Being British

David Myatt

David Myatt

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In the course of my somewhat idiosyncratic life I have several times been asked that particular question: what I consider being British means. As a child of the British Empire – who grew up, as a Catholic, in places as diverse as East Africa and the Far East – I can only now, in the twilight years of my life, honestly answer the question because my previous answers over decades were – or now seem to me to be – based on some believed in ideology or on some religious faith.

Which recent answer of mine, however unpopular it might currently be, is to refer the questioner to two things.

First, I refer you and them to what a member of the ‘British Establishment’ recently said at a traditional ceremony in Sandhurst:

“In the face of such challenges, Britain’s traditional qualities – fair play, civility, a sense of humour in adversity – remain as precious as they’ve always been.”

Second, I refer you and them to the book Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by Evelyn Waugh. Or, perhaps more pertinently, to the 1981 television series of the same name starring Jeremy Irons which series for me at least so captures the ethos of that novel and of what being British means and implies.

For there is in those Sandhurst remarks everything quintessentially British – fair play, civility, a sense of humour in adversity – just as in the aforementioned television series there is everything that made the British Empire what it was, despite mistakes and despite the past machinations of selfish, money-obsessed, people; despite the various past ideologies of various politicians, and despite how that Empire history has now apparently been re-interpreted for various political and/or ideological reasons.

For that Britishness – at home, overseas – was, in essence, an embodiment of manners, of a gentlemanly and lady-like way of behaving: a certain standard, and a desire to introduce others to certain cultural values and that standard of personal behaviour. As well as representing our British understated elegance of culture; our tolerant acceptance of diversity and difference; our dislike of displaying emotions in public and often in private; and a certain personal modesty. And of course not only a particular personal equation of dichotomy of belief and way of life sometimes (but not always) solved by the notion of communal duty, but also that interior doubt about (and sometimes a guilt regarding) one’s self born of a feeling that ultimately we are accountable and have obligations to our family, our culture, our faith.

Above all there is – in those Sandhurst remarks, in that novel, and that television series – a presencing of a particular wordless attitude to life such as a reading of Cicero – and an appreciation of the life and loves of Alexander the Great, of the poetry of Sappho, of the New Testament – might, in our reading of their texts in their original language, have disposed us toward. An attitude that even today is sadly not embraced – because perhaps not understood, not empathically felt – by the majority, despite a century and more of State education. Deo Gratias that such an appreciation is still taught in such schools, such places, as still revere what once was termed a ‘classical education’: a learning of Latin and Ancient Greek and hence a reading of texts and authors in their original language.

For one finds in so many classical texts excellent similes of what being ‘British’ (cultured, modest, and possessing the virtue of εὐταξία) means and implies, as in this particular example:

ἐκεῖνός γε μὴν ὑμνῶν οὔποτ ̓ ἔληγεν ὡς τοὺς θεοὺς οἴοιτο οὐδὲν ἧττον ὁσίοις ἔργοις ἢ ἁγνοῖς ἱεροῖς ἥδεσθαι ἀλλὰ μὴν καὶ ὁπότε εὐτυχοίη οὐκ ἀνθρώπων ὑπερεφρόνει ἀλλὰ θεοῖς χάριν ᾔδει καὶ θαρρῶν πλείονα ἔθυεν ἢ ὀκνῶν ηὔχετο εἴθιστο δὲ φοβούμενος μὲν ἱλαρὸς φαίνεσθαι εὐτυχῶν δὲ πρᾷος εἶναι [1]

The denotatum – British, Athenian, Ciceronian (to name but three) [2] – may over millennia change but the ethos seems to remain if only (apparently) now remembered and embodied by so few.

David Myatt
2015

Extract from a letter to a friend

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[1] Xenophon, Agesilaus, 11.2

“…this person, whom I praise, never ceased to believe that the gods delight in respectful deeds just as much as in consecrated temples, and, when blessed with success, he was never prideful but rather gave thanks to the gods. He also made more offerings to them when he was confident than supplications when he felt hesitant, and, in appearance, it was his habit to be cheerful when doubtful and mild-mannered when successful.”

