‘The Sibyl of Erythraea’,
detail from a 1564 triptych,
by Maerten van Heemskerck,
In the collections of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
And another (late) sharing for the day from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, chapter III of ‘Les Secrets Esotériques dans Plutarque’, ‘The Erythraean Cosmosophy’, by Jean Mallinger, Planquart 1946 & Puli-Nord 1978 for its authorized re-print. A Via-HYGEIA English translation of the original French. From page 59 to 70.
I. The Mysterious Erythraean
In his unique treatise called: ‘De Defectu Oraculorum’ (why the Oracles have ceased to give answers), Plutarch tells us about Cleombrotus of Lacedaemon, who crossed the Sea to go along the banks of the Red Sea, to consult an extraordinary being, teacher of men and initiator of the wise. Here he gives us is description:
‘In order to reach this man‘, says Cleombrotus, ‘I wandered long and had to pay a high price to my indicators who helped me to find him. It is by the banks of the Red Sea that he allows himself to be seen and this once a year. The rest of the time, the man says he spends in the company of nomad Nymphs and Genies. I went through many ordeals but i finally found him and the welcome he gave me was full of benevolence. It is the fairest of all the men i have met. He has always lived disease-free. The need to eat happens only once in a month and his food consists in a certain sort of a very bitter medicinal plant from which he eats the fruit. He speaks several languages, but during most of the time of our interview, he spoke in Dorian dialect. His speech had the softness of music. While he was conversing with me, the surrounding space was full of a sweet fragrance: It was from his mouth that this soft perfume was exhaling from. Other studies and science absorb him constantly, but there is every year a day when he feels the inspiration of a prophetic breath. He then goes to the banks of the Red Sea to herald future events. Many powerful men and scribes of Kings come to consult him and then go back from where they came from.‘
Such would be this marvelous Genius, who during Plutarch’s time, brought to an already anxious humanity unsought-of revelations. Let’s inquire him in turn.
II. The Secret Cosmosophy
The main revelation made by the Africain instructor was regarding the secret of the sensible universe.
‘Here’, says Cleombrotus, ‘is how he spoke: ” The number of the worlds is not infinite. There is precisely neither one or five but truly one hundred eighty three, placed in triangle formation, 60 by each side, the resting three other worlds would occupying one of the angles. They touch one-another and in their movements form a sort of dance. The interior surface of the triangle is the common home of all of these worlds and is called: ‘the Aletheian fields’. It is there that the principles, types and immutable forms of all that was and all that will be exist. Around these types, dwells eternity that pervades all of these worlds. The view and contemplation of the beautiful set is granted once every ten thousand years to the souls of mortals, if they had lived a virtuous life in the world. And the best of the Mysteries celebrated here on earth are but just the mere reflection of this vision, of this initiation. Finally, the Erythraean reminded us that “It is in order to reach the very sight of such visions that we study philosophy; otherwise, it is a mere loss of time“.’
III. Origin of this tradition
Where did Plutarch find this original myth of the great African Instructor so many occultists acknowledge or occasionally perceive his astral reality?
It is a very old Pythagorean tradition, already asserted by Petron of Himera-from the first generation of disciples the Master of Samos initiated-that there are hundred eighty three worlds, arranged according to an admirable mathematical harmony.
The Erythraean adds a few details: “This revelation is carefully hidden from men; only the wise, who led a reproach-less life and hence find themselves liberated from the necessity of re-incarnation, are able once every ten thousand years to perceive in one blink this supreme reality and therefore receive this unique revelation. All the Harmony, all the harmonious equilibrium of the world-that was only taught on earth by the mean of the initiatic symbolism and mathematical formulas- were then concretely revealed by the miracle of direct vision.“
And the Erythraean to continue by saying that “the religious Mysteries celebrated on earth only give but a small portion of this sublime and lengthy communication, of this extraordinary vision where everything in Heaven and Earth are either the divine face appearing in its sur-human magnitude, or the conscious microcosm face to face with this prodigious set, unforgettable vision of the whole macrocosm.“
Yes, such would be the rewards of the Wise in the Islands of the Blessed: he will see God face to face; he would contemplate his Work in the brightness and splendor of its integrity.
