Monday, November 5, 2007



La mythologie, cette science toute nouvelle, qui nous fait
suivre les croyances de nos peres, depuis le berceau du monde
jusqu'aux superstitions de nos campagnes.--EDMOND SCHERER
IN publishing this somewhat rambling and unsystematic series
of papers, in which I have endeavoured to touch briefly upon a
great many of the most important points in the study of
mythology, I think it right to observe that, in order to avoid
confusing the reader with intricate discussions, I have
sometimes cut the matter short, expressing myself with
dogmatic definiteness where a sceptical vagueness might
perhaps have seemed more becoming. In treating of popular
legends and superstitions, the paths of inquiry are circuitous
enough, and seldom can we reach a satisfactory conclusion
until we have travelled all the way around Robin Hood's barn
and back again. I am sure that the reader would not have
thanked me for obstructing these crooked lanes with the thorns
and brambles of philological and antiquarian discussion, to
such an extent as perhaps to make him despair of ever reaching
the high road. I have not attempted to review, otherwise than
incidentally, the works of Grimm, Muller, Kuhn, Breal, Dasent,
and Tylor; nor can I pretend to have added anything of
consequence, save now and then some bit of explanatory
comment, to the results obtained by the labour of these
scholars; but it has rather been my aim to present these
results in such a way as to awaken general interest in them.
And accordingly, in dealing with a subject which depends upon
philology almost as much as astronomy depends upon
mathematics, I have omitted philological considerations
wherever it has been possible to do so. Nevertheless, I
believe that nothing has been advanced as established which is
not now generally admitted by scholars, and that nothing has
been advanced as probable for which due evidence cannot be
produced. Yet among many points which are proved, and many
others which are probable, there must always remain many other
facts of which we cannot feel sure that our own explanation is
the true one; and the student who endeavours to fathom the
primitive thoughts of mankind, as enshrined in mythology, will
do well to bear in mind the modest words of Jacob Grimm,--
himself the greatest scholar and thinker who has ever dealt
with this class of subjects,--"I shall indeed interpret all
that I can, but I cannot interpret all that I should like."
PETERSHAM, September 6, 1872.
FEW mediaeval heroes are so widely known as William Tell. His
exploits have been celebrated by one of the greatest poets and
one of the most popular musicians of modern times. They are
doubtless familiar to many who have never heard of Stauffacher
or Winkelried, who are quite ignorant of the prowess of
Roland, and to whom Arthur and Lancelot, nay, even Charlemagne,
are but empty names.
Nevertheless, in spite of his vast reputation, it is very
likely that no such person as William Tell ever existed, and
it is certain that the story of his shooting the apple from
his son's head has no historical value whatever. In spite of
the wrath of unlearned but patriotic Swiss, especially of
those of the cicerone class, this conclusion is forced upon us
as soon as we begin to study the legend in accordance with the
canons of modern historical criticism. It is useless to point
to Tell's lime-tree, standing to-day in the centre of the
market-place at Altdorf, or to quote for our confusion his
crossbow preserved in the arsenal at Zurich, as unimpeachable
witnesses to the truth of the story. It is in vain that we are
told, "The bricks are alive to this day to testify to it;
therefore, deny it not." These proofs are not more valid than
the handkerchief of St. Veronica, or the fragments of the true
cross. For if relics are to be received as evidence, we must
needs admit the truth of every miracle narrated by the
The earliest work which makes any allusion to the adventures
of William Tell is the chronicle of the younger Melchior Russ,
written in 1482. As the shooting of the apple was supposed to
have taken place in 1296, this leaves an interval of one
hundred and eighty-six years, during which neither a Tell, nor
a William, nor the apple, nor the cruelty of Gessler, received
any mention. It may also be observed, parenthetically, that
the charters of Kussenach, when examined, show that no man by
the name of Gessler ever ruled there. The chroniclers of the
fifteenth century, Faber and Hammerlin, who minutely describe
the tyrannical acts by which the Duke of Austria goaded the
Swiss to rebellion, do not once mention Tell's name, or betray
the slightest acquaintance with his exploits or with his
existence. In the Zurich chronicle of 1479 he is not alluded
to. But we have still better negative evidence. John of
Winterthur, one of the best chroniclers of the Middle Ages,
was living at the time of the battle of Morgarten (1315), at
which his father was present. He tells us how, on the evening
of that dreadful day, he saw Duke Leopold himself in his
flight from the fatal field, half dead with fear. He
describes, with the loving minuteness of a contemporary, all
the incidents of the Swiss revolution, but nowhere does he say
a word about William Tell. This is sufficiently conclusive.
These mediaeval chroniclers, who never failed to go out of
their way after a bit of the epigrammatic and marvellous, who
thought far more of a pointed story than of historical
credibility, would never have kept silent about the adventures
of Tell, if they had known anything about them.
After this, it is not surprising to find that no two authors
who describe the deeds of William Tell agree in the details of
topography and chronology. Such discrepancies never fail to
confront us when we leave the solid ground of history and
begin to deal with floating legends. Yet, if the story be not
historical, what could have been its origin? To answer this
question we must considerably expand the discussion.
The first author of any celebrity who doubted the story of
William Tell was Guillimann, in his work on Swiss Antiquities,
published in 1598. He calls the story a pure fable, but,
nevertheless, eating his words, concludes by proclaiming his
belief in it, because the tale is so popular! Undoubtedly he
acted a wise part; for, in 1760, as we are told, Uriel
Freudenberger was condemned by the canton of Uri to be burnt
alive, for publishing his opinion that the legend of Tell had
a Danish origin.[1]
[1] See Delepierre, Historical Difficulties, p. 75.
The bold heretic was substantially right, however, like so
many other heretics, earlier and later. The Danish account of
Tell is given as follows, by Saxo Grammaticus:--
"A certain Palnatoki, for some time among King Harold's
body-guard, had made his bravery odious to very many of his
fellow-soldiers by the zeal with which he surpassed them in
the discharge of his duty. This man once, when talking tipsily
over his cups, had boasted that he was so skilled an archer
that he could hit the smallest apple placed a long way off on
a wand at the first shot; which talk, caught up at first by
the ears of backbiters, soon came to the hearing of the king.
Now, mark how the wickedness of the king turned the confidence
of the sire to the peril of the son, by commanding that this
dearest pledge of his life should be placed instead of the
wand, with a threat that, unless the author of this promise
could strike off the apple at the first flight of the arrow,
he should pay the penalty of his empty boasting by the loss of
his head. The king's command forced the soldier to perform
more than he had promised, and what he had said, reported, by
the tongues of slanderers, bound him to accomplish what he had
NOT said. Yet did not his sterling courage, though caught in
the snare of slander, suffer him to lay aside his firmness of
heart; nay, he accepted the trial the more readily because it
was hard. So Palnatoki warned the boy urgently when he took
his stand to await the coming of the hurtling arrow with calm
ears and unbent head, lest, by a slight turn of his body, he
should defeat the practised skill of the bowman; and, taking
further counsel to prevent his fear, he turned away his face,
lest he should be scared at the sight of the weapon. Then,
taking three arrows from the quiver, he struck the mark given
him with the first he fitted to the string. . . . . But
Palnatoki, when asked by the king why he had taken more arrows
from the quiver, when it had been settled that he should only
try the fortune of the bow ONCE, made answer, 'That I might
avenge on thee the swerving of the first by the points of the
rest, lest perchance my innocence might have been punished,
while your violence escaped scot-free.' "[2]
[2] Saxo Grammaticus, Bk. X. p. 166, ed. Frankf. 1576.
This ruthless king is none other than the famous Harold
Blue-tooth, and the occurrence is placed by Saxo in the year
950. But the story appears not only in Denmark, but in
Fingland, in Norway, in Finland and Russia, and in Persia, and
there is some reason for supposing that it was known in India.
In Norway we have the adventures of Pansa the Splay-footed,
and of Hemingr, a vassal of Harold Hardrada, who invaded
England in 1066. In Iceland there is the kindred legend of
Egil brother of Wayland Smith, the Norse Vulcan. In England
there is the ballad of William of Cloudeslee, which supplied
Scott with many details of the archery scene in "Ivanhoe."
Here, says the dauntless bowman,
"I have a sonne seven years old;
Hee is to me full deere;
I will tye him to a stake--
All shall see him that bee here--
And lay an apple upon his head,
And goe six paces him froe,
And I myself with a broad arrowe
Shall cleave the apple in towe."
