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Tag: Homer

The Lamentations for Tammuz

“On the one hand, we now know who was that Tammuz in whose honour Ezekiel saw the women of Jerusalem weeping at the gate of “the Lord’s house.”

On the other hand, it is clear that the Tammuz and Istar of the Babylonian legend are the Adonis and Aphrodite of Greek mythology. Like Tammuz, Adonis, the beloved one of Aphrodite, is slain by the boar’s tusk of winter, but eventually ransomed from Hades by the prayers of the goddess.

It has long been recognised that Aphrodite, the Kyprian goddess of love and war, came to Hellas from Phoenicia, whether or not we agree with Dr. Hommel in seeing in her name a mere etymological perversion of the Phoenician Ashtoreth.

Adonis is the Phoenician Adoni, “my lord,” the cry with which the worshippers of the stricken Sun-god mourned his untimely descent into the lower world.

The cry was familiar throughout the land of Palestine. In the valley of Megiddo, by the plain of Jezreel, each year witnessed “the mourning for Hadad-Rimmon” (Zechariah xii. ll),while hard by Amos heard the men of Israel mourning for “the only son” (Amos viii. lo), and the prophet of Judah gives the very words of the refrain: “Ah me, my brother, and ah me, my sister! Ah me, Adonis, and ah me, his lady!” (Jeremiah xxii. 18).

Monument funéraire, Adonis mourant: Museu Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican. Uploaded by Jean-Pol GRANDMONTéraire_-_Adonis_mourant_-_Museu_Gregoriano_Etrusco.JPG

Monument funéraire, Adonis mourant: Museu Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican.
Uploaded by Jean-Pol GRANDMONTéraire_-_Adonis_mourant_-_Museu_Gregoriano_Etrusco.JPG

 The words were carried across the western sea to men of an alien race and language. “Cry ailinon, ailinon! woe!” says the Greek poet of Athens, and already in Homeric days the dirge was attributed to a mythic Linos whose magic fate was commemorated in its opening words: “0 Linos, Linos!”

Linos, however, had no existence except in a popular etymology; the Greek ailinos is in reality the Phoenician ai-lénu, “alas for us!” with which the lamentations for the death of the divine Adonis were wont to begin.

Like the refrain quoted by Jeremiah, the words eventually go back to Babylonia, and find their counterpart in the closing lines of the old Babylonian poem I have translated above. When Tillili commences her wail over the dead Tammuz, she cries, like the women of Judah and Phoenicia, “0 my brother, the only one!”

It was, above all, in the Phoenician town of Gebal or Byblos that the death of Adonis was commemorated. Here, eight miles to the north of Beyrût, the ancient military road led from eastern Asia to the shores of the Mediterranean, and brought from early days the invading armies of Babylonia and Assyria to the coasts and cities of Canaan.

Hard by was the river of Adonis, the Nahr Ibrahim of to-day, which rolled through a rocky gorge into the sea. Each year, when the rains and melting snow of spring stained its waters with the red marl of the mountains, the people of Gebal beheld in it the blood of the slaughtered Sun-god.

It was then, in the month of Tammuz or June, that the funeral-festival of the god was held. For seven days it lasted. “Gardens of Adonis,” as they were called, were planted, pots filled with earth and cut herbs, which soon withered away in the fierce heat of the summer sun–fitting emblems of the lost Adonis himself.

Meanwhile, the streets and gates of the temples were filled with throngs of wailing women. They tore their hair, they disfigured the face, they cut the breast with sharp knives, in token of the agony of their grief.

Their cry of lamentation went up to Heaven mingled with that of the Galli, the emasculated priests of Ashtoreth, who shared with them their festival of woe over her murdered bridegroom.

Adonis, the young, the beautiful, the beloved of Ashtoreth, was dead; the bright sun of the springtide, like the verdure of nature which he had called into life, was slain and withered by the hot blasts of the summer.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 227-9.

