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05/28/2020 10:30

The older I get, the clearer I realize the meaning of what the somewhat peculiar book publisher Bo Cavefors told me when I agreed he could publish my first novel: ”You are still a young man, but you have already now an impressive experience reserve.” I do not know if ”experience reserve” is a common expression, though it has followed me throughout life. Now when I am well above sixty years of age I might look back on that reserve. It may not be as impressive as the one of other people. Unfortunately, much of it has also a large degree faded away and disappeared far down into the darkest depths of my brain. However, occasionally I find a key to some door that may be unlocked and reveal a recollection chamber where some half-forgotten memory is slumbering.

As the educator I have become, I should admit that I hope that you – dear reader – just as well as me, may be inspired to open some door leading to your specific experience reserve. Because I assume that each one of us has one of those and that opening the gates to a memory deposit, good or bad, helps us to live on.

Let me enter into the depths of the mind, inspired by a partially incomprehensible poem – Carrion Comfort, by the strange English Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins:

O the mind, mind has mountains cliffs of fall

Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap

May who ne´er hung there. Nor does long or small

Durance deal with that steep or deep.

 

It was probably in 1977 I worked at St. Lars Mental Hospital in Lund. The more time that passes, exact dates are becoming increasingly foggy, supported by the fact that over the years I have lost papers, letters and diary entries. However, I can still imagine the gloomy atmosphere in the meticulously cleaned ”day room”, with its greyish, wall-to-wall, vinyl carpet, the sharp scent of washing powder mixed with the body fumes and odour of night-stalled urine from patients who sat aimlessly staring in sofas and armchairs, placed between flower pots and stands with unread magazines, while crunching on dry wheat bread and sipping overcooked coffee, or drinking what they called ”vicky-water”. The staff wore civilian clothes, several of them were quite nice, but some were in my opinion even crazier than the patients.

 

 

During my first week in the ward, two unusually sadistic wardens took me to one of the single rooms while one of them declared: ”Now you will see something quite funny.” On a well-made bed sat an elderly lady dressed in a nightgown. One of the caregivers asked me to remain in the doorway while he entered the room. The lady got up and worriedly pressed herself gainst the wall as the warden opened the window, turned to the patient and declared: ”Now I am letting them in, Ada!” The terrified lady pressed herself screaming tightly to the wall while the caretaker who had been standing next to me rushed into the room and violently pressed down the frightened Ada on the bed, while the other one closed the window. Ada immediately began to breathe more calmly. With a big smile, the warden who had taken me to the room closed the window and with a nod to his his colleague, who was speaking reassuringly to Ada, he stated: “There you see, Jan, what you may expect here by us. They're crazier than you can ever imagine.” Shocked by the behaviour of my two colleagues, I could not help wondering what the terrified Ada actually had seen and experienced after the departmental sadist had opened the window.

 

Since then, I harboured a badly repressed hatred for that man. I do no longer remember his name or what he looked like. During a party a month later, when I drank, ate and danced in one of St. Lars’s staff flats I ended up by a kitchen table where the drunk warden expressed his great admiration for the by me then completely unknown Louis-Ferdinand Céline, whom I have since read several books by and about, though never learned to appreciate, probably due to the unpleasant warden, who took pains to convey a superior impression of knowledge and intellectuality.

 

That warden and my daily contact with the patients, some of whom were severely schizophrenic, taught me it is impossible to generalize. There are always exceptions to rules and self-evident opinions. Among the caregivers, who all had the same profession, the same tasks, there were completely different personalities – some of them were compassionate, pleasant and easy to socialize with, others were intolerant and difficult to become friends with. The same was true about the patients. They were all mentally ill, several had received the same, or similar, diagnoses, but as the case was with the caregivers, there were different characters among the patients as well. Some I was able to spend time with and learn from despite their often grave, mental disabilities, others seemed to be completely ”normal”. A few of them could by me, even if they were completely inaccessible, nevertheless create an intense feeling of sympathy, while others left me unaffected.

 

 

Something that had a strong influence on the patients' speech and behaviour was the extent to which they were medicated and the kind of psychoactive drugs they received. Each of them also had her/his very specific life story, which some of them were willing to tell me in a surprisingly frank manner. A young man had once been an elite athlete, but as his results deteriorated and his name disappeared from newspaper columns, he became a pyromaniac. He set fires in various places, but before he did so he sent anonymous letters to the press, indicating where he intended to ”strike” next. Soon he could follow the press's urged ”hunt for the murderous arsonist” with the same interest and satisfaction with which he had previously read comments about his sports achievements.

 

In the ward there was also another tragic case of pyromania. An elderly, quiet man had been incarcerated for more than forty years. He had been taken into custody after being convicted of arson in connection with a socialist demonstration among farmworkers who had demanded higher wages. Apparently he had put fire on a barn belonging to a wealthy landlord. All the wardens told me that he had once been completely sane. The designation of him as mentally distrurbed had been politically motivated. However, over time he had become ”institutionalized”; medication and hospital routines had made it impossible for him to manage life outside of the hospital, something he told me on several occasions.

 

 

It was an ”open ward”, meaning that most of the patients could come and go, though under certain predetermined conditions. The patients, most of whom had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, were not allowed to go outside without their Hibernal hats and several of them had to be accompanied. One side effect of Hibernal was that the patient became sensitive to sun rays and could easily develop a painful rash. Hibernal is the brand of an antipsychotic drug, chlorpromazine, which was obviously the first really effective drug used to mitigate, and maybe even cure, psychotic conditions.

 

Every day I took one, or a couple of patients on walks within the hospital area, and it could even happen that I followed one of them ”into town”. A young man I quite often accompanied seemed to be perfectly normal and he could with amazing candour tell me about his ”strange” urge to ”expose himself”. It was hard to believe him. However, once he flashed himself in broad day light right in front of a group of people waiting for a bus. I hade been forewarned that this could happen, but was nevertheless completely taken by surprise and did not know how to behave. However, I sharply told him that he had immediately stop masturbating, pull up his pants and cover himself. As if he had expected my reaction he obeyed me at one, while we returned to the ward he was talking as if nothing had happened. However, at other times I often saw him huddled up in the corner of a sofa corner, crippled by anxiety.

 

 

Something that surprised me was that most patients were fully aware of their mental disabilities. Before I had come to work at St. Lars I had assumedd that mentally ill persons would deny their state of mind declaring themselves to be quite sane, though I soon found some of them told me that their state of mind was incurable and that they wer doomed to spend their entire life in a twilight zone characterized by anquish and alienation. Several were out-patients living in ”training apartments” and came to the ward just to meet the doctors and get their medication. In fact, I found that some of these out-patients would have preferred to ”stay within the ward”, something most of them had done before. Among the ”free-walkers” was a rough-cut and grumpy man who, according to my colleagues, originally had been locked up within the storied ”closed pavillion”, hidden away in secluded part of the hospital´s park and surrounded by a high mound. Sometime in the past this hefty man had murdered not only one person, but three. After several years of medication and therapy he had ended up in ”our” ward and after a while considered to be ”healthy enough to move freely in society”. One day he had ended up next to me on one of the vinyl clad sofas, while drinking the flat coffee and crunching on the dry wheat bread he explained: ”I cannot stand being with people and have always preferred being be locked up and supervised.”

 

While working at the asylum, I read a book about a French artist named Charles Meryon, which I randomly had bought at a sale at the Municipal Art Gallery in the close-by town of Malmö. Meryon (1821-1868) had been a naval officer and had among other endeavours circumnavigated the world and spent some time in South Pacific. When Meryon, with lieutenant's degree, left the navy, he engaged in artistic activities.

 

 

Meryon was a skilled watercolour artist, though over time he became completely colourblind and was thus forced to devote himself to etching. He studied with one of Paris's most esteemed engravers and was soon able to support himself by skilfully engraving paintings made by other artists. Soon Meryon began to produce and sell their own work, mostly detailed and original views of Paris.

 

Charles Meryon was a bachelor and deeply committed to his art. Several artists and connoisseurs, including Charles Baudelaire, greatly appreciated Meryon's skills and original angles of both well-known and generally neglected Parisian sights. Meryon was also able to describe with great enthusiasm what he wanted to achieve through his art and he also attracted some devoted students. However, Meryon was over-sensitive to criticism and became increasingly suspicious of people around him. He lived miserably, did not sleep much, ate poorly and behaved in a progressively strange manner. He began to remake and change his earlier etchings, adding odd figures and shapes to his popular Parisian views. For example, in a picture he made of the Paris morgue where he added several disproportionate individuals.

 

 

Over time, Meryon's additions became even more noticeable, though he found no difficulties in explaining why he had added various aircraft, dragons, gods and apparently incomprehensible structures. His increasingly strange works sold poorly, while Meryon's poverty and persecution mania worsened.

 

 

He isolated himself in his flat, began to hallucinate and exposed increasingly strange, fixed ideas. Among other things, Meryon began sketching a ”standing bed”, a kind of contraption which would allow him to sleep in an upright position similar to the position of Jesus on the cross. Meryon made several etchings of this device, just as skilfully executed as his other works.

 

Charles Baudelaire knew Meryon well and together with him planned to produce a book they intended to call The Swan. However, Baudelaire, considered that Meryon’s mental stat was constantly getting worse and in a letter he described a visit to his talkative friend:

 

In one of his large plates, he substituted a flock of birds of prey for a small balloon, and when I remarked to him that it was unusual to put so many eagles in the Parisian sky, he replied that it was not groundless, since ”those people” (the government of the Emperor) often released eagles to study omens after the rite; and that this had been put in print in the newspaper, even Le Moniteur. I should say that he doesn´t conceal in any way his regard for all superstitions, but he interprest them poorly, and sees intrigue everywhere.

 

Baudelaire went on to describe how Meryon reinterpreted what he had obviously read by Edgar Allan Poe. For example, he told Baudelaire that a woman had been killed by a great ape, only to shortly after identify himself the beast while admitting to the ”moral murder” of two women. Baudelaire noticed how he himself was almost imperceptibly drawn further and further into Meryon's crazy, imaginary world and to his own surprise Baudelaire surprised himself by accepting his friend's ”deeply personal and psychotic ideas”. Baudelaire concluded his description of the incident by noting: ”Don´t scoff at this sorry fellow. I would not be prejudicial to the talented man for anything in the world.” Meryon eventually became even more unruly and was a few months later confined to an asylum, where he passed away.

 

 

Baudelaire's description of his visit to Meryon was mirrored by a conversation I had with a lady in the ward’s day room. She noted:

 

- I had a difficult night. It seems like I ate way too late last night. I can't stand fish so late in the day. He, the fishmonger, is the one who troubles me. He sits down there exclaiming “Is it going to be any fish today? If you say no, I will rotate your spine.” And then he does what he said he was going to do and it hurts terribly.

 

It was not the first and only time I got involved in strange conversations. On another occasion I had ended up beside a patient who was stroking an imaginary cat, while mumbling: “Such a nice, little cat. Nice pussy cat. Soft and kind. Don't you want pat it as well?” As I made a stroking gesture, stating: ”It´s a nice cat”, the lady jerked and stared at me: ”Are you quite sane? There’s no cat around here.” I could not know if she was making fun of me. This particular patient seemed to be focused on embarrassing me. Another example – I had been told to help her during her visits to the toilet, since she apparently had troubles pulling down her panties. When I once tried to help her with that she peed on my hands while pointing out: ”That was because you are sloppy and not doing your job properly.”

 

 

Despite such incidents, I do not regret my time at St. Lars. I was there for just a few months, though during that time I learned a lot that has followed me throughout life. Among other things, my time at the asylum made me increasingly fascinated by other people's imaginary worlds and taught me patience while listening to their tales. I benefited from this when I began to study History of Religions and during my conversations with deeply religious people.

 

Today I was reminded about my time at St. Lars when I on the net came across a collection of portraits painted by a British artist, Ben Edge, who in 2015 had paid tribute to a number of outsider artists. Since he included his self-portrait in his gallery of odd creators Ben Edge probably considers himself to be an outsider artist as well.

 

 

It was just after World War II’s mass slaughter that the then forty-four-year-old artist Jean Dubuffet in a letter to his friend and fellow artist René Auberjonois, coined the term Art Brut. The concept may be translated as ”raw” art, but not in the sense of ”brutal” but rather ”original”, with sub-meanings such as ”unrestrained”, ”shocking”, ”popular”, and ”unbound”. Dubuffet was the son of a relatively wealthy wine merchant in Le Havre and had between 1930 and 1935 in Paris been the proprietor of a small wine agency. I assume Dubuffet accordingly considered the term brut to be a quality stamp like Champagne Brut – in the sense of ”dry, raw, unrefined”, i.e. the exclusive drink is less sugared and thereby drier and ”nobler” than other Champagnes.

 

Ever since his early youth, Dubuffet had struggled to find an ”original” means of expression and searched for it in many quarters and manifestations, not least in nature - stones, herbs, butterflies, constantly chasing after an unrefined force which could be turned into art. In his letter of August 28, 1945, he wrote to his friend Auberjonois that after the madness of World War II, which ravaged so many of Europe's art treasures and destroyed the Europeans´ belief in their own superiority, artists like him and his friends should within themselves try to find an original mode of expression, liberated from all ”highly cultured” ballast. Perhaps a path leading to an inner source of creativity could be found withinin mental hospitals, asylums where marginal visionaries had been locked up, but nevertheless allowed to create art.

 

 

Like many of his friends within the Parisian surrealist circles Dubuffet had with great interest interest read epoch-making descriptions of the ”inhibited” art of mental patients, especially Walter Morgenthaler's Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler, Madness & Art, The Life and Works of Adolf Wölfli, from 1921 and Hans Prinzhorns Bildnerei der Geisteskranken, Artistry of the mentally ill: A contribution to the psychology and psychopathology of configuration. Inspired by these books, Dubuffet traveled by the end of 1945 together with the well-known architect Le Courbusier and author Jean Paulhan to visit a number of Swiss asylums, where they knew ”mentally disabled” patients had engaged in artistic activities.

 

Paulhan was well-known in Paris's intellectual circles – he had edited several literary journals and been a leader within the resistance movement. After the end of the War Paulhan was by some writers even referred to as ”The Pope of Literature”. With an academic background in psychology and sociology, Paulhan was a committed advocate for ”free creation”, which meant that he felt we should seek and accept the unbound creative power of every human being. Something that made Paulhan becoming friends with the crazy genius Antonin Artaud, imprisoned at an asylum in Cordez, where he was plagued by electric shock treatments, though also allowed to undergo art therapy, which for Artaud meant an intense period of writing and drawing.

 

 

Of course, Artuad was visited by Dubuffet, Paulhan and le Courbusier, who together with other avant-garde artists made sure that the tormented genius in 1946 was transferred to a clinic in a suburb of Paris, Ivry-sur-Seine, and thus escaped electric shocks and enforced confinement. The clinic was expensive, though Artaud had to Dubuffet claimed that he had deposited a large fortune in the form of gold bars in a Paris bank. It turned out to be another of Artuad's fantasies, though the economically astute Dubuffet arranged a collection among Artaud's Parisian friends, which he then turned into a fund for Artaud's upkeep. At the clinic in Ivry-sur-Seine, Artaud enjoyed great freedom. However, he did not want to be surrounded by the clinic's other patients and thus settled in an isolated, unheated hunting pavilion located within the clinic's huge park, there he devoted himself to writing, wild dances and continued his experiments with psychoactive drugs, until he died two years after his move to Paris. It was Paulhan who organized Artaud's funeral.

 

Jean Paulhan was interested in languages. How they arise, develop, are used and structured. Paulhan's concern Artaud was based on Artuad's notions about an intimate interrelation between body, mind and language – how bodily pain can be expressed through language. His theater productions, art and poetry interpret various forms of disintegration of language, mind and body. Artaud's means of expression – body, images, language – did not describe pain, they were identical with it. To him art, drama and poetry were manifestations. They were not merely demonstrations, or reenactments, or what Artaud called ”disclosures of a standpoint”, a specific manner of seeing and acting. Scenic manifestaions were according to him more akin to ”science”, where manifestations designate how a substance or organism behave under certain conditions and how such a process can be replicated and demonstrated in front of a group of spectators. Intense feelings had to be acted out through bodily expressions. Artaud labelled actors as ”athlets of the heart”.

 

 

Art was for Artuad, and perhaps also for several other ”insane”, or rather ”obsessed”, individuals, an urge, a need – not something they devoted themselves to in order to be noticed, appreciated or maybe even rewarded for, but something they felt compelled to do. It was probably this unity between body and soul, art and defence, the mental and the physical, that made the linguist Jean Paulhan so fascinated by Artaud and convinced him, together with Dubuffet, to explore how the insane expressed themselves through an art that was not intended to be appreciated by others, but created for the sake of temsleves, and no one else.

 

Although Paulhan was known to be a convinced anarchist and a staunch, active opponent of Nazism and Fascism, he did nevertheless after Wold War II with great intensity defend Louis-Ferdinand Céline, the world-famous author, who generally was considered to be ”of unsound mind” and was interned in Copenhagen after in France, having been convicted in absentia as a war criminal and collaborator. Céline was pardoned in 1951 and returned to his mother country, however, without taking back his tributes of the Aryan race and attacks on Jews, continuously denying that the Holocaust had taken place. However, Céline's reprehensible stance did not worry Paulhan, as he considered that in all his madness Céline´s outbursts had been, and still were, well-worded and thus worthy of some respect due to the fact that they merited similarly well-formulated reactions.

 

 

It was an unrestrained creative drive the three friends were looking for when they set off on their explorative journey to Swiss asylums. Like the European explorers who during the preceding century had penetrated ”unknown” territories with the intention of describing, mapping and exploiting them, the artist, the architect and the psychologist/writer intended to enter the ”white spots” of the human psyche to find out if they could be inspired by and maybe even exploit what they encountered there. Like explorers of the actual world they made their trip for their own gain. As artists, they wanted to enrich their art through their experiences and discoveries.

 

As a matter of fact, the paintings that Dubuffet created after his ”research trip” to Switzerland's asylums are among the most interesting and inspiring in his entire production. Like Picasso's artistic activities, Dubuffet's creations are generally divided into widely different periods.

 

 

Just as nineteenth-century expeditions into the ”interior of Africa” had their specific prerequisites, presumptions and expected results, the Dubuffet/Poulhan/le Corbusier Swiss journey found its inspiration in decades of experiences and studies. Crucial, was the three artists´mutual friend Julien Michel Leiris and in particular his participation in the so called Dakar to Djibouti Expedition expedition which between 1930 and 1933 travelled from coast to coast just south of Sahara. The enterprise was headed by the social anthropologist Marcel Griaule and included several scientists and engineers who investigated the ”thinking and customs” of people living just south of the Saharan desert.

 

 

Leiris´s experiences during the expedition became crucial for his future career, After his return to Paris he wrote a successful book L'Afrique fantôme in which he combined ethnography with autobiographical notes and psychological-philosophical considerations. A few years later, Leiris returned to the French Sudan, i.e. today's Mali, where he spent several months in the core area of the Dogon people.

 

 

Before his trip to Africa, Leiris had been active within Paris's avant-garde circles and collaborated with Antonin Artaud. He was married to the influential art dealer Anton Kahnweiler's stepdaughter, engaged in jazz and poetry and a close friend with several of the leading artists of the time, not the least the most influential Surrealists. This combination of ethnography, psychology and art became crucial for the great influence Leiris had on his artist friends. For example, for more than twenty years Leiris was chief ethnographer at Musée de l'Homme, which collections of ”primitive art” were an important source of inspiration for Parisian artists and writers.

 

 

Like many of his contemporaries, Leiris was fascinated by what he in ”African art” perceived as a counterbalance to ”Western civilization”. However, his views were coloured by a great measure of racism characterized by fanciful notions about ”black culture”, imaginings not at all muted by his African experiences. According to Leiris, Europeans were ”passive spectators who should be provoked to participate in the arena of life.” He had a rather perverse interest in death, suicide, sadomasochism, ritual sacrifices, cannibalism and raw violence, something that Leiris to a great extent projected on to ”primitive cultures”, which he hoped would contribute to a revigoration of an increasingly tired and insipid ”European” culture. .

 

The board of the Musée de l'Homme also included Claude Lévi-Strauss. A Belgian anthropologist, philosopher and author who between 1935 and 1939 had been active as university teacher in Brazil, where he also had visited indigenous peoples in the Amazonas. Even if Lévi-Strauss was quite famous among academics and artists, it was not until 1955 that he with his book Tristes Tropiques became known to the general public. Tristes Tropiques is a travelogue combining an exquisite prose with philosophical meditations and ethnographic analyses. The book has by many been considered as a masterpiece, not least the least by my teacher Tord Olsson, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Lévi-Strauss. Like Lévi-Strauss, Tord was interested in music, literature and ”alternative thinking”.

 

 

As I wrote in a previous blog post, my friendship with Tord has had a great influence on my views of life and he did of course make me read Lévi-Strauss. In his four books on the savage mind collected under the heading Mythologiques, Lévi-Strauss studied the underlying ”structures” of a variety of myths. For him, as for many linguists, the thinking, expression, combinations and patterns behind a story are at least as interesting as the story itself. I read inspired byTord with great interest Lévi-Strauss, and several other authors influenced by his thinking, though their generalizations and profound speculations eventually made me rather irritated. I was more impressed by Tord's emphasis on personal experiences, how important encounters with other people are, something that also was essential for Dubuffet and his encounters with outsider artists.

 

 

The first stop during Dubuffets/le Corbusiers/Paulhan's search for artistically gifted maniacs was Waldau's Mental Hospital in Bern, which dated back all the way to the 16th century. There they met with Walter Morgenthaler, one of the world's leading psychiatrists, trained in Vienna by members of the Freud circle. Morgenthaler was a friend of Emil Kraepelin who in a comprehensive work had classified mental disorders into two main groups – manic-depressive psychosis and dementia praecox. The latter had by one of Morgenthaler's other acquaintances, the former Freud colleague Eugen Bleuler, been named schizophrenia. As a pioneer within the drastically changed landscape of psychiatry, Morgenthaler was fortunate enough to have at Waldau the violent paedophile Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930) as his patient. As a child, Wölfli had been severely abused, both physically and mentally, and had become an orphan already at the age of ten. After a miserable time in poorhouses and later as a farmworker and soldier, Wölfli was interned for life as a ”dangerously perverted criminal” after being caught in flagrante delicto while raping a child. He was forcibly detained at Waldua's Mental Hospital where his violent behaviour meant that Wölfli had to be kept isolated.

 

 

Walter Morgenthaler found that Wölfli, who previously had not shown any interest whatsoever in creative activities, was artistically gifted and he gave him notebooks, as well as every morning two large sheets of paper and crayons. At his death twenty-three years later, Wölfli had produced a variety of paintings, often containing texts and sheet music, as well as an autobiographical epic of 25,000 pages, with 1,600 illustrations.

 

 

In his texts and pictures, Wölfli occasionally transformed himself into Emperor Adolf, or St. Adolf the Second. No one knows where Wölfli´s talent originated from, or how he had learned to write notes. You can actually play what he wrote and Wölfli's confusing music has inspired contemporary composers such as Per Nørgård and Terry Riley. Like many other schizophrenic artists, Wölfli had a very special style and rarely repeated a motive. Wölfli's images often incorporated poems, like:

 

Nostalgic Song for my Beloved

Nothing more beautiful have I, ever seen!

In God´s Eter-,nity:

And today I must sink down!

?Whyy: I am, too broad!

I can truly, no longer stand:

So good day, Herr Veit!

If I could see my beloved again!

I would go for a walk with her.

 

Nothing more beautiful have I, ever seen!

In God´s Eter-,nity!

Peace can, no longer remain!

?Whyy! I am, over-heated!

I feel hot, the winds blow!

Th´rooster is there, let in!

Oh Maria, oh Maria!

In the wood the cucko, cries.

This is a March in 32 beats.

 

 

Wölfi generally incorporated his texts within the complicated patterns of his paintings, though he could also write them down on pieces of paper and illustrate them, seemingly at random, with pictures he cut out from magazines. Oddly enough, he once wrote a poem next to a picture of a lady and an advertisement for Campbell's soups, forty years before Andy Warhol's obsession with the same soup cans. Warhol's rhythmic repetition of Campbell cans actually seem to reflect a rhythm similar to the one Wölfli's quite often obtained in his images.

 

 

When the three artist friends visited Waldau, Wölfli had been dead for fifteen years, but Dr. Morgenthaler was happy to provide them with information and stories about his strange patient, whose biography he had written and the visitors spent several days studying the items of the vast stockpile of Wölfli's posthumous works of art.

 

After their visit to Bern, the explorers in the world of madness continued to Lausanne where they in the Asylum of Cercy-sur-Lausanne met with Aloïse Corbaz, an elegant lady who had been interned there since 1918. Aloïse had in her youth dreamed of becoming an opera singer, but had instead begun working as a milliner. She was cultivated and well-educated and in 1911 Aloïse was in Berlin appointed as governess to the children of the court chaplain of Kaiser Wilhelm II. This meant that she came to stay at the Emperor's Court in Potsdam, where she developed a great admiration for Wilhelm II. When she was forced to return to Switzerland during World War I Aloïse entered a psychosis that soon led to her being diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, a state in which she imagined that Wilhelm II had fallen in love with her.

 

 

In secret Aloïse began to write poems and on pieces of paper she had found in various places she made colourful drawings of intimate encounters between dream princes and opera prima donnas. She coloured them with substances she had extracted from plants and medicines. It was not until 1936 that a female doctor, Jaqueline Porret-Trout, who had read Hans Prinzhorn's epoch-making study of the art of mental patients, noticed how Aloïse while humming on opera arias depicted how women like Maria Stuart, Elisabeth of Austria and Cleopatra met with strapping men in dress uniforms.

 

 

 

Dr. Porret-Trout provided Aloïse with the material she needed for cerating her art work and until her death in 1964 Aloïse continously created her dream worlds, in the same manner but with endless variations. A strange feature was that all people in Aloïse's visual world had blue eyes lacking whites or pupils, something Aloïse explained with that the gaze of all her different characters radiated the depth and infinity of the blue colour.

 

 

In a short time, Jean Dubbuffet collected a large amount of outsider art and was already 1949 able to exhibit no less than 200 works by 60 different artists at Galerie René Doruin in Paris. The exhibition became a sensation. In the exhibition catalogue, Dubuffet wrote:

 

By this [Art Brut] we mean works created by people who are free towards an artistic culture where creation, contrary to what happens among the intellectuals, assumes that the artists use everything (subjects, choice of material used, rhythms, what they write, methods to reshape, etc.) they find in their own heart and do not apply clichés from classical art or anything considered fashionable. We help them in their pure art practice, raw and in all their phases created by practitioners who follow nothing but their own impulses. An art that has ingenuity as its only characteristic, and does not follow the stereotypes that are so common in cultural art - the chameleon and the monkey.

 

Above is one item from Dubuffet´s wide collection of global oustider art:The Drunkard by Antônio Roseno de Lima (1926-1988). Roseno de Lima supported himself as an itinerant photographer in and around the Brazilian cities of São Paolo and Indaiatuba. 

 

Below is a picture of Carl Fredrik Hill (1849-1911) one of Sweden's foremost landscape painters. He was living in France when he in 1888, after neighbours had complained about his desperate, nightly screams, was brought to an asylum in Passy. Carl Fredrik Hill was born in Lund and therefore ended up at Lund’s Hospital, which later was renamed St. Lars’s Hospital. After reperated claims about severe mistreatment Hill was allowed to be cared for by his mother and a sister (his father had been a renowned professor of mathematics at Lund University). He remained i their care for 28 years. On a daily basis carl Fredrik made numerous drawings, mainly with chalk and pastels. There are several thousand drawings preserved, but just as many have disappeared. It has been told that Hill could sit in drawing by the open window in his room and throw down his sketches to children who were playing in the street below.

 

 

Especially through Dubuffet's efforts, the aesthetic, as well as commercial value of Art Brut has become increasingly appreciated. Several mental hospitals have been offering special treatment for talented artists who have been identified among their patients. For example the Austrian August Walla (1936-2001) who lived in a world in which he believed himself to be a "Nazi girl" who, during the Soviet occupation of Vienna had been cloned to obtain a "Communist twin". Walla decorated the walls and ceiling of his room at the Maria Guggings Psychiatric Clinic's "artist's house" outside Vienna with texts and pictures describing his imaginary existence.

 

 

Dubuffet's collection of Art Brut obtained in 1976 a museum of its own in Lausanne and it now includes more than 30,000 works of art. It has to be stressed that Dubuffet's definition of Art Brut was not limited to art of the mentally disturbed. He divided the genre into three groups between which there are no watertight bulkheads. In addition to the art of the mentally ill, Dubuffet described two other categories of outsider art – spiritualistically inspired art and works made without commercial interests, but rather based on an uncontrollable, entirely personal creative urge in persons who have not been diagnosed with any form of mental illness, but nevertheless become obsessed with creating, regardless of audience and appreciation. An example of such an artist is the postman Ferdinand Cheval (1836-1924) who built himself a fantasy palace in the village of Hauterive south of Lyon.

 

Cheval was undoubtedly an outsider, though far from crazy. His cleverly constructed castle, made of stones collected during his letter carrying rounds, refers to exotic places, perhaps inspired by the postcards he brought to their recipients, though it is also made of "such stuff as dreams are made on" and personal experiences. Plenty of inscriptions can be found upon and inside Cheval’s dream palace, such as the postman's proud declaration: "1879-1912, 10,000 days, 93,000 hours, 33 years of struggle". And perhaps most beautiful of them all: "Life is a stormy ocean between the child that emerges and the old man who disappears".

 

 

Spiritist artists find themselves in a Twilight Zone between dream and reality. They are called spiritists since they believe themselves to be governed by spirits, demons or angels. Since he was a very young man Augustin Lesage (1876-1954) worked in the coal mines close to the town Auchel in northern France. In one of the dark galleries far below ground Lesage heard at the age of 34 a voice telling him: "One day you will become an artist". Lesage had during his military service visited Palais de Beaux-Arts in Lille where he had been deeply impressed by what he saw, though that was his only experience of artistic edification. When Lesage came up from the mine after hearing the mysterious voice he went straight to buy brushes, paint and a canvas that turned out to be ten times larger than he had imagined, though the inner voice was heard again and convinced him that everything was in order. Since then, Lesage painted on a daily basis: “I know nothing about how the final painting will look like. My counsellors tell me what to do and I submit to their will ”. In 1964, Dubuffet bought the first painting Lesage made – it is from 1913 and measures 9 m².

 

 

It is not uncommon that especially spiritually inspired artists paint in large formats. Madge Gill (1882-1961) painted on white fabric rolls that could have length of up to 40 meters. Like many outsider artists she had a difficult childhood. Born out of wedlock she was sent to a Canadian orphanage and did not return to England until she was twenty years old, when she came to live with an aunt who was a well-known spiritist. Madge trained as a nurse and married a stockbroker. Her life turned to tragedy when one of her three sons died in the Spanish flu and an eagerly awaited daughter turned out to be stillborn the following year. Madge became seriously ill and lost sight of one of her eyes. After recovering she was visited by a spirit who called herself Myrninerest, i.e. ”My Inner Rest”. This spirit took charge of Madge's artistic activities, day and night, until her death forty years later. Myrninerest forbade Madge to sell any of her works.

 

 

A man who, unlike Madge was diagnosed as a schizophrenic, but like she also worked in a large formate was the Mexican Martín Ramírez (1895-1963). As a 30-year-old he had left his wife and three children to look for work and livelihood as a navvy in California. For six years, Martín alternated between Mexico and the United States, but in 1930 he became unemployed and lost his footing. Increasingly confused and rundown Martin moved around in the U.S. countryside. After a couple of years he was arrested by the police and diagnosed with ”cataconic schizophrenia”. Silent and harmless, Martín spent the rest of his life confined to various asylums.

 

 

By the end of the1930s Martín Ramírez was infected with tuberculosis and ended up in a clinic for TBC patients with mental disabilities. There it was found that Martín frantically drew on all pieces of paper he could lay his hands on. As he licked pencils and brushes, the staff continuously threw away everything he had drawn. As has been the case with several other outsider artists, it was an aesthetically sensitive person who discovered Martín's talent.

 

Tarmo Pasto taught psychology at the nearby Carlifornia State University in Sacramento and in the late 1940s he came to DeWitt State Hospital where Martín Ramírez was interned. Tarmo, a second-generation Finnish immigrant and skilled amateur artist, immediately discovered the artistic quality of Martín's drawings.

 

 

Pasto collected more than 300 of the works he encouraged Ramírez to create, the Mexican who still did not utter a single word preferred to draw and paint on the large tablecloths that were used in the hospital's dining room. It was only after Martín Ramírez's death that his remarkable art began to be exhibited, his huge drawings and paintings now constitute the highest prized outsider art at the American art market.

 

 

Although Martín Ramírez lived in isolation within U.S. asylums, his imaginary world was mainly populated by Mexican bandits and Madonnas. Perhaps his previous work as a navvy was the reason to why he also liked to depict trains passing through tunnels within landscapes dominated by undulating mountain ridges.

 

 

Another feature of Ramírez's art is deer and other animals, which together with Mexican riders and Madonnas seem to float around in the air on islands. They make me associate to the airborne islands that flow freely around in James Cameron's film Avatar.

 

Or in illustrations by Moebius and Miyazaki.

 

 

Like many other artists, Martín Ramírez devoted all his waking time to creating art. He was extremely productive. What is surprising with most of the outsider artists is that despite their depictions of a strictly limited, often confined world, they rarely repeat their motives. Within a constrained framework their ingenuity neverthless seems to be unlimited.

 

Just as Martrín Ramírez's creative imagination was limited to Mexican folklore, railways and highways, so did the former share cropper William ”Bill” Traylor (1853-1949) exclusively depict life and folklore in the American Deep South. Illiterate like Ramírez and born into slavery, the then eighty-five-year-old Traylor began painting and drawing in 1939, while sitting by a busy street in Montgomery, Alabama. Disabled by rheumatism and with a leg eaten by gangrene Traylor was sleeping in a shed behind a funeral home, spending his days by a makeshift table placed in the very centre of the city. Bill Traylor’s creative period lasted for four years, before he had to have his leg amputated and spent his last five years with a daughter in Chicago, where he did not draw anything more. In spite of his short, creative period more than 1,500 works of art by Traylor have been identified, even more have probably been lost.

 

 

Traylor drew elegantly stylized animals and more or less incomprehensible episodes from his long life; alcoholism, dances, hunting, and dog fights. Oddly enough, much of the violence, segregation and brutal racism that the blacks suffered in the American South is largely absent from Traylor.

 

Several of his drawings seem to haven been inspired by the African-American folklore and musicality that permeated much of the rural culture of the Southern U.S. States. Taylor's strangely distorted, and ghostly figures often equipped with top hats remind me of the humorous, yet ruthless and sinister voodoo god Baron Samedi, Lord of the Dead, whom I have seen acted out by possessed people during vodún ceremonies in the Dominican Republic.

 

 

There are also plenty of threatening, black dogs by Traylor, reminiscent of the blues legend Robert Johnson's devil dog:

 

I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving
Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
Mmm, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
And the day keeps on remindin' me, there's a hellhound on my trail.

 

 

Like many other outsider artists, Traylor often presented depictions of his feelings of exclusion, an even persecution, as here where we see an aged Traylor with blue rock and a cane harassed by angry ladies, drunken men and a black dog. Traylor looks broken, he suffered badly from rheumatism and a rotting leg.

 

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Most of Traylor's drawings are made as silhouettes, which makes me wonder if the well-known African-American artist Kara Walker could possibly have been inspired by Bill Traylor's art. In her art works Walker is also often expressing herself through silhouettes, albeit from a much more critical point of view than Traylor, Walker makes use of her art as a weapon against American, more or less conscious, racism and bigotry. Like Traylor, she occasionally portrays episodes which significance is not entirely clear to us and populate them with sinister characters.

 

 

One schizophrenic artist who also often used silhouettes was the Italian Carlo Zinelli (1916-1974). He had been a soldier, but during the Spanish Civil War Zinelli suffered a severe crisis and, was after two months of warfare diagnosed as schizophrenic and brought to a mental hospital in Verona, where he in total isolation was imprisoned for 10 years. 

 

 

By the end of the fifties, Zinelli was considered calm enough to be allowed to participate in an experiment in which mental patients were encouraged to create works of art. Over a ten-year period, Zinelli created eight thousand large paiting, woking with them for eight hours a day. After becoming calm and quiet Zinelli abruptly ceased his artistic activities and during the last five years of his life he painted and draw virtually nothing.

 

 

While Bill Traylor sat and painted in Montgomery, Nikifor (1895-1968) passed through World War II in south-eastern Poland. Nikifor, whose actual name has never been properly identified, was a Lemko, i.e. he belonged to a small ethnic group with its own language and distinctive culture and a core area in the border regions between Poland, Ukraine and Slovakia. Nikifor's father was unknown and his mother was declared insane, leaving Nikifor to take of himself from an early age on.

 

For most of his life, Nikifor lived in utter poverty in the spa town of Krynica in southern Poland, which churches and institutions he has lovingly and in great detail depicted in several of the 40,000 small pictures that have been preserved after him. Nikifor painted on every piece of paper he could come across; cardboard, notebooks, brochures, packaging, etc., cutting most of them into squares, about 30 × 50 centimetres. On several occasions he was interned at various asylums and clinics, where his small paintings often were thrown away since Nikifor was in the habit of licking brushes and pencils and the staff was worried about TBC infection.

 

 

Nikifor often portrayed himself as a solitary wanderer, or as painter sitting on benches and by tables, drawing and painting. Despite the fact that he suffered violence and exclusion during the merciless war along Poland’s south-eastern borders, there are few traces of it in his art.

 

 

Along with other Lemkos Nikifor was by the Polish Communist regime in 1949 deported to northern Poland where formerly settled agricultural areas had been abandoned by fleeing Germans. On three occasions Nikifor hiked the long way back to Krynica, only to be captured and forced to return to the new settlement areas. After the third relocation, Nikifor was nevertheless allowed to return to Krynica and stay there. He was assigned a place by a corner in an ”artist´s studio” established at one of the spa hotels. Beginning in 1960 Nikifor shared the studio with a fairly well-known artist, Marian Włosinski, who soon realized that Nikifor was a more interesting artist than he was. Włosinski succeeded in becoming the ”legal custodian” for Nikifor and devoted most of his time to make Nikifor’s work known in Poland.

It was not the first time Nikifor had been noticed by other artists. Already in the 1930s, Ukrainian exile artists had organized an exhibition of Nikifor's art in Paris, but at that time the war had put an end to Nikifor's growing, international fame and he continued to live as an impoverished and homeless beggar in the streets of Krynica. Nikifor was close to being almost illiterate and had great difficulties in expressing himself. It was not until the end of his life that it was discovered that Nikifor's speech problems were not due to a mental disorder, but that his tongue was partly stuck to the palate.

Nikifor's speech problems, as well as his international and domestic success made me think of the Swedish artist Axel Robert Petersson (1868-1925), called Döderhultaren. He was also eventually noticed by admiring artist colleagues and despite well attended and favourably reviewed exhibitions in Paris 1910, Copenhagen, Brighton, Rome and Turin in 1911, in New York 1913 and 1915 in San Francisco and Chicago, and that several of his expressionistic statue groups were purchased by the Swedish National Museum, Döderhultaren continued to live by himself in a small rather wretched two-room flat in the small town of Oskarshamn. Since he was considered to be a somewhat ”dirty old man” women avoided him. Döderhultaren also had some rather acute speaking problems and was constantly wearing galoshes, as he assumed that they would protect him if the lightning struck. However, his dynamic, sharp-sighted and skilfully executed sculpture groups show no signs of mental illness.

Döderhultaren's galoshes and celebrity made me think of to the Dutch Willem van Genk (1927-2005). van Genk was a manic collector of black raincoats and had more than a hundred of them stored in his home. He once stated: ” At one point I got rid of a raincoat and while I now think back about it, I do it with great regret.” van Genk's emotional attachment to raincoats has been linked to a traumatic youth experience.

Willem van Genk had nine older sisters. His mother died when he was five years old and to combat his sorrow van Genk initiated a lifelong devotion to drawing, dedicating several hours a day to his unrestrained passion. His father was an impulsive and aggressive man, often beating his son, whom he considered to be ”uneducable”. The father was an active opponent to the Nazi occupants and among other endeavours tried to protect persecuted Jews. When Gestapo had received a tip about the van Genk family's activities, they made a visit to their home. The father stayed hidden, but the seventeen-year-old Willem was beaten and abused by the Secret Service agents who wore long leather coats. van Genk connected his fascination with long black, raincoats with his youthful and horrifying experience of Gestapo violence, declaring that he dressed in the coats as ”protection and to gain power”.

van Genk did not finish his compulsory schooling, but succeeded in securing employment as a draughtsman with an advertising agency in The Hague. However, he mismanaged his work and was fired, initiating a downward spiral from work to work, which eventually took him to a boarding house and a factory linked to a program called Arbeid voor Onvolwaardigen, Work for Disabled. The gravely autistic Willem suffered from the disdain of the managers and one of his sisters, Willy, finally succeeded in obtaining custody of her brother and in 1964 Willem was able to move into her apartment in The Hague.

