Time, Truth and Arcadianism.

First published September 2000 in the Rennes Observer under the title 'Time, Truth and Arcadianism' © S. Hamblett Updated May 2007 & January 2021.

A few months ago a note arrived at the offices of the Rennes Observer Journal, and the writer, under the pseudonym of Alteo, advised several points that needed to be looked at 'again' in regard to the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau. 'Alteo' also felt moved to say that several researchers were 'on the right track' and named three in particular, of which I was included. He then made reference to the idea of time and truth & suggested we look into the role of Rospigliosi and the painting 'Shepherds of Arcadia'. 

While doing previous research I had already come across Rospigliosi. He is alleged to have been the brains behind this Poussin painting and its enigmatic motto 'Et in Arcadia Ego..'. 

Nicolas Poussin and his most famous of paintings is said to be central to the mystery of Rennes-le-Château. This assertion came to public notice in the 50’s and 60’s when the alleged secret society called the Priory of Sion presented the story of the priest Berenger Sauniere finding parchments in his church. Through the information in these parchments Sauniere was supposedly led to obtain a copy of the ’Shepherds of Arcadia’ painting for himself. A few years later the authors of the pseudo-historic Holy Blood, Holy Grail (in which the incredible story of Sauniere was recounted) were told of an exact replica of the Poussin tomb depicted in the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’. This tomb was in the vicinity of Rennes le Château, the village that Sauniere had been priest of.

All in all one is supposed to simply conclude that there is some deep and abiding mystery associated with Rennes le Château and this tomb. But what can a tomb and Nicolas Poussin really have to do with the village Rennes le Château?

A Secret of Import?

This possible secret that Poussin may have been in possession of is perhaps alluded to by Abbé Louis Fouquet. The letter the Abbe wrote to his brother is often thought to constitute a ‘proof’ of some mysterious dealings by Poussin. Abbe Louis wrote to Nicolas Fouquet in April 1656 (who was Superintendent of Finances at the court of Louis XIVth.) A passage in one of the letters, which is often reproduced was:

"He [Poussin] and I discussed certain things, which I shall with ease be able to explain to you in detail - things which will give you, through Monsieur Poussin, advantages which even kings would have great pains to draw from him, and which, according to him, it is possible that nobody else will ever discover in the centuries to come. And what is more, these are things so difficult to discover that nothing now on this earth can prove of better fortune nor be their equal.

We may speculate on what the two were referring to. But let us say for a moment that Poussin was in possession of a ’secret’ of great import. What if there was something literal in the words that Louis Fouquet used?

For example the secret was something Louis would only discuss in person, so sensitive he would not even write it down. It was something that could give ‘advantages’ but that one could only obtain that advantage 'through Monsieur Poussin’. That Poussin was aware of the ‘secret’ is suggested because Poussin had obviously talked to Louis Fouquet, and told him that it was possible nobody would ever discover ‘it’ in the centuries to come. Having this knowledge would also make you rich, perhaps more than the King himself! So, what could make you rich beyond your dreams, be difficult to ‘discover’, and could even be of fortune in centuries to come?

A chronicler of Poussin’s life commented on this mysterious letter. The chronicler was Thuillier & he felt that Louis Fouquet and Poussin had talked of an ’archaeological’ treasure and that perhaps Poussin was aware of clandestine excavations somewhere. 

Why did Thuillier come up with an archaeological treasure as a solution to the mysterious letter? 

Perhaps it was because one could make money out of it, and you had to ‘discover’ it? This does suggest a buried treasure of some sort that one has to dig for. However, if this is the case, why did one need Poussin to locate the treasure or the archaeological site? And just how are we to ‘use’ Poussin? Or does Poussin not encode a 'treasure' site but suggest the nature of the archaeological treasure? 

The most obvious answer is that we need to use a painting. Poussin was a famous artist, much renowned in his own lifetime. But Poussin painted many paintings. How would we know which painting to look for? And how could you possibly encode the whereabouts of a treasure or archaeological site in the type of paintings that Poussin completed? 

There is a suggestion that the Fouquet later ran into trouble with King Louis XIVth after the above letter was sent. Louis XIVth confiscated all the Fouquet correspondence and inspected it personally. The king also managed to obtain a specific painting of Poussin. It is true that the King was obtaining many pieces of art at the same time, but according to the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the king took great pains to obtain the original of ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’. Unlike the other art he obtained, Louis XIVth placed this painting in his private apartments at Versailles where presumably only he could view it. And why should it be that this one painting is important to some spectators? Why can it not be another painting? Or a group of paintings that had to be read together for example?

Poussin painted his Louvre 'Shepherds' in around 1640. His earlier version of it was painted in the 1630’s. The Louvre version however (the later and most important of the two versions) shows three shepherds and a shepherdess contemplating a tomb in a landscape. On the side of the tomb is an inscription and one of the shepherds kneels to read it. The inscription is ‘Et in Arcadia Ego" and is a Latin phrase. The phrase is a Memento Mori, and ‘memento mori’ itself can be freely translated as “Remember that you are mortal", "Remember you will die" or "Remember your death". As one dictionary definition records it, the 'memento mori: ‘…names (the) artistic creations that vary widely from one another, but which all share the same purpose, that is to remind people of their own mortality’. 

The memento mori phrase recorded by Poussin - ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ - is usually interpreted to mean "I am also in Arcadia" or "I am even in Arcadia", as if spoken by personified Death. The sentiment was meant to set up an ironic contrast by casting the shadow of death over the usual idle merriment that the inhabitants of ancient Arcadia were thought to embody. Elias L. Rivers suggested the phrase "Et In Arcadia Ego" is derived from a line from Daphnis - a funeral in Virgil's Fifth Eclogue;

Daphnis ego in silvis  ("Daphnis was I amid the woods") referred to the dead shepherd within the tomb, rather than Death itself (Et In Arcadia Ego: Essays on Death in the Pastoral Novel). Art critics have surmised that Poussin, when painting his first and second versions of his ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ -  used in the first version, as a model for the tomb central to the painting that tomb described in the writings by the poet Virgil, the description of Daphnis tomb. In this poem, the occupant is male. However, in the much more famous second version of the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia' (in the Louvre) Poussin seems to have used the poem of Sannazaro and his description for his artistic Arcadian tomb. Except in Sannazaro’s tomb the occupant has changed sex and is a female.

