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KRONOS Vol. I, Issue 4
THE CATASTROPHIC SUBSTRUCTURE OF SHAKESPEARE'S ANTONY AND
* This paper was first presented at the symposium titled Velikovsky and Cultural Amnesia
held at the University of Lethbridge, May 9-1 1, 1974.
This article is the continuation of an essay on Antony and Cleopatra, the first part of which
was published in the previous issue of KRONOS, Vol. 1, No. 3, Fall-1975, pages 31 to 45.
* * *
I turn next to another recent study of the play, by Clifford Davidson of Western Michigan
University.29 He stresses the iconographical, mythical and religious models which he feels
underlie Shakespeare's play, claiming it is in large part
based on archetypal patterns which appear to have their basis in literature, thought and
tradition of his own time.30
These traditional models, as Davidson elicits them, trace back to the time of Christ and indeed
earlier, and thus Davidson's linking of them to Shakespeare's play may indicate a form of
continuity of idea between the actual times of the catastrophes and Shakespeare's day.
In general, Davidson's essay, like Lee's, seems almost to have been written about Velikovsky's
theories, so often and so consistently do his observations apply. I hazard the guess that this is
primarily so because the background which Davidson delineates – myth, icon, religious
parallel – is only one step removed in literality from the events which gave rise to it. Thus,
when I apply his discoveries to my approach, I feel I am simply carrying his materials back to
their true source.
Cleopatra, says Davidson, is given traditional sets of qualities which relate her, among others,
to The Whore of Babylon, a brilliant Queen, the temptress Circe, a provocative gypsy, and the
goddess Venus. To this list we must add Velikovsky's Venus, for she is also given the qualities
of a fiercely disruptive celestial body. For instance, Davidson describes her as
She is portrayed as a disturber of natural
active and hot – so hot that the seeming Cupids on her barge with their fans only make her
"delicate cheeks" glow with their sensual warmth.31
She stands for excess, since she will not pause at the limits set by nature.32
Her object is to disrupt a pre-existing scheme.
Thus she usurps the phallic role, Shakespeare
suggests; of course, such usurpation is an attempt to achieve a reversal of the natural order,
which was, after all, the object of the serpent in Eden.33
Because she is associated with serpents, notes Davidson, Cleopatra's Egypt is hideously fertile,
full of snakes, and poisonous.
She lives in a world which is reminiscent of Spenser's Bower of Bliss and which is fully as
poisonous, especially to male visitors from Rome.34
The poison affects Antony,
who admits to Caesar that he had "neglected" his duty "when
poisoned hours had bound me up/From mine own knowledge (II.ii. 90-91)." This poison is
obviously to be identified with the great Satanic enemy of life who in the guise of the serpent
conveyed death into the fertile Garden of Eden and hence into the whole world of human
Here we have the serpent, a poisonous Cleopatra and the destruction of Eden in one passage.
If we recall what Velikovsky says about the relation between mythological serpents and the
tail of Comet Venus, and about the poisonous consequences of Earth's contact with that very
tail, and about its effects on the planet Mars, which might poetically be said to have neglected
its duty in being forced to follow a new or errant course, the parallels are suggestive, as if the
appearance of what seemed to be a giant serpent in the sky marked the apparent end of
celestial stability. This also accords well with Cleopatra's role as Eve to Antony's as Adam,
which Davidson also establishes.
She is also Circe, as described in Chapman's translation of Homer, holding out a cup full of
sensual pleasure which transforms men into beasts – or stable planets into unstable bodies –
and we are told her poison is associated with sweetness.
Not surprisingly, Chapman's translation describes Circe disguising her "harmefull venoms"
with honey as well as with other nourishing food and drink.36
We might think of the connection Velikovsky makes between the poisonous atmosphere of
Comet Venus' tail and the sweet honey-like manna produced by its hydrocarbons.
From Circe, it is but a short step to Venus, both in her earthly form, where she was considered
a planetary prostitute,37 and in her heavenly form, which taught men to prefer eternal reality
to immediate pleasure. She is also equated with Isis, just as Velikovsky has done, but the most
prevalent image she projected for the Renaissance, Davidson tells us, was as a universal
though not true in every sense, the claim may be provisionally made that Venus ought to be
seen in terms of discord. . . Cleopatra likewise is in one sense also viewed by Shakespeare as a
major source of discord within the ancient Roman world.38
If we apply the celestial equivalents which I have tried to establish earlier in my analysis of this
play, we can see that the Renaissance picture of Cleopatra is much like Velikovsky's picture of
Next, we look at Cleopatra's effect upon Antony. It was generally considered, Davidson tells
us, that Antony's attraction to Cleopatra debilitated him. The image Shakespeare uses is
martial, but it could also be considered Velikovskian.
Thus Antony's sword is "made weak" by [his] affection.39
The cause of this weakening, in medieval terms, is the sin of Idleness, or Sloth, and it is
curious that Davidson refers to an illustration of Idleness by Cesare Ripa, in which an old
woman, weak and poor, holds a fish. He quotes Ripa.