[2] Editorial Note, 2018 ev: As Myatt wrote in a footnote in his book Tu Es Diaboli Ianua, he uses “the term denotatum – from the Latin, denotare – in accord with its general meaning which is to denote or to describe by an expression or a word; to name some-thing; to refer that which is so named or so denoted. Thus understood, and used as an Anglicized term, denotatum is applicable to both singular and plural instances and thus obviates the need to employ the Latin plural denotata.”

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Source:
https://web.archive.org/web/20160701124040/http://www.davidmyatt.ws/being-british.html
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Myatt: Breaking My Silence

David Myatt

David Myatt

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Editorial Note: We republish here an item by Myatt written in 2016 and which is “an extract from a letter to a friend” in which he discusses the murder of a Catholic priest in France by supporters of Daesh, aka ‘Islamic State’. The letter is interesting both for its autobiographical content, which includes discussions with Special Branch police officers, and for Myatt’s post-2010 view of Western culture and societies.

The translation of the quotation from Homer’s Odyssey is by Myatt from his translation of Books 1-3, which is available here: Myatt: Odyssey, Books 1-3.

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Breaking My Silence

As someone brought up as a Catholic, who in his early years was educated at a Catholic Preparatory School, who entered the noviciate of a Catholic monastery, and who – perhaps unusually – also some years later converted to Islam, lived for a decade as a Muslim, travelled in Muslim lands, and studied the Quran and Sunnah in Arabic, I am dismayed, unsettled, at the killing of an elderly Priest in a Church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in France by two persons who (according to information received so far) were radical Muslims and probably inspired by the Middle-Eastern group ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fil ‘Iraq wa ash-Sham, named in the lands of the West as Daesh, Isis, and ‘Islamic State’.

So dismayed, unsettled, that I have the temerity to break my self-imposed, years-long, silence regarding ‘current affairs’ and ‘current events’. For such a killing of such an elderly religious figure – taken hostage with (according to current and informed reports) two nuns during Mass – is just so dishonourable, so cowardly, that it yet again places (for me at least) into perspective “what is at stake”, remembering as I do that quotational phrase because it was said to me in 2001 by a Special Branch (SO12) British police officer shortly after the 9/11 attacks in New York.

What is at stake – as that Special Branch officer, and so many of his colleagues, intuitively knew – is the culture of the West itself, manifest as that culture is in such modern societies as those in Britain, France, and the United States, and created as such a culture has been by hundreds of years of communal and individual hardship and pathei-mathos. For the lands of such a culture are – despite their many imperfections, and in comparison to so many other non-Western lands – places of relative safety and peace and opportunity for the majority of their citizens. Places of law, and order, where so many know – and try to do – what is right, what is just, what is honourable. And places where so many other people, world-wide, hope and seek to reach and live.

Of course, such truths are not what I, personally, believed for many decades, seeking as I so often did to undermine such Western societies by political, by revolutionary, and even by terrorist, means. But as I mentioned in a fairly recent essay:

“The reality of The United States of America – in its vastness and its diversity (social, religious, racial) – is, as so discovered via my own recent pathei-mathos, so very different from the answers propagated by those who, lacking such a personal pathei-mathos extending over years of such a diverse America, personally or ideologically fixate on ‘this’ or ‘that’ perceived or even real causal personal problems as exist in a land such as America. Yet the reality of America is of many people – both in government and otherwise – who, from the best of intentions, seek and have saught to make their family, their local area, their State, their nation, a better place.” [1]

What therefore can be done, and is there as some have assumed a clash of ‘civilizations’ with “us” contrasted with “them”?

As to what can be done, my own fallible answer born as it is from some four decades of experience of extremism and pathei-mathos, is that it seems incumbent upon us to know, to remember, how and why our Western societies came into being, how and why they have been progressively reformed over a century and more, and why it is incumbent on each one of us to be prepared to do what is honourable in the immediacy of the living moment.

