“The problem of varying degrees of socio-political complexity is not resolved by using similar terms for significantly different organizational forms. Equating the state to any or all political organizations makes the worthwhile point that all humans try to live their lives within some form of social order, that includes variations in power, authority, and a system of values that prescribes some and proscribes other activities. However, because all societies have organized social and political behaviour does not mean that all have similar forms within which it takes place.” (Cohen, R in Claessen and Skalník, 32)
“Zῷον πολιτικόν“ (“Man is a political animal.”) (Aristotle: Politics, Book 1, section 1253a)
IN looking for the origins of what we today understand as a state, we must keep in mind Cohen’s warning – to try to understand the early state through our contemporary eyes and definitions can be a dangerous area. The idea of a political structure as one of the foundations of any successful state, be that ancient or modern, is self-evident. Can we, however, look at the early state as a concept objectively? As Kosso has put it:
“Describing the past in ways that make sense to us may amount to just describing ourselves in different circumstances. But subjectivity might be unavoidable, since we have to describe the past in ways that make sense to us and on our own terms.”
With such a long gap between us and the early states, to what extent can we ever hope to understand the naissance of what we would today recognise as a state as opposed to a society? Indeed, can we today truly understand what the contemporary understanding of a state was through our modern eyes or can we only make sense of it through our modern understanding? We can turn to archaeological evidence, but again, how far can we understand that evidence when it is so incomplete? And even where we find almost intact evidence, can we look at it in the same way that those who created it did? Is it possible to look at such evidence as we have in a manner that is in any way objective? We may attempt to look for ‘facts’, but, particularly in the pre-literate period, how can we know what that ‘fact’ is (other than the obvious ‘It is a piece of granite from x’ or ‘The figurines are made from clay from y’)? Kosso again:
‘Even if the facts are collected, discovered rather than invented, the assemblage, the facts we choose and the way we put them together, might be contrived. The inevitable process of selection, description, and arrangement in terms of relevance will be done under the influence of our existing beliefs about the past. In this way, even if the facts are individually independent of our present ideas, they collectively form a picture that is a matter of interpretation. The ramifications of the need to select historiographic facts pose one of the most widely discussed issues of analytic philosophy of historiography. It applies to either sense of the concept of facts, as the events in the past or as descriptions of the events. We are simply not interested in everything that happened in the past.’
As was mentioned in Part I, from Rousseau through to present day, the concept of ‘social stratification’ is one generally accepted idea of the early state in its structural sense. In simplistic terms, the state as a socio-political structure is viewed as something which is created in the first place by the rich or the powerful. Very quickly, this group set up systems – political, religious, judicial – which support their power and dominance over those who are now on the lower social strata; strata which rely upon this powerful elite for much of what they require for their daily life, be that protection, water supply in a desert environment, intervention with the capricious divinities of their pantheon or an expansive trade network which allowed for their goods to be sold and their supplies purchased. For Fried, an institutionalised inequality arises from this early social stratification, and it is the control of the goods and requisites for life which lead to the centralised governmental structure which is the dominant factor in the rule of all the most archaic states. Marx and Engels blamed such structure for most of the evils of societies in their time.
The first question, if this be accepted, is where such an institutionalised societal inequality first arises? Who, in the proto state, decided or allowed those who were to become the socio-political elite of the established state to reach the position of dominant chieftain? Was such a societal structure already established and easily adaptable when hunter-gatherer tribes became domesticators and agriculturalists? When the wanderers became the settled communities? Or was this something which was a post settlement ‘invention’ and a response to the changing requirements of the new form of societal structure that an agricultural settlement brought? And again…how can we know? Are there clues in the later societies (cf the dual titulary of the Kings of Mari as described in Part I and Fleming’s interpretation)? Can we see in this the earlier pastoral elite which developed into the later dominant urban elite? Or do we have two separate elites which eventually combined into the one person of the King of Mari? Which of these became the hegemon when the earlier societies came together to form the bipartite state, if such it indeed were?
THE earliest social structures are exceptionally hard to define. It is necessary to look to the archaeological evidence for some of the oldest settlements to attempt to place any institutionalised hierarchy in context. These are tied in with, as would be expected, agricultural developments as such allowed for a settled life, even though this amounted to little more than a purposeful cultivation of wild plants. Liverani:
‘Already in its incipient phases (10,000–7,500 BC), this new mode of production (ie cultivation of wild plants) had a visible impact on the social structure of human groups and the organisation of resources. Communities began to build round-houses, partly set in the ground and with a tent-shaped roof. Therefore, the earliest permanent base-camps appeared (particularly where the first attempts at cultivation also took place), alongside seasonal camps for hunting purposes (which remained a fundamental activity) and other seasonal activities. The appearance of the first silos for the conservation of food and seeds from one year to the next indicates how these communities had by now overcome the daily dimension of nutrition. Moreover, herds and camps also raised the issue of property and inheritances. This led to the development of tombs, either for individuals or family groups.’ (My italics).
While the silos most probably, and the round-houses very likely, were potentially communal constructions, the procedures of interment and the idea of an individual tomb or a family tomb are rather different (cf the discussion of the Early Neolithic tombs at Tell Qarasa North in Part I, though they date from the IXth millennium BC). These fall in what is classed as the Natufian Period in archaeological terminology (which had been preceded by the Kerbaran c. 20,000 – 12,000 BC) and lasted from c. 12,000-10,300 BC). Perhaps the two key earliest settlements are arguably Jericho in Palestine and Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. For evidence of deliberate cultivation, the “Golden Triangle” (Turkish Euphrates and Taurus region of Upper Mesopotamia)
“…according to recent paleobotanical and paleozoological data – Neolithic innovations such as the domestication of wild plants and animals occurred here for the first time (Aurenche and Kozłowski 1999)”.
So, what does this have to do with the formation of a State? In simplest terms, population increase. When the settled agrarian and domestication communities had mastered and more or less guaranteed a regular food supply (indeed, with surpluses as the silos show), this facilitated two major steps in a growth in population – first, the evident – a regular and sufficient food supply with excess to cover any required shortage. The second, however, is perhaps less obvious. In a group where the greater part of the year is spent in migrating, following the wild herds and the wild plants which feed the members of said community, the time-frame for safely producing children is somewhat limited. Evidence from Lee (1972) based on the population changes in Bushmen communities when they settled, suggests:
“…sedentarization alone may trigger population growth, since women may have children more frequently without any increase in work on their part, and without reducing their ability to provide for each one.”
It is most likely that this would be as apposite to the first settled communities as to the Bushmen of the twentieth century. A growth in population has two further key knock on effects – if in a limited geographic area, the growth will put an added strain on the supplies and resources available to the community, yet also, the greater the population, the greater the potential for a community to expand through its new intrinsic power base and pool of human resources. Though a gradual process, this presumably led to wider communities, but stratified on a socio-political level. The weaker are absorbed into the stronger, with the potential for a wide variety of results and concomitant developments: Will the weaker simply be absorbed and adopted into the hegemonic community, adopting their customs, belief systems et al? Will they be left to their own devices and allowed to continue as a separate cultural if not political entity on the proviso that they acquiesce to the overlordship of the hegemon? Will the two communities form a single political entity, yet remain in two parts on a cultural level (cf the dual titulary of the kings of Mari, again)? Will the weaker be forcibly crushed and enslaved by the hegemonic power? Will they be seen as an ‘under race’ and there as a pool of labour and ‘cannon fodder’ in the inevitable clashes which will ensue from aggressive contact with other powerful communities? In fact, as time went on, all of these were found to exist on one level or another.
“Sedentism creates a new value for children, wives and indeed on any or all means by which local groups can increase their size, Thus, from the Neolithic onwards, person acquisition by social units becomes an important feature of social life. This leads to increased birth rates, to adoption, to polygyny, bridewealth, clientage, fostering and even to forcible capture and enslavement of strangers who are then used to add size and strength to local groups.”
The other limiting factor in the population expansion and the march towards the concept of a state is topography. The limitations of the geographical situation of a population have major implications on expansion and developments of a populace and its socio-political structure. In the area now termed the Ancient Near East, limitations were relatively obvious – mountain ranges, desert areas, swamps and marshlands near the Euphrates/Tigris delta on the Persian Gulf. In the earliest periods of settlement, these could also act as barriers from aggressive neighbours, but quickly, trade routes would develop, facilitating exchanges of ideas, beliefs and customs. Again, the dominant culture would assume the position of hegemon over its area, and in large part due to the successful growth in population combined with the best use of the natural resources available to said community. In the areas which relied upon the major rivers for their livelihoods in all forms needed to be able to cope with the major floods which occurred (specific evidence dates from the III Millennium BC), the gradual salinisation of the fields through over irrigation inter alia as, unlike the Nile in Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates in particular were most certainly not gentle bringers of a benevolent flood! In the third part, I shall look in more detail at individual communities which developed into states and the consequences in both the sort and long term of these burgeoning power bases.