Already in 1958, van Genk had applied to The Royal Academy of Art in The Haag. Its principal, Joop Beljon, discovered van Genk's unique talent and supported him through various exhibitions and appearances in the press, radio and TV. However, a TV appearance made Van Genk so terrified of his own appearance that he subsequently refused to be filmed, photographed, or interviewed. When his sister Willy died in 1973, van Genk took over her apartment, becoming more and more isolated, while he continuously painted and built a miniature town with trains and buses made from material he had found rubbish piles and containers. van Genk was a bookworm and over the years he acquired a fascinating book collection. His rising fame and increased income enabled Van Genk to travel extensively, to Stockholm, Madrid, Rome, Prague, Moscow, Budapest, Berlin and New York. It was only major cities that attracted him and in particular, their train and metro stations. van Genk was an avid collector of posters and postcards which details he copied into his paintings, including texts as in this double image of Prague and Stockholm where he incorporated a text in Swedish: ”Prague, the beautiful capital of the Czechs.”

By the early 1990s, van Genk's neighbours had more than enough of the stench spreading from his apartment and a persistent ”beating” during nights. The authorities carried out several investigations into Van Genk's living conditions and in 1996 these led to a police intervention. van Genk was forcibly removed from his apartment and detained for three months. When his artist colleagues intervened and tried to explain how sensitive van Genk was and that he was likely to suffer a mental breakdown due to the brusque intervention. However, the police explained: “We know everything about Mr van Genk. His file is one meter thick and the situation had to be addressed. This is the only way to do it.”

The apartment was cleaned up and renovated. The floor was found to be completely covered by a layer of dog faeces, ”dry and stamped thin”. van Genk's dog Coco was found to be not housebroken and was consequently culled. After three months, van Genk returned to a completely changed apartment. It was no longer the Gesamtkunstwerk, Total Artwork, he had previously inhabited. van Genk suffered a stroke and he spent the last nine years of his life in a sanatorium where he neither drew nor painted.

van Genk´s living conditions reminds me of when we moved to a new apartment in Rome. Beneath us lived a man whose dog was constantly barking, spending most of its time on the balcony, while the stench from the apartment engulfed the surroundings, it was particularly nauseating in the staircase, from where it seeped in to our flat. A neighbour described to us how he had visited the troublesome source of all this aggravation and had found the apartment filled with dog droppings and how ”dirt hung from the roof like stalactites”. When we inquired about the strange man, whom I saw every day going down to the store to shop, we were told that he owned his apartment, had plenty of money and came from a wealthy and influential family. It had proved impossible to get him evicted. The situation was so desperate that we considered moving again, but unexpectedly the man died and the problem was solved.

Without noticing it we are all surrounded by people who might have unsuspected and hidden talents and qualities. Our neighbour was probably not a damaged genius like van Genk, but chance has sometimes brought influential people in contact with talented outsiders. Wilhelm Uhde (1875-1947) belonged to a type of collectors who do not care so much about the commercial value of art though nevertheless willing to sacrifice a great deal to acquire what they desire. After studying in Munich and Florence, Uhde established himself as an art dealer in Paris. When Picasso and Braque were unknown to most connoisseurs, Uhde bought several of their paintings and began in 1905, the same year as he began promoting works by more or less unknown modernist artists, he actively supported the already quite well-known naivist Henri Rousseau, called le Douanier. Rousseau had since 1884 moved among Paris's more progressive artists, but was by them mainly considered to be an odd character, exceptions to this view were Pablo Picasso and Robert Delaunay whose great appreciation of Rousseu's art made Uhde interested in ”primitivist” artists, in the sense of ”original/ self-taught”. The year after Rosseau's death in 1910, Uhde wrote the first, and highly appreciative, monograph on his life and work.

Wilhelm Uhde wrote and exhibited works by artists he referred to as ”primitive masters”, or somewhat sentimentally named Painters of the Sacred Heart. Among the naïvistic artists Wilhelm Uhde supported were masters who are now part of the general art history – the postal inspector Louis Vivin, the gardener André Bauchant and the print shop assistant Camille Bombois. None of these artists had any formal training as painters and artisans and generally began painting late in life. Several of the came to be labelled as Sunday Painters, indicating that painting was a sideline to their professional activities, or something they did after their retirement. However, most of them were far from being untalented. Consider, for example various works by Bombois. He mainly portrayed circus people and/or depicted the countryside around Paris. Bombois's paintings are entirely free from any stereotyped and sentimentalizing schmaltz that often cling to depictions of Roma people, street- and circus artists. A painting by Bombois depicting how three clowns are preparing for a performance indicates how familiar he was with the environment he depicted in such a straightforward manner.

However, Séraphine Louis (1864-1942) was different from other artists supported by Uhde, though he also included her among his painters of The Sacred Heart. We know almost nothing about Séraphine's life, or when and how she started painting. In order to relax from the hectic life in Paris, Uhde rented in 1912 a flat in Senlis and as housekeeper hired a quiet and poor lady. One day he saw by some neighbours a painting of some apples (or were they oranges?) which through its originality caught his attention.

Uhde found to his surprise that it had been painted by his housekeeper who every night locked herself up in her wretched room and in the light of a candle painted her pictures of fruits and flowers, well into the night. Her mother had died when Séraphine was just one year old and her father when she was seven. Initially, Séraphine had supported herself as a shepherdess, though seventeen years old she had begun to take care of household chores for nuns in a convent. Uhde began to support Séraphine, something that made her life less difficult, but as early as August 1914 Uhde was as a German citizen forced to leave France due to the outbreak of World War I. A large part of his unique art collection was confiscated and eventually dispersed. It was not until many years later that Uhde returned to France and then settled with his family in Chantilly, north of Paris. When Uhde visited an exhibition at the Town Hall in nearby Senlis, he saw a painting by Séraphine, with whom he had lost all contact.

Uhde was amazed at her great progress and artistic boldness. The Town Hall staff directed him to Séraphine’s ”little cubbyhole” where Uhde found her to be ”small and withered, with a fanatical gaze and a faded face framed by dingy hair.” She now devoted her entire time to painting. With Uhde's help, Séraphine received in the course of a couple of years everything she needed to complete outstanding works of art, which although they seemed to be inspired by flowers and churches´ stained-glass windows they neverthles had little to do with nature and rather seemed to be a reflection of an intangible, spiritual dimension.

Séraphine's economy and living conditions improved, though she found difficulties in adapting to her increased income and fame and was viewed with increasing suspicion, even contempt, by her neighbours and other jealous residents of the small town. The depression in 1930 ruined Uhde, who found it increasingly difficult to support the sensitive Séraphine, who in 1932 was taken to an asylum diagnosed with ”chronic psychosis”. As a Jew, Uhde and his family were forced to leave the German-occupied France in 1940 and remained hidden in the southern, Vichy-goverened part of the country until the end of World War II. Meanwhile, Séraphine had died in 1942 and was buried in an unmarked grave.

The fate of Séraphine makes me remember Selma Knäckebröd (Swedish Crispbread) from my childhood in the small town of Hässleholm. She worked as a staircase cleaner, collected deposit bottles and sold newspapers. Selma always wore a long, striped skirt and an apron. Behind her she wheeled a wooden pull-along peg cart in which she kept her cleaning supplies, bottles and magazines. She had a drever dog named Sven and kept him on a multicoloured leash she twinned together from scrap fabrics. Among us children many stories were told about Selma; among other things that she actually was a fairly wealthy lady and secretly went on holidays abroad. Selma lived in a dilapidated house in Röinge, a small village just outside Hässleholm though too far away from my childhood home to make me venture there. It was said that Selma took meticulous care of a beautiful apple tree she kept in her small garden, that her house was full of cats and its stench reached far into the street.

I recall how Selma once entered the Metropol movie theatre during a matinée for kids. I was there and all of us children began to chant: “Selma! Selma! Selma Knäckebröd!” Those who did not think she had any money tucked away thought she was poor, though I know that Selma sometimes had food delivered to her home and the delivery boy told us that she was a kind lady who always gave him a generous tip. She bought pork chops for Sven in Gullbrandsson's Delicatessen in Röinge.

One story told about Selma was that she once had fallen in love with the handsome parish vicar and thus had joined his Bible study group. However, when he had married a beautiful lady, Selma became furious and during the following Bible study evening she walked up to the pastor and screamed: “Shame on you” turned on her heel and never showed up again in the parish house, or in the church.

One day I was sitting alone in the staircase stroking Sven when Selma showed up. Probably she had discovered that I did not tease or fear her like most other children did. I got quickly on my feet and while she was messing around with the things in her cart, Selma turned to me and pointed out, ”You are Lundius´s kid, right?” I nodded. She added: ”Then you probably know that my name is neither Selma, nor Knäckebröd.” ”Yes, I do” I answered politely, but curious as I was already then I could not help but wondering: ”But, what is your real name then?” ”Miss Thomasson,” she replied. ”Here,” she said. ”Here I will give you something nice.” She gave me a postcard with a church on it, I do not remember which one it was and I have lost it long ago. ”I have many of those,” she noted. ”I collect them. I collect cards and I read a lot.” It was as if she wanted to prove to me how normal she was and I actually assume that Selma Knäckebröd was not at all as crazy as the other kids claimed. “Now I am reading about Catherine the Great. She had a lover by the name of Potemkin, Grigorij Alexandrovitj Potemkin, and he could do everything for her. She had many lovers. Do you know who Catherine the Great was? ” Confused I shook my head, surprised by what Selma Knäckebröd told me. After that first meeting, it happened on several other occasions that we ended up talking to one another there in the stairwell and Selma told me about what she had read. I do not remember how often we spoke to each other, but remember how she once told me of Alexander the Great and his horse Bucephalos, who was afraid of his own shadow.

I do not know when Selma died. I was much later told that someone found her fainted on the floor in ”that horrible house” and that she died shortly after she had been brought to the hospital.

Certainly there must be several people like Selma Knäckebröd all around us. Some of them may be like her, people who read and think, but are unable to share their thoughts and discoveries with anyone and who all alone are getting stuck with strange habits. Isolated through fear and dislike of their fellow human beings they sink down into filth, poverty and misery. Some of them are, or become mentally ill. A few of them might be excellent artists could if enabled to do so create fantastic worlds of their own. We tend to stay far away from them, though still many of us can recognize traits that such outsiders share with us and thereby become fascinated by their tragic fates and strange art work.

Several feature films have been made about some of oitsider artists, not least has the mysterious Ligabue, whom I wrote about in an earlier essay, been the subject of no less than two excellent films. A movie has also been made about Nikifor, one about Séraphine from Senlis and one about the postman and palace builder Cheval.

So … are there any similarities between outsider artists and me? Their lives were generally significantly worse than mine has been and I assume most of them suffered from their troublesome existence. My compulsive blog writing, without any direct particular audience may be considered as a parallel to the maniacs' irresistible creativity and when I am absorbed by my own writing it may be likened to a visit to the parallel universe where several outsider spend their entire lives. Like many of them I am also a hoarder of art cards, books and CDs and share with them a certain craving for seclusion.

Finally – a picture of a man with a blue face mask who avoids touching the ground. It is far from being a contemporary commentary on the current COVID-19 epidemic but is a drawing made by an outsider named Josef Forster. All we know about him is that he lived between 1878 and 1949 and was admitted to a mental asylum in the German town of Regensburg. Forster's goal in life was to become a ”noble being”, not ”earthbound” but weightless, freed from the need to eat and everything else that constrained him to earth. An endeavour and philosophy he expressed in a variety of writings and drawings.

 

Accatino. Alfredo (2017) Outsiders: Storie di artisti geniali che non troverete nei manuali di storia dell´arte. Firenze/Milano: Giunti Editore. Accatino. Alfredo (2019) Outsiders 2: Altre storie di artisti geniali che non troverete nei manuali di storia dell´arte. Firenze/Milano: Giunti Editore. Archer-Straw, Petrine (2000) Negrophilia: Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s. London: Thames & Hudson. Barber, Stephen (1993) Antonin Artaud: Blow and Bombs. London/Boston: faber and faber. Bihalji-Merin, Oto (1979) Modern Primitives. London: Thames & Hudson. Danchin, Laurent (2006) Art brut. L´instinct créateur. Paris: Gallimard. di Stefano, Eva (2020) ”Art Brut”, Art e Dossier N. 373. Dubuffet, Jean (1971) I valori selvaggi. Prospectus e altri scritti. Milano: Feltrinelli EditoreHopkins, Gerard Manley (1984) Poems and Prose. Middlesex, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Kaplan, Alice (2001) The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. MacGregor, John M. (1992) The Discovery of the Art of the Insane. Princeton University Press. Rothenberg, Jerome och Joris Pierre (eds.) (1995) Poems for the Millenium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry. Vol.: From Fin-de-Siecle to Negritude. Berkeley CA: University of Califiornia Press. Trucchi. Lorenza (2001) ”Dubuffet”, Art e Dossier N. 173.
 


 

 

05/14/2020 22:53

Ju äldre jag blir, desto klarare inser jag innebörden i vad den märklige bokförläggaren Bo Cavefors sa till mig då jag gick med på att han publicerade min första roman: ”Du är fortfarande mycket ung, men du har redan nu en rik erfarenhetsreserv.” Jag vet inte om ”erfarenhetsreserv” är ett vanligt ord, men det har följt mig genom livet. Nu då jag är långt över sextio ser jag tillbaka på den där reserven. Möjligen är den inte så imponerande som den andra har skaffat. Dessvärre har den också till stora delar bleknat bort och försvunnit långt ner i hjärnans mörkaste skrymslen. En och annan gång finner jag dock nyckeln till någon dörr som kan låsas upp och avslöja en kammare där något halvt förgätet minne vilar.

Som den pedagog jag blivit bör jag erkänna att jag hoppas att även du – käre läsare – liksom jag förmår öppna en och annan dörr till din alldeles speciella erferenhetsreserv. Ty jag tror att var och en av oss har en sådan och att öppnandet av portarna in till ett och annat minne, bra som dåligt, hjälper oss att leva vidare.

Låt mig gå ner på djupet, inspirerad av en delvis obegriplig dikt – Carrion Comfort, Kadavertröst, av den underlige engelske jesuiten Gerard Manley Hopkins:

O, sinnet – tanken, har sina berg, sina bråddjup,

fruktansvärda, släta, omöjliga att begripa. Att finna det banalt

kan den göra som inte klamrat sig fast vid branten.

Inte kan lång eller kort uthållighet bemästra sådana stup, sådana djup.

 

Möjligen var det 1977 som jag arbetade på Sankt Lars mentalsjukhus i Lund. Ju mer tid som passerar blir de exakta årtalen allt otydligare, antagligen behjälpt av att jag genom åren har slarvat bort så många papper, brev och dagboksanteckningar. Dock kan jag fortfarande föreställa mig den trista atmosfären i det välstädade dagrummet, med dess gråspräckliga, heltäckande vinylmatta, skarpa doft av rengöringmedel, blandad med kroppsutdunstningarna och lukten av nattstånden urin från patienterna som håglöst stirrande framför sig satt i soffor och fåtöljer, mellan krukväxter och olästa veckotidningar, knaprande på torrt vetebröd och läppjande på det unkna, överkokta kaffet, eller drack vad de kallade vickyvatten. Personalen var civilklädd, flera av dem var trevliga, men en del var i mitt tycke galnare än patienterna.

 

 

Två ovanligt sadistiska vårdare tog mig under min första vecka på avdelningen till ett av de enskilda patientrummen alltmedan en av dem förklarade: ”Nu ska du få se något roligt”. På en välbäddad säng satt en äldre dam klädd i nattlinne. Den ene av vårdarna bad mig stanna i dörröppningen medan han gick in i rummet. Damen reste sig i sittande ställning och pressade sig oroat mot väggen medan vårdaren öppnade fönstret, vände sig mot patienten och förklarade: ”Nu släpper jag in dem Ada!” Hon kastade sig gallskrikande mot väggen, vårdaren som stått bredvid mig rusade in och tryckte ner den våldsamt uppskrämda Ada, medan den andre stängde fönstret. Ada började omgående andas lugnare. Med ett stort leende närmade sig vårdaren som öppnat och stängt fönstret och med handen utsträckt mot sin kollega, som talade lugnande till Ada, konstaterade han: ”Där ser du, Jan, vad du kan förvänta dig här hos oss. De är galnare än du kan ana.” Chockad av mina kollegors beteende kunde jag inte annat än undra över vad Ada verkligen hade sett och upplevt då avdelningssadisten öppnade fönstret.

 

 

Sedan dess hyste jag ett illa undertryckt hat mot den mannen. Minns inte längre hur han såg ut, eller vad han hette. Under en personalfest då jag någon månad senare drack, åt och dansade i en av Sankt Lars personalbostäder, hamnade jag hjälpligt nykter vid ett köksbord där den där vårdaren berusat uttryckte sin stora beundran inför den då för mig fullständigt okände Louis-Ferdinand Céline, som jag sedan dess har läst flera böcker av och om och aldrig lärt mig uppskatta, antagligen delvis beroende på den där otrevlige vårdaren, som vinnlade sig om en överlägsen air av människokunskap och intellektualitet.

 

Den där vårdaren och mitt dagliga umgänge med patienterna, av vilka en del var gravt schizofrena, lärde mig att det inte går att generalisera. Det finns alltid undantag från regler och självklara uppfattningar. Bland vårdarna, som alla hade samma yrke, samma uppgifter, fanns det helt olika pesonligheter – en del var medmänskliga, trevliga och lätta att umgås med, andra var överlägsna, intoleranta och svåra att bli vän med. Likadant var det med patienterna. De var alla mentalsjuka, flera hade fått samma, eller liknande, diagnoser, men liksom hos vårdarna fanns det bland dem olika karaktärer. En del kunde jag otvunget umgås med, trots deras ofta grava, mentala handikapp. En del kunde, även om de var fullkomligt onåbara, likväl väcka sympati, medan andra lämnade mig mer eller mindre oberörd.

 

Något som påverkade patienternas tal och beteende var i vilken omfattning de medicinerades och vilken form av psykofarmaka de fick. Var och en hade också sin alldeles speciella livshistoria, som en del av dem tämligen oförbehållslöst kunde berätta. En ung man hade varit elitidrottare, men då hans resultat försämrats och hans namn försvunnit från tidningsspalterna blev han pyroman. Han anlade bränder på olika håll, men innan han gjorde det skickade han anonyma brev till pressen och antydde var han tänkte ”slå till”. Snart kunde han följa pressens ”jakt på mordbrännaren” med samma intresse och tillfredställelse som han tidigare läst kommentarerna kring sina sportbragder. Där fanns även ett annat tragiskt fall av pyromani. En äldre, stillsam man hade suttit inspärrad i mer än fyrtio år. Han hade blivit intagen efter att ha blivit dömd för mordbrand i samband med en socialistisk demonstration bland lantarbetare som krävt högre lön. Tydligen hade han tänt eld på en ladugård tillhörig en förmögen godsägare. Samtliga vårdare kunde berätta att han på den tiden uppenbarligen varit helt normal. Att klassandet av patienten som mentalsjuk hade varit politiskt motiverad. Han hade med tiden dock blivit ”institutionaliserad”; medicinering och sjukhusrutiner hade gjort det omöjligt för honom att klara sig ute i samhället, något som han vid flera tillfällen konstaterade för mig.

 

 

Det var en ”öppen avdelning”, något som innebar att de flesta av patienterna kunde komma och gå, inte som de ville, men under vissa fastställda förutsättningar. Patienterna, av vilka de flesta hade diagnostiserats med schizofreni, fick inte gå ut förutan sina hibernalhattar. En biverkan av hibernal var att patienten blev känslig för sol och lätt fick utslag. Hibernal var varubeteckningen på en antipsykotisk medicin, chloropromazine, som uppenbarligen var den första riktigt effektiva drogen för att åtgärda psykotiska tillstånd.

 

Dagligen tog jag en, eller ett par patienter på promenader inom sjukhusområdet och det kunde även hända att jag följde någon av dem ”ut på stan´”. En man som jag tämligen ofta gjorde sällskap med verkade vara fullkomligt normal och kunde öppenhjärtligt berätta om sin ”underliga” drift att blotta sig. Det var svårt att tro honom, men en gång gjorde han det helt öppet, mitt på dagen inför en grupp personer som väntade på en buss. Jag var förvarnad om att det kunde hända, men blev likväl fullkomligt överraskad och visste inte riktigt hur jag skulle bete mig, men då jag på skarpen sagt till mannen att han omedelbart måste sluta masturbera, dra upp byxorna och skärpa till sig, gjorde han det omgående och verkade strax därefter vara hur normal som helst. Vid andra tillfällen såg jag honom dock hopkrupen i ett soffhörn, inkrökt i sin ångest. 

 

 

Något som förvånade mig var att de flesta av patienterna var fullt medvetna om sina mentala handikapp. Tidigare hade jag trott att mentalsjuka personer skulle förneka att det var något fel på dem, men bland de flesta av dem var det inte alls så. Flera av dem bodde i träningslägenheter ute på stan´ och kom till avdelningen enbart för att träffa läkare och få sin medicinering. Jag fann att en del av dem i själva verket hade föredragit att få ”bo på avdelningen”, något de hade gjort tidigare. Bland frigångarna fanns en grovhuggen, fåordig och butter man som enligt kollegorna ursprungligen kommit från en ”sluten avdelning”. Han hade flera år tidigare mördat inte enbart en människa, utan tre stycken. Efter flera år av medicinering och terapi hade han hamnat på den avdelning där jag arbetade och sedan ansetts vara så pass ”frisk att han kunde röra sig fritt ute i samhället”. Själv förklarade han för mig att han hade ”svårt att stå ut bland andra människor” och helst ville ”bo kvar på hemmet”.

 

Medan jag arbetade på Sankt Lars läste jag en bok om en fransk konstnär vid namn Charles Meryon, som jag på måfå köpt på extrapris på Konsthallen i Malmö. Meryon (1821-1868) hade varit marinofficer och bland annat gjort en jordenruntresa. När Meryon med löjtnants grad lämnat flottan började han ägna sig åt konstnärlig verksamhet.

 

 

Han var redan en skicklig akvarellist men då hans syn försämrats så att han blivit fullkomligt färgblind började Meryon ägna sig åt etsning. Han gick i lära hos en av Paris mest uppskattade gravörer och kunde snart försörja sig genom att skickligt gravera andra konstnärers målningar. Meryon började också producera och sälja egna etsningar, mestadels precisa och originella vyer av Paris.

 

Charles Meryon var ungkarl och djupt engagerad i sin konst. Flera konstnärskolleger och konnässörer, bland dem Charles Baudelaire, uppskattade livligt Meryons skicklighet och originella blick. Meryon kunde med stor inlevelse beskriva vad han syftade med sin konst och hade även en del elever, men han var känslig för kritik och blev med tiden alltmer misstänksam mot sin omgivning. Han levde sparsamt och enkelt, sov lite, åt dåligt och betedde sig allt egendomligare. Han gjorde om tidigare etsningar genom att rista in underliga figurer i sina parisvyer. Exempelvis i en bild han gjort av Paris bårhus där han lade till oproportionerliga figurer.

 

 

Med tiden blev Meryons tillägg allt märkligare, men han hade inga svårigheter att förklara varför han adderat olika luftfarkoster, drakar, gudar och obegripliga strukturer. De allt underligare verken sålde dåligt, Meryons fattigdom och förföljelsemani förvärrades.

 

 

Meryon isolerade sig i sin påvra bostad, började hallucinera och fick allt underligare fixa idéer. Bland annat började han skissa på en ”stående säng”, en slags apparat som skulle göra det möjligt för honom att sova upprätt i samma ställning som Jesus på korset. Han gjorde flera etsningar av den där konstruktionen, lika skickligt utförda som hans övriga verk.

 

Charles Baudelaire kände Meryon väl och planerade att tillsammans med honom framställa en bok som de tänkte kalla för Svanen. Baudelaire kände dock på sig att Meryon var illa däran och har i ett brev beskrivit ett besök hos vännen:

 

På ett av sina stora grafiska blad hade han ersatt en flock rovfåglar med en liten luftballong och då jag anmärkte att visst var det ovanligt att se så många örnar på den parisiska himlen, svarade han att det var inte helt utan grund eftersom ”de där människorna” [Kejsarens regering] ofta släppte lös örnar ”efter riten”; och att detta hade rapporterats i tidningen, till och med i Le Moniteur. Jag borde här påpeka att han inte på något sätt ifrågasatte sina egna vidskepligheter, men han tolkade dem på ett egendomligt sätt och ser konspirationer överallt.

 

Baudelaire fortsatte att i sitt brev beskriva hur Meryon omtolkade vad han uppenbarligen hade läst hos Edgar Allan Poe. Exempelvis berättade han att en kvinna dödats av en stor apa, enbart för att kort därefter identifiera sig med apan och erkänna att han ”moraliskt” hade dödat två kvinnor. Baudelaire märkte hur han nästan omärkligt drogs in i Meryons galna föreställningvärld och till sin egen förvåning tycktes acceptera vännens ”djupt personliga och psykotiska idéer”. Baudelaire avslutade sin beskrivning av incidenten genom att konstatera: ” Håna inte denne stackare. För allt i världen vill jag inte vara fördömande av denne talangfulle man”. Meryon blev slutligen oregerlig och spärrades in på ett sinnesjukhus, där han sedermera avled.

 

 

Baudelaires beskrivning av sitt besök hos Meryon påminner om ett samtal jag hade med en dam i avdelningens dagsrum. Hon konstaterade:

 

- Jag hade en mycket svår natt. Tror att vi åt alldeles för sent igår kväll. Jag tål inte fisk så sent på dagen. Det är han fiskhandlaren som besvärar mig. Han sitter därnere och ropar: ”Skall det va´ nån´ fisk idag? Om du säger nej skall jag vrida om ryggraden på dig.” Och så gör han det och det gör förskräckligt ont.

 

Det var inte den första och enda gången jag blev invecklad i märkliga samtal. Vid ett annat tillfälle hade jag hamnat bredvid en patient som satt och smekte en imaginär katt, alltmedan hon mumlade: ”En sån´fin kisse. Fin kisse. Mjuk och snäll. Skall du inte klappa den?” Då jag gjorde en gest för att smeka katten ryckte damen till och stirrade på mig: ”Är du inte riktigt klok? Här finns väl ingen katt.” Kunde inte avgöra om hon drev med mig. Just den där patienten tycktes vara inriktad på att genera mig. Jag hade exempelvis blivit tillsagd att hjälpa henne vid hennes toalettbesök, eftersom hon tydligen hade svårt att få av sig underbyxorna. Då jag en gång hjälpte henne kissade hon på mig medan hon påpekade: ”Där fick du för att du är sölig och inte sköter ditt jobb ordentligt.”

 

 

Trots sådana incidenter ångrar jag inte min tid på Sankt Lars. Jag var där enbart några månader, men under den tiden lärde jag mig mycket som sedan dess har följt mig genom livet. Bland annat gjorde min tid där att jag alltmer fascinerades av andra människors för mig okända föreställningsvärldar. Något jag haft nytta av under mina religionsstudier och möten med djupt religiösa personer.

 

Just idag kom jag att tänka på min tid på Sankt Lars då jag på nätet såg en samling porträtt av en engelsk konstnär, Ben Edge, som 2015 hyllat en mängd outsider (utomstående) konstnärer. Möjligen på grund av mina Sankt Lars erfarenheter har Art Brut, eller särlingskonst som genren kallas på svenskalänge fascinerat mig. Ben Edge räknar sig antagligen som en outsiderkonstnär – han inkluderade nämligen sitt eget porträtt bland de outsiders han valt att framställa.

 

 

Det var efter Andra världskrigets masslakt som den då fyrtiofyraårige konstnären Jean Dubuffet i ett brev till vännen och konstnären René Auberjonois myntade begreppet Art Brut. Det kan översättas som ”rå” konst, men inte i betydelsen ”brutal” utan snarast ”ursprunglig”, med undermeningar som ”hämningslös”, ”chockerande”, ”folklig”, ”obunden”. Dubuffet var son till en relativt förmögen vinhandlare i Le Havre och hade mellan 1930 och 1935 i Paris innehaft en mindre vinagentur. Jag antar att Dubuffet därigenom ansåg beteckningen brut vara en kvalitetsstämpel, som Champagne Brut – i meningen ”torr, rå, oraffinerad”, det vill säga att drycken är mindre sockrad och därigenom torrare och ”ädlare” än annan Champagne.

 

Ända sedan sin tidiga ungdom hade Dubuffet kämpat för att finna ett ”ursprungligt” uttrycksmedel och därmed bland annat sökt sig till naturen – stenar, örter, fjärilar, för att finna en oraffinerad kraft som kunde omsättas i konst. I sitt brev från den 28:e augusti 1945 skrev han till sin vän Auberjonois att de nu efter krigets vansinne, som raserat så många av Europas konstskatter och även européernas tro på sin egen överlägsenhet, inom sig själva borde söka ett ursprungligt uttrycksssätt, frigjort från all finkulturell ballast. Kanske en väg till ett sådant skapande stod att finna inom mentalsjukhusen, där marginella visionärer låsts in.

 

 

Dubuffet hade liksom flera av sina vänner inom de parisiska surrealistkretsarna med stort intresse läst epokgörande skildringar av mentalpatienters frigjorda konst, speciellt Walter Morgenthalers Ein Geisteskranker als Künstler, En sinnessjuk som konstnär, från 1921 och Hans Prinzhorns Bildnerei der Geisteskranken, Sinnessjukas framställningskonst, från 1922. Inspirerad av dessa böcker reste Dubuffet tillsammans med den kände arkitekten Le Courbusier och författaren Jean Paulhan vid slutet av 1945 till Schweiz för att där besöka ett antal mentalsjukhus, där de visste att patienterna tillåtits ägna sig åt konstnärlig verksamhet.

 

Paulhan var välkänd inom Paris intellektuella kretsar – han hade redigerat flera litterära tidskrifter och varit ledande inom motståndsrörelsen. Med en akademisk bakgrund inom pyskologi och sociologi var Paulhan en engagerad förespråkare för ”fritt skapande”, något som innebar att han ansåg att vi bör söka och acceptera den obundna skaparkraften hos varje människa. Något som gjort att Paulhan blivit god vän med det galna geniet Antonin Artaud, som satt inspärrad på en klinik i Cordez där han plågades med elchockbehandlingar, men samtidigt tilläts ägna sig år konsterapi, något som för Artaud innebar en intensiv period av skrivande och tecknande.

 

 

Givetvis besöktes Artaud av Dubuffet, Paulhan och le Courbusier, som tillsammans med andra kulturpersonligheter såg till att det plågade geniet 1946 förflyttades till en klinik i en förstad till Paris, Ivry-sur-Seine, och därmed slapp elchocker och inspärrning. Kliniken var dyr men Artaud hade för Dubuffet påstått att han i en parisbank hade deponerat en större förmögenhet i form av guldtackor. Det visade sig vara en fantasi, men den ekonomiskt driftige Dubuffet ordnade en insamling bland Artauds parisiska vänner, som han sedan omsatte i en fond för Artauds uppehälle. I Ivry-sur-Seine åtnjöt Artaud stor frihet. Han ville dock inte vara omgiven av klinikens andra patienter utan bosatte sig i en isolerad, oeldad ”jaktpavillion” belägen inom klinikens område. Där ägnade han sig åt sina skiverier, vilda danser och forsatte med drogexperiment tills han dog två år efter det att han flyttat in. Paulhan organiserade hans begravning.

 

Jean Paulhan intresserade sig för språk. Hur det uppkommer, hur det används och präglar tankestrukturer. Paulhans intresse för Artaud grundade sig på att denne i sina dramer poängterat ett intimt samband mellan kropp och språk. Hur kroppslig smärta får sitt utryck genom språket. Hans teaterproduktioner, bilder och poesi beskrev en upplösning av språk, sinne och kropp. Artauds utrycksmedel – kropp, bilder, språk – beskrev inte smärta, de var identiska med den. Konst, drama och poesi var för honom lika med "manifestationer, uppenbarelser". De rörde sig inte enbart om ett "offentliggörande av en ståndpunkt", ett sätt att se och agera. Manifestationer var liksom inom vetenskapen tecken på hur ett ämne eller en organism beter sig under vissa förutsättningar och hur detta kan visas/demonstreras för andra.

 

 

Konst var för Artuad ett behov – inte något han ägnade sig åt för att bli bemärkt, uppskattad eller belönad, utan något han kände sig tvingad att göra. Det var denna enhet mellan kropp och själ, konst och försvar, det psykiska och det fysiska, som språkforskaren Jean Paulhan fascinerades av hos Artaud och som fick honom att tillsammans med Dubuffet utforska de sinnesjukas strävan att uttrycka sig, inte enbart för andras utan också för sin egen skull.

 

Trots att Paulhan var känd som övertygad anarkist och en enveten, aktiv motståndare till nazism och fascism försvarade han efter kriget med stor intensitet Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Den världsberömde författaren, som också ansågs vara sinnesförvirrad, satt efter kriget internerad i Köpenhamn, efter att i sin frånvaro ha blivit dömd för medlöperi i Frankrike. Céline benådades 1951 och återvände till fosterlandet, dock utan att ta tillbaka sina hyllningar av den ariska rasen och han forstsatte även med sina utfall mot judar och sitt förnekande att holocausten ägt rum. Célines förkastliga ställningstaganden oroade dock inte Paulhan eftersom han ansåg att de i allt sitt vansinne var välformulerade och därmed värda en viss respekt genom det faktum att de krävde likaledes välformulerade reaktioner.

 

 

Det var den ohämmade skapardriften de tre vännnerna var på jakt efter då de gav sig av på sin upptäcksfärd till mentalklinikerna i Schweiz. Liksom det förgående seklets europeiska upptäcksresanden då de trängde in i ”okända” territorier som de sökte beskriva, kartlägga och exploatera, sökte sig konstnären, arkitekten och psykologen/författaren in i psykets ”vita fläckar”. Och liksom upptäcktsresanden gjorde även de sina resor för egen vinnings skull. Som konstnärer ville de genom sina erfarenheter och upptäckter berika sin egen konst.

 

Faktum är att de konstverk som Dubuffet skapade efter sin ”forskningsresa” till Schweiz mentalsjukhus är bland de mest intressanta och inspirerande inom hela hans produktion. Liksom Picassos konstnärliga verksamhet brukar man i allmänhet indela Dubuffets skapande i vitt skilda perioder.


 

På samma sätt som artonhundratalets expeditioner in i ”Afrikas inre” hade sina alldeles speciella förutsättningar och förväntade resultat fann Dubuffets/Poulhans/le Corbusiers schweiziska resa sin inspiration från årtionden av tidigare erfarenhet. Avgörande var exempelvis deras vän Julien Michel Leiris expedition tillsammans med Marcel Griaule, som mellan 1930 och 1933 tog sig från Dakar till Djibouti för att kartlägga tänkande och seder hos människor som bodde strax söder om Sahara.

 

 

Upplevelserna blev livsavgörande för Leiris som vid återkomsten till Paris skrev boken L’Afrique fantôme i vilken han kombinerade etnografi med självbiografiska notiser och psykologiskt-filosofiska betraktelser. Något år senare återvände Leiris till Franska Sudan, d.v.s. dagens Mali, där han under flera månader vistades i Dogonfolkets kärnområde.

 

 

Leiris hade innan sin resa till Afrika umgåtts i Paris konstnärskretsar och hade då bland annat samarbetat med Antonin Artaud. Leiris var gift med den inflytelserike konsthandlaren Anton Kahnweilers styvdotter, ägnade sig åt jazz och poesi och var nära vän med flera av den tidens främsta konstnärer, inte minst de ledande surrealisterna. Denna kombination av etnografi, psykologi och konst blev avgörande för det stora inflytande Leiris hade på sina konstnärsvänner . Han var exempelvis under mer än tjugo år chefsetnograf vid Musée de 

l´Homme, vars samlingar av ”primitiv konst” var en viktig källa till inspiration för Paris konstnärer och författare.

 

 

Likt många av sina samtida var Leiris fascinerad av vad han i ”afrikansk konst” uppfattade som en motvikt mot ”västerländsk civlisation”. Hans åsikyter var dock färgade av ett stort mått av rasism som präglats av fantasiförställningar om ”svart kultur”, uppfattningar som inte dämpats av hans afrikanska upplevelser. Enligt Leiris var européer ”passiva åskådare som borde provoceras till deltagande på livets arena”. Han hade ett lite väl perverst intresse för död, självmord, sado-masochism, rituella offer, kannibalism och rått våld, något som Leiris i alltför stor omfattning projicerade på ”primitiva kulturer”.

 

I styrelsen för Musée de l´Homme satt även den belgiske antropologen, filosofen och författaren Claude Lévi-Strauss som mellan 1935 och 1939 varit verksam som universitetslärare i Brasilien och då besökt ursprungsbefolkningar i Amazonas. Även om Lévi-Strauss var berömd bland akademiker och konstnärer var det inte förrän 1955 med boken Tristes Tropiques som han blev känd för allmänheten. Tristes Tropiques är en reseskildring som kombinerar en utsökt prosa med filosofiska meditationer och etnografiska analyser. Boken har av många betraktats som ett mästerverk, inte minst av min lärare i religionshistoria, Tord Olsson, som skrev sin doktorsavhandling om Lévi-Strauss. Likt Lévi-Strauss var Tord intresserad av musik, litteratur och ”alternativt tänkande”.

 

 

Som jag skrivit i något tidigare blogginlägg har min vänskap med Tord haft ett stort inflytande på min syn på tillvaron. I sina fyra böcker om det ”vilda tänkandet” samlade under rubriken Mythologiques studerade Lévi-Strauss de underliggande ”strukturerna” hos en mängd myter. För honom, liksom för många linguister, är tänkandet, uttryckssättet, kombinationerna och mönstren bakom en berättelse minst lika intressanta som berättelsen själv. Givetvis läste jag under Tords ledning med stort intresse Lévi-Strauss, och med honom besläktade tänkare, men ofta gick deras generaliseringar och djupsinniga spekulationer mig på nerverna. Vad jag tog mer intryck av var Tords emfas på den personliga upplevelsen, hur viktigt möten med andra människor är och det var det även för Dubuffet och han vänner då de gav sig av för att söka den kulturellt ogrumlade skaparkraften bland mentalsjukhusens särlingar.

 

 

Den första anhalten under Dubuffets/le Corbusiers/Paulhans sökande efter konstnärligt begåvade galningar blev Waldaus mentalsjukhus i Bern, med anor tillbaka till 1500-talet. Där sammanträffade de med Walter Morgenthaler, en av världens ledande psykiatriker, utbildad i Wien av kretsen kring Freud. Morgenthaler var vän med Emil Kraepelin som i ett vädigt verk klassificerat sinnessjukdomarna i två grupper – manisk-depressiv psykos och dementia praecox. Det senare hade av en av Morgenthalers andra bekanta, f.d. freudkollegan Eugen Bleuler, fått namnet schizofreni. Som pionjär inom psykiatrins drastiskt förändrade landskap hade Morgenthaler turen att vid Waldau få den våldsamme pedofilen Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930) som patient. Wölfli hade som barn blivit svårt misshandlad, både fysiskt och psykiskt och blivit föräldralös redan vid tio års ålder. Efter en eländig tid på fattighus och senare som lantarbetare och soldat, blev Wölfli, efter det att han blivit tagen på bar gärning under det att han försökt våldföra sig på ett barn, tvångsinternerad på Walduas sinnesjukhus. Hans våldsamma beteende gjorde att Wölfli måste hållas isoleras.

 

Walter Morgenthaler fann att Wölfli, som tidigare inte visat något intresse för skapande verksamhet, var artistiskt begåvad. Varje morgon gav Morgenthaler två stora pappersark och färgkritor till Wölfli, som även flitigt plitade ner dikter och tankar i sina anteckningböcket. Vid sin död tjugotre år efter det att han spärrats in hade Wölfli producerat en stor mängd målningar, ofta innehållande text och noter och ett självbiografiskt epos på 25 000 sidor och med 1 600 illustrationer. I sina texter och bilder förvandlade Wölfli sig emellanåt till Kejsar Adolf, eller St. Adolf den Andre. Ingen vet var hans talang kom ifrån, eller hur han lärt sig skriva noter. Det går faktiskt att spela vad han skrev och Wölflis förvirrande musik har inspirerat samtida kompositörer som Per Nørgård och Terry Riley. 

