The Myths of Paradise and the Noble Savage: The Role of Captain James Cook and His Voyages to the South Pacific, 1768-1780

Date
2014-09-26
Authors
Tom, Henry
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Abstract
“Paradise” and the “noble savage” are two myths of long standing in Western thought. They are grounded in the belief that at some earlier stage of development the world was better and man happier. Paradise embodies the idealization of that word as a land in which nature is perfect: it is abundant, the climate is temperate, and the life there is simple. To complement paradise, the noble savage stands for man as he longs to be: simple, virtuous, free, and happy. These two myths stretch far back into antiquity and continue through the Middle Ages and into the modern age. They are usually associated together, for the noble savage lives in paradise and paradise is the abode of the noble savage. As myths, paradise and the nobel savage suggest something of the mysterious or the imaginary. They have a sense of mystery about them –where are they? Just what are they like? They can be imaginary or semi-imaginary, like the Isles of the Blest and the Hyperboreans of the distant east. In one sense of the word, a myth is a fable, a story; but here paradise and the noble savage have transcended fables and have become what A. O. Lovejoy and George Boss call “traditions.” As Henri Baudet says, they have become part of the European unconscious. (And yet, at the same time, they may be projections of that same unconscious.)
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