Excerpt: 'In the first chapter 'History of Greek Poetry,' Schlegel speaks of the religious rites and mysteries of the primitive Greeks, and of the Orphic poetry to which they gave rise. Contrary to the opinion of many scholars who, though they admit the present form of the Orphic hymns to be the work of a later period, yet refer their substance to a very remote antiquity, Schlegel assigns their origin to the age of Hesiod. Enthusiasm, he says, is the characteristic of the Orphic poetry-repose that of the Homeric poems.'
Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829) was a German poet, scholarly critic, philosopher, philologist and Indologist. With his older brother, August Wilhelm Schlegel, he was one of the key figures of Jena Romanticism. Schlegel was a supporter of the Romantic movement and also a forerunner in Indo-European studies, comparative linguistics, and morphological typology.
ON THE DISPUTE IN PRIMITIVE HISTORY, AND ON THE DIVISION OF THE HUMAN RACE. Table of Contents
"In the beginning man had the word, and that word was from God."
Thus the divine, Promethean spark in the human breast, when more accurately described and expressed in less figurative language, springs from the word originally communicated or intrusted to man, as that wherein consist his peculiar nature, his intellectual dignity and his high destination.-The pregnant expression borrowed above from the New Testament, on the mystery and internal nature of God, may with some variation, and bating, as is evident, the immense distance between the creature and the Creator, be applied to man and his primitive condition; and may serve as a superscription or introduction to primitive history in the following terms: "In the beginning man had the word, and that word was from God-and out of the living power communicated to man in and by that word, came the light of his existence."-This is at least the divine foundation of all history-it falls not properly within the domain of history, but is anterior to it.-To this position the state of nature among savages forms no valid objection; for that this was the really original condition of mankind is by no means proved, and is arbitrarily assumed; nay, on the contrary, the savage state must be looked upon as a state of degeneracy and degradation-consequently not as the first, but as the second, phenomenon in human history-as something which, as it has resulted from this second step in man's progress, must be regarded as of a later origin.
In history, as in all science and in life itself the principal point on which every thing turns, and the all-deciding problem, is whether all things should be deduced from God, and God himself should be considered the first, nature the second, existence-the latter holding undoubtedly a very important place;-or, whether, in the inverse order, the precedency should be given to nature, and, as invariably happens in such cases, all things should be deduced from nature only, whereby the deity, though not by express, unequivocal words, yet in fact is indirectly set aside, or remains at least unknown. This question cannot be settled, nor brought to a conclusion, by mere dialectic strife, which rarely leads to its object. It is the will which here mostly decides; and, according to the nature and leaning of his character, leads the individual to choose between the two opposite paths, the one he would follow in speculation and in science, in faith and in life.
Thus much at least we may say, in reference to the science of history, that they who in that department will consider nature only, and view man but with the eye of a naturalist (specious and plausible as their reasons may at first sight appear), will never rightly comprehend the world and reality of history, and never obtain an adequate conception, nor exhibit an intelligible representation of its phenomena.-On the other hand, if we proceed not solely and exclusively from nature, but first from God and that beginning of nature appointed by God, so this is by no means a degradation or misapprehension of nature; nor does it imply any hostility towards nature-an hostility which could arise only from a very defective, erroneous, or narrow-minded conception of historical philosophy. On the contrary, experience has proved that by this course of speculation we are led more thoroughly to comprehend the glory of God in nature, and the magnificence of nature herself-a course of speculation quite consistent with the full recognition of nature's rights, and the share due to her in the history and progress of man.