Fish, it was believed, when touched by a net or by hands become so stupefied that they cannot
escape. Idleness affects the idle in the same way they cannot do anything.40
It is interesting that Idleness, which traps Antony, is pictured as a fish immobilized in a net,
which recalls Antony caught in Cleopatra's strong Egyptian fetters, 1.2.113, and also the net
of Hephaestus trapping and immobilizing Ares and Aphrodite as they make love illicitly. This
last is a major point in Alfred de Grazia's The Torrid Love Affair of Moon and Mars, where he
draws a direct relationship between the celestial events of -780 to -687, as described by
Velikovsky, and the Song of Demodocus from Book Eight of Homer's Odyssey, where the
Ares-Aphrodite-Hephaestus love triangle is narrated.41
Antony was of course identified with Mars, Davidson points out, and thus, when he rebels, it
is described in geometrical terms as a rebellion against order – he does not keep his square, he
does not act by the rule. Instead, he is drawn erratically to the East, to Cleopatra, and the
result is pictured as a startling disorder in the sky, with celestial objects appearing where and
when they should not.
By his lack of control, he will gain mirth and another chance "to reel the streets at noon."42
At another point, Davidson brings the love story even closer to the events described by
Velikovsky, when he tells us that Shakespeare was familiar with the
Ares-Aphrodite-Hephaestus triangle which de Grazia has seen as a mythological retelling of
the Velikovsky scenario. In this case it is the Roman version, involving Venus, Mars and the
jealous Vulcan, as narrated in the fourth book of Ovid's Metamorphoses, where Mars'
excessive attraction to Venus, or Antony's to Cleopatra, is given explicitly catastrophic
dimensions by Davidson through reference to Shakespeare's own words, already quoted in
another instance some pages earlier.
The greatness of this love can only be measured in terms of the degree to which Antony will
neglect his duty. He will "Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch/Of the rang'd empire fall"
Venus and Mars become hot when they join, but they are cooled by Vulcan.
Such an interpretation of the myth would seem to have been an important element in
Shakespeare's depiction of Antony and Cleopatra.44
Cleopatra is thus pictured as the Fatal Woman who destroys the male, and the image which
Davidson uses bears an eerie resemblance to Velikovsky's own words.
Through her instrumentality, he loses his manhood and gives himself over to blind and
irrational Fortune, who then flings him from her wheel.45
When the warrior-like Mars came into conjunction with the seductive Venus, the result in
Renaissance myth was that he was emasculated, he lost his warlikeness, but we must also think
of Velikovsky, describing the celestial event, and saying enigmatically that Mars was thrown
out of the ring. 46 This must lead us to wonder whether the role of Comet Venus as described
by Velikovsky underlies the religious and mythological figure pictured variously as Eve, Circe,
the Whore of Babylon, an evil temptress, a celestial prostitute and Cleopatra.
In political terms, which parallel the celestial events Dr. Velikovsky described, Antony-Mars
should be master because of his status in the Roman Empire, for Cleopatra-Venus is a captive
ruler, but he is subdued by Cleopatra, and
as a result of his submission, he loses his potency. Hence there appears to be justified male
bitterness when Canidius exclaims that his "leader's led./And we are women's men" (III.vii.
Cleopatra is described as
the debilitating queen – the fatal woman – who in the end will sap all his war-like heat and
– What could be more like Velikovsky's picture of Mars and Venus? –
and thus will lead him to utter defeat at the end of a mismanaged war.48
Davidson at this point refers to a painting by Botticelli.
Mars, like Antony, has put aside his plated armor, nude and debilitated, he sleeps as if nothing
could ever wake him.49
We think of the planet Mars now, devoid of much of its atmosphere, its terrain battered and
disturbed, its hydrosphere, if it ever had any, gone. It is nude, as in the photographs, and
debilitated, weak, with little dangerous effect upon the stability of the Earth or the solar
system. Dr. Velikovsky has called it a flying graveyard.50 It had once been considered a
celestial war-king, a furious and fiery planetary deity, but it has become a small, weak and
orderly planet. In mythical terms, we are told there is no question
that Venus was the active agent: in other words, what Venus did with Mars was to render him
her slave. As Ficino asserts in his astrological discussion of these divinities, "Mars never
Yet, despite Venus-Cleopatra's role as a disrupter of order, despite her deleterious effect on
Mars-Antony, Davidson emphasizes that the Renaissance saw a very positive conclusion to
their affair, for
the Renaissance generally remembered that the love of Venus and Mars was a discordia
concors which led originally to the birth of a daughter, Harmony. The value of Venus'
dominance over Mars will thus be found in the mitigation of the god of war's ferocity, for only
through such dominance can conflict and war be reduced to harmonious peace. . . In the end,
the love of the martial Antony and wanton Cleopatra will lead historically to the end of the
conflict between the triumvirs and to the harmony of "universal peace" into which will be born
the Prince of Peace.52
That is to say, the Venus-Mars turbulence, which appears so potentially troublesome, actually
precedes the coming of a new order. This is certainly the case in Shakespeare's play, for
Davidson refers to Octavius Caesar's prediction of future peace as Antony and Cleopatra are
close to their destruction.
