Tuesday, September 25, 2007

From behind 2.31

The cult of Mithra, less widespread then than it has become since our expedition in Parthia, won me over temporarily by the rigors of its stark asceticism, which drew aut the bowstring of the will, and by its obsession with death, blood, and iron, which elevated tdhe routine harshness of our military lives to the level of a symbol of universal struggle. Nothing could have been more in contradiction to the views which I was beginning to hold about war, but those barbarous rites creating bonds of life and death between the affiliates all served to flatter the most secret aspirations of a young man impatient of the present, uncertain as to the future, and thereby open to the gods. [...] In recent years I have reflected upon the dangers which this sort of near-secret society might entail for the State under a weak ruler, and I have finally restricted them, but I admit that in presence of an enemy they give their followers a strength which is almost godlike. Each of us believed that he was escaping from the narrow limits of his human state, feeling himself to be at the same himself and his own adversary, at one with the god who seems to be both the animal victim and the layer. Such fantastic dreams, which sometimes terrify me now, were not so very different from the theories of Heraclitus upon the identity of the mark and the bow.

M. Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian, Penguin, 1986, p. 56.


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