 Kosso, P in A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography, Blackwell, 2009, 10
 Kosso, op cit, 13
 Fried, MH, The Evolution of Political Society, Random House, 1967, 186
 Fleming, Democracy’s Ancient Ancestors, Cambridge, 2004, xiv
 Liverani, The Ancient Near East, Routledge, 36
 ANE Archaeology, Blackwell, 2012, Vol I 382
 Lee RB, in Population Growth: anthropological implications (ed Spooner) Cambs, 1972, 342
 Cohen, op cit, 43
 Oguchi & Oguchi, “ Mid – Holocene floods of the Syrian Euphrates inferred from ‘ tell sediments ’ ” 1998
STATE AND STATEHOOD IN THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST
WHAT do we understand by the term ‘state’? At what point can a community be said to have ceased to be simply a community and to have become a state? Is the state simply a social construct imposed on a community when it achieves a certain size and requires a set pattern of rules in order to function? When did the idea of the state as an entity develop? How have interpretations of the state varied and evolved over the passage of time? What are the requirements of a state in order that it be termed a state? What do the earliest communities and states tell us of their understanding of the concept and the developments in this through written, archaeological and epigraphic evidence they have left to us; and indeed, how well and truly can we interpret this evidence in light of our modern understanding and interpretations of the state and statehood?
There is one major problem in our understanding – there is no single, universally accepted definition of what a state actually is. While this may seem rather unusual, it leads to a level of confusion and countermanding of opinions among scholars, and this in particular with reference to the earliest of states.
Radcliffe Brown (1940) defines the state as:
‘…a collection of individual human beings connected by a complex system of relations. Within that organization different individuals have different roles, and some are in possession of special power or authority.’
While a basic interpretation, as a grounding from which to work, this serves as well as any other – though, as Engels stated:
‘The state…has not existed from all eternity. There have been societies which have managed without it, which had no notion of the state or state power. At a definite stage of economic development, which necessarily involved the cleavage of society into classes, the state became a necessity because of this cleavage.’ (in Claessen and Skalník, ibid, 4)
Is this therefore the defining factor in determining a state? That the differences imposed through an economically determined class structure are the way in which the concept of statehood be understood? What then of those communal societies Engels cites which had no concept of a state? While the Marxist interpretation may look at this in the hope that the removal of social class boundaries will remove the economic differences, would that mean the removal of the State as an entity? Could social structures of hundreds of millions truly return to a none state in the form of a network of truly egalitarian communities, such as may theoretically have existed when communal structures were based upon small familial groups which supported one another (if, indeed, any such ever existed in the first place!)? Where did such pre-industrial, pre-capitalist, pre everything we associate with a modern definition of a state, exist, and when? Have we any concrete proof of such, in any form that we can examine in a meaningful way? With reference to Claessen and Skalník, however:
‘These examples all could be suspected of being secondary state formations, that is developed under the influence of another case and modeled on it. Visibly lacking were exactly those cases that had created the history of the problem in the course of a century and a half of reflection and research on the question… The data visible today are quantitatively disproportionate in the documentation and obscure the few and difficult proto-historic data. Thus, essentially, the comparativism of neo-evolutionists, in its principles and choice of documentation, puts at risk a historical approach to the problem of the origins of the state and complex society.’
THE earliest bulk records at present are the written records from Syria-Mesopotamia, stemming from levels IV and III in the sacred Eanna precinct at Uruk up to the much later caches at Mari, Ugarit inter alia when city states and burgeoning empires were the dominant socio-political structures, fully developed and interacting on a massively complex level, records which stretch over a long period and give us an insight at least into the social and civic constructs which developed into a state structure. The complex interactions between the different groups and individuals which played defining roles in the evolution, areas ruled by petty kings, tribal groups, small communities and their growth into larger polities which, as they evolved, adapted and expanded their concepts of the state and of states, and statehood. In these, the reader can find almost every possible form of governance, from absolute monarchy to early communal governance (though whether this may yet be termed democracy, proto-democracy or any other similar term is as disputed as the whole idea of a single, accepted definition of the state). One of the greatest repositories of these written records is the archive of the kings of Mari, some 3,000 clay tablets covered in Akkadian cuneiform which composed the collection of the last Lord of Mari, Zimri-Lim, and give an overview of the system which had developed over the larger part of the third millennium BC, when Mari had dominated the banks of the Euphrates along an area which today forms part of the Syrian-Iraqi border region.
Zimri-Lim’s self proclaimed title, ‘King of Mari and the Land of the Hana’ is telling in our understanding of this early state at least. As Fleming points out:
‘The first title defines him by the walled city that he made his seat of power, and the second associates him with mobile pastoralists who identify themselves by tribe.’
That the king of a, in reality, minor kingdom of no more than mediocre importance, but one which survived for almost a millennium, needs to refer both to the urban populace and the pastoralist populace under two separate and varying titles, demonstrates that the, what must have been, principle division in the social structure held a great importance. Is there evidence that Engels’ idea of economic division is here present? Was there an urban elite who relied on the taxes and tribute levied on a pastoralist majority underclass? Was there a pastoral elite which controlled the land and held the urban populace in thrall, depending on the food supplies which the pastoralists granted them? Were the tribal loyalties of a pre-urban structure something which the king might ignore in the urban structure, but still of major importance when dealing with a conservative pastoral social structure beyond the city walls? This was, after all, well after the states which composed Mesopotamia had developed into a complex structure of political alliances, wars and marriages. These are questions to which I shall return.
AGRICULTURE, DOMESTICATION AND THE EARLIEST STATES
WHAT happened between the earliest sedentary communities dating to c.10,000 BC and the full blown urbanised and complex societies of around 3,000 BC? What turned them from small communities to States?
The major prerequisite for any state form to develop, under almost every definition, would require a regular supply of the basic commodities needed for survival. Without such, the sole imperative becomes that of a hand to mouth survival, such as is evident from archaeological evidence of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. The two principle of these are evidently food and water, without which the only outcome can be death either through dehydration or starvation – a self-evident statement, but nevertheless, the primary prerequisites. The food supply which the hunter gatherer system gave was highly dependent on the constant nomadic lifestyle as was dictated by the following of migrating animals or moving according to the weather conditions which controlled the wild plant food supplies such as the berries, nuts et al gathered to supplement the meat. There are seeming settled communities at certain places along littorals where the fish and shellfish supplies must have been regular throughout the year, but they are very much in the minority. Some of the earliest polities we find are in the area referred to as the Ancient Near East, and such communities show evidence of early settled agricultural production, based on nine main plants:
Wild Progenitor Cultivar English name
Triticum urartu ?
Triticum boeoticum T. monococcum einkorn
Triticum dicoccoides T. dicoccum emmer
Spontaneum H. distichon barley
Lens orientalis L. culinaris lentil
Pisum humile P. sativum pea
Cicer reticulatum C. arietinum chickpea
Vicia ervilia V. ervilia bitter vetch
? Vicia faba broad bean
Linum bienne L. usitatissimum flax
These nine plants were to remain the mainstay of the agricultural food supplies and textiles from plants through the whole of the western Ancient and Classical worlds.
The cultivation of these plants requires a settled lifestyle, and this, both for the crops and for the agriculturalists, has one joint necessity – water. Regular rainfall is not something which is found in the Ancient Near East away from certain areas which are under the influence of the coastal climate. Even then, for much of the summer period, the rains are not common, and this requires the storage of the rains where no fluvial waters are available; where the rivers are the suppliers of the waters, irrigation on a massive level and the controlling of the waters (where possible) under the floods from the Zagros mountains flowing down the Tigris and the Euphrates were required for a regular and reliable harvest to be available to feed the populace, both pastoral/agricultural and urban. Post the domestication of herd animals, a level of relatively settled life was still a priority when in a desert geographic situation due to the need for water, unlike areas where water and grasslands were plentiful and ergo permitted for the continuation of a more nomadic lifestyle. For Karl Marx, this was a key factor in the development of an early state:
‘He (Marx) particularly emphasized the dichotomic relation between agricultural communities and the state organization, occasioned by the necessity of constructing and maintaining irrigation systems.’
When the agricultural production reached a certain level, the water necessary for the irrigation of the crops could only be supplied by a state which had the capacity to undertake construction on the required scale. When the control of the water falls into the hands of the state, then those who wield that control become the de facto elite; an elite which will demand labour, tribute and taxation in return for ensuring the supply of water through dams, aquifers or ditch systems, both in order that the construction projects be achieved, and as a reward for their services, eventually developing into the social class structure against which Marx and Engels wrote. Does the archaeological and epigraphic evidence support this theory? Or is this a massively simplistic segregating of a hugely complex system which was interpreted simply to support a nineteenth century (AD) politico-philosophical system?
