“Coleridge Unbound”

Mythology and Polytheism in the Lectures of Samuel Taylor Coleridge [1]

Astrid Appels


(Coleridge Bulletin, New Series 22, Winter 2003, pp9-19




“The poet is truly the thief of fire, charged with the government of humanity, the animals even, and he must make his discoveries felt, touched, heard,”[2] wrote Arthur Rimbaud.  Coleridge laid claim to such Promethean powers by feeling a deep urge to share his poetic insight and intellectual knowledge with an audience.  As a lecturer, he revealed years of meticulous study of the canonised literary and philosophical milestones and expounded multiple theories, abstracted from his reading.  Although Greek mythology was not one of his initial interests, Coleridge’s view upon it disclosed his thorough and profound considerations of history, religion and philosophy.

       Greek mythology infused a dense symbolism into Western literature, inspiring artists to divine epiphanies, driven equally by scholarly impulse and  poetic urge, a recent exemplar being Robert Graves.  The evanescence of the Greek gods is proven by the successive surges with which they appeared in works of art, finally yielding the current wave of post-modernist artists dreaming of the ancient times that symbolised grandeur, culture, art and philosophy.  Many prominent literary and philosophical figures have spoken about the importance of mythology for art, as Coleridge did in his lectures, but most of them failed to give an adequate definition of mythology.  In Mythes, rêves et mystères, Mircea Eliade derives a three-pronged function from myth and mythology.  To him myths are principally ‘ontophanies’ as they generally involve an explanation of the origin of the world.  They are also seen as ‘theophanies’ because they disclose exemplary behaviour for mankind through the conduct of the gods, and they are ‘hierophanies’ as they generate religious aspects of the sacred in their symbols and stories. 

       Eliade touched upon three relevant features of mythology, i.e.  creation, religion and divinity, which were of primordial importance for Coleridge’s mythological input in his lectures.  Both his lectures on literature and on philosophy are studded with references to the ancient Greek world.  Coleridge addressed mythological themes most often in his expositions of dramatic art.  He traced the origin of drama back to the hymns sung in celebration of the ancient gods and heroes.  When comparing famous classical plays to the works




of Shakespeare, he tended to see Greek mythology through Christianized eyes.  To assess their dramatic quality, Coleridge used parameters such as moral instruction, Christian values, polytheism, hero-worshipping.  To justify his criticism, he made a distinction between epic and tragic plays and discussed historical drama by focusing on the different treatments of Fate and Will.  In the lectures on philosophy, he made considerable efforts to merge religion and philosophy granting mythology a new status.  Henceforth it no longer exerted its typical, traditional and symbolical function of marking universal human behaviour, but became a religious concept in the guise of cosmotheism, pantheism and polytheism. 

       Coleridge’s essay “On the Prometheus of Aeschylus” is the culmination of all his philosophical and literary inquiries.  It is an elaborate, highly philosophical approach to the origin of religion, first manifest in pantheism and polytheism, as well as to the origin of philosophy, which is man’s inquiry into the earliest myths dealing with the creation of the world.  For Coleridge, Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound triggered a comparison between the cosmogonies of the Hebrew, Phoenician and Grecian civilisation by way of showing their view as to the ultimate beginning of the universe, initiated in an unintelligible darkness or chaos.

       It is not surprising that Coleridge’s life ran parallel with the mythological narrative of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and Prometheus Unbound.  During the earlier part of his life, Coleridge immersed himself with the great literary and philosophical masters while at the same time trying to gain public fame, and scholarly recognition by writing poetry and reviews.  Unfortunately, his masterpieces “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, “Kubla Kahn” and “Christabel” did not result in the longed for success and his personality was not fit for hubristic stardom.  His opium addiction, mental instability, and financial problems “bound” him to an earthly, socially restricted life in which depression, desperation and defeat haunted him.  It took intellectually energizing trips to Germany, Malta and Italy and a separation from his wife for Coleridge’s talents to become “unbound”.  The second part of his career started when he took up lecturing in London, permanently severing himself from the Lake District.  Coleridge had to struggle for recognition his entire life.  Most of the time he lived in the shadow of his literary and philosophical allies.  However, lecturing was the perfect opportunity for him to publicize the fruits of his intellectual endeavours.