In this I recall what another member of SO12 said to me following my arrest in 1998 following allegations of ‘conspiracy/incitement to murder’ and ‘incitement to racial hatred’. Which was that he was simply doing his duty, in an honourable way, according to what was laid down: according to the oath of his office and thus according to the accumulated law of the land, and that it was not for him or his colleagues to judge since such judgement was the prerogative of an established Court of Law so constituted in its longevity that a fair trial was possible. He had guidelines, a supra-personal and well-established duty, while I realized I had none, having been guided for so long only by hubris.

As to whether there is a ‘clash of civilizations’, my own fallible answer is that there is not; that here, now – as so often in our human past – there is only a clash between the honourable and the dishonourable, and that while such modern societies as those in Britain, France, and the United States, are far from perfect they do often manifest for perhaps a majority what is decent, honourable, especially when compared to the majority of past societies, so that when dishonour occurs in such societies – when some dishonourable deed is done – there are usually individuals, be they Police officers, or soldiers, or journalists, or some citizen, who will seek to redress that dishonour.

For honour is only and ever honour, always the same, while the dishonourable, the cowardly, can hide behind, and have for millennia hidden behind, some cause or ideology or religion or some personal excuse that they or others have manufactured and denoted by some name. For the fault is not that of some religion named Islam; nor of some extremist version of that religion. The fault is ourselves, our human nature; our propensity – and seemingly, sometimes, our need – to be violent, to find in some cause or some ideology or some religion, an excuse for our desire, our need, to be selfish, dishonourable, violent, or establish a ‘name’ for ourselves.

What we – in societies such as those in Britain, France, and the United States – have evolved, so slowly, so painfully over a century and more are some reasonable guidelines, a sense of duty, regarding what is honourable and what is dishonourable.

As Homer declaimed well over two thousand years ago:

τὸν δ᾽ ἐπαλαστήσασα προσηύδα Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη:
‘ὢ πόποι, ἦ δὴ πολλὸν ἀποιχομένου Ὀδυσῆος
δεύῃ, ὅ κε μνηστῆρσιν ἀναιδέσι χεῖρας ἐφείη.
εἰ γὰρ νῦν ἐλθὼν δόμου ἐν πρώτῃσι θύρῃσι
σταίη, ἔχων πήληκα καὶ ἀσπίδα καὶ δύο δοῦρε [2]

David Myatt
July 26th 2016

Extract From A Letter To A Friend

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[1] In Praise Of America And Britain, 2015.

[2]

“Then Pallas Athena – angry at this – said to him:
Before the gods! How great is the need here for the absent Odysseus –
For him to set about these disrespectful ones with his fists!
Would that he would arrive at the outer gate of this dwelling
With his helmet on and holding his shield and two spears”.

Odyssey, Book I, 252-256 [Translated by DW Myatt].

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Article source:
https://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/breaking-my-silence/


Myatt: The Ethics Of Killing Vermin

The Ethics Of Killing Vermin
A Personal Opinion From Experience

The definitive record of the English language – the 20 volume Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989 – defines vermin as (i) “animals of a noxious or objectionable kind [and which are] almost entirely restricted to those animals or birds which prey upon preserved game, crops, etcetera” and also as (ii) referring to “creeping or wingless insects (and other minute animals) of a loathsome or offensive appearance or character, especially those which infest or are parasitic on living beings and plants.”

Although the killing of vermin – especially those that prey upon preserved game and crops and those which infest or are parasitic on living beings and plants – is common practice in the majority of modern societies especially among farmers, gardeners, and horticulturalists, what aroused my curiosity about the ethics involved was a problem a long-standing friend of mine, who with his family were ethical vegans and trying to live in a self-sufficient way, was having with rats devouring their crops.

Before my retirement – as an old man – from manual work I had spent many, many, years working on farms, working as a gardener, and working in commercial horticulture. On the last farm on which I lived I had no problem hunting down and shooting the fox that had decimated the chickens we kept; had no problem in having Jack Russell’s hunt down and kill rats infesting the barns; had no ethical problem in previous employments in using pesticides and herbicides via knapsacks and tractor driven boom-sprayers. For the health of the livestock, and the health and yield of crops and plants, were part of my responsibility, a responsibility I willingly accepted.