It is necessary to return to the evidence to support the development of agriculture and pastoral domestication and the sequence which led to the situation of a (supposed) elite commanding the water supplies. Liverani:
‘…Neolithic Revolution, when fundamental techniques for food production (agriculture and farming), the necessary instruments (tools and containers), and the earliest forms of housing (houses, villages, and farms) were first developed… (then) the Urban Revolution of the Early Bronze Age. This phase saw the development of recording techniques (which culminated with the development of writing), the introduction of specialised labour (such as full-time craftsmanship) and mass production, as well as the development of cities and the rise of the concept of the state. The third phase took place between the late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age, when a number of innovations, such as the alphabet and increasing use of iron were developed. This led to a sort of ‘democratisation’ of the former palace and temple economies, and a stronger presence of socially and geographically marginal areas compared to the former supremacy of the city.’ (My bold)
Liverani here places the conscious idea of the state in a situation where the necessary socio-politico-economic and religious concepts and constructs have been not only developed but are firmly ensconced in the minds of the populace. So, can the state be defined in the sense of a social evolution which leads to an easily definable end by means of clearly delineated path, almost following a set pattern? Again – very debateable! This would, were it true, necessitate a common starting point in all ‘archaic states’ – indeed, there would surely be an archaic state which was a common prototype – and there most certainly was not. Not all early ‘states’ were tyrannies, there is no standard pattern or ladder of developments which all followed, and there were no requisite developments politically, socially nor economically that all communities followed in order to develop into a clearly defined concept of the state.
The concept of the community, and on a larger level, the state, is the idea of ‘US’. The commonality, the shared ideas, beliefs and experiences are what underlie this idea of ‘us’ – those who lie outside of those commonalities become ‘them’ and are the foreigners. How do the small communities overcome this ‘us’ and ‘them’? Without this, would the small communities be able to grow to the level where they can be called a state? Do they simply rely on a growth in population? If so, how is this guaranteed? The healthier diet which agriculture and the domestication of animals brought, and the regular supply of food which was enhanced by the control of the water supply was evidently a factor in helping this. We can see the effects by examining the graves which are found in the archaeological evidence of the earliest settlements. The graves show something else of equal importance:
“Funerary rituals act as one of the most important mechanisms of ideological regeneration and are a fundamental vehicle to be able to define, develop and strengthen identities, collective memories and social relationships.” These are all things which are intrinsic to the idea of ‘us’.
The graves at Tell Qarasa, dating from the late ninth millennium BC, show a variety of developments which are key in the evolution to statehood: first, there is certainly ritual. The bodies were:
“..buried in oval graves, placed on their side in a flexed position and oriented along an E-W axis. Skulls and, in some cases, long bones were later extracted for certain funerary rituals in which the memory of the deceased was relevant and which were carried out in an abandoned house and its attached courtyard.”
This, combined with the fact that, despite this being a pre-pottery level of history, the bodies were interred with figurines which show features and genitalia as, presumably, totems of the dead, shows a certain level of ritual – indeed, such continue to be found, particularly in the form of the shabti of Egyptian funerary goods, though whether the earlier Syrian figurines are representations of the deceased or as labour for the afterlife is impossible to tell. These grave goods, ritualistic burials and the seeming evidence of excarnation give an almost certain suggestion of the development of a religious system and rituals to allow the deceased to continue or to progress through death to the life hereafter. Without this, there seems little or no point in the ritual. At such an early level in the settled existence of our ancestors, there exists not just a basic or primitive funerary process and ritual, but a highly developed and complex system – something which takes a very long time to develop. What is impossible to ascertain here is whether the excarnation of the isolated bone was part of the ritual (it is known that certain bones, especially the long bones and the skull, were later removed, used in presumably ritual, and returned to the ground, either to the grave or apart) or whether it was a part of a different ritual, or cannibalism of a human sacrifice (to carry hypothesis to its hyperbolic extreme) to accompany the death and interment of an important individual, we cannot tell as there is too little evidence as of yet.
 Claessen and Skalník (eds) The Early State, Mouton,1978, 3
 Liverani, Uruk-The First City, Oakville, 2006, 9-10
 Fleming, Democracy’s Ancient Ancestors, Cambridge, 2004, xiv
 A Companion to the Archaeology of the ANE, Blackwell, Vol I, 2007, 166
 Claessen and Skalník (eds) 1978, 8
 Liverani, The Ancient Near East, Routledge, 2014, 27
 For an in depth explanation, cf Yoffee, Myths of the Archaic State, Cambridge, 2004, 5ff
 Santana et al, Interpreting a ritual funerary area at the Early Neolithic site of Tell
Qarassa North (South Syria, late 9th millennium BC), 2015, 1
 Ibid, 8
“‘Eγώ δέ τούτων έν μεταιχμίω | όρος кατέστην…“ (I stood like a horos in the middle ground between them) frag. 37
One of the most highly complex questions of the Archaic period is that of what Solon actually did and why. The scant references we have rely on a series of statements which are almost completely beyond interpretation given the fact that Solon wrote in poetic form and Aristotle and Plutarch are centuries later. Modern interpretations are equally complex and at variance – Finley, (Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, 86–9) posited that the reforms were per se responsible for the inauguration of the Attic slave based economy, as the chattel slaves were required to replace the indentured labourers from the pre reform era. Indeed, he went so far as to state “one aspect of Greek history is the advance, hand in hand, of freedom and slavery” (ibid, 115).
This question to a great extent rests upon the true meaning of one word – σεισάχθεια – seisakhtheia. Literally, it is the ‘throwing off of burdens’, and is often taken as meaning the cancellation of debts – debts which had left the social structure of the Athens of the time in a state of stasis – discord, an apparently insurmountable division in the populace which was on the verge of tearing apart the social structure and the subsequent dangers that such would bring. Was the seisakhtheia a freeing of the many from a vassal state where one sixth of their goods were payable in tax to the land owner (the hektemoroi) or was it a simple cancellation of the debts which they had built up, and is it a question which we can definitively answer?
“To the ancient historian searching for clues about Solon’s mysterious Seisachtheia, lines 3–7 of fragment 36 of the lawgiver’s poetry appear initially to offer a valuable hint. In the passage Solon boasts of removing from the land the horoi, which had been planted far and wide (őρους άνεîλον πολλαχή πεπηγότας). As a result, the land, once enslaved, is now free (πρόσθεν δέ δουλεύουσα, νϋν έλευθέρη). The author of the Constitution of the Athenians (12.4), followed by Plutarch (Solon 15), used these lines to support the view that the Seisachtheia was in effect a cancellation of debts.” (Harris, A NEW SOLUTION TO THE RIDDLE OF THE SEISACHTHEIA in The Dev. of the Polis in Archaic Greece, 2005, 65)
The change that Solon instigated was on perhaps the most fundamental level – it was to involve a change in the most basic identity of the citizen body. The division of the aristocratic and the non aristocratic based on birth was abandoned in favour of the divisions of social class based upon wealth. Meier sums this change in society, in practical, theoretical and, perhaps most importantly psychological levels, succinctly:
“Knowledge of public affairs and claims to participation must become so firmly rooted in the whole complex of common interests and attitudes that the relatively minor abstract interest in politics shared by many of the citizens can increase and, transcending all the obvious divisions among them, become a major interest shared by all. A usurper knows roughly what he wants and simply has to seek the power and opportunity he needs in order to realize his aims, but where the broad mass of the people is concerned it is necessary, at such an early stage of political evolution, first to awaken, and then to reinforce and perpetuate, the idea that they can win a regular and powerful position in the community. A new political role has to appear, not just a new player to take over an old role. This calls for social reasoning of a quite different and more abstract kind. Finally, since the first democracies in world history could presumably arise only as direct democracies, a readiness for serious commitment had to take shape among the citizens, and this meant nothing less than a transformation of social identity.” (Meier, The Greek Discovery of Politics,1990; 29)
In order for the changes to be implemented, they have to be first accepted, and this required, as stated, the ‘new political role’ in order that the altered system not be perceived as a simple change in nomenclature of the previous system. This does raise questions, however. The new census classes which Solon used to divide up the social structure, with the exception of the pentekosiomadimnoi were not new terms. The top class is the only one which had the numerical name – the others, (hippeis, zeugetai and thetes) appear to be more archaic terms, associated with the eupatridai – the ‘well-born’. Solon had been severely critical of the ruling classes, those who seemed to all intents desirous of resurrecting the full blown aristocracies of the Dark Ages:
“you who have pushed through to glut yourselves with many good things” (fr. 4c.2)
“(who) do not know how to restrain their greed or how to order their present festivities in the peacefulness of the banquet” (fr. 4.9-10)
The eupatridai dominated a system which
“…was oligarchic in all other respects and in particular the poor were enslaved to the rich…they worked the fields of the rich. All the land was in the hands of a few, and if the poor failed to pay their rents both they and their children were liable to seizure.” (Ath Pol 2.1)