 

 

Som flera andra schizofrena konstnärer hade Wölfli en alldeles speciell stil och upprepade sällan ett motiv. Wölflis bilder innehöll förutom musik ofta dikter, ett exempel:

 

En nostalgisk sång till min Älskade.

Något vackrare har jag, aldrig sett!

Inom Guds Evig-, het.

Och idag måste jag sjunka neråt.

?Varfööör: Jag är, alltför bred.

Jag kan faktiskt, inte stå:

Så, goddag, Herr Veit!

Om jag kunde se min älskade igen!

Skulle jag ta en promenad med henne.

 

Något vackrare har jag, aldrig sett!

Inom Guds Evig-, het!

Lugn kan, jag inte längre förbli!

?Varföör! Jag är, överhettad!

Jag känner mig het, vindarna viner!

Tuppen är där, släpp in!

Oh Maria, oh Maria!

I skogen göken, ropar.

Detta är mars månad i 32 slag.

 

 

Emellanåt skrev Wölfi sina dikter på pappersark där han även klistrade in bilder han klippt ur tidningar,. Märkligt nog skrev han en dikt bredvid en bild av en dam och en annons för Campbells soppor, fyrtio år innan Andy Warhols besatthet inför samma soppburkar. Warhols rytmiska upprepande av soppburkarna kan faktiskt spegla samma, säkra rytmkänsla som finns i Wölflis skapande.

 

 

Då de tre artistvännernas besökte Waldau hade Wölfli varit död i femton år, men Dr. Morgenthaler berättade om sin märklige patient, vars biografi han skrivit, och besökarna ägnade flera dagar åt Wölflis väldiga kvarlåtenskap.

 

Efter besöket i Bern fortsatte upptäcktsresandena inom galenskapens värld till Lausanne där de på mentalsjukhuest i Cercy-sur-Lausanne träffade Aloïse Corbaz, en elegant dam som suttit inspärrad sedan 1918. Aloïse hade i sin ungdom drömt om att bli operasångerska, men blev istället modist. Hon var kultiverad och beläst och fick 1911 i Berlin anställning som guvernant åt barnen till Kaiser Wilhelm II:s hovkaplan. Detta innebar att hon vistades vid kejsarens hov i Potsdam och där utvecklade enorm beundran för Wilhelm II. Då hon under Första världskriget tvingades återvända till Schweiz utvecklade Aloïse en svår psykos som snart ledde till att hon blev diagnostiserad med svårartad schizofreni.

 

 

I hemlighet började hon skriva dikter och på olika papperslappar hon funnit på sjukhuset skapade Aloise färgglada teckningar av heta kärleksmöten mellan drömprinsar och operaprimadonnor. Hon färglade dem med substanser som hon utvunnit från växter och medikamenter. Det var först 1936 som en kvinnlig läkare, Jaqueline Porret-Forel, som läst Hans Prinzhorns epokgörande studie av mentalpatienters konst, uppmärksammade hur Aloïse medan hon nynnade opera arior målade hur kvinnor som Maria Stuart, Elisabeth av Österrike och Kleopatra sammanträffade med olika män klädda i galauniformer.

 

 

Efter det att Dr. Porret-Forel kontinuerligt försedde Aloïse med material för sitt konstskapande fortsatte hon att fram till sin död 1964 att oförtrutet framställa sina drömvärldar. Ett märkligt särtecken var att samtliga personer i Aloïses bildvärld framställdes med blå ögon, utan vitor eller pupiller, något Aloïse förklarade med att hennes gestalters blickar utstrålade den blå färgens oändlighet.

 

 

Jean Dubuffet samlade på kort tid en stor mängd konst av marginella konstnärer och kunde redan 1949 på Galerie René Doruin i Paris ställa ut inte mindre än 200 verk av 60 olika artister. Utställningen blev en sensation. I utställningskatalogen skrev Dubuffet:

 

Med detta [Art Brut] betecknar vi verk som skapats av människor som står fria gentemot en konstnärlig kultur där skapandet, i motsats till vad som sker bland de intellektuella, utgår från att konstnärerna använder allt (ämnen, val av material, rytmer, vad de skriver, metoder att omforma, osv.) de finner i sitt eget hjärta och inte tillämpar klichéer från klassisk konst eller sådant som anses vara moderiktigt. Vi hjälper dem i deras rena konstutövning, rå och i alla sina faser skapad av utövare som inte följer något annat än sina egna impulser. En konst som har uppfinningsrikedom som sitt enda särtecken, och inte följer de stereotyper som är så vanliga inom kulturell konst – kameleonten och apan.

 

 

Dubuffet samlade och ställde ut särlingskonst från hela världen, ovan är en brasiliansk tavla ur hans samling - Antônio Roseno de Limas Den berusade. Roseno de Lima (1926-1988) försörjde sig som kringvandrande fotograf i och kring de brasilianska städerna São Paolo och Indaiatuba. 

 

Nedan en bild av Carl Fredrik Hill (1849-1911), en av Sveriges främsta landskapsmålare. Hill vistades i Frankrike då han 1878 fördes till sinnessjukhuset i Passy, efter det att grannar klagat på hans förtvivivlade skrik om nätterna. Hill var född i Lund och hamnade därför på Lunds Hospital, som senare döptes om till Sankt Lars sjukhus. Efter hans protester mot behandlingen, vårdades Hill under 28 år i hemmet hos modern och en syster. Dagligen gjorde han en stor mängd teckningar, främst med krita och pastell. Det finns flera tusen teckningar bevarade, men många har försvunnit. Det har berättats att Hill kunde sitta vid det öppna fönstret i sitt rum och kasta ner sina alster till barn som lekte på gatan. 

 

 

Speciellt genom Dubuffets insatser har det estetiska, såväl som det kommersiella, värdet hos särlingskonst uppmärksammats alltmer. Flera mentalsjukhus har vinnlagt sig om att specialbehandla begåvade konstnärer som de funnit bland sina patienter. Österrikaren August Walla (1936-2001) levde i en värld inom vilken han trodde sig vara en "naziflicka" som under den sovjetiska occupationen klonat

s till att bli en "kommunistisk tvilling". Walla dekorerade väggarna och taket i sitt rum på Maria Guggings Psykiatriska Kliniks "konstnärshus" utanför Wien med text och bilder som skildrade hans imaginära tillvaro.

 

 

Dubuffets kollektion av Art Brut fick 1976 ett eget museum i Lausanne och omfattar nu mer än 30 000 konstverk. Märk väl att Dubuffets karaktäristik av Art Brut inte begränsade sig till de mentalsjukas konst. Han delade in genren i tre grupper mellan vilka det inte finns några vattentäta skott. Förutom de mentalsjukas konst beskrev Dubuffet två andra katergorier av särlingskonst – spriritistiskt inspirerad konst och konst som inte var direkt kommersiellt inriktad, utan snarast grundad på en ohejdbar, personlig skapelsedrift hos människor som inte diagnostiserats med någon form av mental åkomma, men likväl led av en okontrollerbar drift att skapa sina konstverk, oavsett publik och uppskattning. Ett exempel på en sådan konstnär var brevbäraren Ferdinand Cheval (1836 -1924) som på egen hand byggde ett fantasislott i byn Hauterive söder om Lyon.

 

Cheval var onekligen en särling, men långt ifrån galen. Hans skickligt konstruerade slott, gjort av stenar som han samlade under sina brevbärarrundor, hänvisar till exotiska platser, kanske inspirerade av de vykort han bar till sina mottagare, men är även präglade av hans drömmar och upplevelser. I Chevals drömpalats finns gott om inskrifter, exempelvis brevbärarens stolta deklaration: ”1879-1912, 10 000 dagar, 93 000 timmar, 33 år av kamp”. Och kanske vackrast av dem alla: ”Livet är en stormfylld ocean mellan barnet som framträder och den gamle som försvinner”.

 

 

De spirtistiska konstnärer befann/befinner sig i gränslandet mellan verklighet och dröm. De kallas spriritister eftersom de tror sig vara styrda av andar. Augustin Lesage (1876-1954) arbetade sedan unga år i den nordfranska staden Auchels kolgruvor. I någon av de mörka gruvgångarna hörde han vid 34 års ålder en röst som deklarerade: ”En dag kommer du att bli en konstnär”. Lesage som under sin militärtjänst besökt ett konstmuseum och där blivit djupt gripen av vad han sett, hade förutom den upplevelsen ingen konstnärlig skolning. Då han kommit upp ur gruvan köpte Lesage penslar, färg och en duk som visade sig vara tio gånger större än han tänkt sig, men den inre rösten hördes igen och övertygade honom om att allt var i sin ordning. Sedan dess målade Lesage dagligen: ”Jag känner inte slutresultatet. Mina vägledare talar om för mig vad jag skall göra och jag underkastar mig deras vilja”. Dubuffet köpte 1964 den första tavlan Lesage gjorde – den är från 1913 och mäter 9 m².

 

 

Det är inte ovanligt att speciellt sprirtistiskt inspirerade artister målar inom stora format. Madge Gill (1882-1961) målade på vita tygrullar som kunde vara uppemot 40 meter långa. Likt många särlingar hade hon haft en svår barndom. Född utom äktenskapet skickades hon till ett kanadensiskt barnhem och kom först som tjugoåring tillbaka till England där hon togs omhand av en moster, som även var spiritistiskt medium. Madge utbildade sig till sjuksköterska och gifte sig med en börsmäklare. Hennes liv tog en vänding mot tragedi då en av hennes tre söner dog i spanska sjukan och den efterlängtade dotter som hon fick följande år visade sig vara dödfödd. Madge blev svårt sjuk och miste synen på ena ögat. Då hon tillfrisknat besöktes hon av en ande som kallade sig Myrninerest, d.v.s. My inner rest, Min inre vila. Andevarelsen ledde Madges konstnärliga verksamhet, dag och natt, fram till hennes död fyrtio år senare. Myrninerest förbjöd Madge att sälja något av sina verk.

 

 

En man som till skillnad från Madge var diagnoserad som schizofren, men liksom hon arbetade med stora dukar var mexikanen Martín Ramírez (1895-1963). Han hade som trettioåring lämnat hustru och tre barn för söka arbete och försörjning vid järnvägsbyggen i Kalifornien. Under sex år alternerade Martín mellan Mexiko och USA, men 1930 blev han arbetslös och förlorade fotfästet i tillvaron. Alltmer förvirrad och nergången drev Martín mållöst kring på den amerikanska landsbygden. Efter ett par år greps han av polisen, blev diagnostiserad med ”katakonisk schizofreni”. Tigande och harmlös tillbringade Martín resten av sitt liv på olika vårdinrättningar.

 

 

Martín Ramírez insjuknade vid slutet av trettiotalet i tuberkulos och hamnade på en klink för TBCpatienter med mentala handikapp. Man fann där att Martín frenetiskt tecknade på allt papper han kom över. Eftersom han slickade på pennor och penslar slängde personalen kontinuerligt allt som mentalpatienten tecknat på. Som fallet varit med flera andra särlingskonstnärer var det en estetiskt känslig person som upptäckte Martíns talang.

 

Tarmo Pasto var lärare i psykologi vid det närliggande Carlifornia State University i Sacramento och kom i slutet av 1940-talet till DeWitt State Hospital där Martín Ramírez var internerad. Tarmo, en andra generationens finsk invandrare och skicklig amatörkonstnär, upptäckte omedelbart den konstnärliga kvalitén i Martíns teckningar.

 

 

Pasto samlade fler än 300 av de stora arbeten han uppmuntrade Ramírez att skapa. Mexikanen som fortfarande molteg föredrog att måla på de stora pappersdukar som användes i sjukhusets matsal. Det var först efter Martín Ramírez död som hans särpräglade konstverk började ställas ut och de utgör nu den högst värderade särlingskonsten på den amerikanska konstmarknaden.

 

 

Trots att Martín Ramírez levde isolerad på amerikanska vårdinrättningar var hans fantasivärld främst befolkad av mexikanska banditer och madonnor. Kanske var hans tidigare verksamhet som järnvägsrallare orsaken till hans många framställningar av tåg som far genom tunnlar i böljande bergslandskap.

 

 

Ett annat särtecken i Ramírez konst är hjortar och andra djur, som tillsammans med ryttare och madonnor tycks flyta kring i luften på öar. De får mig att associera till de öar som fritt flyter kring i i James Camerons film Avatar.

 

 

Eller i illustrationer av Moebius och Miyazaki.

 

 

Likt många särlingskonstnärer ägnade Martín Ramírez all sin tid åt konstskapande. Han var oerhört produktiv. Vad som förvånar med dessa konstnärer är att trots att de skildrar en strikt begränsad värld är det mycket sällan som de strikt upprepar sina motiv. Inom sina  begränsade ramar tycks deras uppfinningsrikedom vara obegränsad.

Liksom Martín Ramírez förställningsvärld begränsade sig till mexikansk folklore, samt kaliforniska highways och järnvägar, så skildrade den före detta sharecroppern, arrendatorn, William ”Bill” Traylor (1853-1949) liv och folklore i den amerikanska södern. Analfabet liksom Ramírez och född i slaveri började den då åttiofemårige Traylor 1939 måla och teckna i Montgomery, Alabama. Handikappad genom reumatism och benröta sov Traylor i ett skjul bakom en begravningsbyrå. Sittande vid ett bord vid en av stadens livligast trafikerade gator skapade Bill Traylor under fyra år, innan han var tvungen att få sitt ena ben amputerat och flyttade till en dotter i Chicago, mer än 1 500 konstverk.

Traylor tecknade elegant stiliserade djur och mer eller mindre obegripliga episoder ur sitt långa liv; alkoholism, danser, jakt och hundhetsningar. Märkligt nog är mycket av det våld, segregation och brutala rasism som de svarta fick utstå i den amerikanska södern i stort sett frånvarande hos Traylor.

Flera av Traylors teckningar tycks vara inspirerade av den afro-amerikanska folklore och musikalitet som genomsyrade den lantliga kulturen i Sydstaterna. Traylors märkligt förvridna, spöklika figurer i hög hatt får mig att minnas till den humoristiske, men samtidigt hänsynslöse och sinistre voodooguden Baron Samedi, de Dödas Herre, som jag sett framställas under vodúceremonier i Dominikanska Republiken.

Det finns också gott om hotfulla, svarta hundar hos Traylor, påminnande om blueslegenden Robert Johnsons djävulshund:

I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving
Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
Mmm, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
And the day keeps on remindin' me, there's a hellhound on my trail.

Liksom flera andra särlingskonstnärer framställer även Traylor ofta sitt utanförskap i bild, som här där vi ser en åldrad Traylor med blå rock och käpp ansättas av uppretade damer, berusade män och en svart hund. Traylor ser ledbruten ut, han led svårt av reumatism och hans ena ben var angripet av en konstant förvärrad kallbrand.

De flesta av Traylors teckningar är gjorda som silhuetter, något som får mig att undra om inte den välkända afro-amerikanska artisten Kara Walker möjligen kan vara inspirerad av Bill Traylors konst. Även Walker uttrycker sig i sin konst ofta med silhuetter, om än från en betydligt mer kritisk utgångspunkt än Traylor. Walker använder sin konst som ett vapen mot amerikansk, mer eller mindre medveten, rasism och bigotteri. Liksom Traylor skildrar hon emellanåt episoder vars betydelse inte är helt klar och befolkar dem med sinistra figurer.

En schizofren artist som också ofta använde sig av silhuetter var den italienske Carlo Zinelli (1916-1974). Han hade varit soldat, men under Spanska inbördeskriget genomgick Zinelli en svårartad kris och fördes efter två månader, diagnostiserad som schizofren, till ett mentalsjukhus i Verona, där han under tio år satt inspärrad i total isolering.

Vid slutet av femtiotalet ansågs Zinelli vara så pass lugn att han tilläts deltaga i ett experiment inom vilket mentalpatienter uppmuntrades till fritt skapande. Under en tioårsperiod skapade Zinelli under åtta timmar om dagen uppemot tvåtusen stora konstverk. Efter att ha blivit lugn och stillsam upphörde Zinelli plötsligt med sin konstnärliga verksamhet och under de sista fem åren av sitt liv målade han i stort sett ingenting.

Samtidigt som Bill Traylor satt och målade i Montgomery genomled Nikifor (1895-1968) Andra världskrigets helvete i sydöstra Polen. Nikifor, vars rätta namn aldrig har utretts ordentligt, var lemko, d.v.s. han tillhörde en liten folkgrupp med eget språk och särpräglad kultur som har sitt kärnområde i gränstrakterna mellan Polen, Ukraina och Slovakien. Nikifors far var okänd och modern betecknad som sinnessjuk.

Under större delen av sitt liv levde Nikifor i misär i kurorten Krynica i södra Polen, vars kyrkor och kuranstalter han kärleksfullt och detaljerat har skildrat i flera av de 40 000 små bilder som finns bevarade efter honom. Nikifor målade på varje pappersbit han kom över; kartonger, anteckningsböcker, broschyrer, m.m., och klippte dem till kvadrater, i allmänhet omkring 50 x 30 centimeter. Vid flera tillfällen var han intagen på olika anstalter, där man slängde hans alster. Eftersom Nikifor hade för vana att slicka på penslar och blyertspennor var man rädd för TBCsmitta.

Nikifor skildrar sig ofta som ensam vandrare, eller målare, och trots att han genomled våld och utanförskap i krigets Polen finner man få spår av det i hans konst.

Tillsammans med andra lemkos deporterades Nikifor 1949 av den polska kommunistregimen till områden som i norra Polen övergivits av flyende tyskar. Vid tre tillfällen vandrade han den långa vägen tillbaka till Krynica, enbart för att fångas in och tvingas återvända till de nya bosättningsområdena. Efter den tredje återflytten fick Nikifor dock tillåtelse att återvända till Krynica, där fick han anvisades en plats i ett hörn av en ”konstnärsstudio” på ett av kurhotellen. Han delade 1960 studion med en tämligen välkänd konstnär, Marian Włosinski, som snart insåg att Nikifor var en intressantare konstnär än han själv. Włosinski lyckades utverka att bli ”vårdnadshavare” för Nikifor och ägnade det mesta av sin tid att fram till Nikifors död 1968 göra hans verk kända i Polen.

Det var inte första gången som Nikifor hade uppmärksammats av andra konstnärer. Redan på trettiotalet hade ukrainska exilkonstnärer arrangerat en utställning av Nikifors konst i Paris, men därefter hade kriget satt stopp för Nikifors berömmelse och han fortsatte att leva som utfattig och hemlös på Krynicas gator. Nikifor var i det närmaste analfabet och hade mycket svårt att uttrycka sig. Det var först vid slutet av hans liv som man upptäckte att Nikifors talproblem inte berodde på sinnessjukdom, utan på att hans tunga delvis var fastvuxen vid gommen.

Nikifors talproblem, samt hans internationella och inhemska framgångar fick mig att tänka på Axel Robert Petersson (1868-1925), kallad Döderhultaren. Även han blev så småningom uppmärksammad av beundrande konstnärskollegor och trots att hans konst 1910 ställdes ut i Paris, 1911 i Köpenhamn, Brighton, Rom och Turin, 1913 i New York och 1915 i San Francisco och Chicago och inköptes av Nationalmuseum, så bodde Döderhultaren påvert kvar i en liten våning i Oskarshamn. Eftersom han ansågs vara en ”snuskhummer” undvek kvinnor honom. Döderhultaren hade som sagt även svårt för att tala och gick ständigt klädd i galoscher, emedan han ansåg att de skulle skydda honom om blixten slog ned. Döderhultarens dynamiska, skarpsynt iakttagna och skickligt utförda skulpturgrupper visar dock inga som helst tecken på någon sinnesförvirring.

Döderhultarens galoscher och kändisskap för mig till holländaren Willem van Genk (1927-2005). van Genk var manisk samlare av svarta regnrockar och förvarade i sitt hem fler än hundra sådana. Han konstaterade: ”Vid ett tillfälle gjorde jag mig av med en regnrock och då jag nu tänker tillbaka på det så gör jag det med stor ånger”. van Genks emotionella bindning till regnrockar har satts i samband med en traumatisk ungdomsupplevelse.

Willem van Genk hade nio äldre systrar. Då modern dog när han var fem år inledde van Genk sin livslånga passion för teckning och ritade sedan dess flera timmar om dagen. Fadern var en impulsiv och aggressiv man, som ofta slog sin son, som han ansåg vara ”obildbar”. Fadern var aktiv motståndare till den nazistiska ockupationsmakten och bidrog bland annat till att skydda förföljda judar. Då Gestapo fått ett tips om familjen van Genks verksamhet uppsökte de deras hem. Fadern höll sig dold, men de misshandlade svårt den sjuttonårige Willem, som sedan dess satte sin fascination för långa svarta regnrockar i samband med Gestapo. Han sade sig klä sig i rockarna som”skydd och för att få makt”.

van Genk avslutade inte sin obligatoriska skolgång, men fick tidigt anställning som tecknare vid en reklamfirma i Haag. Han misskötte dock sitt arbete och en nedåtgående spiral från arbete till arbete gjorde att han slutligen hamnade på ett inackorderingshem för ”sinnessvaga” och en fabrik kopplad till ett program kallat Arbeid voor Onvolwaardigen, Arbete för ofärdiga. Den gravt autistiske Willem led svårt och slutligen lyckades en av han systrar, Willy, utverka att hon fick vårdnadsansvar för sin bror och han kunde 1964 flytta in i hennes lägenhet i Haag.

Redan 1958 hade van Genk sökt sig till den Kungliga Konstakademin. Dess rektor, Joop Beljon, upptäckte van Genks unika talang och stödde honom genom olika utställningar och framträdanden. Dock gjorde ett TVframträdande van Genk så skräckslagen inför sin egen framtoning att han därefter vägrade att bli filmad, fotograferad eller intervjuad. Då hans syster Willy dog 1973 tog van Genk över hennes lägenhet, isolerade sig alltmer, alltmedan han oavbrutet målade och samtidigt byggde en miniatyrstad med tåg och bussar av material han hittat bland sopor och containrar. van Genk var en bokslukare av stora mått och skaffade sig med åren en fascinerande boksamling. Hans stigande berömmelse och ökade inkomster gjorde att van Genk kunde resa en hel del, till Stockholm, Madrid, Rom, Prag, Moskva, Budapest, Berlin och New York. Det var enbart storstäder som lockade och speciellt deras tåg- och tunnelbanestationer. van Genk samlade på affischer och vykort vars detaljer han kopierade in i sina målningar, bland annat texter som på den här dubbelbilden av Prag och Stockholm där han skrivit in en text på svenska.

I början av nittiotalet hade van Genks grannar fått mer än nog nog av stanken från hans lägenhet och ett ihållande ”bankande” under nätterna. Flera undersökningar av van Genks levnadsomständigheter gjordes och de ledde 1996 till ett polisingripande. van Genk tvångsinternerades under tre månader. Då hans konstnärskollegor ingrep genom att försöka förklara hur känslig van Genk var och att han skulle kunna ta stor skada av den omilda behandlingen förklarade polisen: ”Vi vet allt om Herr van Genk. Hans file är en meter tjock och situationen måste åtgärdas”.

Lägenheten sanerades. Golvet befanns vara helt täckt av ett lager hundavföring ”torrt och tunnstampat”. van Genks hund Coco var inte rumsren och avlivades. Efter tre månader återvände van Genk till en helt förändrad lägenhet. Den var inte längre det Allkonstverk han tidigare levt i. van Genk fick ett slaganfall och de sista nio åren av sitt liv vistades han på ett sanatorium där han varken tecknade eller målade.

Det hela påminde mig om när vi flyttade till en ny lägenhet i Rom. Under oss bodde en man vars hund ständigt stod och skällde på balkongen, medan stanken från lägenheten lägrade sig över omgivningarna, inte minst i trappuppgången, varifrån den sipprade in till oss. En granne beskrev hur han besökt den besvärande källan till eländet och funnit lägenheten fylld med hundexkrementer och hur ”smuts hängde från taket likt stalaktiter”. Då vi förhörde oss om den märklige mannen, som jag varje dag såg gå ner till affären för att handla, talade man om för oss att han ägde lägenheten, hade gott om pengar och kom från en förmögen familj. Det hade visat sig vara omöjligt att få honom vräkt. Situtationen var så desperat att vi övervägde att flytta igen, men oväntat dog mannen och problemet var därmed löst.

Märkliga levnadsöden finns tätt inpå oss. Vår granne var antagligen inte ett skadat geni som van Genk, men slumpen har ibland fört inflytelserika personer till konstskapande särlingar. Wilhelm Uhde (1875-1947) tillhörde en typ av samlare som inte bryr sig om en tavlas kommersiella värde och som är beredd att offra en hel del för att förvärva vad han vill ha. Efter studier i München och Florens etablerade Uhde sig som konsthandlare i Paris. Då Picasso och Braque var okända för de flesta köpte Uhde flera av deras verk och började samma år, 1905, stödja den sedermera mycket välkände naivisten Henri Rousseau le Douanier. Rousseau hade sedan 1884 rört sig bland Paris progressiva konstnärskretsar, men betraktades av de flesta som en udda figur. Det var främst Pablo Picassos och Robert Delaunays stora uppskattning av Rousseus konst som gjorde Uhde intresserad av ”primitiva” konstnärer, i meningen ”ursprungliga, självlärda”. Ett år efter Rosseaus död 1910 skrev Uhde den första, och mycket uppskattande, monografin över hans verk.

Wilhelm Uhde skrev om och ställde ut verk av konstnärer som han betecknade som primitiva mästare, eller något sentimentalt kallade för Målare av det Heliga Hjärtat. Bland de naiva mästare Wilhelm Uhde stödde fanns konstnärer som numera ingår i den allmänna konsthistorien – postinspektören Louis Vivin, trädgårdsmästaren André Bauchant och tryckeriarbetaren Camille Bombois. Ingen av dessa konstnärer hade någon formell skolning som artister och började i allmänhet måla sent i livet. De kom därför ofta att kallas för söndagsmålare, något som inte alls innebar att de var oskickliga. Betrakta exempelvis olika verk av Bombois. Han skildrade främst cirkusfolk och landsbygden kring Paris. Bombois målningar är helt befriade från schablonartade, sentimentaliserande skildringar av romer, kroppsarbetare och cirkusartister. En målning av Bombois som framställer hur tre clowner förbereder sig inför ett framträdande, visar hur förtrogen han var med miljön.

Séraphine Louis (1864-1942) var dock annorlunda de andra konstnärerna som stöddes av Uhde, fast han räknade in även henne bland sina målare av det heliga hjärtat. Vi vet nästan ingenting om Séraphines liv, eller när och hur hon började måla. För att vila upp sig och koppla av från det hektiska livet i Paris hade Uhde 1912 hyrt en liten våning i Senlis och där anställt en tystlåten och fattig dam som hushållerska. En dag fann han hos en granne en målning av några äpplen (eller var det apelsiner?) som grep honom genom sin originalitet.

Uhde fann till sin förvåning att det var hans hushållerska som målat dem och fick reda på att hon varje kväll låste in sig i sitt påvra rum och i skenet av ett stearinljus målade till långt in på natten. Hennes mor hade dött när Séraphine var ett år gammal och fadern då hon var sju. Till en början hade Séraphine försörjt sig som fåraherde, men sjutton år gammal hade hon börjat sköta hushållsgöromålen åt nunnorna i ett kloster. Uhde började stötta Séraphine vilket gjorde hennes liv betydligt drägligare, men redan i augusti 1914 måste Uhde som tysk meborgare lämna Frankrike på grund av Första världskriget. En stor del av hans unika konstsamling beslagtogs och skingrades. Först många år senare kom Uhde tillbaka till Frankrike och bosatte sig då med sin familj i Chantilly, norr om Paris. Då Uhde besökte en utställning på rådhuset i det närbelägna Senlis fick han syn på en tavla av Séraphine, som han tappat kontakten med.

Uhde blev förbluffad över hennes stora framsteg och konstnärliga djärvhet. Genom rådhusets personal fick han reda på hennes adress och återfann i ”ett litet kyffe” Séraphine, ”liten och vissnad, med fanatisk blick och likblekt ansikte inramat av grådaskigt hår” ägnade hon sig helt och hållet åt sitt måleri. Med Uhdes hjälp fick Séraphine allt hon behövde för att inom loppet av ett par år fullborda enastående konstverk, som även om de tycktes vara inspirerade av blommor och kyrkornas glasmålningar likväl hade föga med naturen att göra, snarare var de förlänade med en ogripbar, andlig dimension.

Séraphines ekonomi och levnadsförhållanden förbättrades, men hon hade svårt att hantera sina ökade inkomster och betraktades med misstänksamhet, även med oförtäckt förakt, av sina grannar och andra invånare i den lilla staden. Depressionen 1930 ruinerade Uhde, som fick allt svårare att stödja den känsliga Séraphine, som 1932 blev intagen på ett mentalsjukhus, diagnostiserad med ”kronisk psykos”. Som jude tvingades Uhde och hans familj 1940 lämna det tyskockuperade Frankrike och under resten av kriget hålla sig dolda i den av Vichyregimen kontrollerade södra delen av landet. Under tiden dog Séraphine 1942 och begravdes i en omarkerad, allmän grav.

Séraphines öde får mig att minnas Selma Knäckebröd från min barndoms Hässleholm. Hon arbetade som trappstäderska, samlade tomglas och sålde tidningar. Selma gick klädd i lång kjol och hade alltid förkläde. Efter sig drog hon en pinnakärra fylld med hennes städattiraljer och annat. Hon hade en dreverhund som hette Sven. Hon höll honom i ett mångfärgat band av hoptvinnade stuvbitar som hon med jämna mellanrum fick i en tygaffär för tillverka nya koppel åt Sven. Bland oss barn berättades det många historier om Selma; bland annat att hon i själva verket var en tämligen förmögen dam och i hemlighet åkte på semestrar utomlands. Selma bodde i ett förfallet hus i Röinge, det var för långt från mitt barndomshem för att jag skulle våga cykla dit. Det sades att Selma hade ett fint äppelträd i sin trädgård, att huset var fullt med kattor och att det stank långt ut på gatan.

Minns hur Selma en gång kom in under en matinéföreställning på Metropolbiografen. Jag var där och alla vi barn började skandera: ”Selma! Selma! Selma Knäckebröd!” De som inte ansåg att hon hade pengar undanstoppade påstod att hon var utfattig, men jag vet att Selma ibland fick mat hemkörd till sig och att hon då tog emot springpojken mycket vänligt och betalade rikligt med dricks. Hon köpte fläskkotletter till Sven i Gullbrandssons affär i Röinge.

Jag hörde berättas att Selma en gång varit förälskad i stadens stilige pastor och brukade då medverka i hans bibelstudiegrupp, men då han gifte sig med en vacker dam blev Selma rasande och under den följande bibelstudieaftonen stegade hon fram till pastorn och skrek: ”Tvi dig!” vände på klacken och visade sig aldrig mer varken i församlingshuset eller i kyrkan.

Minns faktiskt inte Selmas anletsdrag. Alla barn påstod att hon stank och de flesta var rädda för henne, något som inte hindrade dem från att springa bakom henne och skandera: ”Selma! Selma! Selma Knäckebröd!” Jag kan inte koppla ihop henne med någon dålig lukt, snarare med den friska doften av såpa i vår trappuppgång de gånger hon varit där och skurat. Selma ställde då sin pinnakärra i entrén. Sven satt lydigt bredvid den och passade kärran åt henne. Far hade lärt mig att inte förakta något av de olika original som det på den tiden fanns gott om i Hässleholm, bland annat därför att det låg ett hem för ”förståndshandikappade” i Finja, några kilometer utanför stan´.

En dag satt jag ensam i trappen och klappade Sven då Selma dök upp. Antagligen hade hon upptäckt att jag inte som de flesta andra barn retade eller var rädd för henne. Jag reste mig hastigt upp och medan hon pysslade med sina saker i vagnen vände Selma sig mot mig och konstaterade: ”Du är Lundius påg, inte sant?” Jag nickade. Hon tillade: ”Då vet du säkert att jag varken heter Selma, eller Knäckebröd.” ”Jo” svarade jag, men nyfiken som jag var redan då kunde jag inte låta bli att undra: ”Men, vad heter du då?” ”Fröken Thomasson” svarade hon. ”Här” sa hon. ”Här skall du få något fint”. Hon gav mig ett vykort med en kyrka, jag minns inte vilken och har sedan dess för länge sedan slarvat bort kortet. ”Jag har många sådana” konstaterade hon. ”jag samlar på dem. Jag samlar på kort och jag läser mycket.” Det var som om hon för mig ville förklara hur normal hon var. Och jag tror faktiskt att Selma Knäckebröd inte alls var så tokig som man påstod. ”Nu läser jag om Katarina den Stora. Hon hade en älskare som hette Potemkin och han gjorde allt för henne. Hon hade många älskare. Vet du vem Katarina den Stora var?” Jag skakade förvirrat på huvudet, överrumplad av Selma Knäckebröds talförhet och underliga uppgifter. Efter det mötet hände det vid flera andra tillfällen att vi samtalade där i trappen och Selma berättade för mig om vad hon läst. Minns inte hur ofta det var vi talade med varandra, men kommer ihåg en gång som hon berättade om Alexander den Store och hans häst Bukefalos, som var rädd för sin egen skugga.

Vet inte när Selma dog. Det sades att någon hittat henne avsvimmad i ”det hemska huset” och att hon strax därefter dött på sjukhuset.

Säkerligen finns det många människor om Selma Knäckebröd omkring oss. En del av dem är kanske som hon, människor som läser och funderar, men som inte förmår dela sina tankar med någon och som ensamma fastnat i underliga vanor. Isolerade genom sina medmänniskors avståndstagande försjunker de i snusk, fattigdom och elände. En del av dem är, eller blir mentalsjuka. Några av dem kan kanske som särlingskonstnärerna skapa sina egna, fantastiska världar. Vi håller oss borta från dem, men likväl känner nog flera av oss igen drag hos dem som vi själva har och fascineras därigenom av deras tragiska livsöden och märkliga konst.

 

Det har gjorts flera spelfilmer om särlingskonstnärer. Inte minst om den märklige Ligabue, som jag skrivit om tidigare. Han varit föremål för inte mindre än två alldeles utmärkta filmer. Det har även gjorts en film om Nikifor, en om Séraphine från Senlis och en om brevbäraren Cheval.

 

 

Vad finner jag då för likheter mellan särlingarna och mig? Deras liv var i allmänhet betydligt värre än mitt och jag tror att de flesta av dem led av sin svåra situation.  Mitt enträgna bloggskrivande, utan någon direkt mottagare, kan möjligen ses som en parallell till särlingarnas maniska skapande och vad jag skriver om kan möjligen påminna om det parallella universum som många av dem levde/lever i. Jag är även en samlare; av konstkort, böcker och skivor och delar med särlingarna en viss undandragenhet. Jag tror dock att mitt och andras intresse för dem främst grundar sig deras särpräglades livshistorier och konst, något som blottlägger dem som de medmänniskor de trots allt är, oavsett all deras galenskap och  underligheter.

 

Till sist – en man med munskydd som undviker att röra vid marken, bilden är långt ifrån en nutida kommentar till dagens COVID-19 epidemi utan en teckning av en man vid namn Josef Forster. Allt vi vet om honom är att han levde mellan 1878 och 1949 och var intagen på Regensburgs anstalt för mentalsjuka. Forsters mål i livet var att bli en ”ädel varelse”, inte jordbunden utan viktlös, befriad från mat och allt annat som band honom vid jorden. En strävan och filosofi han uttryckte i en mängd skrifter och teckningar.

 

 

 

Accatino. Alfredo (2017) Outsiders: Storie di artisti geniali che non troverete nei manuali di storia dell´arte. Firenze/Milano: Giunti Editore. Accatino. Alfredo (2019) Outsiders 2: Altre storie di artisti geniali che non troverete nei manuali di storia dell´arte. Firenze/Milano: Giunti Editore. Archer-Straw, Petrine (2000) Negrophilia: Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s. London: Thames & Hudson. Barber, Stephen (1993) Antonin Artaud: Blows and Bombs. London/Boston: faber and faber. Bihalji-Merin, Oto (1979) Modern Primitives. London: Thames & Hudson. Danchin, Laurent (2006) Art brut. L´instinct créateur. Paris: Gallimard. di Stefano, Eva (2020) ”Art Brut”, Art e Dossier N. 373. Dubuffet, Jean (1971) I valori selvaggi. Prospectus e altri scritti. Milano: Feltrinelli EditoreHopkins, Gerard Manley (1984) Poems and Prose. Middlesex, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. MacGregor, John M. (1992) The Discovery of the Art of the Insane. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. Rothenberg, Jerome och Pierre Joris (eds.) (1995) Poems for the Millenium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry. Vol.: From Fin-de-Siecle to Negritude. Berkeley CA: University of Califiornia Press. Trucchi. Lorenza (2001) ”Dubuffet”, Art e Dossier N. 173.

 

 

 

05/06/2020 16:52

I continue to revisit my collection of art cards and in these days when cities and towns are emptied by the Coronavirus I came to think of anonymous Renaissance depictions of ideal cities, inspired by the writings of classical writers like Vitruvius. Some kind of harmonious dream spaces, though to me they look somewhat eerie and cold. Predecessors to Chiricos´s empty piazzas?

La cittá ideale (1490-1500) in Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie.

 

La cittá ideale (1490-1500) in Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore.

 

 

La cittá ideale (1480-1490) in Galleria Nazionale delle Marche in Urbino.

 

 

These were dreams made up from intense reading, which in those days was a pastime for the wealthy and privileged, like this little boy painted by Vincenzo Foppa in 1464, intended to depict the young Cicero, thereby representing the Renaissance feeling of youth and freshness, combined with something that was extremely ancient.

 

 

 

Most boys were far from being as privileged as the one reading a book in a Renaissance Palazzo, though a lucky few of these youngsters born under ”unfortunate circumstances” could nevertheless ”make it” and the erudition they achieved was often astonishing.

 

Jacopo Carucci, an orphaned ”melancholy and lonely boy” began his career as apprentice in the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci, though he soon ended up with another great Florentine artist, Andrea del Sarto. Under del Sarto’s guidance Carucci worked with the equally odd and anti-conformist Rosso Fiorentino, who I once wrote another blog entry about. Even if del Sarto eventually threw him out, Pontormo’s, as Carucci came to be called, great talent became generally appreciated. His reclusive nature and recurrent neuroses are not easy to detect in his bright and life affirmative art. Like the fresco lunette of Vertumnos and Pomona in a vault of the Medici country villa at Poggio a Caiano, which like so many other frescoes is placed in an awkward spot, rather damaged and too far from the floor to be properly admired. 

 

 

Pontormo’s sharply modelled, though slightly deformed figures appear as otherworldly apparitions, seemingly weightless and sometimes swirling within the somewhat flattened environment he creates around them. Most amazing are the brilliant, light colours that give  an almost rococo, pastel-like luminous impression. Like in his Deposition of Christ in the Church of Santa Felicita in Florence.

 

 

Pontormo shared his melancholic disposition and introvert nature with several other contemporary artists. Another example of this gloomy inclination is Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzolae, commonly, known as Parmagianino the ”Little One from Parma”. Like Pontormo, he was a prodigy whose talent became appreciated early on. However, like Rosso Fiorentino, Parmagianino suffered severely in the hands of Swiss and German mercenaries during the relentless Sack of Rome in 1527. Parmagianino appears to have had difficulties in recuperating from his traumatic experiences.

 

Like Pontormo and Fiorentino, Parmagianino was a great and permissive innovator who shaped his masterpieces in accordance with his own mind. His portrait of a well-dressed, young lady named Antea is neither distorted, nor unconventional, though this does not hinder the beautiful Antea from having an ominous air about her, almost as if she was a ghost.

 

 

Antea reminds me of da Vinci’s rendering of Saint Anne on the so called Burlington House Cartoon in London’s National Gallery. The lady in question does with her grey charisma, mysterious glance and enigmatic smile give the impression of being a ghostly twin sister, or even doppelgänger of Virgin Mary, which is quite odd considering if she is supposed to be her mother, Anne would at least have been twice as old as the Madonna.

 

 

Leonardo and his fellow artists were leaving realism behind and instead excelled in their maniera, specific skills and originality that came to be their trademark as painters priding themselves with their unbridled virtuosity. They make me think of audacious ”free” jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Miles Davies who outstripped other performers through their complicated, though nevertheless firmly structured improvisations. Look for example at Parmagianino’s utterly strange Madonna with St. Zaccarhia, where she unexpectedly is placed among Roman ruins within a twilight landscape, while a prolonged shaped Jesus seems to avoid St. John the Baptist’s loving embrace. Here everything is bizarre and disproportioned, but nevertheless beautifully executed and unforgettable.

