The internet is still aghast at House science committee member Paul Broun’s claims that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies” from the “pit of hell.” However, Broun is not the first and won’t be the last politician to subordinate science to ideology. William Jennings Bryan was Secretary of State and nearly president of the United States before he went on to prosecute John Scopes for teaching evolution in Tennessee. Ignatius Donnelly was a congressman before almost single-handedly sparking the Atlantis genre of pseudoscience. President Andrew Jackson used the false myth of a lost race of white mound builders to justify the Trail of Tears.
But crossing the Pond, we find in the pages of history a subtler but no less fictitious attempt to force the past to conform to ideology. Regular readers will remember “Arkism,” the weird attempt to argue from the premise that Noah’s Flood was the last common event shared by all humanity that therefore all world religions were distortions of the Genesis flood myth. Well, at the height of the British Empire, the future Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland, William Gladstone, proposed a similar theory about the origins of Greek mythology.
In a series of works beginning with Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age (1858) and continuing in Juventus Mundi (1869) and articles in the Nineteenth Century (down to 1879), Gladstone—trained in the Classics, but deeply religious—argued that the Biblical account of creation was the first and only truth, and that Greek mythology was a degenerate corruption of the same, an imperfectly preserved revelation. Thus, Zeus and his two brothers, Poseidon and Hades, are a degenerate version of the Christian Trinity, confused with elements of Satan. The glories of the Christ to come—Divine Glory and Divine Wisdom—were divided wrongly between Apollo and Athena, who, through confusion, gave rise to several ancillary deities to personify their various attributes.
In this view, everything about Greek religion that agreed with the aesthetics and morals of Protestant Christianity—particularly the Church of England—was therefore original to Greek faith, while those elements at odds with Victorian morality, particularly myths of the gods’ various sexual conquests and homosexual loves, must therefore be a corruption introduced by vile and base barbarians who projected their own unnatural desires into the sky.
Gladstone’s social position and personal rectitude went a long way toward promoting this theory, though other scholars quickly challenged it on the basis of fact: There was simply no evidence for the corruption theory unless one assumed that the Biblical account was the first, and perfect, form. In fact, when arranging Greek texts chronologically, it became obvious that from Homer to the Hesiod to Plato, mythology became more systematic, not less; and morality approached closer to the Victorian ideal, not farther from it. George W. Cox cut Gladstone’s theory to shreds in his unfortunately named Aryan Mythology (1870, rev. 1882).
Gladstone also argued in his Homer that because the word “blue” is never used in Homer, the Greeks were therefore colorblind.
The point, of course, is that politicians and religion tend toward one result: distorting facts in favor of ideology. Or, with the right assumptions, any set of texts can be distorted into anything, from Christian fundamentalism to the ancient astronaut theory to Cthulhu in World Mythology.
10/9/2012 09:21:53 am
10/9/2012 05:16:34 pm
Interestingly, this reminds me of a recent work that argues Greek myth and literature influenced the Old Testament, including the works of Plato. Check out "Argonauts of the Desert" by Philippe Wajdenbaum.
10/10/2012 01:13:30 pm
It's fascinating stuff. I've written before about scholarly arguments that the Jonah tale incorporates Greek Argonaut myths, and that Jepthah's sacrifice of his daughter was modeled on the Greek tales of Iphigenia and Persephone. Thanks for recommending Wajdenbaum's book. I'm going to have to read that one.
10/13/2012 11:08:12 pm
There was an interesting programme on the BBC presented by the historian Robin Lane Fox in which he posited the idea that the Greek myths originated in the eastern Mediterranean - "Greek Myths: Tales of Travelling Heroes" - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vzxv9
10/13/2012 11:29:29 pm
It's based on Fox's book "Travelling Heroes," which is very good. Similar to it is M. L. West's "The East Face of Helicon." There is very little doubt that Greek myth descends from two interlocking, ancient sources: Indo-European mythology (brought with the Greek language) and Near East mythologies, which probably filtered from Mesopotamia to Greece via the Hittites.
10/10/2012 01:44:13 am
I've mulled over this one for awhile and it occurs to me that this behavior really cannot be a attributed ONLY to politics and religions. I mean, what are politics and religions but a culmination of the beliefs and behaviors OF individuals. They are a reflection of the of the individuals.
10/10/2012 04:06:56 am
I stumbled upon your website whilst seeking information about the author Alan Landsburg. Following links, I came upon a comment which you made about a certain person believing in the existence of 'light beings'.
10/10/2012 05:29:43 am
I appreciate your comments, and I believe that you had a genuine experience. We will have to agree to differ, however, on whether it was supernatural. Your description conforms "very closely" to the pattern of a "waking dream," especially when you state that you fell asleep after it. If you read the blog entry I posted today (10/10/12), you'll see that I talk about my own experiences with just such waking dreams.
The purpose of my input was to affirm to you and anyone else that these 'light beings' do exist as one made itself visible to me. The pattern of a 'waking dream' you talk about is without a doubt false in my case. I did not go into detail about the visitation. I was fully awake and do not have 'waking dreams' of this nature and I did not fall asleep straight away. I was so taken aback by this apparition and laid in bed for at least 5-10 minutes before hopping out of bed to see what was making the sound outside after she disappeared. Even after establishing the source of that sound, I laid in bed mulling over what I had seen for over half an hour before falling asleep.
terry the censor
10/13/2012 05:23:29 pm
Pat, no one wants to belittle your experience, but there are many known psychological phenomena that you should investigate before determine conclusively that you have met esoteric energy creatures.
terry the censor
10/14/2012 12:54:46 pm
> I do understand and accept not everyone has heightened awareness
:-) There is no suggestion nor error on my part as far as this incident is concerned Terry. I was fully awake and totally aware of my surroundings. This 'brilliant' lady was definitely standing and looking at me approx. a metre away from the foot of my bed. I can confirm too, she was not a ghost/spectre or anything related, her apparition was 'out of this world', awesome, brilliant, unforgettable, astounding, mind-blowing, fascinating - there are no words to adequately describe her. I visualize her image from time to time and still gasp in awe and disbelief that I, (little old me - one of billions of ordinary human beings on this remote planet) was given that privilege. Gosh! I often say to myself and to my husband - why me, what was so special about me?
terry the censor
10/17/2012 06:42:22 am
Pat, good luck. But I find that people who advocate fringe beliefs are uninterested in trying to disprove their ideas, even when the means are available. If you insist you are special and cannot possibly be in error, therefore you don't need to check your experience against the voluminous scholarly literature on bedroom hallucinations, well...then you have no credibility as a witness.
terry the censor
10/13/2012 05:06:49 pm
> before he went on to prosecute John Scopes for teaching evolution in Tennessee
terry the censor
10/22/2012 06:39:17 am
Bad analogy. I can confirm our correspondence and any third party can drop by this blog and verify it. The light beings cannot confirm your sighting nor can any third party verify it.
Perhaps so - inadequate analogy. However, confirmation of visitation by a 'light being' (that's what it was - obviously), is not sort by me at all nor is it necessary. The saying - 'seeing is believing' is most apt and is applicable in rare incidents such as this.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.