"The time of universal peace" . . .is perhaps the most significant single line in the play. This
will be the "universal Peace through Sea and Land" which according to Milton's "On the
Morning of Christ's Nativity," prepared the scene for "the Prince of Light" to begin "His reign
of peace upon the earth."53
It is at this point that Davidson's analysis of the classical and medieval background to
Shakespeare's play merges virtually directly with my Velikovskian interpretation of it. He calls
our attention to the apocalyptic nature of the imagery with which this positive result of the
Mars-Venus disturbance is dressed, and, in so doing, he gives it precisely the universal
relevance which Velikovsky sees.
The old order is coming to a close, and the effect will be to reorient* men who believe in a
Christian message to the "new heaven" and "new earth" which will be ushered in after the
Second Coming.... When the guards discover the fatally wounded Antony, one of them
exclaims: "The star is fallen," while the other one adds, "And time is at his period" (IV. xiv.
106-07). In the Apocalypse we read: "and there felle a great starre from heaven" (viii. 10); and
"time shulde bee no more" (x. 6.).54
If we transpose these last three quotes into literal solar-system terms, they apply to the
situation in the heavens from -780 to -687 as described by Velikovsky, especially if one were
trying to put a hopeful positive interpretation upon these terrifying events. If Rome is Earth,
then the Mars-Venus turbulence is indeed a discordia concors, creating conflict in the skies,
but then leading to the destruction of that conflict through Venus' mitigation of Mars' ferocity.
It is a catastrophe in the ancient Greek sense – a turning down before a new and better age
begins. What it leads to, in religious terms, is a time of universal Peace [celestial stability]
through Sea and Land – no cataclysmic floods, earthquakes, upheavals of land mass – which
prepares the way for the Prince of Light. We might wonder whether the pattern of darkness to
light, the idea that it is always darkest before it becomes light, has its origin in the
Velikovskian catastrophic events. Lastly, this transition is described as a reorientation, caused
by a great star falling from heaven and stopping time, after which there is a new heaven – a
different configuration of stars relative to Earth's new axis – and a new earth, new lands thrust
up and others submerged, new poles and equator, new cardinal points relative to the rising and
setting of the sun, new seasons, new topography. In sum, disaster leads to survival. All is
changed, but it is for the better.
It is to the artistic ramifications of this hopeful attitude that I now address myself, for they
provide us with a clear insight into what might have happened between the events themselves
and their emergence into art, into how human nature can make the unpleasant palatable and
even helpful. Towards the end of his essay, Davidson observes
To be sure, Cleopatra, like Venus and her protege Helen, contributed to the fall of a city
and/or empire because of a passionate attachment, but nevertheless may not be seen only as a
symbol of a passion which ought at all costs to be resisted. For, had not Antony yielded to
passion, his life would hardly have appeared as appealing or as suitable for being mirrored in
This is a form of having one's cake and eating it, which Shakespeare, as a great artist
representing mankind, achieves on our behalf. By depicting the planets as humans, he makes
them weak, even despicable; this is our revenge for what they did to us; but the humans, no
matter how much we revile them, are based upon planets, great and terrifying stars which
once moved erratically in the skies, and we fear they may do so again, and so we must also
placate them, which we do by giving them – planet and surrogate – a final greatness quite
different from their earlier pettiness. This is what happens to the disruptive lovers, for, when
they are dead, Octavius Caesar praises them, and
Caesar's attitude reflects quite clearly the sympathy and wonder with which the audience is
encouraged to look upon the tragic events at the end* of the lives of Antony and Cleopatra.56
[* Italics mine.]
Cleopatra is transformed, apotheosized, but the key element in her transformation is that she is
She longs no longer for any earthly man, but strongly desires immortality. She shall never
again taste the earthly wine from Egypt's grapes, nor may she participate again in any earthly
revels.... Her baser elements are purged away so that her love may pull her up to where her
desire rests upon the spirit of Mark Antony in bliss.57
In celestial terms, Venus is being forever separated from any connection with Earth. She will
not be like mankind, which tastes wine and participates in revels, and is mortal. She will be
immortal, but distant. She will be revered and honored because mankind can now afford to do
it, because Cleopatra is no longer a wandering comet, which might be dangerous, but a star in
a fixed orbit. This is a triumph of the mind and imagination of man, for
the immortality which Cleopatra, under the guise of the goddess Venus, achieves, is after all
the immortality which art, not religion, has to offer.58
Art, and myth, the concealing and transforming process of the human mind, make the best of
what had at first been a rather terrifying situation.
The common Venus, who stood behind the Cleopatra whose mind always has been focused on
the delight associated with generation, in the end by contraries melts into the heavenly Venus
who sets forth to take her last immortal journey.59
Who, we should read instead, by setting forth on this last journey, which implies that she will
not return, is rewarded with immortality.
Like Tasso who attempts to convert his witch Armida after Rinaldo is rescued from her
power. Shakespeare insists upon transforming the destructive passion which Cleopatra
represents into its seeming opposite.60
The same occurs with Antony. He
at last is lifted up to a new and greater heroism by his martyrdom and by the miracle of love.
