomic elements of any text–the letters–had individual meanings of their own. Thus, in the divine name YHWH, the letter Yod was itself a divine name.

Dante would have transliterated Yod as I, and this gives one possible source for his change of opinion. If this is so, it would not be the only idea that Dante seems to have had in common with Abulafia.

We saw in the last chapter that for Abulafia the Torah had to be equated with the active intellect, and the scheme from which God created the world was the same as the gift which he gave to Adam–a linguistic matrix, not yet Hebrew, yet capable of generating all other languages.

There were Averroist sympathies in Dante, too, especially in his version of the Avicennist and Augustinian concept of the active intellect (equated with divine wisdom) which offers the forms to possible intellect (cf. in particular, Nardi 1942: v). Nor were the Modistae and the others who supported the idea of universal grammar exempt from Averroist influence.

Thus there existed a common philosophical ground which, even without positing direct links, would have inclined both Dante and Abulafia to regard the gift of language as the bestowal of a forma locutionis, defined as a generative linguistic matrix with affinities to the active intellect.

There are further parallels as well. For Abulafia, Hebrew was the historic proto-language. It was a proto-language, however, that during their exile, the chosen people had forgotten. By the time of the confusion of Babel, therefore, the language of Adam was, as Dante puts it, “tutta spenta” (entirely extinguished).

Idel (1989: 17) cites an unedited manuscript by a disciple of Abulafia which says:

“Anyone who believes in the creation of the world, if he believes that languages are conventional he must also believe that they are of two types: the first is Divine, i.e. agreement between God and Adam, Eve and their children.

The second is derived from the first, and the first was known only to Adam and was not passed on to any of his offspring except for Seth, [ . . . ] And so, the traditions reached Noah. And the confusion of the tongues during the generation of the dispersion [at the tower of Babel] occurred only to the second type of language, i.e., to natural language.”

If we remember that, in such a context, the term “tradition” can refer to the kabbala itself, it seems evident that the above passage alludes, once again, to a linguistic wisdom, a forma locutionis, regarded as a set of rules for constructing the differing languages.

If, in its original form, this wisdom was not a language, but rather a universal matrix for all languages, we can not only explain the mutation of Hebrew between Eden and Babel, but also understand the hope that this original wisdom might somehow be recuperated and (in different ways, obviously, for Abulafia and Dante) even be made to bloom again.”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 46-9.

Umberto Eco: Search for the Perfect Language, 3

El_jardín_de_las_Delicias,_de_El_Bosco

Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), Garden of Earthly Delights. The left tablet of the triptych depicts Paradise, with the creation of Eve and the Fountain of Life. The central tablet portrays the pleasures of life, and the rightmost tablet Hell. Held in the collection of the Prado. Accession number P02823, this work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries where the copyright term is the life of the author plus 100 years or less.

“Having established the boundaries of my discourse, I must pay my debts. I am indebted to the studies of Paolo Rossi for first awakening my interest in the subjects of classical mnemonics, pansophia and world theaters; to Alessandro Bausani’s witty and learned overview on invented languages; to Lia Formigari’s book on the linguistic problems of English empiricism; and to many other authors whom, if I do not cite every time that I have drawn on them, I hope, at least, to have cited on crucial points, as well as to have included in the bibliography.

My only regret is that George Steiner had already copyrighted the most appropriate title for this book–After Babel–nearly twenty years ago. Hats off.

I would also like to thank the BBC interviewer who, on 4 October 1983, asked me what semiotics meant. I replied that he ought to know the answer himself, since semiotics was defined by Locke in 1690, in Great Britain, and since in the same country was published in 1668 the Essay towards a Real Character by Bishop Wilkins, the first semiotic approach to an artificial language.

Later, as I left the studio, I noticed an antiquarian bookstore, and, out of curiosity, I walked into it. Lying there I saw a copy of Wilkin’s Essay. It seemed a sign from heaven; so I bought it. That was the beginning of my passion for collecting old books on imaginary, artificial, mad and occult languages, out of which has grown my personal ‘Bibliotheca Semiologica Curiosa, Lunatica, Magica et Pneumatica,’ which has been a mainstay to me in the present endeavor.

In 1987, I was also encouraged to undertake the study of perfect languages by an early work of Robert Pellerey, and I shall often be referring to his recent volume on perfect languages in the eighteenth century. I have also given two courses of lectures on this topic in the University of Bologna and one at the Collège de France.

Many of my students have made contributions about particular themes or authors. Their contributions appeared, as the rules of academic fairness require, before the publication of this book, in the final issue of VS (1992), 61-3, ‘Le lingue perfette.’

