If your wanderings through the world by chance lead you in the valley of the river Rhine (Ger., Eng.) you should visit the nice city of Strasbourg (Ger., Eng.) in the Elsass (Ger., Eng.), because until the 12th of February an interesting exhibition is shown in the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art there: Europe and the Spirit World, or The Fascination with the Occult 1750-1950. Or, if you can not see it (like me), there is always a catalogue in reach via your next library.
doh uuanit des vilo… gotmanno,
daz Elias in demo uuige
so daz Eliases pluot
in erda kitriufit,
so inprinnant die perga,
poum ni kistentit
enihc in erdu,
muor varsuuilhit sih,
suilizot lougiu der himil,
sten ni kistentit,
verit denne stuatago in lant,
verit mit diu vuiru
dar ni mac denae mak andremo helfan
vora demo muspille.
Exactly, “Das Muspilli” (wikipedia English, German). A poem from the 9th century that describes the end of the world. The word “muspille” or “muspilli” (vers 57) was used by the first editor J.A Schmeller (forget the English “article” about him, use the German one) seemingly because he thought it to be a pagan basical word. The word can be found in Edda one or two times and there is a Mispelheim.
The manuscript that gives us the text originates from the monastery (Ger., Eng.) of St. Emmeram in Regensburg. It contains a Latin sermon about the last things that is wrongly ascribed to St. Augustinus. In this precious handwriting a later and unskilled hand penned in the German (althochdeutsch) poem where he found space: The inner sides of the books cover are lost so the beginning and the end of the poem are too. For the complete text see the bibliotheca augustana, a very helpful site. And if you want to hear it, go to Tübingen – there are three sound files.
Said manuscript was dedicated to young Ludwig by bishop Adalram (826-836). Ludwig was 21 years of age when he became duke of Bavaria 825 and he set up his court in Regensburg 828. Later he will become German king, he is called Ludwig “der Deutsche”.
The poem’s handwriting points to the end of the 9th century, the language is Bavarian with Franconian traces. Surely it came into being a long time before it was written down. It uses old language and old imaginary, old formula mostly from the sphere of law.
Doch glauben die Gottesmänner,
dass Elias in dem Kampfe
dass des Elias Blut
auf die Erde träuft.
Da entbrennen die Berge,
kein Baum bleibt stehen,
nicht einer auf Erden,
die Wasser austrocknen,
das Moor versiegt,
zu Lohe schwelt der Himmel,
der Mond fällt,
der Erdkreis brennt,
kein Stein steht mehr fest,
wenn der Sühnetag ins Land fährt,
fährt mit dem Feuer
die Menschen heimzusuchen:
Da kann kein Verwandter dem anderen
helfen vor dem Muspilli.
The men of God ween,
that Elias in this fight
will be hurt,
that Elias’ blood
will pour onto the earth.
The mountains will burn,
no tree survives,
not one on earth,
the waters dry up,
the moor vanishes,
the sky is ablaze,
the moon falls,
no stone will stay,
when the day of judgement comes,
comes with fire into the land
to hount the humans:
No man will be able
to help another one in the face of the
In the course of seminars we always at some point came to the question: What is “Mythos” and why do have intellectuals and thinkers have dealt with that topic?
Martin Scharfe is a very learned man and as a kind of sum he published 2002 his book “Menschenwerk. Erkundungen über Kultur” (roughly: “Man’s deed: Reconnaissance of Culture”, an English edition is desirable) where he dedicates a chapter to the question “Was ist Mythos?” (What is Myth?). He leans on the work of Hans Blumenberg, whom I already mentioned on this site, “Arbeit am Mythos”, a fine, useful and learned book.
After all “Mythos” is a story that never gets old and never ends – the “Moderne” and the modern science did not make the myth obsolete. Mythos is the effort to explain the origin – obviously other kind of explanations do not work, are insufficient. The Mythos stands at the beginning of all. Scharfe, following Blumenberg, gives four points, describes four functions of Mythos.
(1) It helps man to stand against the impact of hostile forces as forces of nature and unpredictability of man himself. As Blumenberg puts it, Mythos is un-frightening man (“entängstigen”), bans angst, reduces the absolutism of reality, helps man to win distance; Mythos enables man to leave back the old terror as monstrosity – in one sentence: The world looses monsters. (“Die Welt verliert an Ungeheuern.”)
(2) Mythos does this by giving names (“benennen”). The terror is nameless, the highest grade of fright has no name and no face. The Mythos is a story and there are beings or entities with names: The Mythos transforms the nameless numinous (“numinos”) vagueness into nominal definiteness, he makes the “Unheimliche” approachable, speakable.
(3) It is not the case that Mythos and ratio (“Vernunft”, reason) are opposite and excluding each other. Blumenberg calls that a “late and bad invention”. They are not only no contradictions – Mythos has and is a kind of ratio of his own: It is ratio. So it does NOT vanish when the modern science “takes over” – the question is whether the latter really does. Science is not total, Mythos is.
(4) If one sees Mythos not only and always as a regression in barbarity the idea and the dialectics of enlightenment can be seen in a new light. Blumenberg speaks of the “tortous connection of myth and enlightenment”, and his word of “myth as enlightenment and enlightenment as myth” is not just a joke or play with words.
Adam and Eva eat the apple. They do against the divine command, follow their own idea. The beginning is marked not with a crime, but a sacrilege, a “Frevel”. As Kant and Schiller pointed out, they leave the old order of the instinct, in which the animals remain.
