JOSEPH BATO was a renowned European landscape painter and muralist who left his native Hungary for Paris, where he studied under Matisse. Wounded in World War I, he remained in combat areas as a war artist. His charcoal drawings from this period were published in a book entitled Defiant City, with a foreword by J. B. Priestley. Later his career took him to film, and he subsequently became assistant art director to Alexander Korda and Vincent Korda.
The Sorcerer was inspired by his visit to the Lascaux caves shortly after they were first opened to the public. He spent many years in careful research before writing the story of Ao'h and his contemporaries, but died without seeing his work published. The text and drawings for The Sorcerer have only recently been recovered from his effects.
In his approach to any one of his many artistic endeavors, Joseph Bato was a meticulous researcher. His work included paintings, executed under the tutelage of the modern master Henri Matisse, murals in such cities as Berlin and Stockholm, and set designs for films in England with Vincent and Alexander Korda. In all these efforts, Joseph Bato's ability to research and ferret out facts proved invaluable. This talent is seen clearly in his allegorical novel The Sorcerer.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Joseph traveled extensively through Southern France and Northern Spain, studying the prehistoric paintings that had recently been unearthed in the caves of France at Lascaux, Les Eyzies, Dordogne, and in Altamira, Spain, and recording his observations in myriad sketches. The idea for The Sorcerer having germinated, he used the excellent research facilities available at the British Museum in London.
Even though I knew Joseph Bato and his enormous capacity for delving, I still marveled at the tremendous amount of research that must have gone into this project. Although it is an allegorical novel, in my opinion The Sorcerer accurately portrays the state of man and his world during the Stone Age. In his work, Joseph Bato has written about the first true man Homo sapiens, better known as Cro-Magnon man. He has also described the physical geography of Europe and Northern Africa that prevailed at the time of Cro-Magnon man's dominance. Scholars date this epoch from 30,000 B.C. to 10,000 B.C. The Sorcerer deals with the period that closes this era 15,000 B.C. to 12,000 B.C..
The geographic conditions in Europe then were completely different from those existing today. The earth was in the midst of the final stage of the fourth Great Ice Age. Immense ice sheets, or glaciers, covered most of Northern Europe, the British Isles, the Low Countries, and Central Europe. What is now the Mediterranean Sea then would have been called the Mediterranean Basin. Here, there were two huge lakes connected by a wide flowing river. These lakes were surrounded by an enormous valley with rolling hills, forests and grasslands. The climatic conditions were very agreeable to both animal and human life. This area was not connected to the Atlantic Ocean, but received fresh water from the Nile River, the Greek archipelago, and rivers flowing from the Alps through what is now the Adriatic Sea.
The four Great Ice Ages had lasted approximately 800,000 years. Mountains had risen, collapsed and had risen again. Waters had spread, receded, only to rise and spread again. The animals that roamed over this terrain were of the "wooly" variety: mammoth, wooly rhinocerous, bison, aurochs, reindeer, cave bear and cave lion. Many of these animals are extinct today.
The closing centuries of the fourth Great Ice Age were a period of incredible climatic change. As the huge ice sheet which covered Europe began to retreat northward, the winters shortened and the summers lengthened. Lands that once were primarily cold warmed up. The animals which could not adapt to the warming climate retreated farther north. Man's food supply dwindled. Living conditions, as he knew them, became harsher.
But the one thing that man had depended upon the most water became his worst enemy. With the retreating of the glaciers came melting ice, and as the ice melted, the rivers overflowed, the lakes expanded, even the Atlantic Ocean itself rose, causing floods of unimaginable disastrous enormity.
As originally propounded by the author H. G. Wells in his Outline of History written in 1918-1919, these rising waters of the Atlantic Ocean began to pour over what are now the Straits of Gibraltar into the lower Mediterranean Basin. Although small at first, over several thousand years the overflow ultimately increased to epic dimensions due to the erosion of the channel and the increasing rise of the ocean level. The result was disaster for the Mediterranean area and the primitive people who lived there. The lakes, which had been their mainstay, were now flooding and drowning them. The waters kept rising. They did not abate. Man's caves, his homes, were submerged. The water rose higher and higher, reaching the treetops and finally covering the hills until the entire Mediterranean Basin was filled. Most of the inhabitants of this acid adjacent areas were probably surrounded and caught by that continually rising flood. Thus, long before the appearance of modern man, this cataclysm occurred and almost wiped out his antecedents.
