Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gog and Magog in Myth and Literature

GOG AND MAGOG: The Clans of Chaos in World Literature,
edited by A. A. Seyed-Gohrab et al.

Amsterdam: Rozenberg, 2007.
Reviewed by Norman Hugh Redington, 2011 October 11.

 
According to the second book of Plato's Republic, an earthquake in Lydia once brought to light the buried wreckage of an enormous, hollow, and strangely horse-shaped metal object. A local shepherd found that the horse had doors, and, opening one, discovered behind it the preserved body of a giant charioteer. He took a ring from the corpse's finger; when twisted correctly, it proved able to make its wearer invisible. The humble shepherd Gyges was at once corrupted: he seduced the queen, overthrew the king, and established himself as tyrant of his country. Plato wondered if anyone, however virtuous, would act differently.
 
This story influenced not only Wagner, Tolkien, and the economy of Roswell, New Mexico, but also early commentators on Scripture, some of whom pointed out that Lydia and its neighbours are the Biblical Gomer. This and the similarity of names suggested a remarkable possibility: perhaps King Gyges was connected, if not identical, to the arrogant Prince Gog, who "thought an evil thought ... to take a spoil and to take a prey."
 
Although the book under review purports to deal with Gog and Magog "in world literature", none of its contributors mentions Gyges the Lydian. Neither can there be found in it any reference to the famous tale spread across Europe by Geoffrey of Monmouth, according to which Gogmagog and his rude band of giants terrorised Britain until defeated by the knightly Trojans. (The production staff at the publishing house, however, seem to know that story, having placed on the cover a stock photo of the Gog and Magog statues in London's Guildhall.) Even more surprisingly, the original Biblical accounts are given only one paragraph. The most comprehensive treatment of the Gog-and-Magog theme is still A. R. Anderson's 1932 monograph Alexander's Gate, Gog and Magog, and the Inclosed Nations, to which this book is at best a supplement. It is strongest, ironically enough, when dealing with recent popular sources hardly describable as "world literature": extremist Internet postings and radical Muslim pamphlets. To those unaware of it, the fairly conspicuous presence of Gog and Magog in this "literature" may be the book's biggest surprise.
 
Gog and Magog appear briefly but spectacularly in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptures among the main end-times adversaries of the Elect. Sinister, shrouded in mystery, and memorably named, they have been for centuries the focus of both wild speculation and sober exegesis, but, as the papers in this collection shew, no universal consensus ever emerged about them, even in traditional societies. Are they peoples or persons? If the latter, are they two persons or one? Where do they live? Is their great invasion a future event, or has it already taken place?

Read it all here.


Note that Og, the third clan of the confederation, is not mentioned. For an anthropological and more historically accurate view of Og, Gog and Magog, go here.

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