Classical Background

The beginning of Coleridge’s literary career, before he set sail for Malta in 1804, was one of mythical proportions, according to Richard Holmes.  Coleridge was a Promethean figure, “moving upwards on the parabola of genius: the fire-bringers, the liberators of spirit, the eternal exiles and idealists.”[3] Master of blank verse, pioneer of  ‘outdoor’ literature, inspired




political journalist, and confessional writer: the brightness of his literary achievements was not overshadowed by failure, plagiarism, and his opium addiction, which affected him later.  Coleridge took an important turn in life by separating from his wife and moving to London to start a second career.  In the next thirty years, he emerged as a controversial public figure, a political critic, an enigmatic metaphysician and especially as the spiritual voyager, meanwhile constantly fearing the loss of his genius and creative abilities.  His career as a literary and philosophical thinker began with two important experiences.  His classical education, with its great emphasis on and interest in the Greek and Latin writers, was the fundamental basis of his intellectual formation.  His ambitious and idealistic attempt to realise his Pantisocratic ideas was the stepping stone for important literary connections and his friendship with William Wordsworth.

       Coleridge was introduced to ancient literature at the age of seven.  In his primary year at King’s School an epidemic infected him with ‘putrid fever.’ As consolation, his brother Frank would read Alexander Pope’s Homer to his younger brother.  In 1772, Coleridge went to the Under Grammar School of Christ’s Hospital, where he made it into James Bowyer’s elite Classical Sixth Form, known as the Deputy Grecians.   Bowyer was fascinated by his pupil who was caught red-handed reading Virgil in the cloisters.  Coleridge read Cato’s Liberty and Necessity, poetry and Platonic philosophy.  Charles Lamb, his fellow classmate, wrote a celebrated encomium of this schoolboy hero stating that Coleridge frequently cited Pindar, Plotinus, or Homer in Greek.[4]  His first attempt to write poetry was based on Latin verse.  In March 1779, he mailed his brother a creative Pindaric ode on Euclid’s geometry.  He confessed to reading Pindar, Homer, and Horace before composing Greek verse and epigrams.  His brief enlistment in the army resulted in heavy drinking, regaling his fellow dragoons stories from Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War and correcting a deputy officer miquoting Euripides.

       In his youth years, Coleridge longed for an idealistic cause, that would bring him ultimate love, happiness and friendship.  He tried to realise this via Pantisocracy.  His constant regimen of Greek philosophical books spurred him on to abandon English society and create a utopian community in the U.S.A.  Practical problems, however, forced Coleridge to abandon the plan.  His Pantisocratic pipedream confronted him with the realities of life.  In coping with this setback, Coleridge fortunately moved on to a greater future.  His initial correspondence with William Wordsworth resulted in an unprecedented literary partnership and the publication of Lyrical Ballads (1798).  Remaining restless, Coleridge left for an educational trip to Germany in September 1798, where he submerged himself into heady German philosophy.  Upon his return, he detected a change in the terms of his friendship with Wordsworth, as William had become the self-reliant writer and Samuel the dependent partner struggling to reassert his professional ambitions in life.  Psychologically




destabilised, Coleridge escaped to Malta in search of emotional balance, intellectual enrichment, and renewed professional success.  Upon his second return to England he could no longer identify himself with the rhythm and life style of his early Romantic sojourn in the Lake District.  Coleridge was forced to choose a new path.  The need for sources of income urged him to become a political journalist and to take on a career in public speaking.  Only by giving a series of literary and philosophical lectures, based on ancient and modern philosophies, and by contributing political essays to newspapers and periodicals, Coleridge managed to stay financially afloat.


