Divine Fury by Darrin M. Mcmahon
A history of genius
Even today more than 2,000 years after its first recorded by the Roman author Platus, it continues to resonate with power and allure. The power to create. The power to divine the secrets of the universe. The power to destroy. With hints of madness and eccentricity, sexual prowess and protean possibility, genius remains a mysterious force, bestowing on those who would assume it superhuman abilities and godlike powers. (genius, from Latin verb gigno meant to generate, father, beget),
To create originally without precedent, pattern or model, was never the ideal of the ancient artist or sage and indeed the ancient frequently denied the very prospect. As early as the third millennium BCE, the Egyptian scribe Kakheperresenb could comment on the impossibility of writing phrases that ‘are not already known’, ‘in language that has not been used’ with ‘words which men of old have not spoken’. And in the eleventh century Sanskrit epic song-cycle the Katah sarit sdgara or Ocean of the streams of story, the god Shiva’s lover Parvati begs him to tell her a tale that has never been heard before and that will never be heard again. Shiva was a god of great talents (among his remarkable feats, he maintained an erection for eons). But the best he is able to muster is a pastiche of well-worn tales that are in turn quickly recycled. In this case, true originality is impossible even for god.
The moral of the story is that there is nothing new under the sun - a sentiment that will be familiar to readers of Jewish and Christian scriptures, but in fact common to virtually every ancient account in which God or gods are helped to have created the universe and all that it contains or in which the universe is understood to have always existed (Saint Thomas Aquinas affirms in typical refrain ‘God alone creates’). As late as 18th century, French jurists drew on that principle to justify the king’s authority over copyright on all books and ideas. It was only just that God was the author of everything in the universe; it was only just that his representative on earth should oversee how royalties were collected and dispersed on behalf of their true creator.
Genesis 6 elaborating a race of fallen angels, ‘the sons of man who were moved by lust to couple with women of the earth. The fruit of their unnatural union are giants, part human, part divine, who bring evil and oppression to the world while disclosing knowledge stolen from God. Just as Zeus punishes Prometheus for his theft and disclosure Yahweh lays waste to the giants and their misshapen world in the great flood that spares only Noah. Christian legend elaborates on a similar theme, telling Lucifer the bright of light and wisest of the angels became Satan, ‘the enemy’ by daring to usurp the function of creation which is prohibited even to the angels.
The Romans associated genius in art with the horn of plenty and the snake, both symbols of reproductive capacity. The horn, with its undulating shaft, was a ubiquitous sexual metaphor in its own right and of course still is (are you feeling honey). And even more plainly, the serpent, close to the ground and all things that rise from it, was seductive by virtue of its shape alone: it is an archetypal symbol of fecundity and procreation in many ancient cultures. In early Italian religion, probably preceding even the founding of the Roman Republic at the end of the sixth century BCE, the snake appears to have served as a totem of genius, a sacred creature that watched over the family and clan, embodying its reproductive power and guarding its lands. It is revealing that two of Rome’s greatest chroniclers, Plutarch and Livy, took pains centuries later to comment on the persistence of the legend of the begetting of Alexander the Great by an immense serpent-genius. A snake, Licy reports, was often seen in the bed chambers of Olympia, Alexander’s mother, and evidently possessed her. Livy’s successor, Suetonius, recounts a similar tale, telling of the magical serpentine origins of the emperor Augustus.
The description of the martyrs as serpents is striking given the fact that the image generally recalls for Christians the snake in the Garden of Eden, who slides in the grass of human sin.
[The caduceus is often used incorrectly as a symbol of healthcare organizations and medical practice (especially in North America), due to confusion with the traditional medical symbol, the rod of Asclepius, although this has only one snake and is never depicted with wings].
[Skipping genius in the modern times as there is nothing new much compared to others books on similar topic]
The role of genius in the social science, and even in psychology, the discipline that long claimed genius has its own, has changed considerably. The noted Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner meanwhile has reenergized a line of inquiry originally pursued by those such as LL. Thurstone who argued in the early 20th century that intelligence was in truth composed of a number of primary mental abilities. In Gardner’s influential formulation, crystallized in his 1983 ‘Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligence’ there are eight such primary abilities, including intelligence not only for language, logic, and mathematics, and spacial awareness, but also for music, the body and its movement, interpersonal relations and even for a relation to the natural environment and existence itself, And though neither the theory of emotions intelligence (forwarded by Daniel Goleman)nor that of multiple intelligence has been immune to criticism, they register perfectly the broader push to pluralize and democratize what once was called genius.
As Emerson put it over a century and half ago in a passage that serves as an epigraph to this book, the genius of humanity continues to be the right point of view of history. : Once you saw phoenixes: they are gone; the world is not therefore disenchanted”. May it never be.