Babylonian Blood Sacrifice

“Like the other Semitic peoples the Babylonians attached great importance to the question of sacrifices. Professor Robertson Smith has put it on record in his Religion of the Semites, that sacrifice among that race was regarded as a meal shared between the worshipper and the deity. This view of sacrifice is almost world-wide among peoples in the higher stages of barbarism if not in those of savagery.

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from an Assyrian intaglio illustrated in A. Rich, Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon in 1811. The sacrifice of the goat, or rather its presentation to the god, is not infrequently represented on the Assyrian bas-reliefs. HISTORY OF EGYPT, CHALDEA, SYRIA, BABYLONIA, AND ASSYRIA By G. MASPERO

Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from an Assyrian intaglio illustrated in A. Rich, Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon in 1811. The sacrifice of the goat, or rather its presentation to the god, is not infrequently represented on the Assyrian bas-reliefs.

There is no source from which we can definitely discover the exact manner of Babylonian and Assyrian sacrifices. As civilization advanced what was intended for the god almost invariably went for the use of the temple. Certain parts of the animal which were not fit to eat were burned to the glory of the deity.

The blood of the animal may, however, have been regarded as more directly pleasing to the gods, and was probably poured out upon the altar. This practice is distinctly of magical origin.

The wizard believes that the dead, demons, and supernatural beings in general have a special desire for blood, and we remember Homer’s vivid description of how, when the trench was cut and the blood of the victims poured therein, the shadowy presentments of the dead flocked about it and devoured the steam arising from the sacrifice.

In some cults blood alone is offered to the gods, and perhaps the most striking instance of this is afforded by the religion of ancient Mexico, in which blood was regarded as the pabulum or food of the gods, and the body of the victim as the ceremonial corpse of the deity to be eaten by his worshippers.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 241-2.

Nergal, God of Death

“It was as the death-dealing lord of Hades that Nergal first became “the hero of the gods,” “who marches in their front.” The metaphor was taken from the champion who, like Goliath, places himself before his comrades and challenges the enemy to combat.

It is thus that we read in the story of the Deluge, when the flood of rain and destruction is described as coming upon the guilty world: “Rimmon in the midst of (heaven) thundered, and Nebo and the Wind-god went in front; the throne-bearers went over mountain and plain; Nergal the mighty removes the wicked; Adar goes in front and casteth down.”


As lord of Hades, too, he was made the son of Mul-lil. A hymn (K 5268), the colophon of which tells us that it was composed in Cutha, begins with the words: “Let Nergal be glorified, the hero of the gods, who cometh forth as the strong one, the son of Mul-lil.”

In the same hymn, Marad is declared to be his city, from which we may infer that Marad was near Cutha. Its protecting divinity, however, was, strictly speaking, Lugal-túda,”the royal offspring,” or perhaps “valiant king,” a personification of the thunder-cloud and lightning; but it is evident from the hymn that he had been identified with the death-dealing god of Cutha.

Another depiction of Nergal, patron god of Kutha.

Another depiction of Nergal, patron god of Kutha.

Of Laz, the wife of Nergal, we know little or nothing. Her name survived as the local divinity of Cutha, but her office and attributes were taken by Allat. Even Nergal himself as the lord of Hades belongs rather to the Accadian than to the Semitic period.

Among the Semites he was the hero and champion of the gods, and as such the destroyer of the wicked, rather than the king of death who slays alike the wicked and the good. The sovereignty of Hades had passed out of his hands, and he had become the companion of the solar Adar and the warrior of the gods of heaven.

Under his old name of Ner, however, a curious reminiscence of his primitive character lasted down to late times. In the hymns and other poetical effusions, we not unfrequently come across the phrase, ”mankind, the cattle of the god Ner.”

I have already drawn attention to the agricultural nature of early Chaldean civilisation, and the influence that agriculture had upon the modes of thought and expression of the population. Not only was the sky regarded as the counterpart of the Babylonian plain, and the heavenly bodies transformed into the herds and flocks that fed there, but the human inhabitants of the earth were themselves likened to the cattle they pastured and fed.