Virgils tomb of Daphnis is described as follows in Virgil's Eclogues V, 42

"A lasting monument to Daphnis raise

With this inscription to record his praise

'Daphnis, the fields' delight, the shepherds' love,

Renown'd on earth and deifi'd above

Whose flocks excelled the fairest on the plains

But less than he himself surpassed the swains.”

Daphnis tomb. From Virgil, Opera (Lyons, 1517).The tomb-inscription, "Daphnis ego in sylvis" ("I Daphnis in the woods"), is from Virgil, Ecl. 5.43.

Sannazaro depicted this Arcadian tomb as follows in lines 257-267 (relating to the tomb of Phyllis). He mused:

I will make thy tomb famous and renowned among these 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'."

According to Poussin’s first biographer Bellori, the idea for the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ came from Rospigliosi, a prelate of the Roman Catholic church and later Pope. Bellori was at the time a good friend of Poussin (1) and he suggested that it was not only the idea of the Arcadian painting that Rospigliosi gave to Poussin, but to two other paintings around the same time (which we will identify below). These assertions by Bellori seem to have been accepted by art scholars such as Marin. Marin even goes so far as to say that it was Rospigliosi who ‘ ..invented the phrase ‘et in arcadia ego…’ (2).

Bellori refers to these Rospigliosian group of three paintings as ‘moral poems’ (3) and he ascribes all the ideas in them to Rospigliosi. 

Was the continuation of an idea or of particular knowledge entrusted to exceptional artists, poets and clergy? The members of the Arcadian Academy set up by Queen Christina assumed classical Greek names; they were interested in all things Arcadian! Its first president was Giovanni Mario Crescimbeni (4). Other members included people like Gravina, Guidi , Gabrielle Rossetti, father of the English poets Dante Gabriel & Christina Rossetti. The members referred to themselves as ‘shepherds’ and their first gathering was held in the year of 1690, in the Giancola, which was owned by the Franciscans. Noblemen, ecclesiastics and layman alike were allowed to join. 

In this they seemed to have been emulating an earlier ’Shepherds of Arcadia’ society created by Lorenzo de Medici (1449 - 1492) consisting of painters and poets that Lorenzo surrounded himself with at his villa. Lorenzo's court included artists such as Piero and Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Filippino Lippi, and Michelangelo Buonarroti who were involved in the 15th century Renaissance. Although Lorenzo did not commission many works himself, he helped artists secure commissions from other patrons. Michelangelo lived with Lorenzo and his family for several years, dining at the family table and attending meetings of the Neo-Platonic Academy. Cosimo de Medici (a relative of Lorenzo de Medici) had started the collection of books which later became the Medici Library and he had sought to expand it. Lorenzo's agents retrieved from the East large numbers of classical works and he employed a large workshop to copy his books and disseminate their content across Europe. He supported the development of humanism through his circle of scholarly friends who studied Greek philosophers and he attempted to merge the ideas of Plato with Christianity. Among this group were the philosophers Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.

Rospigliosi was an ardent admirer of Queen Christina. He also knew Guercino via Christina and Guercino is known to have been the first ever painter to use the enigmatic ‘et in arcadia ego…’ phrase. Beresford (a modern art critic) tells us to be on our guard, however, regarding the assertion that Rospigliosi gave Poussin the idea of the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ because the theme had indeed been dealt with earlier by Guercino (5). However Beresford misses the point. Christina is known to have taken an interest in Guercino’s work, even visiting him in his Bologna studio. As Rospigliosi was such an intimate friend of Christina’s couldn’t it be that Rospigliosi may have known Guercino through Christina and given him the idea of his ’particular’ theme of Arcadia in much the same way he did for Poussin? However, a modern biographer of Poussin, Judith Bernstock reports that most historians concur that Poussin probably saw Guercino’s painting with the ‘et in arcadia ego’ phrase during his stay in Venice in March 1624. This is assuming that the Guercino painting was still in the environs of Bologna. However, others assert that Urban VIII, a writer of elegiac verses bought it soon after his accession in 1623 and that Poussin may have seen it in Rome in a Barberini collection.

What other source could have been the source for Poussin’s knowledge of Guercino? It may have been Poussin’s good friend Marino. This poet was in contact with Lodovico Carracci with whom Guercino later studied. Marino was patronised by Cosimo II de Medici and as we read above it was Lorenzo de Medici who had created the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ society. It was this Medici who commissioned from Guercino the painting called ‘Apollo Flaying Marsyas’ in 1618. It is evident from this painting (see below) that Guercino’s later painting ‘Et in arcadia ego’ was a study. This theme of Apollo Flaying Marsyas was a classicising metaphor of Christ’s sacrifice.

Guercino’s painting called ‘Apollo Flaying Marsyas’ (1618) See the two shepherds watching the sacrifice on the left? They are identical to the shepherds who later observe the ‘et in arcadia’ tomb (Above)

Rospigliosi not only asked Poussin to paint ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ but also the following: ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ (ca. 1630’s) & ‘Time Saving Truth’ (ca. 1630’s). These group of three are all said to have been inspired by Rospigliosi and are to be ‘read’ together. This is not so far fetched. If you look at the pen and ink drawing Poussin completed as a study for his 'A Dance to the Music of Time' [below] one can see a very familiar conceit found in the famous 'Shepherds of Arcadia'!

Yes, here in the one and ink drawing for 'Dance ...' is the famous Poussin tomb! Except in the final painting, he had changed the style of the tomb!

As Cavendish noted in his ‘Poussin, The Great Artists (No:64)’, Poussin himself said his paintings had a definite and perhaps even secret import when he suggested that; “ …these things (the meaning in his paintings) I believe, will not displease those people who know how to read them”. 

And modern art scholar Judith Bernstock also supports the theory that to ‘receive Poussin’s paintings …..one must study them continually and closely, always searching them for connections’ 

In other words, one must read all his paintings together for some unified ‘message’. For as Bernini said, Poussin was ‘an artist who works up here (with his brain), and is a great storyteller’. What story is Poussin trying to tell us?

