The Gnostic Vision in the Sciences

Southern Nights

Broken from the divine harmony of herself she fell, says the tragic philosopher, and became the manifestation of matter; and the whole universe of her city, of the world, was formed out of her agony and remorse. The tragic seed from which her thoughts and actions grew was the seed of a pessimistic gnosticism.

—Lawrence Durrell,  The Alexandria Quartet

The novelist and poet Lawrence Durrell presented a modern version of the Gnostic vision in a series of novels, The Avignon Quintet (1974– 85). Akkad, an Egyptian merchant-banker who is also a latter-day Gnostic, preaches to small groups of European expatriates. At times plump and sluggish-looking, at others looking ascetic and haggard, at home in four capitals and speaking as many languages or more, sometimes wearing western clothes and sometimes traditional dress, Akkad offers to piece together the surviving fragments of Gnostic teaching, which the established religions had tried to destroy:…

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