The labour here was, by insinuation, indentured with the possibility of slavery for not only the labourer but also his family on the failure of payment. This is the situation to which Harris, cited above, was referring, and indeed the situation the reforms of Solon in his social restructuring were battling in the creation of the new roles to which Meier referred. These were, by intuitive process, necessary as there must, by definition have been those outside of the eupatridai who were prospering on an economic level, as, had there not been, it is questionable as to whether the class reforms based on wealth would have had any point – after all, the majority of those who, in the seventh century, had been the indentured labourers were to remain in the lowest theses class post reform, and as such main outside the high political roles with only a membership of the ekklesia as their sole political right. In liberating the land (πρόσθεν δέ δουλεύουσα, νϋν έλευθέρη) Solon was not claiming to have removed the horoi:
“The act of removing boundary-markers was considered a serious crime. Horoi that marked boundaries to private land were expected to remain fixed and enjoyed the protection of Zeus Horios ([Dem.] 7.39–40). Plato in the Lam (8.842e–843b) condemns their removal as an act of sacrilege, the crime of ‘moving what must not be moved’. Other sources reveal that in several poleis magistrates could punish this crime with severe fines. Are we to believe that Solon in fr. 36 was boasting about committing a crime?” (Harris, op. cit, 56)
Solon, as said at the start, proclaims that HE stood as a horos – a boundary marker which, under threat of divine punishment, could neither be moved nor ignored. He, as the reformer, was the immutable boundary marker between the two sides – the eupatridai and those who stood outside the ruling oligarchic class. Had the meaning by Solon been such that he referred to a literal moving of the boundary stones, then not only would he be boasting of what was both a criminal and indeed sacrilegious act, but also rendering his metaphorical incarnation as a horos an irrelevancy, thereby invalidating any claims to reform that he would make – the fact that his reforms DID take place and were followed through shows that this was not the case: fr. 5
“έστην άμφιβαλών кρατερòν σάкος άμφοτέροισι, νιкάν δ’ ούк εϊασ’ ούδετέρους άδίкως”
(held a mighty shield over both sides and did not allow either side to enjoy an unjust triumph)
The constant refrain is holding the middle ground and showing favour to neither one side nor the other. This was NOT, however, any move towards an egalitarian system, despite the move towards the democratic processes of the following centuries. Ath. Pol. names him “the first champion of the people” – the oppression of the people in Solon’s own words “πόλεμόν θεϋδοντ επεγείρει” (rouses war from its slumber) fr. 4, a decidedly overt warning of the unavoidable consequences of a pre reform status quo. A remaining question is why those who were already in the position of the ruling class were willing to accept the reforms when these would apparently undermine their politically and ergo legally dominant position? Solon’s
“poems too testIfy to his concern to foster a wider understanding of political affairs. We do not know the size of the circle in which Solon wished to encourage and facilitate a stronger commitment to politics. It is clear, that politIcal discussion took place among a wide public. Solon hImself put hIs program to the citizens. Admittedly none of this produced a readiness for regular political commitment, and Athens subsequently succumbed to tyranny, which the great majority of its citizens apparently dId not find unwelcome.” (Meier, op cit, 47)
Did they recognise that the neighbouring states problems and civil wars and serious strife were uncontrollable in the long run under an oligarchic or a tyrannical system, yet that the insecurity would lead to their playing a part in the dominant subsequent tyranny under the Pesistratids, a tyranny which, as Meier points out, was at least accepted if not openly welcomed by the greater part of the Athenian citizen body? In the 620’s (?), as Plutarch recounts:
“When the Megarians had expelled Theagenes their tyrant, for a short time they were sober and sensible in their government (politeia). But later when the popular leaders (demagogoi) poured out untempered freedom for them, as Plato says, they were completely corrupted, and, among their shocking acts of misconduct toward the wealthy, the poor would enter their homes and insist upon being entertained and banqueted sumptuously. But if they did not receive what they demanded, they would treat all the household with violence and insult (hubris). Finally, they enacted a decree whereby they received back again the interest that they happened to have paid their creditors, calling the measure “return interest.” (Mor. 295c–d)
The Athenians could look to next door Megara and see what the results of an unfettered freedom for the people could, and likely would, bring to Athens were she to undergo a similar revolution – the Megaran situation was still fresh in the minds of the eupatridai and they would evidently have no desire to experience the same as their fellows, many of whom would be relations either by marriage or terms of guest friendship. Yet the warnings of the impending disaster for the eupatridai are made clear, and, despite his birth as one of the eupatritid class, where his sympathies on this front lay:
“Restrain your mighty hearts in your breasts, you who have pursued every good thing to excess, and let your pride be in moderation ; for WE shall not obey, nor will these things be perfect for you.” (fr. 4c, 5-8 (Ath Pol 5.3))
Solon’s achievement, IF his own words are to be believed, were in that ‘ξυνήγαγον δήμον’ (I brought the people together). Whether he did or not remains a highly debated question. The ideas and the moving to the fore of the right thinking and the readiness to participate – the opening of the social progression now dependant upon changes in circumstances as opposed to birth were certainly long term results of the consequent changes after Solon. In his own words cited in Plutarch’s “Life of Solon” to finish:
“πολλοὶ γὰρ πλουτεῦσι κακοί, ἀγαθοὶ δὲ πένονται:
ἀλλ’ ἡμεῖς αὐτοῖς οὐ διαμειψόμεθα
τῆς ἀρετῆς τὸν πλοῦτον: ἐπεὶ τὸ μὲν ἔμπεδον αἰεί,
χρήματα δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἄλλοτε ἄλλος ἔχει.”
(Some wicked men are rich, some good are poor;
We will not change our virtue for their store:
Virtue’s a thing that none can take away,
But money changes owners all the day.)
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long supressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.
At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?
Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.
That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.
And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.
To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.
The appointed day has come—the day appointed by destiny—and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.
It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed!
We rejoice in that freedom, even though clouds surround us, and many of our people are sorrow-stricken and difficult problems encompass us. But freedom brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people.
On this day our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the Father of our Nation, who, embodying the old spirit of India, held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us. We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message, but not only we but succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith and strength and courage and humility. We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest.
Our next thoughts must be of the unknown volunteers and soldiers of freedom who, without praise or reward, have served India even unto death.
We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good [or] ill fortune alike.
The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.
We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.
To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy.
And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service.
Inspired by Andy Keen – Literature on the In Our Time Podcasts – Divided into:
Individual Works, Authors and Poets, Eras and Themes and Miscellaneous
Eugene Onegin (Andrew Kahn, Emily Finer, Simon Dixon) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08tvjjq
Gaskell’s North and South (Sally Shuttleworth, Dinah Birch, Jenny Uglow) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08h0654
Four Quartets (David Moody, Fran Brearton, Mark Ford) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0858w43
The Wasteland and Modernity (Steve Connor, Lawrence Rainey, Fran Brearton) ) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00hlb38
Epic of Gilgamesh (Andrew George, Frances Reynolds, Martin Worthington) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b080wbrq
Animal Farm (Steven Connor, Mary Vincent, Robert Colls) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07wgkz4
Songs of Innocence and Experience (Sir Jonathan Bate, Sarah Haggarty, John Lee) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07gh4pg
Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Francis O’Gorman, Jane Thomas, Dinah Birch) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b078zcrr
Aurora Leigh (Margaret Reynolds, Daniel Karlin, Karen O’Brien) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0745d37
Tristan and Iseult (Laura Ashe, Juliette Wood, Mark Chinca) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06sny88
Emma (Jane Todd, John Mullan, Emma Clery) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06pd3b9
Jane Eyre (Dinah Birch, Karen O’Brien, Sara Lyons) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05y11v8
Beowulf (Laura Ashe, Clare Lees, Andy Orchard) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0542xt7
Icelandic Sagas (Carolyne Larrington, Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, Emily Lethbridge) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01s8qx9
Le Morte d’Arthur (Helen Cooper, Helen Fulton, Laura Ashe) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01pp989
Kafka’s Der Prozeß (The Trial) (Elizabeth Boa, Steve Connor, Ritchie Robertson) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04pv8j1
Mrs Dalloway (Dame Hermione Lee, Jane Goldman, Kathryn Simpson) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b048033q
Tristram Shandy (Judith Hawley, John Mullan, Mary Newbould) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0418phf
The Tempest (Sir Jonathan Bate, Erin Sullivan, Katherine Duncan-Jones) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03h6px5
King Lear (Sir Jonathan Bate, Katherine Duncan-Jones, Catherine Belsey) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0090s0l
Decline and Fall (David Bradshaw, John Bowen, Ann Pasternak Slater) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qmbsc
Joyce: Ulysses (Steven Connor, Jeri Johnson, Richard Brown) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01jrldv
Joyce: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Roy Foster, Jeri Johnson, Katherine Mullin) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00nyxvr
Robinson Crusoe (Karen O’Brien, Judith Hawley, Bob Owens) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b018flp4
Tennyson: In Memoriam (Dinah Birch, Seamus Perry, Jane Wright) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0124pnq
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (Sir Jonathan Bate, Jane Stabler, Bernhard Jackson) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00xmx42
Silas Marner (Dinah Birch, Rosemary Ashton, Valentine Cunningham) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00q4310
