Et in Arcadia Ego - discover the historic and mystic secrets of the south of France




Arcadia is a utopian world of bliss reminiscent to the golden ages of Islam, Hinduism the Kingdom of heaven of Christianity 'and the Elysian Fields in Greek mythology, the resting place of virtuous and heroic souls.

Arcadia in Greek Mythology

The Greek poet Hesiod 8th century B.C, wrote about life in Arcadia :

They lived like gods without sorrow of heart,  remote and free from toil and grief, miserable age rested not on them; but with arms and legs never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils.
When they died, it was as though they were overcome with sleep, and they had all the good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bore them fruit abundantly and without stint.
They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things,
rich in flocks and loved by the blessed Gods”.
In Greek mythology Arcadia is the realm of Pan the Greek horned God with the hindquarters of a goat . In the actual region of Arcadia in the Peloponnese of Greece , Pan was worshipped by the rural shepherds and farmers. He was the God of the fertile earth but also renowned for his great seductive virility and his prowess with the pan flute.
The God Apollo who defeated Pan in a contest of musical ability is also connected
with Arcadia as a protector of herds and flocks. Apollo could also inflict plague and pestilence on his enemies.


Arcadia in Roman Mythology

The Latin poet Virgil 70 B.C. wrote in his work the Ecolques about the pastoral Arcadia. The influence of Virgil in establishing Arcadia as a poetical ideal still resonates in arts and literature.
Virgil was “Christianised “ by the early Catholic church , they saw in his writings prophecies about the coming of Christ in the century to come.
Saint Gregory of Tours born 538 A.D. warned however against reading his work least one might succumb to paganism.
Virgil had become a legend in his own time . After his death in 19 B.C. his remains were placed in a tomb close to Naples, the exact site has been lost.
The Catholic church claim that in the tunnel cave of Chiesa della Santa Mana di Piedigrotta, in the vicinity of Naples , the site is where the tomb is located; this is is however probably untrue and only a measure in Christianising and controlling the Pagan veneration that accompanied the original tomb shortly after Virgils death.
A tripod burner associated with the worship and prophesying of Apollo is situated at the tomb of Piedigrotta.
The poet was attributed with magical powers and it is said that he protected Naples from flies, and inflicted upon her enemies plagues of flies.
Gervase of Tilbury born 1150 A.D. was shown some of his magic spells and said that he knew of two churches that used them to control flies. Virgil is supposed to have used a magic fly to control and direct flies.


Et in Arcadia ego – Guercino

Curious is that in the first painting of the Shepherds of Arcadia by Guercino painted around 1620 A.D. a blowfly is visible on the skull resting on top of the tomb with the engraving Et in Arcadia Ego. Furthermore a mouse is visible beside the skull. Apollo sometimes took the form of a mouse : Apollo - Smintheus. It seems that Guercino could be alluding to the tomb of Virgil.


Shepherds of Arcadia by Guercino

Shepherds of Arcadia by Guercino


Et in Arcadia Ego – Nicolas Poussin

Shepherds of Arcadia paintings by Nicolas Poussin 1630

The two Shepherds of Arcadia paintings by Nicolas Poussin both portray Arcadian shepherds pointing towards the inscription Et in Arcadia Ego engraved upon a tomb.
The elder painting (1630) depicts 3 men and a woman. Two of the men and the woman are intensely occupied with the apparent discovery of the tomb, it seems the inscription has an unsettling effect . . The other man seems unconcerned and is ” flowing '' water from a amphora onto the ground next to where he is sitting.
It is possible that he is the river God Alpheus symbolizing the underground stream what flowed from Arcadia and surfaced at the fountain of Arethusa in Sicily . (legend)
Another explanation could be that he represents Aquarius . His depiction could symbolize the precession from the age of Pisces to the age of Aquarius.


