Poe and the Myth of Origin

Sandy Pecastaing


Published in 1848 – one year before Poe’s death – Eureka is one of the last direct legacies of the English and French Enlightenments. This work is placed under the patronage of Newton, Laplace and Humboldt to whom Poe dedicates his essay “with [his] very profound respect”. The program of the American writer is ambitious. “I design to speak of the Physical, Meta-physical and Mathematical – of the Material and Spiritual Universe: – of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition and its Destiny.” Of the eighteenth century, Poe has kept the spirit and pleasure of intellectual conquest, the taste for exploration of all the fields of knowledge and imaginative writings. But he knows that he belongs to another world, a world where Science – he says – has driven Diane away from the forests and the poet from the public space. Eureka is above all a “romance”, a prose poem. It is also a discourse in scientific language. Poe translates the myth of Origin into astronomical formulas. “[The] myths decay and symbols become secularized – Mircea Eliade writes –, but […] they never disappear, even in the most positivist of civilizations, that of the nineteenth century. Symbols and myths come from such depths: they are part and parcel of the human being” (Mircea Eliade, Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism, tr. Philip Mairet). In composing Eureka, Poe extends the exercise of rewriting beyond the limits of science. He speaks of the eternal return of Poetry, and highlights the origin of myths of Origin. “In the Beginning Was the Fable” (Paul Valéry, “Au Sujet d’Eurêka”).


Poe, Cosmology, Universe, Origin, Poetry.

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