 

 

After the Sack of Rome Parmagianino became increasingly immersed in studies of magic and alchemy. It has been speculated that his interest in chemistry/alchemy might have been connected with efforts to find new means to produce etchings. He is known to have neglected his commitments and breach contracts for church paintings, something that resulted in a two months prison sentence. He did not improve his behaviour and in 1540 he died from ”a fever” at the age of 37 and was buried ”naked with a cross made of cypress wood on his chest.”

 

 

During his last time in life Parmagianino was working intensively with graphics. However, after his death more drawings than etchings were left behind. The printmaker Ugo da Carpi draw inspiration from Parmagianino’s drawings and among da Carpi’s etchings we find this picture of the Greek philosopher Diogenes sitting immersed in studies in front of the famous barrel he used as his living quarters.

 

 

I cannot discern what the philosopher is holding in his left hand, but I became intrigued by the plucked hen walking behind him. I had to read something about this odd character and found that Plato had called him ”a Socrates gone mad”, apparently not without reason. Diogenes scorned not only family and social organization, but also property rights and reputation. He even rejected normal, human decency; ate sitting on the ground in the marketplace, urinated on people he disliked, defecated in the theatre, and masturbated in public. The plucked chicken is a reference to Diogenes’s many attacks on the teachings of Plato, who once defined humans as ”featherless bipeds”, something that made Diogenes holding up a plucked chicken while he declared: ”Here is Plato´s man!”

 

 If Diogenes had lived today he would probably have been like a slovenly, unattractive homeless and homespun thinker like the one depicted by the Russian Vasily Shulzhenko.

 

 

Diogenes appears to have been a quite unsavoury character. Something a Swiss mercenary who participated in the Sack of Rome also might have been. Urs Graf was a well-known goldsmith, painter and printmaker, but that did not hinder him from occasionally joining Swiss mercenary armies. While living in Basel, Urs Graf came into conflict with the law for abusing his wife and consorting with prostitutes, culminating in accusations of attempted murder, which made him flee the city in 1518. However, his acknowledged skills allowed him to return the following year. Graf continued working in Basel as a master craftsman until the beginning of 1527, thereafter his exact whereabouts are unknown. Maybe he died during the Sack of Rome. His wife remarried in 1528, though some years later a drawing signed by Urs Graf in 1529 was found. Maybe he continued to ramble around the battle fields of Europe together with the infamous mercenary hordes. Urs Graf’s many and often overcrowded etchings regularly depict mercenaries strutting around in their finery, executing and killing their victims, or enjoying drinking bouts while carousing with prostitutes.

 

 

Brutal and disorganized hordes of cut-throats and mercenaries were probably a common sight in German and Swiss towns, maybe akin to the obnoxious gang of villains who has captured a hapless and distressed Jesus in Hans Hirz´s painting of an overcrowded, moonlit Gethsemane, where a desperate St. Peter in vain tries to cut through the mob to reach his master.

 

 

It is hard to imagine an existence like the one of Urs Graf. A man of letters, respected illustrator of bibles and religious tracts, who nevertheless appears to have been attracted by violent bar brawls and brothels, as well as prepared to willingly participate in the senseless slaughter on battle fields and execution squares. A life close to death, like the one depicted by Hans Baldung Grien where voluptuous ladies are courted by hideous, living, putrefied corpses.

The licentious looking nudes of German painters and graphic artists like Urs Graf, Hans Baldung Grien and Lucas Cranach make me think of the even more explicitly sensuous and rather racy nudes by the Flemish Bartholomeus Spranger, who ended up at the court of the eccentric Rudolf II, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, who in Prague surrounded himself with scientists like Tycho Brahe, alchemists like John Dee, and the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who through his typical fruit and vegetable arrangements depicted the Emperor as the Roman Vertumnus, god of seasons, change and growth.

Bartholomeus Spranger responded to his patron's aesthetic preferences and developed a close personal relationship with him, spending days and late evenings engaged in conversations with the odd, but fascinating emperor. Spranger’s Vulcan and Venus is maybe a combination of Rudolf II’s interest in pornography and alchemy, with Venus as a mature dominatrix subduing the craftsman Vulcan.

Wealthy and eccentric Renaissance noblemen indulged in uncommon pastimes while exhibiting exotic belongings in their curiosa chambers, or menageries, like Count Ladislaus von Frauenberg, whose snow covered castle can be seen through the window in the background of the Bavarian artist Hans Muelich´s portrait of him. The leopard was given to the count by his brother-in-law Duke Ercole d´Este of Ferrara, a great patron of the arts.

The increasingly wealthy nobility and no less the emerging, powerful bourgeoisie, were important patrons of skilled artists. The nobility were capable of not only ordering stately, official portraits of themselves, their wives and mistresses, but could on rare occasions ask an artist to combine sensuality and homely cosiness as in François Clouet´s depiction of a naked, beautiful lady enjoying a bath and some snacks, surrounded by her children, while a satisfied looking wet-nurse gives her swelling breast to one of them and another servant is preparing a meal in front of the open fire.

Bartholomäus Bruyn spent his entire life as a respected citizen of Cologne and was engaged in civic affairs. He was elected to the City Council in 1549 and 1553, and died a wealthy man. His portrait of a burgher lady holding a carnation is a testimony of his skills as portraitist. An intimate and quite beautiful rendering of a dutifully posing woman, who nevertheless does not put on an imposing, self-centred air of superiority. Instead, she seems to be lost in her own thoughts, somewhat shy with her downward gaze.

Albrecht Dürer’s early portrait of his brother Hans, master craftsman and painter like himself, reveals an entirely different character than the one of the bourgeoisie housewife from Cologne. Hans Dürer is depicted as a representative of the enterprising, confident, highly professional artisans who through their literacy, and inspired by travels abroad and studies of an ever-expanding world contributed to the enormous transformation of the society of the time.

However, they were not harmonious times; social unrest, injustice and inequality, intolerance, violence and disease were deep-rooted. The individual came to move more to the centre of attention, but the road to equality was long and the walk had hardly begun. Occasionally a peasant, jester or beggar could emerge among contemporary portraits, for example by Pieter Breughel and Jean Fouquet. 

However, most portraits were still of wealthy people. Through these increasingly realistic portraits we meet persons who look like we could encounter them in the street today. Such down-to-earth depictions became increasingly prominent in religiously inspired paintings. The twenty-three-year-old Hans Holbein’s picture The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, now in Öffentliche Kunstsammlung in Basel, presents Jesus Christ as a corpse with signs of putrefaction. The word is made flesh, and the flesh is dead. It is not remarkable that Fyodor Dostoevsky became utterly captivated when he was confronted with the painting during a visit to Basel in 1867. His wife had to drag him away from the panel, fearing that the impressive sight might induce an epileptic fit in the sensitive author. Dostoevsky saw in Holbein an impulse similar his own preoccupations; a desire to confront Christian faith with everything that negated it, for example a realization that suffering, unredeemable death, and putrefaction appeared to invalidate any hope of resurrection.

 

It is quite possible that Holbein’s depiction of the dead Jesus is reminiscent of the impression that Mathias Grünewald’s altarpiece had made upon him when his father Hans Holbein the Elder had brought his oldest son with him while he carried out a number of commissions at the hospice in the town of Isenheim.

The suffering Jesus of the Isenheim altar has since its completion in 1516 haunted the minds of several famous authors, who have been shocked by the stark realism of Jesus nailed to the cross as a simple, extremely suffering human being.

The painter hidden behind the name Mathias Grünewald comes down to us only in a few bare details. His name was probably Mathis Gothard Nithart, a melancholiac who died from the plague. Records stated that he in 1512 bought a house in Frankfurt and married Anna, a converted Jewess, who in 1523 was institutionalized with what is variously described as mental illness and demonic possession. From 1512 to 1515 Grünewald worked on the Isenheim altar, but he seems to have left the town in a hurry, returning to Frankfurt. His subsequent poverty suggests that Grünewald was not fully paid for the altarpiece.

Grünewald was a versatile painter and everything I have seen by him is impressive and thought-provoking. In Munich, I saw a painting by him depicting the black warrior saint St. Maurice engaged in a discussion with St. Erasmus of Formia, protector of seafarers, dressed in sumptuous bishop’s ornate and holding on to a windlass.

St. Maurice depicted as a military leader on equal footing with a bishop seems to mirror the Venetian general Othello in Shakespeare’s play. Here depicted by the Irish painter William Mulready when the African-American actor Ira Alridge performed as the black military leader in London in the 1850s. Ira was married to a Swedish woman and their two daughters became opera singers.

At the Metropolitan Museum in New York I once saw an equally impressive depiction of St. Maurice as a black soldier, equipped with luxurious armour. It was painted by Lucas Cranach intimate friend of and neighbour with Martin Luther in Wittenberg, where Cranach as a stout, smart and extremely successful businessman had a big workshop with an extraordinary output produced by the master himself and a workforce of apprentices and fully-trained artists.

However, as may be expected from a painter whose wife was interned for demonic possession and who eventually died in the plague, a merciless, infernal and suffering world is prevalent in Grünewald’s art and he painted the most gruesome picture of a plague victim I have ever come across.

Despite his obscurity, Grünewald’s work was enough to inspire an opera about his life: Paul Hindemith's Mathis der Maler.Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) could not have his opera performed in Nazi Germany, even if some of the more culturally interested Nazi coryphées nurtured some hope that Hindemith eventually would be able to combine traditional folk music with classical tonality. However, Hindemith was too much of an experimenter. Goebbles lost patience with him and finally declared Hindemith to be an ”atonal noisemaker”. Hindemith spent more and more time in Turkey where he was instrumental in reorganizing music education, supported the Ankara State Conservatory and was engaged in the establishment of the Turkish State Opera. Finally, he realized that he could not remain in Germany and moved to the U.S. The picture below is from Helmut Jürgens’s stage decor when Mathis der Maler was performed in Munich in 1948.

 

In the early 1930s Hindemith tried to engage several well-known writers, among them Gottfried Benn, in the development of his libretto for Mathis der Maler, but he gave up and wrote it himself. The opera deals with Grünewald’s struggles to keep himself out of the violent struggles in his contemporary Germany, especially the conflicts between various reformatory fractions and the peasant uprising. Grünewald is depicted as being appalled by the violent suppression of the desperate peasant rebellion (1524-1525), at the same time as he feels forced to work for various patrons while trying to maintain his artistic freedom of expression. The message was evident and the opera could of course not be performed. The final words of the warlord Albrecht to Mathis der Maler becomes the message of the opera. Art cannot make any comprises, an artist must do what he can do. ”Go forth and paint”. I have not seen the opera, but have a recording of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler Symphony and it is not all any ”atonal noise”.

Hindemith’s story reminds me of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev from 1966. An epic film about the icon painter Andrei Rublev who by the end of his life in 1430 painted the three angels who visited Abraham in the Terebinth Grove, a unique Byzantine masterpiece with a perfect, almost abstract harmony, where every detail perfectly fits into the unity of the work and a warm, muted and harmonious colouring creates a perfect image of heartfelt spirituality.

Tarkovsky’s film develops against the background of a tumultuous, cruel and conflictive late Medieval Russia and the development of popular, sincere Christianity, reflected through Rublev’s efforts to express it in his art. The last scene of the black-and-white film is fading into a full colour picture of Rublev’s Old Testament Trinity.

The quiet spirituality of Rublev’s icon makes me think of the art of the Netherlandish master Gerard David, his soft and subtle colours and almost dreamlike serenity. Like in this charming picture where the Madonna during her little family’s flight from the massacres in Palestine takes a break. The donkey rests in the shadow while Virgin Marie sits with Jesus in her lap, beside her is her small travel basket and Joseph is in the background trying to beat down some fruits from at tree.

A short time of rest within a world engulfed in violence and suffering, which were always close to the people during the early Renaissance and was made obvious in horrendous depictions of the Last Judgement where victims were individualized  in a manner never seen before, like in Hans Memling’s The Last Judgement from 1471 where condemned people are shoved together to be thrown into the flames of Hell, like the hapless victims who during World War II along the Eastern Front by Einsatz Kommandos were forced into death pits, or those who were herded to mass graves in Nanking.

Fear and anguish are also painfully and intrusively depicted on Rogier van der Weyden´s magnificent Beaune Altarpiece from 1450 where extremely anxious victims merciless are driven into Hell’s pit of eternal suffering.

People are also individualized in Tilman Riemenschneiders realistic and pliant wood carvings and marble statues. Riemenschneider was a prominent member of the town council of Würzburg but his brave refusal to approve of an attack on a peasants’ army before any negotiations earned him the wrath of Würzburg’s actual ruler, Prince-Bishop Konrad von Thüningen. After 8.000 badly equipped and armed peasants in June 1525 had been slaughtered by a formidable force just outside of Würzburg’s walls, Riemenschneider was incarcerated and tortured. It is said that his hands were crushed, something that is doubtful, though he could not regain his position and obtain any more prestigious work.

In these times of wartime and mass slaughter all over Europe, artists were able to capture the features of several warlords. In my opinion most impressive of them all is Antonello da Messina’s portrait of an unknown condottiere, an Italian mercenary.

Besides Urs Graf, another prominent Swiss painter, Niklaus Manuel Deutsch, did during several periods serve as a mercenary. He worked as a secretary for a certain warlord called Albrecht von Stern, but did apparently also participate in actual fighting, for example in Lombardy and against German Landsknechts in the Battle of Bicocca.

I am particularly fascinated by a strangely disharmonious nightly scene in which Niklaus Manuel Deutsch depicts how a scantly dressed Thisbe kills herself by the side of a Pyramus dressed like a mercenary. The drama takes place in a Swiss looking forest and the pallid maiden plunges a long broadsword into her abdomen.

Strangely lit sceneries are quite common in Renaissance painting and the brownish hues of Deutsch’s Pyramus and Thisbe remind me of a nativity scene by the Venetian painter Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto, who as always invites the onlooker to a dynamic and entirely unforeseen view, angle and perspective of a scene which has been presented numerous times before. We see the stable where the holy family receives two ladies offering  them gifts that are brought to them from below, where the domestic animals are kept and two shepherds kneel in front of a lady who apparently will deliver their gifts to the family above them. Light is coming from the stable’s broken ceiling, on top of which three angels are looking down and it is their radiance that illuminates the entire scene.

Tintoretto’s paintings are dynamic and dramatic, entirely different from the illuminations in the Livre du cœur d'Amour épris, Book of the Loving Heart of Love, which in 1465 was written by a certain Renato d´Angio, duke of Angio, count of Provence and Forcaquier, and King of Naples. His looks do not indicate that he was the author of a passionate romance of courtly love.

I assume the text of the book does not provide the same fascination as its pictures. It appears to be a typical late medieval allegory with personified virtues and it tells an extremely convoluted story about how Cupid steals the heart of a poet while he is asleep and brings it to the sweet Lady of Mercy, imprisoned by Remorse, Shame and Fear. Let us forget all about that and instead admire the marvellously executed scene where a winged Cupid steals the poet’s heart in a room lit by an oil lamp close to the floor.

Or a moonlit night when a knight reads a poem inscribed on a black marble tablet erected by a spring, on top of which rests a bailer like the one I found by a spring in a forest not far from a cottage my parents owned in southern Sweden.

Scenes of such intimacy may also be found in religious paintings from the same time. For example by the Spanish painter Luis de Morales, who was known as El Divino, The Divine, due the profound spirituality his work transmitted, in spite of its often shocking realism, far removed from the often crowded and exaggerated emotional effects of Italian or German paintings. Here we meet couples like the mourning Maria embracing her dead son, or as a young virgin with the Jesus child feeling for her breast under her dress. Emotional intimacy and spirituality against a pitch-black background.

Quite, compassionate paintings, which nevertheless vibrate with underlying emotions, which explodes in the passionate, nervous, Spanish paintings by Doménikos Theotokópoulos, called El Greco. An icon painter who in 1560 arrived in Venice from Crete, but it was first in the fervent Catholic town of Toledo he found mentors able to appreciate the painted dramas that had puzzled the Venetians, but was liked by the Spaniards and of course adored by the last century’s expressionist painters.

El Grecos’s depiction of a classical theme, Laocoön’s and his sons´ death, is completely unexpected with its extended, compressed and distorted figures painted in murky shades of grey and chalky white, with some patches of green, brown, violet, cobalt blue and black. A mayhem of agonized human bodies in awkward, strangely detached choreographed positions and arching snakes against a sketchy background of Toledo on its hill with an orange, Trojan horse like a toy in front of it. It would take hundreds of years until something slightly similar would appear again.

The Italian scene was more balanced, though even here we could find strange, individualized, emotionally charged, devotional pictures presenting contrasts between black backgrounds and ghostly white bodies, within an offbeat environment, like in this chilly depiction of an exhausted, but apparently not dead Christ sitting on some stairs beside a cross, while an angel stands ready to cover his frozen body with a sheet. A cold picture painted by someone who strangely enough was called Il Moretto da Brescia, The Little Dark One from Brescia. 

Moretto painted alongside the famous Venetian artist Lorenzo Lotto in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. Lotto, whose intense colouring, nervous, eccentric posing and distortions were not particularly different from other Venetian masters, though he did nevertheless not find much appreciation in Venice and  frequently had  to move from town to town in search of patrons and commissions. By the end of his life, Lotto found it difficult to earn a living and 70 years old he entered a monastery where he died five years later.

A few years ago, a comprehensive exhibition of Lotto´s work was presented in Rome, where among other masterpieces his odd presentation of The Annunciation could be admired. Daylight falls into a darkened room where Virgin Mary, in beautifully coloured clothes, turns to us instead towards God and the angel who declares that she will carry the child of the Lord. A strange detail, and Lotto’s work are filled by such, is the cat who flees from the heavenly apparition.

Another peculiar and stunning artist with erudite, often humorous and insoluble associations to myths and even contemporary literary works is Dosso Dossi, a pseudonym for Giovanni Francesco di Niccolò Luteri, active at the Ferrarese court of Ercole d´Este, the same man who gave Count Ladislaus von Frauenberg his leopard.

Ercole d´Este was a highly cultivated man who around himself gathered a court of talented artists, musicians and authors, not least the accomplished Ludovico Arisoto whose Orlando Furioso still can be read with great enjoyment. Multifaceted, dynamic and unpredictable it is written with a verve and passion that remain captivating. Unfortunately is a portrait painted by a young Titian apparently not representing the witty Ariosto, something it for centuries was assumed to do.

Dosso Dossi was well adapted to the sophisticated and refined environment of the Ferrarese court and illustrated several episodes of Orlando Furioso. A few years ago I saw at an exposition Dossi’s Mythological Scene, which usually can be encountered  in The Paul Getty Museum in Malibu and in this context I cannot avoid mentioning Ridley Scott’s fascinating film about the greedy old man who founded that museum, magnificently played by Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World.

Dossi´s painting is simply called Mythological Scene, since no one is really sure about what it depicts. What first caught my attention was the beautiful colours – the leaves and the lemons, the green and red of the dress of the unidentified girl. The striking whiteness of the nude, said to be the nymph Echo. The fragmentary interpretation of the scene is based on the presence of the god Pan, identified through his goat legs and syrinx, flute. Since the old woman makes a protective gesture above the sleeping lady it has been assumed that she is Gea, the Earth, who protects her protégé, the nymph Echo who had spurned Pan for an unrequited love directed  towards the egocentric Narcissus. However, Pan does not look particularly threatening to me and I do not care so much any interpretation, because the painting is so intriguing and pleasurable as it is.

However, enigmatic paintings with hidden messages may nevertheless provide a thought-provoking stimulus. Giorgio de Castelfranco, called Giorgione, died thirty-two years old in the plague, but had a great importance not the least due to his close collaboration with Titian and it is believed that he, together with Sebastiano del Piombo, finished several of the only six surviving paintings by Giorgione, masterpieces which due to their poetic and elusive character are constantly studied, analysed and interpreted.

Giorgione’s last painting The Three Philosophers was commissioned by the Venetian nobleman Taddeo Contarini, a wealthy merchant known for his interest in alchemy. Like many Venetian paintings, not the least those made by Giorgione´s friend Sebastiano del Piombi, it is an image of something taking place at dusk. The three philosophers have met in a twilight zone in front of a dark area that might be the entrance to a cave. They have been identified as Plato, looking into the darkness. Mohammad and Moses (or the Greek/Egyptian alchemist Hernes Trismegistos). It is commonly assumed that they represent the three Magi preparing themselves for their meeting with the newborn Jesus.

That may all be correct, though I would like to consider the philosophers as representatives of the knowledge that have had such a great influence on  Occidental philosophy – the inheritance from Greek antiquity, represented by the seated man, the Oriental knowledge of among other things maths, astronomy and medicine mediated by Islam, represented by the man in a turban and the Judeo/Christian tradition, with elements from Syria and Egypt, represented by the Moses-like bearded man, oldest of the three and thus representing the most ancient wisdom. Accordingly, the three men sum up the philosophy that continuously contemplates and discusses the unknown, represented by the darkened area of the painting. This does probably not make any sense neither to experts, nor to any other, though it makes sense to me. This is what I consider to be the essential message of art – that it speaks to you as an individual. This is what all the works of art I have presented above has done for me and I hope I have conveyed some of this feeling to you as well – dear reader.

 

04/29/2020 18:05

My blog is among other things a Memory Palace  where I store whatever fascinates me. What I like to delve into; thoughts and opinions I like to share and above all it serves as an appendix to my often confused, forgetful and disordered brain. I am a hoarder; a collector of books, CD:s and above all art cards. I have been collecting them since I was seven or maybe eight years and I now have several thousands of them. My art card collection is one of the few things I keep in meticulous order. I often take out the cards from their boxes, watching and thinking about them, probably my method of transcendental meditation.

I thought of taking a break from my occasionally time-consuming and far too engaging research for and writing of blog entries and do what I often do – look at some of my favourite pictures and this time store them here, so you as well – my dear reader, might enjoy them. So let us take a walk through art history and contemplate some oddities as well as beauty I have fallen for.

 

Inside the dark interior of a cave in Altamira a bison takes a leap. Who was the genius who 15,000 years ago painted this masterpiece?

 

 

 

 

Nefertite and Akhenaten walk in their garden 1,330 BCE. She reminds me of someone I know.

 

 

Inside a kylix, a wine drinking cup, the master Exekias did in 535 BCE paint a dream vision of the Mediterranean Sea: From Dionysios’s ship sprouts a vine, heavy with grapes, while the god under a swelling sail leisurely travels forth among frolicking dolphins.

 

Caught in a dance within a tomb in Tarquinia, 470 BCE.

 

Roman portrait heads; lifelike, strong and merciless, like this severe old man from 80 BCE.

 

 

Many years ago, I stood during an exhibition in Rome face to face with inhabitants of the Egyptian-Greek town of Fayum.

 

A tired, torn, old boxer found in the ruins of the Diocletian baths in Rome, where he had been sitting for 2,300 years

waiting to be found. Vanquished in a fight, but victorious in his battle against time.


Superior serenity in the facial expression of a 3rd century Buddha from the Kushan Empire, which mixed the styles of Greco-Buddhist art from Gandhara with influences from Indian Mathura. The utterly self-discipined, starving 2nd century Buddha from the museum of Lahore is pure Gandhara art.

 

Christ enthroned in the apse of Catalonian San Clemente de Tahull, painted in 1123: ”I am the light of the World” says the open book. Abstract expressionism, powerful aesthetics.

 

 

Thirteen years old I became fascinated by this dragon slayer from a manuscript painted in Dijon sometime in the 12th-century – St Gregory´s Moralia in Job. I copied it several times.

 

 

A farting goat from a Medieval manuscript, written and decorated in Prague. Is it a bored monk having some fun? Hussite irony? Prague as breeding ground for subversive humor?

 

 

In 1304, Giotto painted the kiss of Judas. The first time I saw the frescoes in Cappella degli Scrovegni in Padua was together with my father in 1965. A clear-cut, obviously anticipated field of tension between a mild, prepared and conscious Christ and a Judas who performs the tragic role expected from him. Their eyes meet. A pivotal moment in the history of art. A masterpeice created by a great artist and profound psychologist.

 

 

It was not so long ago I in Prague for the first time was confronted with the Třeboň Altarpiece from 1380. Angular and thorny in its dissonant, otherworldly, surreal and elegant craftmanship.

 

In the Grandes Heures de Rohan in Paris´s Bibliothèque Nationale, painted between 1418 and 1425, we find a dying man who does not lie at home  in his bed, but outstreched and helplessly exposed on a silk duvet placed in a cemetery. Old, naked and emaciated, he surrenders his soul to God while the Devil and the Archangel Michael are fighting over it above his head. God Father bows down, he holds a sword in his hand. Will the dying man be saved from Hell?

 

 

Paolo Uccello’s eerie and utterly strange depiction of the aftermath of the Deluge, painted in 1448. It may be admired in the so called Green Monastery of the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The fresco is  damaged and even if it was recently restored it is quite murky, even if seen in situ. However, that does not diminish its strange attraction, with the peculiar floating devices of the survivors, the gusts of wind that throw tree branches against the sides of the Ark (or is it really the Ark?). The contactlessness between people. What is actually happening in this piture?

 

 

Rain was pouring down when we in 2017 made a stop over in Monterchi to admire the Madonna del Parto that Piero della Francesca in 1455 painted in a chapel above his mother’s tomb. Two angels proudly presents a pregnant Madonna.

 

 

An Aztec woman giving birth sometime in the 15th century, here together with Xochipilli, god of beauty, dance and flowers. The human sacrificing and strangely beauty-loving Aztecs were apparently familiar with death, horror, pain and terror, while their artists knew how to express it all.

 

 

An usurpassed masterpice of expressionistic realism – The Depostion painted in 1440 by Rogier van der Weyden, now in the Prado Museum. The passion inside a box.

 

 

Some rustic shepherds pay homage to the newborn Jesus in Hugo van der Goes´s Portinari Altar in the Uffizi, painted in 1476 and brought by ship and over land from Bruges, where the wealthy Florentine banker Tomasso Portinari lived for forty years. Keen observance and empathy with the poor in the service of wealthy patrons.

 

 

Four years later, an equally skilled Tyrolean realist, Michael Pacher, painted an altar in Salzkammergut, just as sharp and original as anything done by van der Goes, but with an added grain of intensity and a weird, fanciful imagination.

 

 

Cosmé Tura’s San Georgio in Ferrara from 1469; sharpness, meandering movement, forcefulness and highly original.

 

 

Most beautiful of them all – L´Annunciata de Palermo, painted 1475 by Antonella da Messina. You can sit for hours and admire her in Palazzao Abatellis, so far there is no throng of tourists like those in front of Mona Lisa in the Louvre. To meet this Madonna is such an intense experience that it in itself makes a trip to Palermo wothwhile.

 

 

And as a contrast – Jean Fouquet’s extremely odd, but nevertheless fascinating Madonna from the Melun Diptych painted twenty-five years earlier. Magnificent in all its absurdity.

 

 

The maid pouring wine in a glass is a captivating detail from Luca Signorelli’s fresco Two Benedictines breaking the fast in the church of Monte Olivieto Maggiore, painted in 1497. Signorelly was an early master in depicting the movement, volume, roundness and firmness of human bodies.

 

 

 

Lorenzo di Credo’s Venus from 1495. He studied together with Leonardo da Vinci under Andrea Verocchio and later became a fervent follower of Fra Savoranola. Had he seen his disciple’s Venus it had probably ended up on the fanatical monk´s Bonfire of Vanities.

 

Saint John the Baptist in deep thoughts, depicted by Geergten Tot Sint Jans sometime in the 1480s, he was a monk who died young.

 

 

I have now reached the 1500s, make a break and maybe I will in a future blog spot return to some of my other favourites and then follow the trail further on.

Giovanno Francesco Caroto´s Boy with a drawing of a puppet from 1523 is maybe not a flawless masterpiece, though it is a charming statement of an artist´s pride in his own work and the joy of showing works of art to others.

 

 

 

 

Superior serenity in the face of a 3rd century Buddha from the Kushan Empire, which art mingled Greco-Buddhist art from Ganhara and influences from Mathura. The utterly self-discipined, starving 2nd century Buddha from the musuem in Lahore is pure Gandhara art.

 

04/23/2020 20:25

 

At the very first glimmer of a brightening dawn

there rose on the horizon a dark cloud of black,

 

The stillness of the Storm God passed over the sky,

and all was bright then turned into darkness.

He charged the land like a bull on the rampage,

he smashed it in pieces like a vessel of clay.

 

For a day the gale winds flattened the country,

quickly they blew, and then came the Deluge.

Like a battle the cataklysm passed over the people,

One man could not discern another,

nor could people be recognized amid the destruction.

 

The godess cried out like a woman in childbirth,

Belet-ili wailed, whose voice is so sweet:

It is I who give birth, these people are mine!

And now, like fish they fill the ocean!”

 

 

In the beginning, only gods populated the earth. Like humans, they too had to sow and reap, to use animals and crops of the soil for their sustenance. It was tiring. The gods who took care of the earth lamented and in the end they refused to work. The Divine Assembly decided to create servants who became entirely dependent of the gods. The god of freshwater, Ea, created together with the mother goddess Belet-ili, a thinking creature. Belet-ili shaped man from clay and through blood from a sacrificed god Ea provided life to the contraption. 

 

 

Unfortunately, the sacrificed god, Kingu, was not a perfect being. He had been a dragon god, like his mother the saltwater monster Tiamat, who, by the way was mother of all gods. Kingu had been Tiamat's vizier and warlord, though his name means "ignorant worker" and he had been endowed with a belligerent and violent character.

 

 

The people now cultivated the land, cared for and slaughtered the cattle. They did everything believed to favour the gods. However, Kingu's blood flowed in their veins, meaning they were not entirely manageable. Furthermore, like gods they did not age and could thus not die of old age. The easily annoyed storm god Enlil found the noise of humanity intolerable and also considered that humanity took up too much space. Three times, Enlil tied to decimated their numbers – first by plague, then through drought and crop failure and finally with the help of starvation. Unlike most of the other gods, Enlil was an active being, constantly in motion. He did not mind hard work and thus assumed that people were entirely unnecessary creatures. More troublesome than beneficent. It was Enlil who succeeded in persuading the gods to wipe out humanity through a Deluge.

 

 

As a matter of fact, it was only the creators of the humans Ea and Belet-ili who nurtured any warmer feelings towards humanity. The other gods considered the only function of earthlings was to be a source for  their  sustenance and well-being. If the human midges tried to assert themselves or obstructed work and functions, they could stomp them out as if they were a horde of ants

 

Some gods entertained themselves with the humans, though their feelings for them were not much warmer than a child has for its dolls. The Mesopotamian gods could maybe be likened to the old god in the Swedish author Bo Bergman's poem The Marionettes:

 

You ancient old lord up in heaven’s hall,

when will you finally tire?

The puppets´ dance in spring and fall

displays the same lack of desire.

A jerk on the string – and everything’s gone

and all humans may sleep on, and on

while sorrow and evil rest from endeavour

in your great toy-box for ever.

        

                      (based on a translation by John Irons)

 

 

 

Approximately 8,000 years BCE, people living by the rivers of the Euphrates and Tigris began to settle in villages and with the help of canal systems and hoes they cultivated the surrounding land. Five thousand years earlier they had begun raising sheep and goats. Three thousand years later than that, they were domesticating bulls and cows, as well as raising pigs.

 

Every farmer knows that no matter how well organized his/her business is, how much s/he can count upon the help of neighbours and superiors, how much success s/he has in managing domestic animals and the land, with the help of refined seeds, ploughs and irrigation systems, s/he is nevertheless exposed to the capricious favours of weather gods – sun, rain, wind, sweet water and drought. At any moment s/he and his/her family may suffer from illness, plague, war, flooding and miscarriage. How could s/he, his/her family and neighbours be able to please the powers/gods? Make them benevolent and not constantly threaten the precarious existence of humanity?

 

Peasants seek refuge in order, in repetition. They follow paths trampled by their ancestors. The Sumerians had bred animals to adapt them to human needs. Plants had been refined, becoming more appetizing, more nutritious and full-flavoured. By jointly disciplining nature through irrigation systems and farming methods human existence had become more predictable.

 

 

If humans could prove they could take good care of themselves and the earth, wouldn't the gods become grateful? If the human creeps could show the gods their reverence by demonstrating their determination that even gods had to enjoy the same order and security they were trying to obtain? To that end, the Sumerians built magnificent palaces for their gods and served their images in the same way as they served the lords they had chosen to organize their societies – they brought them food and drinks in the form of sacrifices. They provided them with servants, luxury and concubines. Temples of the gods became copies of the palaces underlings had constructed for their earthly rulers. Stories evolved around the gods, similar to those told about powerful people, lords and kings.

 

If order ruled life on earth, would it not also prevail in Heaven? Equal creates equal. Good people deserve fair and gentle treatment. Did not the gods then assume it would be decent to behave in an affable manner towards those who served them well and demonstrated their appreciation? ”What is below is like what is above and what is above is like what is below.” Maybe the gods did not exist, but nonetheless there appeared to exist some kind of cosmic order, a natural balance that could be dangerous to upset. When we exploit and abuse nature, a deadly imbalance arises which ultimately might affect and even destroy the entire humanity. Chaos is constantly threatening our fragile order, our Cosmos. This is told in one of the oldest stories ever told – Gilgamesh. However, before I embark on retelling it, let me examine the phrase ”as above, so below”.

 

Isaac Newton published his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687. In this Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy he provided an account of the laws of motion and attraction, the composition of light, geometric concepts such as tangents and auras, the movements of celestial bodies, ebb and flow, the ellipticity of the globe and many other things that could be derived from the law of gravity, discovered by him. An astonishing genius of a man who constantly sought the eternal laws of the Cosmos.

 

 

He wrote:

 

This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets, and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being. […] This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all: And on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God παντοκράτωρ [Pantokrator], or Universal Ruler. […] The supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect;

 

Among Newton's left behind papers and books a number of alchemist writings were found. There was for example his own English translation of Tabula Smaragdina's Latin text. The Emerald Tablet is an alchemical text supposedly written by a mythical Egyptian called Hermes Trismegistus, though it probably finds its origin in Mesopotamia. The tablet described how The Philosophers´ Stone could be created. This ”stone” is a fictional substance with miraculous properties – it was assumed to transform common metals into precious ones, cure all diseases and prolong life.

 

 

The first sentences of the Emerald Tablet read:

 

This is true without lying, certain and most true. That which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing. And as all things have been and arose from one by the mediation of One so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.

 

 

The tablet’s text consists of just fifteen sentences and they were for certain not written by any Hermes Trismegistus, the Thrice-greatest Hermes, a composite of the Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth, and the Greek god, Hermes, messenger of the gods. These gods were related to the power of words, to magic and secrets. Thoth had created language and knew ”the words that bind and those that dissolve”, ”those that opened and those that closed.” Hermes was a threshold deity, resident between two spheres and roamed freely between them, united or closed them. While doing so he became the god of roads, friendship, hospitality, love making, trade, games and theft, as well as he accompanied the dead to the Netherworld. Hermes could decide  whether something would be kept as a secret, if it was going to be ”hermetically sealed”. The sign for remaining silent, or to keep a secret, generally consisted of holding a finger to your mouth.The Greeks assumed that the Horus child, who was depicted as sucking a finger, in reality hold a finger in front of its mouth. Under the name of Harpocrates this child became the god of silence and confidentiality, and the fact that he kept an index finger in front of his mouth was interpreted as a sign of silence and secrecy. A sign that since then came into general use. Now everyone knows that an index finger in front of the mouth means silence.

 
 
However, it is not silence that is the main tool of communication. God created heaven and earth with words and Thoth had done the same. Words create order and the word of God is Law. In Nordic, medieval ”landscape laws” it was stated that ”Land is built by law” and Sumerians would have been in complete agreement. Most of them assumed that human laws should be compatible with the laws of nature. It is believed that Hermes Trismegistus conveyed such an insight. The sky was always close to the Mesopotamian riverland and it was assumed that the movements of celestial bodies and seasonal change indicated the rules that govern our entire existence. An activity  that went on for millenia. 
 
In the town of Kufa on the banks of the Euphrates lived in the 7th century CE Abū Musā Jābir ibn Hayyān. Like Isaac Newton, he was a scientific Jack of all Trades, constantly in search of the laws of existence. Jābir ibn Hayyān was head chemist of the legendary Harun al-Rashid and left behind so many writings on alchemy, cosmology, numerology, astrology, medicine, mysticism and religion that his existence has been put in doubt.
 
Quite a number of Arabic manuscripts bearing Jābir ibn Hayyān´s name can be found in libraries in Leiden, Paris and London, while several Latin translations of his writings are stored in the Vatican and Oxford, among them are seventy books, which were translated during the Middle Ages. They carry names like the Book of Venus and the Book of the Stones. There are also ten books which together form the corpus of The Books on Rectification, interpreting the world on the basis of theories presented by philosophers such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. The most important of Jābir ibn Hayyān's writings are the so-called Books on Balance and especially the one called Theory of the Balance in Nature, which claimed that everything in nature through constant transformations act in different ways, but emanates from a basic substance and it is actually through change that balance and harmony are maintained.
 
 
Abū Musā Jābir ibn Hayyān's books are obviously compendiums of all kinds of knowledge, interpreted through a filter of complicated expressions and letter magic. Jābir ibn Hayyān, or Geber as he was called by his medieval interpreters, wrote:
 
One must not explain this art in obscure words only; on the other hand one must explain it so clearly that all may understand it. I therefore teach it in such a way that nothing will remain hidden to the wise man even though it may strike mediocre minds as quite obscure; the foolish and ignorant, for their part, will understand none at all.
 
 
Jābir ibn Hayyān claimed to have written 1,300 books on the Art, a term that seems to denote the manufacture of machines, automata and chemical equipment. It is maybe Jābir’s reputation as some kind of ancient Gyro Gearloose that made Marvel Comics´ author Jonathan Hickman portray Jābir ibn Hayyān as a superhero, a member of a secret organization named S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate) told to have been created in ancient Egypt by Imhotep, who among other things was heading the construction of the first pyramid. The Organization initially had its headquarters in the catacombs beneath Rome, but now it hovers high above the earth's surface within the flying battleship Helicarrier. A number of famous scientists and artists have throughout the years been active in the S.H.I.E.L.D., which consider it as its duty to protect the world before the realisation of the Ultimate Destiny of Man. Unfortunately, it has been proven that the brilliant scientists and inventors active in S.H.I.E.L.D. not always have been immune to power struggles, jealousy and forgery. For example did Isaac Newton kill Galileo Galilei and other scientists who opposed his desire for supreme power and leadership of S.H.I.E L.D.
 
 
In his time, Jābir ibn Hayyān was supreme leader of the Brotherhood of the Shield and then constructed a machine that was intended to absorb the dreams, inspiration and desires of a thousand powerful men and pass them on to one single man. Unfortunately, the machine turned out to be uncontrollable and ultimately destroyed the men whose power it was to exploit.
 
 

S.H.I.E.L.D. and Habibi, an acclaimed comic book by Craig Thompson where Jābir ibn Hayyān also appeared, may be considered modern myth-making and especially Thompson's work are to be found within a Mesopotamian fantasy universe where both Gilgamesh and Arabian Nights find their origins. Jābir ibn Hayyān also seems to have been an integral part of this powerful, extremely imaginative and at times thought-provoking flora of legends and fairy tales. It is in one of his many books that Hermes Trismegistus´s Emerald Tablet made its first appearance.

In Jābir ibn Hayyān's Kitab Ustuqus al-Uss al-Thani, The Second Book of the Basic Elements, the Emerald Tablet is said to have been discovered by a man named Balinas, hidden within a secret vault beneath the Temple of Hermes Trismegistus in Tyana. Something that brings us into the mysterious traditions of the Christlike figure Apollonius of Tyana, whom I have written about in a previous blog. Balinas told how he had wrestled the Emerald Tablet from the dead grip of a mummy who had been placed on a golden throne.

During the eleventh century, the Emerald Tablet was translated into Latin by the Spanish priest Hugo of Santalla. It was this translation that was included in Crysogonus Polydorus´s book De Alchemia, which was printed in Nuremberg in 1541 and subsequently ended up with Isaac Newton in London. Crysogonus Polydorus was a pseudonym for Andreas Osiander (1498-1552), an evangelical Lutheran theologian who popularized Copernicus’s epoch-making theories about the sun as the centre of our planetary system and later came into conflict with his brethren about Luther's doctrine of “salvation through faith alone.”

It is not particularly remarkable that a polyhistor like Andreas Osiander was interested in alchemy. He lived during an epoch that Marshall McLuhan has called the era of the Gutenberg Galaxy, when the entire world was transformed by the enormous impact of book printing. Already in 1962, McLuhan saw where humanity is heading, that the time of the Gutenberg Galaxy had already begun to be replaced by computer technology:

Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrinian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence.