Brave New World (David Bradshaw, Daniel Pick, Michele Barrett) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00jn8bc
Swift: A Modest Proposal (John Mullan, Judith Hawley, Ian McBride) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00h3650
Dante’s Inferno (Margaret Kean, John Took, Claire Honess) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00f05zj
Wordsworth: The Prelude (Rosemary Ashton, Stephen Gill, Emma Mason) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00899w0
Conrad: Heart Of Darkness (Susan Jones, Robert Hampson, Laurence Davies) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0077474
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Celeste-Marie Bernier, Sarah Meer, Clive Webb) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003c1bp
Authors and Poets
Christine de Pizan (Helen Swift, Miranda Griffin, Marilynn Desmond) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08sksb4
Chaucer (Carolyne Larrington, Helen Cooper, Ardis Butterfield) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003hycq
Emily Dickinson (Fiona Green, Linda Freedman, Paraic Finnerty) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08p5lbp
John Clare (Jonathan Bate, Mina Gorji, Simon Kovesi) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08cstfr
Fanny Burney (Nicole Pohl, Judith Hawley, John Mullan ) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05r3zjk
Rudyard Kipling (Howard Booth, Daniel Karlin, Jan Montefiore) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04l3852
Chekhov (Catriona Kelly, Cynthia Marsh, Rosamund Bartlett) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01r5qc1
Annie Besant (Lawrence Goldman, David Stack, Yasmin Khan) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01jxtd7
Christina Rossetti (Dinah Birch, Rhian Williams, Nicholas Shrimpton) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017mvwy
Siegfried Sassoon (Jean Moorcroft, Fran Brearton, Max Egremont) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007mvl9
Alexander Pope (John Mullan, Jim McLaverty, Valerie Rumbold) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0038x97
Samuel Johnson (John Mullan, Jim McLaverty, Judith Hawley) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003k9k5
Kit Marlowe (Katherine Duncan-Jones, Sir Jonathan Bate, Emma Smith) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003k9d6
John Milton (John Carey, Lisa Jardine, Blair Worden) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00548bg
Oscar Wilde (Valentine Cunningham, Regina Gagnier, Neil Sammells) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00547m3
Charles Dickens (Rosemary Ashton, Michael Slater, John Bowen) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00547hx
Eras and Themes
12th Century Renaissance (Laura Ashe, Elisabeth van Houts, Giles Gasper) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07z6vzq
The Blue Stockings (Karen O’Brien, Elizabeth Ager, Nicole Pohl ) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b045c0h9
Elizabethan Revenge (Sir Jonathan Bate, Julie Sanders, Janet Clare) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00l16vp
The Metaphysical Poets (Tom Healy, Julie Sanders, Tom Cain) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00cbqhq
Victorian Pessimism (Dinah Birch, Rosemary Ashton, Peter Mandler) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007d9k6
Epistolary Literature (John Mullan, Karen O’Brien, Brean Hammond) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00775dh
Pastoral Literature (Helen Cooper, Laurence Lerner, Julie Sanders) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003c1cs
Modernist Utopias (Jaon Carey, Steve Connor, Laura Marcus) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003k9fz
Faust (Juliette Wood, Osman Durrani, Rosemary Ashton) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p004y2bt
The Later Romantics (Sir Jonathan Bate, Robert Woof, Jennifer Wallace) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p004y24r
Sensation (John Mullan, Lyn Pykett, Dinah Birch) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p005492t
Sensibility (Claire Tomalin, John Mullan, Dame Hermione Lee) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p005487n
The Epic (John Carey, Karen Edwards, Oliver Taplin) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00548t1
Victorian Realism (Philip Davis, A.N.Wilson, Dinah Birch) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00548ks
Yeats and Mysticism (Roy Foster, Warwick Gould, Brenda Maddox) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00548b3
The Sonnett (Sir Frank Kermode, Phillis Levin, Sir Johnathan Bate) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00547gy
Literary Modernism (John Carey, Laura Marcus, Valentine Cunningham) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00547fv
Gothic (Chris Baldick, ANWilson, Emma Clery) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0054792
Psychoanalysis and Literature (Adam Phillips, Malcolm Bowie, Lisa Appignanesi) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00546y5
The Romantics (Sir Jonathan Bate, Rosemary Ashton, Nicholas Roe) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00546ws
Shakespeare’s Work (Sir Frank Kermode, Michael Bogdanov, Germaine Greer) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00546s8
Masculinity in Literature (Martin Amis, Cora Kaplan) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00546lx
Tragedy (George Steiner, Catherine Belsey) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p005464v
The Novel (DJTaylor, Gillian Beer) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p005463z
Shakespeare and Literary Criticism (Harold Bloom, Jacqueline Rose) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00545dp
The Muses (Paul Cartledge, Angie Hobbs, Penelope Murray) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07bft7v
The Scriblerus Club (John Mullen, Judith Hawley, Marcus Walsh) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003k9cm
AUGUST WILL SEE A SOLAR ECLIPSE. NOTHING PARTICULARLY BEYOND AN INTERESTING EXPERIENCE FOR US, BUT IT WAS NOT ALWAYS SO.
“On the New Moon, month of Hiyar, the Sun was made shame and did descend in the day, Mars in attendance” (Description of Ugarit Eclipse)
ARGUABLY the earliest solar eclipse recorded was the Ugarit Eclipse (there is an apocryphal tale of two Chinese, Ho and Hi, the “Drunk Astronomers” from 2137 BC ), believed to have been on the 3rd May 1375 BC, observed in the port city of Ugarit on the Eastern Mediterranean littoral (coastal region) in modern day Syria.
The tablet above (which records all solar eclipses between 518 and 465 BC) is typical of the innumerable astronomical records which were kept by the astronomer/astrologer priests of the great city of Babylon, based upon their constant observations and then recorded in Akkadian cuneiform. The solar and lunar eclipses were not all they recorded – the movements of the planets they could observe, in particular the “sacred stars” Mercury and Venus – tablets recording observations from 1700 BC for the 19 years to 1681 BC. They also recorded (some 650 years later!!) the full solar eclipse of 31st July 1063 BC “it turned day into night”; the Assyrian astronomers continued with this tradition, particularly the full eclipse of 15th June 763 BC in Nineveh (“There was insurrection in the city of Aššur: in the month Sivan, the Sun was in an eclipse”). These observations over such an enormous time period allowed for Babylonian astronomers to work out the Saros Cycle (a period of 18 years 11.33 days) after which the solar and lunar eclipse cycles repeat. This meant the, despite their not being able to observe the eclipses necessarily (they occur at repeated times, but on varying observable areas on the Earth’s surface), these astronomers were able accurately to predict the dates and times on which eclipses would occur.
“We were struck with the fact that in all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of typewriting, except the later notebooks of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing’s memorandum. We could hardly ask anyone, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story.” (Dracula: 444–5)
“Dracula is more than a Gothic villain, however, more than the mercenary and mundane bandit that they too often turn out to be. As the sublime synthesis of the human and supernatural terrors of Gothic writing, he is both villain and ghostly diabolical agent whose magic and power cannot be reduced to mere tricks or effects of overindulgent, superstitious imagination: more than rational, he serves to elicit rather than dispel superstitious beliefs, demanding, not a return to reason and morality, but a reawakening of spiritual energies and sacred awe.” (Fred Botting: Gothic (The New Critical Idiom) Routledge, 1999 95)
LITERARY analysis has given varying interpretations of the vampire Count over the time since the novel’s appearance in 1897: symbol of evil, incarnation of nightmares, and most especially representation of sexual degeneracy among others. However, as Hughes has pointed out:
Modern criticism’s preoccupation with sexuality dominates – and indeed inhibits the development of – the debate on vampirism…This recourse to sexuality, however, arguably represents – for both fictional character and commentating critic – the edge of an epistemological problem. Quite simply, the vampire may not be as sexual as the preoccupations of the perceiving discourses suggest it ought to be. (Fictional Vampires in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries in in A New Companion to the Gothic,199)
How, then can we avoid such a preoccupation when it seems to be in almost every literary essay or book dealing with vampires and most especially Dracula?
Twitchell (1996) gives us, as readers, a different aspect to examine:
“Ironically, Dracula, the greatest vampire novel, is the work of literature that takes the vampire out of fiction and returns him to folklore” (132)
The tale is recounted in a variety of extracts – letters, transcriptions of phonographic records, diary entries, newspaper article references. They are produced at the hands of Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker, John Seward and Abraham Van Helsing – they contain remembered conversations, descriptions of areas, buildings and events, all recalled later, as Harker points out in the first quote. We are guided by their words and the story which is built around them as the main raconteurs of the events – yet the one character whose written point of view that is missing is that of Dracula himself. His words and actions are only passed to us through these recollections of all that happened – his written contributions consists of a few notes and letters addressed to Harker as the latter travels to Castle Dracula at the outset of the novel. Why, of all the characters in the book, is the cultured, well read eponymous anti-hero the only one of the major protagonists whose thoughts and outlook are NOT presented to the reader? Simply to state that it is because he is the ‘baddy’ and the rest are ‘goodies’ or that, as Churchill pointed out, history (even invented literary history) is written by the victors, is a much too simplistic an answer. How far is the tale one of folkloric legends and superstitions, and how far does it run deeper than this? Can we, by examining a literary “what if”, look at the possible deeper meaning of the novel? The “what if” – “what if Dracula had put forward his point of view and interpretation of the events?”