A final word of thanks to the antiquarian booksellers on at least two continents who have brought to my attention rare or unknown texts. Unfortunately–considering the size prescribed for this book–as rich as the most exciting of these trouvailles are, they could receive only passing mention, or none at all. I console myself that I have the material for future excursions in erudition.

Besides, the first draft of this research totaled twice the number of pages I am now sending to the printer. I hope that my readers will be grateful for the sacrifice that I have celebrated for their comfort, and that the experts will forgive me the elliptic and panoramic bent of my story.

Umberto Eco

Bologna, Milan, Paris”

Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language, translated by James Fentress, Blackwell. Oxford, 1995, pp. 5-6.

Satanic Defiance

“Hail, horrors! hail,
Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,
Receive thy new possessor—one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

Excerpt From: Milton, John. Paradise Lost. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

Check out this book on the iBooks Store.

Hades, Nifelhel, Put, Underworld.

“There was no Heaven for the Babylonian dead.

All mankind were doomed to enter the gloomy Hades of the Underworld, “the land of darkness and the shadow of death; a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is darkness,” as Job exclaimed in the hour of despair, lamenting his fate.

This gloomy habitation of the dead resembles the Greek Hades, the Teutonic Nifelhel, and the Indian Put. No detailed description of it has been found.

The references, however, in the Descent of Ishtar and the Gilgamesh epic suggest that it resembled the hidden regions of the Egyptians, in which souls were tortured by demons who stabbed them, plunged them in pools of fire, and thrust them into cold outer darkness where they gnashed their teeth, or into places of horror swarming with poisonous reptiles.

Ishtar was similarly tortured by the plague demon, Namtar, when she boldly entered the Babylonian Underworld to search for Tammuz. Other sufferings were, no doubt, in store for her, resembling those, perhaps, with which the giant maid in the Eddic poem Skirnismal was threatened when she refused to marry Frey, the god of fertility and harvest:

Trolls shall torment thee from morn till eve

In the realms of the Jotun race,

Each day to the dwellings of Frost giants must thou

Creep helpless, creep hopeless of love;

Thou shalt weeping have in the stead of joy,

And sore burden bear with tears….

May madness and shrieking, bondage and yearning

Burden thee with bondage and tears.

In like manner, too, the inhabitants of the Indian Hell suffered endless and complicated tortures.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

The Name of God is Woven Throughout the Torah

“This also explains the particular character of the Torah, which is designed to show the way to the worship of God under the specific conditions of this aeon. The present aeon is ruled by the evil inclination that stems from the power of Stern Judgment and that seduces man to idolatry, which had no place during the preceding period.

At present, the Torah aims to conquer the power of evil, and that is why it contains commandments and prohibitions, things permitted, things forbidden, the pure and the impure. Only a few souls, originating in the preceding aeon, return in order to preserve the world through the power of grace and to temper the destructive sternness of judgment.

Among them are Enoch, Abraham, and Moses. At present, even the perfectly righteous must enter into the bodies of animals; this is the secret reason for the special prescriptions relating to ritual slaughter.

The doctrine of the passage of the souls into the bodies of animals appears here for the first time in kabbalistic literature; it may reflect a direct contact with Cathar ideas (as suggested on p. 238) and serve to support the argument for the Provençal origin of the Temunah.

But among the Cathars as also in India this doctrine led to vegetarianism whereas here, on the contrary, it led to a more meticulous observance of the prescriptions concerning the consumption of meat; the slaughtering of an animal and the eating of its flesh are related to the elevation of the soul confined there from an animal to a human existence.

A distinct concept of hell, which would compete with the notion of the transmigration of souls, seems to be outside the purview of our author. For the rest, the book deals with this doctrine only with great reserve, in spite of its almost unlimited validity; the old commentary, printed together with the editions of the text, was to be much less discreet.

The author even knew that in the present aeon the letters of the Torah had refused to assemble themselves into the particular combinations that would compose the form in which it was to be given to Israel at Sinai.

They saw the law of Stern Judgment and how this shemittah is entangled and ensnared in evil, and they did not wish to descend into the filth upon which the palace of this aeon was erected. But “God arranged with them that the great and glorious name would be combined with them and would be contained in the Torah.”243

Apparently this signifies more than the direct mention of the name of God in the Torah. Rather, the name of God is contained everywhere in the Torah, in a mystical mode; as ibn Gikatilla put it: “It is woven into” the Torah.

All the laws and mysteries of this aeon are inscribed in secret language in this Torah, which embraces all ten sefiroth, and all this is indicated by the particular form of the letters. “No angel can understand them, but only God Himself, who explained them to Moses and communicated to him their entire mystery” (fol. 30a).

On the basis of these instructions, Moses wrote the Torah in his own language, organizing it, however, in a mystical spirit that conformed to these secret causalities. The present aeon must obey this law of Stern Judgment and the Torah that corresponds to it, and only at its end will all things return to their original state.