One of the earliest titles of the Babylonian kings was “shepherd,” reminding us of the Homeric ποιμην λαων, “shepherd of nations;” and in the Epic of Gisdhubar the sovereign city of Erech is termed the śubur, or “shepherd’s hut.”

Just as the subjects of the king, therefore, were looked upon as the sheep whom their ruler shepherded, so too mankind in general were regarded as the cattle slain by the god of death. They were, in fact, his herd, whom he fed and slaughtered in sacrifice to the gods.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 196-8.

Bilat, Beltis, Nin-Ki-Gal, Allat, Infernal Queen of the Underworld

“When the god of Nipur became Semitic, his character underwent a change.

As the supreme deity of the state he was necessarily a Baal, but the Semitic Baal embodied very different conceptions from those which were associated with the Accadian Mul-lil. It is true that, as I have just pointed out, his primitive attributes still clung to him, but they were superadded to other attributes which showed him to be the supreme Sun-god of Semitic worship.

That supreme Sun-god, however, revealed himself to his worshippers under two aspects; he might be either the beneficent god who gave life and light to the world, or he might be the fierce and wrathful sun of summer who scorches all nature with his heat, and sinks at night, like a ball of glowing metal, into the darkness of the under-world.

Necessarily it was rather under the latter aspect that the Mul-lil of Nipur became the Semitic Bel.

This is the Bel whose cult was carried to Assyria, and whose name is mentioned frequently in the inscriptions of Nineveh, where among other titles he bears that of “father of the gods.”

This is a title which he received, not in virtue of his primitive character, but because he had become the Semitic Bel.

He was distinguished from the younger Bel of Babylon, Bel-Merodach, as βελιτανας or βολαθην (Βêl-êthûn), (ed. note: Greek sic) “the older Baal,” when Babylon became the imperial city, and its Bel claimed to be the father and head of the Babylonian gods.

But the distinction, as might be expected, was not always observed, and the older and younger Bel are sometimes confounded together.

The confusion was rendered the more easy by the fact that the wife of the Bel of Nipur was addressed as Bilat, and thus was undistinguished in name from Beltis of Babylon.

But she was in reality, as we have seen, the queen of Hades, Nin-ki-gal as the Accadians called her, or Allat as she is named in the Semitic texts.

Allat is interpreted “the unwearied;” like the Homeric epithet of Hades, αδαμαστος, “the inflexible” divinity who ceases not to deal on all sides his fatal blows. Her proper title, however–that, at least, under which she had originally been known at Nipur–was Nin-lil, “the lady of the ghost-world.”

It is under this name that Assur-bani-pal addresses her (Trustees of the British Museum (H.C. Rawlinson), The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, ii. 66) as “the mistress of the world, whose habitation is the temple of the library” (i.e. the temple of Istar at Nineveh).

As Allat, the goddess of Hades, she was a much-dreaded and formidable figure, who is described in the legend of the Descent of Istar as inflicting upon her sister-goddess all the pains and diseases which emanated from her demoniac satellites.

The unfortunate Istar, stripped of her clothing and adornments, is held up to the scorn of the lower world; and Namtar, the plague-demon, is ordered by Allat to smite her with maladies in the eyes, in the sides, in the feet, in the heart, in the head, and, in short, in all the limbs.

Throughout the legend Namtar appears as the messenger of the infernal queen.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 148-50.

Tammuz, Attis, Osiris, Adonis, Diarmid Derive from a More Ancient God of Fertility

“The Babylonian myth of Tammuz, the dying god, bears a close resemblance to the Greek myth of Adonis. It also links with the myth of Osiris. According to Professor Sayce, Tammuz is identical with “Daonus or Daos, the shepherd of Pantibibla,” referred to by Berosus as the ruler of one of the mythical ages of Babylonia. We have therefore to deal with Tammuz in his twofold character as a patriarch and a god of fertility.

The Adonis version of the myth may be summarized briefly. Ere the god was born, his mother, who was pursued by her angry sire, as the river goddesses of the folk tales are pursued by the well demons, transformed herself into a tree.