In the Malleus Maleficarum a similar story is told Puncher, a
famous magician on the Upper Rhine. The great ethnologist
Castren dug up the same legend in Finland. It is common, as
Dr. Dasent observes, to the Turks and Mongolians; "and a
legend of the wild Samoyeds, who never heard of Tell or saw a
book in their lives relates it, chapter and verse, of one of
their marksmen." Finally, in the Persian poem of Farid-Uddin
Attar, born in 1119, we read a story of a prince who shoots an
apple from the head of a beloved page. In all these stories,
names and motives of course differ; but all contain the same
essential incidents. It is always an unerring archer who, at
the capricious command of a tyrant, shoots from the head of
some one dear to him a small object, be it an apple, a nut, or
a piece of coin. The archer always provides himself with a
second arrow, and, when questioned as to the use he intended
to make of his extra weapon, the invariable reply is, "To kill
thee, tyrant, had I slain my son." Now, when a marvellous
occurrence is said to have happened everywhere, we may feel
sure that it never happened anywhere. Popular fancies
propagate themselves indefinitely, but historical events,
especially the striking and dramatic ones, are rarely
repeated. The facts here collected lead inevitably to the
conclusion that the Tell myth was known, in its general
features, to our Aryan ancestors, before ever they left their
primitive dwelling-place in Central Asia.
It may, indeed, be urged that some one of these wonderful
marksmen may really have existed and have performed the feat
recorded in the legend; and that his true story, carried about
by hearsay tradition from one country to another and from age
to age, may have formed the theme for all the variations above
mentioned, just as the fables of La Fontaine were patterned
after those of AEsop and Phaedrus, and just as many of
Chaucer's tales were consciously adopted from Boccaccio. No
doubt there has been a good deal of borrowing and lending
among the legends of different peoples, as well as among the
words of different languages; and possibly even some
picturesque fragment of early history may have now and then
been carried about the world in this manner. But as the
philologist can with almost unerring certainty distinguish
between the native and the imported words in any Aryan
language, by examining their phonetic peculiarities, so the
student of popular traditions, though working with far less
perfect instruments, can safely assert, with reference to a
vast number of legends, that they cannot have been obtained by
any process of conscious borrowing. The difficulties
inseparable from any such hypothesis will become more and more
apparent as we proceed to examine a few other stories current
in different portions of the Aryan domain.
As the Swiss must give up his Tell, so must the Welshman be
deprived of his brave dog Gellert, over whose cruel fate I
confess to having shed more tears than I should regard as well
bestowed upon the misfortunes of many a human hero of romance.
Every one knows how the dear old brute killed the wolf which
had come to devour Llewellyn's child, and how the prince,
returning home and finding the cradle upset and the dog's
mouth dripping blood, hastily slew his benefactor, before the
cry of the child from behind the cradle and the sight of the
wolf's body had rectified his error. To this day the visitor
to Snowdon is told the touching story, and shown the place,
called Beth-Gellert,[3] where the dog's grave is still to be
seen. Nevertheless, the story occurs in the fireside lore of
nearly every Aryan people. Under the Gellert-form it started
in the Panchatantra, a collection of Sanskrit fables; and it
has even been discovered in a Chinese work which dates from A.
D. 668. Usually the hero is a dog, but sometimes a falcon, an
ichneumon, an insect, or even a man. In Egypt it takes the
following comical shape: "A Wali once smashed a pot full of
herbs which a cook had prepared. The exasperated cook thrashed
the well-intentioned but unfortunate Wali within an inch of
his life, and when he returned, exhausted with his efforts at
belabouring the man, to examine the broken pot, he discovered
amongst the herbs a poisonous snake."[4] Now this story of the
Wali is as manifestly identical with the legend of Gellert as
the English word FATHER is with the Latin pater; but as no one
would maintain that the word father is in any sense derived
from pater, so it would be impossible to represent either the
Welsh or the Egyptian legend as a copy of the other. Obviously
the conclusion is forced upon us that the stories, like the
words, are related collaterally, having descended from a
common ancestral legend, or having been suggested by one and
the same primeval idea.
[3] According to Mr. Isaac Taylor, the name is really derived
from "St. Celert, a Welsh saint of the fifth century, to whom
the church of Llangeller is consecrated." (Words and Places,
p. 339.)
[4] Compare Krilof's story of the Gnat and the Shepherd, in
Mr. Ralston's excellent version, Krilof and his Fables, p.
170. Many parallel examples are cited by Mr. Baring-Gould,
Curious Myths, Vol. I. pp. 126-136. See also the story of
Folliculus,--Swan, Gesta Romanorum, ad. Wright, Vol. I. p.
Closely connected with the Gellert myth are the stories of
Faithful John and of Rama and Luxman. In the German story,
Faithful John accompanies the prince, his master, on a journey
in quest of a beautiful maiden, whom he wishes to make his
bride. As they are carrying her home across the seas, Faithful
John hears some crows, whose language he understands,
foretelling three dangers impending over the prince, from
which his friend can save him only by sacrificing his own
life. As soon as they land, a horse will spring toward the
king, which, if he mounts it, will bear him away from his
bride forever; but whoever shoots the horse, and tells the
king the reason, will be turned into stone from toe to knee.
Then, before the wedding a bridal garment will lie before the
king, which, if he puts it on, will burn him like the
Nessos-shirt of Herakles; but whoever throws the shirt into
the fire and tells the king the reason, will be turned into
stone from knee to heart. Finally, during the
wedding-festivities, the queen will suddenly fall in a swoon,
and "unless some one takes three drops of blood from her right
breast she will die"; but whoever does so, and tells the king
the reason, will be turned into stone from head to foot. Thus
forewarned, Faithful John saves his master from all these
dangers; but the king misinterprets his motive in bleeding his
wife, and orders him to be hanged. On the scaffold he tells
his story, and while the king humbles himself in an agony of
remorse, his noble friend is turned into stone.
In the South Indian tale Luxman accompanies Rama, who is
carrying home his bride. Luxman overhears two owls talking
about the perils that await his master and mistress. First he
saves them from being crushed by the falling limb of a
banyan-tree, and then he drags them away from an arch which
immediately after gives way. By and by, as they rest under a
tree, the king falls asleep. A cobra creeps up to the queen,
and Luxman kills it with his sword; but, as the owls had
foretold, a drop of the cobra's blood falls on the queen's
forehead. As Luxman licks off the blood, the king starts up,
and, thinking that his vizier is kissing his wife, upbraids
him with his ingratitude, whereupon Luxman, through grief at
this unkind interpretation of his conduct, is turned into
[5] See Cox, Mythology of the Aryan Nations, Vol. I. pp.
For further illustration we may refer to the Norse tale of the
"Giant who had no Heart in his Body," as related by Dr.
Dasent. This burly magician having turned six brothers with
their wives into stone, the seventh brother--the crafty Boots
or many-witted Odysseus of European folk-lore--sets out to
obtain vengeance if not reparation for the evil done to his
kith and kin. On the way he shows the kindness of his nature
by rescuing from destruction a raven, a salmon, and a wolf.
The grateful wolf carries him on his back to the giant's
castle, where the lovely princess whom the monster keeps in
irksome bondage promises to act, in behalf of Boots, the part
of Delilah, and to find out, if possible, where her lord keeps
his heart. The giant, like the Jewish hero, finally succumbs
to feminine blandishments. "Far, far away in a lake lies an
island; on that island stands a church; in that church is a
well; in that well swims a duck; in that duck there is an egg;
and in that egg there lies my heart, you darling." Boots, thus
instructed, rides on the wolf's back to the island; the raven
flies to the top of the steeple and gets the church-keys; the
salmon dives to the bottom of the well, and brings up the egg
from the place where the duck had dropped it; and so Boots
becomes master of the situation. As he squeezes the egg, the
giant, in mortal terror, begs and prays for his life, which
Boots promises to spare on condition that his brothers and
their brides should be released from their enchantment. But
when all has been duly effected, the treacherous youth
squeezes the egg in two, and the giant instantly bursts.
The same story has lately been found in Southern India, and is
published in Miss Frere's remarkable collection of tales
entitled "Old Deccan Days." In the Hindu version the seven
daughters of a rajah, with their husbands, are transformed
into stone by the great magician Punchkin,--all save the
youngest daughter, whom Punchkin keeps shut up in a tower
until by threats or coaxing he may prevail upon her to marry
him. But the captive princess leaves a son at home in the
cradle, who grows up to manhood unmolested, and finally
undertakes the rescue of his family. After long and weary
wanderings he finds his mother shut up in Punchkin's tower,
and persuades her to play the part of the princess in the
Norse legend. The trick is equally successful. "Hundreds of
thousands of miles away there lies a desolate country covered
with thick jungle. In the midst of the jungle grows a circle
of palm-trees, and in the centre of the circle stand six jars
full of water, piled one above another; below the sixth jar is
a small cage which contains a little green parrot; on the life
of the parrot depends my life, and if the parrot is killed I
must die."[6] The young prince finds the place guarded by a
host of dragons, but some eaglets whom he has saved from a
devouring serpent in the course of his journey take him on
their crossed wings and carry him to the place where the jars
are standing. He instantly overturns the jars, and seizing the
parrot, obtains from the terrified magician full reparation.
As soon as his own friends and a stately procession of other
royal or noble victims have been set at liberty, he proceeds
to pull the parrot to pieces. As the wings and legs come away,
so tumble off the arms and legs of the magician; and finally
as the prince wrings the bird's neck, Punchkin twists his own
head round and dies.