At the death of "Herculean Antony," Cleopatra laments that the gods have "stol'n our jewel"
(VI.v.78), but he is then set as a star in the heavens toward which Cleopatra may now steer
This means, of course, that he becomes an example of a status which she too can now seek to
attain, a status granted to the dead Antony because he is now like a twinkling star, distant and
safe. In life he was like a dangerous planet, and so feared, whereas in death he is neutralized
and so can be venerated.
Because of his acts, he ironically* will become the immortal object of wonder and the subject
Both of them are in fact repelled, exiled to new orbits, and the vision is cosmic.
Shakespeare at both ends of his drama is echoing the Apocalypse, xxi. 1-2: 'And I sawe a new
heaven, and a new earth.... And I John sawe the holie citie newe Jerusalem come downe from
God out of heaven, prepared as a bride trimmed for her husband. " Thus Cleopatra, who has
been imaged forth in the play even as the great Whore of the Apocalypse, in the final portion
of the play is portrayed as analogous to the "bride" of the great bridegroom Christ, who
indeed when he returns for the second time will usher in a new heaven, a new earth, and an
eternity of love which is not diminished by illusion .63
We must remember first that, at the beginning of the play, Antony and Cleopatra had wanted
to create their own private new heaven and new earth, 1.1. 17, which would have benefitted
them alone, whereas now a new heaven and new earth have indeed been created for all of
mankind – new stars, new planets, new direction – out of their diminution, and second, that
Velikovsky has identified certain angels with planets, for now, when they no longer threaten
earth, the lovers are made angelic.
The imperial spirit of Antony, generous and great, is placed at least in imagination among the
angels. Mark Antony indeed will be remembered thus, for he has been miraculously converted
into angelic substance as a result of the gnosis of Shakespeare's art.64
If we look at the process in celestial terms, trying to decipher what the human motives are
behind this artistic transformation, we can see a transition from menace to safety. Antony and
Cleopatra have been made to exchange dangerous mortality for safe immortality, a gangster's
notoriety for a statesman's or benefactor's fame. This is the only kind of greatness they can be
permitted, an abstract, disembodied magnitude, for greatness on earth has proved too
dangerous. It is true that they were tremendously influential on earth, both as human
personages in a worldwide political battle and as planetary personages in a cosmic battle, but
they were also destructive, and so by proxy the planets for which Antony and Cleopatra stand
are being punished through their human representatives, who are vilified and defeated, and
then, like all scapegoats, trimmed like monarchs before their death and expulsion and
subsequent glorification. It is a form of revenge upon the planetary powers, and a satisfying
one too, for, by exhibiting desire but making morality triumph, it lets us experience vicariously
and for a controlled time the secret desire to be as free-flying and destructive as the planets,
but then, because we know that such behaviour is harmful, and therefore wrong, it lets a pair
of scapegoats suffer for our brief wildness. The best of this experience applies to us, and the
worst to Antony and Cleopatra, who carry our earthly evil away in their destruction, and then
have a distant celestial greatness conferred upon them for it.
* * * * *
I said at the outset that my paper is intended to be a beginning, not a body of rigidly-proved
propositions, and so, in this last section, I wish to step back from the plays themselves and
look at some of the larger implications of what I have just said.
First, let us explore the relation between individual and collective human nature. Not all
psychologists accept the idea of a subconscious or unconscious, but, for the sake of this paper,
I will assume that it exists. If we go further and accept Jung's concept of a collective
unconscious, which he defines as a racially-inherited set of paradigms, of master plans for
dream, myth and narrative, then it seems to me, pace Jung, that this must necessarily imply
collective memories, transmission of collective knowledge, and thus a collective mind, which I
take to be the sum or repository of man's noteworthy collective experiences. In the
knowledge-assimilation process, it is the long-term storage sector.
Now, taking this assumption as a starting point, we then consider the possible effects of the
Velikovskian cataclysms. If such horrible events have occurred – and indeed there appear to
have been more than two instances – can we not imagine them causing collective traumas on
each occasion, one reinforcing the other, burning their imprint onto the collec- tive memory?
Looking at mankind as a collectively traumatized being, we may then wonder what collective
defense mechanisms man might erect so that the horrible memory of the catastrophes, the
conscious realization of which would make our living unbearable, is suppressed. How would
we bury the memories, and then, what collective neuroses or delusions would we produce in
their stead to let us cope with existence?
Dr. Velikovsky has argued that, unconsciously, the result is a collec- tive amnesia, and he has
also urged that, as a byproduct of this collective amnesia, most of our religion, myth and
folklore are an unconscious attempt by man to sublimate repressed unbearable fact into
conscious bearable illusion. The common purpose of these illusions, he says, which are
produced universally, is to describe, and thus render friendly and controllable, that which
would otherwise remain unknown and therefore apparently uncontrollable. Through them, an
explanation is offered for everything, from the sparrow's fall to the largest disturbance. In this
way, our fears are assuaged, for we feel we are placed in a benevolent relation- ship with
forces which would otherwise appear too powerful for human influence. I then ask, can we
not apply the same dictum to narrative art?
