Second part of ROBERT GRAVES AND HIS GNOSIS
Here is what Charles, a correspondent of mine, wrote to me about Robert Graves: > I heard Murray Gell-Mann (the "quark" man) lecture at > CalTech a couple of years back, and in his closing > statements he said (this is a very rough paraphrase) that he > thought it would be invaluable if places like CalTech would > hire creative generalists to make associative leaps between > (presumably scientific) disciplines, because much of the > most interesting science comes from such leaps -- but that > these generalists would have to be backed up by "single area > in depth" folk who could ensure that each end of such > associative leaps was securely based in the discipline to > which it claimed to belong. > > I suspect Graves was a fascinating, nay a bristling, > associative generalist in this sense, but one who lacked the > "single area" scholarly anchors that Gell-Mann recommends. Charles makes a very good point here. And I would like to suggest one instance where Graves found his "single area" man. This is his and Raphael Patai's THE HEBREW MYTHS, published in 1963, a very valuable book on the Old Testament that seems to be little known even to many specialists in this area. I would suggest without exaggeration that this is the single most worthwhile biblical commentary I know. In my mind, if I had to name the single greatest achievement of Robert Graves' work, this would be his revolutionary efforts to link together the myths of Greece and Israel. His and Patai's volume of HEBREW MYTHS was meant by RG to function as a companion volume to his two volumes of THE GREEK MYTHS. But the future of these two works was very different. While THE GREEK MYTHS were published and sold in huge editions, HEBREW MYTHS sank mostly without a trace and fell into obscurity. Raphael Patai, his co-author on this book, is an incredibly knowledgeable academic scholar of biblical anthropology. He is a great anchor to Graves' flights of imagination. (Now Patai has published a thick book about this book, his account of how THE HEBREW MYTHS came about.) Robert Graves subtitled THE WHITE GODDESS, as _A Historical_ Grammar_of_Poetic_Myth_. What is one to make of this designation? Many academic scholars believe that THE WHITE GODDESS cannot be considered a work of scholarship simply because of that subtitle. This is the extreme of simple-mindedness. Robert Graves had a complex and, on the whole, rather troubled relationship with the Academe. Although he was a professor of poetry at Oxford for a while, he had contradictory feelings about professional academics. Sometimes, he eagerly sought their approval and cooperation, at other times he almost mischievously teased and antagonised them. So academics, even those who are favourably inclined to him, often say that THE WHITE GODDESS may indeed express some poetic truths, but it is not scholarship. (The fact that it doesn't have footnotes, no doubt, has done more to doom that book in the eyes of the academic world than just about anything else about it, in my opinion.) It is not "the poetic truth" (whatever it is) in THE WHITE GODDESS that is the most valuable to me. I think this book is a book of Gnosis. Graves is a Great English Gnostic of this century, along with Joseph Campbell. Both of them have acknowledged their allegiance to the Goddess Sophia. This book, THE WHITE GODDESS, is far too complex to get into it in great detail now. RG claimed to have solved two great historical riddles in it. Some people won't, but, yes, I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt on this. In this book, he figured out the oghams, the secret druid alphabets. He figured out the druids. He also solved astronomical mysteries. The names of God were reconstituted. The name of the Beast deciphered. He penetrated the origins of the Western mythologies with his theories about three stages of ritual kingship. He linked up all the mythologies of the Occident into one great system. And much, much more. Isn't this quite a mouthful? Is it any wonder he made himself a large number of critics with all this? Now, I think that even if half of what he claimed to have accomplished is really true, he can be counted as a great genius of our time. But, as for every genius, he should be allowed his share of mistakes. Only those who never will try to fly high up to the sun will be guaranteed not to fall down to the ground painfully sometimes... Anyone familiar with the story of his life will understand the demons RG was fighting with in his personal life. What would happen to any of us if we were plucked out of school at the tender age of 18 and sent into that most horrible meat-grinder, the nightmare of WW1? Both his body and his mind never fully recovered from that horror. It's easy to pick on someone like him, when the worst that happened to you is a chipped nail.