Poussin’s Time and Truth trilogy;

Poussin's Dance to the Music of Time, Truth Rescued from envy and discord and the Shepherds of Arcadia [all shown below];

When looking at the titles of the three paintings Rospigliosi commissioned from Poussin, perhaps Rospigliosi intended for us to look at them as ‘one whole’ considering the fact that he commissioned them as a set of three? The recurrent themes are time and truth and in Poussin’s era these artistic themes were common. 

Was Poussin utilising in these allegories a unique and special knowledge, a secret perhaps given to him to encode?

For now though we will note that these artistic themes are represented by such examples as engravings by Baudet & Dughet (6), sculptures by Bernini (7) and even from the writings of Francis Bacon. 

Bacon detailed a ‘hidden truth brought forth by time’. His ‘truth’ figure is indeed drawn forth by ‘time’, in the form of a naked woman being pulled out of a cave. Time grasps her by her left wrist. (Apparently this illustration is also constructed upon a hidden geometry which is divided into the zodiac). This time and truth emblem is to be found as a woodblock on the title page of Bacon’s ‘New Atlantis’ (8). 

Above - New Atlantis 1627 titlepage – the emblem depicts “The hidden Truth brought forth by Time” (“Tempore patet occulta Veritas”).

The emblem itself depicts time in the form of Saturn, or interestingly enough as Pan (some posit that the statue of the devil in Berenger Sauniere’s church is not, in fact, the devil … but Pan). We have already mentioned the Arcadian Academy, and the extra special god of this Academy was indeed Pan. Pan was celebrated as the author of sacred dancing which was said to ‘imitate’ the movements of the heavenly bodies (echoing the idea in Poussins ‘Dance to the Music of Time‘). The pipes of Pan were thought to signify the natural harmony of these upper spheres, and Pan himself was equated with Saturn because the planet Saturn is found in the constellation of Capricorn, whose zodiacal sign is a goat. (Pan had cloven hooves like a goat)

Corresponding in some mysterious way to these musings is a statement made by Marin. He says that the shadow of the arm of one of the shepherds (in the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ painting) points to the letter ‘R’ of the motto inscribed on the tomb and its shadow forms the shape of a ‘scythe’. The scythe is an attribute of Saturn who reigns over the Arcadian Golden Age’. This theme, again, is a recurrent idea among artists who refer to the golden age ‘having passed away’ and of the golden age which is waiting to be restored. In a letter to his son, Nostradamus tells him that ‘the monarchy and the golden age will return’.

Bernini's ‘Truth Unveiled by Time’ (pictured below) has truth once again personified as a naked woman. Unfortunately he never got round to sculpturing the figure of time, although we do know that he fully intended to do so.

Above - Bacons 'hidden truth' brought forth by Time.

We can see here then that truth is usually portrayed as a woman. Levi said: “The association between Truth and … Woman is omnipresent in mythology. In Egypt, Truth was represented as a goddess, Maat. In Hebrew, the same goddess became the word Emeth, which means "Truth". In Mesopotamia, Inanna - Ishtar, the goddess of sacred harlots and fertility, was associated with wisdom. In Greece, the goddess of Wisdom was Athena, who was also called Meter (mother). She is a later evolution of Medusa, herself strongly associated with primal wisdom. Sophia, which in Greek means "wisdom", is feminine, and became also a personal name. In Hebrew, where official censorship was able to repress every image of a goddess, all the concepts associated with truth, wisdom, intellectual penetration etc. are feminine: Torah (the written law), Mishnah, Ghemarah (the oral law), Emeth (truth), Chochmah (wisdom), Binah (understanding), Daa't (knowledge).” (www.geocities.com/psychohistory2001/truthwoman.html)

Above - Egyptian personification of truth.

Truth has traditionally been personified as a naked woman -- Bernini's example is famous -- and nakedness in general has been understood as a revelation of raw, vulnerable existence. The body is presented as naked as the day on which it is born, hardly ready to take on the world. The naked body is the moment of truth, and the naked truth is something we prefer to avoid, and often refuse to see, even when it stares us in the face. The naked body thus poses a moment of truth for the viewer: it demands that we strip the veil of preconception from our eyes, forcing them to see what is in fact right in front of them. That is, to really see the naked figure, the eye must become as naked -- exposed or "open," as it were -- as it is.” (Kuspit:  http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit11-12-01.asp )

Henceforth, truth is not just like a woman, but it is a woman. The later overlay, namely the metaphor or the allegory, is engendered in a concrete thing - the naked woman becomes “Truth”.

When we look at the next ‘moral poem’ in Poussin’s trilogy on truth and time, in ‘Dance to the Music of Time’ we find the concept of time and human destiny. Poussin’s ‘Time Saving Truth’ may be a further allusion to ‘time’ one day revealing a ‘truth’, but until but until then, truth is being hidden, concealed and protected. It is like a tradition concerning that truth – which has to be hidden – until a better time arrives – when it will then be appropriate to reveal it. 

Because the ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ is so central a mystery and perhaps related to Rennes le Chateau and because the shepherds are contemplating a tomb – could this be the common denominator in the three paintings together? Is the secret that the shepherds are privy to, or contemplating, be the truth that is being hidden? And that it is to do with a tomb, and its inscription? And the occupant of that tomb? A female?

The motto ‘et in arcadia ego …’ reinforces perhaps the idea of mortality, destiny & time as in ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’. Panofsky(9) translated the motto ‘et in arcadia ego …’ as something like ‘even I death am in Arcadia’, Arcadia being some sort of beautiful Virgilian idyll, where after death, we all would like to be. However, Panofsky is a more modern translator of the tomb inscription. I believe we must go back through time, back to those who were contemporary with Poussin, and who might therefore have had a better idea of the meaning of the motto, and who indeed may have known how Poussin intended us to read & understand the motto.  Thus, it is to our friend Bellori we now return. It is Bellori who made the first ever translation of ‘et in arcadia ego …’ and who is to say that he is less informed than we are? Bellori’s translation of the motto was: ‘the grave is to be found, even in Arcady’ (10).