Two caveats – first – I am not looking to become a Dracula apologist, turning him into a hero in the mould of the “Daywalker” of the Blade films, the warrior of Underworld or most particularly, the brooding, spoilt teenage used for a vampire in Twilight. Dracula is and must remain Dracula and the deeds he carries out unquestioned – the motives may be the telling part. Second,
Any reading raises suspicions “that we pretended was the author’s meaning was in fact only our own” (106-7). This is the delusional possibility that lurks within every act of criticism: analysts/interpreters may “see things” in texts that are the product of their own desires, fantasies and delusions. (Scott Brewster, “Seeing Things: Gothic and the Madness of Interpretation” in A New Companion to the Gothic 485)
Simply to over interpret any literary text leads very possibly to the imposition of our own ideas rather than understanding the work in the way the author intended (though it could equally be argued that such an understanding via our own experiences is that which must be, as we can understand it in no other way!)
Perhaps the first question to ask would be why Dracula, wielder of power, a feudal lord who had complete dominion over those in his lands, would choose to leave this and head to London where he will be unknown? As the centre of the Empire and the largest conurbation in the world at the time, London was a cosmopolitan centre, a centre of economic, scientific and military power. It was, however, a city divided. The huge wealth of the West End was in striking contrast when juxtaposed with the abject poverty and horror of life in the East End. Dracula, published in 1897, was only nine years after the terror of the Whitechapel killings by the apparently self-named Jack the Ripper. This would surely be the obvious place for Dracula’s new regime. Here, he might be anonymous among the teeming, multi-national throngs of the London populace, but also where he could use that anonymity to his own perfidious ends. In a city where violence is nothing unusual, where a multiple killer has escaped the noose for his crimes a mere decade prior to the Count’s arrival, this would surely be the evident locus to begin whatever plan he wishes to carry through. In transferring his physical situation to the West (London) from the East (Transylvania), is he a latter day symbol of the barbarism and superstition which had been made incarnate in the Huns and their leader Attila in the latter days of the Western Roman Empire? Is he the one who will succeed where Attila failed? Dracula links himself in his ancestry to the nomadic, warrior tribes who swept in from the North and the East, linking his familial origins to such by ties of honour and blood, and above all, violence. Indeed, Wasson (“The Politics of Dracula”, 1966, 24-7) went so far as to posit that Stoker, recognising the rise of the ideals of fascism in Central and Eastern Europe, made these incarnate in Dracula’s person, battling the Western values which are represented in the community of allies who face up to him (eg Law in Harker, Science in Seward, Christianity in Van Helsing et al), though this, I feel, is perhaps taking the interpretation one step too far, for the reasons cited in Brewster above.
In this move to London, however, there is no rejection of the standard Gothic setting. Though he has migrated to the metropolis of modernity and scientific advancement, Dracula’s home is still to be the old, decaying house, Carfax, where he can still be wrapped in the trappings of all that he would find familiar. In this, Dracula is painted to be:
…the sublime synthesis of the human and supernatural terrors of Gothic writing, he is both villain and ghostly diabolical agent whose magic and power cannot be reduced to mere tricks or effects of overindulgent, superstitious imagination: more than rational, he serves to elicit rather than dispel superstitious beliefs, demanding, not a return to reason and morality, but a reawakening of spiritual energies and sacred awe. (Fred Botting, “Gothic (The New Critical Idiom)” 103
In such a representation, can we begin to view anything from Dracula’s point of view? Indeed, is he merely a symbol of evil, superstition and primitivism, something which has no real character to analyse? Is this the reason that, after his continual presence in the first half of the novel, he more or less disappears as a physical character in the most part of the latter half, only becoming a physical presence again in the denouement where he his presence is requisite only to be extinguished at the hands of the modernists represented in the other protagonists? Early in the novel, Dracula explains why he wishes to remove himself to London – he wishes to be:
…a stranger in a strange land…men know him not – and to know not is to care not for. I am content if I am like the rest, so that no man stops if he sees me, or pause in his speaking if he hears my words, to say ‘Ha, ha! a stranger!’ I have been so long a master that I would be master still – or at least that none other should be master of me.’ (20)
In this, is Dracula, as the personification of the ‘synthesis of the human and supernatural terrors’, stating that he is the power which will, while remaining hidden from view, fight and vanquish the modern which is represented in the Western protagonists? He will not be a stranger, but as the atavistic vampire, he will use the powers at his disposal to remain as much master in London as he is in Transylvania? He is the epitome of Freud’s Unheimliche – Uncanny – he is the terror, the power of the unknown, but equally as part of the familiar by fitting into the social structure of Victorian London without being the stranger, no longer the ‘other’.
Why did we not get part at least of Dracula’s testimony? Partially, the social mores of the later Victorian England. Dracula is not just a representation of pure evil. He is also licentiousness, unfettered sexual depravity and perhaps most shockingly for the time, the corrupter of the innocent represented in Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray (ie prior to her marriage when her sexual innocence would be at an end through the consummation of the marriage). As Hughes states:
Sexuality functions as the key to the uncanny, the “real” meaning behind the unease associated with the supernatural. (Hughes in A New Companion to the Gothic, 212)
His successful despoiling of Lucy and turning her to a vampire is one of the most shocking episodes, and something which per se would deny the possibility of there being any testimony from the direct words of the Count. What there is of his attitude is only that which can be reported by the others in the novel, that which must be not an apology for the vampire (how can one be an apologist for pure evil?), but the parts which show him simply for what he is – this also demonstrated in the (even more shocking for the contemporary audience) overt sexual predatoriness demonstrated first by the vampiresses in Dracula’s castle and then in the reanimated, undead Lucy. Unlike Anne Rices’ LeStat, who does put forward a vampire’s point of view, Dracula cannot. The evolution of the mores from Late Victorian to modern times allow for a sympathetic view, somewhat ignoring the truth of the vampire (as in the Twilight series of books where the brooding teen vampire is rendered the hero) or in allowing the succumbing to the need for something as “beautiful and as devastating as my kill” (Vampire Chronicles, 1977, 36), both of which being attitudes which would be unconscionable to a Victorian audience. The lust and misuse of innocence, the abandoning of the food, the “banquet” which means no more to him than a plate of soup would to a human, the idea that a pure maiden might be simply a meal which remains as much in the vampire’s memory as a side of beef would to a human, despite the use of the most primitive of sexual instincts to win access to that food, is the horror. In this, we are, as Freud’s Uncanny demand, made to face something of ourselves in the vampire, though it is carried to the absolute extreme, the hyperbole of overt carnality and degeneracy and the consumption of the life force in the drinking of the blood, and therefore enough beyond what we are to allow us to distance ourselves from its being a true representation of ourselves. A vampire could only become acceptable, and therefore have the right to be represented in his own testimony, if he were to recant these practices, and he would ergo no longer be a valid participant as he would no longer be a vampire. As Dracula is THE archetypal vampire, the greatest of them all, the controller of the supernatural powers and nature as demonstrated in his control over the “children of the night”, that is something he could by definition NOT leave as it is his very being, his purest essence. To allow Dracula to speak in his own words would be to deny his reality, deny that which he is and must ever be. For Dracula to be Dracula, he must remain silent other than in the words of others in later documents written by his destroyers.
ASK anyone to name a Gothic monster, the chances are that the first mentioned will be the Vampire. Will everyone have the same image? Certainly not! Research the listed standard images, all from tales of the vampiric – which would be the archetype you would choose?
Vanrney the Vampire Carmilla Nosferatu
Bela Lugosi Dracula Christopher Lee Dracula Louis Jourdan Dracula
Leslie Nielsen Dracula Gary Oldman Dracula Kate Beckinsale Underworld
Robert Pattinson (Twilight)
Each of these depictions covers the representation of a vampire at various times in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The main vampire among the pictures is, inevitably, Count Dracula, though never truly twice the same! In these, however, can we see any noticeable changes in attitude, and are these reflected in the social constructs of the era they were produced?
The concept of vampirism is, as far as we can tell, as old as civilisation – there were fiends which fed from human blood in the tales of Mesopotamia, China, Greece, Rome… While not necessarily the vampire which we would automatically recognise today, they were, nevertheless creatures of nightmare which consumed the life force of their victims through draining them of blood.
The idea of the modern (perhaps better termed European) vampire, was mainly prevalent in the areas we now know as Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and into Eastern German and Hungary – what is generalised as Central Europe, though also in Greece, the Balkans and Turkey as well. It is, however, through Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula that the standard association of the area of Transylvania with the homeland of vampires was born.
“For, let me tell you, he (the vampire) is known everywhere that men have been. In old Greece, in old Rome; he flourish in Germany all over, in France, in India even in the Chersones; and in China…the wake of the Berserker Icelander, the devil-begotten Hun, the Slav, the Saxon, the Magyar.” (Dracula 239)
Interestingly, the great imperial power, Britain, is apparently free of resident vampires…
How might we interpret this as a reflection of the ideas of the time?
