(This represents a really rough draft which attempts to get at some of the ideals which underlie socialist radicalism through an examination of the parallels of historical literary figures: Prometheus, Spartacus, and various conceptions of the devil – especially those developed in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and Goethe’s ‘Faust I’ and ‘Faust II’. It might come across as a bit of a sequel to my prior paper on Marxist ideas in Dracula and their effect on modern conspiracism.)
‘Prometheus is the foremost saint and martyr in the philosopher’s calendar.’ – Karl Marx, Berlin March 1841
‘Spartacus is revealed as the most splendid fellow in the whole of ancient history. Great general (no Garibaldi), noble character, real representative of the ancient proletariat.’ – Karl Marx, Letter to Friedrich Engels 27 February 1861
It has been said that “Prometheus plus Spartacus equals the starting point of Marxism” (Draper, 1971). Such a view however ignores the importance of what might be considered ‘Hegelian Satanism’. Despite sometimes being equated with Jesus, the idea of Prometheus as a hero to revolutionaries was deeply informed by prior ideas about Satan as the ‘hero’ of John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ — and indeed also it has been said that “the merging of Prometheus and Satan was one of the crucial symbolic transformations” as it related to revolutionary thinking (Boss, 1991, p. 157).
Karl Marx (1818-1883) is also seen to have a deep attachment to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s (1749-1832) ‘Faust’ plays/poems. The Goethe story – though distinct in its portrayal of the devil Mephistopheles — was likely influenced by a Miltonian view of Satan, and Goethe praised Milton’s conception even before he wrote his Faust part I.
Marx’ fixation on both the ‘benevolent’ Lucifer-Prometheus (that is, the lightbringer and fire-giver) archetype and the darker/sinister Faustian Mephistopheles (‘deciever-enslaver’) archetype who exchanges short term worldly power for eternal damnation in hell — may be the origins of a ‘Hegelian dialectic’ in Satanism. However, Marx may have been an innovator in simultaneously praising ‘both sides’ of Satan, he was far from the first ‘literary radical’ to idolize these figures in a revolutionary sense.
Marx’ hero Spartacus is symbolically similar figure as the ‘human Prometheus or Lucifer’ who, unlike the fallen angel or Titan instead rises up from his chains against authority for the proletariat but is eventually destroyed by his master (rather than resultantly shackled for his transgression). In addition, a classical interpretation of Spartacus by Plutarch claimed that prophetic signs declared that Spartacus “would have a great and terrible power which would end in misfortune“. In this sense, the idealized historical character of Spartacus – who leads his uprising against the Roman authority despite its foretold catastrophe – may be seen as a ‘synthesis’ of Lucifer-Prometheus (thesis) and Faustian Mephistopheles (antithesis) ‘Satanic hero’ archetypes which were popular among radical writers of the Romantic era.
Illuminatism, Social Change, and Radical Abolitionism
To support such a view of the importance of these concepts to Karl Marx, an 1865 ‘Confession’ collected by a Marx family member shows that Karl Marx professed his greatest heroine to be ‘Gretchen’ (of Goethe’s Faust), his greatest hero to be ‘Spartacus’, and his favorite poet to be ‘Aeschylus’ (who wrote extensively on Prometheus) (Blunden 1956). (As did Goethe in his ‘misotheist’ poem, ‘Prometheus‘.)
Marx’ idealization of Faust, Prometheus, and Spartacus as revolutionary archetypes can be seen as views derivative from his apparent love of Goethe (at least apparently in the case of Faust and Prometheus) — but which were common to revolutionary writers who preceded him and were his contemporaries — people like P.B. Shelley (1792-1822), Lord Byron (1788-1824), and Victor Hugo (1802-1885).
As Percy Bysshe Shelley (who Karl Marx’ own daughter considered as a potential proto-socialist in an 1888 essay) wrote in his introduction to ‘Prometheus Unbound’:
“The only imaginary being resembling, in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus is, in my judgement, a more poetical character than Satan because, in addition to courage and majesty and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the taints of ambition, envy, revenge’ and a desire for personal aggrandisement, which in the Hero of Paradise Lost interfere with the interest.” – P.B. Shelley
Victor Hugo wrote poems lauding Prometheus (which evoked images of Luciferian Satan) (Corbeau 2004). Hugo had critiqued American slavery and lauded the John Brown uprising, comparing Brown at the time of his death with Spartacus.
P.B. Shelley had written ‘Prometheus Unbound’ in 1820, which clearly took its title from the (controversially attributed to Aeschylus) Greek text ‘Prometheus Bound’. P.B. Shelley’s wife Mary Shelley (1797-1851) wrote ‘Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus’ in 1818.