[6] The same incident occurs in the Arabian story of
Seyf-el-Mulook and Bedeea-el-Jemal, where the Jinni's soul is
enclosed in the crop of a sparrow, and the sparrow imprisoned
in a small box, and this enclosed in another small box, and
this again in seven other boxes, which are put into seven
chests, contained in a coffer of marble, which is sunk in the
ocean that surrounds the world. Seyf-el-Mulook raises the
coffer by the aid of Suleyman's seal-ring, and having
extricated the sparrow, strangles it, whereupon the Jinni's
body is converted into a heap of black ashes, and
Seyf-el-Mulook escapes with the maiden Dolet-Khatoon. See
Lane's Arabian Nights, Vol. III. p. 316.
The story is also told in the highlands of Scotland, and some
portions of it will be recognized by the reader as incidents
in the Arabian tale of the Princess Parizade. The union of
close correspondence in conception with manifest independence
in the management of the details of these stories is striking
enough, but it is a phenomenon with which we become quite
familiar as we proceed in the study of Aryan popular
literature. The legend of the Master Thief is no less
remarkable than that of Punchkin. In the Scandinavian tale the
Thief, wishing to get possession of a farmer's ox, carefully
hangs himself to a tree by the roadside. The farmer, passing
by with his ox, is indeed struck by the sight of the dangling
body, but thinks it none of his business, and does not stop to
interfere. No sooner has he passed than the Thief lets himself
down, and running swiftly along a by-path, hangs himself with
equal precaution to a second tree. This time the farmer is
astonished and puzzled; but when for the third time he meets
the same unwonted spectacle, thinking that three suicides in
one morning are too much for easy credence, he leaves his ox
and runs back to see whether the other two bodies are really
where he thought he saw them. While he is framing hypotheses
of witchcraft by which to explain the phenomenon, the Thief
gets away with the ox. In the Hitopadesa the story receives a
finer point. "A Brahman, who had vowed a sacrifice, went to
the market to buy a goat. Three thieves saw him, and wanted to
get hold of the goat. They stationed themselves at intervals
on the high road. When the Brahman, who carried the goat on
his back, approached the first thief, the thief said,
'Brahman, why do you carry a dog on your back?' The Brahman
replied, 'It is not a dog, it is a goat.' A little while after
he was accosted by the second thief, who said, 'Brahman, why
do you carry a dog on your back?' The Brahman felt perplexed,
put the goat down, examined it, took it up again, and walked
on. Soon after he was stopped by the third thief, who said,
'Brahman, why do you carry a dog on your back?' Then the
Brahman was frightened, threw down the goat, and walked home
to perform his ablutions for having touched an unclean animal.
The thieves took the goat and ate it." The adroitness of the
Norse King in "The Three Princesses of Whiteland" shows but
poorly in comparison with the keen psychological insight and
cynical sarcasm of these Hindu sharpers. In the course of his
travels this prince met three brothers fighting on a lonely
moor. They had been fighting for a hundred years about the
possession of a hat, a cloak, and a pair of boots, which would
make the wearer invisible, and convey him instantly
whithersoever he might wish to go. The King consents to act as
umpire, provided he may once try the virtue of the magic
garments; but once clothed in them, of course he disappears,
leaving the combatants to sit down and suck their thumbs. Now
in the "Sea of Streams of Story," written in the twelfth
century by Somadeva of Cashmere, the Indian King Putraka,
wandering in the Vindhya Mountains, similarly discomfits two
brothers who are quarrelling over a pair of shoes, which are
like the sandals of Hermes, and a bowl which has the same
virtue as Aladdin's lamp. "Why don't you run a race for them?"
suggests Putraka; and, as the two blockheads start furiously
off, he quietly picks up the bowl, ties on the shoes, and
flies away![7]
[7] The same incident is repeated in the story of Hassan of
El-Basrah. See Lane's Arabian Nights, Vol. III p. 452.
It is unnecessary to cite further illustrations. The tales
here quoted are fair samples of the remarkable correspondence
which holds good through all the various sections of Aryan
folk-lore. The hypothesis of lateral diffusion, as we may call
it, manifestly fails to explain coincidences which are
maintained on such an immense scale. It is quite credible that
one nation may have borrowed from another a solitary legend of
an archer who performs the feats of Tell and Palnatoki; but it
is utterly incredible that ten thousand stories, constituting
the entire mass of household mythology throughout a dozen
separate nations, should have been handed from one to another
in this way. No one would venture to suggest that the old
grannies of Iceland and Norway, to whom we owe such stories as
the Master Thief and the Princesses of Whiteland, had ever
read Somadeva or heard of the treasures of Rhampsinitos. A
large proportion of the tales with which we are dealing were
utterly unknown to literature until they were taken down by
Grimm and Frere and Castren and Campbell, from the lips of
ignorant peasants, nurses, or house-servants, in Germany and
Hindustan, in Siberia and Scotland. Yet, as Mr. Cox observes,
these old men and women, sitting by the chimney-corner and
somewhat timidly recounting to the literary explorer the
stories which they had learned in childhood from their own
nurses and grandmas, "reproduce the most subtle turns of
thought and expression, and an endless series of complicated
narratives, in which the order of incidents and the words of
the speakers are preserved with a fidelity nowhere paralleled
in the oral tradition of historical events. It may safely be
said that no series of stories introduced in the form of
translations from other languages could ever thus have
filtered down into the lowest strata of society, and thence
have sprung up again, like Antaios, with greater energy and
heightened beauty." There is indeed no alternative for us but
to admit that these fireside tales have been handed down from
parent to child for more than a hundred generations; that the
primitive Aryan cottager, as he took his evening meal of yava
and sipped his fermented mead, listened with his children to
the stories of Boots and Cinderella and the Master Thief, in
the days when the squat Laplander was master of Europe and the
dark-skinned Sudra was as yet unmolested in the Punjab. Only
such community of origin can explain the community in
character between the stories told by the Aryan's descendants,
from the jungles of Ceylon to the highlands of Scotland.
This conclusion essentially modifies our view of the origin
and growth of a legend like that of William Tell. The case of
the Tell legend is radically different from the case of the
blindness of Belisarius or the burning of the Alexandrian
library by order of Omar. The latter are isolated stories or
beliefs; the former is one of a family of stories or beliefs.
The latter are untrustworthy traditions of doubtful events;
but in dealing with the former, we are face to face with a
What, then, is a myth? The theory of Euhemeros, which was so
fashionable a century ago, in the days of the Abbe Banier, has
long since been so utterly abandoned that to refute it now is
but to slay the slain. The peculiarity of this theory was that
it cut away all the extraordinary features of a given myth,
wherein dwelt its inmost significance, and to the dull and
useless residuum accorded the dignity of primeval history. In
this way the myth was lost without compensation, and the
student, in seeking good digestible bread, found but the
hardest of pebbles. Considered merely as a pretty story, the
legend of the golden fruit watched by the dragon in the garden
of the Hesperides is not without its value. But what merit can
there be in the gratuitous statement which, degrading the
grand Doric hero to a level with any vulgar fruit-stealer,
makes Herakles break a close with force and arms, and carry
off a crop of oranges which had been guarded by mastiffs? It
is still worse when we come to the more homely folk-lore with
which the student of mythology now has to deal. The theories
of Banier, which limped and stumbled awkwardly enough when it
was only a question of Hermes and Minos and Odin, have fallen
never to rise again since the problems of Punchkin and
Cinderella and the Blue Belt have begun to demand solution.
The conclusion has been gradually forced upon the student,
that the marvellous portion of these old stories is no
illegitimate extres-cence, but was rather the pith and centre
of the whole,[8] in days when there was no supernatural,
because it had not yet been discovered that there was such a
thing as nature. The religious myths of antiquity and the
fireside legends of ancient and modern times have their common
root in the mental habits of primeval humanity. They are the
earliest recorded utterances of men concerning the visible
phenomena of the world into which they were born.
[8] "Retrancher le merveilleux d'un mythe, c'est le
supprimer."--Breal, Hercule et Cacus, p. 50.
That prosaic and coldly rational temper with which modern men
are wont to regard natural phenomena was in early times
unknown. We have come to regard all events as taking place
regularly, in strict conformity to law: whatever our official
theories may be, we instinctively take this view of things.