The author proceeds from the assumption that there also exists within the shemittah an internal cyclical system. The human race, born from the one Adam, developed into millions of individuals. After the redemption, which will take place in the sixth millenium, humanity will perish in the same rhythm in which it began. “In the manner in which everything came, everything passes away.” “The doors to the street are shut” (Eccles. 12:4), and everything returns home to its origin, even the angels of the Merkabah corresponding to this aeon, the heavenly spheres, and the stars.”

Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, 1962, pp. 468-9.

Gabriel, the Angel, on the Pearl

“And again, there shall be unto thee a sign that the Saviour shall come from thy seed, and that He shall deliver thee with thy fathers and thy seed after thee by His coming. Your salvation was created in the belly of Adam in the form of a Pearl before Eve. And when He created Eve out of the rib He brought her to Adam, and said unto them, ‘Multiply you from the belly of Adam.’ The Pearl did not go out into Cain or Abel, but into the third that went forth from the belly of Adam, and it entered into the belly of Seth.”

“And then passing from him that Pearl went into those who were the firstborn, and came to Abraham. And it did not go from Abraham into his firstborn Ishmael, but it tarried and came into Isaac the pure. And it did not go into his firstborn, the arrogant Esau, but it went into Jacob the lowly one. And it did not enter from him into his firstborn, the erring Reuben, but into Judah, the innocent one. And it did not go forth from Judah until four sinners had been born, but it came to Fares (Perez), the patient one.”

“And from him this Pearl went to the firstborn until it came into the belly of Jesse, the father of thy father. And then it waited until six men of wrath had been born, and after that it came to the seventh, David, [David was the eighth of Jesse’s sons] thy innocent and humble father; for God hateth the arrogant and proud, and loveth the innocent and humble. And then it waited in the loins of thy father until five erring fools had been born, when it came into thy loins because of thy wisdom and understanding.”

“And then the Pearl waited, and it did not go forth into thy firstborn. For those good men of his country neither denied Him nor crucified Him, like Israel thy people; when they saw Him Who wrought miracles, Who was to be born from the Pearl, they believed on Him when they heard the report of Him. And the Pearl did not go forth into thy youngest son ‘Adrami. For those good men neither crucified Him nor denied Him when they saw the working of miracles and wonders by Him that was to be born from the Pearl, and afterwards they believed in Him through His disciples.”

“Now the Pearl, which is to be your salvation, went forth from thy belly and entered into the belly of ‘Iyorbe’am (Rehoboam) thy son, because of the wickedness of Israel thy people, who in their denial and in their wickedness crucified Him. But if He had not been crucified He could not have been your salvation. For He was crucified without sin, and He rose [again] without corruption. And for the sake of this He went down to you into Sheol, and tore down its walls, that He might deliver you and bring you out, and show mercy upon all of you.”

“Ye in whose bellies the Pearl shall be carried shall be saved with your wives, and none of you shall be destroyed, from your father Adam unto him that shall come, thy kinsman ‘Eyakem (Joachim), and from Eve thy mother, the wife of Adam, to Noah and his wife Tarmiza, to Tara (Terah) and his wife ‘Aminya, and to Abraham and his wife Sara (Sarah), and to Isaac and his wife Rebka (Rebecca), and to Jacob and his wife Leya (Leah), and to Yahuda and his bride Te’emar (Tamar), and to thy father and his wife Bersabeh (Bathsheba), and to thyself and Tarbana thy wife, and to Rehoboam thy son and his wife ‘Amisa, and to Iyo’akem (Joachim) thy kinsman, who is to come, and his wife Hanna.”

“None of you who shall have carried the Pearl shall be destroyed, and whether it be your men or your women, those who shall have carried the Pearl shall not be destroyed. For the Pearl shall be carried by the men who shall be righteous, and the women who have carried the Pearl shall not be destroyed, for they shall become pure through that Pearl, for it is holy and pure, and by it they shall be made holy and pure; and for its sake and for the sake of Zion He hath created the whole world.”

“Zion hath taken up her abode with thy firstborn and she shall be the salvation of the people of Ethiopia for ever; and the Pearl shall be carried in the belly of ‘Ayorbe’am (Rehoboam) thy son, and shall be the saviour of all the world. And when the appointed time hath come this Pearl shall be born of thy seed, for it is exceedingly pure, seven times purer than the sun. And the Redeemer shall come from the seat of His Godhead, and shall dwell upon her, and shall put on her flesh, and straightway thou thyself shalt announce to her what my Lord and thy Lord speaketh to me.”

