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"When Saturn ruled the sky alone, that golden age of gold unknown."
 - Jonathan Swift

The Universal Monarch
by David Talbott

It's amazing how frequently the earliest-remembered events occur on a mythscape of uncertain location! Where "was" the ancient paradise? Where did the gods and goddesses and heroes of the mythical epoch actually live? Beyond the north wind? Atop the world's highest mountain? In the land of the rising sun? On a lost island in the middle of the sea?

If anything has been proven by the flood of ancient texts that have come to light in the past hundred and fifty years, it is that the central personalities of myth did not, in the original concepts, dwell on earth. The theater in which the great mythical events were first played out was the sky.

Here is an indisputable fact: If you will trace the claimed history of any ancient nation backwards, you will, in every instance, reach a point at which man lives in the shadow of the gods. This distant epoch–what the Egyptians called the "time of the primeval gods"–cries out for clarification. Originally, the gods rule the world. First in an age of gold, but this age is followed by catastrophe and cosmic disharmony. That is the archetypal memory repeated around the world.

In their earliest historical expressions, the gods are celestial through and through. As the stories are told and re-told across the centuries, however, these celestial powers are progressively localized, re-entering the chronicles in increasingly human guise. All of the profound cosmic events expressed in the earliest ritual, symbol, and myth are eventually brought down to earth. In the typical instance, through a relentless process of identification, the gods eventually emerge as legendary "ancestors" of the nation telling the story.

Each of the nations recalling the Golden Age, for example, insisted that their own forefathers had descended from the gods. At first glance, this pervasive claim will appear as sheer arrogance, a nationalistic pride carried to absurd extremes. But the origins of the idea have never been adequately appreciated. In truth, this worldwide racial claim, that "we are descended from the gods," or that "our race was originally divine," or "we were the favored children of the gods," offers a key to the primitive experience: it confirms early man's unqualified sense of connection to the enigmatic celestial powers so vividly portrayed in the myths. And one cannot afford to ignore the equally significant principle: that these celestial powers are "no longer present", no longer visible and active in the world.

Our subject, in other words, is far more than an enchanting idea. To explore the mythical age of the gods is to confront the driving force of the first civilizations–the most powerful memory in human history.

Some of the particulars of this myth are remarkable. All of the well-preserved myths of the Golden Age, for example, say that this magical epoch was distinguished by the rule of a Universal Monarch, a celestial king of the world. On every continent, it was declared that before a king ever ruled on earth, a prototype of kings arose in heaven, and it was this "best of kings" who had founded the original paradise.

For the Egyptians it was the creator-king Ra, for the Sumerians it was the high god An, from whom kingship descended. Similarly, the Hindu Brahma, the Chinese Huang-ti, Mexican Quetzalcoatl, Mayan Itzam Na and numerous counterparts among other nations, all preside over the Golden Age, while establishing the ideals and principles of kingship.

In Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, China, Greece, Italy, northern Europe, pre-Columbian Mexico and Central America–in fact, wherever the institution of kingship arose–the royal genealogies lead backwards to this exemplary ruler, celebrated as the first in a sacred line of kings. The different myths recount in rich detail how the god built a great temple or city in primeval times, invented the alphabet, or taught a new language to a pre-literate race. They say it was he who invented the wheel, introduced the science of agriculture, instituted laws, and taught the true religion–in short, brought to a barbarous race all of the arts of civilization.

There is also a crucial connection here. This "ancestor-king" is so completely identified with the Golden Age that it is impossible to separate the one myth from the other. There is no Golden Age without a founding king, no founding king without a Golden Age!

The fabulous chronology of Egyptian kings or pharaohs offers a telling example. In his sweeping history of ancient Egypt, the Greek historian Herodotus enumerates the early lineage of kings. He tells us that there was a first king of Egypt, and his name was Helios. This first king of Egypt was not a mere mortal! He was a celestial power.

Of course Herodotus was simply translating an Egyptian name into Greek. For the Egyptians, the institution of kingship began with the rule of the primeval sun god Atum or Ra, who, prior to his retirement from the world, founded the Tep Zepi, the First Time, or Golden Age.

In Egypt all of the kingship rites point backwards to the age of Ra, a supreme god celebrated from one end of Egypt to the other as the prototype of kings. Indeed, every historical king's or pharaoh's authority derived from a connection to the ancestral king, for as the best Egyptologists have pointed out, the pharaoh was "accredited as such" by the claim that the blood of Atum-Ra coursed through his veins.

