A Review of David Myatt’s Ιερός Λόγος

Covert surveillance photograph of David Myatt by the BBC, 2000 AD
A Review of David Myatt’s Ιερός Λόγος, An Esoteric Mythos

Following on from his translation, from the ancient Greek, of the Pymander chapter of the Corpus Hermeticum, published in 2013 {1}, Myatt has now (January 2015) published his translation of the third chapter of that Corpus, conventionally entitled either A Sacred Discourse or A Holy Sermon. Continuing the iconoclasm prominent in his Pymander translation, Myatt has entitled it An Esoteric Mythos, in justification for which he quotes Herodotus.

In his introduction, Myatt – in reference to his Pymander translation {2} – explains that he has:

“retained the transliterations, and some of the English phrases, used and explained there, such as physis, phaos, theos. I have also, as there, occasionally used some particular, or some quite obscure English words – or forms of them – in order to try and elucidate the meaning of the text or to avoid using, in what is a metaphysical text, some commonplace term with various connotations (contemporary or otherwise) that may lead to a misunderstanding of the text. I have endeavoured to explain such obscure words in the commentary. There is thus in this translation, as in my translation of Pœmandres, a certain technical – or rather, esoteric – vocabulary.”

This results, as with his Pymander, in a text that is quite different from the other translations available, as the following excerpts illustrate.

Mead:

“And every soul infleshed by revolution of the Cyclic Gods, for observation of the marvels of the Heaven and Heaven’s Gods’ revolution, and of the works of God and energy of Nature, for tokens of its blessings, for gnosis of the power of God, that they might know the fates that follow good and evil [deeds] and learn the cunning work of all good arts.” {3}

Copenhaver:

“And through the wonder-working course of the cycling gods they created every soul incarnate to contemplate heaven, the course of the heavenly gods, the works of god and the working of nature; to examine things that are good; to know divine power; to know the whirling changes of fair and foul; and to discover every means of working skillfully with things that are good.” {4}

Myatt:

“Thus, every psyche – embodied in flesh – can
by the mirificence of the circumferent deities coursing the heavens, apprehend the heavens, and honour, and physis presenced, and the works of theos; can understand divine influence as wyrdful change, and thus, regarding what is good and what is bad, discover all the arts of honour.”

Myatt’s translation is more fluid, but also more esoteric and metaphysical requiring as it does of the reader a suspension of certain assumptions and a certain effort; that is, an understanding of the technical – the esoteric, philosophical – terminology used. In the case of the above excerpt, for example, the difference between mirificence and wonder/marvels (and naturally an understanding of the meaning and etymology of the word mirificence);  an understanding of the difference between theos and the term god; and why Myatt has chosen ‘honour’ in preference to ‘good’. Differences and choices which Myatt usually (but not always) explains in his commentary.

Which returns us to Myatt’s iconoclasm in respect of ancient Greek texts. For so often as to be iconoclastic he not only eschews the accepted, the conventional, rendering – into English – of many Greek terms (as in rendering ἅγιος not as the conventional ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’ but as ‘numinous’), but also on occasion ignores interpretations of Greek sentences based on strictly applying accepted rules of Greek grammar and syntax, his reason – explained by him in various writings over the years – being that ancient writers such as Aeschylus, Sappho, and Heraclitus, were not grammarians strictly applying certain rules to what they wrote (or who rewrote their texts to conform to ‘correct’ grammar and syntax), but rather were dramatists, poets, philosophers, sometimes (as in the case of Aeschylus) coining new words or “omitting the article”, and – in the case of the authors of texts such as Ιερός Λόγος – were transcribing as best they could an ancient mythos, or metaphysical speculations, that had a long history of aural (and possibly esoteric) transmission, and which transmission may have caused, intentionally or otherwise, a certain obscurity of meaning in certain passages, and which meaning could not always be adduced by strictly applying rules of grammar and syntax but might be ascertained by understanding – without presumptions, without “retrospective re-interpretation” – the underlying (usually pagan) weltanschauung or metaphysics, and the pagan ethos, of the society of the time.

For all the Greek translations of Myatt – from his Sappho, his Aeschlyus, his Homer, his Sophocles, to quotations from the likes of Heraclitus and Empedocles and his more recent Ιερός Λόγος – present us with a flavour, an intimation, of ancient Greece (classical and Hellenic) that is in many respects quite different from the flavour, the intimation, found in other translations, and nowhere is this more apparent that in his Pymander and his Ιερός Λόγος. A flavour, an intimation, that not only reminds us of personal virtues such as honour (over and above abstract concepts such as good and evil), but which is also most decidedly pagan.

Consider the beginning and the end of A Sacred Discourse.

In respect of the beginning, Mead has:

“The Glory of all things is God, Godhead and Godly Nature. Source of the things that are is God, who is both Mind and Nature, yea Matter, the Wisdom that reveals all things.”

Copenhaver has:

“God is the glory of all things, as also are the divine and the divine nature. God, as well as mind and nature and matter, is the beginning of all things that are.”

Myatt has:

“The numen of all beings is theos: numinal, and of numinal physis. The origin of what exists is theos, who is Perceiveration and Physis and Substance.”

At the end, Mead has:

“For that whereas the Godhead is Nature’s ever-making-new-again the cosmic mixture, Nature herself is also co-established in that Godhead.”

Copenhaver has:

“For the divine is the entire combination of cosmic influence renewed by nature, and nature has been established in the divine.”

Myatt has:

“The divine is all of that mixion: renewance of the cosmic order through Physis, for Physis is presenced in the divine.”

There is here, in Myatt’s interpretation, an intimation of something different and downright metaphysical and mystical if not esoteric. Something to possibly engage the imagination, and some things to discover through study or otherwise. Such as, at the beginning, “what are physis and numinal physis?” and what is perceiveration in respect of Physis? Such as, at end, the meaning of ‘mixion’ (and thus if there is a possible early intimation of alchemy or at the very least some connection to enantiodromia or a mystic hierosgamos?) and the difference there may be between “physis presenced” and “nature established”.

Thus, what Myatt in my view has done, especially with his Ιερός Λόγος and his Pymander – and with many of his other Greek translations – is to bring them alive; made them interesting again, thus possibly piquing the interest of a whole new generation. He has also made such texts as the Ιερός Λόγος and the Pymander seem somewhat strange – if not quixotic – in these our rather material modern times; strange because redolent of an ancient pagan, quite mystical, view of the world that (except possibly in a few people) no longer exists.

But whether he is or will be commended for doing such things is entirely another matter.

R. Parker
2015

Myatt’s Ιερός Λόγος is available (i) as a free pdf download from https://davidmyatt.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/hermetica-an-esoteric-mythos-v2.pdf and (ii) as printed booklet, An Esoteric Mythos: A Translation Of And A Commentary On The Third Tractate Of The Corpus Hermeticum. 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1507660126

Footnotes

{1} David Myatt, Mercvrii Trismegisti Pymander: A Translation and Commentary. 2013. ISBN 9781491249543. Note that this a large format book, 11 inches x 8.5 inches.

The work is available in a more conventional trade paperback size under the title Poemandres, A Translation and Commentary. 2014. ISBN 9781495470684.

{2} Myatt’s Pymander translation is reviewed at https://regardingdavidmyatt.wordpress.com/myatts-the-divine-pymander/

{3} G.R.S. Mead. Thrice Greatest Hermes, volume 2. Theosophical Publishing Society, London, 1906.

{4} Copenhaver, B. Hermetica. Cambridge University Press, 1992.


 

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