Poussin’s second biographer, Felibien (a pupil of Poussin’s) also translated this motto as the following: ‘the person buried in this tomb had lived in Arcady’ (11). Let us remember that Gombrich insists that Bellori correctly translated the motto, and furthermore argues that it is the person buried in the tomb who is speaking to us. Therefore is the person in the tomb the important point? Is there someone literal in the tomb who lived in the area in times gone by who is of significance? A writer, Weighell (1987) refers to Poussin’s ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ (both versions) and his painting of 1633 ‘the Adoration of the Shepherds’

Above - the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Shepherds of Arcadia

He suggests a direct link between the paintings because the three shepherds and one shepherdess in both paintings are almost the same figures. In particular he highlights the astounding virtually identical shepherd pointing at the tomb inscription in ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ (Louvre version) and the shepherd kneeling to adore the Virgin and Child in the ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’. Is it allegorical? Does the shepherd in one point to the baby Christ, in the other he points to Christ’s tomb?

Italian Latinist LUIGI OLIVIERO discusses the insight he had into the phrase ‘Et in Arcadia Ego…’ after contemplating the word-splitting in the famous Blanchefort headstone. He said:

To cut a long story short, I was looking at a picture with the Marie de Negre tombstone and suddenly, the inspiring  “Requies catin pace" instead of “Requiescat in pace” struck me. I started to think that maybe the solution [to the meaning of 'et in arcadia ego ...' could be into a different word splitting. I had one way only because, as a matter of fact, the sole and longer word I could divide in two parts was “Arcadia”: Arca + dia‘. 

His research led him to believe that the phrase meant: “I am also in the divine tomb” or “also I am in the divine tomb”. He went on to say: “The translation can even be improved (by) using the past tense for the verb to be, as the sense seems to suggest. The sentence then becomes “Et in Arcadia ego (fui)”: Also I was in the divine tomb. As a matter of fact, the word “fui” (I was) is composed of three letters and can perfectly fit the three dots (if we think of them as markers for lacking letters) Pierre Plantard talked about.The sentence could, in this way, represent a marker to recognize “those who know the secret”, as a kind of sect or elite group, who had the privilege to go inside the “divine tomb” (whatever it could be) because the clear meaning of the motto is “I also am one of those who entered the divine tomb”. (26)

If Poussin is indeed referring to having seen a ‘divine tomb’, or that he knew the secret of a ‘divine tomb’ then this constitutes the archaeological solution mentioned by Thullier (in reference to the mysterious communications between Poussin and Fouquet).

However we are none the wiser of which ‘divine tomb’. We have already seen earlier that Poussin may have used two models for the tombs in his two versions of ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’. The famous ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ appears to have utilised Sannazaro’s description of an arcadian tomb, a tomb that contained the body of a woman. The poet had described the body of the woman and said that she will become famous in the land where she is entombed and that she will be ‘worshipped’ by the rustic folk. Was then Poussin drawing attention to the burial of a woman in a certain landscape?

The two earliest biographers of Poussin seem to be telling us that Poussin, (via the motto inscribed on the tomb) was leading us to contemplate a specific grave, and perhaps even a specific person. Is there any particular reason why Poussin (and Rospigliosi) would want to draw our attention to a particular grave - a particular person? Is this grave of an important person described as that ‘hidden truth’ that time has protected, and which time will reveal?

The next most obvious and most pressing questions are of course ‘Which tomb’ and ‘who’s tomb’? There are only two historical people that have been described in concepts such as ‘truth’ and ‘naked truth’. They are also the two historical figures which crop up time and time again in the researches around  Rennes-le-Chateau. In fact, they are also the two most common solutions to its mystery! 

They are either Mary Magdalene or Jesus Christ or both.

In her work on Mary Magdalene Susan Haskins identified Mary as the origin of the vanitas figure (12). This was because the Magdalene had been associated with the ‘supposed’ vanity of all women to which made Mary symbolic of the ‘fall’ of women from a perfect state into all that is vain. The Magdalene, to illustrate this concept, was often depicted as a penitent in her grotto or cave and in this way she became emblematic of all human frailty. As a penitent in her cave, she is usually depicted naked, or in various states of undress, with her long hair (often blonde) flowing. This nakedness of Mary Magdalene has, by certain artists, come to represent Truth, the naked truth (13). During the Renaissance the Magdalene was used to depict ‘naked truth', obviously allied to the discussions above concerning naked women personifying truth. Could Mary Magdalene be the truth referred to by Poussin and others?

Above - Mary Magdalene as Naked Truth

However she is not the only person who could be ‘truth’. Christ himself has been depicted nude, and he has also been described as a ‘nude veritas’ and through this, he symbolises naked truth.

Above: Jesus Christ shown as naked truth (Ravenna).

If truth is to be found in Arcadia – where then is Arcadia? Does it have a material and earthly place, as opposed to its heavenly and astronomical associations? We know about the geographical area of Arcadia in Greece, but could there be somewhere else indicated, which is more pertinent to Poussin and any of his three paintings referred to here?

We must I believe, go back once again to Bellori and Felibien who translated Arcadia as ARCADY. Some see this as a ‘poetical’ rendering of the same heavenly utopia,  symbolising all sorts of ideas including the ‘golden age’. But what if Bellori and Felibien did not intend the symbolic? At least one author describes Arcadia as Arcady as the PAYS MYTHIQUE (mythical country), the geographical area known as the Pays d’Arques – ie the country of Arques (14).

Even the local area of Arques, not far from the two Rennes, alludes to Arcadia by noting the word 'Arcas' under Arques town signage. 

In Greek mythology Arcas was a hunter who became king of Arcadia. He was remembered for having taught people the arts of weaving and baking bread. More interestingly Arcas was known as a surname of the of Hermes. [ARCAS (Arkas). A surname of Hermes. (Lucan, Phars.ix. 661; Martial, ix. 34. 6.)