Eva’s first son is Kain, a man of the field, a farmer and founder of the first settlement (Gen 4,17); her second son is Abel, a shepherd. No human knows why Abel’s offering of an animal was pleasant to God and Kain’s grain not. They were on a field and Kain beat Abel to death. The text reveals nowhere what GOd meant about the sacrifices. Kain thought his sacrifice to be lessened – he was offended, he was jealous, he could not control his impulse. He is no criminal, he is man in full when he does his deed. The mark protects him from being killed, but he has to wander. The mark of Kain is the mark of man: He has the possibility to decide, he knows right from wrong, he has moral. He fails.
For the cultural theory it is important to note the power of the impulse and the knowledge of man about good and bad, that stand at the beginning.
Prometheus is a Titan, a mortal. He not only doubts the total knowledge of the Gods – he laughs about them. In the end he creates humans of his own and steals the fire. He gets punished.
His sacrilege – as the others – is culture-causing. He is – among other things – the founder of medicine. Aischylos lets the chorus say in his drama “Prometheus bound”: “I made men cease from contemplating death. Dass Sterbliche auf ihren Tod hinstarren, schaffte ich ab. (That the mortals stare upon their death – I abandoned that.”
On the beginning is the sacrilege, die Untat, der Frevel, outrage. Man gets the highest and best what mankind can get – itself, the way of life, technology – by committing a monstrosity, bound to and by the results, the consequences of the ruthless deeds, the flood of pain and “Kümmernis” the offended celestial beings let descend on humanity – have to let descend.
This Thursday I held my seminar in front of the smallest possible audience – yes, you guessed it: One person. A young man in his first semester. Two ladies excused themselves in e-mails the day before with illness, and three simply did not show up.
I had a little chat with the head of the institute just before the session, and she told me that the institute faces a strange situation: The newly introduced fees swept a lot of money into the university cassa and – as the others too – she was enabled to hire some people for additional seminars, lectures etc.
One had to be skipped already because of lack of interest from the students. Another one should lead to a small exhibition and possibly a small publication, but it is highly doubtful whether these goals can be reached because too few take part: It is about dancing halls in villages (“Tanzsäle” auf dem Lande), their functions, and the remains. The colleague simply has not enough students to collect the necessary data by traveling over land.
Fact is, there are currently simply too much possible offers in stock for this small institute. I wish she could scrap the money together and finance me an employment.
It was the third session. In the first we had to talk about technical things. In the second I spoke about the brothers Grimm. I realized that the connection to the scientific situation at the end of the 18th century was missing: Wilhelm and Jacob G. did not fall from the sky, they stood in some tradition. To understand what their big achievement was, the basical foundation of a new science called “Germanistik”, it is necessary to see what was before. One of their teachers was the great Herder, who took over some ideas from Giambattista Vico. One of Wilhelm Grimm‘s disciples was a man called Wilhelm Mannhardt, who is important for his mythological thinking and his than new methods of data-collecting. So from Vico’s first writings (1699/1700), via Herder, Grimm to Mannhardt (died 1880) one can show the development of mythological thinking and ideas over a period of roughly 180 years.
Vico started to publish his first ideas after he was appointed professor of rhetoric in Naples 1699; his magnum opus is called scienza nuova and was published 1744 in the last version, third edition. At his lifetime literally nobody was interested in this book. Vico wrote a universal history, from the beginning to the 16th century. He is the first that formulates the basics for all that comes later and today is called “cultural science”, “Kulturwissenschaft”. Based on his thoughts in the 19th century the methodological principles of “Geisteswissenschaft” (“humanities”) will be formulated, especially by Dilthey.
Herder is un-avoidable when you deal with philosophy or the humanities in the second half of the 18th century in the empire. He knew Vico’s writing, developed it further and passed these ideas to his disciples – together with an incredible amount of his own, deep, humanistic philosophy. The Grimms, universal as they were, built on Herder’s ideas and helped to found the new science called “Germanistik”. Mannhardt, as saied above is one of their most striking disciples.
It is all about the idea of “Mythologie”: What is left? Can we go back to the origin? Is there something to be found in the oral traditions, in song, in “Sage”, fairy tales? This “mythological school” was based on the idea of continuity. All very romantic. And already Wilhelm Grimm had quarrels with Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, hard core romantics, about the tone, the kind of language that should be used in the “Kinder- und Hausmärchen“, the large collection of fairy-tales: WIlhelm did not like them to “work over” it, he wanted to keep the original tellings he and his brother collected from the people; the romantics wanted the “Volkston”, so the language would become even more “folkish” – does this word exist? Wilhelm published the “Deutsche Mythologie” (German Mythology) in three volumes and it was a tremendous success. Had a heavy impact and sparked a lot of similar collections, boosted the science.
Mannhardt was an avid reader and started to study in Berlin and Tuebingen. He came to the conclusion that the data-base was too small and that comparison should be used to find out the possibly oldest versions of a folk-tale. It was a one-man-enterprise. He was of poor health with a crippled spine, asthma and a heart-condition. He was without the backing of an institute – he could not get a full duty professorship, collapsed some times – and earned his living as librarian in Danzig.
He kept on working and published his “Wald- und Feldkulte der Germanen” (cults of the Germans in forests and fields). In the preface he gives a critic of the mythological school up to his time and outlines what he did and what should be done. The two volumes were printed in Berlin in the 1870s. He died from a heart-attack 1880 on 25th of December, 49 years old.
That is it in a nutshell. For further reading as far as the philosophical and methodological content is concerned I recommend you to have a look in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for Vico and Herder. Sources about Mannhardt are only in German (BBKL, ADB) avilable. Next week I’ll talk about Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl and billiards.