What was Britain’s role on the wider world stage?
Why does this make Dracula’s determination to move to England, and more specifically London, all the more significant?
Why was this the chosen area? Primarily, the link is to the fifteenth century Voivode of Wallachia, Vlad Ţepeș or Vlad Dracul (also known, for fairly self evident reasons, as Vlad the Impaler). Unlike Stoker’s creation, however, this Dracula was an historical figure, and one who is still regarded as both hero and freedom fighter, defender of Christendom from the Ottoman Empire when it was under threat. The only portrait of Vlad III dates from the very early sixteenth century and hangs in Schloß Ambras in Innsbruck, Austria:
The portrait here, when compared with the Count of the novel, is most certainly not the vampire lord, bearing no real resemblance to Stoker’s creation, though van Helsing does intimate a link:
“I have asked my friend Armenius, of Buda-Pesth University, to make is record…The Draculas were, says Armenius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by the coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One.” (240)
Why, then, would Transylvania be chosen as the key area in the first part of the tome? An explanation is offered at the start of the novel:
“I had visited the British Museum, and made search among the books and maps of the library regarding Transylvania; it had struck me that some foreknowledge of the country could hardly fail to have some importance in dealing with a noble of that country. I find that the district he named is in the extreme east of the country, just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia and Bukovina, in the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wilds and least known portions of Europe.” (Dracula, 1)
It is the strangeness, the otherness, the idea that it verges on the edge of civilisation, still feudal in nature and riddled with superstition that makes it so attractive as its setting.
This is something which we find in many of the nineteenth century vampire tales. The standardly accepted first, Polidori’s The Vampyre, while starting in England, has Ruthven and Aubrey travel to the continent, first to Italy and then on to Greece, travelling eastward, and therefore, by definition, away from the rational West and to the superstitious Orthodox East, via Catholic Italy. Is this unusual for the time? Hardly! This is the standard route for the Grand Tour which involved taking in the homes of Classical civilisation, the civilisations upon which the rationality of Western Europe was grounded. Indeed, it is highly likely that Aubrey and Ruthven’s trip is based on that of Lord Byron’s creation (Byron was Polidori’s patient, and cited as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know) of a young narrator and Augustus Darvell, someone of whom the narrator was in awe, though in The Vampyre, Ruthven is most certainly Byron! Aubrey parts company with Ruthven in Rome after finding out the latter had seduced the daughter of a mutual acquaintance, heading out to Greece where he falls in love with the innocent figure of the peasant girl Ianthe who is continually distracting Aubrey from his drawings of the classical ruins with legends of vampires. The key hint of the inevitable conclusion to the sojourn in Greece:
“She detailed to him the traditional appearance of these monsters, and its horror was increased, by hearing a pretty accurate description of Lord Ruthven; he, however, still persisted in persuading her, that there could be no truth in her fears, though at the same time he wondered at the many coincidences which had all tended to excite a belief in the supernatural power of Lord Ruthven.”
In this association, we see the standard Gothic trope of das Unheimliche of Freud (1919) – the frightening supernatural brings us back to that with which we are familiar – in recognising Ruthven in the descriptions of the ‘vampyre’, Aubrey has an insight of highest importance, though he does not act to save Ianthe, and is unable to save either his sister or himself after the return to London due to an oath of silences he swears to the dying Ruthven after they are ambushed by bandits. The resurrected (or rather reanimated) vampire, Ruthven, is able, due to Aubrey’s holding to his oath until it is too late, to become the dominant power of the tale as the oath is extracted BEFORE the ‘death’.
The role of religion in The Vampyre is minimal, though, according to O’Malley (2006):
“…this fascination with Ruthven mirrors the Gothic fascination with Catholicism as unredeemable alien, deadly and yet irresistibly seductive.” (147)
While this is debatable (the fascination could equally be with Byron and his reputation after Lady Caroline Lamb’s 1816 novel, Glenarvon, and the image of him left in the public mind), there could easily be an element of truth to the mirroring of the emotions evinced by the portrayal of the Church of Rome in the Gothic in general. Equally one can see that the Catholic would be relatively difficult to introduce as the protagonists, in Aubrey and Ruthven, are both English, and therefore, despite much of the supernatural taking place in Catholic/Orthodox countries, not part of the “Papal Aggression” which caused such fear among the evangelical clergy and the conservatively Protestant populace of the British mainland. Unlike later vampires, though, Ruthven does not, by his bite, infect those upon whom he feeds, turning them into the Undead as later vampire fiction will intimate. The vampire here is part of the establishment as well, not simply part of the populace. It could perhaps be argued that he mirrors the growing influence and fear from the Oxford Movement which was to reach its heights two decades later, where the Catholic ritualism was adopted by a sector of the established church and was to develop into the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, where the infiltrator was not a foreigner, was not a stranger, but was a corrupted limb of the established social hierarchy, a canker which might fester, grow and infect the entire body of the church and state, sucking the pure Protestant faith dry: as Henry Morley (cited in O’Malley) stated in 1852:
“To ‘an honest ghost’ one has no objection; but an animated corpse which goes about in Christian attire, and although never known to eat, or drink, or shake hands, is allowed to sit at good men’s feasts; which renews its odious life every hundred years by sucking a young lady’s blood, after fascinating her by motions which resemble mesmerism burlesqued…passes all bounds of toleration.” (149)
(This is evidently based upon the early description of Ruthven:
“…it was caused by their fearing the observation of one, who by his colourless cheek, which never gained a warmer tint from the blush of conscious shame or from any powerful emotion, appeared to be above human feelings and sympathies, the fashionable names for frailties and sins. His peculiarities caused him to be invited to every house.” (33))
The infiltration here can easily be twisted to associate with the perceived heartlessness, superstition and corruption of the Catholic Church in the eyes of the more rabid Protestant critics, (eg the “motions which resemble mesmerism burlesqued” might be exaggerated to refer to the liturgical movements and genuflections et al of the Mass, the “animated corpse…in Christian attire” a reference to the again deemed spiritually dead Catholicism which exists though only covered in the thinnest veneer of Christianity – such heavily biased and anti Catholic ideas were commonplace at the time, as we have seen), it could be equally argued that this is most certainly a step too far, and that the corruption incarnate in Ruthven is in fact a moral corruption rather than any religious connotation whatsoever, particularly when the association of the the two nobles, Ruthven and Byron.
GOTHIC literature has experienced its major times of popularity at times of great change and uncertainty in society. Its birth in the Castle of Otranto (Walpole, 1764) and The Monk (Lewis, 1796) both released at the times when some of the most violent and rapid social changes were occurring – the start of the Industrial Revolution and the concomitant changes in the social structure and population distribution, and the American Revolution and the French Revolution – the former a radical break from a colonial power and new ideas and structures (though based supposedly heavily on Ancient Athens and Republican Rome), the latter one of the bloodiest episodes in European history since the Albigensian Crusades, culminating in regicide and the Terror under Robespierre et al and the removal of the Ancien Régime.
Changes were not, however, confined to these three episodes alone. The great population movements from the agriculturally based economies of earlier times were giving way to the new mechanisation of many if not most industries with such inventions as the ‘Spinning Jenny’ by James Hargreaves in Stanhill, Oswaldtwistle, in Lancashire in 1764, coinciding with the first publication of Walpole’s first Gothic tale. As work became harder to find in the rural areas, jobs were sought in the growing urban areas, principally the major metropolises: London, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield inter alia. Such population migrations led to very rapid growth in these cities throughout the very end of the eighteenth and the whole of the nineteenth centuries as the traditional agrarian culture collapsed and the heavy industries sucked in more and more labourers, resulting in massive expansion in the slum areas and workhouses of all these cities and others. At the other end of the social pyramid, the aristocracy was in many ways obliged to surrender, even if extremely reluctantly, certain of its privileges as the nineteenth century progressed, there being the ever present memory of 1789 in France and the effects of the Year of Revolution, 1848. It is, however, on the symbolism of religious life and how these changes are reflected in the Gothic literature until the appearance of the vampire as the supernatural being that I shall concentrate in this, principally looking at the works of Walpole and Lewis.
1829 saw the passing of “An Act for the Relief of His Majesty’s Roman Catholic Subjects.” This Catholic Emancipation Act removed many of the heavy restrictions which had been placed on UK subjects who adhered to the faith of the Church of Rome – the Act of Union with Ireland of 1800 and the Irish agitation led by Daniel O’Connell (1775–1847), particularly in 1828-29 meant that for the first time since the Reformation nearly three centuries before (with short lived exceptions such as under the reign of Mary Tudor), Roman Catholic clergy were to be seen in the streets of the cities, freely setting up mission churches and celebrating the Mass, particularly in the poor urban areas due to the oft times large Irish populations. This conflicted greatly with the innate anti-Papist ideals of the Protestant clergy and the members of the evangelical churches. The culmination on this front came in the form of the Oxford Movement of the 1840s which saw a small, but majorly influential and intellectually powerful, group of clergy in the established Anglican Church begin to introduce “Papist practices” into their own churches. A tract of 1874 (Ritualism: A Sermon) states:
“Jesuits (the most powerful and influential Roman Catholic Monastic order), spreading their nets to catch the unwary, would, if they could, bring back the days of popery, and set up in God’s place the old harlot of Rome. This evil spirit comes to us in the garb and under the name of Ritualism – a mild form of Romanism – seeking to attract us to its service by a gorgeous ceremonial and a dazzling spectacle.” (My italics)
So what? What has this to do with Gothic literature?