But our primitive ancestors knew nothing about laws of nature,
nothing about physical forces, nothing about the relations of
cause and effect, nothing about the necessary regularity of
things. There was a time in the history of mankind when these
things had never been inquired into, and when no
generalizations about them had been framed, tested, or
established. There was no conception of an order of nature,
and therefore no distinct conception of a supernatural order
of things. There was no belief in miracles as infractions of
natural laws, but there was a belief in the occurrence of
wonderful events too mighty to have been brought about by
ordinary means. There was an unlimited capacity for believing
and fancying, because fancy and belief had not yet been
checked and headed off in various directions by established
rules of experience. Physical science is a very late
acquisition of the human mind, but we are already sufficiently
imbued with it to be almost completely disabled from
comprehending the thoughts of our ancestors. "How Finn
cosmogonists could have believed the earth and heaven to be
made out of a severed egg, the upper concave shell
representing heaven, the yolk being earth, and the crystal
surrounding fluid the circumambient ocean, is to us
incomprehensible; and yet it remains a fact that they did so
regard them. How the Scandinavians could have supposed the
mountains to be the mouldering bones of a mighty Jotun, and
the earth to be his festering flesh, we cannot conceive; yet
such a theory was solemnly taught and accepted. How the
ancient Indians could regard the rain-clouds as cows with full
udders milked by the winds of heaven is beyond our
comprehension, and yet their Veda contains indisputable
testimony to the fact that they were so regarded." We have
only to read Mr. Baring-Gould's book of "Curious Myths," from
which I have just quoted, or to dip into Mr. Thorpe's treatise
on "Northern Mythology," to realize how vast is the difference
between our stand-point and that from which, in the later
Middle Ages, our immediate forefathers regarded things. The
frightful superstition of werewolves is a good instance. In
those days it was firmly believed that men could be, and were
in the habit of being, transformed into wolves. It was
believed that women might bring forth snakes or poodle-dogs.
It was believed that if a man had his side pierced in battle,
you could cure him by nursing the sword which inflicted the
wound. "As late as 1600 a German writer would illustrate a
thunder-storm destroying a crop of corn by a picture of a
dragon devouring the produce of the field with his flaming
tongue and iron teeth."
Now if such was the condition of the human intellect only
three or four centuries ago, what must it have been in that
dark antiquity when not even the crudest generalizations of
Greek or of Oriental science had been reached? The same
mighty power of imagination which now, restrained and guided
by scientific principles, leads us to discoveries and
inventions, must then have wildly run riot in mythologic
fictions whereby to explain the phenomena of nature. Knowing
nothing whatever of physical forces, of the blind steadiness
with which a given effect invariably follows its cause, the
men of primeval antiquity could interpret the actions of
nature only after the analogy of their own actions. The only
force they knew was the force of which they were directly
conscious,--the force of will. Accordingly, they imagined all
the outward world to be endowed with volition, and to be
directed by it. They personified everything,--sky, clouds,
thunder, sun, moon, ocean, earthquake, whirlwind.[9] The
comparatively enlightened Athenians of the age of Perikles
addressed the sky as a person, and prayed to it to rain upon
their gardens.[10] And for calling the moon a mass of dead
matter, Anaxagoras came near losing his life. To the ancients
the moon was not a lifeless ball of stones and clods: it was
the horned huntress, Artemis, coursing through the upper
ether, or bathing herself in the clear lake; or it was
Aphrodite, protectress of lovers, born of the sea-foam in the
East near Cyprus. The clouds were no bodies of vaporized
water: they were cows with swelling udders, driven to the
milking by Hermes, the summer wind; or great sheep with moist
fleeces, slain by the unerring arrows of Bellerophon, the sun;
or swan-maidens, flitting across the firmament, Valkyries
hovering over the battle-field to receive the souls of falling
heroes; or, again, they were mighty mountains piled one above
another, in whose cavernous recesses the divining-wand of the
storm-god Thor revealed hidden treasures. The yellow-haired
sun, Phoibos, drove westerly all day in his flaming chariot;
or perhaps, as Meleagros, retired for a while in disgust from
the sight of men; wedded at eventide the violet light (Oinone,
Iole), which he had forsaken in the morning; sank, as
Herakles, upon a blazing funeral-pyre, or, like Agamemnon,
perished in a blood-stained bath; or, as the fish-god, Dagon,
swam nightly through the subterranean waters, to appear
eastward again at daybreak. Sometimes Phaethon, his rash,
inexperienced son, would take the reins and drive the solar
chariot too near the earth, causing the fruits to perish, and
the grass to wither, and the wells to dry up. Sometimes, too,
the great all-seeing divinity, in his wrath at the impiety of
men, would shoot down his scorching arrows, causing pestilence
to spread over the land. Still other conceptions clustered
around the sun. Now it was the wonderful treasure-house, into
which no one could look and live; and again it was Ixion
himself, bound on the fiery wheel in punishment for violence
offered to Here, the queen of the blue air.
[9] "No distinction between the animate and inanimate is made
in the languages of the Eskimos, the Choctaws, the Muskoghee,
and the Caddo. Only the Iroquois, Cherokee, and the
Algonquin-Lenape have it, so far as is known, and with them it
is partial." According to the Fijians, "vegetables and stones,
nay, even tools and weapons, pots and canoes, have souls that
are immortal, and that, like the souls of men, pass on at last
to Mbulu, the abode of departed spirits."--M'Lennan, The
Worship of Animals and Plants, Fortnightly Review, Vol. XII.
p, 416.
[10] Marcus Aurelius, V. 7.
This theory of ancient mythology is not only beautiful and
plausible, it is, in its essential points, demonstrated. It
stands on as firm a foundation as Grimm's law in philology, or
the undulatory theory in molecular physics. It is philology
which has here enabled us to read the primitive thoughts of
mankind. A large number of the names of Greek gods and heroes
have no meaning in the Greek language; but these names occur
also in Sanskrit, with plain physical meanings. In the Veda we
find Zeus or Jupiter (Dyaus-pitar) meaning the sky, and
Sarameias or Hermes, meaning the breeze of a summer morning.
We find Athene (Ahana), meaning the light of daybreak; and we
are thus enabled to understand why the Greek described her as
sprung from the forehead of Zeus. There too we find Helena
(Sarama), the fickle twilight, whom the Panis, or
night-demons, who serve as the prototypes of the Hellenic
Paris, strive to seduce from her allegiance to the solar
monarch. Even Achilleus (Aharyu) again confronts us, with his
captive Briseis (Brisaya's offspring); and the fierce Kerberos
(Carvara) barks on Vedic ground in strict conformity to the
laws of phonetics.[11] Now, when the Hindu talked about Father
Dyaus, or the sleek kine of Siva, he thought of the
personified sky and clouds; he had not outgrown the primitive
mental habits of the race. But the Greek, in whose language
these physical meanings were lost, had long before the Homeric
epoch come to regard Zeus and Hermes, Athene, Helena, Paris,
and Achilleus, as mere persons, and in most cases the
originals of his myths were completely forgotten. In the Vedas
the Trojan War is carried on in the sky, between the bright
deities and the demons of night; but the Greek poet,
influenced perhaps by some dim historical tradition, has
located the contest on the shore of the Hellespont, and in his
mind the actors, though superhuman, are still completely
anthropomorphic. Of the true origin of his epic story he knew
as little as Euhemeros, or Lord Bacon, or the Abbe Banier.
[11] Some of these etymologies are attacked by Mr. Mahaffy in
his Prolegomena to Ancient History, p. 49. After long
consideration I am still disposed to follow Max Muller in
adopting them, with the possible exception of Achilleus. With
Mr. Mahaffy s suggestion (p. 52) that many of the Homeric
legends may have clustered around some historical basis, I
fully agree; as will appear, further on, from my paper on
"Juventus Mundi."
After these illustrations, we shall run no risk of being
misunderstood when we define a myth as, in its origin, an
explanation, by the uncivilized mind, of some natural
phenomenon; not an allegory, not an esoteric symbol,--for the
ingenuity is wasted which strives to detect in myths the
remnants of a refined primeval science,--but an explanation.
Primitive men had no profound science to perpetuate by means
of allegory, nor were they such sorry pedants as to talk in
riddles when plain language would serve their purpose. Their
minds, we may be sure, worked like our own, and when they
spoke of the far-darting sun-god, they meant just what they
said, save that where we propound a scientific theorem, they
constructed a myth.[12] A thing is said to be explained when
it is classified with other things with which we are already
acquainted. That is the only kind of explanation of which the
highest science is capable. We explain the origin, progress,
and ending of a thunder-storm, when we classify the phenomena
presented by it along with other more familiar phenomena of
vaporization and condensation. But the primitive man explained
the same thing to his own satisfaction when he had classified
it along with the well-known phenomena of human volition, by
constructing a theory of a great black dragon pierced by the
unerring arrows of a heavenly archer. We consider the nature
of the stars to a certain extent explained when they are
classified as suns; but the Mohammedan compiler of the
"Mishkat-ul-Ma'sabih" was content to explain them as missiles
useful for stoning the Devil! Now, as soon as the old Greek,
forgetting the source of his conception, began to talk of a
human Oidipous slaying a leonine Sphinx, and as soon as the
Mussulman began, if he ever did, to tell his children how the
Devil once got a good pelting with golden bullets, then both
the one and the other were talking pure mythology.
[12] Les facultes qui engendrent la mythologie sont les memes
que celles qui engendront la philosophie, et ce n'est pas sans
raison que l'Inde et la Grece nous presentent le phenomene de
la plus riche mythologie a cote de la plus profonde
metaphysique. "La conception de la multiplicite dans
l'univers, c'est le polytheisme chez les peuples enfants;
c'est la science chez les peuples arrives a l'age mur.--Renan,
Hist. des Langues Semitiques, Tom. I. p. 9.
