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Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Tragedy of Man


The Tragedy of Man is considered a classic piece of literature. It was written in 1860 by a Hungarian writer, Mr.Imre Madach. He wrote it in the Magyar language and it was translated into English in 1903 by Mr.William Loew. This book is now published by a company, aptly called The Forgotten Books, because the book is not well-known; but should be. The translation itself leaves much to be desired. But, we need to focus on and savor the imagination and the wisdom of this writer.



The plot is based on imagining Adam and Eve being reborn into this world several times at crucial points in the history of human civilization. Lucifer also gets reborn. (The original Lucifer is a biblical version of the Hebrew version “helel”, meaning “morning star” or “bringer of dawn”. Later this name was applied to the Devil, before his fall from Divine Grace. Currently, Lucifer is used synonymous with Satan/Devil). The entire book is in the form of a play with multiple scenes set in different points in the history of the western world. The dialogues are full of observations, reality-checks and insights.



I wish to start at the end of the book. This is the final scene. Adam, Eve, Lucifer and the Lord are there. Lucifer ridicules Adam (of course, the mankind”) for letting “….prejudice and superstition with ignorance united, hold their sway” and says that man is “too dwarfed for wisdom yet too great for blindness”.  Adam is frustrated and asks what meaning there is to life. The Lord says: “I have told thee, man, strive and trust”.



In Scene VI, Catulus says: “ All beauty fades, but even if it did not, that which today attracts, satiety tomorrow brings, and lesser charms allure with all the magic force of novelty”.  Later, Eve says: “The moment is a flower and fades away”.  This scene is set during the period of crusades and there are several passages lamenting the ways the scripture had been misused by the clergy. For example, some monk is saying: “…. This book indicates what is to be done in your most sorry plights. This book will show how long your souls in hell for theft, or for church robbery must dwell; how long for fornication or for rape. It teaches also how you can escape hell’s tortures, by the payment of a fine……The rich man pays each year, a score and odd soldi……   and if he (the poor) cannot pay even three, the peace of his poor soul may be purchased, by several thousand lashes well applied”. (page 97)



After the period of renaissance in which Adam wonders where all of the flowering will lead to and gets dejected, he says “….for daily, stronger grow ideas than all matters was before. Matter can be felled by forceful blow, while my ideas live forever more”.  Then, a student says: “Here I am with trembling soul, I long great nature’s workshop to investigate; to grasp it all, enjoy more than the throng. To gain the well-earned right to dominate the realm of matter, and the spirit world”.



Scene XI is set during the industrial revolution and the poor plight of the workers. Adam says: “ Stretched on a couch how easy it must be laws to create, but difficult the art to judge with understanding, the human heart” (page 171). Later, it is the age of science, when “The human mind fears what is infinite and seeks to find restricting barriers, and without doubt in inner worth doth lose, when spreading out  to past and future  jealousy it clings.”



Adam learns about an automated society where man has lost his individuality and laments the dogmatism of science and the trashing of the arts. He laments the depletion of the bounties of the earth. A savant says: “Our one idea is livelihood” and how the sun will be gone in a few thousand years. Man has to create energy and water and he can do it through research. And he can be made in “retorts” ( through chemistry). Lucifer asks what kind of monster that would be. “….. the lifeless matter animate with life imbue, what sort of soulless man, what monstrous frightful thing you have brought to life? What can he be? Unspoken thought, yearning for love, without an object then to love? And, how, of man, the character and trait who is born in glass retort on chemist’s grate?”



A superb question comes from Adam (page 203) “What is all life without the bliss of loving and strife?” During his discussion with the Spirits of the world, Adam asks: “To frighten me thou sleekest in vain. My body be thine, the soul within me though, is mine, and mine alone! No bounds are set for truth and thought, for they existed even before was brought thy world of matter into life”.  The Spirit answers: “Vain man! A punishment most dire will meet thy pan. Was fragrance of the rose before the rose? Does form exist before the body grows? And light before the sun?.....”Thou shudder with affright, for all sensations, all perceptions, are but emanations of this material mass thou callest earth. Without earth, thou and I had never birth”.  Later still, Lucifer says: “And what was life, but just a dream, who knows?”



Towards the end, every human has been decimated and the only one left is an eskimo. The eskimo sees Adam and Lucifer and thinks they are “Gods”. He says: “Pity, my gracious Lord. The first seal I can slay, I give my word, I will sacrifice to thee, but hear my prayer; My life, o gracious sire, do thou spare”.  Lucifer asks: “And to that seal, what right hast thou, tell me. That with its life, thine own thou dost redeem?”  For which the eskimo answers: “The right of force. Do I not always see the insect snatched by fishes in the stream?  The seal devours the fish, the seal I slay”.



Later the eskimo offers a seal as sacrifice. Adam is aghast and says how cruel it is. Lucifer reminds Adam: “And dids’t thou otherwise. He sacrifices seals, while though kill men, in honor of that God they fancy wrought, just as his fancy, his own God has sought, why wilt thou be so proud and haughty, then?”  Lucifer also reminds Adam: “The logic is that but of the man well-fed, while this man with his empty stomach thinks; from reason and philosophy he shrinks”.



Adam asks the eskimo what he wants, and the eskimo says: “ Oh, please, if thou art God, grant my request; Let not so many men our land infest; And send into this world more of the seal, and fewer men; for this I make appeal”.



Lucifer and Adam discuss free will and fate. Lucifer says that no one knows why one mouse gets eaten by a cat and one by a hawk and some other mouse “be sly and may live to a great age, and hoary and die in his domestic circle”. Why are some “martyrs” and others “scoffers?  “Of fate, which all so well apportioneth; sin and virtue; faith, marriage and death; madness and suicide”.  Adam says he can defy Lucifer, because he knows that “I know I need not live against my will” and heads towards a cliff to jump. Lucifer says: “Is not each moment, end, beginning too?” This last statement is almost the same as a sentence in Yoga Vasishta where Rama says: “Everything starts at one moment and ends in one moment”.








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