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BEGINNING OF OUR HISTORY,
THE LAST REVOLUTION OF THE EARTH;
AS THE PROBABLE EFFECT OF A COMET.
(A Critique on Rhode': Work,* published at Breslau, 1819.)
At all times, amongst all nations and classes, the origin of history, and of man has always been, as it still is, before every other, that branch of study which most interests us and evokes our faculty of research. The knowledge of antiquity, which partly and in its ultimate object is similarly directed to the gratification of this natural and ineradicable inquisitiveness, occupies a very important place in our present German literature, it is promoted zealously from the most different sides, it is cultivated with corresponding success. While new treasures and sources are being continually opened for us in Indian, Persian, Egyptian documents and monuments, or important elucidations of them given to us ; while even Grecian antiquity, with all that is intimately allied to it, is drawn forth from the narrow circle of ordinary philology by the deep acumen of Creuzer, leading us back to the sources of all heathen theology, we are no less conducted by a geography, that really embraces both earth and men, in Ritter's genial mode of treating it, as well as by other discoveries, whether geognostic or relating to the natural history of the earth, or by a new arrangement and utilization of what was previously known, to that point where history may undoubtedly become a science, no longer having merely a middle, but a beginning and end also. This is, however,
* J. G. Rhode Ueber den Anfang unserer Geschichte und die letzte Revolution: der Erde, als wahrscheinliche Wirkung eines Kometen.
said, supposing that that can be termed a science, which in point of fact is only the common remembrance of collective humanity, as soon as everything spurious shall have been separated, and a clear interpretation added to that remembrance of the primeval period, to our own development from the beginning. From all sides this copious supply of new sources and new ideas streams in upon us, enabling us to understand antiquity completely and more correctly, so that all, which now seems still to be wanting, is a sure key for the unlocking of all these treasures, by which we may be enabled accurately to solve the riddle of the past in all its plenitude of manifold shapes. Where already such a number of lineaments, so many single words of the whole, if we may be allowed such an expression, become suddenly tinged with light, solve themselves as it were, and irradiate too much that was previously dark; there we may well hope that all can equally become clear and intelligible, so soon as the light shall radiate forth to illumine and arrange. « On the grade, which our knowledge of collective antiquity has now attained,” says our author in the preface (p. 2), “ every investigator will look out for a firm spot to stand on, whence he may scan the wide field of his inquiry, so as to arrange with method and system the objects as they become visible to him." I perfectly agree with him, when he adds, “ According to my view, that spot for standing on, can, and should only rest on an historical foundation, which must especially be solidly established, if that be in any way possible."
The author now arranges in a twofold manner those writers who have meritoriously advanced the higher knowledge of antiquity; inasmuch as he on the one part presents to us an extremely remarkable, a very simple, and yet so explanatory an hypothesis, based on geography, concerning the last revolution of the earth and the great flood, from which also, in the author's opinion, not indeed the first history of man proceeds, but yet that history immediately affecting us, the wellknown (second) commencement of history; on the other hand, however, points out in the Zendavesta the evident traces of a most remarkable concordance with this very hypothesis of his, and generally speaking is convinced that he has found in the doctrine of Zoroaster, in the sacred traditions and writings of the old Parsees, the richest and most genuine source of olden history and religion or doctrine of revelation.
THE LAST REVOLUTION OF THE EARTH.
As far as regards the mode in which the author treats his subject, I cannot enough praise it. Clear and lucid as his style is, so is also the current of his thoughts, simple, directed straight onward to the essential. Bold and decisive in the acceptance of a great fact, or of a new supposition, as soon as he believes himself authorized to it and finds it adequately grounded, he, nevertheless, never in any way loses himself in too systematical a working out of all the details by petty over-nice grovelling, or by rash poetical starts. In the solving of some very intricate particular mythological question, many antiquarian investigators, like those mentioned above, may, no doubt, surpass him in critical acumen and learning. His really historical sense transcends in this, that in the course of his investigation he does not disturb what is unessential, what is isolated, that he keeps much open and free for ulterior and more close determination, that he confines himself to the principal thing, and only cares to establish the grand historical main facts of primeval history, and the results so simple, but of such after-importance, that spring from them.
I perfectly agree with the author also respecting the principle in the method of his inquiries; for I hold it to be, as he does, very possible to separate what is historical from the mythical part of the old traditions, and to extract the most essential facts of universal primeval history from the weblike envelope of mythology ; 80 soon as light shall have once pierced this chaos, that is, so soon as the firm point of commencement, or the central point itself, shall have been found for such investigations, and for the opening of man's history.