Hermes is an Olympian Deity. Hermes is considered the herald of the gods. He is also considered the protector of human heralds, travellers, thieves merchants, and orators. He is able to move quickly and freely between the worlds of the mortal and the divine, aided by his winged sandals. His cult was established in Greece in remote regions, likely making him originally a god of nature, farmers, and shepherds. It is also possible that since the beginning he has been a deity with shamanic attributes linked to divination, reconciliation, magic, sacrifices, and initiation and contact with other planes of existence, a role of mediator between the worlds of the visible and invisible. According to a theory that has received considerable scholarly acceptance, Hermes originated as a form of the god Pan, who has been identified as a reflex of the Proto-Indo-European pastoral god *Péh2usōn, in his aspect as the god of boundary markers. Later, the epithet supplanted the original name itself and Hermes took over the roles as god of messengers, travelers, and boundaries, which had originally belonged to Pan, while Pan himself continued to be venerated by his original name in his more rustic aspect as the god of the wild in the relatively isolated mountainous region of Arcadia. In later myths, after the cult of Pan was reintroduced to Attica, Pan was said to be Hermes's son.

We know, of course, that Poussin’s tomb in his ‘Shepherds of Arcadia’ has been said to have represented a tomb in the area of Rennes-le-Chateau, and in particular a tomb at Arques. This is especially relevant as the right hand side of the painting does indeed bear a striking resemblance to the local landscape around Arques. The arguments as to whether Poussin had been to the South of France, and whether he had actually ‘seen’ the tomb (if it was there during his time) is largely irrelevant. Poussin associated with individuals who were on intimate terms with the Joyeuse family. This family owned the land at Arques, and presumably the land that the tomb of Arques may have been situated on. Knowledge of the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau could have been transmitted to Poussin by any number of people. We also know that Poussin lived for three years in Lyon (which after all is not too far from the Aude). The kings engineer, Avice - knew Poussin and travelled in the area and may have sent sketches of this area to Poussin. Avice was the owner of the Shepherds of Arcadia very early on. 

The area also sits around the famous Peyrolles menhir. Also known as La Pierre Droite (Peyrolles) and the menhir des pontils. The legends of this particular area of France also claim to ‘hide’ a very important burial. The ‘legends’ speak of a huge underground temple, a necropolis of major importance containing several ancient burials which would seem to have been known by the heretics of the Middle Ages.

The magnificent view from Poussin’s tomb - the Pays D’arques! Or the Menhir de Pontils!

Poussin’s trilogy of paintings also represented a kind of mandalic ‘wheel of fortune’ or ‘wheel of life’. This ‘wheel of life’ correlates to the mortality of life, analogous to the motto ‘et in arcadia ego…’ Rospigliosi’s first idea for Poussin was ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ and it is, Beresford says, a study on the mortality of human life, and the passage of time (15). Thus the dancers are seen to represent human life in all its conditions. Poussin added other ideas to an already ‘old’ pedigree in hi painting. He added Apollo, and his Apollo is seen holding the zodiac, presumably as he was in charge of our very human destiny. Beresford sees in all this imagery and symbolism an ancient idea being expressed, known as the ‘wheel of time’ (16). 

The idea of this wheel comes from the concept of the transmigration of souls – that never-ending constant of being born and reborn. This was visualised as a wheel. In medieval times people attached to this wheel had a motto:

‘Regno, regnavi, sum sine regno, regnabo’

‘I rule, I have ruled, I am deprived of my kingdom, I shall rule’

It was only later that this revolving wheel of destiny was represented as a dance (17). Some even see Poussin’s early inspiration to paint his statement on human destiny as a dance from Blaise de Vigenere (18).

However a much more interesting model that Poussin may have used was put forward by the great art scholar Gombrich. Gombrich proposed for the source of Poussin’s ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ an illustration completed by Guillio Romano called ‘The Goat’ (Hades). It is a fresco found in the Sala Del Venti of the Palazzo Del Te (19). The interesting idea was that he used the zodiac and that he also incorporated the zodiacal sign of OPHIUCHUS. 

Of some importance was the fact that Romano decorated this Palazzo Del Te in Mantua on the instructions of the Gonzaga family. The Gonzaga family have been said to have given the alleged secret society – the Priory of Sion – two helmsmen or Grand Masters. They were Ferdinand de Gonzagues and Louis de Nevers (20).

The selection of the frescoes painted by Romano are themes said to relate to the dynastic symbolism of the Gonzagues; an inscription over the door suggests an astrological theme. This in turn is based on a doctrine propounded by Manilius in his Astronomica (21). In these frescoes, the sign of Aries for example, shows a ship and a description is given that designates that anyone born under this sign will become a pilot or ‘skipper’. Also rising in Aries is the goat (Hades) and it is this figure Poussin may have used for his time and truth trilogy. Under the goat, the inscription reads that people ‘hide their true character’ and furthermore, under this sign will be born shepherds whose pipes will bring forth sweet measures of rustic song (22). The roundel itself depicts three shepherds playing pipes. 

Charles Nodier, another alleged Grand Master of the Priory of Sion had a friend who presented an essay called ‘Berger arcadian ou premiere accents d’une flute champetre’ – that is – ‘The Arcadian Shepherd sounds the First Accents of a Rustic Flute’.

Manilius associates with the ‘goat’ sign the sign of Ophiuchus. Thus we read: ‘When Ophiuchus mounts and joins the goat, Those that are born shall live an antidote, The strongest poison they may safely take, The frightful serpent and the venomed snake, Into their bosom, while monsters cling, About their bodies kill their fiercest sting’ (23)

This probably refers to an ancient idea of a classical origin. Ophiuchus is the serpent bearer. His real name is Acselepius, the god of healing. Ophiuchus is to be identified with Acselepius, who was the son of Apollo (is it significant that elsewhere Apollo has been equated with Christ?). Ascelepius was a Thessalian healer whose skills became known throughout Greece. His cult took over the sanctuary at Epidauros in the Peloponnese (where Arcadia is found). The legend goes that when Coronis (Acselepius’s mother) dared to take a secret and mortal lover, Apollo was enraged. He sent his sister Artemis to kill Coronis. As Choronis lay dying Apollo felt sorry for the unborn son and removed him from the womb. This was Acselepius, and he grew up to be taught by Chiron, the centaur. Chiron’s knowledge was great, even greater than Zeus himself. Zeus therefore feared that Acselepius would learn the secrets of overcoming death. Acselepius finally succeeded in this, and when he resurrected one of his dead patients Zeus punished him. Thus Acselepius was killed by a thunderbolt. However Apollo pleaded with Zeus, and got his son placed among the stars.