During the 1450s, Johannes Gutenberg had devised a method for printing books with movable, reusable types. Between 1455 and 1458 Gutenberg printed a Latin translation of the Bible – 45 copies on parchment and 135 on paper. Accordingly, it took him three years to complete an edition of nearly 200 books, which were partly hand-coloured, the same amount of time it had previously taken to print a single book of the same size as his Bible. Soon there were printing presses in all of Europe's major cities. It was a revolution, Europe was fundamentally changed. The printed book has been called the most useful, versatile and most enduring technology in world history. What happened in the 16th century may be compared to the recent decades' electronic information explosion with its avalanche of social media, which is also the result of rampant technological innovations.

The printing press procedure was an alchemical process by which matter was miraculously transformed into a means of change of thoughts and reality. The printed book was indeed a Philosophers´ Stone. Behind each printed word were letters manufactured when a 1110o F fire had converted the exact proportions of lead, antimony and zinc into a metal type, which was placed in a wooden letter case to be loaded in a composing stick and joined with other letters in a galley placed in a forme that was placed on a flat stone. The text was coated with ink made permanent by resin and soot and spread with two pads, made of dog leather, since it has no pores. A damp piece of paper was placed on a tympan and hold in place by small pins. The impression was made with the help of a screw pressing down the forme on the paper. Printed pages were dried, tied to books and spread to readers hungry for learning and/or entertainment.

The fact that each printed word was composed of letter units joined in a mind-altering unit made several philosophers and theologians ponder about the creation of languages. An alchemist tried to break down our entire and utterly complex existence into small, individual fragments, which could then be re-joined to reshape, or recreate, existence. Similarly, linguists of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, who generally were alchemists as well, studied the smallest units of language and tried to puzzle them together in attempts to reconstruct the language through which God, or the gods, had created the universe. According to the alchemists, nature was a great melting pot, their art was about discerning its details and turning small ingredients into a refined unit.

The Bible told us that God had created everything through his words alone. The question was which language he had used. Just as the Philosophers´ Stone was assumed to have the ability to turn common metals into precious ones, God's original language could possibly transform the world, or perhaps even create something new. Was there a divine language preceding our current human tongues? The Bible told that before the humans began to build the Tower of Babel, they all spoke the same language. Could it be the same language that God spoke?

Some alchemists assumed that Hermes Trismegistus had indicated the path to a solution to the thorny issue about God’s language. In his writings the assumed Egyptian sage had explained that the “original language” had been written down in Egypt. The signs used to depict God’s words were by the Greeks called hieroglyphs, sacred engravings. According to the Bible, Moses had brought the People of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and from Mount Sinai he had brought down the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God. Could they possibly have been written with hieroglyphs? The People of Israel had been in Egypt and many of them could probably read hieroglyphs. As we have noted Hermes Trismegistus was assumed to be an incarnation of the Egyptian god Thoth, the god who created the hieroglyphs. Scribes and priests were Thoth's servants.

Unfortunately, Renaissance scholars could no longer read hieroglyphs. Some of them, such as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, were nevertheless gifted linguists. All three could read and to some extent also speak Greek, Latin and Hebrew. However, they did not assume that any of those languages could be God's language. Hermes Trismegistus/Thoth had once in the past claimed that his writings were doomed to be

entirely unclear when the Greeks eventually desire to translate our language to their own, and thus produce in writing the greatest distortion and unclarity […] The very quality of the speech and the [sound] of Egyptian words have in themselves the energy of the objects they speak of.

The German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), who worked at the Jesuits' headquarters in Rome, was fascinated by Hermes Trismegistus and his indications that hieroglyphs could mirror God’s language. To that end, Kircher learned Coptic, the language still spoken by Egyptian Christians. Through his knowledge of Coptic, Kircher then tried to interpret the hieroglyphs. Athanasius Kircher has been called a Baroque Leonardo da Vinci or Master of a Hundred Arts. He could benefit from the information his missionary brethren had gathered in different parts of the world – Latin America, Congo, India, Japan and China. He compared their stories with his reading fruits and developed a method meaning that he compared what he read and heard in order to try to build a system that could explain the structure and function of the universe – all in accordance with the Jesuit motto Ad maioren Dei gloriam, To the greater glory of God.

Athanasius Kircher failed in his interpretations of the hieroglyphs. In fact, he was wrong about most of the things he wrote about, but that doesn't hinder his writings from being both fascinating and imaginative. However, Kircher was on the right track when it came to Coptic as an important step towards the interpretation of hieroglyphs. It was first after the French Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion learned Coptic that he realized that hieroglyphs were in fact a combination of image - and phonetic writing, where most of the characters represented a consonant, or a consonant combination. Thus, in 1822 Champollion was able to find a system that solved the riddle of the hieroglyphs.

Kircher's writings constitute a confusing combination of facts and wild speculations. He was a convinced alchemist and his reading of Hermes Trismegistus writings made Athanasius fascinated by Hermes´s caduceus, the god's winged heraldic rod with its two coiled serpents. Quite correctly the Jesuit perceived the serpent rod as a fertility symbol associated with both the earth, snakes were considered to be underground creatures, and the birds in the sky. By sloughing off their skin, snakes stand for transformation and renewal, while the winged birds, like the angels, constitute a contact between earth and sky. Snakes are abundant in the Egyptian art, which Athanasius was well acquainted with. Furthermore, he observed that Moses used a rod entwined by a copper serpent to drive out poisonous reptiles that attacked the People of Israel in the wilderness. A similar rod was the symbol of the Greek god of healing, Asclepius, while Athanasius' Jesuit brethren could tell him about Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec's winged swerpent and the Indian king Ashoka's snake rod.

Athanasius Kircher was also well aware of the fact that the first conversation recorded by the Bible occurred in the Garden of Eden between Eve and the serpent, “more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.” The snake asked Eve:

Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

However, Athansius Kircher was once again mistaken. Had he studied his Bible more closely, he might have been ended up on the right track. The Bible claims that after the Deluge people settled in Shinar, where began to build a tower that would reach Heaven. At that time they all spoke the same language. To put a stop to their crazy endeavour, God made people speak in different languages and then dispersed them across the globe. In the Bible, God does not tumble the tower, since for him it was sufficient that it could not be completed due to the linguistic confusion.

 

Shinar is the Hebrew name for Mesopotamia and it probably originates in Shene Neharot, two rivers. Kircher could maybe also have been inspired by the fact that the oldest known representation of a rod entwined by two snakes was the symbol of the Sumerian god Ningishzida, ruler of trees, guardian of the gates to heaven and god of medicine. Furthermore, it could have been illuminating for Kircher to realize that the Sumerian cuneiform writing, which came into use during the latter part of the fourth millennium BC, was slightly older than the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

 

The snake obviously had some connection with knowledge. Jesuits who returned from China could tell Kircher about Fu Xi, assumed to have invented the Chinese writing characters and who had written a Serpent/Dragon Book, ”dealing with mathematics and astrology.” When they presented Athanasius Kircher with Chinese writing, as well as also a picture of Fu Xi and his twin brother Nüwa, portrayed as a pair of intertwined snakes, Kircher was convinced that Chinese writing must have a connection with the Egyptian hieroglyphs and Hermes’s serpents.

 

 

According to Kircher, since the two written languages, i.e. Coptic and Chinese, were so geographically separated this could be an indication that they actually reflected a divine and universal language. He identified at least a hundred Chinese characters as being derived from the forms of ”living snakes and dragons” taking the shape of ”the vast variety of things they signify". Fu Xi is identical to Fuxi/Fu Hsi, also known as Paoxi, who according to the legends was the author of the much-revered I Ching, the Book of Transfiguration, a title worthy of an alchemical manual.

 

 

However, Athanasius Kircher was once again mistaken. Had he studied his Bible more closely, he might have been ended up on the right track. The Bible claims that after the Deluge people settled in Shinar, where began to build a tower that would reach Heaven. At that time they all spoke the same language. To put a stop to their crazy endeavour, God made people speak in different languages and then dispersed them across the globe. In the Bible, God does not tumble the tower, since for him it was sufficient that it could not be completed due to linguistic confusion.

 

 

Shinar is the Hebrew name for Mesopotamia and it probably originates in Shene Neharot, two rivers. Kircher could maybe also have been inspired by the fact that the oldest known representation of a rod entwined by two snakes was the symbol of the Sumerian god Ningishzida, ruler of trees, guardian of the gates to Heaven and god of medicine. Furthermore, it could have been illuminating for Kircher to realize that the Sumerian cuneiform writing, which came into use during the latter part of the fourth millennium BCE, was slightly older than the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

 

 

Martin Luther also wondered if there could not be an older language than Hebrew, which he nonetheless assumed was one of the two languages God preferred to express himself with:

 

Not for nothing did God have His Scripture written down in these two languages alone: the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New in Greek. The languages, therefore, which God did not despise but chose above all others for His Word we, too, ought to honour above all others. And let us be sure of this: we shall not long preserve the Gospel without languages. Languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained. They are the case in which we carry this jewel. They are the vessel in which we hold this wine. They are the larder in which this food is stored.

 

We now know that Hebrew is akin to the Akkadian (with sub-dialects such as Babylonian and Assyrian) which after Sumerian (of unknown origin) for thousands of years was spoken in Mesopotamia, before it eventually was replaced by Aramaic, the native tongue of Jesus.

 

During the fifteenth century, the Venetian traveler Giosofat Barbaro had seen strange writings engraved on ruins around the Persian city of Shiraz and also brought with him clay tablets engraved with the wedge-shaped signs. Another Italian, Pietro Della Valle, had in 1621 brought with him to Rome a number of transcriptions of wedge-letter characters, which he had copied during a trip to Mesopotamia. Several theologians now began to speculate whether those signs could possibly have a connection with the lost “original language”, i.e. God's own speech, for they were becoming more and more convinced that the Garden of Eden must have been somewhere in Mesopotamia.

 

 

The interpretation of the cuneiform script was initiated through the efforts of two adventurers; Paolo Emilano Botta (1802-1870) and Austin Henry Layard (1817-1894). Botta was born in Italy but studied botany in Paris where he in 1826 was asked by August Nernard Duhaut-Cilly if he, as a medical doctor, was willing to sail around the earth onboard his ship Le Héros. In the mid-1829, Le Héros returned to France, after making long stopovers in California and on Hawaii. Botta had obtained a taste for adventure and after his return to France he travelled to the Middle East where he spent several years studying botany, until in 1842 he was appointed French consul in Mosul. He returned to France only to die there in 1870.

 

During his spare time in Mosul, Botta collected alabaster figurines he bought in the villages surrounding the city, or managed to dig up by himself. One day a couple of men turned up and told Botta that they knew of a place where there were sculptures several times larger than the small statuettes Botta was collecting. They took him to Korsabad, just north of Mosul, where Botta was confronted with the remains of Sargon II's palace, with its magnificent reliefs and huge sculptures. Botta wrote:

 

What can all this mean? Who built these structures? In what century did he live? To what nation did he belong? Are these walls telling me their tales of joy and woe? Is this beautiful cuneiformed character a language? I know not. I can read their glory and their victories in their figures, but their story, their age, their blood, is to me a mystery. Their remains mark the fall of a glorious and a brilliant past, but of a past known not to a living man.

 

 

Austin Layard was born in France, though he spent most of his childhood and youth in Italy. His father had been employed by the British colonial administration in Ceylon. At the age of twenty-two, Layard wanted to become an employee in the Ceylon administration as well and decided to travel there by land. However, after getting acquainted with members of the nomadic Bakhtiari tribe he spent several months wandering around with them through northwestern Persia. Layard abandoned his Ceylon plans and instead devoted himself to exploring the Middle East. He applied for a job with the British ambassador to Constantinople and after working for a couple of years in the European part of Turkey, he succeeded to convince the ambassador, Stratford Canning, to give him permits and support to investigate the Assyrian ruins that had been discovered in and around Mosul. Layard then spent several years exploring and documenting the remains of the city of Nineveh. Layard's investigations and the excellent drawings he himself and others made on site and the reconstructions they elaborated in London, were collected in a lavishly illustrated book, which became highly influential and much appreciated.

 

 

In the ruins of Nineveh, Layard had in 1849 unearthed the remains of King Sennacherib's (705-608 BCE) library containing numerous fragments of clay tablets, filled with cuneiform inscriptions. Three years later, his Assyrian-Christian co-worker (adherent to the Chaldean Catholic Church) Hormuzd Rassam found the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal's (668-627) extensive library, where a huge amont of clay tablets had been preserved, amomg them the story of Gilgamesh and the Mesopotamian Deluge.

 

 

The cruel, but at the same time intellectual, Ashurbanipal could both read and write Sumerian, by his time an already classical, extinct language, like Latin or Sanskrit are nowadays. He sent scribes and courtiers throughout his empire to collect as many texts as possible so that he, as he wrote, could ”obtain rites and enchantments that might be crucial for the preservation of my royal power.” Several scribes worked within his palace copying and in some cases even rewriting the collected texts. Large quantities of clay tablets from Nineveh's libraries were brought to the British Museum where the fragments are still sorted out and assembled. More than two thousand tablets have so far been reconstructed, but at the time Layard and Rassam brought them to London, no one could read what was written on them.

 

Seventeen-year-old Henry Rawlinson was in 1835 stationed in the city of Kermánšáh in western Iran, or Persia as it was called at the time. The British intended to counter the southern expansion of the Russian Empire and did to that end support the Persian Shahs against the Russians, among other things by training their officers. The stationing of young Rawlinson in Kermánšáh was part of that programme. However, after two years Shah Mohammad Qajar expelled the English, though they soon returned. The decision of the British Empire not to try to conquer Persia was probably due to the fact that this big nation and its relatively strong army would have been too costly to subdue. Furthermore, the British needed the Persian Empire as a buffer zone between their Indian Crown Colony and the Russian Empire, which was equally militant and expansive as the British one. Had the Brits at the time realized the future importance of the Persian oil fields, their ambitions would certainly have been different.

 

 

The village of Bīsotūn is not far from Kermánšáh and on a cliff wall just outside that village is a huge relief that the Persian Shah Dareios (522-484 BC) had ordered to commemorate events connected to his ascension to the throne of the Achaemenid Empire, the largest and most successful to that date. Dareios was a skilled administrator and under his rule the mighty empire was divided into 23 satraps, overseen by men with personal ties to the Shah. The different parts of this vast reign were connected by an efficient and well maintained road network. Most important of all these routes was the Royal Road, which stretched from Sardis (near present-day Izmir on the Turkish west coast) across Mosul and Babylon down to Susa, Dareios’s capital. In Susa, the Royal Road turned north-east in the direction of Ekbatana, former capital of the Medes, where it linked up with the legendary Silk Road.

 

It was on a rock face of the Zargos Mountains by the road between Sardis and Ekbatana that Dareio's huge relief with accompanying texts had been carved, one hundred meters up on a vertical mountainside. During Rawlinson's time in Kermánšáh it was extremely difficult to access the relief. Dareios had, after the impressive work of art had been cut, ordered the removal of the entire mountain slope in front of it. Only a twelve-inches wide ledge ran beneath the relief. Dareios had probably taken the drastic measure to remove masses of stone and gravel partly to make the engraving as visible and impressive as possible, and partly because no one would be able to hack away, damage, or change the relief. The extensive text, which encloses an image sequence depicting how Dareios punishes alleged "traitors and conspirators", is written in ancient Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian and impossible to make out from ground level.

 

 

The curious, young Henry Rawlinson could not refrain from climbing up the cliff wall and balancing on a ladder he managed to copy a large part of the ancient Persian cuneiform writing, which was inscribed at the lowest part of the relief. By comparing the cuneiform characters with the letters of a Persian king list that the historian Herodotus had written in Greek not long after Dareio's death, Rawlinson managed to decipher several of the cuneiform characters.

 

Having learned ancient Persian, Rawlinson was soon able to read the entire Persian text, though he had had to wait patiently for six more years until 1843, when after being stationed as an officer in Afghanistan, he was able to return to Bīsotūn, obtain a longer ladder and with great difficulty succeeded in copying the Alamite and Babylonian inscriptions as well. A life-threatening endeavour that could have ended very badly since the ladder slipped on the narrow cliff ledge and Rawlinson entered a free fall towards a certain death. Luckily a certain death was prevented when, as if by a miracle, he ended up on the narrow ledge and the riddle of the cuneiform could thus come closer to a solution.

 

 

When Rawlinson had returned to London he corresponded with an Irishman, Edward Hincks, and they had soon succeeded in interpreting and identifying 200 cuneiform letters from Rawlinson's copies of the now famous Behistun Inscriptions. In 1851, they met with a German - and an English linguist who had applied Hincks and Rawlinson's cuneiform keys to clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform texts written in Elamite and Babylonian. Shortly thereafter, the four researchers declared that the riddle of cuneiform writing finally had been solved.

 

Now Layard and Rassam could begin to piece together the clay tablet fragments they had brought with them to the British Museum. Soon they obtained help from even more skilful and patient cuneiform experts. Foremost among them was George Smith, who in 1872, with rising wonder on a pieced together clay tablet read the text I cited as an introduction to this essay. Deeply fascinated, Smith continued reading and discovered that he had found a long, and largely coherent text telling how a certain Uta-napishti by the god Ea had been commissioned to build a gigantic boat to save his ”kith and kin, the beasts of the field, the creatures of the wild, and members of every skill and craft” and thus salvage them all from a Deluge through which the gods intended to kill all humanity. The similarities to the Bible's flood story and Noah's ark were evident. Smith was captivated and in his boundless enthusiasm he did not know what he was doing and cried out aloud: "I am the first to read all this after two thousand years of oblivion!" and to the great amazement of people around him, he got up from his chair and began to undress.

 

 

When Smith in front of an enthusiastic congregation in 1873 read aloud the "Babylonian Flood Myth" and declared it was just one part of a great Mesopotamian epic about an ancient hero called Gilgamesh, the general exhilaration knew no bounds. The Daily Telegraph offered British Museum the large sum of 1,000 guineas to send Smith to Mosul and resume Layard's and Rassam's excavations of the clay tablet libraries. Unfortunately, Smith was shortly after his arrival lucky enough to find yet another virtually intact clay tablet, which in even greater detail reproduced the entire Flood Myth, after this great success the expedition was immediately interrupted, before Smith had managed to find other equally intact tablets reproducing the Gilgamesh story.

 

Nineveh was for the most part located under the multi-million city of Mosul. Excavations of ancient Nineveh have mostly taken place on the hills of Koyunik and Nabi Yunis. This is where the remains of the cuneiform libraries were found. However, large parts of Nineveh are still unexplored.

 

 

When ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, conquered Mosul on July 10, 2014, a group of its warriors plunged into the city's museum where they were filmed while destroying the priceless Mesopotamian world heritage with sledge hammers and pneumatic drills. In a few hours, an almost three thousand years old and extremely rich culture was totally destroyed. If the ancient gods had existed they would undoubtedly have crushed these villains, who apart from destroying their holy effigies had murdered, executed, and taken as sex slaves those whom they referred to as ”God Deniers”. I do not understand why this kind of murderous fanatics always abide to what is evil and reprehensible within any religious doctrine. Is it general idiocy, or just inhuman insanity? Did not these brutal maniacs realize that their venerated prophet was a result of the culture they so enthusiastically crushed with their sledge hammers?

 

 

As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul.” Muhammad, the seal of the prophets, was well acquainted with the cultural environment of his time and was probably familiar with the traditions connected with Hermes Trismegistus as well. For example, the Qur'an mentions Idrīs twice as one of the Prophet's precursors:

 

Also mention in the Book the case of Idrīs: He was a man of truth [and sincerity], [and] a prophet: And We raised him to a lofty station.

 

And [remember] Isma´il, Idrīs, and Dhul-Kifl all [men] of constancy and patience;

We admitted them to Our mercy: for they were of the righteous ones.

 

Idrīs? Traditionally, he has been identified with the Bible's Enoch, who was said to have ”walked with God for three hundred years,” but it is equally likely that Idrīs is more or less identical to Hermes Trismegistus. Legends state that Idrīs was born in Babylon and was a companion to Adam's son Seth. In those days Babylon was a sinful nest and the Prophet Idrīs brought with him the righteous Babylonians to Egypt. Standing on the banks of the Nile, Idrīs raised his hands and paid homage to Allah with the word Subhanallah, Glory to Allah. Commentators of the Quran attributed Idrī's with ”great wisdom and great knowledge.” Several traditions consider him to be the inventor of writing and that he was the ”first to observe the orbits of the stars and determine the proper value of weights and measures.” This has made several Muslim theologians and writers to identify Idrīs with Hermes Trismegistus and the Egyptian Thoth, a tradition which apparently was particularly common among the Sabians of southern Arabia. Muhammad obviously did not regard them as Muslim believers, but nevertheless accepted their beliefs and in three places the Qur´an states that the Sabians have nothing to fear on the Judgement Day:

 

Indeed, the believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabians—whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day and does good will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.

 

 

Now, let us leave Hermes Trismegistus and alchemy aside and devote ourselves to Gilgamesh. We find us around 2,800 BCE in the southern part of Mesopotamia. A flat and warm landscape with swamps and plains, very fertile if drained and irrigated by canals and ponds, but apart from date palms virtually without timber, metals were also lacking and had to be imported. Most of the inhabitants were farmers who lived in fortified cities. Out of reach from the irrigation systems, the fertile fields were replaced by a more hostile terrain where herds of sheep and goats were grazing. Their shepherds had constantly be on the watch out for wolves and other predators. Further afield, there was a vast wilderness. There, the few inhabitants were not organized within any fortified cities and villages, but sustained themselves with hunting and fishing, or as bandits. Several day trips to the north and the west there were uninhabited mountain regions and forests with huge cedar trees. Most impressive of them all was the sacred Cedar Forest where some claimed the gods had their abode. It was guarded by the monstrous Humbaba, protected by seven deadly auras.

 

For there it was not only a concrete landscape that surrounded the Mesopotamians. They also lived within a mythical sphere where the distant Father of All Gods, God of the Sky, Anu, in solitary majesty resided in his heavenly palace, far above his mighty kingdom. The god of winds, Enlil, was on the other hand constantly present in the space between earth and heaven, and also within temples erected by his fearful believers. The wise and thoughtful Ea lived in his freshwater daomain beneath the earth's surface. Ea usually acted as a friend and protector of the human race, but could nevertheless turn into a fearsome creature. Most of the gods were unpredictable. They could at times prove to be benevolent, but just as often cruel and ruthless. Enlil's majestic son, Sîn, the Moon God, whose son Shamash, the Sun, was the companion of lonely wanderers but nevertheless he did also have his wicked traits. Shamash's impulsive sister Inanna (Ishtar), was the goddess of war and love. Beneath Ea's watery domain, deep down in the Netherworld was Death's bleak kingdom ruled by the bitter Ereshkigal, who was Shamash's sister as well. There she lay stretched out in perpetual wailing, waited upon by her minister, the eerie Namtar, and other demons of her awe-inspiring household.

 

 

Like in so many other places in the world the concrete landscape of Mesopotamia was covered by a mental one and it is there the stories about Gilgamesh are played out. Myths and legends, just like our own lives and thoughts, are not one-sidedly simple, but multi-faceted. They include concepts and imaginations that have developed over time and space and can thus be interpreted and understood at different levels. One approach need not exclude another.

 

For example, the strange stories about the adventures of the god Ea. His sexual exploits with young virgins and mature matrons may be amusing, or disturbing, fairy tales, though at the same time they may also be metaphorical descriptions of intricate irrigation systems, seasonal change, precipitation, the flow of rivers, the fertile power of springs and groundwater, ebb and flood, drought and inundations. Likewise, Inanna's love for the young and sadly deceased shepherd Dumuzi (Tammuz) may be considered as a moving story of love and passion, betrayal and death, though at the same time it is a depiction of nature's death and resurrection, fertility, capricious passions, sorrow, life and death, and much more. Not the least may the intricate story even constitute a detailed, allegorical description of how to make milk, cream and butter. ”As above, so below.”

 

 

The Gilgamesh epic is the world's oldest, preserved literary work and our second oldest religious text, after the Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Gilgamesh's literary history begins with five poems about Bilgamesh, King of Uruk. Texts that originated during the third dynasty of the city of Uruk (c. 2100 BCE. Stories that more than a thousand years later were used as part of the source material for an epic written in Akkadian in Babylon. Author was a scribe named Sîn-liqe-unninni and his epic has now been traced to 73 ”manuscripts”, i.e. collections of clay tablets, 35 of which were found in the remains of Ashurbanipal's library in Nineveh.

 

There is still no intact version of Sîn-liqe-unninni's ”manuscript” called Sha naqba īmuru, He Who Saw the Abyss. All versions are composed of assembled clay tablet fragments. It is estimated that one third of the text is missing. Most Assyriologists agree that the missing fragments are to be found somewhere among the large amount of clay tablets stored in museum magazines around the world. It will take a long time before we have the entire Sha naqba īmuru. The Assyriologists who systematically and patiently work their way through piles of broken clay tablets are a dedicated, but very small group of people.

 

 

Let us now travel more than four thousand years back in time and meet people who lived in the mythical, Mesopotamian world.

 

He who saw the Deep, the country´s foundations.

He came a far road, was weary, found peace.

and set all his labours on a tablet of stone.

He built the rampart of Uruk-the-Sheepfold,

of holy Eanna [Temple of Ishtar], the sacred storehouse.

 

See, its wall like a strand of wool,

view its parapet that none could copy!

Take the stairway of a bygone era,

draw near to Eanna, seat of Ishtar, the godess,

that no later king could ever copy!

 

See the tablet-box of cedar,

release its clasp of bronze!

Lift the lid of its secret,

pick uop the tablet of lapis lazuli and read out,

the travails of Giglamesh, all that he went through.

 

Gilgamesh was a lugal, an autocratic ruler of Uruk and thus in possession of a complete power over his subjects. Blinded by boundless authoritarianism he forced his underlings to perform exaggerated day labour while he had sex with the wives of his worn-out workers. Becoming desperate by their ruler's abuse of power the people of Uruk prayed to the Ruler of Heaven – Anu: "a savage bull you have bred in Uruk-the-Sheepfold, he has no equal when his weapons are brandished.” Gilgamesh was a ruthless tyrant whom no one was safe from, neither virgins nor young men. Through his strength and superior skills, Gilgamesh humiliated and oppressed everyone. He thought himself to be unique, invulnerable and sovereign. The people asked Anu to create someone who was equally strong and powerful as Gilgamesh. Someone who could vanquish him and make him human and empathetic.

 

 

Now the myth comes to reflect the contradiction between what the Greeks called physis, nature and nomos, law/tradition, and perhaps also what the ancient Romans called cultura, i.e. culture. In ancient Mesopotamia there was a boundary between fertile plains and the wastelands; densely populated, walled cities and sparsely inhabited wilderness. A contrast that is often personified in the Bible; Abel and Cain, Jacob and Esau, or John the Baptist. About Adam and Eve's sons it is said that "Abel became a herder of sheep while Cain was a tiller of the soil", and ”Cain said to Abel his brother, ´Let us go out to the field,´ and when they were in the field Cain rose against Abel his brother and killed him.” Isaac had two sons, one

 

was red-haired, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau [Īsaw, hairy/rough] The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

 

Jacob deceived his brother and took his power away from him. About John the Baptist the Bible says:

 

A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. [He said] the ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

 

In Gilgamesh, Enkidu emerges, an individual who united the qualities that the biblical figures above seem to imply. Like Abel, he was not a farmer, but lived outside the cultivated sphere. The peasant Cain regarded Abel as a threat and killed him. Like Esau, Enkidu was shaggy and spent his time in the wilderness, an innocent creature who had no idea about the falsehood of settled and cultivated humans. Like John the Baptist, Enkidu was also a prophet who came from the wilderness and brought change to the ”civilized world”.

 

 

By bringing the savage Enkidu into Gilgamesh's ”cultured” existence the autocrat changed and became a better person. However, to achieve that Enkidu also had be changed, the wild man had to be civilized. It was a woman who defeated him. A woman who represents home, motherhood, security and desire. It was she who through her love for Enkidu, combined with her alluring sensuality, managed to curb the savage’s wildness and through his sexual desires succeeded, at least to some extent, to enslave him. A hunter had got annoyed by Enkidu´s presence:

 

Coated in hair like the god of animals,

with the gazelles he grazes on grasses,

joining the throng with the game by the water-hole,

his heart delighting with the beasts in the water.

 

But not only did Enkidu behave like a wild animal, he also protected the wildlife by destroying the hunter's traps and refilling his pitfalls. The frustrated hunter went to Uruk to seek the advice of the dreaded Gilgamesh, who despite his brutal reign was regarded as a wise man. Gilgamesh advised the hunter to go to Ishtar's temple and from there bring with him a temple prostitute out into the wilderness. If Enkidu fell victim to a woman's attraction, the animals would turn away from him. They would come to realize that he was a human being after all. 

 

The hunter brought the beautiful woman to the water hole where Enkidu used to hang out and explained to her:

 

This is he, Shamhat! Uncradle your bosom,

bare your sex, let him take in your charms!

Do not recoil, but take in his scent:

He will see you, and he will approach you.

 

Spread your clothing so he may lay on you,

do for the man the work of a woman!

Let his passion caress and embrace you,

his herd will spurn him, though he grew up amongst it.

 

For six days Enkidu stayed with Shamhat, but when he had become “fully saturated” he wanted to return to his wild life, though to his great dismay he found that his friends the gazelles fled from him and the lions roared when he approached them. Enkidu also felt that his stamina had deteriorated and that he had begun to think differently from what he had done before. After some time in the wilderness, Enkidu felt alone and abandoned, gave up and returned to Shamhat, who knew how to take care of him.

 

Shamhat let a barber shave Enkidu's body, lubricated it with fragrant oils, and cut his hair and beard. She dressed the former savage in beautiful clothes. Enkidu, who neither had tasted bread nor drank any beer, ate and drank with relish. After seven cups filled to the brim, he felt comfortable and began to sing. After a while, Enkidu realized that he was stronger and bolder than any other man, while he at the same time understood that he would never be like the animals again. Instead of protecting them from the hunters, he now defended the herdsmen and their sheep from the predators, killing wolves and lions.

 

 

Enkidu now identified himself with the humans and just as he previously had been the friend and protector of the animals, he now became upset by injustices affecting the weak and the poor. When Shamhat told him that Gilgamesh relished the jus primae noctis, the right of the first night, which meant that he allowed himself to make love to the bride before the groom, Enkidu became violently upset and went to Uruk to make a halt to the dictator's sexual abuse.

 

Coming to Uruk, Enkidu witnessed a wedding procession and how Gilgamesh brutally snatched the bride away from her groom and forcibly brought her to the “wedding house”. The enraged Enkidu placed himself in the doorway and when Gilgamesh tried to push him aside the huge, former savage threw himself upon the king and a violent fight ensued. Finally, Enkidu got Gilgamesh down upon his knees and the defeated dictator saw no other resort than to extend his hand to Enkidu. The triumphant Enkidu magnanimously embraced the humiliated king. Gilgamesh became transformed. He had found his pal, a young strong man who, just like him, was brave and clever. Neither Enkidu nor Gilgamesh were alone anymore – Enkidu as a stranger and Gilgamesh as ruler. They were now a couple, a team.

 

 

Gilgamesh had come to power when he was far too young and accordingly suffered from a severe Peter Pan complex. In Enkidu, he thought he had found the perfect companion. Not long after they had become the best of friends, he suggested that he and Enkidu would embark on a great adventure. They would head to the Cedar Forest, a vast woodland that was also called The Place of the Living, maybe because it was assumed that gods dwelt there. However, Enkidu knew better - the forest was up in Kur, the land of the mountains, though Kur was also the name of the Netherworld, the Kingdom of Death, from which no one could return alive. Enkidu had also, like the natural child he was, met with the monstrous guardian of the Cedar Forest, the horrifying Humbaba, Enil's servant. Enlil, the storm god who hated humans.

 

To Gilgamesh, the entire endeavour appeared as a brilliant adventure, a youthful defiance of the gods. With the strong, confident child of nature, the mighty Enkidu by his side Gilgamesh felt invincible. Furthermore, if he could bring the cedars down to Uruk it would be a means to win Uruk's residents' favour and appreciation. He presented his plans to the Council of the Elders and explained that if he and Enkidu could vanquish the forest demon Humbaba, chop down the valuable cedar trees and bring their timber down to Uruk, built only by bricks, then their brave enterprise would make Uruk more beautiful and powerful than any other city on the face of the earth. Despite some doubt, Gilgamesh finally won the Council's trust and consent, perhaps the old men felt reassured that Gilgamesh’s and Enkidu’s departure would mean a respite from the violent and powerful youngsters. If they were to die in their battle against Humbaba, it would actually not be a great loss. If, on the other hand, they were to succeed with their reckless mission, the huge cedar trees would be an excellent addition to Uruk's economy and prestige. Gilgamesh was overjoyed at the support he found, but as he enthusiastically prepared for the adventure, he found that his friend Enkidu was unusually gloomy. Why did Enkidu hesitate to embark on such a great adventure and the possibility of ridding the world from the despicable monster like Humbaba:

 

I will conquer him in the Forest of the Cedar

let the land learn that Uruk´s offshoot is mighty

Let me start out, I will cut down the cedar

I will establish forever a name eternal.

 

 

Enkidu considered the endeavour in completely different light. To him it was an unforgivable assault on nature, a childlike defiance of the divine powers, a disdain for everything that he once been a part of. At the same time, Enkidu did understand that there was no turning back from the path he had taken after losing his virginity to the harlot Shamhat and after Gilgamesh had become his best friend. Enkidu knew he could not possibly convince a gung-ho adventurer like Gilgamesh, though he nevertheless tried to make his friend realize the great dangers lying in store. The young, passionate Gilgamesh could not understand who, or what, Humbaba really was, a force of nature protected by seven divine ”auras”. Enkidu had met him, he knew the monster:

 

This Humbaba, his voice is the Deluge,

his speech is fire, his breath is death!

He hears the forest murmur at sixty leagues´ distance:

who is there who would venture into his forest?

Adad [the Hurricane] ranks first, and Humbaba is second.

 

 

However, Enkidu could not endure his friend's mockery while he stated that Enidu spoke like a spineless tenderfoot. Where did this miserable fear come from? Enkidu's great courage had been tested in battle. Any man fled in panic from this savage's unchecked anger. He could with his bare hands strangle a fierce lion. Why did a giant like Enkidu tremble at the mere thought of Humbaba? The only thing a man could do during his short lifespan was to try to make a name for himself. ”As for man, his days are numbered, whatever he may do, it is but wind,” it is only through superhuman accomplishments your name can live on.

 

 

Enkidu gave in and as when he left the forest he knew now that there was no return, he had to follow the commenced path to the bitter end, accept his destiny and fight against everything he once had belonged to. Enkidu was no longer a child of nature, now he was a civilized man. Nothing could be as it had been. You cannot twice descend into the same river. On the way to his meeting with Humbaba, Gilgamesh was haunted by terrifying dreams that warned about impending disasters. The closer they came to the Cedar Forest, the more Gilgamesh doubted the soundness of his whim. Instead, it was now Enkidu who urged him on.

 

 

As they faced the mighty Cedar Forest and then stepped in under its impressive canopies they knew they were on sacred ground and shuddered at the thought that they were going to defile it. Gilgamesh was overwhelmed by the forest’s vastness and beauty. They did also in the depths of the woodland come across paths broken up by Humbaba when he did his rounds, watching for intruders. The mighty macho Gilgamesh now hesitated even more and cursed his mindless daring. It was Enkidu who had become the driving force and who pointed out which trees Gilgamesh should cut down, soon the forest echoed from the axe blows and the cedar giants´ crushing to the ground.

 

 

Suddenly the trees trembled and the earth shook as the approaching Humbaba's auras of ice, fire and winds swept through the forest. Soon the monster revealed himself and let his fiery anger wash over the traitor Enkidu:

 

 

Come, Enkidu you spawn of a fish, who knew no father

hatchling of terrapin and turtle, who sucked no mother´s milk!

In your youth I watched you, but near you I went not,

would your poor flesh have filled my belly?

 

Now in treachery you bring before me Gilgamesh,

and stand there, Enkidu, like a warlike stranger!

I will slit the throat and gullet of Gilgamesh,

I will feed his flesh to the locust bird, ravening eagle and vulture!

 

 

The enraged and wounded Enkidu incited Gilgamesh to attack Humbaba and the young hero from Uruk cut off the monster's head, while Enkidu ripped out its lungs. Humbaba's auras swept through the air, while their radiation diminished, faded away and died.

 

 

Gilgamesh and Enkidu returned to Uruk bringing with them Humbaba's head in triumph. When the Cedar Forest had lost its guardian, the gods could no longer do anything to protect their sacred forest and huge quantities of priceless timber were dragged and shipped down to Uruk.

 

 

Ishtar, the capricious war- and love goddess, became captivated by the powerful and god defying Gilgamesh and could not abstain from making amorous approaches. Like so many other deities, Ishtar thought it was significantly more attractive and satisfying to seek lovers among mortal men and women than among other gods. Gilgamesh, who after spurning the gods and defeating Humbaba, felt invulnerable and thus had the audacity to repudiate the mighty and indescribably beautiful Ishtar. It had never happened to her before and in addition Gilgamesh had had the impudence to mock the goddess for her pathetic horniness and the perfidious love she had feigned while luring mortal men into her yarn, a passion that always ended badly for the lovestruck men, who had been turned into hapless prey or deplorable wretches, if they did not suffer horrific, and humiliating deaths. No, a hero like Gilgamesh would never fall for Ishtar's seductive love games.

 

He feared neither gods nor humans and beasts. The enraged and scorned Ishtar went to her father Anu, mighty ruler of heaven and earth and pleaded with him to let loose the dreaded Celestial Bull so it could gore and trample Gilgamesh and Enkidu to death. After Ishtar had threatened to ”let Death swallow up everything alive” Anu reluctantly released the raging bull.

 

 

But, like a couple of seasoned butchers, Gilgamesh and Enkidu were prepared for the Celestial Bull’s attack. Gilgamesh stuck his knife straight into the "slaughter point" between the bull’s horns, while Enkidu got it down on the ground by twisting its tail and putting one foot on its back.

 

 

An old cowboy trick that made me remember the two buddies Augustus ”Gus” McCrae and Woodrow F. Call, who in a TV series based on Larry McMurty's wild-west novel Lonesome Dove were played by Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. They joined forces in a quite insane adventure involving the drive of a huge, mainly stolen, cattle herd from Texas to Montana. Gus was the stronger and bolder of the two, while Woodrow was more reserved and thoughtful. Gus was romantically inclined with an eye for beautiful women, whores as he called them. However, Gus treated ”his” women relatively well and admired them to some extent, though he refused to be sincerely engages in a relationship, constantly driven by his longing for the free life in the wilderness. Gus died when his legs were amputated and he was deeply mourned by Woodrow. Gus’s and Woodrow's friendship was like Enkidu´s and Gilgamesh´s – two self-indulgent men with opposite personalities, rivals in a constant battle with each other, yet united in joint, ”masculine” and daring adventures and a camaraderie that continued beyond the other's death.

 

 

After killing the Celestial Bull, Enkidu suffered from a deep depression. He felt that he had betrayed nature, the wild beasts and the gods by being instrumental in ravishing the sacred Cedar Forest and assissting in the killing of violent and primeval natural forces like Humbaba and the Celestial Bull. During nights, he walked down to the huge temple gates made from the Cedar Forest's mightiest tree. He leaned his head against the timber and complained loudly to the silent door ”as if it were a living man”:

 

Your tree had no rival in the Cedar Forest:

six rods is your height, two rods your breadth, one cubit your thickness.

Your pivots, top and bottom, are all of a piece;

I fashioned you, I lifted you, I hung you in Nippur [the site for Enlil´s temple].

 

 

Enkidu went to bed and did not rise again, complaining about the hunter who denied him his freedom and Shamhat who seduced him and brought him to Gilgamesh; it was through them he became excluded from his free life as part of nature, a traitor to his origins. Nature´s enemy and destroyer. Enkidu waisted away and died. Gilgamesh was inconsolable, left his palace, Uruk, his men and women. Gilgamesh forgot about his appearance, let his hair and beard grow long and unkempt, dressed in animal skins, and roamed the wilderness, not as a child of nature like Enkidu, but as a mad beast, a killer, and destroyer.

 

 

Shamash, the sun god, companion of solitary wanderers, who occasionally could be overwhelmed by compassion, saw Gilgamesh´s mindless rambling and cruelty:

 

Shamash grew worried and bending down

he spoke to Gilgamesh:

O, Gilgamesh, where are you wandering:

The life you seek, you never will find.”

 

Shamash had understood Gilgamesh's problem. Like so many other immature youngsters before him, Gilgamesh was not able to understand that death was definitive and a part of human existence. That his friend Enkidu was gone forever and that he himself would eventually die. But, Shamash's revelation gave Gilgamesh an idea. He knew that the Sun God every night travelled through a long tunnel and then went to rest on the other side of the Eastern Ocean. There lived Gilgamesh's ancestor Uta-napishti, who with his ship had escaped the Deluge that killed all the animals and humans who had not found a refuge on his boat. The idea gave Gilgamesh a goal, he would go to Uta-napisthi and through him find the secret of life.

