Creuzer, G. F.

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CREUZER, G. F . (17711858), German Romantic mythologist. Educated at Marburg and then Jena, Georg Friedrich Creuzer was appointed professor of philology at Marburg in 1802, and in 1804 professor of philology and ancient history at Heidelberg, where he taught for almost forty-five years. Creuzer's major work was Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Völker, besonders der Griechen (18101812).

Creuzer argued that ancient Greek religion derived from a spiritually pure and noble monotheism carried from India by wandering priests. But this high monotheism needed to be adapted to the crude, native polytheism. There thus arose an exoteric and popular teaching for the vulgar many, one that spoke of many gods, and an esoteric teaching for the initiated and refined worshiper. Creuzer claimed that this esoteric tradition informed Eleusinian and Samothracian mysteries, Orphism and Pythagoreanism, and Neoplatonism. His book quickly became famous and was both admired and criticized. There was much speculation on the part of German Romanticsoften extravagant or fantasticabout India as the homeland of all true religion and wisdom. Creuzer seemed to give solid historical support to this enthusiasm for the East and its synthesis with Greece. But because Creuzer's work claimed to be accurate history, it also became the chief target of scholarly attacks on the excesses and defects of the Romantic mythologists. This quarrel between "romanticists" and "rationalists" is a major episode in early nineteenth-century history of religion. Creuzer's data and methods were rebutted, from various positions, by such famous scholars as Gottfried Hermann (1819), Karl Otfried Müller (1825), Christian Lobeck (1829), and Ludwig Preller (1854). One result of this controversy was that "rationalistic" and philological study of myth often disdained "romantic" enthusiasm and speculation about myth as a living religious force.

Creuzer's views on myth also met opposition in the Romantic camp. He firmly distinguished between myth and symbol. Divine meaning shone forth first of all in the symbol. The first interpretations here (as by Indic sages) took the form of images or pictographs, so as to preserve the symbol's union of spirit and matter. Only later, and on a lower level, came the narrated stories found in myth. Creuzer suggests these are concessions to popular taste. For Creuzer, the symbol embodies monotheism; myths are the vehicles of polytheism. One general criticism is summed up in the judgment of the German idealist philosopher and mythologist Friedrich Schelling, who suggests Creuzer simply reduced myth to allegory, and did so because he reproduced in Romantic terms the old Christian charge that polytheistic myth only plagiarized (and confused) the original monotheistic revelation.


No English translation of Creuzer's Symbolik exists. There is a French translation by Joseph D. Guigniaut under the title Religions de l'antiquité considérées principalement dans leurs formes symboliques et mythologiques, 4 vols. (Paris, 18251841). For the controversy over Creuzer's Symbolik, see Ernst Howald's Der Kampf um Creuzers Symbolik (Tübingen, 1926), which contains excellent selections and commentary. Henri Pinard de la Boullaye's L'étude comparée des religions, 4th ed., vol. 1 (Paris, 1929), pp. 261268, discusses Creuzer as a religious historian. In The Rise of Modern Mythology, 16801860 (Bloomington, Ind., 1972), Robert Richardson and I discuss Creuzer as mythologist, with translated se-lections.

New Sources

Donougho, Martin. "Hegel and Creuzer; or, Did Hegel Believe in Myth?" In New Perspectives on Hegel's Philosophy of Religion, pp. 5980. Albany, NY, 1992.

Burton Feldman (1987)

Revised Bibliography