Similar promises were popularized by Cicero in his famous ‘Dream of Scipio’, in which he has Scipio Aemilianus, tell us about a premonitory dream he had in Africa, while he was visiting king Massinissa, an ally of the Romans at the beginning of the third Punic war. In this strange dream, he sees his adoptive grand-father, the famous Scipio Africanus, appearing to him in all the manifestation of his genius and who predicts him his future glory and his coming death.
He learns there that his father Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus has preceded him in this dwelling of the Just.
‘What, my father would be still alive?’ shouts Scipio Aemilianus.
-‘Yes, certainly, answers the vision, because only those truly alive are those who have been delivered from their corporeal ties that they escaped as from a prison. Because, what you all call ‘being alive’, is in reality ‘being dead’.’
And Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus himself appears to his son, showing him the splendor of the stars, and help him perceive the celestial harmony-that Pythagoras knew already- and confirms that it is in deed the dwelling of the blessed souls.
The Erythraean concludes his speech with a practical advice: “The study of Philosophy can duly prepare man to the understanding of Truth, to the promise of Eternity, to the posthumous revelation of the beauty of the divine Works. Otherwise (he precises) all efforts are vain, all labours are sterile efforts, life loses its greatness and its true meaning.“
“You will not seek me if you wouldn’t have found me“, says Paracelsus to his students studying the thaumaturgical sciences. The Wise Man of Erythraea speaks in the same way: “The philosopher is already at the door of the temple; the study of the primary causes leads him naturally to the discovery of its ultimate aims. He touches with his hands the veil of the sanctuary.“
IV. The Stammering of modern science
The old esoteric theory of the finite universe that the mysterious Erythraean is reminding us of, just got picked up by the most qualified representative of modern astrophysics. It is odd to realize, writes Matila Ghyla, around 1931 that the same limited spherical cosmos of the Pythagoreans resurfaces as an hypothesis first, as a possible consequence of the ‘bending’ of our four dimensional non-euclidian world, then second, as a probability based upon a beginning of experimental proof: The displacement towards the red spectre of luminous rays coming from the most remote spiral nebulas, rays that literally did their round of their world ! Eddington hereby confirms Pythagoras.
V. The return of the ‘Great Year’
The Erythraean makes us understand that he is a supporter of the famous ‘Great Year’ theory, which was one of the curious mysteries of Pythagoreanism. This doctrine was preserved in a striking quote of Eudemus of Rhodes, a disciple of Aristotle: “If we are ought to believe the Pythagoreans‘, was he saying one day to his students, ‘My staff in my hand, I will talk to you again, sitting in front of me again, just as now and everything will follow this example.”
Gomperz astutely made this remark about the importance of this sally: “We should be grateful to the excellent Eudemus’, he writes, ‘to have let this sally out in the heat of his passionate discourse and to his audience to have taken notes in their notebooks, making it possible to preserve it for posterity. The delightful vision is set before us: the chief of the school, sitting on his marble chair, is in a good mood and smiles, playing with the symbol of his authority, the staff; in front of him, his disciples sitting in many rows, listening to him half-taken aback, half laughing. We can right away affirm that this thought honors greatly the Pythagoreans. In these few words, loaded with meaning, they proclaim nothing less than the absolute rule of an universal law. It is about a consequence, taken with the most scientific rigor of the acknowledgment of this rule, combined with the belief of an universal cycle. We have already met with this belief with Anaximander and with Heraclitus.”
And he add: “Supporting this possibility, in the front line spoke the ever renewing sight of plant life, that dies and is reborn, then there is the cycle of the renewal of matter…The fate of the souls (let them dwell as shadows in the Hades or that we imagine them carried away towards the island of the blessed) may have looked like an exception to this universal rule; but the transmigration theory, that would find strong support with this plant analogy, was made to re-establish harmony. Further, the cycle of the seasons, the regular return of the shining stars in the sky, that rule over the life of men and because of that were worshiped like gods, may have been of a determining importance…“
Let’s be grateful to Plutarch to have shared with us Cleombrotus’ singular discourse. It contains in itself enough hidden wealth to inspire us many beneficial meditations.
What is the secret of our world? What does Man represent in this cosmic vastness? Could he, one day, perceive all of its might? Is philosophical study enough of a key to procure the shining hope of such a weighty revelation? Will the severity of some metempsychosis impose the unsettling experience to many mortals, the painful expiation of a Great Year?
So many mysteries in just a few lines…
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