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Pausanias' Guide to Greece


Translated by Thomas Taylor

Extract - from Book I, Chapter 2- Attica

 With a note on the mythology of the parenting of Erichthonius

In this place too are to be seen the statues of Paeonian Minerva, of Jupiter, Mnemosyne, and the Muses; and likewise the offering sacred to Apollo, which was both dedicated and made by Eubulis; and lastly Acratus one of the daemons attending upon Bacchus, whose face alone projects from the wall. But after the temple of Bacchus, there is an edifice containing statues made from clay, and among these Amphictyon, king of the Athenians, is to be seen receiving both the other divinities and Bacchus at a banquet. In the same place, there is likewise the Eleutherensian Pegasus, who first introduced Bacchus to the Athenians, being assisted by the Delphic oracle, which caused him to remember the prediction, that the advent of Bacchus would take place in the times of Icarius. And after this manner was the kingdom obtained by Amphictyon. But it is reported that Acarus first reigned in that place which is now called Attica. On the death of Actaeus, Cecrops succeeded to the government, and married the daughter of Actaeus, by whom he had three daughters, Erse, Aglaurus, and Pandrosus, and a son, Erysichthon, who did not reign over the Athenians, because he died while his father was alive; and hence, on the death of Cecrops, Cranaus, who was the richest and most powerful of the Athenians, obtained the government. But they report that Cranaus had other daughters besides Atthi, from which last, the region which was formerly called Actaea was denominated Attica. Amphictyon, however, forcibly expelled Cranaus from the kingdom, though at the same time he had married his daughter. But he himself afterwards, through the machinations of Erichthonius and his associates, lost the kingdom. They report, indeed, that the father of Erichthonius was not a mortal, but that his parents were Vulcan and Earth.


Thomas Taylor's note to the above line reads as follows:

The fables of the ancients are, in their secret meaning, utility, and construction, the most beautiful and admirable pieces of composition which the mind of man is capable of framing, though nothing has been so little understood, or so shamefully abused. Of the truth of this observation, the reader, whose mind has been enlightened by true science, will be fully convinced by the following explanation, drawn from ancient sources, of the fable alluded to by Pausanias in this part. Previous to which it will be proper to observe, that the first cause, according to the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophers, on account of his transcendent simplicity, was called The One, this name being adapted the best of all others to a nature truly ineffable and unknown. But it is impossible that such a nature could produce this visible world without mediums, since, if this had been the case, all things must have been like himself, natures ineffable and unknown. It is necessary, therefore, that there should be certain mighty powers between the first cause and us: for we, in reality, are nothing more than the dregs of the universe. These mighty powers, from their surpassing similitude to the first god, were very properly called by the ancient gods; and were considered by them as perpetually subsisting. In the most admirable and profound union with each other and first cause; yet so, as amidst this union, to preserve their own essence distinct from that of the highest god. Hence, as Proclus beautifully observes, they may be compared to trees rooted in the earth: for as these, by their roots, are united with the earth, and become earthly in an eminent degree without being earth itself, so the gods, by their summits, are profoundly united to the first cause, and by this means are transcendently similar to, without being the first cause.

 But these mighty powers are called by the poets a golden chain, on account of their connexion with each other, and incorruptible nature. Now, the first of these powers you may call intellectual; the second, vivific; the third, Paeonian, and so on, which the ancients, desiring to signify to us by names, have symbolically denominated. Hence, says Olympiodorus, in MS. Comment. In Gorgiam, we ought not to be disturbed on hearing such names as a Saturnian power, the power Jupiter, and such like, but explore the things to which they allude. Thus for instance, by a Saturnian power rooted in the first cause, understand a pure intellect: for Kronos or Saturn is koros nous, or a pure intellect. Hence, says Olympiodorus, we call those that are pure and virgins, korai. He adds, on this account poets (This is asserted by Hesiod in his Theogony) say, that Saturn devoured his children, and afterwards, again sent them into the light, because intellect is converted to itself, seeks itself, and is itself sought: but he again refunds them, because intellect not only seeks, and procreates, but produces into light and profits. On this account, too, he is called agkylometis, or inflected counsel, because an inflected figure verges to itself. Again, as there is nothing disordered and novel in intellect, they represent Saturn as an old man, and as slow in his motion: and hence it is that astrologers say, that such as have Saturn well situated in their nativity are prudent and endued with intellect.

 Again, the ancient theologists called life by the name of Jupiter, to whom they gave a two-fold appellation dia and zena , signifying by these names, that he gives life through himself. Farther still they assert that the Sun is drawn by four horses, and that he is perpetually young, signifying by this his power, which is motive of the whole of nature subject to his dominion, his fourfold conversions, and the vigour of his energies. But they say that the Moon is drawn by two bulls: by two, on account of her increase and diminution; but by bulls, because as these till the ground, so the Moon governs all those parts which surround the earth.

 This being premised, as a specimen of the manner in which fables are to be understood, let us consider the meaning of that to which Pausanias alludes. According to the fable, then, Vulcan falling in love with Minerva, emitted his seed on the earth, and from hence sprang the race of the Athenians. By Vulcan, therefore, we must understand that Divine power which presides over the spermatic and physical reasons which the universe contains: for whatever Nature accomplishes by verging towards bodies, the same Vulcan performs in a divine and exempt manner, by moving Nature, and using her as an instrument in his own proper fabrication: for natural heat has a Vulcanian characteristic, and was produced by Vulcan for the purpose of fabricating a corporeal nature. Vulcan, therefore, is that power which perpetually presides over the fluctuating nature of bodies: and hence, says Olympiodorus, he operates with bellows, which occultly signifies his operating in natures. But by earth we must understand matter, which was thus symbolically denominated by the ancients, as we learn from Porphyry de Antr. Nymph. By Minerva we must understand the summit of all those intellectual natures that reside in Jupiter, the artificer of the world: or, in other words, she is that deity which illuminates all mundane natures with intelligence. The Athenians therefore, who are souls of a Minerval characteristic, may be very properly said to be the progeny of Vulcan and the Earth, because Vulcan, who perpetually imitates the intellectual energy of Minerva in his fabrication of the sensible universe, imparts to them through this imitation those vehicles, and those spermatic reasons, through which, in conjunction with matter,they become inhabitants of this terrestrial abode. And thus much for the fable alluded to by Pausanias. For farther information on the most interesting subjects discussed in this note, see my translation of the Cratylus, Phaedo, Parmenides and Timaeus of Plato, my Dissertation on the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries; my Translation of Sallust on the Gods and the World; and of the Emperor Julian's Oration to the Sun, and to the Mother of the Gods.


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