What I suggest is that, if we do possess unconscious collective memories of enormous natural
catastrophes, then the collective function of the narrative artist may be to calm our fears by
creating narratives in which the catastrophes may be let loose in disguise, examined in all their
horror, and then overcome. That is to say, just as, in a neurotic traumatized individual, some
part of his mind creates the delusions which permit him to cope with his existence, so the
artist, as a part of a collec- tively traumatized society, creates collective delusions for that
Thus, it may be that the enduring artistic narrative endures, remains permanently relevant,
because it provides a medium for expression and thus release of collective apprehension. It is a
collective defense mechanism against enduring collective fears, and a comparison may be made
with children's fairy tales. It seems to me that a chief function of these stories is to diminish a
child's apprehensions about huge, uncon- trollable forces, represented in the stories by a giant,
bear, or wolf. The fairy tales actually speak of these huge figures, and make them placable,
even defeatable. Without wanting to oversimplify great works of art, I suggest that they are in
a sense adult fairy tales, and that they perform the same function at a more sophisticated level.
They imply a rational and sometimes beneficent order in the huge and otherwise irrational
universe. That may be why the enduring narratives of almost every human society are so
similar in structure and intent each collectively neurotic society, suffering from the same
catastrophic trauma, must produce its own artis- tic delusions, tailored and adapted to
individual circumstances, but of common, universal origin.
There is, however, a very significant difference between a traumatized individual and a
traumatized society. When an individual appears to be psychotic, or neurotic, the aim of
society is to cure him, to rid him of his excesses, so that he may become like other men. With a
collective neurosis, however, there is no such aim, because the patient – society – is also the
judge of acceptable behaviour, and a neurotic who thinks he can only survive behind his
delusional defenses is hardly going to set out to cure himself. Instead, where the neurotic
condition is communal throughout society, the creators of illusion for society are not
eliminated, but honored and encouraged. That which is feared by a group in a neurotic
individual is admired by the neurotic group in itself, and thus, the more an artist, as a member
of a neurotic group, calms its fears with his fables, the more it applauds him.
I therefore wish to propose a new interpretation of what happens when man reacts to art. I
suggest that it occurs at two levels, the second being caused by the first. The first level of
response, of course, is conscious. It is intellectual and emotional, being the product of the
artist's technical expertise in his metier, and the ideas, themes, feelings and suggestions which
the work stimulates within us as a result of that expertise. The quality of both these factors
determines how deeply we respond to the total work in a personal, conscious way, which I
prefer to call aesthetic involvement. Virtually all literary criticism must restrict itself to this, as
it has done since Aristotle.
It is only with the advent of psychological and anthropological criticism that we have
considered looking beneath the surface, beneath the conscious, to try to discover whether
there are subterranean reasons why man creates art, and why his fellow men are moved by it. I
suggest, of course, that there are indeed such subterranean reasons, that we are moved by
deep, unconscious factors, as I have just outlined, and therefore I feel that these produce a
reaction to art rather different from the aesthetic involvement which I have described above.
To distinguish what happens at a subterranean level, I shall call it racial involvement. Where
aesthetic involvement is personal and conscious, racial involvement is collective and
unconscious. The first is as old as one's age, the second is as old as historical man. I feel that,
if a work is to affect us profoundly, then aesthetic involvement must occur first, or we are
simply turned off by a work's ineptitude; but, once we are gripped and involved and reacting
aesthetically in a positive way to a great narrative, that is when a deeper level of response,
racial involvement, is able to be awakened and called into play. The element of the narrative
which calls forth aesthetic involvement is its literary and dramatic excellence, as described
above; that which calls forth racial involvement is the structure of the narrative, by which I
mean the extent to which the catastrophic pattern and details are embedded or embodied in it.
The closer this structure comes to the catastrophic events, the more powerfully will the work
affect us at a subterranean level, because the real events have been fixed in our unconscious
memories as part of our racial inheritance, and thus we will respond deeply, albeit
unconsciously, to a narrative which contains them to a high degree. As a result, I feel that only
when racial involvement occurs will a narrative endure as a human statement meaningful to
other men in different times. It talks to the future because it tells of the past.
To be more precise, it is not simply the catastrophic parallels in a narrative which grip us, but,
even more, the way in which the narrative is resolved. When it recalls the terrifying events of
the past, but then moves to a unifying, harmonizing, stable conclusion, we accept and approve
and applaud, for in such a narrative we have seen the racial fears exposed but then controlled,
which means that we have not simply been reminded, but comforted. The fear has been
brought forth only so that it can then be put away again in tranquility.
It must be understood, however, that the artist who does this for us never has the slightest
conscious inkling that this is what he is doing. If he did, he might never create at all. When he
reproduces catastrophic patterns, in a process which no one yet understands, it all occurs at a
level which, for want of a better term, I call unconscious, or pre-conscious, or transcendental,
or instinctive. What I'm trying to say is that somehow, without his being aware of it, the great
artist's creative faculty can tune into the wavelength of our racial memories to find there the
grand schematic designs of his art. This is what makes him an enduring artist, for, when the
design is there, we respond to it subconsciously because it is also racially in us. Only the artist
can produce the pattern, but all men can respond to it.
