– A contribution instead of an epilogue –
Had there been no beginnings and endings, there would not have been stories either, is what the European Virginia Woolf used to say. However, to the Balkan Emil Cioran1F this game – of beginning and end – knows no boundaries, for “each of our ideas recreates the world, and each of our thoughts destroys it. Our everyday lives are alternatively influenced by cosmogony and apocalypse… apart from the creation and destruction of the world, all else is worthless” (Cioran; 1996:97). Worthless… as a soft, meaningless story, as the fiction of birth and the fact of destruction, as the endeavor to follow through the development of an idea, through myths and symbols, through stories of power and histories of weakness, through personal memories and someone else’s traumas, through their need for a (re)creation of the world…
But, let us take one thing at a time. It all began with the myth of Europe.
The creation of the Continent, the discovery of the Sunset
Denis De Rougemont’s powerful book, Twenty Eight Centuries of Europe, contains the arch-history of the continent which, before it became a nomen, was an Asian goddess, one of the three thousand Oceanids (the saintly maidens, whose cult ruled the Near East). The arch-history of Europe is an arch-history of a “continent without a name, says Denis De Rougemont, which was slowly populated, civilized and brought to life by people, ideas and crafts, arriving from the coast of the Near East (Rougemont; 1997:12). According to historian Gonzague De Reynold, Europe came to us from Asia, ‘the mother of all great religions, the parent of all great legends’, in which all was one and different at the same time. Proof for this claim can be found in the lyrical interpretation of the ancient continent creation myth, ascribed to Moshos, a Sicilian poet from Syracuse who lived in 2 B.C. According to the myth, the son of Chronos, Zeus, disguised as a bull, seduced the naïve virgin Europe. She welcomed him into her white bosom and thus became the mother of his offspring.
However, an allegory preceded this mythical abduction. Found in the dream of mythical Europe, the allegory reveals that two lands fought over the lovely goddess: the land of Asia (who claimed she had given birth to Europe), and the land across from it, which yet had no name, but believed the divine virgin Europe is hers, according to the will of Zeus. The symbolism of this dream sublimates the true meanings of ancient legends. By that I mean the interpretations of the universal movement which brought the foundations of a religion and a civilization from the East to the West. Those legends show that, whilst searching for the Western land the Phoenicians called Erebus or the Land of the Sunset, “the Hellenes created the legend of the beautiful Europa, ‘the daughter of the East’, followed by her brother Cadmus, ‘the son of the East’, whose father sent to search for her, from Phoenicia on Crete, to Boeotia and Illyria…” (See Rougemont; 1997: 32). Does this search not coincide with the historic route of the Phoenicians who, while spreading the alphabet among the ancient people, continued their ascension up the valley of Vardar and Danube, turning their search into a discovery of the European geographic reality2F?
It inspired the disappearing of the Goddess and the birth of the Continent3F.
Even centuries later – more as a result of fantasy, rather than nature – Europe was perceived as a body of a woman whose head is Spain, the heart is France, the hands are Italy and Great Britain – as a virgin Beauty whose garments, the Russian plain, overspill into the ‘dark depths of Asia’. The mind of the ancient geographers pictured her as a mobile form of a woman, ready for her prey. The spiritual geography of the Renaissance projected images of an expanding continent, whose ambition did not end solely in the desire to be a point of departure (arché to all discovery and colonization), or a middle point (the center of the center = civilization), but also a destination point (thelos = the horizon or limit for all technical achievements). She was also perceived as a head4F – the brain of a large body – ignoring the fact that she herself has always been its supplement – ‘the small nose of Asia’, as Paul Valéry would say.
However, the fact remains that the imperial idea of uniting the two continents became reality only in the time of the mighty Roman Empire. In an administrative sense, of course, since as pars orientalis, Asia became the eastern and Europe, as pars occidentalis, the western part of Great Rome. And so it was until 718 and the defeat of the Muslim fleet at Constantinople, and very likely even later, after the battle at Poatie in 732, when for the first time the term ‘Europenses/ Europeans’ was used in a chronicle5F. Therefore, if I am not mistaken in understanding Denis De Rougemont, in the 8th century the concept of ‘a family of nations’ was not unknown to the people of the Western continent. It was used to denote a continental community united around a common fate – defense against Islam. Yet, when the dark Middle Ages came to be with their struggles for dominance, the term ‘Europeans’ drifted into the realm of allegory. It took the threat of the Mongols and the Turks, together with the idea of defense of Christianity, for the atrophied vision of Europe to be resurrected in the beginning of the 14th century. Until then, the political and ideological rivalry of Rome and Constantinople continued to widen the gap between Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity, thus deepening the already irreconcilable contrast in the heart of the western continent.
1. A European (per)version of the Balkan original Choran.
2. It was, therefore, not the Greek who ‘discovered’ the continent, but the Phoenicians, with the help of a mystical unity of the alphabet originating in India and Persia; however, they are the ones who ‘named’ it. According to the eminent Gonzague De Reynold, the original meaning of the word Europe reveals the feminine adjective europé. In europa (a masculine adjective), found in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Reynold recognized one of the attributes Homer used for Zeus, from whence he hypothetically derived the nominative eurups. The etymology reveals a two-word compound: the adjective eurus (wide, plentiful, spacious) and the noun ops (a poetic expression for an eye, view, face). “Hence, Europe Zeus is a far-seeing Zeus, and Europe is a woman with big eyes, a nice look and lovely face. It is thus that the relation between Europe and Homer’s attribute for Zeus becomes obvious”, says G. De Reynold in his La Formation de l’Europe (quotes taken from the listed work of Rougemont; 1997:37).
3. The nameless western continent adopted the name of its precious prey meaning ‘the land of the sunset’, because for the people of the East, the West was an unknown, unexplored territory, susceptible to conquest. According to Rougemont, the East was a synonym for all spiritual and enlightment values: light, soul, wisdom, revelation, rebirth… a native soil, and the West symbolized the greed and the blind force; the West was the twilight, half-shadow, humiliation, exile… So many truths on such small space…
4. In French, the word le cap is contained in the words capital (capital) and capital-major city (capitale), although at the same time it denotes direction, cape, peninsula… border (Derrida; 2001).
5. I refer to the Mozarabian Chronicle of 754, mentioned in The Twenty Eight Centuries of Europe.