In rites deeply rooted in Egyptian cosmology, each new king symbolically ascended the throne of Ra, took as spouse Ra's own mistress, the mother goddess, wielded Ra's scepter, built temples and cities modeled after Ra's temple or city in the sky, adorned himself with the beard of the god, wore the crown of Ra as his own, and defeated neighboring enemies in just the way that Ra had defeated the hordes of darkness or chaos in the Tep Zepi. Identification of local king and celestial prototype was absolute.

Such is the universal tradition: every king was, in a magical way, the Universal Monarch reborn. And this is why, among all ancient nations, the chroniclers of kingship took such pains to establish the unbroken line of kings: Only by proclaiming that the local king carried the blood of his predecessor, the Universal Monarch, could they certify his suitability for the prescribed function of kings.

The ancient Sumerians repeatedly proclaimed that kingship had descended directly from the creator-king An, the most ancient and highest god of the pantheon, and the revered founder of the Golden Age.

Consider the myths and images of the Hindu Brahma, Manu or Yama, the Iranian Yima, Danish Frodhi, or Chinese Huang-Ti–all models of the good king, ruling over a primitive paradise. The respective cultures esteemed these mythical figures as "prototypes". In later ages the chroniclers have such figures ruling on earth. But in the earliest traditions the kingdom is in the sky, and this ancient kingdom of the Universal Monarch is one of the most pervasive archetypes of world mythology.

Natives of Mexico insisted that the great god Quetzalcoatl, a sun god who ruled before the present sun, was their first king and founder of the kingship rites. He not only introduced all of the arts of civilization, but presided over the Golden Age.

The ancient Maya proclaimed that their once-spectacular civilization had its origins in the rule of the creator-king and god of the Golden Age, Itzam Na. At the center of Mayan culture, stood the sovereign chief, announcing himself as something like "the King of Kings and ruler of the world, regent on earth of the great Itzam Na."

The leading Mayan expert, J. Eric Thompson, saw this an "inflated notion of grandeur," "a sort of divine right of kings which would have turned James I green with envy." And yet throughout the ancient world, one encounters this divine "grandeur" of kings at every turn.

The original concept may appear as self flattery, but it actually has more to do with a "burden" of kings: the requirement that the king live up to the mythical aura of kings. Never was there a king in early times that did not wear the dress of a mythical god–the model of the good ruler. Whatever the celestial, founding king had achieved, it was the duty of the present king, pharaoh, or emperor to duplicate, at least through symbolic repetition. For such was the first test of a "good" king.

This historical burden of kings will explain why every king was expected to renew the primeval era of peace and plenty. Why, for example, was the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III so eager to announce that he had restored conditions "as they were in the beginning", in the Tep Zepi or Golden Age of Ra? Or why did the Pharaoh Amenhotep III congratulate himself so for having made the country "flourish as in primeval times_"? The Pharaoh was expected to repeat the achievements of the celestial prototype!

In the same way, when the Sumerian king Dungi ascended the throne, it was declared that a champion had arisen to restore the original Paradise.. Indeed, every Sumerian king was expected to reproduce the wonders of "That Day," or the "Year of Abundance"–the Golden Age of An. When the famous Assyrian king Assurbanipal took the throne, the chroniclers proclaimed that "the harvest was plentiful, the corn was abundant. . .the cattle multiplied exceedingly." For such was the accreditation of a good king.

Among the Hebrews, the expectation was continually expressed that the king would introduce a new Golden Age. The Irish King, according to the respected expert J. A. MacCulloch, ruled under the same expectation: "Prosperity was supposed to characterize every good king's reign in Ireland," MacCulloch writes, and "the result is precisely that which everywhere marked the golden age."

This is, of course, a very familiar idea. The ancient king was, in the words of the eminent psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, "the magical source of welfare and prosperity." It's interesting how often scholars have noticed the theme, without explaining it. How did this universal idea arise–that the earth is "fruitful" under the good king?

The ideals of kingship, according to the myths themselves, were a mirror of the life and personality of the great celestial king whose rule brought abundance and cosmic harmony. Hence, the same state of things should accompany that king's successors who share in the blood-line and charisma of the great predecessor, whether that predecessor is called Ra or An, Quetzalcoatl or Itzam Na.

Perhaps it will seem a bit strange that an ancient god identified as the creator would be so intimately associated with the idea of kingship, or remembered as having ruled on earth during the Golden Age.