Yet, there is a curious rider to this point. We are comforted by a great narrative, but we must
never let ourselves consciously recognize that this has happened. We must act as if there were
no anxiety which needed comforting, and, therefore, as if such comforting could not have
occurred. This is the ultimate in both having our cake and eating it – to use a great narrative
to comfort our suppressed collective fears, and yet pretend there are no fears to be comforted.
It is a game that we play with ourselves, so that we can endure the memories of the past. It is
our way of feeling that we have the past – and thus the future – under control, and thus, when
a certain work of art permits us to play this game as we want it played, we respond very
positively. Yet neither side, creator nor receiver, knows that the game is being played; neither
side consciously knows that such a game exists; but that is what is going on when a work of
art remains meaningful to many generations of mankind – we are responding unconsciously to
the catastrophic patterns and comforting resolution in it. It is a transaction between creator
and receiver carried out entirely at an unconscious level.
In presenting this theory of literary creativity and response, I am not breaking entirely new
ground, for, in one sense, I am following a path first set out by the advocates of archetypal
criticism. This approach centers first of all about the ideas of Carl G. Jung, and in particular his
concepts of the collective unconscious or racial memory and the archetype in dream, myth and
literature. To Jung, all three forms of expression are rooted in the same ground, the universal
human psyche, and so
The great artist. . . is the man who possesses "the primordial vision," a special sensitivity to
archetypal patterns and a gift for speaking in primordial images, which enable him to transmit
experiences of the "inner world" to the "outer world" through his art form.65
In trying to explain both literary inspiration and literary function, Jung decides that
the artist is "man" in a higher sense – "collective man" – and that "the work of the poet comes
to meet the spiritual need of the society in which he lives."66
A second major source has been the work of a group called the Cambridge Hellenists, who,
early in this century, applied anthropological insights into myth and ritual to literature. Their
inspiration was Sir James G. Frazer's The Golden Bough, and it is from these two roots –
social psychology and cultural anthropology – that archetypal and mythic criticism have
grown, in such landmark works as Maud Bodkin's Archetypal Patterns in Poetry, Northrop
Frye's Anatomy of Criticism and Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God. All of these people are
concerned to discover the identity of the universal attraction in literature.
For it is with the relationship of literary art to "some very deep chord" in human nature that
mythological criticism deals. The mythic critic is concerned to seek out those mysterious
artifacts built into certain literary "forms" which elicit, with almost uncanny force dramatic and
universal human reactions. He wishes to discover how it is that certain works of literature,
usually those that have become, or promise to become, "classics," image a kind of reality to
which readers give perennial response – while other works, seemingly as well constructed,
and even some forms of reality, leave us cold.67
They, and all serious students of the topic, unanimously assert that myth is truth, powerful and
meaningful, and that it is somehow magically alive in literature.
Concerning the origin of these archetypes, however, different schools of thought exist. For
most traditional anthropologists, the images derive from natural phenomena, in particular the
recurring seasonal and solar events, and are passed from generation to generation in ritual and
myth. They are poetic, imaginative explanations of the world, inherited through cultural
instruction and designed to promote fertility and thus life. For the Jungians, and, more
recently, for anthropologists such as Claude Levi Strauss, the archetypes are inherent in, or a
product of the structure of, the human mind. Myth is therefore described as a sort of
collective dream, built of universal, non-rational human components. As Jung says,
. . . these psychic instincts "are older than historical man, . . . have been ingrained in him since
earliest times, and, eternally living, outlasting all generations, still make up the groundwork of
the human psyche."68
Levi-Strauss seems to be arguing along the same line when he claims
We are not, therefore, claiming to show how men think the myths, but rather how the myths
think themselves out in men and without men's knowledge.69
It is here that I must part company with both schools, with the Frazerians because they derive
myth and literature predominantly from vegetation cycles, and with the Jungians and
Levi-Straussians because they are content merely to note that a tendency to produce
archetypal images or patterns exists in the human mind, or psyche, and that such images or
patterns exert a perennial and universal power over human imaginative response. They never
seek to discover why our minds, or our psyches, are set up in this manner. I feel, of course,
that Dr. Velikovsky has shown us the answer, or at least one answer. If he's correct, then the
archetypes are neither coded vegetation symbols nor natural manifestations of the constitution
of the psyche or the brain, but repressed memories of catastrophic events, which manifest
themselves in disguise as the master elements in narrative art.
If the great works of narrative art are studied in this light, a main reason for their continued
power to affect us may emerge – they talk to us about our grandest conceptions, and comfort
us about our deepest fears, fears we could not otherwise look at. Shakespeare is the most
universal of narrative artists; his fables appeal to more men, in more different societies, from
the most primitive to the most advanced, than any other body of created art. I have felt for
some years that this is partly because Shakespeare's works touch a number of universal chords,
to which all men respond at a primitive, subconscious, almost instinctual level, but I have
never been able to formulate with any satisfactory precision what those chords might be. Dr.
Velikovsky may have supplied us with the answer.