Adonis sprang from the trunk of this tree, and Aphrodite, having placed the child in a chest, committed him to the care of Persephone, queen of Hades, who resembles the Babylonian Eresh-ki-gal. Persephone desired to retain the young god, and Aphrodite (Ishtar) appealed to Zeus (Anu), who decreed that Adonis should spend part of the year with one goddess and part of the year with the other.

It is suggested that the myth of Adonis was derived in post-Homeric times by the Greeks indirectly from Babylonia through the Western Semites, the Semitic title “Adon,” meaning “lord,” having been mistaken for a proper name. This theory, however, cannot be accepted without qualifications.

It does not explain the existence of either the Phrygian myth of Attis, which was developed differently from the Tammuz myth, or the Celtic story of “Diarmid and the boar,” which belongs to the archaeological “Hunting Period.”

There are traces in Greek mythology of pre-Hellenic myths about dying harvest deities, like Hyakinthos and Erigone, for instance, who appear to have been mourned for. There is every possibility, therefore, that the Tammuz ritual may have been attached to a harvest god of the pre-Hellenic Greeks, who received at the same time the new name of Adonis.

Osiris of Egypt resembles Tammuz, but his Mesopotamian origin has not been proved. It would appear probable that Tammuz, Attis, Osiris, and the deities represented by Adonis and Diarmid were all developed from an archaic god of fertility and vegetation, the central figure of a myth which was not only as ancient as the knowledge and practice of agriculture, but had existence even in the “Hunting Period.”

Traces of the Tammuz-Osiris story in various forms are found all over the area occupied by the Mediterranean or Brown race from Sumeria to the British Isles. Apparently the original myth was connected with tree and water worship and the worship of animals.

Adonis sprang from a tree; the body of Osiris was concealed in a tree which grew round the sea-drifted chest in which he was concealed. Diarmid concealed himself in a tree when pursued by Finn.

The blood of Tammuz, Osiris, and Adonis reddened the swollen rivers which fertilized the soil. Various animals were associated with the harvest god, who appears to have been manifested from time to time in different forms, for his spirit pervaded all nature. In Egypt the soul of Osiris entered the Apis bull or the ram of Mendes.

Tammuz in the hymns is called “the pre-eminent steer of heaven,” and a popular sacrifice was “a white kid of the god Tammuz,” which, however, might be substituted by a sucking pig. Osiris had also associations with swine, and the Egyptians, according to Herodotus, sacrificed a pig to him annually.

When Set at full moon hunted the boar in the Delta marshes, he probably hunted the boar form of Osiris, whose human body had been recovered from the sacred tree by Isis.

As the soul of Bata, the hero of the Egyptian folk tale, migrated from the blossom to the bull, and the bull to the tree, so apparently did the soul of Osiris pass from incarnation to incarnation. Set, the demon slayer of the harvest god, had also a boar form; he was the black pig who devoured the waning moon and blinded the Eye of Ra.

In his character as a long-lived patriarch, Tammuz, the King Daonus or Daos of Berosus, reigned in Babylonia for 36,000 years. When he died, he departed to Hades or the Abyss. Osiris, after reigning over the Egyptians, became Judge of the Dead.”

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

More from the Naassene Fragment, the Great Ineffable Mystery of the Samothracians

” … H. Following after these and such like [follies], these most wonderful “Gnostics,” discoverers of a new grammatical art, imagine that their prophet Homer showed forth these things arcanely; and, introducing those who are not initiated into the Sacred Scriptures into such notions, they make a mock of them.