We are justified, accordingly, in distinguishing between a
myth and a legend. Though the words are etymologically
parallel, and though in ordinary discourse we may use them
interchangeably, yet when strict accuracy is required, it is
well to keep them separate. And it is perhaps needless, save
for the sake of completeness, to say that both are to be
distinguished from stories which have been designedly
fabricated. The distinction may occasionally be subtle, but is
usually broad enough. Thus, the story that Philip II. murdered
his wife Elizabeth, is a misrepresentation; but the story that
the same Elizabeth was culpably enamoured of her step-son Don
Carlos, is a legend. The story that Queen Eleanor saved the
life of her husband, Edward I., by sucking a wound made in his
arm by a poisoned arrow, is a legend; but the story that
Hercules killed a great robber, Cacus, who had stolen his
cattle, conceals a physical meaning, and is a myth. While a
legend is usually confined to one or two localities, and is
told of not more than one or two persons, it is characteristic
of a myth that it is spread, in one form or another, over a
large part of the earth, the leading incidents remaining
constant, while the names and often the motives vary with each
locality. This is partly due to the immense antiquity of
myths, dating as they do from a period when many nations, now
widely separated, had not yet ceased to form one people. Thus
many elements of the myth of the Trojan War are to be found in
the Rig-Veda; and the myth of St. George and the Dragon is
found in all the Aryan nations. But we must not always infer
that myths have a common descent, merely because they resemble
each other. We must remember that the proceedings of the
uncultivated mind are more or less alike in all latitudes, and
that the same phenomenon might in various places independently
give rise to similar stories.[13] The myth of Jack and the
BeanStalk is found not only among people of Aryan descent, but
also among the Zulus of South Africa, and again among the
American Indians. Whenever we can trace a story in this way
from one end of the world to the other, or through a whole
family of kindred nations, we are pretty safe in assuming that
we are dealing with a true myth, and not with a mere legend.
[13] Cases coming under this head are discussed further on, in
my paper on "Myths of the Barbaric World."
Applying these considerations to the Tell myth, we at once
obtain a valid explanation of its origin. The conception of
infallible skill in archery, which underlies such a great
variety of myths and popular fairy-tales, is originally
derived from the inevitable victory of the sun over his
enemies, the demons of night, winter, and tempest. Arrows and
spears which never miss their mark, swords from whose blow no
armour can protect, are invariably the weapons of solar
divinities or heroes. The shafts of Bellerophon never fail to
slay the black demon of the rain-cloud, and the bolt of
Phoibos Chrysaor deals sure destruction to the serpent of
winter. Odysseus, warring against the impious night-heroes,
who have endeavoured throughout ten long years or hours of
darkness to seduce from her allegiance his twilight-bride, the
weaver of the never-finished web of violet clouds,--Odysseus,
stripped of his beggar's raiment and endowed with fresh youth
and beauty by the dawn-goddess, Athene, engages in no doubtful
conflict as he raises the bow which none but himself can bend.
Nor is there less virtue in the spear of Achilleus, in the
swords of Perseus and Sigurd, in Roland's stout blade
Durandal, or in the brand Excalibur, with which Sir Bedivere
was so loath to part. All these are solar weapons, and so,
too, are the arrows of Tell and Palnatoki, Egil and Hemingr,
and William of Cloudeslee, whose surname proclaims him an
inhabitant of the Phaiakian land. William Tell, whether of
Cloudland or of Altdorf, is the last reflection of the
beneficent divinity of daytime and summer, constrained for a
while to obey the caprice of the powers of cold and darkness,
as Apollo served Laomedon, and Herakles did the bidding of
Eurystheus. His solar character is well preserved, even in the
sequel of the Swiss legend, in which he appears no less
skilful as a steersman than as an archer, and in which, after
traversing, like Dagon, the tempestuous sea of night, he leaps
at daybreak in regained freedom upon the land, and strikes
down the oppressor who has held him in bondage.
But the sun, though ever victorious in open contest with his
enemies, is nevertheless not invulnerable. At times he
succumbs to treachery, is bound by the frost-giants, or slain
by the demons of darkness. The poisoned shirt of the
cloud-fiend Nessos is fatal even to the mighty Herakles, and
the prowess of Siegfried at last fails to save him from the
craft of Hagen. In Achilleus and Meleagros we see the unhappy
solar hero doomed to toil for the profit of others, and to be
cut off by an untimely death. The more fortunate Odysseus, who
lives to a ripe old age, and triumphs again and again over all
the powers of darkness, must nevertheless yield to the craving
desire to visit new cities and look upon new works of strange
men, until at last he is swallowed up in the western sea. That
the unrivalled navigator of the celestial ocean should
disappear beneath the western waves is as intelligible as it
is that the horned Venus or Astarte should rise from the sea
in the far east. It is perhaps less obvious that winter should
be so frequently symbolized as a thorn or sharp instrument.
Achilleus dies by an arrow-wound in the heel; the thigh of
Adonis is pierced by the boar's tusk, while Odysseus escapes
with an ugly scar, which afterwards secures his recognition by
his old servant, the dawn-nymph Eurykleia; Sigurd is slain by
a thorn, and Balder by a sharp sprig of mistletoe; and in the
myth of the Sleeping Beauty, the earth-goddess sinks into her
long winter sleep when pricked by the point of the spindle. In
her cosmic palace, all is locked in icy repose, naught
thriving save the ivy which defies the cold, until the kiss of
the golden-haired sun-god reawakens life and activity.
The wintry sleep of nature is symbolized in innumerable
stories of spell-bound maidens and fair-featured youths,
saints, martyrs, and heroes. Sometimes it is the sun,
sometimes the earth, that is supposed to slumber. Among the
American Indians the sun-god Michabo is said to sleep through
the winter months; and at the time of the falling leaves, by
way of composing himself for his nap, he fills his great pipe
and divinely smokes; the blue clouds, gently floating over the
landscape, fill the air with the haze of Indian summer. In the
Greek myth the shepherd Endymion preserves his freshness in a
perennial slumber. The German Siegfried, pierced by the thorn
of winter, is sleeping until he shall be again called forth to
fight. In Switzerland, by the Vierwald-stattersee, three Tells
are awaiting the hour when their country shall again need to
be delivered from the oppressor. Charlemagne is reposing in
the Untersberg, sword in hand, waiting for the coming of
Antichrist; Olger Danske similarly dreams away his time in
Avallon; and in a lofty mountain in Thuringia, the great
Emperor Yrederic Barbarossa slumbers with his knights around
him, until the time comes for him to sally forth and raise
Germany to the first rank among the kingdoms of the world. The
same story is told of Olaf Tryggvesson, of Don Sebastian of
Portugal, and of the Moorish King Boabdil. The Seven Sleepers
of Ephesus, having taken refuge in a cave from the
persecutions of the heathen Decius, slept one hundred and
sixty-four years, and awoke to find a Christian emperor on the
throne. The monk of Hildesheim, in the legend so beautifully
rendered by Longfellow, doubting how with God a thousand years
ago could be as yesterday, listened three minutes entranced by
the singing of a bird in the forest, and found, on waking from
his revery, that a thousand years had flown. To the same
family of legends belong the notion that St. John is sleeping
at Ephesus until the last days of the world; the myth of the
enchanter Merlin, spell-bound by Vivien; the story of the
Cretan philosopher Epimenides, who dozed away fifty-seven
years in a cave; and Rip Van Winkle's nap in the
[14] A collection of these interesting legends may be found in
Baring-Gould's "Curious Myths of the Middle Ages," of which
work this paper was originally a review.
We might go on almost indefinitely citing household tales of
wonderful sleepers; but, on the principle of the association
of opposites, we are here reminded of sundry cases of
marvellous life and wakefulness, illustrated in the Wandering
Jew; the dancers of Kolbeck; Joseph of Arimathaea with the
Holy Grail; the Wild Huntsman who to all eternity chases the
red deer; the Captain of the Phantom Ship; the classic
Tithonos; and the Man in the Moon.
The lunar spots have afforded a rich subject for the play of
human fancy. Plutarch wrote a treatise on them, but the
myth-makers had been before him. "Every one," says Mr.
Baring-Gould, "knows that the moon is inhabited by a man with
a bundle of sticks on his back, who has been exiled thither
for many centuries, and who is so far off that he is beyond
the reach of death. He has once visited this earth, if the
nursery rhyme is to be credited when it asserts that
'The Man in the Moon
Came down too soon
And asked his way to Norwich';
but whether he ever reached that city the same authority does
not state." Dante calls him Cain; Chaucer has him put up there
as a punishment for theft, and gives him a thorn-bush to
carry; Shakespeare also loads him with the thorns, but by way
of compensation gives him a dog for a companion. Ordinarily,
however, his offence is stated to have been, not stealing, but
Sabbath-breaking,--an idea derived from the Old Testament.
Like the man mentioned in the Book of Numbers, he is caught
gathering sticks on the Sabbath; and, as an example to
mankind, he is condemned to stand forever in the moon, with
his bundle on his back. Instead of a dog, one German version
places with him a woman, whose crime was churning butter on
Sunday. She carries her butter-tub; and this brings us to
Mother Goose again:--
"Jack and Jill went up the hill To get a pail
of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after."