Now, if this be true, the implications go much further. In an address to the symposium on his
work held at Lewis and Clark University in 1972, Dr. Velikovsky referred to his early
detractors – whose names are justifiably dirtied by history – as 'guardians of the skies.' He
himself has not explained precisely what he meant, but the phrase has intrigued me. Guardians
of what? Or rather, from what? From the truth, I suggest, and this is the next point I wish to
make. I am proposing that such people, recognized authorities in their field at the time,
astronomers in the main, were not as interested in seeking for truth as in preventing certain
truths from becoming known, and that the way they sought to achieve this was by presenting a
partial truth which omitted so much that the resulting distortion did not approach the whole
truth, but was virtually an untruth. In pretending to reveal, their intention was to conceal, and,
most important, I suggest that all of this happened at a subconscious level. They did not
consciously know why they behaved in this way.
To grasp why they may have done this, we must compare these 'guardians of the skies' to a
psychotic or neurotic who has constructed successful delusional strategies against reality
because he has no desire to face reality truthfully. He must therefore reject, tune out, even
attack, whatever conflicts with his delusions. In classical psychiatry, I am told, one of the most
delicate steps in the process of cure is the way in which the doctor communicates to his patient
the actual causes of his disturbed behaviour. If this is not done successfully, the patient will
react with hostility and reject the truth outright. If we accept that collective man has produced
various delusional defenses against the fear engendered by the collective trauma, as I have
argued earlier, then he obviously has little wish to have the trauma revealed. He will fight
tenaciously to retain his world of delusion, to conceal reality from himself. He will hate those
who try to show him otherwise, and he will fool himself into ignoring the truth whenever he
happens to come close to it.
But man is a rational animal, even though part of him may be collectively disturbed, and so he
must be very clever about fooling himself or he will see through the attempt. Furthermore, he
will naturally hate anyone violently who tries to show him what he is really doing. Now, it
seems to me that the attacks upon Dr. Velikovsky have been basically irrational. An irrational
act as I define it is one which appears to have no intelligent, reasoned motive, but seems to be
performed upon deep inner emotional compulsion, against reason, and the attacks on Dr.
Velikovsky seem to me to be insanely compulsive. It is apparent that the normally intelligent
and self-disciplined people, who suddenly become possessed by the fierce, total, unrelenting
hatred which Dr. Velikovsky's ideas can provoke in certain cases, were violating the most
fundamental principles of order of their own professions. They were behaving like blindly
hostile neurotics and never seem to know it. In case after case the reaction was the same, as if
all were suffering from a common madness, betraying their own selves.
The cause of this phenomenon, I suggest, is that these people were not acting as scientists, or
academics, but as people, man, frightened and neurotic man unwilling to face the truth, trying
desperately to keep it concealed from himself. I would thus label the hostility to Dr.
Velikovsky not so much an irrational reaction as an unconscious reaction – against the truth
which their own theories had kept safely hidden, but which Dr. Velikovsky's theories
threatened to reveal.
I must emphasize again that these deeds, and the reasons for them, all originate
subconsciously. Velikovsky's fanatical detractors did not and do not consciously know what
they were doing, nor why, any more than a neurotic can recognize the basis of his hatred for
the doctor who seeks to show him the truth about himself, but each type is nevertheless driven
subconsciously to attack the truth in order to retain the lie which gives him comfort.
And so they attacked him, to try to kill his ideas before they spread, before enough susceptible
people would be infected by his plague. Their common madness on this point, so unlike what
these people otherwise were, suggests a common cause – that Dr. Velikovsky was about to
let a terrible skeleton out of the closet, and they were rushing desperately to try to shut the
door. It is as if there were an unwritten, unspoken and indeed unconscious taboo against
dealing with the possibility of catastrophism and thus celestial instability, and Dr. Velikovsky,
who had broken it, must be destroyed.
That is why they are 'guardians of the skies.' The astronomy and geology and biology which
they had constructed was apparently true, but, being uniformitarian, it was only a partial truth,
revealing enough to keep man happy, but concealing what man should not know.
The implications go further, for, if we consider man in this light – striving to erect what
appear to be perfectly rational intellectual disciplines, but which are actually
carefully-disguised half-truths designed to suppress the whole truth from himself – then all
areas of human endeavor become suspect. Is science the supreme disinterested search for
truth, or a principal weapon in the fight against truth? In the play Macbeth, the two victorious
Scottish generals Macbeth and Banquo are accosted by the Witches and given tempting
predictions, some of which instantly come true. Macbeth appears to be succumbing, and so
Banquo warns him
But 'tis strange:
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray'sv
In deepest consequence.
Macbeth, I .3. 122-126 .
Perhaps it is the same, for example, with Newton and Darwin, whose descriptions of the
cosmos and life respectively appear to explain all, but may in fact only explain enough to keep
us from suspecting there is anything more, winning us with trifles while betraying us indeed
where the consequences are deepest. The pictures these men paint have a very pacifying effect.
They tell us that the universe runs like a clock, and that life on earth has been developing in an
equally bucolic way. There are occasional lapses from form, like comets or tempests, but
these, we are told, are minor aberrations, hardly noticeable in the long run against the slow,
steady clockwork of the cosmos. Are these men purveyors of truth, or 'guardians' of celestial
and biological mechanics? Are scientists unconsciously structuring their discoveries, not to
give us the truth about our world, but to foster the illusion that we control it? Is science a
collective delusion too?