And they say that he who says that all things are from One, is in error, [but] he who says they are from Three is right, and will furnish proof of the first principles [of things]. 2

J. For one (H. he says) is the Blessed Nature of the Blessed Man Above, Adamas; and one is the [Nature] Below, which is subject to Death; and one is the Race without a king 3 which is born Above—where (H. he says) is Mariam the sought-for, and Jothōr the great sage, and Sepphōra the seeing, and Moses whose begetting is not in Egypt—for sons were born to him in Madiam. 4

S. And this (H. he says) also did not escape the notice of the poets:

“All things were threefold divided, and each received his share of honour.” 1

C. For the Greatnesses (H. he says) needs must be spoken, but so spoken by all everywhere, “that hearing they may not hear, and seeing they may not see.” 2

J. For unless (H. he says) the Greatnesses 3 were spoken, the cosmos would not be able to hold together. These are the Three More-than-mighty Words (Logoi): Kaulakau, Saulasau, Zeēsar;—Kaulakau, the [Logos] Above, Adamas; Saulasau, the [Logos] Below; Zeēsar, the Jordan flowing upwards. 4

(17 5) S. He (H. he says) is the male-female Man

in all, whom the ignorant call three-bodied Gēryonēs—Earth-flow-er, as though flowing from the earth; 1 while the Greek [theologi] generally call Him the “Heavenly Horn of Mēn,” 2 because He has mixed and mingled 3 all things with all.

C. For “all things (H. he says) were made through Him, and without Him no one thing was made that was made. In Him is Life.” 4

This (H. he says) is “Life,” the ineffable Race of perfect men, which was unknown to former generations.

And the “nothing” 5 which hath been made “without Him,” is the special cosmos; 6 for the latter hath been made without Him by the third and fourth [? Ruler]. 7

J. This 1 (H. he says) is the drinking-vessel—the Cup in which “the King drinketh and divineth.” 2

This (H. he says) was found hidden in the “fair seed” of Benjamin.

(18) S. The Greeks also speak of it (H. he says) with inspired tongue, as follows:

“Bring water, bring [me] wine, boy!

Give me to drink, and sink me in slumber! 3

My Cup tells me of what race I must be born,

[Speaking with silence unspeaking].” 4

C. This (H. he says) would be sufficient alone if men would understand—the Cup of Anacreon speaking forth speechlessly the Ineffable Mystery.

J. For (H. he says) Anacreon’s Cup is speechless—in as much as it tells him (says Anacreon) with speechless sound of what Race he must be born—

C. —that is, spiritual, not carnal—

J. —if he hear the Hidden Mystery in Silence.

C. And this is the Water at those Fair Nuptials which Jesus turned and made Wine.

“This (H. he says) is the great and true beginning of the signs which Jesus wrought in Cana of Galilee, and made manifest His Kingship [or Kingdom] of the Heavens.” 5

This (H. he says) is the Kingship [or Kingdom] of the Heavens within us, 6 stored up as a Treasure, 7 as “Leaven hid in three measures of Flour.” 8

(19 1) S. This is (H. he says) the Great Ineffable Mystery of the Samothracians,—

C. —which it is lawful for the perfect alone to know—[that is] (H. he says) for us.

J. For the Samothracians, in the Mysteries which are solemnised among them, explicitly hand on the tradition that this Adam is the Man Original.

S. Moreover, 2 in the initiation temple of the Samothracians stand two statues of naked men, with both hands raised to heaven and ithyphallic, like the statue of Hermes in Cyllene. 3

J. The statues aforesaid are images of the Man Original. 4

C. And [also] of the regenerated 5 spiritual [man], in all things of like substance with that Man.

This (H. he says) is what was spoken by the Saviour:

“If ye do not drink My Blood and eat My Flesh, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens. 6

“But even if ye drink (H. he says) the Cup which I drink, 7 where I go, there ye cannot come.” 8

For He knew (H. he says) of which nature each of His disciples is, and that it needs must be that each of them should go to his own nature.

For from the twelve tribes (H. he says) He chose twelve disciples, and through them He spake to every tribe. 1

On this account (H. he says) all have not heard the preachings of the twelve disciples; and even if they hear, they cannot receive them. For the [preachings] which are not according to their nature are contrary to it.”

