Morphiel the Demiurge

by Marcel Schwob

Morphiel, like the other demiurges, was called into existence at the word of the Supreme Being who pronounced his name. Straightway he found himself in the same heavenly workshop as Sar, Tor, Arochiel, Taouriel, Pthahil and Barokhiel. The head demiurge who ran the workshop was Avathar. They were all busy at building the world according to the designed models. Avathar gave Morphiel his share of earth, water and metal, and then put him in charge of making hair. Others molded noses, eyes, mouths, arms and legs. Barokhiel was responsible for monstrosities, so he deformed a certain number of the finished objects before submitting them to his boss Avathar. In fact, some demiurges had worked on other, higher worlds but this one had to be different. It was following the design of Avathar that Barokhiel made the division of nature into men and women who, as Plato mentioned, formed in the world immediately above ours but a single being walking on four feet with four hands arranged orbicularly, like crabs. There’s an island in the lower world where Avathar put these men after dividing them once again. They have only one eye, one ear and one leg and their brain isn’t separated in two but is completely round. What is even for us is odd for them. See, they were made like monocotyledons or those living tubes that latch onto sea rocks; and they have no concept of the second dimension of space, but think that the universe is intervallic and discontinuous. As a result, jumping around on their center leg they easily go through things that seem impenetrable to us, walls and mountains; and they count 1, 3, 5, 7. And they donít make love in pairs because they imagine nothing even. Three of them stick their mouths together, or five or seven, in little groups, with infinite delight. And they believe they see gods through the holes in their sky. And the animals of this island, as well as the plants, are arranged the same way so that all you see there are hoppings around and solitary stalks with a single leaf rolled up. And all this is the work of the diligent demiurges.

The demiurges’ models were made with the precious matter used to fabricate the other universes, such as ether, subtle fire and diamond vapor; and it was in imitation of these models that the things of this earth were built. But Avathar only allowed his workers to use earth, water and metal. Those who were more sensitive, being used to more refined work, complained. Avathar demanded silence and went around carefully examining the movements of their hands. You also have to keep in mind that there was a great deal of jealousy among the workers. Those who fabricated the nobler parts thought rather highly of themselves, not as clever tinkers. On the other hand, those who had been allotted the baser parts envied their happier comrades and accomplished their humble potter’s work begrudgingly. So the makers of belly buttons and toenails constantly grumbled during the whole of creation. Elsewhere those who polished, spun and colored the pupils of the eyes looked down on the rest of the workers. Morphiel patiently carried out what Avathar ordered him to do and stretched out hair, thick and thin.

That’s how the life of Morphiel the demiurge was spent. It was rather like the life of a prisoner who works in a cell under the watchful eye of a guard. It had no variety. As soon as the Supreme Being had resolved to create, the gods themselves were subject to the laws of their creations. Being indispensable fabricators, they knew the hardship and monotony of the existence of workers below. During the demiurge-hood of Morphiel nothing worth mentioning happened.

But he came to fall in love with his work and he adroitly set aside the most beautiful of his hair without Avathar knowing. When the creation of the world was finished, the demiurges were employed at another job. In this new universe being built there was no hair. Thus Morphiel was free to wander, so he grabbed his cache: he loved to touch the beautiful, smooth, golden hair, so long and soft.

Now, the new world that the demiurges were fabricating was a world of male and female demons who were made just like men except they had ridges and crests instead of hair. One of the female demons, Everto, spied Morphielís bundle. She desired it, so she took what she could from him and decorated her head with some women’s hair. Morphiel looked at her and Everto caressed him so that he wouldn’t take back his treasure. See, demiurges are not perfect. Everto relaxed a while with Morphiel, then, like the true demon she was, slipped down onto earth where no one could tell her apart from other women. She trailed her smooth, golden hair around everywhere and the poor men caressed it and let themselves be caressed like the demiurge had done. And the female demon Everto became famous among women where she practiced all her viciousness and vices so that the watching gods were concerned and reported it.

Right away Avathar summoned Morphiel to punish him. Morphiel was in the lower world fingering his treasure like a miser. Avathar seized him by the scruff of his neck and hanged him from one of the gates of heaven by the hair he had made and loved. Such was the end of this guilty demiurge.

(translated by Michael Shreve)


Marcel Schwob (1867-1905) was a French writer and translator whose works include Coeur double ("Double Heart," 1891), Le livre de Monelle ("Monelle’s Book," 1896),and Les vies imaginaires ("Imaginary Lives," 1896). He was an associate of Paul Valéry; Alfred Jarry; and Oscar Wilde, with whom he colloborated in the French translation of "Salome." "Morphiel the Demiurge" was originally published in 1895.

Michael Shreve has taught Greek, Latin, Classical Civilization, French, Spanish and English in universities and other schools in the U.S., Canada, Lebanon, Mexico and Malaysia. Currently he is a language teacher and translator in Paris, France. He has two books coming out in Fall 2009: Jean Meslier, Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier (Prometheus Books) and Voltaire, God and Human Beings (Prometheus Books), both first English translations.