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Schelling’s Philosophy of Mythology

Lecturer: Christian Kerslake

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 2 2021

Schelling’s Philosophy of Mythology (published posthumously in the form of twenty-nine lectures in Volume XII of his Sämmtliche Werke) is a major part of his final system of philosophy, often known as the ‘Positive Philosophy’ (in effect a vast and intricate treatment of the Philosophy of Religion). Hitherto unavailable in English translation, the contents of the work remain relatively unknown, although it has occasioned significant studies by Paul Tillich, Vladimir Jankélévitch, Manfred Frank, Edward Allen Beach and Xavier Tilliette. Some of the ideas in the lectures, already communicated in Schelling’s famous 1841-2 Berlin lectures on the Philosophy of Revelation, had a huge impact on Kierkegaard (although he did not know the Philosophy of Mythology itself, which was only published after his death). Using new translations of the Philosophy of Mythology and other works by Schelling and Friedrich Creuzer (whose Symbolism and Mythology of Ancient Peoples influenced Schelling), this course is a fresh attempt to shed light on this buried monument of modern philosophy. There are many theoretical innovations in the work (especially concerning the concepts of Being, power, God and sexual difference) that deserve a further hearing, and it may even be that some of Schelling’s explorations into the connections between religion, politics and culture have a renewed significance in the 21st century. Throughout the course, we will develop comparisons with the psychological work of Erich Neumann and the novels and writings of Philip K. Dick. We will propose three different readings of the Philosophy of Mythology: a heterodox Christian theological interpretation, a ‘Dionysiac’ interpretation, and a ‘tragic’ interpretation centred around the figure of Prometheus. One of the most striking aspects of the Philosophy of Mythology is the centrality given to the figure of Dionysus; but, against the view of the later Nietzsche, this is a Dionysus who anticipates rather than opposes Christ.

Beginning with an overview of the lively contemporary reception of Schelling’s late philosophy (focusing on Engels, Marx and Feuerbach), and an introduction to the basic moves of the Historical-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, we proceed directly to the conceptual centre of the late system, the theory of potencies. We will look at the Greek sources of Schelling’s theory (Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle), and attempt to see whether a purely ontological (non-theological) account of Schelling’s system is possible. It will become clear that one of most fascinating aspects of Schelling’s late system is its extensive development of a theory of Being out of Aristotelian sources, with numerous parallels with Heidegger’s ontological investigations. For Schelling, Aristotle’s Metaphysics already contains a genuine science of Being, rooted in the concepts of potentiality and actuality, and he might have been perplexed at Heidegger’s insistence that the meaning of Being has fallen into obscurity. What Heidegger seems to miss, and what Schelling captures, is the role that power plays in the meaning of Being. We must also pay close attention to Schelling’s searching investigations into Judaic conceptions of Being (based in Exodus 3:14) and his pioneering reconstruction of the logic of monotheism, in order to make possible an examination of his distinction between two fundamental types of religion, mythology and revelation.

After comparing Creuzer’s Neoplatonic approach to mythology with Schelling’s theory, which is profoundly endebted to Plutarch’s insights into the role of evil in mythology in Isis and Osiris, we are ready in the second half of the course to get to grips with the basic features of Schelling’s account of Greek mythology, focusing first on the archaic gods: Ouranos, Ourania, Kronos and Cybele. We develop comparisons between Schelling’s ideas about masculine and feminine divinities and theories from Bachofen and Neumann. We become familiar with Kronos, and the fundamental opposition between Kronos and Dionysus, exploring the renewed contemporary political significance of the Kronian. We map out Schelling’s pioneering approach to comparative religion as a whole, focussing on what he takes to be three main mythological systems (the Egyptian, the Indian and the Greek), but also paying attention to his substantial accounts of ‘anti-mythological’ moments in world religion (Zoroastrianism, Buddhism), while continuing to probe the distinction between mythological and revealed religion.

The destination of the course is an exploration of Schelling’s and Creuzer’s accounts of Greek mystery religion, with particular focus on the figures of Demeter, Persephone and Dionysus. We conclude that it should be no surprise, given Schelling’s intellectual biography, that the Philosophy of Mythology should be a work that is susceptible to multiple interpretations, and restate our selection of three interpretations of the work: the Christian, the Dionysiac and the Promethean.

I. Schelling’s Late Philosophy and its Reception

II. Mythology and Monotheism

Reading: Schelling, Historical-Critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, lecture 4.

III. The Potencies and the Theogonic Process

Reading: Philosophical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, lecture 17 (extract).

IV. Monotheism: God and Being

Reading: Schelling, Philosophy of Mythology, lectures 2, 6 (extracts).

V. Friedrich Creuzer’s Symbolik: A Neoplatonic Interpretation of Mythology

Reading: Creuzer, The Symbolism and Mythology of Ancient Peoples, extracts.

VI. Myth, Ecstasy and Evil

Reading: Schelling, Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom (extracts), Philosophy of Mythology, lectures 11 (Persia), 17 (Egypt) (extracts).

VII. Ouranos and Ourania: Sexual Difference

Reading: Schelling, Philosophy of Mythology, lecture 10.

VIII. The Kronian Insurgency

Reading: Schelling, Philosophy of Mythology, lecture 14.

IX. The Three Mythologies

Reading: Schelling, Philosophy of Mythology, extracts from lectures 17 (Egypt), 20 (India), 25 (Greece).

X. Dionysus in Creuzer, Schelling and Nietzsche

Reading: Schelling, Philosophy of Mythology, lecture 13.

XI. Demeter and Persephone in Greek Mystery Religion

Reading: Schelling, Philosophy of Mythology, lectures 8, 27.

XII. Dionysus, Christ and Prometheus

Reading: Schelling, Philosophy of Revelation (1841), Ottman translation (extract), and Philosophical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, lecture 20.

Translations will be made available in advance on the course website,