Regarded in an historical point of view, man was created free-there lay two paths before him-he had to choose between the one, conducting to the realms above, and the other, leading to the regions below;-and thus at least he was endowed with the faculty of two different wills. Had he remained steadfast in his first will-that pure emanation of the deity-had he remained true to the word which God had communicated to him-he would have had but one will. He would, however, have still been free; but his freedom would have resembled that of the heavenly spirits, whom we must not imagine to be devoid of freedom because they are no longer in a state of trial, and can never be separated from God. We should, besides, greatly err, if we figured to ourselves the Paradisaic state of the first man as one of happy indolence; for, in truth, it was far otherwise designed, and it is clearly and expressly said that our first parent was placed in the garden of the earth to guard and to cultivate it. "To guard," because an enemy was to be at hand, against whom it behoved to watch and to contend. "To cultivate," possibly in a very different manner, yet still with labour, though, doubtless, a labour blessed with far richer and more abundant recompense than afterwards when, on man's account, the earth was charged with malediction.
This first divine law of nature, if we may so speak, by virtue of which labour and struggle became from the beginning the destiny of man, has retained its full force through all succeeding ages, and is applicable alike to every class, and every nation, to each individual as well as to mankind in general, to the most important, as to the most insignificant, relations of society. He who weakly shrinks from the struggle, who will offer no resistance, who will endure no labour nor fatigue, can neither fulfil his own vocation, whatever it be, nor contribute aught to the general welfare of mankind.-But since man hath been the prey of discord, two different wills have contended within him for the mastery-a divine and a natural will. Even his freedom is no longer that happy freedom of celestial peace-the freedom of one who hath conquered and triumphed-but a freedom, as we now see it-the freedom of undetermined choice-of arduous, still undecided, struggle. To return to the divine will, or the one conformable to God-to restore harmony between the natural and the divine will, and to convert and transform more and more the lower, earthly and natural will into the higher, and divine one, is the great task of mankind in general, as of each individual in particular. And this return-this restoration-this transformation-all the endeavours after such-the progress or retrogressions in this path-constitute an essential part of universal history, so far as this embraces the moral development and intellectual march of humanity.-But the fact that man, so soon as he loses the internal sheet-anchor of truth and life-so soon as he abandons the eternal law of divine ordinance, falls immediately under the dominion of nature, and becomes her bondsman, each individual may learn from his own interior, his own experience, and a survey of life; since the violent, disorderly might of passion herself is only a blind power of nature acting within us. Although this fact is historical, and indeed the first of all historical facts, yet as it belongs to all mankind, and recurs in each individual, it may be regarded as a psychological fact and phenomenon of human consciousness. And on this very account it does not precisely fall within the limits of history, and it precedes all history; but all the consequences or possible consequences of this fact, all the consequences that have really occurred, are within the essential province of history.
The next consequence which, after this internal discord had broken out in the consciousness and life of man, flowed from the developement of this principle, was the division of the single race of man into a plurality of nations, and the consequent diversity of languages. As long as the internal harmony of the soul was undisturbed and unbroken, and the light of the mind unclouded by sin, language could be nought else than the simple and beautiful copy or expression of internal serenity; and consequently there could be but one speech. But after the internal word, which had been communicated by God to man, had become obscured; after man's connection with his Creator had been broken; even outward language necessarily fell into disorder and confusion. The simple and divine truth was overlaid with various and sensual fictions, buried under illusive symbols, and at last perverted into a horrible phantom. Even Nature, that, like a clear mirror of God's creation, had originally lain revealed and transparent to the unclouded eye of man, became now more and more unintelligible, strange and fearful; once fallen away from his God, man fell more and more into a state of internal conflict and confusion.-Thus there sprang up a multitude of languages, alien one from the other, and varying with every climate, in proportion as mankind became morally disunited, geographically divided and dispersed, and even distinguished by an organic diversity of form;-for when man had once fallen under the power and dominion of nature, his physical conformation changed with every climate. As a plant or animal indigenous to Africa or America has a totally different form and constitution in Asia, so it is with man; and the races of mankind form so many specific variations of the same kind, from the negro to the copper-coloured American and the savage islander of the south sea.-The expression races, however, applied to man, involves something abhorrent from his high uplifted spirit, and debasing to its native dignity.-This diversity of races among men no one ought to exaggerate in a manner so as to raise doubts as to the identity of their origin, for, according to a general organic law, which indeed is allowed to hold good in the natural history of animals, races capable of a prolific...