Shepherds of Arcadia paintings by Nicolas Poussin 1630


Nicolas Poussin and Jacopo Sannazaro


The second and younger painting (1637) depicts 3 shepherds and a shepherdess reading the inscription; Et in Arcadia Ego this time the atmosphere is serene and 'pastoral '.

The poet Jacopo_Sannazaro born 1458 in Naples and author of the pastoral work “Arcadia “ is considered by many art critics to be the source where Nicolas Poussin found his inspiration for his 2e painting of the Shepherds of Arcadia.


Shepherds of Arcadia paintings by Nicolas Poussin 1637

In his epic poem “Arcadia “ he writes of a tomb built by Meliseo for his beloved Filla ; this section of the poem is reminiscent to the lament of Phyllis who had married Demophon on his return from the war with Troy. When he left Phyllis to help his father she gave him a coffin containing the sacrament of Rhea. The tomb was only to be opened if he was unable to return.
Rhea is the mother of the Gods and was later strongly associated with Cybele (mother goddess) and Gaia ( earth Goddess) 
Her main centres of worship were in Arcadia and Crete. Her name means flow and ease ; she represents the eternal flow of time and (re)generation (Time was measured in ages, the eternal cycle when every 2150 years the sun would
die” and then rise once more in a new constellation .)
In Arcadia she is connected to several rivers , where she bathed after giving birth to Zeus.

Near to the source of the Alpheios river is a temple of Rhea.
In the 12th shepherds song of Sannazaros Arcadia a tale unfolds of two shepherds , Barcinio and Summonzio, who lament the tragic tale of their friend Meliseo, who mourns the loss of his beloved Filli who had died nearby. Summonzio tells that Meliseo had engraved her name on countless stones in the woods and finally builds a tomb for his beloved.

Barcinio recites from memory a verse :
I will make thy tomb famous and renowned among rustic folk.
Shepherds shall come from the hills of Tuscany and Liguria to worship this corner of the world solely because thou hast dwelt here once.
And they shall read on the beautiful square monument the inscription that chills my heart at all hours, that makes me strangle so much sorrow in my breast “ 
She who always showed herself so haughty and rigid to Meliseo now lies entombed, meek and humble, in this cold stone”.

The poems persona , Sincero, had left Naples to nurse in Arcadia his intense hurt of a disappointed love, only to be haunted by the sad melancholic tales of the shepherds.
After experiencing a bad nightmare he returned by way of a tunnel to Naples (tomb of Virgil)? to find that his beloved had died.
In real life this had happened to Sannazaro when he returned to Naples to mend a rift with his beloved, only to discover that during his absence she had died.


Et in Arcadia Ego : Even in Arcadia I exist.

The reading of the inscription in all 3 paintings by the shepherds and the effect it has on them , implies that something of great magnitude has occurred.
Life in Arcadia , as depicted by Hesiod is in the instant of reading , changed , the dreamlike death, the great sleep ...gone.
In the painting of Guercino and Poussin's 1st work on the subject the shepherds seem
anxious and melancholic”.
In Poussin's youngest work the mood has changed, gone is the air of melancholic contemplation.
In essence the shepherds have “fallen” from Paradise, comparable to the eating of the apple by Eve in Eden. the original sin caused by her “frivolous'' disregard of Gods directive, cementing the role of women in second place in Judaic-Christian-Islamic societies.
In Poussin's 2e painting of the Shepherds of Arcadia the reading of the inscription is received with great interest almost as a gift. ...”Blood of Eden “....
The central message in the painting is that men and women stand shoulder to shoulder in the world as equals , able to experience love, joy , anguish, death and hate ; free to pursue the quest for knowledge........ humanity aware of its own mortality and in charge of of its own destiny.
The accursed gift of knowledge in Eden; seemly welcome in Arcadia.

To explore idea's connected to the" Rennes le Chateau and the Shepherds of Arcadia"  theme :


Links in above :'s_tomb sannazaro blood of eden - Peter Gabriel


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