“I am Gabriel the Angel, the protector of those who shall carry the Pearl from the body of Adam even to the belly of Hanna, so that I may keep from servitude and pollution you wherein the Pearl shall dwell. And Michael hath been commanded to direct and keep Zion wheresoever she goeth, and Uriel shall direct and keep the wood of the thicket [Compare Gen. xxii, 13] which shall be the Cross of the Saviour. And when thy people in their envy have crucified Him, they shall rush upon His Cross because of the multitude of miracles that shall take place through it, and they shall be put to shame when they see its wonders.”

“And in the last times a descendant of thy son ‘Adramis shall take the wood of the Cross, the third [means of] salvation that shall be sent upon the earth. The Angel Michael is with Zion, with David thy firstborn, who hath taken the throne of David thy father. And I am with the pure Pearl for him that shall reign for ever, with Rehoboam thy second son; and the Angel Uriel is with thy youngest son ‘Adrami[s]. This have I told thee, and thou shalt not make thy heart to be sad because of thine own salvation and that of thy son.”

And when Solomon had heard these words, his strength came [back] to him on his bed, and he prostrated himself before the Angel of God, and said, “I give thanks unto the Lord, my Lord and thy Lord, O thou radiant being of the spirit, because thou hast made me to hear a word which filleth me with gladness, and because He doth not cut off my soul from the inheritance of my father because of my sin, and because my repentance hath been accepted after mine affliction, and because He hath regarded my tears, and hath heard my cry of grief, and hath looked upon my affliction, and hath not let me die in my grief, but hath made me to rejoice before my soul shall go forth from my body.”

“Henceforward [the thought of] dying shall not make me sorrowful, and I will love death as I love life. Henceforward I will drink of the bitter cup of death as if it were honey, and henceforward I will love the grave as if it were an abode of costly gems. And when I have descended and have been thrust down deep into Sheol because of my sins, I shall not suffer grief, because I have heard the word which hath made me glad. And when I have gone down into the lowest depth of the deepest deep of Sheol, because of my sins, what will it matter to me?”

“And if He crush me to powder in His hand and scatter me to the ends of the earth and to the winds because of my sins, it will not make me sorrowful, because I have heard the word that hath made me to rejoice, and God hath not cut my soul off from the inheritance of my fathers. And my soul shall be with the soul of David my father, and with the soul of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob my fathers. And the Saviour shall come and shall bring us out from Sheol with all my fathers, and my kinsmen, old and young.”

“And as for my children, they shall have upon earth three mighty angels to protect them. I have found the kingdom of the heavens, and the kingdom of the earth. Who is like unto God, the Merciful, Who showeth mercy to His handiwork and glorifieth it, Who forgiveth the sins of the sinners and Who doth not blot out the memorial of the penitent? For His whole Person is forgiveness, and His whole Person is mercy, and to Him belongeth praise.” Amen.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Kebra Nagast, p. 111-4. [1922], at sacred-texts.com

Thoth, Scribe of Truth

Ra next sent for the god Thoth, and when he came into the presence of Ra, he invited him to go with him to a distance, to a place called “Tuat,” i.e., hell, or the Other World, in which region he had determined to make his light to shine.

When they arrived there he told Thoth, the Scribe of Truth, to write down on his tablets the names of all who were therein, and to punish those among them who had sinned against him, and he deputed to Thoth the power to deal absolutely as he pleased with all the beings in the Tuat.

Ra loathed the wicked, and wished them to be kept at a distance from him. Thoth was to be his vicar, to fill his place, and “Place of Ra,” was to be his name. He gave him power to send out a messenger (hab), so the Ibis (habi) came into being.

All that Thoth would do would be good (khen), therefore the Tekni bird of Thoth came into being. He gave Thoth power to embrace (anh) the heavens, therefore the Moon-god (Aah) came into being.

He gave Thoth power to turn back (anan) the Northern peoples, therefore the dog-headed ape of Thoth came into being. Finally Ra told Thoth that he would take his place in the sight of all those who were wont to worship Ra, and that all should praise him as God. Thus the abdication of Ra was complete.

In the fragmentary texts which follow we are told how a man may benefit by the recital of this legend. He must proclaim that the soul which animated Ra was the soul of the Aged One, and that of Shu, Khnemu (?), Heh, &c., and then he must proclaim that he is Ra himself, and his word of power Heka.

If he recites the Chapter correctly he shall have life in the Other World, and he will be held in greater fear there than here. A rubric adds that he must be dressed in new linen garments, and be well washed with Nile water; he must wear white sandals, and his body must be anointed with holy oil.

He must burn incense in a censer, and a figure of Maat (Truth) must be painted on his tongue with green paint. These regulations applied to the laity as well as to the clergy.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, edited with Translations, London, 1912. (No page numbers are given in my edition).

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