Race and the Myth of the Origins of Rome I

This essay by Julius Evola, which will appear in two parts, was originally published in the journal La Difesa della Razza.
Go to Part II ⇒

In the context of the recent series of posts, this can be understood as the “Noble Lie” about the birth of Rome. From the point of view of profane history, these myths are simply superstitions. Evola, on the other hand, drawing on Vico, Bachofen, Guenon, inter alia, views such symbols, myths, and legends as witnesses to the inner spirit of a people, which cannot be grasped simply in the accumulation of historical facts. Logically, this technique leads him to move beyond the merely physical and zoological understanding of race to his theory of the races of the spirit.

In this first part, Evola brings to light two aspects of the myth. First is the idea that the founder was born from the union of a god with a mortal woman. The god confers spiritual qualities on the founder. In this case, Mars, as the god-father of Romulus and Remus, is the spirit of warrior virility, not just on the twins, but on the entire city.

The second aspect is being saved from the Tiber as infants. For Evola, this represents the hero, the seer, etc., men above the flow of time.

The defect in Evola’s methodology is that he is left in the same position as the profane historian: the third person perspective. Although he sees more deeply, he is still an outsider and does not participate in the myth. So, yes, for him, too, it is a Noble Lie. For the Romans, Mars was a living being, not some abstract force, and the story of their miraculous rescue from the Tiber was considered history, not legend.

Although we can get some idea of the spirituality and mentality of the Romans from Evola’s analysis, a scholarly discussion cannot lead us to that same state. For that, the method of Hermetic meditation described by Valentin Tomberg is much more helpful. This is a lesson for those hoping to establish a new regime somewhere, sometime: they must create a noble lie that is also a spiritual truth.

In his Life of Romulus (I,8), Plutarch writes:

Rome would not have risen to such power had it not had, in any way, a divine origin, such as to offer to the eyes of men something great and inexplicable.

Cicero repeats the same thing (Nat. Deor. II,3,8) then going on to consider (Har. Resp., IX, 19) the Roman civilization as that which through sacred knowledge surpassed every other people or nation: omnes gentes nationesque superavivums. For the ancient Romans, Sallust has the expression religiosissimi mortales [the most religious mortals].

On the other hand, in our day all of that is fantasy or superstition for many “serious” persons and many “critical” minds. The “facts” are the only things that count for them. The mythical traditions of the ancients have no value, or they have it only insofar as it is supposed that, here and there, they are confused reflections of real events, that is to say, tangibly historical. There is, in that, a fundamental misunderstanding that was already denounced, to a certain degree by our Giambattista Vico, then by Schelling, still more recently by Bachofen and, finally, by the most recent school of the metaphysical interpretation of myth, and by those little known today (Guenon, W. R. Otto, Altheim, Kerenyi, etc.). According to all these writers, the mystical traditions are neither arbitrary creations more or less on the poetic and fantastic plane, nor deformations and transpositions of historical elements. Especially in regard to origins, it was correctly pointed out that symbols and legends,

if only in a dramatized form, represent actually and truly the history of the beginnings of a nation, but not the history of events occurring materially on earth, but rather of spiritual processes that have given birth to a new people alongside other people although different in culture and civilization: history, so to say, of its prenatal period.

Legend and history are tightly connected; the former proceeds through interiorization and is dispersed through images, while the latter proceeds through exteriorization as facts and events. These images are the result of formative living forces, facts are organized by the human thought. In legends one is transported by formative forces; in the other, there is premeditated organization of facts. But the legend is the invisible part and root of history; it is not poetry, rather it is a reality much vaster than history itself. The threads of the destiny of a people that unravel visibly in the most various ways in their historical development, go back to the impulses, to the creative spheres, to which the heroes of its legends are connected.

In a particular way, Bachofen revealed that even at the point in which evidence, by being recognized as a myth, came to be rejected by profane history, even when it is a positive witness to the spirit of a people.

In that way, a study of mythical traditions, using new criteria, can lead us to interesting conclusions from the point of view of a theory of race that is not defined by the material aspects of the issues, but also addresses the inner reality of race.

On the occasion of the current anniversary of the Birth of Rome, we want to illustrate this interpretative method, applying it precisely to the exegesis of the myth of our origins. The legends related to the birth of Rome concentrate such a quantity of sensitive elements based on general meanings of civilizations and mythologies of Aryan peoples, that a special work would be necessary to analyze them and clarify them adequately. Therefore, we will point out here only the most notable themes, among which are: the miraculous birth, the theme of being “saved by the waters”, of the “wolf”, of the “tree”, of the rival pair of twins.

The myth of the union of a god with a mortal woman, in the present case, of Mars with Rhea Silvia, from which union Romulus and Remus were born, recurs in almost all traditions in regard to the birth of “divine heroes”. Zeus and Leto gave birth to Apollo, Zeus and Acmene to Hercules, Heracles being the symbolic hero of the Doric-Achaean Aryan peoples, and Apollo having a connection with the land of the Hyperboreans and with the primordial Nordic-Aryan races. An analogous origin, in properly Germanic traditions, is attributed to the heroic peoples of the Volsungs, to which Siegfried belongs.

In the ancient royal Egyptian tradition—whose remote origin can with good reason also be considered to be Aryan, Atlantic-Occidental—every sovereign is thought to have been begotten by a god uniting with the queen: this tradition in which the hidden meaning of the myth comes to the fore, inasmuch as a miraculous birth without the help of a man, of a human father, was imagined. Since the queen had her consort, the idea that her son was conceived by a god, being awakened to life by her husband, could only indicate that he, not in his moral part, but so to say, in that eternal and “divinatory” part, had to be thought of as a type of incarnation of a decisive supernatural element that came to confer a royal dignity on him.

In the case of Rome, therefore, Mars is such an element from above, that is, the divine representation of the principle of warrior virility. Such a force stands therefore at the origins of the Eternal City and at the basis of its secret origin, veiled by the legend: so that in some traditions from the era of the Roman Republic itself, it will be directly conceived as the “son” of Mars. And this “Mars” force is associated with those who may be the guardians of the sacred flame of life; symbolically: with a vestal (Rhea Silvia).

The twins Romulus and Remus are abandoned to the waters and are saved from the waters. Here again is a symbolic theme recurring in many traditions: Moses is saved from the waters, the Indo-Aryan hero Karna is left in a basket in the river and is saved from the waters, and so on. But the symbol contained in the most ancient Aryan tradition is especially important, i.e., the Vedic tradition, in which ascetics are depicted as “supreme natures who stand on the waters”. Analogous explanations and, therefore, the hidden meaning of such a symbol, can be clarified as follows: the waters have traditionally always depicted the current of time, i.e., the basic element of mortal, unstable, contingent, passionate, fleeting life. The weak man is taken from the waters and carried from the waters. The seer or hero, the ascetic or the prophet is saved from the waters, or is capable of standing on the waters, or of not sinking in the waters. Hence, in the myth of the origins of Rome this symbol must again characterize the “divine” element of the founders of Rome, their, so to speak, supernatural dignity.

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