Yet what was a self-sufficient ethical vegan and his self-sufficient ethical vegan family to do in respect of vermin control when suggested non-harmful methods – such as using raised crop beds and humanely trapping and releasing pests elsewhere – had failed? In addition, in the case of rats, would the released pests go on to prey on the crops of someone else and therefore would the vegans be somehow morally responsible for the damage so caused?

My initial suggestion, based both on my practical experience and my interest in Ancient Greek and Latin literature, was for him to use Jack Russell’s to hunt down and kill the rats. For would he – as Creon hoped by his walling-in of Antigone alive in a rock-hewn tomb {1} and as Fabius Maximus, Pontifex of Rome, hoped when he had a Vestal Virgin buried alive {2} – escape retribution by Μοῖραι τρίμορφοι μνήμονές τ᾽ Ἐρινύες {3} because he and they had not personally undertaken the deed of killing?

Such pest control certainly seems to be a moral dilemma for an ethical vegan, committed as such a person is to not harming or causing suffering to living beings, human and otherwise. Would, for instance, it be necessary for he and his family to suffer, to go hungry, because of a refusal to kill – directly or otherwise – such vermin as were devouring their crops?

              My fallible conclusion in respect of his dilemma was that it is for my friend, for each ethical vegan, for each ethical vegan family, to resolve such a moral dilemma in their own way and in their own time; for such individual, such familial, resolution seems to me – according to my admittedly fallible understanding of ethical veganism – to be a necessary part of the vegan weltanschauung where there is not and should not be any reliance on ideations, on dogma, on ideology, on the opinions of others, or on any causal – human-invented – abstractions.

For myself and in respect of vermin I would probably do again what I did when working on farms, when working as a gardener, and when working in commercial horticulture. The raison d’être being that to survive, to prosper, as human beings on this planet it seems to me (based on my experience) that we sometimes of necessity must make difficult decisions in regard to other life while respecting – as I personally always tried to do and as so many others before me had ancestrally done – the being, the soul, the presencing of the Cosmos, that was temporarily manifest in the life that we ended, be such life a fox or even a tree we felled. For there was no joy in such an ending, only – again in my experience – a balancing mingled with a wordless respect for all emanations of life. For ultimately we are they – that life – as they, that life, are us, with such an ancient and natural paganus wisdom almost forgotten in this modern majority city-dwelling age. And yet this wisdom survives – if only just – in some of those who for decades have manually toiled in the countryside.

              To end on a personal note, and in regard to abstractions, I have to admit that my long-standing – and now vegan – friend was the one who was responsible, years ago, for drawing my attention to the fact that the “folk” and “the tribe”, which I had eulogized in my pre-2011 ‘numinous way’, were causal – human-invented – abstractions and thus seemed to be contrary to the individual empathic-derived ethics of that numinous way. Which revelation forced me to reconsider that ‘numinous way’ and formed an important part of the process that eventually led me to evolve that ‘numinous way’ into my individualistic philosophy of pathei-mathos.

David Myatt
August 2018

{1} ἄγων ἔρημος ἔνθ᾽ ἂν ᾖ βροτῶν στίβος
κρύψω πετρώδει ζῶσαν ἐν κατώρυχι,
φορβῆς τοσοῦτον ὡς ἄγος μόνον προθείς,
ὅπως μίασμα πᾶσ᾽ ὑπεκφύγῃ πόλις.
κἀκεῖ τὸν Ἅιδην, ὃν μόνον σέβει θεῶν,
αἰτουμένη που τεύξεται τὸ μὴ θανεῖν,
ἢ γνώσεται γοῦν ἀλλὰ τηνικαῦθ᾽ ὅτι
πόνος περισσός ἐστι τἀν Ἅιδου σέβειν.

She will be led to where the paths are desolate of mortals
And be concealed alive in a rock-hewn tomb
With as much food before her as is required for expiation
So that the whole clan escapes pollution.
There she may if she asks have success from dying
By giving reverence to Hades, the only god she reveres –
Or she will learn at last though late by this
That it is useless toil to so revere Hades.