In Mary Shelley’s book, the Creature reads ‘Paradise Lost’ and paraphrases from it in the epigraph when speaking to Victor Frankenstein. This imagines Mary Shelley’s monster as a sympathetic Adam, Lucifer, and Prometheus all in one (and thus makes the doctor into the unmerciful God or Zeus – based on Victor Frankenstein’s fascination with lightning):
“I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed.” – the Creature in Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus
(It is also supposed that Mary Shelley’s book was influenced by Faustian ideas which were introduced in Goethe’s Faust plays/poems which buttressed the release of her Frankenstein story (Shattuck 1996).)
Perhaps pertinently, P.B. Shelley had whisked the young Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin) away to live with him in a home with the contemporary Romantic poet Lord Byron – who like P.B. Shelley wrote on topics (at times) including Spartacus, Prometheus, and Satan. There, in Byron’s company, “Surrounded by illegitimate births and infant deaths, they subsisted on high ideals to remake the world through liberation and revolution” (Shattuck 1996). (It has been explored specifically how Byron’s works related to Satan evolved from an inspiration of that by Milton to one by Goethe (Parker 2006). P.B. Shelley had written effusively about Milton’s Satan as well (Faxneld 2017).)
Further, Mary Shelley’s mother was a progressive feminist and her father was William Godwin – who was in his own right a radical political philosopher “at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement and [P.B.] Shelley’s mentor” (Martyris, 2015). Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus was dedicated to him. (Godwin was himself an enthusiastic supporter of Satan in an abolitionist and revolutionary context (Faxneld 2017).)
Influence of Adam Weishaupt’s ‘Illuminati’ on P.B. and Mary Shelley
It has been asked to what extent the Shelley’s work was influenced by illuminatist ideas. P.B. Shelley discussed secret societies in the context of Abbe Barruel’s four volume: ‘Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism’ (1797), which itself had discussed Adam Weishaupt’s (1748-1830) ‘Illuminati of Bavaria’ founded in 1776.
Barruel blames Freemasonry for the French Revolution and identifies it with Illuminatism — but in his criticism while decrying the secrecy of the group, P.B. Shelley is apparently positive on the activities of the order as far as fostering revolution and the potential for “rational liberty“. Mary Shelley is also seen to have discussed the Barruel book with P.B. Shelley and had it on an 1815 reading list.
To perhaps support such a view, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is set in Ingolstadt University, where Adam Weishaupt had founded the ‘Illuminati’. This might demonstrate the effect the mystique the order might have had on influencing the Shelleys. (Notably, Weishaupt had the code name ‘Spartacus’ and viewed himself apparently as a liberator of people. Barruel refers to Weishaupt as “Spartacus” in the memoirs (Gelpi, 1992).)
(Furthermore, Goethe had been an actual student of Weishaupt perhaps suggesting a direct link there as well which may or may not have been known to figures like Marx.)
The Africanization of Spartacus and Prometheus
It has been argued that Mary Shelley’s book explores fears about “non whites” and “proletarian labor” — and in the original stage productions of Frankenstein, “the idea that the monster somehow expressed societal fears about emancipated slaves was made explicit through costume and other aspects of appearance” and the Monster may also represent the expression of fears about social change, if not “wholesale French-style revolution” (Hall. Et. al, 2011; Malchow 1996).
Correspondingly, both P.B. Shelley and Mary Shelley “abstained from sugar and drank green tea” because of their views on slavery in the West Indies (Martyris 2015).
Apparently, the anti-slavery movement was very important in the context of women’s liberation, and this is speculated as a motivation behind Mary Shelley’s ‘Modern Prometheus’ as well. ( Luciferian ideas were important to the context of 19th century women’s liberation – See: Faxneld,2017) . It seems clear that the creative environment in which Frankenstein was developed was imbued with radical ideas linked to abolitionism as well as the idea of Satan and Prometheus as Romantic revolutionaries (if not the very seeds of modern “Illuminati” and anti-Masonic conspiracy theories).
In alignment with Mary Shelley’s potential depiction of an West Indian / African slave inspired Monster — Prometheus often came to be associated with specifically African physical features in 1800s descriptions . (Since at least 1782 in J. Hector St. John de Crevecour’s ‘Letters from an American Farmer’, there had emerged an idea of a black ‘Prometheus’ as well (Hickman 2017).
Similarly, Spartacus has been called “the archetypal hero of the abolitionist movement” (Hall et. al, 2011). The idea of Abbe Raynal’s “Black Spartacus” archetype specifically came to be associated with Toussain’t L’Ouverure who had been an influential figure on Haitian independence (Hickman 2017).
