by Anthony M. Ludovici
This book has a strange history. The last event in the chain which brought it into existence was a debate on the question of Total Prohibition held at the Sesame Club in London on November 3rd, 1919, to which I was invited by the Committee in order to oppose the Bishop of Willesden, who was to advocate Total Prohibition for these islands. I mention this most recent event first, because it was on the occasion of this debate that various thoughts and conjectures relating to problems apparently as far apart as Greek mythology and modern diet, with which my imagination had been occupied for some considerable time, first crystallised into the theory which I have thought worthy of the serious treatment given to it in this essay.
Among the other events connected with this book, I may mention: (1) The last great war and the enforced leisure, with its opportunities for meditation, which it frequently provided in the firing-line and out of it to a field-gunner like myself; (2) the writing of my Defence of Aristocracy in the years 1912, 1913, 1914, and the attention which I was compelled to pay, in the preparation of this book, to such questions as the drink and food of the people of England from the seventeenth century onwards; (3) the perusal of a friend's book in MS. on Dietetics, which first awakened my curiosity about accessory food factors; (4) the publication by the Medical Research Committee of their Report on the Present State of our Knowledge concerning Accessory Food Factors; and finally (5) the first account I received, as a child, of the myth of Prometheus.
The ancient Greek story of the Fire-stealer had always fascinated me. I did not, like Byron, ever make it the subject of a youthful literary essay, but it was not the less prominent in my thoughts on that account. Certain features connected with it always puzzled me, and as I grew older I became less and less satisfied with the various learned explanations of the myth and its principal figure, with which I became acquainted. The mystery surrounding it seemed to increase rather than to disperse beneath these scholarly dissertations, until latterly I even sympathised with the late Mr. Andrew Lang in his reluctance to accept the most learned, the most ingenious, and certainly the most daring of all these explanations, – the exceedingly erudite and exhaustive work of Dr. Kuhn.
It struck me then, and it strikes me still, that in any case Dr. Kuhn's interpretation must be rejected at all costs, even at the risk of doing violence to etymology, though this last extreme measure I do not believe to be in the least necessary, seeing that it fails to elucidate some of the most vital and therefore most interesting features of the myth. For many years, moreover, and despite repeated failures, I have been unable to repress a strong feeling that it must be possible to discover an explanation of the Fire-stealer legend, which would not only give a logical place to every important element in the myth, but also perhaps shed a little valuable light on the early history of mankind. A child can see that the stealing of fire from the gods must have been not only a vital, but perhaps the most vital event in the early history of the human race. But what always puzzles a child, – at least what always used to puzzle me was, (1) that it should have been necessary to steal fire from the gods; and (2) that the gods should have been apparently so immoderately angry once the theft had been committed.
I need hardly say that learned mythologians and classical scholars(1) have heretofore offered no satisfactory explanation on these two points. Nay, worse, it scarcely ever seems to have occurred to them that these matters might require a certain amount of elucidation, even if we took the whole myth, as most of them do, simply as a harmless, partly unintelligible, though certainly entertaining fairy-tale. But it is not altogether surprising that learned and scholarly commentators on the myth should be guilty of this omission. A certain emotional prepossession, such as that which Byron, Shelley, Goethe, and lesser men have evinced towards Prometheus as a heroic figure, is a serious obstacle in the way which leads to the truth in this matter; and this prepossession has, I believe, been shared almost universally by modern European scholars and those among us who have been their students.
I must confess that from the very beginning I have never been influenced by any such prepossession in favour of Prometheus, – in fact, to speak quite frankly, I have never felt altogether satisfied concerning his reputed great virtues; – perhaps that is sufficient to account for my setting out now to offer a more thorough and I believe more satisfactory interpretation of the old Greek myth than has been presented hitherto. It will be seen, moreover, that, as most fairly intelligent children would anticipate, a thorough and searching interpretation of this myth does indeed shed a tremendous amount of light upon man's beginnings, and on many other problematic questions which, at a first glance, appear to have no connection with Prometheus whatsoever; but that which even the most intelligent child could scarcely have foreseen is, that the fire myth of the ancient Greeks is intimately connected with the question of diet and drink, and that these two departments of modern, as of ancient life, can scarcely be studied apart from the life-history of the crafty Titan. It is this unexpected connection, among other matters, that I propose to investigate in the following pages.
Briefly stated, the thesis I propose to elaborate, and if possible to substantiate, is as follows:–
The myth of the Titan Prometheus and of his theft of fire from the gods represents a traditional record of an actual event in the history of the ancestors of the ancient Greeks. Assuming on Spencerian grounds that the gods of the ancient Greeks were human beings of flesh and blood belonging to a race very much superior to the ancestors of all European peoples, I suggest that Prometheus's theft of the secret of fire-production from these so-called gods proved a great calamity to the people to whom he handed this secret (the inferior race with which the god-like race had mingled). The internal evidence of the myth itself points to its having been a calamity, and I see no reason for doubting this evidence, but rather every reason for believing it to be true. The only question which remains imperfectly decided by the myth is the precise nature of the calamity. Prometheus, far from being a great benefactor of mankind, as modern thought, owing to a deliberate misunderstanding, supposes him to have been, was therefore, as the myth reveals him, a creature who out raged both gods and men. Not until Dionysus appeared with his medicines, and particularly his dispensary of fermented liquors, were the appalling evils resulting from Prometheus's theft of fire-production mitigated and neutralised. The chemical changes that take place in the cooking of food, as also the physiological effects of these changes, are adduced to show how deleterious are the results of the application of fire to natural products used as human food; and in the chapters dealing with Dionysus I show how these deleterious results have been checked, and may still continue to be checked, by the use of fermented liquors. Prometheus versus Dionysus is thus the theme of the book-Prometheus, with his unhealthy civilisation, being the evil genius, and Dionysus, with his healthy dietaries, his mead, his wines and his ales, being the Saviour of mankind. The conclusion of my thesis is, therefore, that if men propose to abolish Dionysus, they can do so with safety only on the understanding that they return to the conditions of a pre-Promethean civilisation – an impossible alternative!
My thanks are due to the Controller of His Majesty's Stationery Office for kindly granting me permission to reproduce certain extracts from the Medical Research Committee's Report on Accessory Food Factors, and also to the firm of William Heinemann for allowing me to quote from the Loeb Classical Library. All translations of classical authors in this work, unless otherwise stated, have been taken from this excellent series.
A. M. L.
(1) I would exclude Professor J. S. Blackie from this generalisation.