Sophocles, Antigone, vv. 773-780

{2} Stupri compertae et altera sub terra, uti mos est, ad portam Collinam necata fuerat. (Livy, Book XXII, 57)

{3} “Trimorphed Moirai with their ever-heedful Furies.” Aeschylus (attributed), Prometheus Bound, 516


Translations by DWM

Article source:
https://davidmyatt.wordpress.com/2018/08/17/the-ethics-of-killing-vermin/

Image credit:
The Day’s Consecration – from a painting by Richard Moult


Myatt’s Translation of Sappho

Sappho, depicted on Attic red-figure kalathos, c. 470 BCE. Provenance: Akragas (Sicily) and currently in Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich

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Myatt – or rather, his translation of some of the fragments of the poetry of Sappho as recorded by Mr Richard Moult et al under the titles Sappho: Poetic Fragments I, II, III – gets a mention in a chapter of the book Orienting Feminism: Media, Activism and Cultural Representation published by the academic press Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. The chapter in question (pp.137-153) is by Siobhan Hodge and titled Sappho in Cyberspace.

For the curious, here is a copy of David Myatt’s translation of Sappho: https://regardingdavidmyatt.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/sappho-poetic-fragments-v1.pdf

For the even more curious, the recordings by Moult et al are available (as of March 2018) at (i) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdAVliim57c and (ii) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uARVfV7mngs and (iii) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHKfNVzKSkc


Image credit:
Sappho, depicted on Attic red-figure kalathos, c. 470 BCE.
Provenance: Akragas (Sicily) and currently in Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich


A Review of Myatt’s Corpus Hermeticum I, III, IV, VIII, XI

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David Myatt, Corpus Hermeticum I, III, IV, VIII, XI. 126 pages.
Second Edition, 2017.
ISBN-13: 978-1545020142

This book is a welcome addition to the works of Myatt available in print bringing together as it does his translation of five of the chapters (tracts, tractates) of the ancient Corpus Hermeticum together with his extensive commentary on each of those chapters.

It is apparent that a lot of thought, study, and erudition has gone into the translation. Instead of choosing the conventional English equivalent of particular Greek terms – such as might be found in lexicons such as LSJ or as taught in those few, select, schools which still teach Greek and Latin, and such as are found in other English translations, from Everard to Mead to Copenhaver, and in the French translation of Nock {1} – Myatt has opted for alternatives (including transliterations) in order, in his words, to avoid reading into the texts such modern – non-Classical – meanings as particular English words now might suggest to the reader. Obvious examples are theos instead of ‘God’, perceiverance instead of ‘Mind’, logos instead of ‘Word’, phaos instead of ‘light’, and physis instead of ‘nature’. Not so obvious examples – from among dozens – include envoy instead of ‘herald’, elden instead of ‘ancient’, geniture instead of ‘genesis’, all of which divergences Myatt explains in his commentary.

Of his choice of the term envoy, for example, he writes:

“While the conventional translation here of κῆρυξ is ‘herald’, I consider it unsatisfactory given what that English term now often denotes: either the type of herald familiar from the New Testament or the herald of medieval literature and stories (qv. Morte Arthure, and The Knights Tale by Chaucer). Given the Greco-Roman context (Hermes, Thoth) and classical antecedents (such as Hermes as the protector of mortal envoys and messengers) then ‘envoy’ is more accurate especially given that this is an envoy from the artisan-creator assigned to impart information to mortals.”

Myatt’s thoughtful choice of English words as well as his transliterations sets his translation apart from all other translations of those four tracts, making them not only more interesting but also more esoteric and mystical as befits texts which are themselves esoteric and mystical. That is, Myatt’s has managed to express in English something of the hermetic, esoteric, and rather pagan nature and pagan mysticism of the original Greek text whereas other translations read either like epistles about the God of the early Christians or like pious sermons.

Three examples will illustrate the difference between Myatt’s translation and two of the most widely read translations.

The first example is from the Poemander (Pymander) tract.