It may be that certain types of literary criticism function in the same way, for most criticism
has been kept within safe bounds – character, plot, style, tone, theme, image, language – none
of which will lead to the taboo question of catastrophism. It is perhaps not a coincidence that
New or Formalist Criticism, which is a desire to study a literary work in a vacuum, so to
speak, has emerged in the last few decades coincident with our questioning of uniformitarian
science. Formalist criticism looks at a work without reference to who wrote it, or when, or
where, or what else he wrote, or what type it fits into, or what else was being written at the
time, or what traditions seem to have influenced the author, and so on. It may be that the
closer we get to recognizing the truth about catastrophism, the more arduously has Formalist
criticism tried to steer us onto purely aesthetic paths. I do not say it is wrong, any more than
Newton or Darwin are wrong, but I do suggest that what Formalism excludes is more
important than what it includes, and so the final picture which it offers is untrue. The Formalist
critic may be the 'guardian of the fable.'
What I propose instead, in the realm of literary criticism, is a Velikovskian aesthetic, a full,
multi-disciplined, completely honest approach to narrative art, and to drama in particular, the
most public narrative art. Each instance must not continue to be judged exclusively as a
private individual artifact, but, like war and government and myth, as a product of collective
man in response to our collective nature and experiences; not simply in terms of what we
consciously discover about what the author has consciously created, but in terms of
unconscious collective motives which may drive artists to create, and the unconscious
collective ways in which we may respond to them.
This is becoming more acceptable in the social sciences, where we admit the possibility of
unconscious motivation in various fields of human behaviour, but we are not as willing to
allow unconscious motivation, much less unconscious collective motivation, in narrative art.
The result is a very limited approach to literature and drama. To analyze a novel, for example,
strictly in terms of its purely literary characteristics, may be to miss the forest for the trees. It
is like an opera teacher analyzing the purely vocal quality of a person's scream for help. The
novel is of course a privately fabricated work of art, but it may be other things as well – a
product of a certain group or time or culture or race, a reaction to certain common events or
conditions, a product of man bearing a relation to other different human products – and
therefore it must be analyzed not simply by a literary approach, but by a nonliterary or
superliterary approach as well, one which is based upon historical and scientific and cultural
insights in addition to purely literary concerns. Like war and the generals, narrative art is too
important to be left strictly to the professors of English.
When I say this, I do not mean to downgrade art, nor to imply that all examples, of good, bad
or indifferent quality, are ultimately the same because they perform the same function. The
work of art is one of the chief glories of mankind, one the greatest products of the human
spirit, but to say that, no matter how true, is to look at art in conscious aesthetic terms alone,
to see it only with reference to deliberate artistic creativity and those standards relevant to that
domain. What I have been discussing makes no attempt to undermine that type of approach,
for narrative art can be many things at once, but rather tries to suggest that there may be other
approaches, equally relevant ones, which see a work of art in different contexts. If art is
judged as art, then questions of evaluation and interpretation are in order, for these are indeed
some of the main functions of criticism. However, when art is considered anthropologically, as
a human activity among other equally significant human activities, questions of relative artistic
merit among different individual works are no longer relevant. Instead, one is concerned with
the activity's function, its social purpose, to see what it can tell us about human nature, about
what constitutes man. This sort of approach is neither better nor worse than the others, it is
merely different, and equally legitimate. It does not seek to detract from one's enjoyment of, or
admiration for, a great work of art, nor does it attempt to diminish the stature of created art. It
rather hopes to enrich one's experience of the work itself by using the work as a key to gain
insight into the nature of man. If we are indeed rational creatures, we must do no less.
29. Clifford Davidson. 'Antony and Cleopatra': Circe,
Venus and the Whore of Babylon. Unpublished manuscript,
30. Davidson, 150.
31. Davidson, 152-153.
32. Davidson, 155.
33. Davidson, 154.
34. Davidson, 154-155.
35. Davidson, 155.
36. Davidson 158.
37. Davidson 165.
38. Davidson, 165.
39. Davidson 152.
40. Davidson 152.
41. Unpublished manuscript.
42. Davidson 151.
43. Davidson 167.
44. Davidson, 167
45. Davidson, 154.
46. Worlds In Collision, 259.
47. Davidson, 154.
48. Davidson. 167.
49. Davidson, 168.
50. Public address at the symposium Velikovsky and the Recent History of the Solar System. McMaster University. Hamilton, Ontario. June 16 19, 1974.
51. Davidson 168.
52. Davidson 170.
53. Davidson, 156.
54. Davidson 156-157.
55. Davidson 170.
56. Davidson, 171.
57. Davidson, 171
58. Davidson, 172.
59. Davidson 172.
60. Davidson 173.
61. Davidson 172.
62. Davidson 151.
63. Davidson, 174.
64. Davidson, 175.
65. Wilfred L. Guerin et al. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. Harper and Row, New York, 1966 136
66. Guerin, 136.
67. Guerin, 116.
68. Guerin, 135.
69. Edmund Leach. Levi-Strauss. Fontana Modern Masters. Fontana Collins, London, 1971.