It may even be that when Alteo says ‘note under Ophiuchus’ we are to associate the imagery with Christ. 

The constellation of Ophiuchus can be seen travelling through the Milky Way. It is a constellation made up of three figures. They are Ophiuchus himself holding the serpens caput in his left hand, and the serpens cauda in his right hand. He is located south of Hercules and north of Scorpius. Gombrich refers to the snake-holder at the Sala Del Venti as Ophiuchus. The snake-holder, he tells us, is in the first degree of Capricornus. Manilius tells us that those born under this sign are equated with ‘fishermen’ – and are ‘fisherman of large fishes’.

The anonymous Alteo (referred to at the beginning of this article) indicated other areas to be investigated. He wrote ‘note under Ophiuchus’. Ophiuchus seems to be indicating a Priory of Sion document known as ‘Le Serpent Rouge’ (The Red Serpent). This highly unusual and suggestive poem tells of a secret of France in the Rennes-le-Chateau area in a sequence of sentences/verses grouped under each star sign of the Zodiac.

Why then should we ‘note under Ophiuchus’? Ophiuchus is known as the thirteenth sun sign of the zodiac and mythologically speaking Ophiuchus & the most recent interpretation is that he represents, as highlighted above, the figure of the healer Asclepius, who learned the secrets of keeping death at bay after observing one serpent bringing another healing herbs. To prevent the entire human race from becoming immortal under Asclepius's care, the god Zeus killed him with a bolt of lightning, but later placed his image in the heavens to honour his good works. Ophiuchus is the only constellation in the sky which is patterned after a real person in human history, tracing back through time and space for its roots to an Ancient Egyptian mortal-made-god named Imhotep, whose life and times in or about the 27th Century B.C. were honoured by both the Egyptians and Greeks some 2500 years after his death as not only a great man, but as a god who owed his great powers to the knowledge of medicine which he possessed, and who brought the art of healing to mankind. Located between Scorpius and Sagittarius, Ophiuchus is a large constellation along the celestial equator. Aesculapius is believed to have preceded Hippocrates as an early healer who was supposed to be able to raise the dead.

In relation to our subject here the only other person to ’raise the dead’ was Jesus Christ, and I think it is for this reason that we are to ’note under Ophiuchus’. In ‘Le Serpent Rouge’ we discover that under the star sign of Ophiuchus is the following:

Maudissant les profanateurs dans leurs cendres et ceux qui vivent sur leurs traces, sortant de l’abîme où j’étais plongé en accomplissant le geste d’horreur : "Voici la preuve que du sceau de SALOMON je connais le secret, que xxxxxxxxxxx de cette REINE j’ai visité les demeures cachées." A ceci, Ami Lecteur, garde toi d’ajouter ou de retrancher un iota ... médite, Médite encore, le vil plomb de mon écrit xxxx contient peut-être l’or le plus pur.” 

which translates as:

Cursing the profane in their ashes and those who follow in their ways, returning from the abyss into which I had plunged while making the gesture of horror; here is the proof that I knew the secret of the seal of SOLOMON, that I have visited the secret places of this QUEEN. To this, my friend, do not add or take away one iota . . . think and think again, the base Lead of my words may contain the purest gold.

This verse curses the profane, and urges us to discover the secrets of the Seal of Solomon, to visit the secret place of the Queen and to advise us to think, think again. Why should we note under here? The verse obviously refers to some kind of sacred secret and what is more when discovered one will also find the secret place of the Queen. The Queen? Which Queen is this? Rennes/Reine  phonetically? And why an aura of sacredness? Could it be possible that we are to associate truth, time, Arcady, Poussin, ‘et in arcadia ego …’ Arcadia, Le Serpent Rouge, Ophiuchus, and a tomb of a female etc with this sacred and hidden Queen? And is this sacred Queen the ‘hidden truth’ that time will reveal? Is the secret place of the Queen in actual fact the tomb of Mary Magdalene? And why is Mary Magdalene called a Queen? 

An earlier verse in the Le Serpent Rouge poem actually equates a tomb and Mary Magdalene together. Under the verse of Leo it is written:

De celle que je désirais libérer, montaient vers moi les effluves du parfum qui imprégnèrent le sépulchre. Jadis les uns l'avaient nommée : ISIS, reine des sources bienfaisantes, VENEZ A MOI VOUS TOUS QUI SOUFFREZ ET QUI ETES ACCABLES ET JE VOUS SOULAGERAI, d'autres : MADELAINE, au célèbre vase plein d'un baume guérisseur. Les initiés savent son nom véritable : NOTRE DAME DES CROSS’‘

"From her that I wanted to free, rose towards me the emanations of perfume which permeate the sepulchre. Once some called her: ISIS, queen of the beneficent springs, COME TO ME ALL YOU WHO SUFFER AND WHO ARE OVERWHELMED AND I WILL COMFORT YOU, otherwise: MADELEINE, with the famous vase full of healing balm. The initiates know the true name: NOTRE DAME DES CROSS."

It is an ambiguous verse. Whose tomb do they wish to free? The Magdalene’s? This would seem so as they stress the emanations of the perfume that permeate the sepulchre, calling her Isis, but then suggesting that the initiates know her as the Madeleine - the lady of THE Cross. The Cross? Which Cross do you know is associated with the Madeleine, the French term for the Magdalene? Of course it is the Cross of Jesus. And why associate her with Isis?  For who was Isis and why is she famous? What was her role? 

Isis is a goddess in Egyptian mythology. She was most prominent mythologically as the wife and sister of Osiris and mother of Horus and was worshipped as the archetypal wife and mother. Isis also resurrected/resuscitated her husband, the god Osiris. Are the initiates using ISIS as the vehicle to tell us that Mary Magdalene, wife of the alleged God Jesus, was a mother also and that she also took the role of the resuscitator of Jesus?