William Wordsworth, one of the four major Romantic poets (alongside P.B. Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Keats) – had as early as 1803 compared Toussaint L’Ouverture to themes from Milton’s Satan in his poem “To Toussaint L’Ouverture” (Gray & Murphy, 2014). This poem is arguably Wordsworth’s most ‘Promethean’ poem as well (Hall et. al, 2011).
The Promethean theme can also be seen in an 1848-50 poem called ‘The New World’ written by Karl Marx associate Ernest Jones which was a critique of American slavery which referenced slave rebels Ennus and Spartacus in an African context, and questioned whether the virtues of Hercules – symbolizing America (who had freed Prometheus in myth) had been lost. (Hall et. al 2011)
(See also, “Black Jacobins”.)
Karl Marx’ Prometheus and Lucifer
Ultimately, despite his appreciation of the concepts of Prometheus, Spartacus, and Goethe’s Faust (as inspired by Milton’s Satan), Karl Marx seems perhaps emblematic of the time in terms of his synthesis of these ideas within the context of social justice and revolution. He was not necessarily an innovator in this sense for making connections with these figures as revolutionaries.
Where Marx may have indeed been an innovator was in his expertise regarding the Hegelian dialectic, and what this may have meant regarding his apparent fascination with Prometheus, Satan, and Spartacus as tragic revolutionary figures. As the book ‘To The Finland Station’ (Wilson, 1940) said:
“Lucifer was to hover behind Prometheus through the whole of Karl Marx’s life: he was the malevolent obverse side of the rebel benefactor of man.”
Marx had prefaced his 1841 doctoral dissertation with a quote from Aeschylus’s ‘Prometheus Bound‘:
Philosophy makes no secret of it. The confession of Prometheus:
In simple words, I hate the pack of gods
[Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound]
is its own confession, its own aphorism against all heavenly and earthly gods who do not acknowledge human self-consciousness as the highest divinity. It will have none other beside.
But to those poor March hares who rejoice over the apparently worsened civil position of philosophy, it responds again, as Prometheus replied to the servant of the gods, Hermes:
Be sure of this, I would not change my state
Of evil fortune for your servitude.
Better to be the servant of this rock
Than to be faithful boy to Father Zeus.
Prometheus is the most eminent saint and martyr in the philosophical calendar.
Luciferian and Promethean ideas are apparent in Marx’ (1837-1841 timeframe) poem, ‘The Fiddler ‘:
The Fiddler saws the strings,
His light brown hair he tosses and flings.
He carries a sabre at his side,
He wears a pleated habit wide.
“Fiddler, why that frantic sound?
Why do you gaze so wildly round?
Why leaps your blood, like the surging sea?
What drives your bow so desperately?”
“Why do I fiddle? Or the wild waves roar?
That they might pound the rocky shore,
That eye be blinded, that bosom swell,
That Soul’s cry carry down to Hell.”
“Fiddler, with scorn you rend your heart.
A radiant God lent you your art,
To dazzle with waves of melody,
To soar to the star-dance in the sky.”
“How so! I plunge, plunge without fail
My blood-black sabre into your soul.
That art God neither wants nor wists,
It leaps to the brain from Hell’s black mists.
“Till heart’s bewitched, till senses reel:
With Satan I have struck my deal.
He chalks the signs, beats time for me,
I play the death march fast and free.
“I must play dark, I must play light,
Till bowstrings break my heart outright.”
The Fiddler saws the strings,
His light brown hair he tosses and flings.
He carries a sabre at his side,
He wears a pleated habit wide.
To Marx, the rebellious Devil which echoes pre-Marxist Faustian views of a Satan-empowered fiddler or violinist (e.g. Paganini) — is apparently both light and darkness. Marx seems to idolize Prometheus (or perhaps the associated Miltonian Satan), who is seen as a benefactor — but also at the same time — he seems to idolize the darker view of a Mephistopheles-type Devil such as that which is represented by Goethe’s ‘Faust’ and Marx’ own ‘The Fiddler’. This kind of Devil enslaves man for his greed rather than liberates him. Such complementary yet contrasted concepts regarding Satan (and Lucifer-Prometheus) may be emblematic of the dualistic nature of the Devil in Marx’ philosophy. Perhaps Marx’ contribution to the evolutionary concept of Satan is to acknowledge it in a sense which is consistent with a Hegelian dialectic — such as that which he was well versed in at the time of his dissertation and had applied to his economic theories.
(Again it is conceivable here that Marx’ affinity for Spartacus is perhaps driven by both an appreciation for the classical historical figure, as well as the ‘Illuminated’ ideas spread by personalities like Goethe (connected to Adam Weishaupt who was himself identified with Spartacus) and the Shelleys’ who apparently were fond of the Illuminati’s philosophies on liberation and also aware of Weishaupt’s designation as ‘Spartacus’ in the context of liberation and revolution.)