Mead translates:

And I say: Whence then have Nature’s elements their being? To this He answer gives: From Will of God. Nature received the Word and gazing on the Cosmos Beautiful did copy it, making herself into a cosmos, by means of her own elements and by the births of souls. And God-the-Mind, being male and female both, as Light and Life subsisting, brought forth another Mind to give things form, who, God as he was of Fire and Spirit, formed Seven Rulers who enclose the cosmos that the sense perceives. Men call their ruling Fate.

Copenhaver:

The elements of nature – from whence have they arisen, I asked. And he answered from the counsel of god which, having taken in the word and seen the beauty of the cosmos, imitated it, having become a cosmos through its own elements and its progeny of souls. The mind who is god, being androgyne and existing as light and life, by speaking gave birth to a second mind, a craftsman, who as god of fire and spirit crafted seven governors; they encompass the sensible world in circles, and their government is called fate.

Myatt:

So I asked from what place, then, the parsements of physis? To which he answered, from the deliberations of theos, who, having comprehended the logos and having seen the beauty of the cosmic order, re-presented it, and so became a cosmic order from their own parsements and by the birth of Psyche. Theos, the perceiveration, male-and-female, being Life and phaos, whose logos brought forth another perceiveration, an artisan, who – theos of Fire and pnuema – fashioned seven viziers to surround the perceptible cosmic order in spheres and whose administration is described as fate.

The second example is from the beginning of the fourth tract, which Myatt titles Chaldron Or Monas, which Copenhaver titles The Mixing Bowl or Monad, and Mead The Cup Or Monad.

Mead translates:

With Reason, not with hands, did the World-maker make the universal World; so that thou thus shouldst think of Him as everywhere and ever-being, the Author of all things, and One and Only, who by His Will all beings hath created. This Body of Him is a thing no man can touch, or see, or measure, a Body inextensible, like to no other frame. ‘Tis neither Fire nor Water, Air nor Breath; yet all of them come from it.

Copenhaver:

Since the craftsman made the whole cosmos by reasoned speech, not by hand, you should conceive of him as present, as always existing, as having made all things, as the one and only and having crafted by his own will the things that are. For this is his body, neither tangible nor visible nor measurable nor dimensional nor like any other body; it is not fire nor water nor spirit, yet all things come from it.

Myatt:

Because the artisan crafted the complete cosmic order not by hand but through Logos, you should understand that Being as presential, as eternal, as having crafted all being, as One only, who by thelesis formed all that is.

That Being has no body that can be touched or seen or measured or which is separable or which is similar to any other body: not of Fire or Water or of Pneuma even though all such things are from that Being.

The third example is from the end of tract eleven which Myatt titles From Perceiverance To Hermes, Copenhaver Mind To Hermes, and Mead Mind Unto Hermes.

Mead:

But if thou lockest up thy soul within thy body, and dost debase it, saying: I nothing know; I nothing can; I fear the sea; I cannot scale the sky; I know not who I was, who I shall be;—what is there [then] between [thy] God and thee? For thou canst know naught of things beautiful and good so long as thou dost love thy body and art bad. The greatest bad there is, is not to know God’s Good; but to be able to know [Good], and will, and hope, is a Straight Way, the Good’s own [Path], both leading there and easy.

Copenhaver:

But if you shut up your soul in your body and abase it and say ‘I understand nothing,I can do nothing; I fear the sea, I cannot go up to heaven; I do not know what I was; I do not know what I will be,’ then what have you to do with god? While you are evil and a lover of the body, you can understand none of the things that are beautiful and good. To be ignorant of the divine is the ultimate vice, but to be able to know, to will and to hope is the straight and easy way leading to the good.

Myatt:

But if you enclose your psyche in your body and lessen it, saying “I comprehend nothing; have no power; fear the sea; am unable to go up into the heavens; do not know who I was and cannot know what I will be,” then what is there with you and also with the god?

For, indulging the body and rotten, you are unable to apprehend the beautiful, the noble. To be completely rotten is to be unaware of the numinous, while having the ability to discover, to have volition, to have expectations, is the direct, the better – its own – way to nobility.