Coleridge as Lecturer

From 1808 to 1819 Coleridge became highly productive as a professional lecturer and writer, but his emotional life suffered severely from the strain of speaking in front of a sceptical London public.  The importance of Coleridge’s lecture series for the formation of his philosophical and metaphysical ideas, collected in Biographia Literaria (1817) and Aids to Reflection (1825), cannot be stressed enough.  For these lectures reflected his central concerns for the fundamental issues in his life, such as the establishment of critical principles and a critical vocabulary, or standards of taste and judgement.  Coleridge reappraised the nature of critical activity itself.  In the words of Kathleen Coburn, “he inherited the basic terms of his critical vocabulary from the eighteenth century including words like imagination, fancy, passion, judgement, genius, sublimity, beauty, and grandeur, but his concern to define or redefine these related to the establishment of new principles of criticism.”[5] The variety of topics addressed, the numerous digressions, and intense elaboration on different themes gave a rich, yet dense structure to the lectures.  Furthermore, he often lingered on a certain topic for hours or did not address the subject announced in the Prospectus at all, which frustrated his audience.  In his lectures, the ideas presented might have been genius, but his mode of transaction did not always appeal, despite the mesmerizing qualities of his speaking.  Nevertheless, Coleridge is remembered as a brilliant public speaker.  Arch-rival William Hazlitt occasionally spoke with reverence of Coleridge’s eloquence.  “It seemed to me, who was then young, as if the sounds had echoed from the bottom of the human heart, and as if that prayer might have been floated in solemn silence through the universe.”[6]


Lectures on Literature

Although Coleridge never directly brought mythology into focus, he made several suggestive allusions to the topic in both prose and verse.  Whether it concerned literature or philosophy, for Coleridge mythology was the perfect and undisputed means of establishing a historical background, a fundamental




basis, or a proper illustration for his philosophical theories and literary inquiries.

       In the lectures on literature, Coleridge touched upon mythology when discussing drama.  In his expositions, he incorporated various mythological references to the origin of drama, which were to be found in the hymns of divine celebration.  These hymns accompanied the established, traditional sacrifice to one of the Hero-God tragedies and was thus a process of mythification.  Prominent figures were endowed with divine qualities and put on a pedestal, while the Greek gods were represented in their most human and organic form.  Bacchus was one of the Greek gods who fascinated Coleridge the most, fitting perfectly into his Romantic theories.  The god was worshipped in “the mysteries as representative of the [organic] energies of the Universe, that work by passion and Joy without apparent distinct consciousness—and rather as the cause or condition of skill and contrivance, than the result—and thus distinguished from Apollo or Minerva, under which they personified the causative and pre-ordaining Intellect manifested throughout Nature.”[7] In the Orphic Mysteries, Bacchus was honoured as the presiding genius of the heroic temperament and character, not acquired by art or discipline, but seen as something innate and divine, a connection between the deity and actions proceeding from passions.

       Furthermore, Coleridge made an important distinction between English and Greek drama.  English drama, he contended, featured “events more near the truth, permitting a larger field of moral instruction, more ample exhibition of the recesses of the Human Heart under all trials & circumstances.”[8] The major faults of the Greek tragedy, he asserted, were their failure to deal with the true existential problems of mankind and man’s incapability of controlling his own fate.[9]  The English plays, in contrast, were imbued by Christian values, while the Greek dramatists relied heavily on polytheism and hero-worshipping.  In this respect Coleridge set out to compare Romeo and Juliet with the Sophocles’ Orestes.  He argued that all Shakespearean plays, following the Christian tradition, delved into a full scale of human emotions and reflections that are permanent in man’s existence.  Coleridge detected “a fault” in Orestes: “There we see a man oppressed by fate for an action of which he was not morally guilty: the crime is taken from the moral act and given to the action.  We are obliged to say to ourselves that in those days they considered things without reference to the real guilt of the persons.”[10]  In Christianity, God being the ultimate power, man was freely offered to outline his own destiny by living virtuously and piously.  The Greek gods were entirely aware of all human happenings on earth, each of them being responsible for a certain activity part of human experience.  Some gods were emotionally involved in the mortal’s




actions, but overall they responded dispassionately towards humans.  Many conflicts in ancient mythological literature involve interest and honour, and in general the relationship between man and god was one based on the former’s devotion and adulation of a selfish god. 

       Coleridge was negatively disposed to particular aspects of Greek mythology.  Although the myths represented universal human experiences, he deplored the lack of moral perfection in ancient tragedy.  He pointed to Shakespeare to illustrate a correct treatment of will and fate.  The Greek protagonists were essentially subject to their gods’ caprices, remaining at the mercy of the gods, though sacrifices could be made.  Shakespeare, however, alloted man a free will and the only intangible outside force that affected his fate was accident.  In the 1819 Lectures on Shakespeare and Milton, Coleridge praised Shakespeare’s genius for applying the Christian doctrine to man’s existential problems, which the playwright had detected in the mythological themes.  For instance, in Claudius’ soliloquy, Shakespeare showed “the self-flattering Soul” in “its own struggle” to “persevere in religious Duties.”[11] Coleridge commended Milton’s Paradise Lost, because its importance was relevant to mankind as the epic touched upon something grand: “It may be attributed to Christianity itself,” Coleridge wrote, “tho’ in this instance it comprehends the whole Mahometan World as well as Xtndom—and as the origin of evil, and the combat of Evil and Good, a matter of such interest to all mankind as to form the basis of all religions, and the true occasion of all Philosophy.”[12] From Coleridge’ s point of view, the only Greek tragedy as equally balanced as his Shakespearian model was Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound.  He thought it to be a fine example of a Creation myth running parallel with the mythic tradition of the origin of Christianity.

       In his lectures Coleridge appeared unpoetically hostile towards the finiteness of Greek mythology, a mood fueled by his philosophical desire for unity over what he conceived to be the Greek contentment with multiplicity.  The mythological world was too complex, and in addition, its personages too numerous.  The gods were anthropomorphic finites endowed with statuesque features.  “In the elder world the Infinite was hidden in the Finite—Every Stream had its Naiad—the Earth its Cybele, the Ocean its Neptune/ the upper Air was Jupiter, the lower Juno—Fire was Vesta, as the fixive, preservative Power—and the artificial technical Fire Neptune—all was reduced to the Finite.”[13] In one of the 1812-1813 Lectures on Belles Lettres, Coleridge again touched upon this central problem concerning Greek mythology, phrasing it as the rivalry between the “Ancients statuesque” and “Moderns picturesque”.[14]  The literary work of the ancients stood for rhythm and melody, while the moderns strove towards harmony.  Coleridge often repeated the accusatory




point that pagan art was finite and plastic, while the modern or romantic art was infinite and picturesque.  He enumerated, on the one hand, the qualities of the Ancients, which were in his view foibles: “The Finite, & therefore Grace, Elegance, Proportion, Fancy, Dignity, Majesty, whatever is capable of being definitely conveyed by defined Forms or Thoughts.”[15]  The Moderns, on the other hand, embraced “the infinite, & indefinite as the vehicle of the Infinite—hence more to the Passions, the obscure Hopes & Fears—the wandring thro’ infinite—grander moral Feelings—more august conception of man as man—the Future rather than the Present—Sublimity.”[16]  The Greeks were polytheists with a local religion, who had their gods as objects of all their knowledge, science and taste.  Therefore, their cultural productions were statuesque.  The moderns produced picturesque works, as they had harmony as goal.  Not only could this idea be applied to literature, fine arts, and architecture, but also to music.  “The ancient music consisted of melody by the succession of pleasing sounds: the modern embraces harmony, the result of combination, and effect of the whole.”[17]  To Coleridge, the reverse occurred in Christianity, because here finites, even the human form, were brought in connection with the infinite in the shape of an enduring relation between soul and futurity, producing a special effect in which the mind would be turned inward on its own essence.  Illustrating the opposition between Greek mythology and the Christian constellation, Coleridge compared “the change of arms between Diomed & the Trojan Prince in Homer with the two Knights, Saracen and Christian, in Ariosto.”[18]  In Orlando Furioso, Ariosto represented the Greek heroes from Troy as Christian knights.  This distinction between the finiteness of the Greek mind and the insatiable longing for the infinite characteristic of Christianity was commonplace for German Romanticism as well as for Coleridge.  In Germany, mythology was seen as a corner stone in the religious evolution of humanity.  The gods of Greece, no longer a set of rococo toys, were enthroned as Titanic symbols of power, beauty, and harmony.  Schiller’s “Die Götter Griechenlands” (1788) is the poetic manifesto from Greece-intoxicated Germany.  However, the golden age of German Hellenism proved to be brief.  Two conflicts were the cause of the fading of the Greek gods in German Romanticism.   Firstly, the conscious Apollonian ideal of classical serenity opposed the unconscious creative instinct (c.f. Goethe) and, secondly, the Dionysian paganism conflicted with Christianity, exemplified in Heine’s works.

       Gothic mythology, of which the Edda was the genuine relic and which was distinguished by unity of purpose, clearly stood in opposition to its Greek mythological world.  According to Coleridge, the Gothic religious vision ran parallel with the Christian doctrine in which the history of mankind would




finalise on Judgement Day.  The superiority of Gothic art precisely depended on the symbolic expression of the infinite: ‘When I enter a Greek church, my eye is charmed, and my mind elated; I feel exalted, and proud that I am a man.  But the Gothic art is sublime.  On entering a cathedral, I am filled with devotion and with awe; I am lost to the actualities that surround me, and my whole being expands into the infinite; earth and air, nature and art, all swell up into eternity, and the only sensible impression left, is, “that I am nothing!” ’[19]


Lectures on Philosophy

       In the 1818-1819 Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Coleridge’s meditative thoughts on the history of philosophy from the Ionian thinkers to the Scholastics show an evolution of man’s mind in process.  Coleridge addressed mythology under the form of polytheism and paganism, making clear that philosophy and religion are hard to detach from one another.  Both came into existence as inquiries into the nature and origin of the universe, although the Grecians treated both as different fields of investigation.  Coleridge traced the origin of philosophy back to the time of Homer and Hesiod, when the state of religion did not yet have any bearing on philosophy.  He explained that Hesiod delivered an anti-philosophical atheism of which a “sensual Polytheism was but the painted veil.”[20] The Hesiodic theogony resolved the absolute origin of all things into night and chaos.  “The gods,” Coleridge stressed “differed from animals only by a right of primogeniture: - Will, Intelligence, and Love, are an equivocal generation of Death, Darkness, and Passive Necessity.”[21] In his lectures, Coleridge claimed that due to the absence of proof and uncertain religious truths about the identities of the deities, Grecian religion had been described as ‘mythology’.  Its origin was, in fact, a gradual process of the divination and man’s general interest in his descent.  Mythology was, therefore, the form of human apprehension best fitted to deal with religious truths.  The Greeks had an unflinching faith in the reality of the unseen and the guise in which they embodied this faith.  As rituals, sacrifices, and myths constituted an important part of their daily life, the Greeks devoted divine interference to the presence of every element in nature, automatically creating a multiplicity of gods, who were the most anthropomorphic the world had ever seen.  The Grecians did not consider man the crown of divine creation and they took heaven in terms of earth.  Their confidence in mankind and its capabilities made them feel as if man was closest to divinity when he was most completely himself.  Coleridge, however, was not satisfied with this form of divination and criticised the ancients’ indolent attitude.  They did not stretch the limits of reason relying only on the senses for probing into the phenomena in life.




       The philosophical lectures chronologically stepped into the origin and rise of philosophy in association with religion, and also described the path of polytheism towards monotheism.  Coleridge ocassionally digressed from certain topics, for instance, when he  traced the roots of Mysticism back to the Mysteries in Samothrace.  Retaining the hostile mood of the literary lectures, Coleridge also showed his negative attitude towards mythology and polytheism in the lectures of philosophy.  He asserted that polytheism did not deserve the name Religion, a term which at its best included “a belief of a divine Providence, a responsibility not confined to the Life present, and if not teach yet tend to excite, and predispose to, a sense of the Evil in the Heart of Man and a Hope, however dim and mythical, of a Redeemer therefrom.”[22]  In order not to sound too biased, Coleridge highlighted the Christianity’s mild attitude towards polytheism.  “Christianity did not propose <what indeed was impossible–> to destroy these diversities and different degrees in the Heads and Hearts of Men, from which the distinction of Exoteric and Esoteric arose & in which their apology must rest.”[23] Furthermore, both Christianity and polytheism used symbolic language as a necessary means for religious instruction.  Yet, on the one hand, Coleridge considered it absurd to link the Supreme Being’s power and productivity of material nature to the dethronement of Jupiter and the gelding of his own Father.  On the other hand, he found it fascinating that Greek myths were not coincidental lexical puns that appealed to the imagination.  “Perhaps the whole explanation rests in a pun between CronoV and KronoV[24], Rea and Reia[25] (as between Time and Tim in English) - & that Herodotus has asserted that the names of the Gods of Greece were originally Egyptian.”[26]  Coleridge reduced polytheism to “a speedy solution of all difficulties in the history of Rome & Greece”.  The polytheistic religion and its myths characterised human nature in ancient times.  “Imposture in the Priests & Magistrates, contemptuous disbelief in all Men of Sense and bestial Stupidity in the people at large” were all features interwoven with the myths to explain and symbolise human behaviour.  From this perspective, man already had divine qualities and walked in the footsteps of their God(s).