G.R.S. Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 164-8.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

The Naassene Fragment Continued, Jesus Made the River Jordan Flow Upwards

” … And that he (H. that is Hermes, so symbolised) is Conductor and Reconductor of souls, 1 and Cause of souls, has not escaped the notice of the poets (H. of the Gentiles), when saying:

“But Cyllenian Hermes summoned forth the souls

Of men mindful” 2

—not the “suitors” of Penelope (H. he says), hapless wights! but of those who are roused from sleep, and have their memory restored to them—

“From what honour and [how great] degree of blessedness.” 3

J. That is, from the Blessed Man Above—

H. —or Original Man, or Adamas, as they 4 think—

J. —they 5 have been thus brought down into the plasm of clay, in order that they may be enslaved to the Demiurge of this creation, Esaldaios 6

H. —a fiery God, fourth in number, for thus they call the Demiurge and Father of this special cosmos. 7

(13) S. “And he 1 holds a rod in his hands,

Beautiful, golden; and with it he spell-binds the eyes of men,

Whomsoever he would, and wakes them again too from sleep.” 2

This (H. he says) is He who alone hath the power of life and death. 3

J. Concerning Him it is written: “Thou shalt shepherd them with a rod of iron.” 4

But the poet (H. he says), wishing to embellish the incomprehensibility of the Blessed Nature of the Logos, bestowed upon Him a golden instead of an iron rod.

S. “He spell-binds the eyes” of the dead (H. he says), and “wakes them again too from sleep”—those who are waked from sleep and become “mindful.” 5

C. Concerning them the Scripture saith: “Awake thou that sleepest, and rise, and Christ will give thee light.” 6

This is the Christ, the Son of Man (H. he says), expressed in all who are born from the Logos, whom no expression can express.

S. This (H. he says) is the Great Ineffable Mystery of the Eleusinia: “Hye Kye.” 7

J. And that (H. he says) all things have been put under Him, this too has been said: “Into all the earth hath gone forth their sound.” 1

(14) S. And “Hermes leads them, moving his rod, and they follow, squeaking” 2—the souls in a cluster, as the poet hath shown in the following image:

“But as when bats into some awesome cave’s recess

Fly squeaking—should one from out the cluster fall

Down from the rock, they cling to one another.” 3

J. The “rock” (H. he says) means Adamas. This (H. he says) is the “corner-stone”—

C. —“that hath become the head of the corner.” 4 For in the

“Head” is the expressive Brain 1 of the Essence, from which [Brain] “every fatherhood” 2 has its expression—

J. —which “I insert in the foundation of Zion.” 3

[By this] (H. he says) he 4 means, allegorically, the plasm of man. For the Adamas who is “inserted” is [the inner man, and the “foundations of Zion” are 5] the “teeth”—the “fence of the teeth,” as Homer says—the Wall and Palisade 6 in which is the inner man, fallen into it from the Primal Man, the Adamas Above—[the Stone] “cut without hands” 7 cutting it, and brought down into the plasm of forgetfulness, the earthy, clayey [plasm].

(15) S. And (H. he says that) they followed Him squeaking 8—the souls, the Logos.

“Thus they went squeaking together; and he led them on,

Hermes, the guileless, down the dark ways.” 9

That is, (H. he says) [He led them] into the eternal lands free from all guile. For where (H. he says) went they?

(16) “They passed by the streams of Ocean, and by the White Rock,

By the Gates of the Sun, and the People of Dreams.” 10

For He (H. he says) is Ocean—“birth-causing of gods and birth-causing of men” 1—flowing and ebbing for ever, now up and now down.

J. When Ocean flows down (H. he says), it is the birth-causing of men; and when [it flows] up, towards the Wall and Palisade, and the “White Rock,” it is the birth-causing of gods.

This (H. he says) is what is written:

“‘I have said ye are Gods and all Sons of the Highest’ 2—if ye hasten to flee from Egypt and get you beyond the Red Sea into the Desert”; that is, from the intercourse below to the Jerusalem Above, who is the Mother of the Living. 3

“But if ye turn back again into Egypt”—that is, to the intercourse below—“‘ye shall die like men.’” 4

For (H. he says) all the generation below is subject to death, but the [birth] begotten above is superior to death.