All the unusual words and terms Myatt uses, such as presential, thelesis, and “parsements of physis”, he explains in his commentary, with his approach making his translation the one most suitable for those interested in ancient esotericism and mysticism in general and those with a special interest in hermeticism; and suitable because it, together with his detailed commentary, allows the reader to decide for themselves matters such as whether ‘theos’ in these texts means ‘god’ in the Christian sense or ‘the god’ – the primary divinity – of an ancient paganism, and whether or not νοῦς in these texts really is ‘Mind’ and thus a definite philosophical principle distinguishable from ‘the body’ or whether it simply means, as Myatt suggests, a perceiveration – an insight or an awareness – by the individual.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Myatt – in his introduction to the fourth tractate, Chaldron Or Monas – makes an interesting if currently unfashionable point about the culture, the society, and the people, originally associated with the texts of the Corpus Hermeticum, and although he does not spell it out, he means those of Greco-Roman descent and of Greco-Roman culture who, as ancient colonials, lived in Egypt as opposed to what colonials might have called the ‘natives’, the indigenous peoples of Egypt with their very different culture and language. Myatt writes that,

In this matter, I incline toward the view […] that what is imparted in this tractate, as with the Poemandres and Ιερός Λόγος, is primarily a mystical, and – for centuries – aural, Greek tradition, albeit one possibly influenced, over time and in some degree, by the metaphysical speculations of later philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. That is, that in Ἑρμοῦ πρὸς Τάτ ὁ κρατῆρ ἡ μονάς and Ιερός Λόγος and Ποιμάνδρης, we have an intimation of the metaphysics and the cosmogony taught to initiates of that (or those) ancient and aural and paganus Greek mystical tradition(s) mentioned by writers such as Herodotus. And an intimation that is not – a few borrowed illustrative terms notwithstanding – in any significant and metaphysical manner deriving from or influenced by Biblical stories or by early Christian theology or by indigenous Egyptian culture.

This view contrasts with that of Copenhaver, et al, with Copenhaver for instance writing – confusingly, and perhaps in a ‘politically correct’ and certainly populist way {2} – about the ‘north African’ and Egyptian context and origin of the Corpus as if the authors were north African natives of Egypt rather than European (Greco-Roman) colonials speaking and writing Latin and Greek.

In conclusion, this book despite its idiosyncratic large size (8.5 x 11 inches) is a valuable resource for those interested in ancient esotericism and mysticism in general and for those with a particular interest in hermeticism.

R. S.
2017

{1} (a) Everard, J. The Divine Pymander. London, 1650. (b) Mead, G.R.S. Thrice Great Hermes. Theosophical Publishing Society, 1906. (c) Copenhaver, B. Hermetica. Cambridge University Press, 1992. (d) A. D. Nock and A.-J. Festugière. Corpus Hermeticum, Volume I. Societe d’Edition “Les Belles Lettres”, Paris, 3rd edition, 1972.

{2} Copenhaver, Introduction, op.cit.


Image credit: Gold funerary tablet (c. 200 BCE) found at Eleutherna, Crete


A Review Of Myatt’s Monas

David Myatt
Myatt’s Monas
A New Translation of Corpus Hermeticum IV
Corpus Hermeticum IV

David Myatt’s translation of and commentary on the fourth tract of the Corpus Hermeticum continues the style of his two previous translations of Hermetic texts: transliterations of some Greek words (such as logos and theos) and not giving some other Greek words (such as κακός and μῖσος) there usual meanings such as are found, for instance, in the standard Greek-English Lexicon of Liddell, Scott, and Jones {1}. As with his other Hermetic translations this results in Myatt’s version reading like an ancient pagan text rather than one infused with Christian or ascetic ideas, as the following examples illustrate.

The 1906 Mead translation:

Unless thou first shalt hate thy Body, son, thou canst not love thy Self. But if thou lovest thy Self thou shalt have Mind, and having Mind thou shalt share in the Gnosis.

The 1992 Copenhaver translation, which is quite similar to Mead’s:

Unless you first hate your body, my child, you cannot love yourself, but when you have loved yourself, you will possess mind, and if you have mind, you will also have a share in the way to learn.

