Sunday, July 29, 2007

[goddess of reason] whom to believe

Mademoiselle Maillard

I was preparing another post and came across the story of Notre Dame and how a prostitute supposedly was laid across the altar during the revolution.

First stop was Wiki, which said:

As personification for the goddess, Thérèse Momoro, wife of a printer, was chosen. The goddess was celebrated in Notre Dame de Paris (she was put on the high altar in the Cathedral by the Freemasons).

Now that's rather choice because I wasn't even thinking of having a go at the Freemasons this time. What did strike me though was that the story I knew, of a dancer/prostitute laid across the altar and "extolled as the goddess of reason", now seemed to be a chaste wife of a printer after all.

So I looked around and stumbled on this, from the Catholic Church, which you'd expect to say it:

This is clear from their subsequent action of enthroning on the altar in Mary’s place a nude woman, the Goddess of Reason.”

Also clear was that this required corroboration. I found this:

The municipality of Paris in 1793 decreed that on the 10th of November the worship of Reason should be inaugurated at Notre Dame. "On that day the venerable cathedral was profaned by a series of sacrilegious outrages unparalleled in the history of Christendom. A temple dedicated to 'Philosophy' was erected on a platform in the middle of the choir ... the Goddess of Reason, impersonated by Mademoiselle Maillard, a well known figurante of the opera, took her seat upon a grassy throne in front of the temple; ... and the multitude bowed the knee before her in profound admiration....

Mademoiselle Maillard? And this was confirmed here. But Wiki had said: "Thérèse Momoro." Curiouser and curiouser. Then came this:

…just as they’d done to Notre Dame in Paris, where a prostitute—the Goddess of Reason—was stripped naked and laid across the high altar...

Again, officially Catholic and so difficult to confirm or deny. However, it's possible to piece it together with that Reason they were extolling.

The mob was in a mood of mockery. Mademoiselle Maillard was a popular singer, maybe opera, maybe something more Moulin Rouge, [yes, I know it was built later]. There were accounts of mob drunkenness at the time:

Round the choir stood tables over-loaded with bottles, with sausages, pork- puddings, pastries and other meats. The guests flowed in and out through all doors: whosoever presented himself took part of the good things: children of eight, girls as well as boys, put hand to plate, in sign of Liberty; they drank also of the bottles, and their prompt intoxication created laughter.

... and in that atmosphere, she may well have been prevailed on to at least partially disrobe [half-naked], especially if she herself had imbibed a few.

There's nothing new in such outrages, as Caligula could testify:

Alexandrian Greeks had resented the Jews' exemptions, and demanded that Caligula's statue be emplaced in the Jews' Temple in Jerusalem. Riots broke out in support of this in Alexandria, and Caligula, who was engaged in propagating his own divinity in any event, took over the notion, and commanded that his likeness -- tantamount to an idol -- be put in the Temple.

Perhaps the truth lies somewhere midway but one thing quite clear is that the modern scribes attribute the act to a different woman to those of the older sources and play down the debauchery which is apparent in the last quote.

Of this modern scholarship I am deeply suspicious.

And one last thing - why do people descend into debauchery and mob violence when societal constraints are removed or whenever they're invited to? Why don't they march, en masse, to the national library and have a giant "readathon" about Reason?

What force actually moves them, drives them, possesses them to commit outrages?

Just wondering.


  1. The mob is a pwerful thing, James.
    It has a powerful dynamic, which takes over both the lead and the leaders.
    I did run a post a while back on the mob and its relationship to society.

    Totalitarian movements are very effective at harnessing the energy of the mob in mass demonsrations- it fills a part of our psyche.

    I must admit, I always heard it was a prostiute they stuck on the altar.

    I know it works myself, having been in a football crowd. I'm quite a calm person by nature, but find that once the mob feeling emerges, the chanting in Unison, but something else happens.
    Mobs are driven by a small number of people. They are not necessarily planning mob violence, they emerge from the mob itself once the mob has assembled, deriving their strength from the mob behind them.
    They are propelled by the strength of the mob, as much as they direct it.
    I have stood on the terraces, white with rage, screaming threats of violence to match officials should they loiter around after the game.
    But in a sense I'm not quite me any more by this point.
    I'm controlled by the mob.

  2. Yes, I would trust the older sources as well. Fascinating post. I think people just behave very differently in a crowd to how they would on their own - it's a kind of madness.

  3. Crushed, that's a fascinating take of yours of the football terraces. I know what you mean and I've done it myself [shouted that is].

    Welshcakes, it is a madness - certainly.

  4. Everyone who is recording events has his own agenda and axe to grind so the facts recorded even at the time about events in the past are not even necessarily the "truth". Then, after sifting through as much as they find, the so called historians add their biases to the mix.
    Mob mentality: Crushed has put it so well, albeit with a football analogy. We should never forget that we are all capable of acting in this way and be ever vigilant to guard against it.

  5. I just remembered a very good account I heard once of the day Ceaucescu fell.
    There was a rally that day.
    There was just something in the air, the crowds were not their usual cheering selves.
    Suddenly people began to realise that the only cheers were recorded cheers. Normally, these recordings simply served to boost the crowd, no one really noticed them.
    But this time, they were clear above the whispered murmuring.

    A realisation that no one else was cheering either.

    And then a few people started shouting.
    And once had braved it, the many joined in.
    The images we have of that shock moment when Ceaucescu realised he'd lost control are an amazing snapshot of history.
    Because three hours later, his regime was gone.

  6. the prostitute version is the real one though it is interesting how modern versions try to tone it down. it was intended to mock christianity as was the procession of a sacramental ass through the streets loaded up with christian symbols and the bible tied to its tail.

    among other things it indicates the french revolution was the work of faustian illuminist world revolutionaries, not discontented french people.

  7. Happened to notice this article. The original source for this is old, if not completely reliable: Carlyle's History of the French Revolution.