C. For from water alone—that is, spirit—is begotten the spiritual [man], not the fleshly; the lower [man] is fleshly. That is (H. he says) what is written: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” 5

H. This is their 6 spiritual birth.

J. This (H. he says) is the Great Jordan, which, flowing downwards and preventing the sons of Israel from going forth out of Egypt, or from the intercourse below—

H. —for Egypt is the body, according to them—

J. —was turned back by Jesus 1 and made to flow upwards.”

G.R.S. Mead, Thrice-Greatest HermesVol. 1, 1906, pp. 155-8.

From Hippolytus, Philosophumena; or, Refutation of all Heresies.

On Fear, Anxiety, Angst, and Mythology

“Fear is to be met and managed by the hero on his path to manhood, and an encounter with fear plays a major part in initiation ceremonies.”


Simply, there are two faces to panic: lived out in relation to a stimulus and called fear; held in with no known stimulus and called anxiety. Fear has an object; anxiety has none.  There can be panicky fear, a stampede, say; there can be panicky anxiety in a dream. In either condition, death can result. Psychoanalytic and psychosomatic case reports, as well as dream research and anthropological studies (for instance, on Voodoo death) provide instances of the fatal consequences of anxiety.

The anxiety dream can be distinguished from the nightmare in the classical sense. The classical nightmare is a dreadful visitation by a demon who forcibly oppresses the dreamer into paralysis, cuts off his breath, and release comes through movement. The anxiety dream is less precise, in that there is no demon, no dyspnea, but there is the same inhibition of movement. (A collection of these dreams is given by M. Weidhorn, “The Anxiety Dream in Literature from Homer to Milton,” Studies in Philology 64, pp. 65-82, Univ. of NC., 1967). A literary prototype of the anxiety dream, emphasizing an inhibited peculiarity of movement, occurs in the Iliad xxii, 199-201 (Achilles in pursuit of Hector):

“As in a dream a man is not able to follow one
who runs from him, nor can the runner escape,
nor the other pursue him, so he could not run
him down in his speed, nor the other get clear.”


Contemporary existential philosophy gives to anxiety, dread or Angst a more intentional, a more fulsome interpretation. Angst reveals man’s fundamental ontological situation, his connections with not-being, so that all fear is not just dread of death, but of the nothing on which all being is based. Fear thus becomes the reflection in consciousness of a universal reality.

Buddhism goes yet further: fear is more than a subjective, human phenomenon. All the world is in fear: trees, stones, everything. And the Buddha is the redeemer of the world from fear. Hence the significance of the mudra (hand gesture) of fear-not, which is not merely a sign of comfort but of total redemption of the world from its “fear and trembling,” its thralldom to Angst. Buddha’s perfect love, in the words of the Gospels, “driveth out fear.”

“…to further mix the contexts: let us say that the world of nature, Pan’s world, is in a continual state of subliminal panic just as it is in a continual state of subliminal sexual excitation. As the world is made by Eros, held together by that cosmogonic force and charged with the libidinal desire that is Pan, an archetypal vision most recently presented by Wilhelm Reich–so its other side, panic, recognized by the Buddha belongs to the same constellation. Again, we come back to Pan and the two extremes of instinct.

Brinkman has already pointed to the bankruptcy of all theories of panic that attempt to deal with it sociologically, psychologically or historically and not on its own terms. The right terms, Brinkman says, are mythological. We must follow the path cleared by Nietzsche whose investigation of kinds of consciousness and behavior through Apollo and Dionysos can be extended to Pan. Then panic will no longer be regarded as a physiological defense mechanism or an inadequate reaction or an abaissment du niveau mental, but will be seen as the right response to the numinous.”

–W.H. Roscher, Pan and the Nightmare: Ephialtes–A Pathological-Mythological Treatise on the Nightmare in Classical Antiquity, & An Essay on Pan by James Hillman, 1972. Pp. xxvi-xxviii. (James Hillman, “An Essay on Pan.”)

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