Many writers have remarked on anticipations of the life of Jesus in myth and in the writings of the ancient Greek poets and dramatists. These may be seen as alternative explorations of meanings (hermeneutics) to those of the Christian Church through the writings of the Old Testament prophets. Simone Weil’s posthumously collected writings ‘Intimations of Christianity amongst the Ancient Greeks’ and T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ with its notes on sources are perhaps the most distinguished twentieth century examples.
Just as George Herbert imagines Jesus choosing to climb the Tree of Life ( see previous post), so Rilke with staggering economy creates his own myth of Orpheus climbing the World Tree. (Sonnets to Orpheus I,17) There is something frightening about the notion of someone with the ardour and single mindedness to pursue perfection ( climbing a ideal physical equivalent), as there is of an intuition of eternal life. I suppose that is why such a person is depicted sometimes as a holy fool (eg Siegfried), and also why one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is said to be fear of God. Buddhists, perhaps more modestly, seek deliverance from the wheel of life. Here is Rilke’s astonishing poem:-
Deepest of all the old one, gnarled root of everything, buried origin which they have never seen. Helmet and hunting horn, wisdom of the elders, men in their rivalries, women like lutes... branch caught on branch none wholly free... One perhaps! O climb... All of them will break. At last the highest one bends into a lyre.