This may read like mere nonsense; but there is a point of view
from which it may be safely said that there is very little
absolute nonsense in the world. The story of Jack and Jill is
a venerable one. In Icelandic mythology we read that Jack and
Jill were two children whom the moon once kidnapped and
carried up to heaven. They had been drawing water in a bucket,
which they were carrying by means of a pole placed across
their shoulders; and in this attitude they have stood to the
present day in the moon. Even now this explanation of the
moon-spots is to be heard from the mouths of Swedish peasants.
They fall away one after the other, as the moon wanes, and
their water-pail symbolizes the supposed connection of the
moon with rain-storms. Other forms of the myth occur in
The moon-goddess, or Aphrodite, of the ancient Germans, was
called Horsel, or Ursula, who figures in Christian mediaeval
mythology as a persecuted saint, attended by a troop of eleven
thousand virgins, who all suffer martyrdom as they journey
from England to Cologne. The meaning of the myth is obvious.
In German mythology, England is the Phaiakian land of clouds
and phantoms; the succubus, leaving her lover before daybreak,
excuses herself on the plea that "her mother is calling her in
England."[15] The companions of Ursula are the pure stars, who
leave the cloudland and suffer martyrdom as they approach the
regions of day. In the Christian tradition, Ursula is the pure
Artemis; but, in accordance with her ancient character, she is
likewise the sensual Aphrodite, who haunts the Venusberg; and
this brings us to the story of Tannhauser.
[15] See Procopius, De Bello Gothico, IV. 20; Villemarque,
Barzas Breiz, I. 136. As a child I was instructed by an old
nurse that Vas Diemen's Land is the home of ghosts and
departed spirits.
The Horselberg, or mountain of Venus, lies in Thuringia,
between Eisenach and Gotha. High up on its slope yawns a
cavern, the Horselloch, or cave of Venus within which is heard
a muffled roar, as of subterranean water. From this cave, in
old times, the frightened inhabitants of the neighbouring
valley would hear at night wild moans and cries issuing,
mingled with peals of demon-like laughter. Here it was
believed that Venus held her court; "and there were not a few
who declared that they had seen fair forms of female beauty
beckoning them from the mouth of the chasm."[16] Tannhauser
was a Frankish knight and famous minnesinger, who, travelling
at twilight past the Horselberg, "saw a white glimmering
figure of matchless beauty standing before him and beckoning
him to her." Leaving his horse, he went up to meet her, whom
he knew to be none other than Venus. He descended to her
palace in the heart of the mountain, and there passed seven
years in careless revelry. Then, stricken with remorse and
yearning for another glimpse of the pure light of day, he
called in agony upon the Virgin Mother, who took compassion on
him and released him. He sought a village church, and to
priest after priest confessed his sin, without obtaining
absolution, until finally he had recourse to the Pope. But the
holy father, horrified at the enormity of his misdoing,
declared that guilt such as his could never be remitted sooner
should the staff in his hand grow green and blossom. "Then
Tannhauser, full of despair and with his soul darkened, went
away, and returned to the only asylum open to him, the
Venusberg. But lo! three days after he had gone, Pope Urban
discovered that his pastoral staff had put forth buds and had
burst into flower. Then he sent messengers after Tannhauser,
and they reached the Horsel vale to hear that a wayworn man,
with haggard brow and bowed head, had just entered the
Horselloch. Since then Tannhauser has not been seen." (p.
[16] Baring-Gould, Curious Myths, Vol. I. p. 197.
As Mr. Baring-Gould rightly observes, this sad legend, in its
Christianized form, is doubtless descriptive of the struggle
between the new and the old faiths. The knightly Tannhauser,
satiated with pagan sensuality, turns to Christianity for
relief, but, repelled by the hypocrisy, pride, and lack of
sympathy of its ministers, gives up in despair, and returns to
drown his anxieties in his old debauchery.
But this is not the primitive form of the myth, which recurs
in the folk-lore of every people of Aryan descent. Who,
indeed, can read it without being at once reminded of Thomas
of Erceldoune (or Horsel-hill), entranced by the sorceress of
the Eilden; of the nightly visits of Numa to the grove of the
nymph Egeria; of Odysseus held captive by the Lady Kalypso;
and, last but not least, of the delightful Arabian tale of
Prince Ahmed and the Peri Banou? On his westward journey,
Odysseus is ensnared and kept in temporary bondage by the
amorous nymph of darkness, Kalypso (kalnptw, to veil or
cover). So the zone of the moon-goddess Aphrodite inveigles
all-seeing Zeus to treacherous slumber on Mount Ida; and by a
similar sorcery Tasso's great hero is lulled in unseemly
idleness in Armida's golden paradise, at the western verge of
the world. The disappearance of Tannhauser behind the moonlit
cliff, lured by Venus Ursula, the pale goddess of night, is a
precisely parallel circumstance.
But solar and lunar phenomena are by no means the only sources
of popular mythology. Opposite my writing-table hangs a quaint
German picture, illustrating Goethe's ballad of the Erlking,
in which the whole wild pathos of the story is compressed into
one supreme moment; we see the fearful, half-gliding rush of
the Erlking, his long, spectral arms outstretched to grasp the
child, the frantic gallop of the horse, the alarmed father
clasping his darling to his bosom in convulsive embrace, the
siren-like elves hovering overhead, to lure the little soul
with their weird harps. There can be no better illustration
than is furnished by this terrible scene of the magic power of
mythology to invest the simplest physical phenomena with the
most intense human interest; for the true significance of the
whole picture is contained in the father's address to his
"Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;
In durren Blattern sauselt der Wind."
The story of the Piper of Hamelin, well known in the version
of Robert Browning, leads to the same conclusion. In 1284 the
good people of Hamelin could obtain no rest, night or day, by
reason of the direful host of rats which infested their town.
One day came a strange man in a bunting-suit, and offered for
five hundred guilders to rid the town of the vermin. The
people agreed: whereupon the man took out a pipe and piped,
and instantly all the rats in town, in an army which blackened
the face of the earth, came forth from their haunts, and
followed the piper until he piped them to the river Weser,
where they alls jumped in and were drowned. But as soon as the
torment was gone, the townsfolk refused to pay the piper on
the ground that he was evidently a wizard. He went away,
vowing vengeance, and on St. John's day reappeared, and
putting his pipe to his mouth blew a different air. Whereat
all the little, plump, rosy-cheeked, golden-haired children
came merrily running after him, their parents standing aghast,
not knowing what to do, while he led them up a hill in the
neighbourhood. A door opened in the mountain-side, through
which he led them in, and they never were seen again; save one
lame boy, who hobbled not fast enough to get in before the
door shut, and who lamented for the rest of his life that he
had not been able to share the rare luck of his comrades. In
the street through which this procession passed no music was
ever afterwards allowed to be played. For a long time the town
dated its public documents from this fearful calamity, and
many authorities have treated it as an historical event.[17]
Similar stories are told of other towns in Germany, and,
strange to say, in remote Abyssinia also. Wesleyan peasants in
England believe that angels pipe to children who are about to
die; and in Scandinavia, youths are said to have been enticed
away by the songs of elf-maidens. In Greece, the sirens by
their magic lay allured voyagers to destruction; and Orpheus
caused the trees and dumb beasts to follow him. Here we reach
the explanation. For Orpheus is the wind sighing through
untold acres of pine forest. "The piper is no other than the
wind, and the ancients held that in the wind were the souls of
the dead." To this day the English peasantry believe that they
hear the wail of the spirits of unbaptized children, as the
gale sweeps past their cottage doors. The Greek Hermes
resulted from the fusion of two deities. He is the sun and
also the wind; and in the latter capacity he bears away the
souls of the dead. So the Norse Odin, who like Hermes fillfils
a double function, is supposed to rush at night over the
tree-tops, "accompanied by the scudding train of brave men's
spirits." And readers of recent French literature cannot fail
to remember Erokmann-Chatrian's terrible story of the wild
huntsman Vittikab, and how he sped through the forest,
carrying away a young girl's soul.
[17] Hence perhaps the adage, "Always remember to pay the
Thus, as Tannhauser is the Northern Ulysses, so is Goethe's
Erlking none other than the Piper of Hamelin. And the piper,
in turn, is the classic Hermes or Orpheus, the counterpart of
the Finnish Wainamoinen and the Sanskrit Gunadhya. His
wonderful pipe is the horn of Oberon, the lyre of Apollo (who,
like the piper, was a rat-killer), the harp stolen by Jack
when he climbed the bean-stalk to the ogre's castle.[18] And
the father, in Goethe's ballad, is no more than right when he
assures his child that the siren voice which tempts him is but
the rustle of the wind among the dried leaves; for from such a
simple class of phenomena arose this entire family of charming
[18] And it reappears as the mysterious lyre of the Gaelic
musician, who
"Could harp a fish out o' the water,
Or bluid out of a stane,
Or milk out of a maiden's breast,
That bairns had never nane."