There is a fascinating paradox here: In the earliest traditions, as we've already noted, the Universal Monarch is a celestial power through and through. He is, in fact, the central light of heaven. But as we've also noted, in the course of time the creator-king's domain is progressively localized and the god takes on an increasingly human countenance as the "first king" of the particular nation telling the story.

In certain lands such as ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, we are able to observe the process over many centuries. In the earliest memories, Ra and An rule the sky, but later chroniclers in both lands depict them as "terrestrial" rulers. This localization of the creator-king is simply one part of a larger evolutionary process. As the myths evolve over time, the gods and heroes are brought down to earth, one nation after another claiming these divine powers as "ancestors". And how could it be otherwise? Remember that all sacred activity within the respective cultures arose from the same collective links to the past, to the beauty and terror of the primeval age.

"The further we go back in history," observed Carl Jung, "the more evident does the king's divinity become_" And when you trace the royal lineage backwards, you eventually confront the radiant figure at the head of the line. Since the story of this creator-king is as old as the myth of the Golden Age–it is older than the institution of kingship!

Historians have always claimed that the myths of celestial kings were nothing more than images of local kings and kingship rites projected onto the sky. But comparative analysis will demonstrate that the reverse is true. The memory of the creator-king came first, and it was this remarkable memory which provided the mythical aura supporting and legitimizing kings the world over.

Who, then–or what–was the source of this worldwide theme, this universally-remembered and profoundly charismatic power behind the rule of kings?

In exploring ancient images of the Universal Monarch, we now enter the realm of classical thought. Our own civilization owes its greatest debt to Greek and Latin poets, philosophers and historians, who received and interpreted countless mythical traditions of nations throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, often drawing on literary sources that were later lost and are now unavailable to us.

According to the Greek poet Hesiod, the present age is but a shadow of a former epoch–called the Golden Age of Kronos. "First of all," Hesiod writes, "the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Kronos, when he was reigning in heaven. And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: Miserable age rested not on them. . . The fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint."

Kronos was the father of beginnings; in the words of the Orphic poet–the "Lord of the World, First Father." But in the end the peaceful epoch, founded by the god-king, gave way to world-ending disaster and devastating wars of the gods (the Clash of the Titans).

In honor of the Age of Kronos, the Greeks celebrated an annual festival called the Kronia, during which the celebrants symbolically renewed the epoch of peace and plenty. Each year, according to Lucius Accius, the Greeks held large feasts throughout the towns and countryside, reversing the normal social order, exchanging gifts, enjoying merrymaking free from the normal restraints, with each man waiting on his slaves. In this way the Kronia festival symbolically transported the celebrants back in time to a mythic period before law and cultural constraints, when Kronos first ruled the world.

According to Plato in his often-studied work, The Statesman, man formerly lived in a paradise, under the rule of the creator himself. But the mortal realm, Plato declared, was later separated from the creator, and that was the cause of the evils descending upon the world.

So the Greeks, in accord with the universal tradition, remembered the age of Kronos as the "model" for later generation. In The Laws, Plato writes that 'we must do all we can to imitate the life which is said to have existed in the days of Kronos. . .both in private and public life."

In the third century B.C. the neoplatonist Porphyry, drawing on the work of the Greek philosopher Dicaearchus, offered a simple explanation for the human yearning for paradise. The source of this yearning is the memory of the Age of Kronos, he wrote, when men "lived a life of leisure, without care or toil, and also–if the doctrine of the most eminent medical men is to be accepted–without disease. . .And there were no wars or feuds between them. Consequently, this manner of life of theirs naturally came to be longed for by men of later times."

Like his many counterparts in the ancient world, Kronos was the acknowledged prototype of kings, his rule in heaven providing the standards for rule on earth.

Every Greek king thus bore the universal burden of royalty, for the Greeks applied exactly the same test of the just or good ruler as did other peoples. Homer, most famous of the Greek poets, announced as the ideal "a blameless king whose fame goes up to the wide heaven, maintaining right, and the black earth bears wheat and barley and the trees are laden with fruit. . .and the people prosper." It was the duty of the king, as the First Father's successor, to renew the Golden Age!

One additional aspect of the Kronos image draws our attention. It seems that the former ruler of the sky entered later traditions as a renowned terrestrial king. For in later times it was claimed that Kronos had actually dwelt on earth. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, for example, in remembering the Golden Age, was emphatic on the point: "Kronos ruled on this very earth," he insisted. The same idea was proclaimed in Orphic tradition.