In the next verse of the Serpent Rouge, under Virgo, the author of this poem says:

J'étais comme les bergers du célèbre peintre POUSSIN, perplexe devant l'enigme : "ET IN ARCADIA EGO..."! La voix du sang allait-elle me rendre l'image d'un passé ancestral. Oui, l'éclair du génie traversa ma pensée. Je revoyais, je comprenais ! Je savais maintenant ce secret fabuleux. Et merveille, lors des sauts des quatre cavaliers, les savots d'un cheval avaient laissé quatre empreintes sur la pierre, voilà le signe que DELACROIX avait donné dans l'un des trois tableux de la chapelle des Anges. Voilà la septième sentence qu'une main avait tracée : RETIRE MOI DE LA BOUE, QUE JE N'Y RESTE PAS ENFONCE. Deux fois IS, embaumeuse et embaumée, vase miracle de l'éternelle Dame Blanche des Légendes

I was like the shepherds of the famous painter POUSSIN , confused in front of the enigma: "ET IN ARCADIA EGO..."! The voice of the blood [race] would it show me the image of an ancestral past. Yes, the light of genius crossed my mind. I saw again, I understood! I knew now this fabulous secret. And marvellous, when from the leaps of the four horsemen, the shoes of one horse had left four imprints on the rock, here is the sign which DELACROIX had given in one of the three pictures from the chapel of angels. Here is the the seventh sentence which a hand had traced: DELIVER ME FROM THE MIRE, SO THAT I DO NOT STAY THERE SINKING. two times IS, embalmer and embalmed, miraculous vase of the eternal White Lady of Legends.."

The shepherds then are looking at the tomb inscription, and are perplexed, but suddenly the import of the phrase hits them! And the import of that phrase is related to a divine tomb if the research of an Italian Latinist is to be believed. Somehow the phrase relates to ISIS, the two times IS. Some researchers equate the two times IS IS as signifying Jesus (Iseous) but here again it seems to indicate ISIS in the guise of Mary Magdalene. It is confirmed once and for all when we see the words ‘miraculous vase of the eternal White Lady of Legends.’ Not only is it the Magdalene which is associated with a ‘miraculous vase’, she also becomes the protagonist of the ‘white lady’ of various legends. She was the embalmer, as she prepared Christ for his burial!

In another Priory of Sion document, ‘In the Country of the White Queen’ (by Nicolas Beaucean) this country of the ‘White Queen’ is identified as the environs of Rennes-les-Bains. And in this document, the author refers to a verse by Nostradamus, which he translates as the following:

Under the line of the Meridian (that is to say the Rose Line);

Not far from there a treasure is hidden,

Which over long centuries had been gathered,

Found (he) will die, the eye put out by force

So this tomb, this treasure, this ‘body’ … is to be found not far from the Rose Line and Rennes-les-Bains!

But why is the Magdalene associated in this verse with ‘embalmer and embalmed’? Did she embalm someone? Did she later become embalmed? De Cherisey, in his work, ‘Stone and Paper’ may help us here. He said in relation to the treasure at Rennes-le-Chateau that:

As regards the affair of the treasure, these texts (the alleged parchments found by Sauniere) have two other meanings. Firstly, the potential discoverer should be warned that, finding oneself in Judas's situation, he would not have the right to take any more than the tenth part. Abbé Saunière learned to his cost how expensive it was to exceed the fees of the wicked apostle, having died on 22nd January 1917, a few days after going once too often to the well. Secondly, the discoverer will have to get used to the prospect of looting a necropolis where the dead dwelt for centuries in a natural state of mummification and in quite a good state of preservation. From this angle, one might consider Mary Magdalene the sinner in her capacity as patroness of embalmers, which would be very fitting, bearing in mind that Christ declared that she had poured out the perfume for his burial

Persistently we seem to be being led to a burial which is part of a bigger necropolis in the vicinity of Rennes-le-Chateau and Rennes-les-Bains and that in some way it relates to Jesus & Mary Magdalene. 

Ophiuchus, however, has also been said to guard a secret of some import. It is stated that Ophiuchus, serpens and corona are inextricably interwoven for the express purpose of communicating an important message. (24: please see note ). According to a star map of 1895 Ophiuchus is shown as crushing Scorpio’s head, Scorpio is stinging Ophiuchus & is restraining the serpent; the serpent is reaching for the crown of Ophiuchus. It is allegedly telling the ‘story’ of God pronouncing on the relationship between Satan and a certain ‘woman’s’ progeny. (Which woman? Which progeny?). It is related to a biblical quote:

And I will put enmity between thee (in this case Satan) and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed (Christ). He shall crush thy head, and thy shall bruise His heel; (?the cross)’ {Genesis ch.3, v.12}

Is this a verbal rendition of what was occurring in the stars? The reference to the words ‘thy seed’ was supposed to be a reference to Christ and NOT to the also true statement that Abraham’s seed would be innumerable like the stars. Paul, concerning the promise that God made to Abraham said:

‘Now to Abraham, and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to the seed, as of many, but as of one. AND TO THE SEED WHICH IS CHRIST’ {Galatains ch.3, v16}’’ (25. Please see note).

Ophiuchus borders two other constellations - that of: Scorpius and Sagittarius. The Serpent Rouge poem verses under these signs are as follows:

Revenant alors à la blanche coline, le ciel ayant ouvert ses vannes, il me sembla près de moi sentir une présence, les pieds dans l’eau comme celui qui vient de recevoir la marque du baptème, me retournant vers l’est, face à moi je vis déroulant sans fin ses anneaux, l’énorme SERPENT ROUGE cité dans les parchemins, salée et amère, l’énorme bête déchainée devint au pied de ce mont blanc, rouge en colère“.

Returning again to the white hill, the sky opening its floodgates I seem to sense close to me a presence, its feet in the water, like one who is going to receive the sign of baptism, I turn towards the East, and see facing me, unwinding endlessly its coils, the enormous RED SERPENT mentioned in the parchments, salty and bitter, the huge, unleashed beast becomes red with anger at the foot of the white mountain‘.

The enormous RED SERPENT mentioned in the parchments has been suggested to be a 'bloodline'. 