What I, however—this principle having been once accepted --can less concede or explain, is why the author in his first result (p. 6), should say, “ That the history of man begins with the last great revolution of the earth ;" for if, as he adds, the reminiscence of a former period remained to them notwithstanding, an element has been taken up into his assertion that perfectly neutralizes the whole. If the reminiscence of a former epoch remained, and was preserved in the only conceivable mode, by sacred tradition, by historical or poetical myth, why should not the historical be as well capable of being separated from this tradition and myth of the aptediluvian period, as the author attempts to do from the subsoquevt myth since the last revolution of the earth? The traditions of the first age after this revolution are also individually often dark, intricate, clouded enough. This was but natural, before the heaving elements of the preserved human race and the newly-arisen nations could have subsided anew and settled into order. It is not difficult to conceive that the saga of the primeval period, in relation to that first portion of time after the revolution during the first origin of the separated nations, would be preserved even purer and historically clearer. Now if the author finds in the Zendavesta the detailed circumstances and causes of the last great deluge given with admirable correctness (according to his by no means improbable hypothesis of it), why then perhaps other old traditions, the Indian for instance, furnish us also with very remarkable ruins and remains, traces, or hints of that very same antediluvian period. I expressly abstain as yet from mentioning here the Mosaic sacred document or primeval history, for this the author attempts to keep aloof from the train of his ideas and for the moment to set aside, fearing lest the application of it should interfere with and disturb the freedom of inquiry and a comprehensive criticism. For which reason we may well excuse him, if the historical contents of the Genesis be understood, or rather misunderstood, in the usual circumscribed manner, and be then polemically brought forward against all other old traditions. In a primitively historical inquiry, thoroughly carried out and really comprehensive in every respect, the matter would assume quite another aspect. As in a later and, compared to the other, lower region of antiquarian science, the old Herodotus, once so often reproached with being so fabulous, is now fully and universally appreciated by the most learned geographers and historians, is justified and lauded by them for his simple and candid wisdom; so likewise the more our Egyptian, Indian, Persian, and Chinese studies of the primitive age progress, the clearer our geognostical and primevally historical views become, may Moses and the Genesis, together with much new light, reattain also their ancient dignity in the most ample degree. The author does not like this string to be touched, although he actually is not opposed to the Holy Writ; yet it is singular and striking, that he should not have remarked himself, how his declaration (p. 31)—" That the probable commencement of human history occurs in the intervals between the two last re
formations of the earth"-properly understood, so accurately agrees with the Mosaic account. A. supposition, which is certainly not regarded by us as such, as a mere probability, but as an historical certainty, as much as anything can be called certain in the primitive bistory of man.
The last grand revolution of the earth remains the main theme of the author. That by this, in the Zendavesta also, the flood of Noah or the deluge is meant, and there assigned to the operation of the enemy of nature in the shape of a dragon-star or comet, that this is the same, which Moses likewise describes to us, is clear and indubitable from the circumstance, that the Zend myth connects the emigration of Jemjid pretty nearly with that frightful catastrophe, and this primeval king Jemjid is recognized to be a personage identical with the Shem of the Genesis.
The principal thought of the author concerning the last revolution of the earth or the deluge is this :- A great internal alteration was going on at that time in the earth, inasmuch as it very considerably deranged the axis and equator of its daily revolution, by which means also the geographical and climatical nature of the firm land was entirely changed. This great catastrophe in nature was occasioned by a comet that approached very near the earth, having risen in the southern sky, as is evident from the description of it in the Zendavesta. As far as regards the alteration of the pole, as asserted, the author relies also for its confirmation on astronomical remarks and suppositions with respect to the anomalies resulting from the measurements of degrees of latitude, such as they have been made up to the present time.
Now, since in this science of antiquity and primitive history, . as in every other, the truth reposes on the evidence of “two witnesses,” consequently here writ and nature, it is but reasonable, that besides the writ, as the sum of all the sacred old traditions, the other witness also, nature, that is, the spirit of geography and astronomy, as far as it has yet flourished, should be heard, so as to throw light into the darkness of the primeval world, while we are exploring there. An hypothesis of geography which, drawn up with this overpowering clearness, should unite and present so much that is acceptable from its lucid conviction and probable from its almost satisfying our doubts, has appeared not unimportant to us. I mean parti