But why does the piper, who is a leader of souls
(Psychopompos), also draw rats after him? In answering this
we shall have occasion to note that the ancients by no means
shared that curious prejudice against the brute creation which
is indulged in by modern anti-Darwinians. In many countries,
rats and mice have been regarded as sacred animals; but in
Germany they were thought to represent the human soul. One
story out of a hundred must suffice to illustrate this. "In
Thuringia, at Saalfeld, a servant-girl fell asleep whilst her
companions were shelling nuts. They observed a little red
mouse creep from her mouth and run out of the window. One of
the fellows present shook the sleeper, but could not wake her,
so he moved her to another place. Presently the mouse ran back
to the former place and dashed about, seeking the girl; not
finding her, it vanished; at the same moment the girl
died."[19] This completes the explanation of the piper, and it
also furnishes the key to the horrible story of Bishop Hatto.
[19] Baring-Gould, Curious Myths, Vol. II. p. 159.
This wicked prelate lived on the bank of the Rhine, in the
middle of which stream he possessed a tower, now pointed out
to travellers as the Mouse Tower. In the year 970 there was a
dreadful famine, and people came from far and near craving
sustenance out of the Bishop's ample and well-filled
granaries. Well, he told them all to go into the barn, and
when they had got in there, as many as could stand, he set
fire to the barn and burnt them all up, and went home to eat a
merry supper. But when he arose next morning, he heard that an
army of rats had eaten all the corn in his granaries, and was
now advancing to storm the palace. Looking from his window, he
saw the roads and fields dark with them, as they came with
fell purpose straight toward his mansion. In frenzied terror
he took his boat and rowed out to the tower in the river. But
it was of no use: down into the water marched the rats, and
swam across, and scaled the walls, and gnawed through the
stones, and came swarming in about the shrieking Bishop, and
ate him up, flesh, bones, and all. Now, bearing in mind what
was said above, there can be no doubt that these rats were the
souls of those whom the Bishop had murdered. There are many
versions of the story in different Teutonic countries, and in
some of them the avenging rats or mice issue directly, by a
strange metamorphosis, from the corpses of the victims. St.
Gertrude, moreover, the heathen Holda, was symbolized as a
mouse, and was said Go lead an army of mice; she was the
receiver of children's souls. Odin, also, in his character of
a Psychopompos, was followed by a host of rats.[20]
[20] Perhaps we may trace back to this source the frantic
terror which Irish servant-girls often manifest at sight of a
As the souls of the departed are symbolized as rats, so is the
psychopomp himself often figured as a dog. Sarameias, the
Vedic counterpart of Hermes and Odin, sometimes appears
invested with canine attributes; and countless other examples
go to show that by the early Aryan mind the howling wind was
conceived as a great dog or wolf. As the fearful beast was
heard speeding by the windows or over the house-top, the
inmates trembled, for none knew but his own soul might
forthwith be required of him. Hence, to this day, among
ignorant people, the howling of a dog under the window is
supposed to portend a death in the family. It is the fleet
greyhound of Hermes, come to escort the soul to the river
[21] In Persia a dog is brought to the bedside of the person
who is dying, in order that the soul may be sure of a prompt
escort. The same custom exists in India. Breal, Hercule et
Cacus, p. 123.
But the wind-god is not always so terrible. Nothing can be
more transparent than the phraseology of the Homeric Hymn, in
which Hermes is described as acquiring the strength of a giant
while yet a babe in the cradle, as sallying out and stealing
the cattle (clouds) of Apollo, and driving them helter-skelter
in various directions, then as crawling through the keyhole,
and with a mocking laugh shrinking into his cradle. He is the
Master Thief, who can steal the burgomaster's horse from under
him and his wife's mantle from off her back, the prototype not
only of the crafty architect of Rhampsinitos, but even of the
ungrateful slave who robs Sancho of his mule in the Sierra
Morena. He furnishes in part the conceptions of Boots and
Reynard; he is the prototype of Paul Pry and peeping Tom of
Coventry; and in virtue of his ability to contract or expand
himself at pleasure, he is both the Devil in the Norse
Tale,[22] whom the lad persuades to enter a walnut, and the
Arabian Efreet, whom the fisherman releases from the bottle.
[22] The Devil, who is proverbially "active in a gale of
wind," is none other than Hermes.
The very interesting series of myths and popular superstitions
suggested by the storm-cloud and the lightning must be
reserved for a future occasion. When carefully examined, they
will richly illustrate the conclusion which is the result of
the present inquiry, that the marvellous tales and quaint
superstitions current in every Aryan household have a common
origin with the classic legends of gods and heroes, which
formerly were alone thought worthy of the student's serious
attention. These stories--some of them familiar to us in
infancy, others the delight of our maturer years--constitute
the debris, or alluvium, brought down by the stream of
tradition from the distant highlands of ancient mythology.
September, 1870.
IN the course of my last summer's vacation, which was spent at
a small inland village, I came upon an unexpected illustration
of the tenacity with which conceptions descended from
prehistoric antiquity have now and then kept their hold upon
life. While sitting one evening under the trees by the
roadside, my attention was called to the unusual conduct of
half a dozen men and boys who were standing opposite. An
elderly man was moving slowly up and down the road, holding
with both hands a forked twig of hazel, shaped like the letter
Y inverted. With his palms turned upward, he held in each hand
a branch of the twig in such a way that the shank pointed
upward; but every few moments, as he halted over a certain
spot, the twig would gradually bend downwards until it had
assumed the likeness of a Y in its natural position, where it
would remain pointing to something in the ground beneath. One
by one the bystanders proceeded to try the experiment, but
with no variation in the result. Something in the ground
seemed to fascinate the bit of hazel, for it could not pass
over that spot without bending down and pointing to it.
My thoughts reverted at once to Jacques Aymar and
Dousterswivel, as I perceived that these men were engaged in
sorcery. During the long drought more than half the wells in
the village had become dry, and here was an attempt to make
good the loss by the aid of the god Thor. These men were
seeking water with a divining-rod. Here, alive before my eyes,
was a superstitious observance, which I had supposed long
since dead and forgotten by all men except students interested
in mythology.
As I crossed the road to take part in the ceremony a farmer's
boy came up, stoutly affirming his incredulity,
and offering to show the company how he could carry the rod
motionless across the charmed spot. But when he came to take
the weird twig he trembled with an ill-defined feeling of
insecurity as to the soundness of his conclusions, and when he
stood over the supposed rivulet the rod bent in spite of
him,--as was not so very strange. For, with all his vague
scepticism, the honest lad had not, and could not be supposed
to have, the foi scientifique of which Littre speaks.[23]
[23] "Il faut que la coeur devienne ancien parmi les aneiennes
choses, et la plenitude de l'histoire ne se devoile qu'a celui
qui descend, ainsi dispose, dans le passe. Mais il faut que
l'esprit demeure moderne, et n'oublie jamais qu'il n'y a pour
lui d'autre foi que la foi scientifique.'--LITTRS.
Hereupon I requested leave to try the rod; but something in my
manner seemed at once to excite the suspicion and scorn of the
sorcerer. "Yes, take it," said he, with uncalled-for
vehemence, "but you can't stop it; there's water below here,
and you can't help its bending, if you break your back trying
to hold it." So he gave me the twig, and awaited, with a
smile which was meant to express withering sarcasm, the
discomfiture of the supposed scoffer. But when I proceeded to
walk four or five times across the mysterious place, the rod
pointing steadfastly toward the zenith all the while, our
friend became grave and began to philosophize. "Well," said
he, "you see, your temperament is peculiar; the conditions
ain't favourable in your case; there are some people who never
can work these things. But there's water below here, for all
that, as you'll find, if you dig for it; there's nothing like
a hazel-rod for finding out water."
Very true: there are some persons who never can make such
things work; who somehow always encounter "unfavourable
conditions" when they wish to test the marvellous powers of a
clairvoyant; who never can make "Planchette" move in
conformity to the requirements of any known alphabet; who
never see ghosts, and never have "presentiments," save such as
are obviously due to association of ideas. The ill-success of
these persons is commonly ascribed to their lack of faith;
but, in the majority of cases, it might be more truly referred
to the strength of their faith,--faith in the constancy of
nature, and in the adequacy of ordinary human experience as
interpreted by science.[24] La foi scientifique is an
excellent preventive against that obscure, though not
uncommon, kind of self-deception which enables wooden tripods
to write and tables to tip and hazel-twigs to twist
upside-down, without the conscious intervention of the
performer. It was this kind of faith, no doubt, which caused
the discomfiture of Jacques Aymar on his visit to Paris,[25]
and which has in late years prevented persons from obtaining
the handsome prize offered by the French Academy for the first
authentic case of clairvoyance.
[24] For an admirable example of scientific self-analysis
tracing one of these illusions to its psychological sources,
see the account of Dr. Lazarus, in Taine, De l'Intelligence,
Vol. I. pp. 121-125.