 

 

Between Mount Mashu's twin peaks was the Sun's tunnel, its gates were opened and closed by two Scorpion Men

 

whose terror was dread whose glance was death

whose radiance was fearful, overwhelming the mountains -

at sunrise and sunset they guarded the sun

 

Their looks were so abominable that Gilgamesh initially hid his face while he approached them, but when he took his shielding hand away and boldly looked the hideous monsters straight into their eyes, they became surprised by his bravery and allowed him to enter the pitch black tunnel.

 

Then Gilgamesh rushed hour after hour through the compact darkness, worried about not being able to get out before the sun entered, and through his concentrated heat would burn him to ashes.

 

 

After a night of a blind race against an invisible sun Gilgamesh, just before dawn, reached a paradisical garden, though he did not indulge himself in any rest but hurried on toward his goal. Soon he was standing on the beach looking out across the Eastern Ocean, which no mortal, except Uta-napishti and his wife, previously had set his/her eyes upon.

 

Now follows a strange episode. On the shore by the End of the World was a tavern – who could possibly visit such an establishment? People couldn't get there and why would a god frequent such a place? I wonder if Douglas Adams had had Gilgamesh in mind when he placed a restaurant by the end of the universe in his The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. However, that place was much livelier than the joint in Gilgamesh, where we find only the proprietor, a woman whose age we are not told, but I suspect she was young.

 

 

Neither does the story tell us who she was, or what her name was, nor did any of the books I read to write this essay. Nevertheless, I assume she was identical to Ishtar. She was certainly a mighty goddess of love and war, though she could nevertheless manifest herself as a simple prostitute, not only someone who lived in the temples, but one who frequented the simple taverns that farmworkers visited while returning from their daily chores.

 

 

When the tavern hostess saw the unkempt stranger, who with a ragged beard and ferocious appearance was approaching her establishment, she locked the door, leapt up to its flat roof and from there called down inquiring who the stranger was. Gilgamesh told her that he was king of Uruk mourning his friend Enkidu and that he himself was afraid of death. The innkeeper then let the haggard and tormented fellow enter her tavern. Ishtar knew quite well that he was the same one who had betrayed her love, killed the Celestial Bull and a multitude of lions, animals that were devoted to her. Still, if she now really was Ishtar, she did not seem to be angry with the downtrodden, pathetic Gilgamesh. She offered him beer and food while advising him:

 

The life you seek you never will find

when the gods created mankind

death was dispensed to mankind,

life they kept for themselves.

 

But, you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full,

enjoy yourself always by day and by night!

Make merry each day,

dance and play days and night!

Let your clothes be clean'

let your head be washed, may you bath in water!

Gaze on the child who holds your hand,

let your wife enjoy your repeated embrace!

 

For such is the destiny of mortal men.

 

 

It was the privileged existence of a wealthy aristocrat that Ishtar described. A civilized, well-groomed man, not a savage. A gentleman capable of enjoying what he had accomplished. Why, then would Gilgamesh, in maddened sadness and despair chase after wind? Every man would die. However, Gilgamesh insisted with his wild goose chase and the wise Ishtar realized that only experience would change Gilgamesh. She told him that Shamash's ferryman Ur-shanabi could take him across the Eastern Ocean. If Gilgamesh could pass across The Sea of Death, which mighty currents pierced through the middle of the Eastern Ocean, then he could on its other shore meet with Uta-napishti and his wife, though he would never be deemed worthy of an eternal life.

 

Frustrated and disappointed, Gilgamesh walked down to the ocean shore. Imprisoned by his boundless annoyance he managed to kill the Stone Men he met on the beach, irritated by their silence and what he perceived as their refusal to take him across the sea. However, the slain Stone Men turned out to be Ur-shanabi's crew and Gilgamesh therefore had to, with great difficulty, punt Ur-shanabi's boat across the ocean, making use of three hundred, twenty-five metres long punting poles, which he lost one one after the other.

 

 

After reaching the other shore of the Eatern Ocean, Gilgamesh was welcomed by Uta-napishti, who told him the flood story that made George Smith to take off his clothes at the British Museum. That Uta-napishti was granted eternal life by the gods was due to them being grateful to him for their own survival. The thing was that when the gods unanimously had decided to exterminate humanity through the Deluge, the wise freshwater god Ea, the creator of human beings, secretly opposed their decision and contacted Uta-napishti who built his vast ark to rescue the animals, the seed and human craftsmanship from a sure extinction.

 

 

When the gods after the devastation had found that they actually had destroyed life on earth, they realized that they had to work hard for their own survival, if that actually could be done now when they so thoughtlessly had destroyed the prerequisites for a good, leisurly life. When Uta-napishti, after his successful rescue were sacrificing meat and fruits to the gods as an act of thankfulness for his rescue and the kindness they had shown him, the gods flocked to the sacrificial meal:

 

The gods did smell the savour.

The gods did smell the savour sweet.

The gods gathered like flies around the man making sacrifice.

 

The gods thanked Ea for his resourcefulness and were delighted that Uta-napishti, his fellow hiuman beings, the animlas and the seed had all survived and could recreate the wealth that previously had prevailedon earth. They decided to continue to preserve humanity, but in order to limit its numbers they decreed that women from now on had give birth to their children in pain and hardship and that all humans, if they did not die in battle, hardship, or sickness, would die from old age – with two exceptions, namely Uta-napishti and his wife, who were rewarded with eternal life.

 

Uta-napishti assured Gilgamesh that no man except himself and his wife could escape death. To alleviate Gilgamesh's horror of death, Uta-napishti immersed him in deep sleep, thereby proving that death itself is not painful – it just equals forgetfulness and emptiness, nothing else. A sleep you don't wake up from. It is life that counts, the memories you leave behind, and even they disappear over time.

 

Uta-napishti assured Gilgamesh that the purpose of his existence was to serve others through his leadership. Was Gilgamesh born and raised to become a brutal savage? No, he was a leader and a man of action. If he who now denied that role he would surely become a nullity, his death would be like a gust of wind in the desert. After Gilgamesh, through hard work and intimate conversations, had convinced Uta-napishti of his prowess and together with the ferryman Ur-shanabi was about to return to Uruk, Uta-napishti's wife said to his husband that he would leave a bad impression if he was to be remembered as someone who did not give their guest a farewell gift. Uta-napishti then told Gilgamesh of a place in the depths of the Ocean where a spiny plant grew, looking like a mixture of box-thorn and dogrose. If Gilgamesh cooked and ate it, he would become like he was in his youth and remain like that until his death.

 

 

The information enlivened Gilgamesh, although he was now absolutely convinced that death was inevitable, though a long life as a powerful and youthful man was certainly something to desire. When they had come out upon the open sea he wondered if the ferryman knew where the youth's plant was growing. Sure, Ur-shanabi knew that, but how would Gilgamesh be able to get hold of it? When they reach the spot where the plant grew, Gilgamesh let himself be lowered down into the sea with heavy stones tied to his feet. He managed to hold his breath for as long that he could pick one of the prickly plants and in joyous triumph he freed himself from the stone weights and swam up towards the sun-glittering surface.

 

 

However, during the journey Gilgamesh did not find an opportunity to cook and eat the prickly plant and had to wait until they arrived at Uruk. During one of the nightly sojourns when Gilgamesh had fallen asleep on the shore of an island, a snake came out of the sea and stole the precious Plant of Youth. When Gilgamesh woke up he was horrified by the theft, though he soon calmed himself down and smiled at the thought that he was on his way back to his former life, to his wife and children, and to the city he ruled over, which he had provided with such magnificent buildings. What was eternal youth compared to such achievements and the joy to know that you can love and be loved back?

 

 

As they along the wide river were approaching Uruk and caught sight of its sunlit, mighty walls, Gilgamesh exclaimed:

 

O, Ur-shanabi, climb Uruk´s wall, and walk back and forth!

Survey its foundation, examine its brickwork!

Were its bricks not fired in an oven?

Did the Seven Sages not lay its foundations?

 

 

Thus ends the epic about Gilgamesh, just as it began – with a tribute to Uruk and its mighty walls. A depiction of civilization's victory over nature – Uruk with its date plantations, brick ovens, walls and magnificent temple dedicated to Ishtar, goddess of love and war. However, as we have seen in the epic, civilization had been created at the expense of nature and it could not have existed without parts of nature being defiled and killed, as Enkidu was vanquished and died in agony, as the natural forces of Humbaba and the Celestial Bull were killed, as the mighty, sacred Cedar Forest were cut down and destroyed. In the epic of Gilgamesh death is constantly present, in symbiosis with life and creation, and it is always victorious.

 

I give the last word to the remarkable poet from Prague, Rainer Maria Rilke. He was a romantic and a dreamer and far from being a diligent reader of classics. Rilke willingly admitted that he just had read bits and pieces from Hamlet and Dante's Divine Comedy and not a line from Goethe's Faust. During the mass slaughter and general despair during World War I, Rilke was completely taken by Gilgamesh. In 1916, after reading a rather deficient translation of Gilgamesh, he wrote to a female friend:

 

Here we find a gigantic book in which there exists a force, as well as individuals I found to be among the greatest that the magic words have ever bestowed upon every imaginable age. Most of all, I would like to tell you that here we find an epic about fear of death, which in all human thought has emerged as an incomprehensible concept, unthinkable since the fact that a separation between death and life would be definite and catastrophic.

 

 

Chambers, John (2018) The Metaphysiclal World of Isaac Newton: Alchemy, Prophecy and the Search for Lost Knowledge. New York: Simon and Schuster. Ebeling, Florian (2007) The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus from Ancient to Modern Times. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press. George, Andrew (2003) The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other texts in Akkadian and Sumerian, translated with an introduction by Andrew George. London: Penguin Classics. Glassie, John (2012) A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change. New York: Riverhead. Jacobsen, Thorkild (1976) The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press. Kirk, Geoffrey S. (1970) Myth: Its Meaning & Function in Ancient & Other Cultures. London: Cambridge University Press. Lloyd, Seton (1980) Foundations in the dust: The story of Mesopotamian exploration. London: Thames and Hudson. McLuhan, Marshall (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of typographic man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Moran, William L. (1980) ”Rilke and the Gilgamesh Epic,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies Vol. 32, no. 4. Sandars, Nancy K. (1972) The Epic of Gilgamesh. English Version with an Introduction by N.K. Sandars. London: Penguin Classics. Thompson Craig (2011) Habibi. New York: Pantheon.

 

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The sign of such a total secret often consisted of holding a finger in front of the mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

04/21/2020 14:12

Vid den första glimten av en ljusnande gryning

steg ur horisonten ett nattsvart moln.

Stormguden gled stilla över himlavalvet,

allt ljus mörknade.

Så angreps jorden som av en rasande tjur,

den krossades i bitar, som vore den ett lerkärl.

 

Orkanvindar ödelade landet,

våldsamt svepte de fram. Sedan kom stormfloden,

i ett våldsamt blodbad dränktes mänskligheten.

En människa kunde inte se någon annan.

I förödelsen blev ingen igenkänd.

 

Likt en kvinna i födslovåndor jämrade sig gudinnan,

Belet-ili kved, hon vars röst annars är så mild:

Det var jag som födde dem, dessa människor är mina!

Nu fyller de havet som fisk.”

 

 

I begynnelsen hade enbart gudar befolkat jorden, men likt människorna var även de tvungna att så och skörda, att nyttja markens grödor för sitt uppehälle. Det var slitsamt. De gudar som skötte jorden beklagade sig och till slut ville de inte längre arbeta. Gudaförsamlingen beslöt att skapa sig tjänare som kunde slava för dem. Sötvattnets gud, Ea, tillverkade tillsammans med modersgudinnan Belet-ili, en tänkande varelse. Belet-ili formade människan av lera och genom blod från en offrad gud gav Ea henne liv. 

 

 

Dessvärre var den offrade Kingu inte någon perfekt varelse. En drakgud, liksom sin mor saltvattensmonstret Tiamat, som för övrigt var alla gudars urmoder. Kingu hade varit Tiamats vesir och krigsherre, men hans namn betyder ”okunnig arbetare” och han hade varit begåvad med en bångstyrig och våldsam karaktär.

 

 

Människorna odlade nu marken, vårdade och slaktade boskapen. De gjorde allt sådant som gynnade gudarna. Men Kingus blod flöt i deras ådror, därmed var de inte helt lätthanterliga. Likt gudar åldrades de inte och kunde därmed inte dö av ålderdom. Den lättirriterade stormguden Enlil besvärades av de odrägliga och alltför högljudda människohoparna, som dessvärre även fortplantade sig alltför snabbt. Tre gånger hade Enlil decimerat deras antal – först genom pest, sedan genom torka och missväxt och slutligen med hjälp av svält. Till skillnad från de flesta av sina gudakollegor var Enlil en aktiv varelse, ständigt i rörelse. Han hade inget emot hårt arbete och tyckte därmed att människor var fullkomligt onödiga skapelser. Mer till besvär än nytta. Det var Enlil som lyckats övertala gudarna att utplåna mänskligheten genom den Syndaflod jag inledde min betraktelse med.

 

 

Egentligen var det enbart människornas skapare Ea och Belet-ili som hyste några varmare känslor för dem. För övriga gudar var deras enda funktion att hålla dem vid liv genom offer och visa dem vödnad genom sin dyrkan. Om människokrypen tog sig ton och försökte opponera sig mot gudarna, eller inte skötte sina plikter, kunde de stampa ihjäl dem som om de vore en hord myror.

 

En del gudar roade sig med människorna, men deras känslor för dem var inte mycket varmare än de ett barn hyser för sina dockor. Kanske som den gamle guden i Bo Bergman´s dikt Marionetterna tröttnade gudarna emellanåt på att leka med människokrypen:

 

Du åldrige herre i himlens sal

när skall du tröttna omsider?

Se dansen på dockornas karnaval

är lik sig i alla tider.

Ett ryck på tråden – och allting tar slut

och människosläktet får sova ut,

och sorgen och ondskan vila sig båda

i din stora leksakslåda.

 

 

Människor som gudarnas leksaker? Omkring 8 000 år f.Kr. började folk vid Eufrat och Tigris bosätta sig i byar och med hjälp av kanalsystem och hackor odlade de tillsammans fälten de omgav sig med. Femtusen år tidigare hade de börjat föda upp får och getter. Tretusen år senare hade de även börjat tämja tjurar och kor, samt föda upp grisar.

 

Varje bonde vet att hur väl organiserad hans verksamhet än är. Hur mycket han än kan räkna med hjälp från sina grannar och överordnade. Hur mycket han än lyckas tämja djur och mark, med hjälp av förädlat utsäde, plogar och bevattningssystem, så är han likväl utsatt för vädergudarnas godtycke; sol, regn, vind, vatten och torka. När som helst kan han och hans familj drabbas av sjukdom, pest, krig, översvämningar och missväxt. Hur skulle han, hans familj och grannar kunna behaga makterna/gudarna? Få dem välvilligt inställda och inte ständigt hota deras existens?

 

Bönder söker sin tillflykt i ordning, i upprepande. De följer stigar som trampats upp av deras förfäder. Sumererna hade avlat fram djur anpassade till deras behov. Växter hade förädlats, blivit apitligare, näringsrikare och fulltaligare. Genom att gemensamt disciplinera naturen genom bevattningssytem och brukningsmetoder hade tillvaron blivit mer förutsägbar.

 

Om människorna hade kunnat bevisa att de kunde sköta sig själva och jorden, om de vördade gudarna genom att visa dem att de ville att också de skulle få avnjuta ordning och trygghet, om människorna bevisade för gudarna att de önskade att de hade det så bra som möjligt, skulle de då i gengäld inte lyssna till och hjälpa människorna? Do ut des, jag ger för att du skall giva. Sumererna byggde magnifika palats åt sina gudar och tjänade deras avbilder på samma sätt som de betjänade de herrar de valt för att organisera sina samhällen – med mat (offer), tjänare, lyx och konkubiner. Gudarnas tempel blev lika de palats människorna byggde kring sina jordiska härskare. Historier spanns kring gudarna, liknande dem som berättades om kraftfulla människor och jordiska härskare.

 

 

 

Om ordning rådde på jorden, skulle den då inte bli förhärskande i himlen? Lika föder lika. Duktiga människor förtjänar en rättvis och mild behandling. Tyckte inte då gudarna att det borde vara välvilligt inställda gentemot sådana människor som skötte sig väl? ”Det som är nedan är som det som är ovan och det som är ovan är som det som är nedan”. Kanske gudarna inte finns, men likväl tycks det existera en kosmisk ordning, en naturlig balans som det kunde vara farligt att rucka på. Utnyttjar och missbrukar vi naturen uppkommer en dödlig obalans som till slut kan drabba hela mänskligheten. Kaos hotar ständigt vår bräckliga ordning, vårt kosmos. Detta skildrar en av världens äldsta berättelser – Gilgamesh, men innan jag för er dit låt mig undersöka frasen ”såsom nedan, så ock ovan”.

 

Isaac Newton gav 1687 ut sin Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Naturfilosofins matematiska principer, i vilken han redogör för rörelse- och attraktionslagar, ljusets sammansättning, geometriska begrepp som tangenter och auror, himlakroppars rörelser, ebb och flod, jordklotets ellipticitet och mycket annat som kunde härledas till den av honom upptäckta gravitiationslagen. En förbluffande genialitet hos en man som ständigt sökte Kosmos eviga lagar. Newton skrev:

 

Detta, det vackraste systemet av solen, planeterna och kometerna kan enbart vidmatkhållas genom förordnandet och kontrollen från en intelligent Varelse. […] Denna Varelse styr allting, inte som världens själ, utan som Herre över allting; och genom detta sitt herravälde bör han benämnas ”Herre Gud” παντοκρατωρ, pantokrator, eller ”Universums Härskare”. […] Den Högste Guden är en evig Varelse, oändlig [och] absolut perfekt.

 

Bland Newtons efterlämnade papper fann man en mängd alkemistiska skrifter. Där fanns exempelvis hans egenhändigt gjorda översättning till engelska av Tabula Smaragdinas latinska text. Smaragdtavlan är en alkemistisk text som antogs vara skriven av den mytiske egyptiern Hermes Trismegistos, men den finner antagligen sitt ursprung i Mesopotamien. Tavlan beskriver hur De vises sten skulle kunna skapas. 
 
 
De vises sten är ett fiktivt ämne med mirakulösa egenskaper – den kan omvandla oädla metaller till ädla, bota alla sjukdomar och förlänga livet. Smaragdtavlans första meningar lyder:
Det som är nedan är likadant som det som är ovan och det som är ovan är likt det som är nedan, genom en så enkel insikt kan mirakel utföras. Liksom allting har skapats genom den Endes tanke, har alla ting genom anpassning fötts ur detta Enda.
 
 
Tavlans text består enbart av femton meningar och de har säkerligen inte alls skrivits av någon Hermes Trismegistos, Den Tre-gånger Högste Hermes, en sammanblandning av den egyptiske vishetsguden Thoth och den grekiske Hermes, gudarnas budbärare. Dessa gudar relaterades till ordens makt, till magi och hemligheter. Thoth hade skapat språket och kände ”de ord som band och löste upp”, ”öppnade och tillslöt”. Hermes var en tröskelgud, hemmahörande mellan två sfärer och rörde sig fritt mellan dem, förenade eller stängde dem. Därigenom var han vägarnas, vännernas, gästfrihetens, älskogens, handelns, lekens och stöldens gud. Bestämde Hermes att något skulle hemlighållas blev det ”hermetiskt tillslutet”. Tecknet för att vara tyst, eller för att hemlighålla något var i allmänhet att hålla ett finger framför munnen. Grekerna hade fått för sig att Horusbarnet, som sög på ett finger och under namnet Harpokrates blev tystnadens och förtrolighetens gud, i själva verket höll sitt finger framför munnen som ett tecken på tystnad och hemlighållande. Ett tecken som sedan dess kommit i allmänt bruk. Nu vet alla vad ett pekfinger framför munnen betyder.
 
 
Men det är inte tystnad som styr tillvaron, utan kommunikation. Gud hade skapat jorden med ord och det hade även Thoth gjort. Ord skapar ordning och Guds ord är lag. Land skall med lag byggas stod det i de medeltida, svenska landskapslagarna och sumererna skulle ha varit fullt eniga med det konstaterandet. Många ansåg att landets lag borde vara förenlig med naturens lagar. Det är en sådan insikt som Hermes Trismegistos ansågs ha fömedlat. I det mesopotamiska flodlandet är himlen alltid närvarande och man sökte där genom himlakropparnas rörelser och årstidernas växlingar finna de regler som styr tillvaron. En verksamhet som pågick under årtusenden.
 
I staden Kufa vid Eufrats strand levde på 700-talet e.Kr. Abū Musā Jābir ibn Hayyān. Likt Isaac Newton var han en vetenskaplig mångsysslare, ständigt på jakt efter tillvarons lagar. Jābir ibn Hayyān var hovkemist hos den legendariske Harun al-Rashid och lämnade efter sig en så stor mängd skrifter kring alkemi, kosmologi, nummerologi, astrologi, medicin, mystik och religion att man har betvivlat hans existens.
 
En mängd handskrifter på arabiska som bär Jābir ibn Hayyān namn finns i bibliotek i Leiden, Paris och London, medan flera avskrifter på latin förvaras i Vatikanen och Oxford, bland dem finns sjuttio böcker som översattes under Medeltiden. De bär namn som Venus bok och Stenarnas bok. Där finns också tio böcker som sammanlagda bildar Rättelsernas bok som tolkar världen utifrån teorier framlagda av filosofer som Pythagoras, Sokrates, Platon och Aristoteles. Mest betydelsefulla bland Jābir ibn Hayyāns skrifter är de så kallades Balansens böcker och bland dem speciellt Teorin om Naturens balans som hävdar att allt i naturen, även om det ändrar form och verkar på olika sätt, emanerar från en grundsubstans och att all förändring gör så att balans och harmoni upprätthålls.
 
 
Abū Musā Jābir ibn Hayyāns böcker är uppenbarligen kompendier av allsköns kunskap som tolkats genom ett filter av komplicerad tal- och bokstavsmagi. Jābir ibn Hayyān, eller Geber som han kallades av sina medeltida uttolkare, skrev:
Man bör inte förklara allt detta genom användandet av svåbegripliga ord; å andra sidan är det inte tillrådligt att förklara allt så enkelt att alla begriper det. Jag undervisar på ett sådant sätt att ingenting förblir oklart för den som är tillräckligt vis, även om mina tankar kan framstå som tämligen dunkla för någon med mediokra kunskaper, alltmedan den som är helt okunnig inte kommer att begripa någonting.
Jābir ibn Hayyān påstod sig ha skrivit 1 300 böcker om konsten, en term som tycks beteckna framställandet av maskiner, automater och kemisk apparatur. 
 
 
Kanske är det hans rykte som en slags forntida, arabisk Uppfinnar Jocke som fick Marvel Comics Jonathan Hickman att skildra Jābir ibn Hayyān som en superhjälte, medlem i en hemlig orgnaisation vid namn S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate) som i det forntida Egypten skapades av Imhotep, som bland annat ledde det första pyramidbygget. Organisationen hade till en början sitt högkvarter under Rom, men svävar nu högt över jordens yta på det flygande slagskeppet Helicarrier. En mängd berömda vetenskapsmän och konstnärer har genom tiderna varit verksamma inom S.H.I.E.L.D., som ser det som sin plikt att skydda världen innan Människans yttersta öde inträffar. Det har desssvärre visat att de geniala forskarna och uppfinnarna inom S.H.I.E.L.D. inte alltid har varit immuna mot maktkamp, avundsjuka och ränksmideri. Exmpelvis så mördade Isaac Newton Galileo Galilei och andra vetenskapsmän som motsatte sig hans maktbegär och ledarskap av S.H.I.E L.D.
 

På sin tid var Jābir ibn Hayyān ledare för Sköldens (The Shield´s) Brödraskap och konstruerade då en maskin som absorberade tusen mäktiga mäns drömmar, inspiration och önskningar för att vidarebefordra dem till en enda man. Maskinen visade sig dock vara okontrollerbar och brände sönder männen vars kraft den skulle utnyttja.

S.H.I.E.L.D. och Habibi, ett hyllat seriealbum av Craig Thompson där Jābir ibn Hayyān också förekommer, kan betraktas som modernt mytskapande och speciellt Thompsons verk kan sägas befinna sig inom ett mesopotamiskt fantasiuniversum där såväl Gilgamesh som Tusen och en natt finner sina ursprung. Jābir ibn Hayyān tycks även han ha varit en integrerad del av denna mäktiga ytterst fantasieggande och samtidigt tankeväckande legend- och sagoflora. Det är i en av hans många böcker som Hermes Trismegistus Smaragdtavla gör sitt första framträdande.

I Jābir ibn Hayyāns Kitab Ustuqus al-Uss al-Thani, ”Den andra boken om grundelementen”, citeras Smaragdtavlan som sägs ha upptäckts av en man vid namn Balinas i ett hemligt valv under Hermes Trismegistus tempel i Tyana,. Något som för oss in i de mystiska traditionerna kring kristusgestalten Apollonius från Tyana, som jag skrivit om i en tidigare blogg. Balinas berättade hur han lossat Smaragdtavlan ur det döda greppet på en mumie som suttit placerad på en gyllene tron.

Under elvahundratalet översattes Smaragdtavlan till latin av den spanske prästen Hugo av Santalla. Det var denna översättning som kom att ingå i Crysogonus Polydorus bok De Alchemia, som 1541 trycktes i Nürnberg och sedermera hamnade hos Isaac Newton i London. Crysogonus Polydorus var en pseudonym för Andreas Osiander (1498-1552), en evangelisk-luthersk teolog som populäriserade Kopernikus epokgörande teorier om solen som vårt planetsystems centrum och senare kom i konflikt med sina trosbröder kring Luthers lära om ”saliggörande genom tron allena”. 

Det är inte speciellt märkvärdigt att en polyhistor som Andreas Osiander intresserade sig för alkemi. Han levde under en epok som av Marshall McLuhan har kallats Gutenberggalaxens tid, då hela världen förändrades genom boktryckarkonstens oerhörda genomslag. Redan 1962 såg McLuhan vart vi var på väg, att Gutenbergsgalaxens tid redan hade börjat ersättas av datateknologi:

 

I stället för att bli som ett stort alexandrinskt bibliotek har världen nu blivit en dator, en elektronisk hjärna, exakt som i en infantil science fiction roman. När våra sinnen lämnat oss och fått en en existens utanför våra hjärnor, har Big Brother trätt in i deras ställe. Så – om vi är omedvetna om denna utveckling kommer vi snart att få uppleva en fas av panisk skräck, en tillvaro anpassad till en liten värld som genljuder av vår egen stams trummor, totalt beroende av andra, en påtvingad samexistens.

 

 

Under 1450-talet hade Johannes Gutenberg utarbetat en metod att trycka böcker med lösa, återanvändningsbara typer. Mellan 1455 och 1458 tryckte Gutenberg en latinsk översättning av Bibeln – 45 exemplar på pergament och 135 på papper. Det tog honom alltså tre år att fullborda en upplaga på närmre 200 böcker, som delvis var handkolorerade, på samma tid som det tidigare tagit att trycka en enda bok av samma omfång som hans bibel. Snart fanns det tryckpressar i alla Europas större städer. Det var en formlig revolution. Europa förändrades i grunden. Den tryckta boken har kallats världshistoriens nyttigaste, mångsidigaste och mest varaktiga teknologi. Vad som skedde under 1500-talet kan jämföras med de senaste decenniernas elektroniska informationsexplosion med dess störtflod av sociala medier, som även den är ett resultat av omvälvande teknologiska innovationer.

 

Boktryckarkonsten var en alkemistisk hantverksprocess genom vilken materia mirakulöst omvandlades till ett medel för förändring av tanke och verklighet. Den tryckta boken var sannerligen en De vises stenBakom varje tryckt ord fanns bokstäver framställda genom att sexhundragradig eld hade omvandlat exakta proportioner av bly, antimon och zink till en boktavstyp, som sedan placerades i en träkast och beströks med bläck som gjorts beständigt genom harts och sot från brända träd. Det hela pressades sedan samman till boksidor, som torkades, bands till böcker och spreds till en lärdomshungrig läsekrets.

 

 

Att varje ord tillverkades av lösa bokstavsenheter som samlades till en tankeförändrande enhet fick flera filosofer och teologer att fundera över språkets tillkomst. En alkemist försökte bryta ner hela vår komplicerade tillvaro till små, enskilda fragment som sedan åter skulle kunna sammanfogas för att omforma eller återskapa tillvaron. På ett liknande sätt hade Medeltidens och Renässansens språkforskare, som allmänhet även var alkemister, studerat språkets minsta enheter, för att sedan pussla ihop dem i försök att rekonstruera det språk genom vilket gud, eller gudarna, hade skapat universum. Enligt alkemisterna var naturen en väldig smältdegel, deras konst handlade om att urskilja dess detaljer, om att förvandla små betåndsdelar till en förädlad enhet.

 

I Bibeln hade Gud skapat allt med sina ord. Frågan var vilket språk han hade använt sig av. Precis som De vises sten skulle ha förmågan att förvandla oädla metaller till ädla, skulle Guds ursprungliga språk möjligen kunna förvandla världen, eller kanske till och med skapa något nytt. Fanns det ett gudomligt språk som föregick våra mänskliga tungomål? Bibeln berättar att innan männsikorna började bygga Babels torn talade vi alla samma språk. Kunde det vara samma språk som Gud talade?

 

 

Några alkemister sökte sig till Hermes Trismegistus. I sina skrifter förklarade han att det ursprungliga språket skrivits ner i Egypten och de tecken som då användes av grekerna hade kallas för hieroglyfer, heliga inristningar. Enligt Bibeln hade Moses fört Israels folk ut ur Egyptens träldom och från berget Sinai fört med sig Tio Guds Bud egenhändigt nerskrivna av Guds finger. Kunde det möjligen röra sig om hieroglyfer? Israels folk hade ju varit i Egypten och flera av dem kunde antagligen läsa den heliga skriften. Hermes Trismegistus var en inkarnation av den egyptiske guden Thoth, den gud som skapat hieroglyferna. Skrivare och präster var Thoths tjänare. Dessvärre kunde Renässansens lärde inte längre läsa hieroglyfer, men en del av dem, som Luther, Calvin och Zwingli var ytterst språkbegåvade. Alla tre kunde läsa och i viss mån även tala grekiska, latin och hebreiska. Men, de anade likväl att inget av de språken kunde vara Guds tungomål.

 

Hermes Trismegistus/Thoth hade någon gång i forntiden påstått att hans skrifter var dömda att bli:

 

fullkomligt obegripliga då grekerna så småningom önskar att översätta vårt språk till deras eget, på så sätt kommer de att göra sig skyldiga till en mängd misstolkningar och oklarheter […]. Betydelsen av själva talet, av ljudet från egyptiska ord har i sig inneboende samma energi som de föremål de beskriver.

 

 

Den tyske jesuiten Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) som arbetade vid jesuiternas högkvarter i Rom tog fasta på Hermes Trismegistus ord och lärde sig koptiska, det språk som fortfarande talades av Egyptens kristna. Genom koptiskan försökte Kircher sedan tolka hieroglyferna, som han antog avspeglade Guds språk. Athanasius Kircher har kallats Barockens Leonardo da Vinci eller Mästare i hundra konster och kunde dra nytta av den information hans missionerande ordensbröder samlat in från olika håll av världen – Latinamerika, Kongo, Indien, Japan och Kina. Han jämförde deras berättelser med sina läsefrukter och utvecklade en metod som gick ut på att jämföra vad han läst och hört för att därigenom försöka bygga upp ett system som skulle kunna förklara universums uppbyggnad och funktion – allt i enlighet med Jesuiternas valspråk Ad maioren Dei gloriam, Till Guds större ära.

 

Athanasius Kircher misslyckades i sina tolkningar av hieroglyferna. Han hade faktiskt fel i det mesta han skrev om, men det hindrar inte att hans skrifter fortfarande är fascinerande och fantasieggande. Kircher var dock på rätt spår då det gällde koptiskan som ett viktigt steg mot hieroglyfernas tolkning. Det var först när egyptologen Jean-François Champollion lärt sig koptiska som han insåg att hieroglyferna i själva verket var en kombination av bild och fonetisk skrift, där de flesta tecknen återgav en konsonant, eller en konsonantkombination. Därmed kunde han 1822 finna ett system som löste hieroglyfernas gåta.

 

 

Kirchers skrifter utgör en förvirrande kombination av fakta och vild spekulation. Han var övertygad alkemist och läsningen av Hermes Trismegistus skrifter gjorde Athanasius fascinerad av Hermes caduceus, gudens bevingade häroldstav med två hopslingrade ormar. Jesuiten uppfattade ormstaven helt korrekt som en fruktbarhetssymbol med samband till både jorden, ormar ansågs vara underjordiska varelser, och himlens fåglar. Genom att de ömsar skinn står ormar för förvandling och förnyelse, alltmedan de bevingade fåglarna, likt änglarna, utgör en kontakt mellan jord och himmel. Ormar är rikligt förekommande i den egyptiska konst som Athanasius blev väl förtrogen med. Han observerade att Moses använde en stav omslingrad av en kopparorm för att fördriva giftormar som angrep Israels folk i öknen. En liknande stav var symbolen för den grekiska läkekonstens gud, Asklepius, alltmedan Athanasius ordensbröder kunde berätta om Quetzalcoatl, aztekernas bevingade orm och den indiske konungen Ashokas ormstav.

 

 

Athanasius Kircher uppmärksammade också att första gången Bibeln redogör för ett samtal är när Eva talar med ormen, ”listigast av alla vilda djur som Herren Gud hade gjort”. Ormen frågade Eva:

 

Har Gud verkligen sagt att ni inte får äta av något träd i trädgården?” Kvinnan svarade: ”Vi får äta frukt från träden men om frukten från trädet mitt i trädgården har Gud sagt: Ät den inte och rör den inte! Gör ni det kommer ni att dö.” Ormen sade: ”Ni kommer visst inte att dö. Men Gud vet att den dag ni äter av frukten öppnas era ögon, och ni blir som gudar med kunskap om gott och ont.”

 

Ormen hade uppenbarligen med kunskap att göra, både hos Thoth och i det jordiska paradiset. Jesuiter som återvänt från Kina berättade om Fu Xi som skulle ha uppfunnit de kinesiska skrivtecknen och skrivit en Ormbok. Då de visade Athanasius Kircher kinesisk skrift och dessutom en bild av Fu Xi och hans tvillingbror Nüwa, som framställdes som ett par omslingrade ormar, övertygades Kirchner om att det kinesiska skriftspråket måste ha ett samband med de egyptiska hieroglyferna och Hermes ormar.

 

 

Att de båda skriftspråken var så geografiskt åtskilda kunde enligt honom tyda på att de i själva verket var en återspegling av ett gudomligt, universellt språk. Athansius Kircher beskrev de kinesiska tecknen som ”ormar som förunderligt sammanslingrade antar formerna hos den stora mängd olika ting de betecknar”. Fu Xi är identisk med Fuxi/Fu Hsi, även känd som Paoxi, som enligt legenderna var upphovsman till den av många djupt vördade I Ching, Förvandlingarnas bok, en titel värdig en alkemistisk manual.

 

 

Athansius misstog sig dock igen. Hade han noggrannare studerat sin Bibel kunde han möjligen ha kommit in på rätt spår. Av allt att döma hävdar Bibeln att fram till det att människorna efter Syndafloden hade bosatt sig i Shinar, och där börjat bygga ett torn som skulle nå upp till Himlen, talade de alla samma språk. För att sätta stopp för det galna företaget gjorde Gud så att männsikorna började tala olika språk och skingrade dem därefter över jorden. I Bibeln raserar Gud inte himmelstornet, för honom var det fullt tillräckligt att det inte kunde fullbordas på grund av språkförbistringen.

 

 

Shinar är det hebreiska namnet för Mesopotamien och finner antagligen sitt ursprung i shene neharot, två floder. Kircher kunde heller inte känna till att de äldsta framställningarna av en stav med två omslingrade ormar var symbolen för den sumeriska guden Ningishzida, trädens och läkekonstens gud, samt Paradisets väktare. Han kunde heller inte känna till att den sumeriska kilskriften, som kom i bruk under den senare delen av det fjärde årtusendet f.Kr., av allt att döma är något äldre än de egyptiska hieroglyferna.

 

 

Martin Luther funderade även han över om det inte kunde finnas ett äldre språk än hebreiskan, som han likväl  antog vara ett av de  de två språk som Gud föredrog att uttrycka sig på.  

 

Det var inte utan skäl som Gud lät Sina Skrifter skrivas enbart på dessa två språk: Gamla testamentet på hebreiska och det nya på grekiska. Språk som Gud inte föraktade utan för Sitt Ord valde framför alla andra, borde inte även vi då hedra dem framför alla andra? Låt oss därför vara förvissade om detta – att Guds Budskap kan inte bevaras förutan dessa språk. Språk är den skida inom vilket Andens svärd bevaras. Det är det skrin i vilket vi förvarar Hans ädelsten. Det är kärlet som bevarar Hans vin.

 

Vi vet nu att hebreiskan är besläktat med akkadiskan (med underdialekter som babyloniska och assyriska) som efter sumeriskan (av okänt ursprung) i tusentals år talades i Mesopotamien, innan det efterhand ersattes av arameiska, Jesu modersmål.

 

Under fjortonhundratalet hade den venetianske resenären Giosofat Barbaro sett märkliga skrivtecken inhuggna på ruiner kring den persiska staden Shiraz och även tagit med sig lerskärvor inristade med de kilformiga tecknen. En annan italienare, Pietro Della Valle, hade 1621 till Rom tagit med sig en mängd avskrifter av kilskriftstecken, som han kopierat under en resa i Mesopotamien. Flera teologer började nu spekulera om de där tecknen möjligen kunde ha ett samband med det försvunna ”urspråket”, d.v.s. Guds tungomål, de var nämligen övertygade om att Edens Lustgård måste ha legat någonstans i Mesopotamien.

 

 

Början till kilskriftens tolkning inleddes genom två äventyrares insatser; Paolo Emilano Botta (1802-1870) och Austin Henry Layard (1817-1894). Botta var född i Italien men studerade botanik i Paris då han 1826 av August Nernard Duhaut-Cilly blev tillfrågad om han som läkare var villig segla jorden runt på hans fartyg Le Héros. Vid mitten av 1829 kom Le Héros tillbaka till Frankrike, efter längre uppehåll i Californien och på Hawaii. Botta ägnade sig sedan flera år åt botaniska studier i Mellanöstern, tills han 1842 utnämndes till fransk konsul i Mosul.

 

Sin fritid i Mosul ägnade Botta åt att samla små alabasterstatyetter som han köpte i byarna runt omkring staden, eller själv lyckades gräva fram. En dag dök ett par män upp och berättade för Botta att de kände till en plats där det fanns skulpturer som var mångfalt större än de små statyetter Botta samlade. De tog honom till Korsabad, strax norr om Mosul, där Botta konfronterades med resterna av Sargon II:s palats med sina magnifika friser och väldiga skulpturer. Botta skrev:

 

Vad kan allt detta betyda? Vem lät uppföra dessa strukturer? Under vilket århundrade levde han? Vilken nation tillhörde han? Berättar dessa väggar om glädje eller elände? Utgör dessa vackra kilformade tecken ett språk? Jag vet inte. Från dessa reliefer kan jag utläsa härlighet och segrar, men deras historia, deras ålder, deras blod förblir ett mysterium. Dessa ruiner visar på ett härligt och lysande förflutet, men ett förflutet som är okänt för varje nu levande man.

 

 

Austin Layard föddes i Frankrike, men tillbringade det mesta av sin barndom och ungdom i Italien. Hans far hade varit anställd av den brittiska kolonialförvaltningen på Ceylon. Tjugoett år gammal beslöt sig Layard för att liksom sin far bli anställd på Ceylon och tänkte ta sig dit landvägen. Men, efter att ha fått kontakt med nomadiserade Bakhtiari och tillsammans med dem under flera månader ha vandrat kring i nordvästra Persien beslöt sig Layard för att skrinlägga sina Ceylonplaner och istället ägna sig åt att utforska Mellanöstern. Han sökte anställning hos den brittiske ambassadören i Konstantinopel och efter att under ett par år ha arbetat i den europeiska delen av Turkiet lyckades han av ambassadören, Stratford Canning, utverka tillstånd och stöd för att i och kring Mosul undersöka de av Botta upptäckta assyriska ruinerna. Layard ägnade sig sedan flera år åt att utforska och dokumentera lämningarna efter staden Nineveh. Layards efterforskningar och de utmärkta teckningar han själv och andra utförde på plats och rekonstruktioner de gjorde i London samlades snart i bokform och blev mycket uppskattade och inflytelserika.

