But, in order to not put himself in an apostatical position (highly unthinkable in the first half of the 19th century in Europe), he must officially offer a reading key to justify the ubiquitous presence of these not so Christian proof ancient scholars. This reading key is openly declared only in the chapter “Difficulties in understanding the theological language of pagans”, where he openly comes up with the idea that what the established new religions wanted to hid was the cult of a unique God. Which thing Rossetti could easily deal with when it comes to narrate the scandalous translation of Indian Veds from Sanskrit to English, by a brahmin moved to England in the beginning of the 19th century. Many pages are dedicated by Rossetti to the event, with the conclusion that what Indian brahmins wanted to keep secret for centuries was the notion that under the thousands of Indian deities there lies a unique God. This revelation cannot today appear to us as intriguing as Rossetti tries to make it.
And, when he tries to apply the same notion to the late monotheistic religions, it makes us smile: really, in his opinion, the Vatican popes, while cancelling and banning the esoteric part of the Christian religion, just wanted to hid God’s unique and aloof nature, disguising him under the form of the Trinity? Really Rossetti feels like abolishing the unique still surviving esoteric part of the Christian religion, i.e. the Trinity?
But once having scattered the shadows of his excessive cautiousness, Gabriele Rossetti starts to show his huge classics erudition. Even if the Italian historian of literature seems to renounce any personal theory to be only a medium for ancient poets to speak up. And when he wants to discharge any responsability, he makes Vecchione, the author of “Della Sapienza Riposta della Letteratura Antica seguita da Dante”, or on the knowledge hidden in the ancient literature followed by Dante, to speak up for him. So, the erudite Vecchione is raised to “personage” of the Rossetti’s commedia della finzione along with Homer and Vergilius.
To offer “Il Mistero dell’Amor Platonico” to modern readers, the work should be presented as the daring opera it is probably never be planned to be by his very author. In order to obtain this posthumous effect, Rossetti’s work must be passed through a sieve. That’s what I planned to do. But be aware, mine will be the sieve of an alchemist-hermeticist. I’m not a historian of religions.
Now begins my summary and translation from “Il Mistero dell’Amore Platonico nel Medioevo. Disquisitions of Gabriele Rossetti professor of Italian language and literature at King’s College of London, a member of various literary and scientific academies, the Tiberina in Rome, the Sebezia of Naples, the Orezia of Palermo, the Ardents of Viterbo, the Pontaniana Society, etc..” (all academies we have no reports from). The work was published in five volumes in London in 1840 by John E. Taylor.
In the preface, along his long cahier de doleance, Rossetti places this intriguing observation: ”in this first volume I was not able to reach the depth of time I wanted, but I stopped at the time of the first Egypt.” From which we learn that he wanted to start well before that three thousand b.C. which might seem to us as the dawn of time. And I agree with Rossetti when stating that we should start well before.
Volume I, Part I, Chapter I: The ancient institution of the Secret Mysteries and their object.
In ancient Egypt very famous were the emblematic ceremonies called “Mysteries”. We can affirm they were what was most sacred in pagan cult. The object of this cult was totally unknown, but for the initiated. The ceremonies were celebrated exclusively by a certain order of priests belonging to certain families whose priesthood was a kind of legacy. In the most ancient Egypt the kings belonged to those families. In Greece and Italy kings of warrior classes were initiated to the secret rites and could pass on as an inheritance to their children.
There were functions open to a wide public and functions set apart for the initiated, the second were absolutely forbidden to reveal the minimum detail, on pain of death. Thus we know the existence of these rites, but not their content.
The public rites were celebrated in honor of certain deities: In Egypt they were Isis and Osiris, in Phrygia – Cybele and Attis, in Phoenicia and Cyprus – Venus and Adonis, in Greece – Demeter and Dionysus, in Sicily – Ceres and Bacchus. There were Mysteries also in the far East of the world under a multitude of deities. The secret part set apart for the few was known as “Secret Science”. On some Greek coins there are presented a head of a young man with the inscription ΔΗΜΟΣ, or municipality, and ΊΕΡΟΣ ΔΗΜΟΣ or sacred municipality.
We know that various ancient authors were initiated in the secret part of the Mysteries, but nobody has ever betrayed the oath. On the other hand the trials to which they were subjected to enter were really terrible. So Herodotus, Pausanias, Apollonius of Rhodes, Valerius Flaccus, Clemens of Alexandria stated they could not reveal anything. Alcibiades and Aeschylus suffered processes because were suspected to have revealed something. Apuleius so wrote about his initiation: ”I cannot say, because I was forbidden to do, as you reader are forbidden to be informed. But know that I was on the border of death, and having stepped on Persephone’s threshold then, carried by all elements, I was then returned back and in the middle of the night I could see a Sun and before the deities I appeared and adored them.
