There's nothing new in art. Magritte's images were anticipated by millenia.

The Rape, 1934
magritte

3000 BC

The Rape, 1948
magritte


The Language of the Goddess
Marija Gimbutas
Harper & Row 1989
   


fig 68; 3000 BC

This magnificent tome only came into my hands in September 2001, well after most of these pages on the significance of the seafarer's eorþan sceatas had been posted. Its contents seem to confirm many of my own inadequate observations, and maybe these were only a pale reflection of what is already widely acknowledged.

fig 298; 3000 BC

Figures from The Language of the Goddess

The broad sweep of the author's range makes a refreshing change from the petty parochialism of so much academic comment on the corpus of Anglo-Saxon literature. For instance, this from p.195: "The cuckoo is one of the incarnations of Baltic Laima, the Fate, and of Polish Ziva, the life-giving Goddess of Spring ... the cuckoo and dove were believed to be prophetic birds, omens of death, and spirits of the dead ... The cuckoo's familiar cry was especially welcomed as a sign of spring. In the winter, the cuckoo was believed to transform into a hawk, and this wintertime cuckoo/hawk is associated with death." So much for the exclusively Welsh ancestry of the seafarer's gowk. But perhaps the bird is part-anfloga, after all.

Gimbutas devotes a whole section to the Ship of Renewal, p.247, intimating that the ceol itself is yet another manifestation of the Great Goddess. "Ship portrayals ... are witness to ... the idea of the renewal of nature at the winter solstice or at the crisis of human death". p.249. Her section 16, on The Power of Two provides much additional matter for reflection in connection with the bi-partite structure of the poem, and the dualism inherent in human thinking.

Not much, it seems, of what I've remarked on in connection with the fundamental theme of The Seafarer is without precedent. Thumbing through Jane Harrison's Themis, CUP 1912, I come across this in her Introduction (p.xvi): "... man's eyes are bent on earth as the food-giver .... he sees in the earth the Mother as food-giver ... But before long he notices that Sky as well as Earth influences his food-supply ... next he finds out that the moon measures seasons, and to her he attributes all growth, all waxing and waning ... later he discovers that the Sun really dominates ... The shift of attention, of religious focus, from Earth to Sky, tended to remove the gods from man: they were purged, but at the price of remoteness." In short, the seafarer's train of thought from start to finish --- the abandonment of þis deade lif on earth for the remoter hyht in heofonum, perhaps via the smoke of the funeral pyre as well as ofer holma gelagu.

La Gâcheuse

Another of Magritte's conceptions, this time from Myter - Myths, an exhibition catalogue prepared by C-M.Edsman, M.von Heland, B.af Klintberg, and I.Matthis, for a show mounted at the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, in 1983. The note to the painting comments that "earth's womb is also the gaping maw of the underworld. The same woman gives life and takes it back .... her presence may be sensed in Magritte's surrealist painting La Gâcheuse - The Despoiler ... the picture could be interpreted as an angst-ridden expression of the Great Mother's powers of demolition."

anglo-saxon text         manuscript
other versions         main index
skyfarer