From the earliest works of literature which are classed as Gothic, many have a strong element tied to the beliefs and practices of Roman Catholicism – either, as demonstrated above, vehemently anti-Catholic (such as Lewis’ “The Monk”), or, as can be argued from certain works, at least an acceptance of the importance of Catholicism in the fight against the evil beings, most especially vampires, through symbols and practices or otherwise (such as in Stoker’s “Dracula”). Such allusions in the negative views are scarcely surprising given the innate hatred of all things Popish among the evangelicals – in 1840, Stowell (an Anglican clergyman) associated the growing Oxford Movement with Roman Catholicism and the barbaric practices of the Mediaeval Inquisition, though writing in terms fitting of any Gothic novel:
“Let the sad change of opinion respecting her (ie Catholic Emancipation, the allowance of Roman Catholic Clergy and the Oxford Movement), which has already so deeply betrayed us, concede to Popery her ancient ascendency, and the fires of Smithfield will blaze anew (reference to the 282 Protestants claimed burned at the stake in the reign of Mary Tudor), the dark dungeons of the Inquisition will again gape for their victims, and fatally and fearfully will the mother of abominations (reference to the Whore of Babylon in Revelations, taken by evangelicals even now to be the Roman Catholic Church) will evince her infallibility (this was passed as Papal Infallibility during the First Vatican Council of 1869-70 where the Pope was declared infallible when speaking ex cathedra (on matters of faith alone)) by again becoming ‘drunken with the blood of the Saints.’”
These anti Catholic ideas were far from new. There was a mistrust of those who followed the ‘old Faith’ and the perceived dangers and ‘foreigness’ of the Catholic practices under the tyranny of an evil and corrupt dictator in Rome, a sensual and degenerate, wanton and perverse, dragging the pure innocents of evangelical Protestantism down into the anterooms of Hell,
“She is both the ‘dog [that] returneth to his vomit’ and an upstart woman defying the authority of the masculine John Bull in her ravenous attempt to feed upon England.” (O’Malley, 132)
Catholicism appears in the opening paragraph of the preface to Castle of Otranto (First Ed.)
“The following work was found in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England.”
That this manuscript is printed in 1529 in Naples and that a translation of an earlier manuscript which dates from the Crusader period (ie some point between 1095 and 1243, though no more is said for definite) places the tale both in Italy, the corrupt home of Catholicism, and in the distant, violent past, in a time before the Reformation, and as such when even England was the “Dowry of Mary”. Why do this?
“Miracles, visions, necromancy, dreams, and other preternatural events, are exploded now even from romances. That was not the case when the author wrote, much less when the sort itself is supposed to have happened.”
In removing the setting from the era in which he lives and setting it so far back, Walpole can justify his introduction of the superstitious, the otherworldly, the ‘uncanny’ (Freud defined this as the class of frightening things that leads us back to what is known and familiar.) It is via the superstitious, the preternatural and the exposing of the degenerate nature of those in power, both noble and clerical, that the reader will be brought back to the real and the familiar, having learned to reject the corrupt Mediaeval dominated by Catholicism in the Inquisition (though it is worth noting that in “On the Psychology of the Uncanny” (1906): Ernst Jentsch came to the following conclusions: 1) Uncanny = fear of the unfamiliar; 2) Uncanny = based on intellectual uncertainty.) This bringing of the supernatural is thus to be treated as a literary technique and the use of such is placed squarely at the feet of the original author:
“Terror, the author’s principal engine, prevents the story from ever languishing; and it is so often contrasted by pity, that the mind is kept in a constant vicissitude of interesting passions.”
Placing the tale in the far past and the use of the horrific with the author of the original tale, it becomes acceptable in the Age of Reason whilst also appeasing the anti-Catholic sentiments of the time:
“It is not unlikely that an artful priest might endeavour to turn their own arms on the innovators (ie. those who were the Reformers against Catholicism), and might avail himself of his abilities as an author to confirm the populace in their ancient errors and superstitions.” (My italics).
While Walpole’s work carries an anti-Catholic message, it is tame in comparison to the rabid anti-Catholicism in Lewis’ The Monk first edition 1796. From its opening scene, the standard trope of Gothic anti-Romanism are present:
“Scarcely had the Abbey Bell tolled for five minutes, and already was the Church of the Capuchins thronged with Auditors. Do not encourage the idea that the Crowd was assembled either from motives of piety or thirst of information. But very few were influenced by those reasons; and in a city where such despotic sway as in Madrid to seek for true devotion would be a fruitless attempt…The women came to show themselves, the Men to see the Women.”
The setting is the Continent – Madrid, capital of the country which was home to the Inquisition. The Crowd are there either through hypocrisy, sloth (“no better means of employing their time till the play began”), coquettishness on the part of the Women and pure lust on the part of the Men, not through true “piety or thirst of information”, both of which, it might be intuited, would be the motives of a true Protestant believer – the use of both in comparison with the Catholics in Madrid implies that such would be the norm for attending Church services among the readers. Those who are there “truly anxious to hear the Preacher were a few antiquated devotees, and half a dozen rival Orators, determined to find fault with and ridicule the discourse.” Again, the insinuation that only the elderly and those who would attend to attack and mock for hypocritical reasons are there for any practical purpose rather than showing off and lasciviousness – these are what the Reader is to expect in the clutches of Roman Catholicism.
Perhaps unusual for the time in our minds (though remember that Tom Jones had been published in 1749, and the infinitely more shocking Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure in 1748) is the theme of sexuality and lasciviousness as well as themes of cross dressing, pseudo-homosexuality and sexual obsession which are central to the plot in the form of Ambrosio’s desire for Matilda (though while cross dressing, believed by Ambrosio to be a young monk, Rosario):
“(Ambrosio) could not help sometimes in indulging a desire secretly to see the face of his Pupil.”
Even after he discovers the truth of Matilda’s gender half way through the tale, Ambrosio’s desire, it is hinted, is not for the powerful and domineering Matilda, but for the gentle Rosario, the one who was in awe of his mentor:
“Every moment convinced him of the astonishing powers of her mind: But what She gained in the opinion of the Man, She lost with interest in the affection of the Lover. He regretted Rosario, the fond, the gentle, the submissive: He grieved that Matilda preferred the virtues of his sex to those of her own.”
This again is a theme which is frequent in the Gothic – the rejection and overpowering of traditional gender roles assigned by the society of the time – these can be seen again and again (the dominant Carmilla, the dominant character of the unDead Lucy Westenra in Dracula, and the passivity of Harker under the dominance of the three female vampires in Dracula’s castle inter alia). Matilda becomes the incarnation of all that Lewis sees as perverted in his perceived superstitions of Catholicism, its hypocrisy, its lasciviousness, sexual confusion and inability to protect its believers – she disguises herself as he; she parallels Ambrosio’s relationship to the Virgin Mary in the name she uses as the monk (Rosario – the rosary) she is innocent on the surface, and yet corrupt just beneath that surface, a hypocrite par excellence where all that is gentle and good is but for show to get her own way and bring down the man seen to be a “Saint” by the naive Catholics. When she casts off the male surface, she becomes a sexual succubus, casting an illusion of the Lord of Hell to extend her power over Ambrosio, but not through fear – through homosexual lust:
“He beheld a Figure more beautiful, than Fancy’s pencil ever drew. It was a Youth…form and face unparalleled and unrivalled. He was perfectly naked”
The culmination lies in the revealing of the trans-gender Rosario/Matilda as a genderless daemon sent to drag Ambrosio down to Hell after his final rejection of Salvation.
The danger here was, however, something which the Protestant English could look on with shock, early Gothic tales backed every prejudice which they held against the Church of Rome, as in the eighteenth century it was distant and something done by ‘foreigners’ – with the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829 and the Puseyite and Oxford Movements, introducing the spectre (as seen by the Evangelical Protestants) of the Church of Rome, the “Great Whore” of the Book of Revelation, the superstition and perceived tyranny of Papal power now transferred to mainland United Kingdom – the ‘real threat’ of the ‘Real Presence’. From this point, as far as the religious trope of the Gothic is concerned, that the vampire first makes its appearance in the mainstream, starting with the form of Lord Ruthven in Polidori’s Vampyre. It is with the seductive power of these atavistic anthropomorphic forms or evil in literature of the nineteenth century that I shall deal with next.