 

 

I ruinerna av Nineveh påträffade Layard 1849 rester av kung Sennacheribs (705-608 f.Kr.) bibliotek med mängder av fragment av lertavlor, fyllda med kilskrift. Tre år senare fann hans assyrisk-kristne (anhängare av den Kaldeisk-katolska kyrkan) medarbetare Hormuzd Rassam den assyriske konungen Ashurbanipals (668-627) omfattande bibliotek, som bland annat bevarade ett stort antal lertavlor med berättelsen om Gilgamesh och den mesopotamiska Syndafloden.

 

 

Den grymme, men samtidigt intellektuelle, Ashurbanipal kunde både läsa och skriva sumeriska, ett vid hans tid klassiskt, utdött språk, som latin eller sanskrit är nu. Han sände skrivare och hovmän över hela sitt imperium för att samla så många texter som möjligt för att som han skrev ”erhålla riter och besvärjelser som kan vara avgörande för bevarandet av min kungliga makt”. En mängd skrivare arbetade i hans palats med att kopiera och i en del fall även omarbeta de texter som samlats in. Stora mängder lertavlor från Ninevehs under årtusenden förgätna bibliotek fördes till British Museum där fragmenten fortfarande pusslas ihop och sorteras. Mer än tvåtusen lertavlor har nu kunnat rekonstrueras, men vid tiden då Layard och Rassam förde dem till London kunde ingen läsa vad som stod på dem.

 

Som sjuttonåring stationerades Henry Rawlinson 1835 i närheten av staden Kermánšáh i västra Iran, eller Persien som det hette på den tiden. Engelsmännen ville motverka det ryska imperiets expansion söderut och stödde de persiska shaherna mot ryssarna, bland annat genom att utbilda deras officerare. Den unge Rawlinsons stationering var en del av det programmet. Shahen Mohammad Qajar visade dock efter två år ut engelsmännen, men de kom snart tillbaka. Att det brittiska imperiet inte lade beslag på Persien berodde antagligen på att det stora landet och dess relativt starka armé skulle ha varit alltför kostsamt att underkuva, dessutom behövde de det persiska riket som en buffertzon mellan deras kronkoloni Indien och det Ryska Imperiet, som var lika militant och expansivt som det Brittiska. Hade engelsmännen vid den tiden insett oljerikedomarnas betydelse hade deras ambitioner säkerligen varit annorlunda.

 

 

I närheten av Kermánšáh låg byn Bīsotūn utanför vilken den persiske storfursten Dareios (522-484 f.Kr.) på en Zargosbergens klippväggar hade låtit skapa en omfattande berättelse om tilldragelser och strider kring hans uppstigande på akemenidernas tron. Akemenidernas rike var det största och mest framgångsrika världen dittills hade skådat och Dareios var en ytterst skicklig adminstratör. Under hans ledning delades det väldiga imperiet in i 23 satrapdömen som övervakades av satraper, guvernörer av vilka var och en hade personliga band till shahen, kungen (faktiskt samma ord som schackpelets schack). Det enorma riket bands samman genom effektiva vägbyggen. Störst och viktigast var Kungsvägen som sträckte sig från Sardis (nära dagens Izmir vid den turkiska västkusten) över Mosul och Babylon ner till Susa, Dareios huvudstad. I Susa vände Kungsvägen mot nordöst i riktning mot Medernas gamla huvudstad Ekbatana, där den anslöt till den legendariska Sidenvägen.

 

Det var på en klippvägg vid vägen mot Ekbatana som Dareios väldiga bildsvit hade huggits in hundra meter upp på en lodrät kalkstensklippa. Den var på Rawlinsons tid i Kermánšáh extremt svår att nå upp till frisen eftersom Dareios efter det att inskriften hade huggits låtit avlägsna den framförliggande bergsidan. Enbart en tre decimeter bred avsats löpte under det stora konstverket. Dareios hade antagligen vidtagit de drastiska åtgärderna dels för att inristningen skulle bli så synlig och imponerande som möjligt, dels för att ingen skulle kunna hacka bort, skada, eller ändra den. Den omfattande texten, som omsluter en bildsekvens framställande hur Dareios bestraffar tillfågnatagna “förrädare och konspiratörer”, är avfattad på fornpersiska, elamitiska, samt babyloniska och den är fullkomligt oläslig från marknivån.

 

 

Den nyfikne, unge Henry Rawlinson kunde inte avhålla sig från att klättra upp längs klippväggen och balanserande på en stege lyckades han kopiera en stor del av den fornpersiska kilskriften, som befann sig längst ner bland inskrifterna. Genom att jämföra kilskriftstecknen med en persisk kungalängd som den grekiske historikern Herodotos skrivit ner inte långt efter Dareios död lyckades Rawlinson dechiffrera flera kilskriftstecken.

 

Eftersom han lärt sig fornpersiska kunde Rawlinson snart läsa hela den persiska texten, men han fick vänta tålmodigt i sex år tills 1843, då han efter att ha stationerats som officer i Afghanistan kunde återvända till Bīsotūn, skaffa sig en längre stege och med stor möda lyckas kopiera även de alamitiska och babyloniska inskrifterna. Ett livsfarligt tilltag som kunde ha slutat mycket illa då stegen gled på den smala klippavsatsen och Rawlinson handlöst störtade mot sin död. Hans fall hindrades dock då han, som genom ett under, hamnade på den smala avsatsen och kilskriftens gåta därmed kunde komma närmare sin lösning.

 

 

Då Rawlinson kommit tillbaka till London korresponderade han med en irländare, Edward Hincks, och de hade snart var och en på sitt håll lyckats tyda och identifiera 200 kilskriftstecken från Rawlinsons kopior av Behistuninskrifterna. 1851 sammanträffade de med en tysk och en engelsman som tillämpat Hincks och Rawlinsons skriftnycklar på andra kilskriftsdokument, skrivna på elamitiska och bayloniska. De fyra språkforskarna kunde strax därefter konstatera att kilskriftens gåta var löst.

 

Nu kunde Layard och Rassam börja pussla ihop alla de lerskärvor de tagit med sig till British Museum och de fick snart hjälp av ännu skickligare och tålmodigare kilskriftsexperter. Främst bland dem var George Smith, som 1872 med stigande förundran på en hopfogad kilskriftstavla läste texten jag citerade som inledning till den här essän. Djupt fascinerad fortsatte Smith läsa och upptäckte att han funnit en lång, och i stort sett sammanhängande text som berättade hur en viss Uta-napishti av guden Ea fått i uppdrag av att bygga en jättelik båt för att med den rädda sin familj och sina släktingar samt ”alla markens kreatur, de vilda djuren och representanter för varje hantverk och kunskap” undan en störflod genom vilka gudarna ville dränka hela mänskligheten. Likheterna med Bibelns syndaflodsberättelse och Noas ark var uppenbara. Smith blev hänförd och i sin gränslösa entusiasm visste han inte vad han gjorde. Han ropade högt: ”Jag är den förste som läst allt detta efter tvåtusen år av glömska!” och till de kringsittandes stora förvåning reste han sig upp och började klä av sig.

 

 

Då Smith inför en begeistrad församling 1873 läste upp den ”babyloniska syndaflodsberättelsen” och förklarade att den enbart var en del av ett stort mesopotamiskt epos om en forntida hjälte vid namn Gilgamesh visste den allmänna entusiasmen inga gränser. Dagstidningen The Daily Telegraph erbjöd British Museum den stora summan av 1 000 guineas för att sända Smith till Mosul och där återuppta Layards och Rassams utgrävningar av kilskriftsbiblioteken. Dessvärre hade Smith turen att kort efter sin ankomst finna ännu en så gott som intakt lertavla som i än större detalj återgav hela syndaflodsberättelsen, en så stor framgång att expeditionen omedelbart avbröts innan Smith på samma plats hade lyckats finna andra lika intakta fragment av Gilgamesheposet.

 

Nineveh ligger till största delen under mångmiljonstaden Mosul. Utgrävningarna av det forntida Nineveh har till största delen ägt rum på kullarna Koyunik och Nabi Yunis. Det var där man fann resterna av kilskriftsbiblioteken, men stora delar av Nineveh är fortfarande outforskade.

 

 

Då ISIL, den Islamiska staten i Irak och Levanten, den tionde juli 2014 erövrade Mosul störtade några av dess krigare in i stadens museum där de filmades alltmedan de med släggor och penumatiska borrar ödelade det ovärderliga mesopotamiska världsarvet. På några timmar totalförstördes en mer än tretusenårig kultur. Om de forntida gudarna existerat skulle de utan tvekan ha krossat skändarna som i sin Guds namn mördade, avrättade och tog som sexslavar dem som de betecknade som gudsförnekare. Inte begriper jag varför den sortens mordiska fanatiker alltid tar fasta på vad som är ont och förkastligt inom en religiös lära. Är det allmän idioti, eller enbart ett männsikoföraktande vansinne? Insåg inte dessa vanhelgande galningar att deras så högt beundrade profet var ett resultat av den kultur som de krossade med sina släggor?

 

 

Såsom nedan, så ock ovan”. Muhammad, profeternas sigill, var väl förtrogen med sin tids kulturmiljö. Koranen nämner exempelvis två gånger Idrīs som en av Profetens företrädare:

 

Och minns [vad] denna Skrift [har att säga om] Idrīs. Han var en man av sanning, en profet och Vi upphöjde honom till en hög värdighet.

 

Och [minns] Ismael och Idrīs och Dhu´l-Kifl [möjligen Bibelns Hesekiel]. De hörde alla till dem som visar tålamod och uthållighet [i livets skiften]. Och vi har inneslutit dem i Vår nåd; de var i sanning rättsinniga männskor.

Idrīs? Traditionellt har han identifierats med Bibelns Enok, som sades ha ”vandrat med Gud i trehundra år”, men lika troligt är att Idrīs kan vara mer eller mindre identisk med Hermes Trismegistus. Legender berättar att Idrīs föddes i Babylon och att han var följeslagare till Adams son Seth. Babylon var vid den tiden ett syndigt näste och profeten Idrīs förde de rättfärdiga babylonierna till Egypten. Då de stod vid Nilens stränder höjde Idrīs sina händer och hyllade Allah med ordet Subhanallah, Ära vare Allah. Komentatorer till Koranen tillskriver Idrīs ”stor visdom och stort vetande”. Flera traditioner anger honom som skrivkonstens uppfinnare och att han var den ”förste som observerade stjärnornas banor och fastställde vikters och måttstockars rätta värde”. Sådant gjorde att flera muslimska teologer och författare sammanställde Idrīs med Hermes Trismegistus och den egyptiske Thoth, något som tydligen var speciellt vanligt hos de sydarabiska sabierna. Muhanmad betraktade dem uppenbarligen inte som muslimskt rättrogna, men accepterade likväl deras tro och på tre ställen sägs det i Koranen att sabierna inte behöver frukta något på Den Yttersta Dagen:

 

De som tror [på denna Skrift] och de som bekänner den judiska tron och de kristna och sabierna – ja, [alla] som tror på Gud och den Yttersta Dagen och som lever ett rättskaffens liv – skall helt visst får sin fulla lön av sin Herre och de skall inte känna fruktan och ingen sorg skall tynga dem.

 

 

Låt oss nu lämna Hermes Trismegistus och alkemin därhän och istället ägna oss åt Gilgamesh. Vi befinner oss omkring 2 800 f.Kr. i den södra delen av Mesopotamien. Ett flackt och varmt landskap med träsk och slätter, mycket bördigt om det dräneras och bevattnas medelst kanaler och dammar, men bortsett från dadelpalmer, så gott som helt utan timmer och metaller. De flesta invånarna var åkerbrukare som bodde i befästa städer. Dit bevattningssystemen inte kunde nå och fälten ersatts av ogästvänligare terräng betade flockar med får och getter. Deras herdar måste ständigt vara på vakt mot vargar och andra rovdjur. Längre bort tog vildmarken vid. Där organiserade sig inte de fåtaliga människorna inom befästa städer och byar utan försörjde sig medelst jakt och fiske, eller som banditer. Flera dagsfärder norr- och västerut låg obefarna bergstrakter och skogar med väldiga cederträd. Mäktigast av dem alla var den heliga cederskog där en del påstod att gudarna hade sin hemvist. Den bevakades av den monstruöse Humbaba, skyddad av sju dödliga auror.

 

Det var nämligen inte enbart ett konkret landskap landskap som omgav Tvåflodsfolket, Mesopotamierna, utan de levde även inom en mytisk sfär där den avlägsne Herren Över Allt, Anu, i ensamt majestät vistades i sitt himmelska palats, långt ovan sitt väldiga rike. Vindarnas gud, Enlil, var däremot ständigt närvarande i rymderna mellan jord och himlavalv och i människornas tempel. Den vise och eftertänksamme Ea levde under jordytan i sin sötvattensocean. Ea agerade oftast som människosläktets vän och beskyddare, men kunde likväl förvandla sig till en skräckinjagande gestalt. De flesta gudarna var oberäkneliga och kunde ömsom visa sig välvilliga, ömsom grymma och hänsynlösa. Enlils majestätiske son, Sîn, Månguden, vars son Shamash, Solen, var de ensamma vandrarnas följeslagare och beskyddare, hade även han han sina ondskefulla sidor. Shamashs impulsiva syster Inanna (Ishtar), var krigets och den kroppsliga kärlekens gudinna. Under Eas vattniga domän, djupt i ner i Underjorden låg Dödens dystra rike som styrdes av den bittra Ereshkigal, även hon Shamashs syster. Därnere låg hon utsträckt i evig veklagan, uppvaktad av sin minister, den kuslige Namtar och andra demoner hemmahörande i hennes ruskiga hushåll.

 

 

Som på så många andra håll i världen täcktes Mesopotamiens konkreta landskap alltså av ett mentalt sådant och det är där berättelserna om Gilgamesh utspelas. Myter och legender är precis som våra liv och tankar inte ensidigt enkla, utan mångfacetterade. Inom sig rymmer de föreställningar och begrepp som utvecklats över tid och rum. Liksom Mesopotamiens mentala landskap kan de tolkas och förstås på olika nivåer. Ett synsätt behöver inte utesluta ett annat.

 

Exempelvis kan de märkliga historierna om guden Eas äventyr och sexuella bedrifter med unga jungfrur och mogna matroner utgöra roande, eller upprörande, berättelser, men samtidigt kan de också vara metaforiska beskrivningar av intrikata bevattningssytem, årstidernas och nederbördens växlingar, källor och floder, förhållandet mellan söt- och saltvatten, ebb och flod, torka och översvämning samt en mängd andra naturliga och artificiella förhållanden kring sötvatten och fruktbarhet. Likaså är Inannas kärlek till den unge och sorgligt avlidne herden Dumuzi (Tammuz) en gripande berättelse om kärlekspassion, svek och död, men samtidigt en skildring av naturens död och uppståndelse, fruktbarhet, nyckfulla skiftningar, den enskilda människans kärlek, sorg, liv och död och mycket annat. Inte minst utgör den intrikata berättelsen uppenbarligen en detaljerad, allegorisk skildring av hur man framställde mjölk, grädde och smör. ”Som nedan, så ock ovan.”

 

 

Gilgamesheposet är världens äldsta, bevarade litterära verk och vår näst äldsta religiösa text, efter de egyptiska PyramidtexternaGilgameshs litteraturhistoria tar sin början med fem dikter om Bilgamesh, konung av Uruk. Texter som finner sitt ursprung under staden Uruks tredje dynasti (ca 2100 f.Kr.). Berättelser som tusen år senare användes som en del av källmaterialet för ett epos som på akkadian skrevs ner i Babylon. Författare var en skrivare vid namn Sîn-liqe-unninni och hans epos har nu kunnat spåras till 73 ”manuskript”, d.v.s. samlingar av lertavlor, av vilka 35 blev funna i resterna av Ashurbanipals bibliotek i Nineveh.

 

Det finns fortfarande ingen intakt version av Sîn-liqe-unninnis ”manuskript” som kallas Sha naqba īmuru, ”Han som såg avgrunden”. Samtliga versioner rör sig om hoppusslade kilskriftsfragment. Uppskattningsvis saknas en tredjedel av texten. De flesta ”assyrologer” är ense om att de saknade fragmenten står att finna någonstans bland den stora mängd lertavlor som finns lagrade i museimagasin runtom i världen. Det kommer att dröja länge innan vi har den fullständiga Sha naqba īmuru. Assyrologerna som systematsikt och tålmodigt arbetar sig genom högarna med trasiga lertavlor är en hängiven, men mycket liten skara.

 

 

Låt oss nu färdas mer än fyratusen år tillbaka i tiden och möta människor som levde i den mytiska, mesopotamiska världen.

 

Han som såg Djupet, landets fundament.

Han kom från en lång vandring, var trött, fann frid

och skrev ner all sin strävan på en stentavla.

Han byggde bålverket kring från Uruk-Fårfållan,

Eannas [Himmelens hus] sädesmagasin.

 

Se, dess murar som en molnbank av ull.

Se, dess balustrader som ingen lyckats efterlikna!

Stig uppför trappan från en svunnen tid,

närma dig Eanna, säte för Ishtar, gudinnan,

som ingen konung, för eller senare, lyckats överglänsa!

 

Se, skriftlådan av cederträ,

öppna dess bronslås!

Lyft locket, skåda dess hemlighet,

tag fram skrivtavlan av lapis lazuli och läs

om Gilgameshs strävan, om allt som han gick igenom.

 

Gilgamesh var lugal, envåldshärskare, över Uruk och därmed i besittning av fullkomlig makt över sina undersåtar. Förblindad av maktfullkomlighet tvingade han dem till överdrivna dagsverken, alltmedan han låg med sina nerslitna arbetares hustrur. Förtvivlade över sin härskares maktmissbruk bad Uruks folk till Himmelens Härskare – Anu: ”En brutal, vild tjur har du skapat i Uruk-Fårafållan, han saknar like då han blottar sina vapen”. Gilgamesh var en tyrann som ingen gick säker för, varken jungfrur eller unga män. Genom sin styrka och sina överlägsna färdigheter förödmjukade och förtyckte Gilgamesh alla och envar. Han trodde sig unik, osårbar och suverän. Folket bad Anu att skapa en like till Gilgamesh, någon som kunde göra honom mänsklig och empatisk.

 

 

Nu blir myten allmänmänsklig och speglar motsättningen mellan det som grekerna kallade physis, natur och nomos, lag/tradition, och kanske även det som romarna kallade cultura, d.v.s. odling. I det forntida Mesopotamien fanns en gräns mellan bördiga slätter och vidsträckt ödemark; tättbebyggda, muromgärdade städer och glesbefokad vildmark. En kontrast som i Bibeln ofta personifieras; Abel och Kain, Jakob och Esau, eller Johannes Döparen. Om Adam och Evas söner står det att ”Abel var herde och Kain brukade jorden”, och ”Kain sade till sin bror Abel: ´Kom med ut på fälten´. Där överföll han sin bror Abel och dödade honom”. Isak hade två söner, en.

 

var rödhårig och luden som en skinnfäll över hela kroppen, och man gav honom namnet Esau. Esau blev en skicklig jägare och höll till i skog och mark, men Jakob förde ett lugnt liv och bodde i tält. Eftersom Isak hade smak för vilt tyckte han bäst om Esau, men Jakob var Rebeckas älsklingsson.

 

Jakob lurar sin bror och tar från honom makten. Om Johannes Döparen står det:

 

En röst ropar i öknen: Bana väg för Herren, gör hans stigar raka. Johannes bar kläder av kamelhår och hade ett läderbälte om livet. Hans föda var gräshoppor och vildhonung. [Han sade] redan är yxan satt till roten på träden. Varje träd som inte bär god frukt skall huggas bort och kastas i elden

 

Gilgamesh dyker Enkidu upp, en gestalt som i sig förenar de egenskaper som de bibliska gestalterna tycks antyda. Likt Abel var han inte jordbrukare, utan befann sig utanför odlingssfären. Jordbrukaren Kain betraktade Abel som ett hot och dödade honom. Likt Esau var Enkidu luden över hela kroppen, tillbringade sin tid i vildmarken och var en oskuldsfull varelse som inte anade den illistiga falskhet som bofasta männsikor var kapabla till. Likt Johannes var även Enkidu en profet som kommen ur vildmarken bringade förändring in i den ”civiliserade världen”.

 

 

Det är genom att föra vilden Enkidu in i Gilgameshs ”kultiverade” tillvaro som envåldshärskaren förändras och blir en bättre människa. Men, för att kunna påverka Gilgamesh måste även Enkidu förändras, vilden måste civiliseras. Det var en kvinna som besegrade honom. Kvinnan som står för hem, moderlighet, trygghet och åtrå. Det var hon som genom sin kärlek och lockande sensualitet lyckades tygla vildmannen vildhet och genom hans sexuella begär i viss mån även förslava honom.

 

En jägare hade retat sig på vilden Enkidu:

 

Täckt med hår, som vore han en vilddjurens gud,

betar han gräs tillsammans med gasellarna

och ansluter sig till djurflockarna vid vattenhålen,

där roar roar han sig hjärtligt med villebråd och kreatur.

 

Men inte nog med att Enkidu betedde sig som ett vilddjur, han skyddade även djurlivet genom att förstöra jägarens fällor och fylla igen hans fångstgropar. Den frusterade jägaren begav sig till Uruk för att där söka råd hos den fruktade Gilgamesh, som trots sitt brutala vanstyre allmänt betraktades som en vis man. Gilgamesh rådde jägaren att söka upp Ishtars tempel och därifrån ta med sig en tempelprostituerad ut i vildmarken. Om Enkidu föll offer för en en kvinnas attraktion skulle djuren vända sig bort från honom. De skulle komma att inse att han trots allt var en människa.

 

 

Jägaren tog den vackra kvinnan till vattenhålet där Enkidu brukade hålla till och förklarade för henne:

 

Se, där är han, Shamhat! Blotta din barm,

visa ditt skötte, låt honom hänföras av din skönhet!

Dra dig inte undan, utan vädra hans doft:

Han kommer att se dig, han kommer att närma sig.

 

Sprid dina kläder på marken så han kan ligga hos dig,

gör för mannen endast det som en kvinna förmår!

Låt hans passion omsluta och smeka dig,

även om han varit en av dem kommer hans flock att överge honom.

 

I sex dygn stannade Enkidu hos Shamhat, men när han var ”fullständigt mättad” ville han återvända till sitt liv som vilde, men fann då till sin förskräckelse att hans vännner gasellerna flydde från honom och att lejonen morrade då han närmade sig dem. Enkidu tyckte även att hans kondition hade försämrats och att han börjat tänka annorlunda. Efter en tid i vildmarken kände Enkidu sig ensam och övergiven, gav upp och återvände till Shamhat, som visste hur hon skulle ta hand om honom.

 

Shamhat lät en barberare raka Enkidus kropp, smörja in den med väldoftande oljor, samt frisera hans hår och skägg. Hon klädde den före detta vildmannen i vackra kläder. Enkidu som varken ätit bröd eller druckit öl lät sig väl smaka. Efter sju välfyllda bägare kände han sig väl till mods och började sjunga. Efter en tid insåg Enkidu att han var starkare och djärvare än andra män, samtidigt som han förstod att han aldrig mer skulle kunna bli som djuren. Istället för att som tidigare skydda djuren från jägarna, försvarade han nu herdarnas hjordar från rovdjuren och dödade vargar och lejon.

 

 

Enkidu identifierade sig nu med människorna och liksom han tidigare varit djurens vän blev han nu upprörd över de orättvisor som drabbade de svagare människor som omgav honom. Då Shamhat berättat att Gilgamesh tillämpade jus primae noctis, rätten till första natten, som innebar att han tillät sig älska med bruden innan brudgummen, blev Enkidu våldsamt upprörd och begav sig till Uruk för att sätta stopp för diktatorns sexuella övergrepp mot sina undersåtar.

 

Kommen till Uruk blev Enkidu vittne till hur ett bröllopsfölje drog genom staden, hur Gilgamesh grep bruden från brudgummen och med våld förde henne mot “bröllopshuset”. Ursinnig ställde sig Enkidu i dörröppningen och då Gilgamesh ville fösa den väldige Enkidu år sidan utbröt ett våldsamt slagsmål. Slutligen fick Enkidu ner Gilgamesh på knä och den besegrade Gilgamesh visste ingen annan råd än att räcka Enkidu handen. Storsint och godmodig omfamnade Enkidu den förödmjukade konungen. Gilgamesh blev nu som förvandlad. Han hade funnit sin like, en ung stark man som liksom han var modig och kvicktänkt. Varken Enkidu eller Gilgamesh var längre ensamma – Enkidu som främling och Gilgamesh som härskare. De var nu ett par, ett team.

 

 

Gilgamesh kom till makten då han var alldeles för ung och led därför av ett Peter Pan komplex. I Enkidu trodde han sig ha funnit den perfekte kamraten. Inte långt efter det att de blivit bästa vänner föreslog han Enkidu ett rejält äventyr. De skulle bege sig till Cederskogen, en väldig skog som också kallades De Levandes plats, kanske för att gudar dvaldes där. Men, Enkidu visste bättre – skogen låg i Kur, Bergens land, och Kur var också namnet på Underjorden, Dödsriket, som ingen återkom levande ifrån. Enkidu hade också, som det naturbarn han var, mött Cederskogens väktare, den monstuöse Humbaba, Enlils tjänare. Enlil, stormguden som avskydde männsikokryp.

 

För Gilgamesh var hela företaget ett strålande pojkäventyr, ett ungdomligt trotsande av gudarna. Med det starka, trygga naturbarnet Enkidu vid sin sida kände sig Gilgamesh oövervinnerlig. Om han dessutom kunde föra med sig cederskogarnas värdefulla virke ner till Uruk skulle det bli till ett medel för att vinna Uruks invånares gunst och uppskattning. Han lade fram sina planer för de Äldstes råd och förklarade att om han och Enkidu kunde övervinna skogsdemonen Humbaba, hugga ner de värdefulla cederträden och sedan forsla dem ner till det virkesfattiga Uruk, byggt av tegelsten, så skulle den bedriften göra Uruk vackrare och mäktigare än någon stad på jordens yta. Trots viss tvekan vann Gilgamesh slutligen Rådets förtroende och medgivande, kanske kände sig gubbarna berfiade om de för en tid kunde bli av med de våldsamma och mäktiga ynglingarna. Om de skulle dö i sin kamp med Humbaba så vore det egentligen inte någon större förlust. Om de däremot lyckades i sitt företag skulle de väldiga cederträden bli ett utmärkt tillskott för Uruks ekonomi och prestige. Gilgamesh var överlycklig över allt stöd han funnit, men då han entusiastiskt förberedde sig inför äventyret fann han att hans vän var ovanligt dyster. Varför tvekade Enkidu inför att ge sig ut på äventyr och befria världen från det rysliga monstret Humbaba?

 

Jag kommer att besegra honom i Cederskogen,

låt landet veta att Uruks telning nu är en mäktig man.

Låt mig ge mig av, jag kommer att hugga ner cederträden.

Jag kommer att skapa mig ett namn som består för evigt.

 

 

Enkidu betraktade företaget fullkomligt annorlunda. För honom var det ett oförlåtligt övergrepp mot naturen, ett barnsligt trotsande av gudamakterna, ett förakt för allt det som han en gång hade varit en del av. Samtidigt förstod dock Enkidu att det inte fanns någon återvändo från den väg han slagit in på, efter det att han förlorat sin oskuld till skökan Shamat och Gilgamesh blivit han bäste vän. Enkidu visste att han omöjligt kunde övertyga en äventyrslysten gåpåare som Gilgamesh, men han fösökte likväl få sin vän att inse tilltagets stora faror. Den unge, passionerade Gilgamesh kunde inte begripa vem Humbaba verkligen var, en naturkraft skyddad av sju gudomliga ”eoner”. Enkidu hade hade råkat ut för honom, han kände monstret:

 

Denne Humbaba, hans röst är en hemsökelse,

hans tal är eld, hans andedräkt död.

Från tio mils avstånd hör han skogens sus:

När han är tillstädes, vem kan då tränga in i hans skog?

Adad [Orkanen] är den störste , därefter kommer Humbaba.

 

 

Enkidu kunde dock inte uthärda vännens hån då han påstod att Enkidu talade som en ryggradslös sillmjölke. Var kom denna ömkliga rädsla ifrån? Enkidus stora mod var ju testat i strid. Varje man flydde i panik inför vildmannens besinningslösa ilska. Han kunde med sina bara händer besegra vilket lejon som helst. Varför darrade en gigant som Enkidu inför blotta tanken på Humbaba? Det enda en man kan göra under sin korta levnad är att försöka att skapa sig ett namn. ”En mans dagar är räknade, vad han än gör är det enbart vind”, men genom övermänskliga bedrifter kunde hans namn leva vidare.

 

 

Enkidu gav med sig och som då han lämnade skogen visste han nu att det inte fanns någon återvändo, det var lika bra att löpa linan ut, acceptera sitt öde och kämpa mot det allt det som en gång varit hans. Enkidu var inte längre ett naturbarn, nu var han en civiliserad man. Ingenting kunde bli som det varit. Du kan inte två gånger stiga ner i samma flod. På väg mot sitt möte med Humbaba hade Gilgamesh fruktansvärda drömmar som varslade om förestående katastrofer. Ju närmare de kom Cederskogen desto mer tvivlade Gilgamesh på värdet av sin idé. Nu var det istället Enkidu som eggade honom vidare.

 

 

Då de stod inför den mäktiga cederskogen och därefter steg in i dess vördnadsbjudande, heliga hägn överväldigades Gilgamesh av dess väldighet och skönhet. De finner också i skogens djup de stigar som brutits upp då Humbaba gått sina vaktrundor. Den väldige machon Gilgamesh tvekade nu än mer inför klokheten bakom sin tanklösa våghalsighet. Enkidu som som nu blivit den drivande kraften pekar ut vilka träd som Gilgamesh borde fälla och snart genljöd skogen av yxhugg och de väldiga cederjättarnas dån och brak då de föll till marken.

 

 

Plötsligt skälvde och skakade jorden och den annalkande Humbabas auror av is, eld och stormvindar for genom skogen. Snart uppenbarade sig monstret själv och lät sin besinningslösa vrede skölja över förrädaren Enkidu:

 

 

Kom an du bara ... Enkidu, du fiskyngel som inte känner någon fader,

uppfödd av terpentin och sköldpaddor, som aldrig fick någon modermjölk!

Jag såg dig i din ungdom, men nära dig kom jag aldrig,

skulle ditt späda kött ha fyllt min mage?

 

Nu har du genom ditt förräderi fört hit Gilgamesh,

och står där, Enkidu, som en krigisk främling!

Jag kommer att skära halsen av din Gilgamesh,

Jag skall ge hans kött till gräshoppssvämarna, till den glupska örnen och gamarna!

 

 

Den ursinnige och sårade Enkidu hetsade nu Gilgamesh att attackera Humbaba och den unge hjälten från Uruk högg huvudet av monstret medan Enkidu slet dess lungor ur kroppen. Humbabas auror for genom luften, deras strålning förminskades, de bleknade och dog.

 

 

Gilgamesh och Enkidu återvände med Humbabas huvud i triumf till Uruk. Då Cederskogen förlorat sin väktare kunde gudarna inte göra något för att skydda sin skog och mängder med ovärderligt timmer forslades ner till Uruk.

 

 

Ishtar, den nyckfulla och allt som oftast kärlekskranka krigs- och kärleksguddinan, blev betagen av karlakarlen Gilgamesh och gjorde sina amorösa närmanden. Som så många andra gudomligheter tyckte Ishtar det var betydligt mer lockande och tillfredställande att söka älskare bland människorna än bland andra gudar. Gilgamesh, som efter att ha trotsat gudarna och besegrat Humbaba, kände sig övermodig och osårbar försmådde den mäktiga och obeskrivligt vackra Ishtar. Det hade aldrig hänt henne förr och dessutom hade Gilgamesh haft fräckheten att smäda hennes älskogskrankhet och påpekat att den kärlek hon visat dödliga män alltid slutat illa för dem, antingen hade de förvandlats till villebråd och hjälplösa kräk, eller drabbats av neslig, förödmjukande död. Nej, aldrig skulle en hjälte som Gilgamesh falla för Ishtar´s fala kärlekskonster. 

 

 

Han fruktade varken gudar eller männsikor. Den försmådda och rasande Ishtar vände sig till sin far, Himmelsguden Anu och bad honom sända den fruktade Himmelstjuren till jorden för att där förgöra Gilgamesh och Enkidu. Efter det att Ishtar hotat att ”låta Döden sluka allt levande” släppte Anu motvilligt lös den rasande tjuren.

 

 

Men, som ett par vana slaktare var Gilgamesh och Enkidu beredda på den ursinniga Himmelstjurens attack. Gilgamesh stack sin kniv rakt in i ”slaktpunkten” mellan tjurens horn, alltmedan Enkidu fått den på fall genom att vrida runt dess svans och sätta ena foten på dess rygg.

 

 

Ett gammalt cowboytrick som fick mig att minnas kompisarna Augustus ”Gus” McCrae och Woodrow F. Call, som i filmatiseringen av Larry McMurtys vilda-västernroman Lonesome Dove spelades av Robert Duvall och Tommy Lee Jones. De förenades i ett tämligen vansinnigt äventyr som innefattade drivandet av väldig, stulen boskapshjord från Texas till Montana. ”Gus” var den starkare och djärvare av de två, medan Woodrow var mer inbunden och eftertänksam. Gus var romantiskt lagd och med ett gott öga till vackra kvinnor, whores, horor, som han kallade dem. Gus behandlade likväl ”sina” kvinnor relativt väl och beundrade dem i viss mån, men han vägrade att uppriktigt engagera sig i ett förhållande, ständigt driven av sin längtan till vildmarkens fria liv. Gus dog då hans ben amputerades och han sörjdes djupt av Woodrow. Gus och Woodrows vänskap var som Enkidus och Gilgameshs; två självsvåldiga män med diametralt  motsatta personligheter, rivaler i en ständig kamp med varandra, men likväl förenade i gemensamma, "maskulint" våghalsiga äventyr och ett kamratskap som fortsatte bortom den andres död.

 

 

Efter att ha dödat Himmelstjuren drabbades Enkidu av en djup depression. Han kände att han svikit naturen, de vilda djuren och gudarna genom att våldföra sig på Cederskogen och varit mehjälplig till att döda de våldsamma naturkrafterna Humbaba och Himmelstjuren. Under nätterna gick han fram till de väldiga tempelportarna som framställts av Cederskogens mäktigaste träd. Han lutade sitt huvud mot trävirket och klagade högt inför den stumma dörren ”som om den vore en levande man”:

Ditt virkesträd hade ingen like i Cederskogen:

trettio meter är din höjd, tio meter din bredd, din tjocklek en decimeter.

Dina gångjärn, din höjd och din bredd är allt skuret ur en timmerstock;

jag tillverkade dig, jag lyfte och hängde dig i Nippur [i Enlils tempel].

 

 

Enkidu lade sig till sängs och beklagade sig över jägaren som önskat hans fångenskap, över Shamhat som förfört honom och tagit honom till Gilgamesh; för att han blev den han blev, utestängd från sitt fria liv i naturen, en förrädare mot sitt ursprung, dess förgörare. Enkidu tynade bort och dog. Gilgamesh var otröstlig, lämnade sitt palats, Uruk, sina män och kvinnor. Gilgamesh lät hår och skägg växa vilt, klädde sig i djurplädar och drev omkring i vildmarken, men inte som ett naturbarn likt Enkidu, utan som en galen best, en lejondödare, en ödeläggare.

Shamash, solguden, ensamma vandrares följeslagare, som ibland kunde gripas av medkänsla för de stackars människokrypen, såg Gilgameshs besinningslösa framfart:

Shamash blev oroad och böjde sig ner,

han talade till Gilgamesh:

O, Gilgamesh, vart vandrar du?

Livet du söker kommer du aldrig att finna.”

 

Shamash hade insett Gilgameshs problem. Som så många omogna ynglingar före honom kunde Gilgamesh inte begripa att döden var definitiv. Att hans vän Enkidu för alltid var borta och att han själv skulle dö. Men, Shamash uppenbarelse gav Gilgamesh en idé. Han visste att Solguden varje natt färdades genom en lång tunnel för att sedan gå till vila på andra sidan den östliga Oceanen. Där levde Gilgameshs förfader Uta-napishti, han som med sitt fartyg undkommit den stora översvämningen som dödat alla de djur och människor som inte befunnit sig på hans båt. Tanken gav Gilgamesh ett mål, han skulle ta sig till Uta-napisthi och genom honom finna livets hemlighet.

 

 

Mellan berget Mashus tvillingkrön fanns Solens tunnel, dess porar öppnades och slöts av Skorpionmän

 

vars skräck var Fruktan, vars blickar var Döden,

deras utstrålning var fasansfull,

deras storlek överväldigade bergen –

vid soluppgång och solnedgång skyddade de Solen.

 

Deras gestalter var så avskyvärda att Gilgamesh till en början dolde sitt ansikte då han nämade sig dem, men då han tog bort handen och djärvt betraktade de anskrämliga monstren förvånades de av hans djärvhet och lät honom träda in i den mörka tunneln.

 

Sedan rusade Gilgamesh timme efter timme genom det becksvarta mörkret, oroad över att inte kunna hinna ut innan solen kom och genom sin koncentrerade hetta brände honom till aska.

 

 

Efter en natts rusande genom tunneln nådde Gilgamesh strax innan gryningen fram till en paradisisk trädgård, men han unnade sig ingen vila utan skyndade vidare mot sitt mål. Snart stod han vid stranden och blickade ut över den östliga Oceanen, som ingen dödlig, förutom Uta-napishti och hans hustru, tidigare hade skådat.

 

Nu följer en märklig episod. Vid stranden av Världens ände var en krog belägen – vem kunde tänkas besöka ett sådant etablissemang? Människor kunde inte komma dit och vad kunde en gud ha för ärende dit? Undrar om Douglas Adams hade Gilgamesh i tankarna då han i Liftarens guide till Galaxen placerade en restaurang vid slutet av universum, det stället var dock betydligt livligare än krogen i Gilgamesh, där vi enbart finner innehaverskan, en kvinna vars ålder vi inte känner, men jag misstänker att hon var ung.

 

 

Berättelsen förtäljer heller inte vem hon är, eller vad hon heter och det gör heller ingen av de böcker jag läste för att skriva den här essän. Men, jag antar att hon var identisk med Ishtar. Hon var förvisso en välsituerad kärleks- och krigsgudinna, men kunde även uppenbara sig som en simpel prostituerad, inte enbart någon som höll till i templen, men någon som också utövade sin verksamhet i de enkla krogarna som lantarbetarna uppsökte då de återvände från sina dagsverken.

 

 

Då krogvärdinnan fått syn den pälsklädde främlingen, som med tovigt skägg och vildsint utseende närmade sig hennes etablissemang, spärrade hon dörren, sprang upp på dess platta tak och undrade där uppifrån vem besökaren var. Gilgamesh berättade då att han varit kung av Uruk, att han sörjde sin vän Enkidu och själv var rädd att dö. Krogvärdinnan släppte då in den ensamma vandraren. Ishtar visste nu att han var densamme som försmått hennes kärlek, dödat Himmelstjuren och en mängd lejon, djur som helgats henne. Likväl tycktes Ishtar, om det nu var hon, inte hysa något agg gentemot den nedslagne, patetiske Gilgamesh. Hon gav honom öl och förplägnad, alltmedan hon rådde honom:

 

Det liv du söker, kommer du aldrig att finna.

Då gudarna skapade mäniskorna

skänkte de dem döden,

livet behöll de för sig själva.

 

Men du, Gilgamesh, fyll din mage,

roa dig dag som natt!

Möt varje dag med glädje,

dansa och lek, dag som natt!

Låt dina kläder vara rena,

ditt huvud vältvättat, bada i rent vatten!

Betrakta barnet som håller din hand,

låt din hustru få njuta av dina upprepade famntag!

Ty sådant är de dödligas öde.

 

 

Det var priviligierad furstetillvaro Ishtar beskrev. En civiliserad, välvårdad man, inte en vilde. En herreman i stånd att njuta av vad han åstadkommit. Varför skulle då Gilgamesh i galen sorg och förtvivlan jaga efter vind? Dö skulle varje männsika. Men, Gilgamesh framhärdade i sin strävan efter evigt liv och den kloka Ishtar insåg att enbart dyrköpt erfarenhet skulle kunna förändra honom. Hon berättade att Shamashs färjkarl Ur-shanabi kunde ta honom över den östliga Oceanen. Om Gilgamesh kunde klara sig genom Dödens hav vars mäktiga strömmar genomfor Oceanens mitt, så skulle han på dess andra strand möta Uta-napishti och hans hustru, men evigt liv skulle han aldrig bevärdigas.

