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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Eliade: Cosmos and History

Mircea Eliade (1907 - 1986) made his first attempt at a systematic exposition of his views on the problem of meaning in history in his short book The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History (the original French edition, published in 1949, had the subtitle Archetypes and Repitition). Significantly, in the brief Foreword Eliade stated: "Had we not feared to be overambitious, we should have given this book a subtitle: Introduction to a Philosophy of History. For such, after all, is the purport of the present essay..." In this book, as in his other works, Eliade approaches the problem of man's search for meaning in existence and history by examining "the fundamental concepts of archaic societies." Eliade uses the expression "archaic" in its Greek etymological sense, meaning not "old" or "outmoded" but rather "original," the "principle" from which further developments are derived.  The term thus comprises not only ancient "cosmological" civilizations (such as those of Egypt, the ancient Near East, China and India) but also peasant and tribal societies and, indeed, all societies of any stage of history that can be said to embody a "traditional" outlook.