The 2016 Myatt translation:

My son, primarily, unless you have a prejudice about the body
You cannot have affection for yourself, and when you have affection for yourself
You can acquire perceiverance and, having perceiverance,
You can participate in episteme.

Regarding episteme, Myatt writes in his commentary:

A transliteration of ἐπιστήμη, which could be – and has been – accented thus: épistémé. The meaning is ‘a way’, or a means or a method, by which something can be known, understood, and appreciated. In this case, perceiveration, which the artisan-creator has positioned “half-way between psyches, as a reward.” Episteme, therefore, should be considered a technical, esoteric, term associated with some of the weltanschauungen that are described in the Corpus Hermeticum. Thus, in the Poemandres tractate, the anados through the seven spheres is an episteme.

A Contentious Choice

One of the most contentious aspects of Myatt approach is his view, described in his Introduction, of the relation of the text to ancient Egyptian beliefs; of the texts being in essence representative of the Greek world-view with only few passing Egyptian references such as using the name Thoth.

While this is also the view of the Dominican priest André-Jean Festugière – the Greek scholar who with Professor Arthur Nock edited the standard edition of the text used by Myatt and others – many modern scholars have veered toward the view of there being some Egyptian, and probably Christian, influence.

The other contentious aspect is how Myatt, in this tractate, defines ἀγαθός. As ‘honourable’ instead of the more usual ‘good’. In defence of his choice he quotes a passage, in Greek, from the Corpus Aristotelicum and provides his own translation, arguing that this expresses the pagan Greek view and is apposite given what the English term good often implies due to the legacy of Christianity.

Myatt’s choice here completely changes the tone of the whole work, as evident in the following passage:

The 1906 Mead translation:

But they who have received some portion of God’s gift, these, Tat, if we judge by their deeds, have from Death’s bonds won their release; for they embrace in their own Mind all things, things on the earth, things in the heaven, and things above the heaven,—if there be aught. And having raised themselves so far they sight the Good; and having sighted It, they look upon their sojourn here as a mischance; and in disdain of all, both things in body and the bodiless, they speed their way unto that One and Only One.

The 1992 Copenhaver translation:

But those who participate in the gift that comes from god, O Tat, are immortal rather than mortal if one compares their deeds, for in a mind of their own they have comprehended all things on earth, things in heaven and even what lies beyond heaven. Having raised themselves so far, they have seen the good and, having seen it, they have come to regard the wasting of time here below as a calamity. They have scorned every corporeal and incorporeal thing, and they hasten toward the one and only.

The 2016 Myatt translation:

And yet, Thoth, those who parten to that gift from theos become,
When set against their deeds, immortal instead of mortal
For they with their perceiverance apprehend the Earthly, the Heavenly,
And what is beyond the Heavens.
Having gone so far, they perceive what is honourable, and, having so perceived,
They regard what preceded this as a delay, as a problem
And, with little regard for whatever is embodied and disembodied,
They strive toward the Monas.

Also notable here is Myatt’s choice of Thoth for Τάτ, and Monas for μονάς. Certainly the choice of Tat by both Mead and Copenhaver is unfortunate given what ‘tat’ means in British English.

Conclusion

Once again Myatt has provided a refreshingly different translation of an important Hermetic text, and one which as with his previous translations of tracts I and III {2} both reads well and offers a different, if iconoclastic and controversial, interpretation most suitable to students of Hermeticism and – perhaps especially – to students of the Occult given how such hermetic texts formed and form one of the foundations of Western Occultism, both during the Renaissance and in our modern times.

As with his other translations and Myatt’s support of ‘copyleft’, it is available both as a free (pdf) download {3} and as a printed book {4}.

R. Parker
July 2016

{1} Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1996. ISBN 9780198642268.

{2} His two previous Hermetica translations were of the Poemandres and the Ιερός Λόγος tracts.

{3} https://davidmyatt.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/corpus-hermeticum-iv.pdf

{4}  David Myatt: Corpus Hermeticum IV: A Translation Of And A Commentary On The Fourth Tractate Of The Corpus Hermeticum. 2016. ISBN 978-1535245784


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