The correspondence with the global myth and its evolution over time (as the gods were brought down to earth), is indeed remarkable. But the Greek myth of Kronos brings us to a critical juncture. For this celestial power is identified, and the identity leads inexorably to a series of far-reaching discoveries.

All Greek astronomical traditions agreed that Kronos was the planet Saturn. What is now the sixth planet from the Sun stands at the center of the Greek paradise myth. Kronos, the planet Saturn, ruled the heavens for a period, presiding over the Golden Age, then departed as the heavens fell into confusion.

How did it happen that a remote planet, now a bare speck in the sky, found its way into such an improbable, yet deeply-rooted memory?

Our own names for the planets came from the Romans who gave the outermost visible planet the name Saturn. Latin poets, philosophers, and historians, including Ovid, Virgil, and Seneca, preserved an archaic legend about Saturn. In unison they insisted that long, long ago the now-distant star had ruled as god-king, founding an ancient kingdom, a paradise on earth.

The Chronicler Virgil remembered "the life golden Saturn lived on earth, while yet none had heard the clarion blare, none the sword-blades ring." Saturn, the poet proclaimed, "gathered together the unruly race, scattered over mountain heights, and gave them laws, and chose that the land be called Latium. . .Under his reign were the golden ages men tell of, in such perfect peace he ruled the nations. . ."

The Latin naturalist Seneca repeated the idea more than once: "No wars the nations knew, no trumpets threatening blasts. . .and the glad Earth herself willingly laid bare her fruitful breast, a mother happy and safe amid such duteous nurslings.

But perhaps the most eloquent expressions came from the poet and historian Ovid:

"The first millennium was the age of gold . . .No brass-lipped trumpets called, nor clanging swords. . .and seasons traveled through the years of peace. The innocent earth learned neither spade nor plough; she gave her riches as fruit hangs from the tree. . .Springtide the single season of the year."

What the Greeks called the Kronia, celebrating the fortunate era of Kronos, the Romans termed the Saturnalia, a symbolic renewal of the Saturnia regna or reign of the great god Saturn. As in the Greek festival, the rules of social standing and obligation were temporarily suspended, with all things reverting to the primeval state, as master and slave took their place at one table

In remarkable agreement with the myths of other peoples, the Romans regarded Saturn as the model and source of cherished national customs. Tracing their ancestry and national identity to this very god-king, the chroniclers claimed that, in an earlier time, the Latins deemed themselves "Saturnians". "Be not unaware, Virgil writes, "that the Latins are Saturn's race, righteous not by bond or laws, but self-controlled of their own free will and by the custom of their ancient god."

Nothing symbolized this ancient tie to Saturn more dramatically than the mythical ancestry of kings. It was for a very clear purpose that the chroniclers exerted themselves on the subject, announcing that the early Latin kings were part of an "unbroken line" leading back through mythical history straight to the god-king Saturn. From the mythical king Latinus the line led upward to Faunus, then to Picus. As Virgil puts it, "Faunus' sire was Picus, and he boasts thee, O Saturn, as his father; thou art first founder of the line. To him by heaven's decree was no son or male descent, cut off. . ."

Since the line of descent was unbroken, Virgil could insist that Augustus Caesar himself be honored as the son of a god, destined to repeat the accomplishments of the founding king:

"Here is Caesar, and all Iulus' seed, destined to pass beneath the sky's mighty vault. This, this is he whom thou so oft hearest promised to thee, Augustus Caesar, son of a god, who shall again set up the Golden Age amid the fields where Saturn once reigned."

Just as we have observed among other peoples, Roman mythology preserved the myth of Saturn on two levels. On the one hand, there was the tradition of the celestial Saturn ruling in the sky. "When ancient Saturn had his kingdom in the sky," Virgil wrote, "the deep earth held lucre all in its dark embrace."

But the same god was also localized by the Romans as the legendary first king of Latium–a glaring contradiction the chroniclers overcame by asserting that, after the celestial ruler's exile or flight, he had taken up residence in Latium. "I remember how Saturn was received in this land," Ovid wrote. "He had been driven by Jupiter from the celestial realms. From that time the folk long retained the name of Saturnian."

At every level, the Roman memory of Saturn resonates with a global tradition of the Universal Monarch. In the very fashion we have observed in other lands, we see the god entering local history as the primeval founding king, ruling an ancestral kingdom. And with the same result: that the nation telling the story then claimed to have "descended" from the god-king himself.

The message couldn't be more clear. Long after the mythical age of the gods, every ancient culture continued to honor the great luminary remembered as the king of the world.

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