 

Frustrerad och besviken vandrade Gilgamesh ner mot Oceanen. I sin gränslösa irritation slog han ihjäl de Stenmän han mötte på stranden, retande sig på deras stumhet och vad han uppfattade som deras vägran att ta honom över havet. De dräpta Stenmännen visade sig dock vara Ur-shanabis besättningsmän och Gilgamesh var därför tvungen att med stor möda staka sig över Oceanen med hjälp av trehundra, tjugofem meter långa pålar, som han förlorade en efter en.

 

 

Kommen till Oceanens andra strand togs Gilgamesh välvilligt emot av Uta-napishti, som för honom redogjorde för syndaflodsberättelsen som fick George Smith att ta av sig kläderna på British Museum. Att Uta-napishti av gudarna tillerkänts ett evigt liv berodde på att de var honom tack skyldigt för sin egen överlevnad. Saken var nämligen den att då de enhälligt beslutat sig för att utrota mänskligheten genom den stora översvämningen gick den kloke sötvattensguden Ea, människornas skapare, i hemlighet mot deras beslut och kontaktade Uta-napishti som byggde sin väldiga ark för rädda djuren, utsädet och hantverksskickliga män från en säker död.

 

 

Då gudarna efter förödelsen fann att då de ödelagt jorden måste de för sin överlevnads skull bruka den på egen hand, om det nu överhuvudtaget skulle kunna att gå att göra det efter all den förödelse som de obetänksamt hade orsakat. Då Uta-napishti efter sin lyckosamma räddning offrade kött och frukter till gudarna, som tack för den ynnest de visat honom, flockades de till offermåltiden:

 

Gudarna vädrade doften.

Gudarna kände sötman.

Likt flugor flockades de kring den offrande mannen.

 

Gudarna tackade Ea för hans rådighet och gladde sig över att slippa bruka jorden och med möda återskapa det välstånd som tidigare rått därnere. De beslöt att fortsättningsvis bevara mänskligheten, men för att begränsa dess antal bestämde de att kvinnor skulle föda sina barn i smärta och svårighet och att människor framledes skulle dö av ålderdom – med två undantag, nämligen Uta-napishti och hans hustru, som belönades med evigt liv.

 

Dessvärre försäkrade även Uta-napishti Gilgamesh om att ingen människa, förutom han själv och hans hustru, kunde undkomma döden. För att mildra Gilgameshs dödsskräck försänkte Uta-napishti honom i djup sömn för att därigenom bevisa att själva döden inte smärtar – den är glömska och tomhet, inget annat. En sömn du inte vaknar upp ifrån. Det är livet som räknas, minnena du lämnar efter dig, och även de försvinner med tiden.

 

Uta-napishti försäkrade Gilgamesh om att meningen med hans tillvaro var att tjäna andra genom sin fursteroll. Inte var Gilgamesh född och uppvuxen för att bli en brutal vilde? Nej, han var en ledare, en handlingsmänniska. Om han, som nu, förnekade den rollen då vore han förvisso en oväsentlig varelse, då vore också hans död som en vindpust i öknen. Då Gilgamesh genom arbete och samtal övertygat Uta-napishti om sin duglighet och tillsammans med färjkarlen Ur-shanabi stod i begrepp att återvända till Uruk, sade Uta-napishtis fru till sin make att illa vore det om han skulle bli ihågkommen som någon som inte givit deras gäst en avskedsgåva. Uta-napishti berättade då om en plats i Oceanens djup där det växte en taggig planta som såg ut som en blandning av bocktörne och stenros. Om Gilgamesh kokade och åt den skulle han ”åter att bli som i sin ungdom”.

 

 

Upplysningen livade upp Gilgamesh, visserligen var han nu fullkomligt övertygad om att döden var oundviklig, men ett långt liv som en kraftig och ungdomlig man var förvisso eftersträvansvärt. Då de kommit ut på havet undrade han om färjkarlen visste var Ungdomens planta växte. Jodå, det kände Ur-shanabi till, men hur skulle Gilgamesh kunna få tag på den? Då de kommit till ungdomsblommornas växtplats lät Gilgamesh sig sänkas ner med stenar bundna vid fötterna. Han lyckades hålla andan så pass länge att han kunde plocka en av de taggiga växterna och i glädjerik triumf frigöra sig från stentyngderna och simma upp till den solglittrande vattenytan.

 

 

Dock kunde fick han under färden tillbaka till Uruk inget tillfälle att koka och äta den taggiga växten, utan han fick vänta med det tills de kommit fram. Dock, under en av färdens  nattliga uppehåll, då Gilgamesh sov på en ö, ringlade sig en orm upp ur havet och stal Ungdomens planta. Då Gilgamesh vaknade upp blev han givetvis förskräckt över stölden, men lugnade sig och log vid tanken på att han var på väg tillbaka till sitt tidigare liv, till hustru och barn, till den stad han härskade över och som han försett med så magnifika byggnadsverk. Vad betydde evig ungdom jämfört med sådant?

 

 

Då de längs den breda floden närmade sig Uruk och kunde se hur solen lyste upp dess mäktiga murar utropade Gilgamesh:

 

O, Ur-shanabi, bestig Uruks murar, gå fram och tillbaka!

Betrakta dess grund, tegelläggningen!

Brändes inte dessa tegelstenar i ugnar?

Lade inte De Sju Vise grunden?

 

En kvadratkilometer är stad, en kvadratkilometer är dadellundar, en kvadratkilometer

är tegelbruk, en kvadratkilometer är Ishtars tempel,

tre och en halv kvadratkilometer är Uruks bredd och vidd!

 

 

Därmed avslutas Gilgamesheposet som det började – med en hyllning till Uruk och dess murar. Som en bild av civilisationens seger över naturen – med dadelplantager, tegelbruk, murar och ett tempel helgat åt Ishtar, kärlekens och krigets gudinna. Men, som vi sett hade civilsationen skapats på bekostnad av naturen och den skulle inte ha kunnat existera utan att delar av den hade tämjts, som den plågade Enkidu, dödats, som naturkrafterna Humbaba och Himmelstjuren, eller ödelagts, som den mäktiga Cederskogen. Gilgamesheposet handlar om dödens ständiga närvaro, dess symbios med skapandet och dess slutgiltiga seger.

 

Jag ger sista ordet till den märklige diktaren från Prag, Rainer Maria Rilke. Han var en romantiker och drömmare och inte någon flitig läsare av klassiker. Rilke erkände villigt att han enbart läst brottstycken ur Hamlet och Dantes Gudomliga Komedi och inte en rad ur Gothes Faust. Under Första världskrigets masslakt och allmänna desperation blev Rilke dock fullkomligt betagen av Gilgamesh. Under brinnande krig skrev han 1916, efter att ha läst en tämligen usel översättning av eposet, till en väninna:

 

Här finner vi verkligen en gigantisk bok, inom vilken det lever en kraft och gestalter som är bland de största som de magiska orden skänkt varje tänkbar tidsålder. Helst av allt skulle jag för Er vilja berätta att här finner vi ett epos om dödsfruktan, uppkommen som ett obegripligt begrepp inom all mänsklig tanke, otänkbart genom att en separation mellan döden och livet vore definitiv och katastrofal.

 

 

Bergman, Bo (1903) Marionetterna. Stockholm: Bonniers. Burton, Nina (2018) Gutenberggalaxens nova: En essäberättelse om Erasmus av Rotterdam, humanismen och 1500-talets medierevolution. Stockholm: Månpocket/Bonniers. Chambers, John (2018) The Metaphysiclal World of Isaac Newton: Alchemy, Prophecy and the Search for Lost Knowledge. New York: Simon and Schuster. Ebeling, Florian (2007) The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus from Ancient to Modern Times. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press. George, Andrew (2003) The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other texts in Akkadian and Sumerian, translated with an introduction by Andrew George. London: Penguin Classics. Glassie, John (2012) A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change. New York: Riverhead. Jacobsen, Thorkild (1976) The Treasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press. Kirk, Geoffrey S. (1970) Myth: Its Meaning & Function in Ancient & Other Cultures. London: Cambridge University Press. Lloyd, Seton (1980) Foundations in the dust: The story of Mesopotamian exploration. London: Thames and Hudson. McLuhan, Marshall (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of typographic man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Moran, William L. (1980) ”Rilke and the Gilgamesh Epic,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies Vol. 32, no. 4. Sandars, Nancy K. (1972) The Epic of Gilgamesh. English Version with an Introduction by N.K. Sandars. London: Penguin Classics. Thompson Craig (2011) Habibi. New York: Pantheon.

 

 

04/05/2020 12:59

When I was ten years old I surprised my parents when I on my own initiative registered for violin lessons. I assume they thought it was a somewhat remarkable initiative since it is probably more common that it is parents who force their children to play an instrument. My decision was also somewhat strange considering that at the time, and it probably remains like that, most of my friends considered it to be geeky to devote yourself to such as mossy activity as violin playing when there were more important things in life, such as rock music and football.

A few years ago, I once again encountered a classmate I had not seen in fifty years. He had become a high-ranking municipal politician. Laughingly he, who remained a football and rock music fan, remarked that "you were already then a strange fellow who played the violin." I recall that when we ended up in high school he enthusiastically introduced me to the stereo effects in Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and how we together used to visit Hässleholm´s Jazz Club. His taste was not particularly sophisticated. His favorite was Glenn Miller, whom he zealously tried to convince me had been "a great innovator", this despite the fact that I stubbornly insisted that Miles Davis was much cooler. For hours, I could in darkness and loneliness lie and listen to his So What and Bitches Brew.

Like me my father was not particularly musically gifted. However, my youngest sister had a beautiful and confident voice, while my mother had a good ear and played excellent piano. Without difficulty, she could perform advanced pieces by Schubert and Beethoven. However, in spite of my lack of musical talent I enjoyed listening to all kinds of music.

Although I dutifully went each week to my violin lessons, year after year, I found them to be quite painful, especially since I was poorly prepared and my progress accordingly was non-existent. My first violin teacher was Kopsch. I have forgotten his first name. Since I was afraid of him I did not become as familiar with him as I later became with my other violin teachers. Kopsch told me strange and often scary stories that certainly found their source in an exceedingly gruesome imagination. For example, he told med about of a German tenor who lived sometime in the eighteenth century. This man had two faces and could thus sing duets with himself. I could not fathom why Kopsch told such stories to a little guy like me. He used his bony fingers, with sad-edged nails, to push my fingers hard against the fingerboard. He wanted to force me to find the right finger positions, maybe it was an effective method. I don't recall I was playing particularly false, though I never learned a proper vibrato and my capacity to keep the rhythm remained very bad indeed. To overcome such incapacities I probably needed much more patience, as well as disciplined training.

On my walks to Kopsch's lessons I passed with heavy steps the gloomy brick house of the Bible-trusting Friends. Every time I read the sign in front of the entrance to their assembly hall – Consider the brevity of life, the certainty of death and the length of eternity, an exhortation I did not find particularly encouraging.

Kopsch’s classroom was located in the attic of Kyrkskolan, The Church School, and was reached by a wide creaking staircase. While waiting for my lesson I sat on a wooden bench just outside the closed door, watching a reproduction of Gaugin’s Ta Matete, the Market, which hung on the opposite wall. Through the door I could hear the pleasing sounds from the violin of the girl who was having her lesson before me. She was more skilled than I could ever become. She was diligent and did her homework. All members of her family played some instrument. I knew her brother who played both the clarinet and the oboe. She sat next to me among the Youth Orchestra's first violins. I couldn't understand why I had ended up among the best violin students, as bad as I was at keeping my pace.

Maybe the conductor, Leif Jansson, was in agreement with Kopsch who used to point out: Jan, you are a hopeless Schüler, with bad Rhytmus Sinn, but you hast an unbestreitbar Schwung. The violin teachers who in new premises succeeded Kopsch – Ole Hylstrup and Ferenc Piller – also used to complain about my lack of any sense of rythm, though both asserted they were quite pleased with my posture and passion the few times I succeeded in playing a piece without my usual insecurity. According to my my memory I only learned two pieces properly – Bach´s Air, not the one played on the G-string but the original one from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in d major and Tale of the Heart by Wilhelm Åström:

There´s a spring in the forest´s shadow.
There´s a flower in every meadow.
Each heart shelters the truth,
of love that we had in our youth.

I don't know what happened to Kopsch. He was succeeded by Ole Hylstrup, who had a completely different personality. He was a good-natured prankster who made me think of the womanizing travelling salesmen who frequented Stadshotellet, the City Hotel. Hylstrup had for several years performed in a restaurant trio on ocean liners between Scandinavia and the U.S. He used to tell me Jeg have been in Sverige for so lang tid that jeg have completey fogotten the Danske sprog. Like Kopsch, Hylstrup liked to tell stories, though unlike the German violin teacher's more morbid tales the Dane’s stories were mostly pointless jokes. I can remember only one of them: What vermin walks around in a fur-coat? ... I do not have the slightest idea. A louse! Hylstrup laughed heartily at his own wittiness, it wasn't until much later that I understood the joke and it wasn't funny at all. Hylstrup also shared of his more or less fantastic business ideas. I didn't understand why. He sold me a violin, which low price made my father wonder if the instrument could really be as good as Hylstrup assured him it was.

The year before, during one of our camping holidays with the family's Renault Gordini, we had passed the small town of Mittenwald, located on the Alpine slopes just after Germany's border with Austria. After seeing some signs advertising violin sales, we stopped the car and visited a shop belonging to a luthier, violin builder. The shop owner greeted us in a polite manner, though we soon realized that he that immediately had spotted that we did not have the faintest idea about neither violins nor their value. Kindly laughing, the bearded gentleman explained that he did not sell his violins to little amateurs like me, but to world-renowned virtuosi, or wealthy collectors. That is why it surprised me when I a few months ago took out my violin from its more or less forgotten nook and found that the label inside the sound box stated that it had been made in Mittenwald. Probably it is a fake and I will bring the violin to my good friend Per Rudebjer, who is not only a skilled luthier but has many other strings on his lyre. He is, for example, a forester and a UN expert. It is Per who inspired me to write this blog post and he also helped me find some essemtial violin reading.

Well, even though I was a bad ensemble player, I was forced to play solo every year at the Municipal Music School's annual performance in the Linnaeus School's auditorium. Always Bach's Air and Åström´s Tale of the Heart. My piano accompanist was a girl some years older than me. In my opinion she was quite cool and beautiful. She was able to follow my erratic rhythm and smooth over my shortcomings and mistakes. Her skill was probably the reason to why we had to repeat the performance year after year sometimes extended with a Largo from Bach´s Concerto in f minor.

Just before my appearance was announced I became indescribably nervous, though as soon as I entered the stage it turned out that I could pass the fire test, something I found incomprehensible. It felt as if each performance had been a complete fiasco. I assumed my knees had been shaking uncontrollably and that the unstoppable trembling in my fingers caused every single note to sway. However, that was apparently my own personal opinion since afterwards I quite often heard from my teachers that my playing had exceeded their expectations. It had actually been quite good. Maybe it was because every time I played my pieces in front of a large audience I did so as if I had been in a trance, far beyond time and space, trapped within my own little world.

For some reason, Ole Hylstrup disappeared and was replaced by Ferenc Piller. Ferenc was of a different caliber than Hylstrup, more serious, he was also a rabid anti-communist and did not even want to hear anything about Russians like Stravinsky or Shostakovich, who were definitely not any communists. Of course, his great idol was Ferenc Lizt.

When Ferenc showed up and I heard him play, I finally realized that there was absolutely no future for me as a violinist and soon I put my violin on the shelf, or rather – hid it in the depth of a wardrobe.

A lasting benefit from my failed time as a violinist was that my performances had blown away all my concerns about acting and talking in front of an audience. The violin had been like an outgrowth of my body, the slightest sensation, minmal shiver, movement or posture affected the instrument. I suppose a violin, more than a cello and even more than a wind instrument or piano, possesses such characteristics. This is probably one of the reasons to why the violin has become so venerated and demonized, more so than any other instrument.

In any case, I found that as soon as I didn't have to face a crowd without the violin I was a free and carefree man. It felt wonderful, so incredibly easy and simple just to talk, to dodge the cumbesome and extremely sensitive violin. Just talking, nothing could be easier. Since then I have not had the slightest worry about expressing myself publicly. Even if I am capable of uttering a lot of stupidities I do not find that to be as embarrassing as the false tones and sqeeking I emitted from my violin.

On a closer reflection, it was probably the mystical power manifested through violin music that almost sixty years ago brought that ten-year-old boy to his failed violin lessons. The idea struck me when I recently listened to The Danish String Quartet´s CD – Prism II, Beethoven, Schnittke, Bach, which I had bought on impulse just before the Corona virus isolated us at home. Trios and string quartets have always attracted me. Over the years I have been partiularly intrigued by Schubert's chamber music.

The Danish String Quartet was an exciting acquaintance. On my CD they perform a fugue from Bach's solo pieces for piano, Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, arranged for string quartet by Beethoven's friend Emanuel Förster. This track leads to Alfred Schnittke's Third String Quartet from 1983 and the CD is concluded by one of Beethoven's last string quartets, No. 13 in ess major. The four young Danes describe their CD as "a musical beam split by Beethoven's prism" and explain that it was a result of their struggle with Beethoven's seemingly simple, but in fact extremely complicated and multi-faceted late string quartets. I don't understand much of that, but I find it exciting how the music passes from one level to another, from epoch to epoch, between different harmonic systems and between both familiar and unknown tunes. This creates dynamics and tension, sometimes torn apart and renewed by surprising dissonances.

It was Alfred Schnittke's name between Bach's and Beethoven's that made me buy the CD. All I knew about that composer was that he was a "modern" Russian, a master in the aftermath of my much appreciated Sjostakovich. I already owned a compilation CD with Russian film music, where Schnittke's beautiful, slightly romantic music was juxtaposed with Sjostakovich's equally pleasant soundtracks. I expected Schnittke to be almost as capable as Shostakovich when it came to create dynamic and stunning chamber music. The Danish String Quartet´s CD proved that I had not been mistaken. Alfred Scnittke´s chamber music became a new, dramatic acquaintance and the

music´s strength, that previously had been completely unknown to me, will henceforth make me seek out more about and by Alfred Scnittke.


 

Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) proved to be an excellent choice for a CD with mixed chamber music. His string quartet was like a house which doors open and close; irony, sentimentality and confusion follow one after another. The music rises and falls, calms down – only to unexpectedly attack the listener. It is such dynamics that make chamber music exciting, soothing and agitating, similar to slightly besotted, nightly coversations among friends, filled as they are with repetitions and inspiration.

 

Arthur Schnittke was one of those strangely composed European figures who in their multifacted personalities and through their colourful and sometimes disturbing origins summarize a wealth of impressions and experiences from a Europe characterized by war, art and the Cold War. Something that probably rendered him with a dark view of the world, maybe similar to the one of Shostakovich. Schnittke noted that "the history of humanity has not at all demonstrated any development from the worst to the better".

Schnittke was born in Engels, a port city on the Volga. It had in 1747 been founded in by chumaks, Ukrainian ox drivers and traders and was then called Pokrovskaya. Catherine the Great, who originally was a German (daughter of Frederick Augustus, Prince of Anhalt) invited Germans to settle in her sparsely populated empire. The immigrants were guaranteed tax relief, self-government, exemptions from military service, free language - and religious practice. Furthermore, each settler family was allocated 30 hectares of agricultural land. By the end of the 19th century there were more than a hundred so-called ”German villages” along Volga and nearly one million ”German-Russians”. In 1941, the Supreme Soviet decreed that all ”Volga-Germans” should be deported to Siberia, where many of them died. After the fall of the Soviet Union, two million ”Germans” emigrated from Russia, while 800,000 ”German descendants” remain, most of them living in Siberia.

Like many other intellectuals who grew up in Russia during the twentieth century, Alfred Schnittke's life was unique and remarkable. His father, Harry Schnittke, descended from several generations of Baltic Jews and had emigrated to Germany together with his parents. As a young writer and journalist he settled in Pokrovskaya, which by Stalin in 1931 had been renamed Engels. When all the ”Germans” in Engels were deported to Siberia, Harry Schnittke managed to prove that he was a Jew. His family was thereby allowed to remain in the city while he, in order to protect them, volunteered for the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union. By being both ”Germans” and Jews, his remaining family members met a fierce destiny, though they managed to survive and after the War they were reunited with Harry Schnittke, who in Soviet-occupied Vienna was working for Austria's first German-language newspaper after World War II – the Österreichischen Zeitung, which had both German and Soviet employees. The paper existed until 1955.

During his two years in Vienna, young Alfred Schnittke's life changed – he discovered the magic of music:

I felt every moment there to be a link of the historical chain, all was multi-dimensional; the past represented a world of ever-present ghosts and I was not a barbarian without any connections, but the conscious bearer of the task in my life.

That is how Schnittke came to create his polystylistic music, which was influenced by and ”preserved” impressions from earlier music. Occasionally Schnittke even verbatim reproduced small parts from previous music works:

There is a remarkable unity – primarily of the artist´s world (what he sees), but also of meaning (how he interprets it). There is a remarkable sense of the multidimensionality of time, in which eternity and the moment are one and the same thing, with the multiple facets of reality lying between them. […] The polystilistic tendency has always existed in concealed form in music and continues to do so, because music that is stylistically sterile would be dead.

Of course, Schnittke has been accused of plagiarism, but if such is the case a great modern and at the same time classical master like Igor Stravinsky may also be labeled as a plagiarist. Or Johannes Brahms, who for twenty years struggled with his First Symphony, constantly reworking it while he time and time again postponed its premiere. To a friend, Brahms wrote: "You cannot imagine how it feels to listen to the footsteps of a giant behind your back." The giant was Beethoven, who with his Ninth Symphony had broken down all barriers previously erected around the classical symphony and he thus opened the flood gates for the surge of Romanticism. When Brahms finally premiered his First Symphony he had to suffer the ignominy of having it called Beethoven's Tenth, something he nevertheless was secretly proud of. However, when it was repeatedly pointed out how numerous the similarities were with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Brahms became annoyed and quipped ”Das bemerkt ja schon jeder Esel! Every donkey can notice that!”

To refer to an admired master in your own works of art is actually not tantamount to plagiarism, it is rather an interpretation and can sometimes even be an improvement. As Picasso once pointed out, ”good artists copy, great artists steal.” If an artist creates a masterpiece, it generally contains allusions to and inspiration from other works of art. A symphony is a vast, extensive creation, or as Gustav Mahler pointed out: “A symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.”

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice is talking to a giant, hookah-smoking caterpillar which presents itself herself as a Know-it-all. In Disney's surreal version of the fairy tale, which does not slavishly follow the original, Alice begins to read a poem, but the caterpillar interrupts her.

Alice: Oh. Yes sir. How doth the little busy bee improve each...

Catterpillar: Stop. That is not spoken correctically. It goes: How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail. And pour the waters of the Nile, on every golden scale. How cheerfully he seems to grin, how neatly spreads his claws. And welcomes little fishes in with gently smiling jaws.

Allice: Well, I must say, I've never heard it that way before.

Catterpillar: I know. I have improoooved it.

 

It is probably such an inhibition-free, surprising ease and elegance I seek in and often assume myself to have found in chamber music. Presumably it may also be something I unconsciously strive for in my writing – whimsical dynamics, developments that tend to go astray but nevertheless may return to a red thread – all done for my own pleasure, while ignoring the presumptive reader. Maybe akin to when I in my early youth played the violin in front of an audience. At that moment I did not really care about the listeners. I didn't even notice them. However, writing is much easier than playing the violin. The keyboard is not part of my body and as I type, no one can criticize me for what I am writing. It is only at a later stage that criticism may emerge, but then I am prepared for it, well aware that my texts do not at all meet all the requirements that should be expected from them. I am not a champion and I am completely satisfied with that. Like a footballer who enjoys playing within the lower subdivisions with no ambition whatsoever to end up with the national team. The game is joy enough, not the competition and the money.

All creation is intimately connected and many writers have been tempted to mix different genres, often in an amateurish fashion, a daring activity that may easily end up in disaster. There are plenty of musically sounding poems, but not so many novels. One is however Birger Sjöberg's summer-fresh, uninhibited nostalgic and charming description of a Swedish small-town by the beginning of the Twentieth Century, which unfortunately is not translated into English – The Quartet That Split Up. The entire novel is written in the same charming, slightly ironic manner as Birger Sjöberg's songs, of which several have been translated into English by Colin MacCallum. To get a impression of these songs you might listen to Den första gång jag såg dig, The First Time I saw you, that my youngest sister used to sing:

The first time that I saw you, it was a summer’s day;
The morning sunshine – oh, so bright and clear
And all the meadows’ blossoms, in marvellous display
Were bowing, bending, swaying, far and near.

The first time that I saw you, it was a summer’s day,
The first time that I dared to take your hand, dear.

And therefore when I see you, even on a winter’s day
With snowdrifts lying glittering and cold,
I hear the lark’s sweet cadence, feel summer breezes play
And hear the ocean’s rushing waves unfold.

Here sung in the original Swedish by Sven Bertil Taube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TvAbraUyPY In the novel, just like in Sjöberg´s entertaing songs there is always an almost impereceptible undercurrent of loneliness, death and and sorrow.

Music is present in Sjöberg´s delightful novel, though it is not at the centre stage, on the other hand it is at the very centre of Vikram Seth's An Equal Music, a tragic love story between a self-centered violinist and a pianist, who is married and also about to become deaf. A number of string quartets, foremost among them Beethoven's Piano Trio, Opus 1, have a major part in the novel, which in its prose from time to time seems to capture the power, mystery and spirituality of music. Seth, who like Birger Sjöberg is a melodic and often rhyming poet, can actually be considered to have succeeded quite well in obtaining an effect where music and his tale are intimately intertwined. However, in spite of its obvious skill, not least through a credible and profound portrayal of the protagonists and impressive insights in the lives and existence of professional musician's live, An Equal Music became somewhat too sophisticated for my taste. Nevertheless, it is perhaps one of the best novels written about music. It is undoubtedly extremely difficult to capture in words such an evasive phenomenon as music, without becoming overly sentimental, wordy and contrived.

I came to think of these novels since I, with some anticipation, recently picked up Violin written in 1997 by Anne Rice. According to the promotional blurbs on its cover the novel would be about an enchanted Stradivari violin, a demonic, Russian, aristocratic and a lady from New Orleans who travel together through the ages and to various cities, such as Vienna and Venice, where they encounter composers such as Paganini and Beethoven. According to a review on the cover, Rice's novel ”flows like blood - of the life-giving, life-celebrating kind.” It certainly sounded somewhat tacky, though the novel could still be exciting.

Maybe Violin could be comparable to the movie The Red Violin, which through five centuries follows a ”red” Cremona violin as it is passed on from one hand to another – from the violin builder to his orphaned daughter and after her death further on to a German prodigy at the same orphanage. The young virtuoso brings the violin with him to Vienna. After his death the enchanted violin ends up with wandering Roma who take it to Oxford, where a beautiful Roma, violin-playing girl ends up as the mistress of an English aristocrat. When he has killed himself, the violin is brought by his Chinese servant to Shanghai where it re-surfaces during the Cultural Revolution. Following the death of its persecuted owner Chinese authorities send the violin to Montreal for evaluation and sale. However, the evaluator, a rude, unscrupulous New York-based violin restorer, steals the violin from the auction house, after replacing it with a copy. Before that, he has found that the violin's red color is due to the violin builder having mixed his dead wife's blood with the varnish. The film ends with the violin evaluator telling his daughter has a gift for her.

It is a beautiful film that may be helped by a soundtrack recorded by the sympathetic virtuoso Joshua Bell, but despite that I found it overloaded with embarrassing clichés and John Corigliano's music to be strangely bland. The film did not catch on. It appeared to be fragmented into a number of rather lifeless tableaux, without internal and external tension and depth. Completely different from a lush masterpiece like Miloš Forman’s Amadeus. Like his Hair it is a multifaceted and truly musical film. An exciting story packed with unforgettable scenes, complete with an original and acute dialogue that lingers in memory. A delightful rhythm, splendid imagery and solid performances. All executed in harmony with a richly flowing music and creative joy. Amadeus and Joseph Losey's Don Giovanni are my absolute favorites among movies made about classical music.

The Violin began on a promising note. An HIV-AIDS-deceased millionaire dies in a sumptuous mansion. His inconsolable wife spends several confused days maddened by grief close to the rotting corpse. Triana's hallucinatory state of mind made me think of Sadegh Hedayat's surrealistic novel The Blind Owl in which an opium intoxicated pencil-box painter roams within a distorted dream world, obsessed by guilt and death he is apparently constantly close to the rotting corpse of his wife, who he presumably has murdered. However, here ends all similarities between Hedayat’s astonishing masterpiece and Rice’s befuddled Violin.

In the Violin, the reader is confronted with a wealth of suggestive, but inchoate hints at Anne Rice's own life; her alcoholism, memories of her mother who died of acute alcohol poisoning, as well as her six-years old her daughter who died of leukemia, all against a backdrop of a moisture steaming New Orleans. But soon it all collapses in a jumble of stilted dialogues, unbearably overloaded dream visions, silly clichés constituted by, among other things, a possessed, sensual violin virtuoso, who furthermore is dead, awkwardly inept attempts to describe music and silly encounters with famous composers. What happened to Anne Rice? How could she derail in such a catastrophic manner? Does she nor have a literary agent/editor able to tell her that this was an unfortunate mishmash? Schmaltz of the most exasperating kind. I couldn't finish reading this debris from a pen craft that once had been quite good.

Something else could have been expected from a horror writer who from a New Orleans perspective wrote about music and possession. This is voodoo land soaked in breathtaking music. New Orleans is not that far from the birth place of the Mississippi Delta Blues and blues is for sure the Devil's music, as music ethnologist Alan Lomax had noted:

In factevery blues fiddlerbanjo pickerharp blowerpiano strummer and guitar framer was, in the opinion of both himself and his peers, a child of the Devil, a consequence of the black view of the European dance embrace.

And it was more bluesmen than the great Robert Johnson who learned to play from the Devil himself. Maybe it was probably just as common there down in the Mississippi Delta as it was in the deep forests in bygone Sweden that spooky creatures like the Swedish Näcken, or whatever they were called down there in the Bajou - The Devil, Papa Legba or Baron Samedi – on condition that he was willing to sell their souls to them taught musicians to perfect their skills at cross roads or on tombstones. Such creatures could even give their victims their own violins, or guitars.

Enchanted violins could probably there, as in Sweden, cause all kinds of misery. As in the small village of Hårga in the Swedish district of Hälsingland, where during a late Saturday evening, sometime in the mid-eighteenth century, a fiddler with a wide-brimmed hat and ”glowing” eyes during a barn dance suddenly stepped out of the shadows. He played a tune that made everyone step out to dance. Nothing could stop them. They danced and danced. When the day was dawning, just before the church bells rang for the morning mass, they had danced after the demonic fiddler all the way up to the Hårga Mountain, where they continued to dance until their bones and knuckles jumped up and down on the ground. It was the Devil who had lured the unfortunate lot up to the mountain, this was known since a girl had fallen to the barn floor and passed out when she trampled on by the possessed dancers. When the others danced away, she had been laying there, unconscious and with a broken leg. After waking up she could tell the village priest that she had clearly seen how the fiddler had stomped the beat with a cloven hoof.

In Igor Stravinsky's suggestive septet L'Histoire du soldat, The Soldier’s Tale, in which the Devil, among other things acts as violin virtuoso, the outcome of the tale is opposite to the one in Hårga. In L'Histoire du soldat it is the Devil who is becomes captivated and vanquished by the soldier's violin playing. The Devil's power over the soldier does not lie hidden in music but in greed and lust for power.

In Sweden most often, just like in the United States, it was not the Devil himself who bewitched people with his violin playing, but a fiddler who had learned to play from a demon in the sevice of the Devil. In the case of Sweden it was generally a nature creature called Näcken - the foremost fiddler of all. This wicked, but tragically lonely figure, did with his fiddling lure people to drown themselves in lakes and wells. Of course, it was tempting for a fiddler to learn to play from Näcken and he willingly obliged if you were fearless enough to make contact with the dangerous water sprite. There were countless ways to make the Näcken show up and provide you with lessons. The best time to contact Näcken was during the Midsummer´s night, but with the right approach it was possible to contact him almost every Thursday night, waiting for him by the edge of a river or lake.

It would then be appropriate to bring your own violin and play for Näcken, even more effectively it would be to sit naked on a rock at the edge of a lake or stream and pass your bow over a smoked leg of mutton, which you gave to Näcken when he appeared. The demon then asked if he could borrow your violin. Näcken then carefully examined the instrument before asking:

- Shall I tune the violin to the fingers, or the fingers to the violin?

A wise fiddler obviously chose the first option. The Näcken then twisted and bent your fiddle before handed it back to you. Despite Näcken's brusque handling the instrument it appeared to be unchanged, but after Näcken´s treatment the violin never had to be tuned again and it played very nicely.

It also happened that Näcken made the fiddler forfeit his soul to the powers of evil, often by swapping fiddle with him. He then took the fiddler’s violin and asked him to turn away. When the fiddler at Näcken's request turned around again and looked down at the ground, he saw two identical violins lying there. If the fiddler chose the right one, he got his magically tuned violin back, but if he chose the wrong instrument, he brought Näcken's violin home with him home and he was then doomed by the end of his earthly existence to enter Hell's eternal fire.

The fiddle of the Näcken was extremely dangerous. The fiddler could easily lose control of it, enter a state of ecstasy and play as if possessed. Then the same thing could happen as in Hårga – that the fiddler could not stop playing and people could not stop dancing. Before dawn the player had danced himself and his audience into a swamp or lake, where they all drowned. Once upon a time, however, both the fiddler and the dancers were saved. A stone deaf farmworker realized what was going on and managed to cut the strings from the violin of the possessed fiddler.

Näcken, or the Devil, could also give the violinist a piece of music, for example the eerie Näcken’s polka (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90Eii0EYnC0). Most famous in the genre of devilish tunes is probably Giuseppe Tartini's (1692-1770) Sonata in g minor, the so-called Devil´s Trill, Il trillo del diavolo. Three years before his death, Tartini told Jérôme Lalande, a French astronomer and diarist, how the music came to him::

One night, in the year 1713 I dreamed I had made a pact with the devil for my soul. Everything went as I wished: my new servant anticipated my every desire. Among other things, I gave him my violin to see if he could play. How great was my astonishment on hearing a sonata so wonderful and so beautiful, played with such great art and intelligence, as I had never even conceived in my boldest flights of fantasy. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted: my breath failed me, and I awoke. I immediately grasped my violin in order to retain, in part at least, the impression of my dream. In vain! The music which I at this time composed is indeed the best that I ever wrote, and I still call it the ”Devil's Trill”, but the difference between it and that which so moved me is so great that I would have destroyed my instrument and have said farewell to music forever if it had been possible for me to live without the enjoyment it affords me.

According to an Italian comics magazine, Dylan Dog: Sonata Macabra, Tartini was for the rest of his life tormented by his inability to accurately reproduce the music he had heard in his dream. Tartini constantly struggled to rewrite his Trillo del diavolo, though he could not even approach the immense perfection he had heard during the fateful night.

In my opinion, Pasquale Ruju's comic is more sophisticated than Anne Rice's tangled opus. By Rujo a young and beautiful Russian violinist is manipulated by a group of Satanists, who imagined that with her help they would be able to reconstruct the original Devil’s Trill and thus find a language through which the Devil could manifest himself and enter the mind of people. Through this magical music, they believed they could change everything to their own benefit. The road to such perfection of the Devil's work here on earth would obviously lead though a variety of violent crimes inspired and promoted by a diabolical millionaire. A not quite unusual combination of the ingredients of a true horror story – magical violins, millionaires´ boundless greed, overly skilled and beautiful violinists and the Devil's constant scheming, which in the end is frustrated.

The association of body and soul can possibly be reflected through the connection between a violinist and his/her violin. A symbiosis through which the instrument becomes a means of expression conveying the violinist's inner being, perhaps even his/her desire to ”become someone”, to become visible to his/her surroundings. It is therefore not only the music but also the aesthetics of the instrument and its users that are provided with a great importance. The violin is a beautiful work of art. Its design, for example the scroll, the black intarsia along its edges, the ebony of the fingerboard, the luster of the varnish and many other details do not really have such a great impact on the sound as they have for aesthetics. They may occasionally apply to the musician who handles the instrument, and from time to time a great emphasis is placed on his/her appearance and performance.

Some male violin virtuosi seem to be vying for some kind of outsider image, like David Garrett and Nigel Kennedy, who obviously cultivate an image as eccentric geniuses. It was no coincidence that Bernard Rose chose David Garrett to act as Niccolò Paganini in his movie The Devil's Violinist.

Paganini is considered to be the archetype of a demonic violinist with a fatal appeal on women. His physique was not quite normal. He obviously suffered from Marfan´s Syndrome, a hereditary disease affecting connective tissue, and thus the cardiovascular system, skeleton, joints and eyes. The disorder made Paganini lean, with long arms, fingers and toes. It also provided him with extremely flexible joints, a characteristic that probably contributed to his incredible skill while handling a violin.

Like so many other prodigies, Paganini was whipped on by his parents and at a young age he became a full-fledged violinist, in demand at the princely courts in northern Italy, though he mainly gained admiration and income through celebrated tours throughout Europe. Paganini was almost universally recognized as an incomparably talented violinist, though many became enraged or disappointed by his exaggerated and glaring showmanship during concerts that attracted hordes of captivated groupies. Constantly harassed by illnesses, not the least tuberculosis and syphilis, Paganini compensated for his physical shortcomings and complexes by acting as a demonic womanizer, while abusing alcohol and opium, as well as suffering from recurring, severe depressions. Part of his image consisted in fueling rumors that he had made a pact with the Devil, which caused controversies with the Catholic Church and, among other things, delayed his Christian burial in Genoa. It wasn't until 1870 that his corpse found a lasting resting place in Parma.

It was with some anticipation I looked forward to The Devil's Violinist, especially since I had appreciated Bernard Rose's previous film about Beethoven, Immortal Beloved. A very musical film in which Gary Oldman makes an impressive performance as Beethoven. However, The Devil's Violinist was a disappointment; a historical tableau without depth and excitement. Admittedly, David Garrett makes an convincing effort as a violin-playing Paganini (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjAzqZMLMHY ), though as an actor he is next to disastrous, especially compared to the skilled Oldman. To me, the film fell flat to the ground, though Garrett's violin performances were well worth the ticket price, despite their somewhat superficial flashiness.

The Devil's Violinist wallowed in the myth of the demon-possessed violin virtuoso, but not as much and shamelessly as in the only film directed by the undoubtedly somewhat crazy Klaus Kinski, who even named his bizarre opus Kinski/Paganini. It seems as if Kinski had almost completely identified himself with what he believed to be a self-obsessed, misunderstood genius and sex maniac. The film is an outlandish concoction, almost without dialogue and filled to the brim with frantic violin playing and lovemaking with young women. Two years after the film, Kinski was dead and thus his movie became a fitting epitaph for this extremely strange actor.

If some male violinists strive for an image as unpolished, Bohemian geniuses, several female virtuosi appear to be impeccably elegant and cool beauties, in stylish accessories. For example, it is common for a virtuoso like Ann-Sofie Mutter to receive compliments not only for her impeccable violin playing but also for her custom-made dresses from Chanel, Givenchy, Dior and Nicholas Oakwell, often in colours that match her Stradivarius.

Other highly skilled, young and female violin virtuosos such as Hilary Hahn and Sarah Chang receive accolades for their looks and dresses, which some music lovers consider to be a detriment to the appreciation of their great talent. It may be understandable, though music performances are after all also displays of showmanship and pageants, something many solo artists seem to be well aware of it.

Music purists may also be annoyed by the genre transcendent tendencies that some great violinists demonstrate. For example has Hilary Hahn become known for so-called cross-genre collaboration with various ”popular artists”. To a greater extent, Nigel Kennedy has drawn criticism for his ”diva behaviour” combined with ”crowd-pleasing tricks”. The now deceased, but once extremely influential ”cultural personality” Sir John Drummond with his backing from BBC did for example demean Nigel Kennedy by among other things criticise him for wearing a black cape and ”Dracula like” make-up while performing Alban Berg's violin concerto. Drummond attacked Kennedy's ”ludicrous clothes” and ”self-invented accent” and appointed Kennedy as the ”Liberace of the Nineties”.

I don't care about that at all. To me Nigel Kennedy is the great entertainer on one of my absolute favorite CDs – East Meets East. Appearance and stage performance does not mean much to me. The self-assured and powerful David Oistrakh, with his mellow, heartfelt and confident style is and remain