Perhaps it is fitting that the same politically radical Romantic group responsible for the original conception of a vampiric Dracula-like nobleman (originally an analogue of Lord Byron himself — as related in Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’) emerged from the same well-known ‘literary competition’ which produced Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus’, and arguably lead to at least partial inspiration for Bram Stoker and Karl Marx in their views on vampirism (see Moretti, 1982 and Neocleous, 2003 in the case of Marx)). Notably Eleanor Marx was proximate to both Bram Stoker and Wiliam Morris (one of Stoker’s benefactors and a well known Gothic Socialist who had one of the earliest English translations of Marx’ ‘Das Kaptial’).
However, whereas in contrast to Frankenstein’s monster a.k.a. The Modern Prometheus, who is representative perhaps of Mary Shelley’s apparently emergent radical and abolitionist feminism — the sort of aristocratic ‘Prince of Darkness‘ vampire represented by analogies to Lord Byron was a “hybrid Milton-Byron-Polidori human Lucifer” which used ” the poet [Byron] as their model for the villain/fatal lover who is irresistible to women and brings about their destruction” (Nelson, 2012, p. 102). If unintentional, it is certainly an interesting contrast to be drawn from the implications of the characters crafted by Polidori and Shelley as a result of their proximity to Lord Byron.
It has been said that the unifying theme of the “Titan [Prometheus], Faust, Satan and Adam” is transgression (Corbeau 2004). Indeed, Spartacus’ failed uprising against the authorities of Ancient Rome in order to bring justice to oppressed peoples has much synergy with the ideas of the titan Prometheus punished by Zeus for bringing fire to man, the Angel Lucifer/Satan – the lightbringer’ – punished by God for his heavenly uprising, and Goethe’s Faust who is punished in the context of his greed for social change as tempted by the Devil. (Common it would seem also are the ‘chains’ which bind punished Prometheus, punished Satan, the slave Spartacus, and the doomed spirit of Faust.)
There seems to be considerable evidence that in particular the Miltonian Satan-inspired Prometheus and the historically-idealized figure of Spartacus were very important to emancipation movements related to both slaves and women in the Romantic period. These radical political concepts seem to have been important on the development of Karl Marx as well, who considered Spartacus his favorite historical figure, Prometheus among his most influential philosophical inspirations, and clearly was also deeply fascinated by Faust stories if not Satan himself.
Marx’ specific embrace of the ‘positivist’ Lucifer-Prometheus archetype of Milton/Aeschylus (as evidenced in his dissertation) simultaneously to his embrace of Goethe’s ‘negative’ Mephistophelean archetype of the Devil (as evidenced in his Fiddler poem), might be seen as behavioral evidence of Marx’ perception of a ‘Hegelian dialectic’ within Romantic and revolutionary ideas about Satan corresponding to his studies and artistic endeavors in the late 1830s and early 1840s.
Marx’ theoretical Hegelian conception of the Devil does seem to also correspond to his love for Spartacus. The slave, who, unlike the fallen angel or Titan broke free of his chains to lead a popular abolitionist revolt against a far mightier power — a noble gambit which culminated in his inevitable (and foretold) destruction — can be seen as a synthesis of ideas about the rise and fall of Satan (and Faustian figures) derived from the contrasts of Luciferian-Promethean and Faustian-Mephistophelian archetypes.
Perhaps this is what makes Spartacus to be Marx’ greatest hero.
P.S. These sorts of ideas – along with later doctrines like Theosophy (which hew closely to ideas of Lucifer and Prometheus in the context especially of knowledge attainment and liberation) were particularly important in fin-de-siecle/pre-Revolutionary Russia (as Milton’s Satan too had been in the context of a revolutionary ‘hero’). Marxist theory was clearly to be important there in Russia later as a key foundation of the Soviet state. Therefore, I feel these concepts may have utility for understanding some elements of Cold War-era disinformation and modern information warfare as well.
For example, the initial ‘hunch’ which led to the fact collection for this analysis was based on the idea that both Dalton Trumbo and Stanley Kubrick who collaborated on Spartacus have been associated independently with both Marxist ideas and likely-Communist conspiracy theory. A more knowledgeable and credible scholar pointed out the potential Lucifer-Prometheus connections, and the rest of this ‘came out in the wash’ as they say. I was not necessarily planning to encounter Marx for example when I began to seek connections – and especially not Lord Byron and the Shelleys. There’s even an Orson Welles connection in the sense that he based his ‘Macduff’ in his controversial ‘Voodoo Macbeth’ on Toussaint L’Ouverture.
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