Mythological Origins of America

Posted: June 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

It’s not any way comforting to believe that the Golden Age is a stooge for something else with another name that completely contradicts its accepted origin and cause. Prepackaged accounts give out the Golden Age as an after life state in Hesiod and Homer that Virgil transferred to the present life. Virgil invented much, even if he was hijacked  by notions older than Hesiod and not a bit Greek. The Pergamon Altar replays an antagonism between ancient forces. Older myths do not promise earthly bliss like the Golden Age. They promise you will be eaten. Set and Osiris, the Titans and Chaos. Hades means “the unseen” Greek god of the underworld.

Restorations of the Golden Age said, “Europe completed Greek myth exactly in the new world with parallels of Ophir and Hades in the Indies. The American voyage thus represents a metaphoric, mythic descent into hell. The underworld was destined for those who qustioned Columbus, who wished for his critics at home ‘another journey’ for them: ‘Let the habitual critics and fault-finders sitting safely at home ask me now: ‘why did  you not do this in those circumstances?’ I should like to have had them there on that voyage. But I truly believe that another journey of a different character is in store for them if there is any reliance to be placed upon our Faith.”

Thomas Campion’s Latin poem Ad Thamesin (1595) describes more of the journey of America to Hades, literal sense of the gloss “Americae poetica descriptio” appended to the lines,

“There is a place in the west sacred to Dis hidden in the waves, which the blessed Nereus and Oceanus, taking pity on men, concealed.”

[He concealed it out of pity that if they found it it would be to their destruction.]

At first the consecrated place appears “hidden” in the waves… beneath the unknown waters,” but it emerges from the sea. Dis complains,

“Why does this island remain unseen? The earth groans with its weight, with shining gold ripened in its fertile womb.”

Fertile womb indeed if America, Washington D.C. especially, is the covert home of the seven hills. The word “poetical” in the sense of a “poetical description” of America should be understood  as an interpretation of Elysium where Elysium was in Hell, as opposed to philosophers who thought Elysium was the Fortunate Islands or theologians who thought it was the dark side of the moon. In calling Hades an island Campion exploits the naive geography of America, that is, an impediment around which to seek passage for India; but the island Bermuda also served as a model for Dis’s home in its reputation for storms and devils, already well known.

The poem juxtaposes the defeat of the Spanish Armada of 1588 with the rivalry between England and Spain for the new world. The imagery of storms in the poem, “A gloomy storm  and unseasonable night,” suits both the storm that wrecked the Armada and the  storms of the Indies. According to Campion, the attempted Spanish invasion was motivated by the Spanish who in thei9r travels looked too long into the fountain of envy in hell, where Dis entertained them, and became jealous of England, the land of “white cliffs,”  “the island which sparkled with white rocks in the spring.’ The two islands, England and America are thus implicitly compounded with one another because the Spanish threaten both; the poem spans two worlds of fortune, the old and the new. The island of Dis is invisible, “remains unseen,” both for its concealment by the underground lord and for the fact that it remains undiscovered. Dis would have the Spanish newly plant civilization, and since the Spaniards seek a place “sacred to Dis” he [Dis] asks Oceanus to give them smooth passage. The phrase “gold ripened in its fertile womb” joins gold with the human womb, which was a common association among the English and the Spanish. Copying older writers they found trees too as mines which yielded literal  gold  “walnuts” or nuggets as much as they could find gold “as big as the head of a child.’ These images do not seem as bizarre in the naive “golden” sense that C. S. Lewis uses to describe the best of Elizabethan poetry. He means an easy grasp of the image, but there is no ease about the underpinnings of Dis, for all the good fun of the Renaissance most knowledge of Dis came from no knowledge, otherwise it would be said as Campion does at the start, that it would be altogether “another” voyage.

But Oceanus gives the Spanish a freshening east wind to sink their fleet on the shoals, only diverting his plan when “he realized that you, Drake, would bring destruction to the Spaniards, and noble Frobisher of outstanding daring, and likewise the wealthy Cavendish bringing back rich spoils to his native shores from new successes; for fortune favors bold hearts.”

This blatant English propaganda was everywhere in these writings. The Spanish were then examined by Hyperion, who “wondered what new colonist had come into unknown lands.” Dis cast a spell on the Spanish youth: “The Hesperians were mourning not out of respect for the bard but because they were indeed wracked by the vision of the noxious fountain.” Good stuff, this fountain of envy, where “the Spanish youth greedily flooded their eyes with the waters,” is the stated cause of the Armada in 1588. Finally “the diseases of Phlegethon and raving madness, unwelcome pain, and Erinnys lauding her own death sent the Spaniards down under black Tartarus.” Thus America (Hades) seems to swallow up the Spanish so that Britain can occupy, while at the same moment the Armada is defeated. Tartarus and Elysium, the two levels of hell, are both realized in that the Spanish do down under Tartarus while the British go on to Elysium.

 

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