Mythologising Monteverdi: The Marriage of Venus and Mercury by Angela Voss
All teems with symbol: the wise man is he who
in any one thing can read another.
I will begin on a personal note. Monteverdi’s music has been a catalyst in my life, awakening me to a ‘spiritual eros’, as the Platonists would describe the intimation of, and yearning for, an experience of union with an ineffable, and undefinable, ‘other’.I have also been an astrologer for nearly forty years, and a central focus of my academic life has been the challenge of addressing the revelatory function of the symbolic in a world which no longer values poetic metaphor as a primary mode of knowledge. Instead, such knowing is assumed to be ‘merely subjective’, incompatible with the sharp scalpel of the rational mind. But this was not the case for philosophers of the Pythagorean and Platonic schools. Pythagoras (c.570-c.490 BCE), Plato (427-347 BCE), Plotinus (204/5-270 CE), Iamblichus (250-325 CE) and Proclus (412-485 CE), all upheld symbolic or mythic discourse to be an essential element of the philosophical path to gnosis (knowledge of the divine), as it is also for Jung’s project of individuation through accessing the wisdom of the personal and collective unconscious. 3 Furthermore, the importance of symbol and metaphor for healthy human cognition has been affirmed by the contemporary neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist, and it is with great debt to all these advocates for ‘another way of seeing’ that I will attempt to navigate my way between two frames of reference—the language of symbol, and what might be loosely called the history of ideas—in order to evoke a hidden level of meaning at work in
Monteverdi’s life and work. In the end, I hope to show that his music can be seen as ‘theurgic’—capable of lifting the listener’s soul beyond personal emotional response to a sense of participation in a sacred cosmos, and perhaps even further, to a glimpse of still deeper mysteries. This, according to neoplatonic and Jungian thought, is the fulfilment of the symbolic function.