One of the most interesting and peculiar aspects of the teaching of this “Secret Science” is that it has never been controlled by a central ruler or a great master. There is not such thing as hierarchy, following the lack of a ruler in the Universe. Rossetti here adds that probably the ultimate arcane of the secret part was the awareness of the unity of God. But there were severe punishments for those who dare to reveal this doctrine. Perhaps this was what happened to Anaxagoras and Socrates.
We know that the secret masters did teach a double language, or a language having double sense: one sense for the laypersons and another for the initiated. For the both teachings were presented in the form of fairy tales. The ones who knew the secret language distinguished the real sense between figurative appearances, that’s to say the state of perfection, the state of pure Spirit, as though a man could become, once taken off the burden of the body, a pure mind. Ascetic or spiritual life was an allegory leading to this concept. Rossetti here quotes a motto by St. Paul: “Nunc autem soluti sumus a lege mortis ut serviamus in novitate spiritus; non secundum carnem ambulamus sed secundum spiritum. Qui autem in carne sunt Deo placere non possunt; vos autem in carne non estis sed in spiritu Dei habitat in vobis. Si spiritu vivimus, spiritu et ambulemus”. That literally means: “Now we are free from the law of dead to serve in the newness of spirit; we don’t walk as flesh but spirit. In fact those who are in flesh cannot be loved by God; you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit of God that dwells in you. If in spirit we live, in the spirit we walk”.
Those who achieved such a knowledge were very rare, because the secret symbolic language was very complicated with its metaphors, allegories, numbers, colors. The teaching was oral and the learning was intuitive. The mental intuition was represented by the eyes, the oral instruction from the mouth. After years of study and meditation the initiated could get the meaning of the most emblematic material that had been presented to him/her, for instance he/she was able to understand the myth of Saturnus/Cronus devouring his children.
Saturnus is a character that plays the role of Time, Rhea his wife is playing the Nature. Saturnus fall into habit of devouring the children born by Rhea – until she came up with a stratagem to save the last four: Zeus, Hera, Hades, Poseidon. She offered her husband a stone wrapped in blankets instead. Thus these four deities were the only ones not to be destroyed by the Time devouring everything. Zeus represents the element Fire, Hera the element Air, Poseidon the element Water and Hades the element Earth. In fact these elements are called “immortals”, as the elements last forever.
The initiated also does comprehend why the Saturnus ruling time is called ” the golden age”, and why this age does not represent a past age but an age to come. He/she discovers the purpose of the festivals dedicated to Saturnus, or Saturnalia, which started December the 16th and came to an end 21st. That’s to say they finish with the end of the year, as the 21st of the last month ends also the Sun’s career. And its deep meaning was a forbidden topic, as Macrobius stated: “it must not be permitted to explain the Saturnalia through the laws of nature, but rather through fantastic tales”.
Apuleius, in his Asclepius of the Deus Sempiternus (immortal god), makes an Egyptian scholar say: ” whoever will follow the religion of the mind, is to be sentenced to death”.
Chapter Two. Difficulty to understand the theological pagan language.
“There was a time in which notions of physical processes, things and mental states were embodied in deities, and all the psychological, sentimental and sexual intercourses among the latter were conceived just to disguise the former. There was also a time when high priests could lead two levels of rituals: the more theatrical ones for the common people (the exoteric), and the less apparent for learned ones (the esoteric). But a day arrived when only the first kind of rites were allowed and the second was banned”. Rossetti states that there wasn’t a precise date for that, but a slow decadence have already begun even some 1000 years before the full establishment of the monotheistic religions all over the world. As Cicero said, when the nature of the gods disappears, there appears the nature of things.
There is much talking about the “three tongued masters”, their three jaws dog, their triple language, three strings arch, triple arrow or “trisulca”. According to Rossetti the greatest difficulty is to take that every image, or symbol, stands for at least three different meanings. That’s to say there are physical, theological and metaphysical meanings. Deities partake the same triple meaning. Isis, for instance, stands for nature and Osiris for the Sun path, but also respectively for Spirit of Life and Soul. And also humanity and human mind.
The ancient roman – and pagan – priests burnt the fourteen Numa Pompilius’ secret books, seven in Greek and seven in Latin. We know the history, some centuries after the death of the etruscan priest-king, following a Tevere river flooding, Numa’s grave was opened to check the damages and the notebooks found. The roman republican political establishment of the age (Rome was not imperial yet) ordered to destroy the manuscripts (or tablets – we will never know it), on the pretension the writings were unreadable (the Greek ones) and the Latin ones would have caused disconcert to common people. Rossetti, instead of providing an explication, introduces Vecchione, Dante’s historian, quoting Plutarch and Sinesius: