Atlas and Antaeus

February 7 2014

Atlas performs the strenuous task of holding up the heavens. Antaeus renews his lightness when he touches the earth.

A blogger called Caryl has some posts about Toynbee in 2007 in From the Catacombs. She describes the use of this pair of allusions very well.

“He makes much of Atlas and Anteaus – the ‘Atlantean stance and the Antaean rebound’. Atlas has to hold up the weight of the Heavens upon his shoulders; Antaeus could not be defeated so long as he was able to evade his enemy’s grasp and touch the earth once again with his feet. Toynbee’s finds in these two contrary movements great meaning for the historical fate of civilizations responding to challenge. The danger of the Atlantean stance is to rigidify into ‘mimesis’ and obsession. The Antaean rebound enables new beginnings, the reappropriation of culture from the depths.”

Atlas’s crime had been an attempt to scale high Heaven; the punishment inflicted on him was to hold high Heaven up; and this was the stance in which the melancholy giant was eventually found by his visitor Hêrakles. In order to grasp the relation between an Atlantean stance and an Antaean rebound, we have to recognize that the Earth, off whose fostering breast a buoyant Antaeus was perpetually bouncing up like an india-rubber ball, and the Firmament whose dead weight was constantly pressing down upon the head and hands of an immobilized Atlas, are merely two different aspects of one and the same psychic continent as seen from opposite quarters of the spiritual compass. This depressing Firmament and refreshing Earth are, in psychic reality, identical. “The choice” between falling into an Atlantean stance and making an Antaean rebound is in truth “fundamentally a question of attitude”.

No footnote to the last phrase, but it is from

Baynes, H. G.: Mythology of the Soul (London 1940, Baillière, Tindall & Cox; 1949, Methuen) […].

Toynbee, as we know, mistrusts renaissances, using words such as “mimesis”, “necromancy”, “archaism”, and is sometimes reluctant to see them as themselves Antaean.

The Hapsburg stance was Atlantaean:

The Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy had been called into existence after the collapse of the Kingdom of Hungary in A.D. 1526 to serve as a carapace for protecting the south-eastern land-frontier of the Western World against Ottoman aggression […]; a union of the remnant of Hungary with the lands of the Bohemian Crown and with the hereditary dominions of the House of Hapsburg proved to be a sufficient mobilization of Western strength to prevent the ʿOsmanlis from making further continental conquests at Western expense; and the rest of the Western World therefore left it to the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy to perform this public service for the Western common weal, without acknowledging its obligation to the Monarchy by submitting to the hegemony of a Caesarea Maiestas whose suzerainty, even within the limits of the Holy Roman Empire, had never been more than nominal, outside the frontiers of the hereditary dominions of the imperial house of the day, since “the Great Interregnum” (vacabat A.D. 1254-73).

The role of unprofitable servants, who had done that which it was their duty to do, without having earned thereby any claim to recognition or reward (Luke xvii. 7-10), was naturally resented by the Hapsburgs of the Danubian line when it was imposed upon them by their Western beneficiaries, and they expressed this resentment by making their weight felt in the interior of the Western World whenever any slackening of the pressure from their Ottoman adversaries gave them an opportunity to neglect their task of serving as wardens of the West’s anti-Ottoman marches. Such opportunities for occasional intervention in the domestic politics of the Western World were expended by the Danubian Hapsburg Power, with remarkable consistency, on Atlantean efforts to uphold lost causes. The ninety-years-long eclipse of the Ottoman Power from the death of Sultan Suleymān I in A.D. 1566 to the appointment of Mehmed Köprülü to be Grand Vezīr in A.D. 1656 – an eclipse that was only momentarily relieved by the meteoric career of Sultan Murād IV (imperabat A.D. 1623-40) – was spent by a Viennese Caesarea Maiestas in Counter-Reformational activities culminating in the Thirty Years’ War (gerebatur A.D. 1618-48). The temporary exhaustion of the Ottoman Power after the Great War of A.D. 1682-99 was taken by the Danubian Hapsburg Power as an opportunity for joining forces with the Netherlands and Great Britain in order to repress King Louis XIV of France for the benefit of British interests. The relief from Ottoman pressure after the collapse of the Ottoman Power in the Russo-Turkish War of A.D. 1768-74 tempted the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy into committing itself to the forlorn hope of repressing the hydra-headed “Ideas of Seventeen Eighty-Nine”, which had no sooner been crushed in their first avatar in the form of a Napoleonic imperialism than they reasserted themselves in the form of a nineteenth-century Romantic Nationalism which the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy was so far from being able to repress that it was first encircled and finally disrupted by it.

It is true that these Atlantean reactions to the raising of a ghost of a Roman Caesarea Maiestas at Vienna were not entirely unaccompanied by Antaean symptoms. The most lively of these was the role which Vienna came to play as a melting-pot for transforming Orthodox Christians or ex-Orthodox Christian Uniates into Westerners. An eloquent memorial of this Antaean activity was the Vienna telephone directory […]; yet, when the history of the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy from A.D. 1526 to A.D. 1918 is viewed as a whole in perspective, this Antaean twitch does not perceptibly relax the rigidity of the Monarchy’s Atlantean stance.

If one is speaking about immigration, the UK recently has been Antaean, Japan Atlantaean.

The Hapsburgs and the Ottomans (old post).

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

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