Origins of the Sacred: The Ecstasies of Love and War

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9780060975111: Origins of the Sacred: The Ecstasies of Love and War

Tracing the origins of mankind's identity through evolutionary biology and mythological literature, Dudley Young examines the primitive mind and the development of religion and sacredness as seen through our ancestors. Attempting to unearth the origins of violence and to answer the question "Are we born violent?", Young begins millions of years ago, with the transformation of the arboreal monkey into a chimpanzee. As man's brain grew and became more advanced, his most basic instincts - sex and violence - became unharnessed and unprogrammed at the same time that human civilisation emerged. The book concludes on a tragic theme, with the appearance of Homer and his literature, as well as man's futile attempt to recreate a complex civilisation of harmony.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Audacious anthropological speculation by Young (Literature/Univ. of Essex, England), who traces humanity's spiritual practices back to the ancients and beyond in an attempt to ``heal the rift that opened in the Western soul some 400 years ago when science and religion went their separate ways.'' Decrying today's scientism, or ``science as religion,'' Young calls for a return to ``foundations''--the mythological roots of our understanding of the universe. Most daringly, he looks to the behavior of apes for clues to ``the animal base from which all man's higher activities arise.'' Relying on the work of Jane Goodall and others, Young finds that ``the opening'' toward ``the beginnings of human perplexity'' arose when a chimp first prodded the corpse of another chimp and was puzzled; that ritual arose to help regulate chimp pecking-order; and that love, or at least self- consciousness, may have arisen as a result of brachiation, which physically allowed apes and then hominids to face one another directly. Young then follows the evolution of these potentialities as early man moved onto the savannah, where ``alpha-shaman,'' who united temporal and magical powers, split into alpha and shaman-- the template for the 16th-century rift between science and religion and indeed perhaps for all history, since ``at the mythic center of virtually every culture is the story of the hero, and the hero looks like alpha-shaman, who may save both himself and us by refusing to be split in two.'' The remainder of Young's erudite argument basically traces the ways early humanity, up through the Greeks, came to terms with that split--a wide-ranging survey that touches upon, among other concerns, the symbolism of various animals, blood sacrifice, the mythic underpinnings and meanings of Genesis and the Odyssey, and, in an appendix, the etymologies of various words relating to the sacred. A dazzling exposition, intellectually demanding but lightened by lively prose, that goes far to establish Young as the Joseph Campbell of the Nineties. (Line drawings--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

In Young's reckoning, the primitive mind recognized that the energies leading to love and war overlap. But with the advent of the scientific worldview, he contends, we have lost touch with the wellsprings of myth: patriarchy marginalized erotic love, while the rites that monitored and refined hunting and aggression have atrophied. Professor of literature at the University of Essex in England, Young treads speculative waters in discussing the bloodlust of chimpanzees, early human love on the African savannah, the birth of language out of "a grammar of the sacred" and paleolithic peoples' psychic defenses against slipping back into cannibalism and religious frenzy. A grand synthesis in the tradition of Robert Lowell and Joseph Campbell, weighed down by demanding prose, this bold, stimulating inquiry seeks to restore to the modern world "the feminine touch . . . our chief stay against violence." Young leaps from the art of Minoan Crete to Genesis and Gilgamesh to T. S. Eliot, deconstructing "the scientific myth" in search of mythic roots.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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