Under Scorpio

Vision céleste pour celui qui me souvient des quatres oeuvres de Em. SIGNOL autour de la ligne du Méridien, au choeur même du sanctuaire d’où rayonne cette source d’amour des uns pour les autres, je pivote sur moi-même passant du regard la rose du P à celle de l’S, puis de l’S au P ... et la spirale dans mon esprit devenant comme un poulpe monstrueux expulsant son encre, les ténèbres absorbent la lumière, j’ai le vertige et je porte ma main à ma bouche mordant instinctivement ma paume, peut-être comme OLIER dans son cerceuil. Malédiction, je comprends la vérité, IL EST PASSE, mais lui aussi en faisant LE BIEN, ainsi que xxxxxxxx CELUI de la tombe fleurie . Mais combien ont saccagé la MAISON, ne laissant que des cadavres embaumés et nombres de métaux qu’ils n’avaient pu emporter. Quel étrange mystère recèle le nouveau temple de SALOMON édifié par les enfants de Saint VINCENT.”

Here is a celestial vision for the one who follows the four works of Em. SIGNOL around the line of the meridian, even at the heart of the sanctuary from where radiates the source of brotherly Love. I turn about on myself, casting a look at the rose of "P" to that of the "S", then from "S" to "P" . . . And the spiral in my mind becomes a monstrous octopus expelling its ink, the shadows absorb the light; I become giddy, and I put my hand to my mouth, instinctively, perhaps like OLIER in his coffin. Damnation, I know the truth, HE HAS PASSED, but he has also in doing GOOD, as did HE of the flowery tomb. But how many have pillaged the HOUSE, leaving only embalmed corpses and numbers of metal things that they could not carry? What strange mystery is concealed in the new Temple of SOLOMON built by the children of St Vincent?’

So the ‘Serpent Rouge’ tells us again that there is a further celestial vision to be seen just like the above - a celestial vision in Ophiuchus and that it is related to the paintings of Signol in the church of Saint Sulpice. The four works of Signol at Saint Sulpice ‘on the Meridian’ [which could double as the Rose Line down at Rennes-les-Bains] relate to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. It is of interest to note that Signol signs the ‘N’ of his name is a reversed fashion - see below:

These paintings, of course, are situated on the Meridian in the church (the so called Rose Line). Around this Meridian, says the ‘Serpent Rouge’ poem, radiates ‘the source of love for one another‘ and where embalmed corpses are to be found. Was not Jesus the first Shepherd, who extolled the virtues of ‘turning the other cheek’ and of loving one another, in effect the actual source of the phrase ‘love one another’? If embalmed corpses are to be found will they be the same as the hinted corpse in the allegorical tomb of Poussin’s? Remember what De Cherisey had to say: “the discoverer will have to get used to the prospect of looting a necropolis where the dead dwelt for centuries in a natural state of mummification and in quite a good state of preservation’. Cherisey - in other works has even hinted of a great Charnel House under the main square in Rennes-les-Bains, in other words as we walk across the square, underfoot is one amazing necropolis!

All ‘clues’ seem to point to the tomb of Mary Magdalene as an embalmed body of a sacred Queen. But the Magdalene was never known as a Queen. She is not even said to have been married, let alone to a King. And she wasn’t divine. But she is of course alleged to have had a close relationship with a ‘divine king’, that of Jesus Christ. One may even speculate that it is Christ’s divine tomb which is being referred to!

In conclusion I assert that the underground tradition of arcadia, the tomb at Arcadia and all the other elements in relation to the story of Sauniere and Rennes-le-Chateau continues to point to the ‘secret’ of an important burial and that this would seem to refer to two persons only - either that of Mary Magdalene or that of the historical Jesus Christ.


1) Bellori, GP (1672) Le Vite di Pittori, Scultori  Archtetti. Rome. pp 447-448.

2) Marin, I. Photocopied article ‘Towards a Theory of Reading in the Visual Arts: Poussin’s ‘The Arcadian Shepherds’ pp 265-275.

3) Bellori, GP (1672) Le Vite di Pittori, Scultori & Archtetti. Rome. Pp447-448 Information from ww.newadvent.org/RomanAcademies. pp5-7

5) Beresford, R (1995). A Dance to the Music of Time. Trustees of the Wallace Collection. London. p25.

6) Beresford, R (1995). A Dance to the Music of Time. Trustees of the Wallace Collection. London. p25.

7) Bernini. Information at www.artonline.org (Borghese Gallery)

8) Dawkins, P (2000) Information found at and used with permission: www.fbrt.org

9) Panofsky, E.  Photocopied article: ‘Et in Arcadia Ego & the Elegiac Tradition’

10) Bellori, GP (1672) Le Vite di Pittori, Scultori & Archtetti. Rome. pp 447-448.

11) Panofsky, E. Photocopied article: ‘Et in Arcadia Ego; the Elegiac Tradition’.

12) Haskins, S (1994) Mary Magdalene. London. Pp 297-317

13) Haskins, S (1994) Mary Magdalene. London. Pp 297-317

14) Silvain, P (1999) Jesus Bar Abba. Marseille. P140

15) Beresford, R (1995). A Dance to the Music of Time. Trustees of the Wallace Collection. London. p25.

16) Beresford, R (1995). A Dance to the Music of Time. Trustees of the Wallace Collection. London. p25.

17) Beresford, R (1995). A Dance to the Music of Time. Trustees of the Wallace Collection. London. p25.

18) Beresford, R (1995). A Dance to the Music of Time. Trustees of the Wallace Collection. London. p25.

19) Gombrich, EH (1972) Symbolic Images. London. pp109-118.

20) Baigent, M, Lincoln,H Leigh, R (1996) The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. London. p450

21) Gombrich, EH (1972) Symbolic Images. London. pp109-118.

22) Gombrich, EH (1972) Symbolic Images. London. pp109-118.

23) Gombrich, EH (1972) Symbolic Images. London. pp109-118.

24) This web site is now no longer in operation, and no ‘link’ is available

25) This web site is now no longer in operation, and no ‘link’ is available

26) Oliviero, Luigi (due 2007) “Et In Arcadia Ego…” : proposal for an hermeneutic

Ron Weighell’s article ‘Angles of Coincidence - Rennes le Chateau and the Magdalen Mystery’ can be found at www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~pardos/ArchivesAngles.html. 

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