Paleontologists and anthropologists judge true man's first appearance to be approximately 30,000 B.C. to 25,000 B.C. They call him Cro-Magnon man, after his skeletal remains that were originally discovered in the Cro-Magnon caves of Southern France. These same scientists date his dominance at approximately 20,000 years, or until the year 10,000 B.C. Before Homo sapiens or Cro-Magnon man came upon the scene, Central and Southern Europe were the domain of Neanderthal man. This near-man had existed for approximately 75,000 to 50,000 years. Neanderthal man was the last of the so-called apelike humans who had preceded Homo sapiens. They began approximately one million years ago and ended with the extinction of Neanderthal man, approximately 20,000 B.C. When Cro-Magnon man came upon the scene, he destroyed Neanderthal man wherever he found him. Cro-Magnon man considered this hairy creature an abomination and, although there is some indication that there was interbreeding with the females of this strain, there was generally total massacre.
Cro-Magnon man's physique was completely different from that of his predecessor's. He stood upright and was generally six feet or more tall. His head was balanced as is modern man's. His forehead was high, his chin well developed and his brain large and full. His brain capacity has been measured at 1600 cubic centimeters. This approximates the brain capacity of modern man. Amongst scholars it is generally accepted that Cro-Magnon man wore clothing, cooked his meat over large caldrons, and built outdoor shelters. The evidence of this lies with the buttons and bone needles that have been found in his caves, and with the charred bones of horses, reindeer, bison, mammoth and other animals he ate, which were found in large fire pits in these same caves: Finally, many of the cave paintings of Cro-Magnon man depict tentlike or hutlike buildings where they probably spent the summers.
Cro-Magnon man did not eat vegetables and cereals as we do today, for he was primarily carnivorous. Animals were his life-sustaining force; hunting his occupation. Anthropologists have suggested that these people came from Central Asia, North Africa and the Mediterranean Basin. They migrated north over a period of thousands of years, following the animals that slowly moved northward with the retreat of the ice sheets. As they met Neanderthal man, they killed them off, but they occupied their homes the caves that we now see in Southern France and Northern Spain. Life was harsh for male and female alike. The women got pregnant, gave birth, were expected to raise the children and keep the caves livable. The men were given to hunting. Food was essential every day. The best hunting time was in the summer when the animals followed the warming trails toward the Mediterranean.
The Cro-Magnon people learned that winters could be very hard and long, and that food had to be preserved to carry them through until spring. What were the animals he hunted? First and most important were the horses. Next came the bison, the mammoth and the wooly rhinoceros, followed by the reindeer and the wild auroch. Although cave lions and cave bears were abundant, their flesh did not seem to please Cro-Magnon man only their teeth and claws, which were used for ornamentation and weapons.
It is doubtful that Cro-Magnon man could write. We presume that he had a spoken language, although probably limited. The one thing we are certain of is that Cro-Magnon man left us one great legacy his art: the cave paintings which were discovered toward the end of the nineteenth century and throughout the first half of the twentieth century in the caves of Southern France and Northern Spain. The first find was at Altamira, Spain, in 1879. The paintings were so masterfully depicted that they were considered a hoax by most European art critics. It wasn't until the discovery of many more caves between 1910 and 1920, and later the celebrated cave at Lascaux, France, in 1940, that art critics accepted the fact that the cave paintings had been executed approximately 25,000 years ago.
These paintings tell us much of what Cro-Magnon man was like. Although some human representations were painted, the vast majority of the cave paintings are of animals: animals breeding, animals living, animals being caught, animals being eaten. The animals so represented are primarily horses, bison, mammoth, wooly rhinoceros, reindeer, aurochs, ibex, and musk-ox. Most of the paintings are located in almost inaccessible passages, as far away as 2,000 feet from the cave entrance. The paintings exist in complete darkness. They appear on high ceilings and in little alcoves. This indicates that the artist had to work under almost impossible conditions and certainly had the use of only fire light.
Some of the paintings depict male figures with reindeer headdress, dancing to ritualistic rhythms. It would appear that these representations were of a religious nature a preparation for the hunting to come for Cro-Magnon man, artist as he was, did not paint art for art's sake, but for a much more practical purpose. The paintings are considered to be a form of black magic, or sorcery, executed to help the hunters in a successful pursuit of the animals. Thus we see reindeer, horses, and bison portrayed in realistic situations with arrows piercing their flesh and hunters stalking them. Often the male animals were depicted with oversized reproductive organs and the female animals with enormous bellies. This was to promote both fertility and procreation, and to ensure a future food supply.
These paintings are a form of "sympathetic magic," which in this case can be defined as the belief held by primitive people that when they wanted something to occur, they could visualize the image or event, then draw it, and therefore it would occur. The artists who painted these images were considered magicians, sorcerers, or priests. They were men who undoubtedly knew the habits of the animals and took part in the hunts. This sympathetic magic was performed to freeze the images of the animals in inaccessible parts of the cave so that the secret ritual which was to be conducted would bring success in the hunt to follow. This was Cro-Magnon man's "chapel" of hopeful anticipation where The Sorcerers ruled supreme.
John H. Donnelly