One of the best-known quotations from the occult rites gibbered in H. P. Lovecraft’s stories is not actually Lovecraft’s work at all. In the “Horror at Red Hook” Lovecraft has the following suggestive inscription written in Greek in a blasphemous church, translated “literally” by the investigator into Red Hook’s titular horror:
The context of the story gives no clue that these sentences are not Lovecraft’s own work, and in such later texts as Donald Tyson’s 13 Gates of the Necronomicon (2010), the quotation is presented as though it were Lovecraft’s invention (p. 137).
I think it is fairly well-known that Lovecraft borrowed this quotation from the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica he consulted, where it appears word-for-word in its article on magic. However, the exact original source had eluded me until now, since the Encyclopaedia merely attributed the lines to preservation “by an early Christian writer” that it declined to name.
But now I’ve found it! The lines appear in Hippolytus’ Refutation of All Heresies in Book 4, chapter 35, where the Christian writer describes the way priests of Hecate fake appearances of the goddess through drugs and light shows. In a slightly less romantic translation, the lines are rendered:
But by the end of antiquity, the beauteous goddess favored of the gods on land, sea, and sky had become a three-headed underworld hag and worker of dark magic, as in the Orphic Argonautica:
Needless to say, it was the late, demonic Hecate that gave rise to the rites quoted in “The Horror at Red Hook.”
The Hippolytus quotation wasn’t the only instance where Lovecraft borrowed from Britannica. In his Commonplace Book (entry 121), Lovecraft recorded suggestive titles given by Photius for the lost writer Damascius ("Incredible Fictions," "Tales of Daemons," and "Marvellous Stories of Appearances from the Dead"). S. T. Joshi confessed his ignorance of the list’s origin (see Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos) until I was able to discover that the Commonplace Book entry appears verbatim in the 9th ed. Britannica entry for “Romance” (personal correspondence, June 10, 2009).
4/26/2014 01:30:12 am
Along with gorgon names such as Stheno, the really suggestive thing is, as Tolkien noted, that at some antique age female names were what is now considered "masculine" and vice versa. The names for the most part have relatively innocuous or obviously aetiological descriptive origins.
10/7/2014 08:55:59 pm
in 1989 my friend and I stopped at a gas station on a long trip, in the restroom on the wall was written, 'Gorgo, mormo look favorably upon our sacrifices', hours later on the road he quoted the odd sentence, now 25 years later we still both remember that sentence, how odd that the missing part is 'thousand face moon', my name is moon, and the last 25 years feels like a thousand, how come this bathroom wall quote is burned into my brain? why tonight after so long did I look it up? either way thanks
11/25/2014 12:58:37 am
Great info, thanks! Just rewatched "Touch of Satan" last night and was wondering where the Satan line comes from. Cheers!
4/8/2017 01:34:40 pm
Good sleuthing. Tyson is such a hack. If you want to maintain verisimilitude, at least try to know the source material you're coattailing. I can't stand his books on Alhazred and the Necronomicon. Those two burned me so hard, I never considered reading, let alone buying "13 Gates".
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