Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Guillaume Postel

Occasionally people think I'm a little strange. If so, at least I'm in the right area of study. Here's a bit from Robert Irwin's For Lust of Knowing:
"That Guillaume Postel - the first true Orientalist - was also a complete lunatic may be taken as an ominous presage for the future history of an intellectual discipline...His belief in the primacy of Hebrew was not in his time particularly controversial. What was a little eccentric was his idea that in order to achieve world peace and a utpoian manner of life it was necessary for everyone to return to speaking Hebrew, for it was the via veritas perdita, 'the lost way of truth.' Moreover, he held that the very structure of the Hebrew language, divinely ordained as it was, would confirm the Christian revelation...

"In his lifetime he was the foremost expert on Arabic and Islam in Europe, but he was also quite barmy. In Venice in 1547 he had met up with a woman called Johanna, whom he confidently identified with the Shekinah (divine presence) of the Cabala, the Angelic Pope, the Mater Mundi, the New Eve, and the consummation of eternity, among other things. Johanna (like Superman) had X-ray vision, so that she could see Satan sitting at the center of the earth. Postel, impressed, became her disciple. By the time he returned from his second trip to the Middle East, the Mater Mundi was dead. However, this was only a temporary setback, as in 1551 she returned to this world and possessed Postel's body, so that he became the Mater Mundi, the New Eve, and so on. (He does not say if he got the X-ray vision.) As prophet of the New Age, he then produced a succession of strange books and pamphlets, which got him into trouble with the Inquisition in Venice. However, the Inquisition, in an unusually benign frame of mind, decreed that he was not a heretic, merely insane. An official of the Holy Office, who had examined Postel's writings for heresy in 1555, reported that, though his ideas were definitely heretical, 'no one, fortunately, could possibly understand them except the author...'

"Postel's erudition grew heavily on the Cabala and Neoplatonism, but also on what he could discover of the doctrines of such Muslim groups as the Druze and the Isma'ilis. In particular, his notion of the successive incarnation of the Divine in men (and he considered himself an outstanding example) may have ultimately been derived from his reading of Druze literature. He was especially enthusiastic about the Druze because he had determined that they were of French origin and that their name was derived from 'Druid.' The alleged Frenchness of the Druze was particularly important, as Postel was a fervent patriot who believed that the French were the chosen people of the Last Days and that the King of France had the rightful claim to be king of the world by virtue of his direct descent from Noah (though one would have thought that there were many in Postel's time who could have made a similar claim)."



Anonymous Mustafa Avci said...

Thanks! Seems like Guillaume Postel was quite extraordinary. I really would like to read his "De la Republique des Turcs et là où l'occasion s'offrera" and "Des histoires orientales et principalement des Turkes." wish they were available in English.

7:49 AM  

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