       The object of religion was faith in a Supreme Being, but by the time of the Roman Empire, polytheism had fallen into the inferior category of superstition and religion had become overpopulated with gods.  The invasion of the Goths gave rise to the official establishment of Christianity, the religion Coleridge proclaimed, without blushing, to be the superior one on earth.  Listing various beneficial factors of the implementation of Christianity into society, this faith




joined the high moral standards of the Gothic conquerors.  The first Christians in the Roman Empire became “warm friends” with the Goths and “to them they looked for the fulfilment  (sic) of the prophecies, of their interpretation of the prophecies.”[27] Christianity also merged with polytheism and philosophy, so that it became a compound, in which the bases were Grecian intellectuality and aesthetics as well as Roman legislation and mental structures, joined “with the deep feelings, the high imagination, the chivalrous courtesies and strong breathings after immortality of the Goths”.  Christianity was eventually the “all-combining, all-penetrating, all-transforming spirit of union and ennoblement.”[28] For the very first time, God was no longer an abstraction.  He was a living God disseminating living truths on earth. 

       In Christianity all of Coleridge’s philosophical pursuits culminated, and to him literature found its symbolical meaningfulness.  In Christianity man had finally found redemption and a Saviour.


On the Prometheus of Aeschylus

Undoubtedly the essay “On the Prometheus of Aeschylus” (1825) is one of Coleridge’s most famous writings on mythology, in which he gives his philosophical and theological proclivities free reign.  On the occasion of  being elected Royal Associate of the Royal Society of Literature in London in 1825, Coleridge delivered this essay.  It was his final public appearance.   “On the Prometheus of Aeschylus” is not so much a literary study of the Greek play and its mythological foundation, but more a philosophical approach to the origin and hierarchical structure of the world.  Coleridge saw man’s place in life and his role towards the Supreme Being as revealed in Aeschylus’ work, and compared it with the Christian cosmology.  His analysis of Prometheus Bound showed a Herculean effort on his behalf.  He clarified, analysed and organised Aeschylus’ masterpiece, which resulted in an elucidation of Prometheus’ character as an abstraction of Reason.  By ascertaining the lead character’s multiple functions and roles in this ancient play, Coleridge staged a Prometheus “unbound” in his essay.  In order to show the strength and importance of this Greek literary work as a symbolical creation myth, Coleridge compared the main characters to essential philosophical concepts.  He opposed Reason (Nous) and Law (Nomos) by pointing to their hierarchical position to each other.  He declared that: “God is the condition under which the Law of the Universe exists; or God is presupposed, not involved, in the Law (i.e.  the existential Act) of the Universe.”[29]

       In “On the Prometheus of Aeschylus” Coleridge also presented a comparative survey of three different accounts of the Creation, three different ‘archologies,’[30] namely the Phoenician, the Greek and the Hebrew, explaining




the origin of the universe and the Supreme Being.  Strongly emphasizing the Greek cosmogony on the basis of the Prometheus myth, Coleridge delivered his view on the theogony of Greek civilisation.  Man, as a reasonable species, was subordinated to God, the supreme dominating law in the universe.  Prometheus saw man fighting to survive, offering a part of himself, i.e. Nous, to bring enlightenment and hope on earth.  Coleridge was strongly atracted to Prometheus as a symbol for the liberator of struggling mankind, whose agonies mystically symbolised the Christian Passion.

