Mythomystes by Henry Reynolds: An Overview

In Mythomystes Henry Reynolds makes a distinction between ancient poets and modern ones and praises the former and hates the latter. In doing so he first takes a brief survey of the nature and value of true poetry. The real forms of true poesy are anopnoras, epistrophes, metaphors, metonyms, synecdoche and tropes and figures of other kinds. The true poesy has sublime thoughts in ornate language; it is the liberal grace of nature and full of wisdom. The ancient poets are full of fancy and imagination.

Modern poets are superficial. The modern world is debased, subjected to "all the imperfections that are inseparable from that wrack and maim of nature, that we behold with horror. . . ." (186). The modern poets are mere ordinary pretenders to poetry yields to diseased times' ill habits. They choose to read and study one's style, phrase and manner of expression on and cannot "look beyond the dimension of their own brain. . ." (188).

The ancient poets use perfect and straight language. They have "natural inclination and propensity to the acquisition of the knowledge of truth" (188). They talked about celestial things; they are excellent with the excellence of the beauty of supernal and intellectual things and thus raise themselves above phenomenal "as they have lost the use of their corporeal eyes"(189). Homer too goes along with the same view that the poet sees beyond that "deprived of his corporeal eyesight as one that seeing all things above, could not attend to the heeding of trivial and meaner things below such rapture of spirit," such static elevation is favored by god. God pours out "the sovereign nectar of sapience and wisdom" to the ancient poets and raise them to heaven (189). One can suck "the best part of all the human knowledge it hath from whose wise and excellent fables. . . ." (189) Their poems are not human invention "but gilts and graces of heaven" (190).

But modem poets or philosophers "suffer a parallel with either the inclination or abilities" of the ancients; their time-consuming contemplation yields nothing than "slight flashness of ungrounded fancy. . .." (190) their poetry is poison of ill-time in the diseased world that makes one ill "with the poison to their meretricious flatteries and base servile fawning at the heels of worldly wealth and greatness " (190).

The last but not least disparity lies in "their general ignorance in any the mysteries and hidden properties of nature" (193). The next disparity between the two lies "in the price and estimation they held their knowledge in" (191). The ancients hide wisdom and drift them away from "unworthy vulgar" (191). The modern poets have nothing to hide, so they lay their hearts bare. There is no profound understanding of the mysteries. They obscure truth with vulgarity and complication. But ancients write in plain style full of plain doctrine and easy to grasp the reality they discovered. This is what the moderns suffer.

Reynolds in the later part of the essay laments on the loss of out-imagination and vision and the wisdom or let say mythomystes of the wisdom. I think he shares kinship with Vico's laments on the loss of our myth-making power.

Renolds regrets: “We live in a mist, blind and benighted; since our first father's disobedience poisoned himself and his posterity, man is become the imperfect beast and most deficient animal of all the field: for then he lost that instinct beast and with it the whole vegetable and general terrene nature also suffered and still groans under the loss of their first purity occasioned by his fall. (194)

The loss of beastly instinct in us is catastrophic to the growth of the healthy civilization as Reynolds says on the Viconian line of thought. He suggests refining rational part to regain "his first lost felicity" (164). For this the knowledge of the value instinct, and reverence to God are required. In his love for instinctive knowledge, Reynolds attacks Baconian encroachment of knowledge through scientific inquiry. He ends the essay with his solace to come to closer to the lost but eternal heritage of the myth; "vindicating some part of our lost heritage and beatitude here, we may thence arrive the less aliens and strangers in the land of our eternal heritage and beatitude here after" (199). He sounds anti-Cartesian in his lament on the loss of instinct in us.

Henry Reynolds Study Center

Biography of Henry Reynolds

Mimetic Theory: Introduction