       The role of mythology and polytheism in Coleridge’s lectures has largely been an untouched area of research amongst Coleridgeans, though  preliminary studies have exposed fascinating insights.  Thanks to his classical education, Coleridge developed an unusually penetrating critical insight in the Ancient World from the start of his professional career.  His introduction to philosophical thought led to the well-known development and failure of the Pantisocratic scheme.  After a poetic apex, Coleridge was forced to put on the lecture shirt to survive financially.  His lectures on literature strongly focussed on drama.  In comparison to the Shakespeare plays, the Greek plays, infused with Greek mythology, received much negative criticism on his part.  To Coleridge, the key problem was the finiteness and multiplicity of Greek mythology and polytheism.  He strongly censured the Greeks’ incapability of entering the realm of the infinite.  By inventing a plethora of ancient gods, the Greeks manifested their lack of personal connection with a Supreme Being as well as their unfeasibility of placing the world’s origin in the hands of one supernatural power.  In his lectures on philosophy, Coleridge never ceased to proclaim that religion and philosophy were not to be separated, blaming the Greeks for relying too much on the senses to account for divine interventions in life.  The absence of concern for the plight of mankind evidenced by the Greek gods and the genuine interest in man shown by the Christian god is vital for understanding Coleridge’s overall negative attitude to Greek mythology.  In “On the Prometheus of Aeschylus” Coleridge praised the Christian undertone in Aeschylus’ play.  Coleridge interpreted the plot on a very strict philosophical and metaphysical level demonstrating the hierarchical relationship between man who craved for knowledge and for a supreme powerful deity, as the law of the universe.  This final essay was Coleridge’s yearlong study into religion and philosophy and it encapsulated his view on mythology and polytheism.


© Contributor 2003-2006


[1] The article “Coleridge Unbound: The Role of Mythology and Polytheism in the Lectures of Samuel Taylor Coleridge” is a synopsis of a Master’s Thesis of the same title, submitted to Professor Dr.Oskar Wellens at the Free University of Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) for graduation in June 2002.

[2]          Qtd.  in Michael Grant,  Myths of the Greeks and Romans (Harmondsworth: Meridian, 1995) 188.

[3]           Richard Holmes Coleridge: Early Visions (London: Flamingo, 1998) 362-364.

[4]           Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions  32-33.

[5]          Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1819 on Literature I.  ed.  Kathleen Coburn (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971) lxv.

[6]          Sean French, The Faber Book of Writers on Writers (London: Faber, 1999) 40.

[7]          Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1809 on Literature I 45.

[8]          Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1809 on Literature I 52.

[9]          Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1819 on Literature II 501.

[10]        Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1809 on Literature I 317.

[11]        Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1819 on Literature II.  ed.  Reginald A.  Foakes (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971) 353.

[12]        Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1819 on Literature II 388-389.

[13]        Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1819 on Literature II 49.

[14]        Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1819 on Literature I 492

[15]        Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1809 on Literature I 492.

[16]        Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1809 on Literature I 492.

[17]        Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1809 on Literature I  517.

[18]        Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1819 on Literature II  399.

[19]        Coleridge, Lectures 1808-1819 on Literature II  79.

[20]        Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lectures 1818-1819 On the History of Philosophy I.  ed.  Kathleen Coburn (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971) 55.

[21]        Coleridge, Lectures 1818-1819 on Philosophy I  9.

[22]        Coleridge, Lectures 1818-1819 on Philosophy I  85.

[23]        Coleridge, Lectures 1818-1819 on Philosophy I  160-161.

[24]        Chronos, meaning time, and Kronos the father of Zeus (Saturn in his Latin equivalent).  Kronos devoured all his children his wife Rhea bore as he had learnt from Earth (Ge) and Heaven (Uranus) that he was destined to be overcome by his own son (Grant, 87). 

[25]        Rhea and Rheia: Rhea, the wife of Kronos and mother of Zeus, Rheia meaning “easily”.

[26]        Coleridge, Lectures 1818-1819 on Philosophy I  161-162.

[27]        Coleridge, Lectures 1818-1819 on Philosophy I  350.

[28]        Coleridge, Lectures 1818-1819 on Philosophy I  352.

[29]        Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Shorter Works And Fragments II.  ed.  J.R.  de Jackson (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971) 1105.

[30]        arch- beginning and logoV-study.  Archology is the study of the origins of civilisation.