[25] See the story of Aymar in Baring-Gould, Curious Myths,
Vol. I. pp. 57-77. The learned author attributes the
discomfiture to the uncongenial Parisian environment; which is
a style of reasoning much like that of my village sorcerer, I
But our village friend, though perhaps constructively right in
his philosophizing, was certainly very defective in his
acquaintance with the time-honoured art of rhabdomancy. Had he
extended his inquiries so as to cover the field of
Indo-European tradition, he would have learned that the
mountain-ash, the mistletoe, the white and black thorn, the
Hindu asvattha, and several other woods, are quite as
efficient as the hazel for the purpose of detecting water in
times of drought; and in due course of time he would have
perceived that the divining-rod itself is but one among a
large class of things to which popular belief has ascribed,
along with other talismanic properties, the power of opening
the ground or cleaving rocks, in order to reveal hidden
treasures. Leaving him in peace, then, with his bit of forked
hazel, to seek for cooling springs in some future thirsty
season, let us endeavour to elucidate the origin of this
curious superstition.
The detection of subterranean water is by no means the only
use to which the divining-rod has been put. Among the ancient
Frisians it was regularly used for the detection of criminals;
and the reputation of Jacques Aymar was won by his discovery
of the perpetrator of a horrible murder at Lyons. Throughout
Europe it has been used from time immemorial by miners for
ascertaining the position of veins of metal; and in the days
when talents were wrapped in napkins and buried in the field,
instead of being exposed to the risks of financial
speculation, the divining-rod was employed by persons covetous
of their neighbours' wealth. If Boulatruelle had lived in the
sixteenth century, he would have taken a forked stick of hazel
when he went to search for the buried treasures of Jean
Valjean. It has also been applied to the cure of disease, and
has been kept in households, like a wizard's charm, to insure
general good-fortune and immunity from disaster.
As we follow the conception further into the elf-land of
popular tradition, we come upon a rod which not only points
out the situation of hidden treasure, but even splits open the
ground and reveals the mineral wealth contained therein. In
German legend, "a shepherd, who was driving his flock over the
Ilsenstein, having stopped to rest, leaning on his staff, the
mountain suddenly opened, for there was a springwort in his
staff without his knowing it, and the princess [Ilse] stood
before him. She bade him follow her, and when he was inside
the mountain she told him to take as much gold as he pleased.
The shepherd filled all his pockets, and was going away, when
the princess called after him, 'Forget not the best.' So,
thinking she meant that he had not taken enough, he filled his
hat also; but what she meant was his staff with the
springwort, which he had laid against the wall as soon as he
stepped in. But now, just as he was going out at the opening,
the rock suddenly slammed together and cut him in two."[26]
[26] Kelly, Indo-European Folk-Lore, p. 177.
Here the rod derives its marvellous properties from the
enclosed springwort, but in many cases a leaf or flower is
itself competent to open the hillside. The little blue flower,
forget-me-not, about which so many sentimental associations
have clustered, owes its name to the legends told of its
talismanic virtues.[27] A man, travelling on a lonely
mountain, picks up a little blue flower and sticks it in his
hat. Forthwith an iron door opens, showing up a lighted
passage-way, through which the man advances into a magnificent
hall, where rubies and diamonds and all other kinds of gems
are lying piled in great heaps on the floor. As he eagerly
fills his pockets his hat drops from his head, and when he
turns to go out the little flower calls after him, "Forget me
not!" He turns back and looks around, but is too bewildered
with his good fortune to think of his bare head or of the
luck-flower which he has let fall. He selects several more of
the finest jewels he can find, and again starts to go out; but
as he passes through the door the mountain closes amid the
crashing of thunder, and cuts off one of his heels. Alone, in
the gloom of the forest, he searches in vain for the
mysterious door: it has disappeared forever, and the traveller
goes on his way, thankful, let us hope, that he has fared no
[27] The story of the luck-flower is well told in verse by Mr.
Baring Gould, in his Silver Store, p. 115, seq.
Sometimes it is a white lady, like the Princess Ilse, who
invites the finder of the luck-flower to help himself to her
treasures, and who utters the enigmatical warning. The
mountain where the event occurred may be found almost anywhere
in Germany, and one just like it stood in Persia, in the
golden prime of Haroun Alraschid. In the story of the Forty
Thieves, the mere name of the plant sesame serves as a
talisman to open and shut the secret door which leads into the
robbers' cavern; and when the avaricious Cassim Baba, absorbed
in the contemplation of the bags of gold and bales of rich
merchandise, forgets the magic formula, he meets no better
fate than the shepherd of the Ilsenstein. In the story of
Prince Ahmed, it is an enchanted arrow which guides the young
adventurer through the hillside to the grotto of the Peri
Banou. In the tale of Baba Abdallah, it is an ointment rubbed
on the eyelid which reveals at a single glance all the
treasures hidden in the bowels of the earth
The ancient Romans also had their rock-breaking plant, called
Saxifraga, or "sassafras." And the further we penetrate into
this charmed circle of traditions the more evident does it
appear that the power of cleaving rocks or shattering hard
substances enters, as a primitive element, into the conception
of these treasure-showing talismans. Mr. Baring-Gould has
given an excellent account of the rabbinical legends
concerning the wonderful schamir, by the aid of which Solomon
was said to have built his temple. From Asmodeus, prince of
the Jann, Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, wrested the secret of
a worm no bigger than a barley-corn, which could split the
hardest substance. This worm was called schamir. "If Solomon
desired to possess himself of the worm, he must find the nest
of the moor-hen, and cover it with a plate of glass, so that
the mother bird could not get at her young without breaking
the glass. She would seek schamir for the purpose, and the
worm must be obtained from her." As the Jewish king did need
the worm in order to hew the stones for that temple which was
to be built without sound of hammer, or axe, or any tool of
iron,[28] he sent Benaiah to obtain it. According to another
account, schamir was a mystic stone which enabled Solomon to
penetrate the earth in search of mineral wealth. Directed by a
Jinni, the wise king covered a raven's eggs with a plate of
crystal, and thus obtained schamir which the bird brought in
order to break the plate.[29]
[28] 1 Kings vi. 7.
[29] Compare the Mussulman account of the building of the
temple, in Baring-Gould, Legends of the Patriarchs and
Prophets, pp. 337, 338. And see the story of Diocletian's
ostrich, Swan, Gesta Romanorum, ed. Wright, Vol I. p. lxiv.
See also the pretty story of the knight unjustly imprisoned,
id. p. cii.
In these traditions, which may possibly be of Aryan descent,
due to the prolonged intercourse between the Jews and the
Persians, a new feature is added to those before enumerated:
the rock-splitting talisman is always found in the possession
of a bird. The same feature in the myth reappears on Aryan
soil. The springwort, whose marvellous powers we have noticed
in the case of the Ilsenstein shepherd, is obtained, according
to Pliny, by stopping up the hole in a tree where a woodpecker
keeps its young. The bird flies away, and presently returns
with the springwort, which it applies to the plug, causing it
to shoot out with a loud explosion. The same account is given
in German folk-lore. Elsewhere, as in Iceland, Normandy, and
ancient Greece, the bird is an eagle, a swallow, an ostrich,
or a hoopoe.
In the Icelandic and Pomeranian myths the schamir, or
"raven-stone," also renders its possessor invisible,--a
property which it shares with one of the treasure-finding
plants, the fern.[30] In this respect it resembles the ring of
Gyges, as in its divining and rock-splitting qualities it
resembles that other ring which the African magri-cian gave to
Aladdin, to enable him to descend into the cavern where stood
the wonderful lamp.
[30] "We have the receipt of fern-seed. We walk invisible."--
Shakespeare, Henry IV. See Ralston, Songs of the Russian
People, p. 98
According to one North German tradition, the luck-flower also
will make its finder invisible at pleasure. But, as the myth
shrewdly adds, it is absolutely essential that the flower be
found by accident: he who seeks for it never finds it! Thus
all cavils are skilfully forestalled, even if not
satisfactorily disposed of. The same kind of reasoning is
favoured by our modern dealers in mystery: somehow the
"conditions" always are askew whenever a scientific observer
wishes to test their pretensions.
In the North of Europe schamir appears strangely and
grotesquely metamorphosed. The hand of a man that has been
hanged, when dried and prepared with certain weird unguents
and set on fire, is known as the Hand of Glory; and as it not
only bursts open all safe-locks, but also lulls to sleep all
persons within the circle of its influence, it is of course
invaluable to thieves and burglars. I quote the following
story from Thorpe's "Northern Mythology": "Two fellows once
came to Huy, who pretended to be exceedingly fatigued, and
when they had supped would not retire to a sleeping-room, but
begged their host would allow them to take a nap on the
hearth. But the maid-servant, who did not like the looks of
the two guests, remained by the kitchen door and peeped
through a chink, when she saw that one of them drew a thief's
hand from his pocket, the fingers of which, after having
rubbed them with an ointment, he lighted, and they all burned
except one. Again they held this finger to the fire, but still
it would not burn, at which they appeared much surprised, and
one said, 'There must surely be some one in the house who is
not yet asleep.' They then hung the hand with its four
burning fingers by the chimney, and went out to call their
associates. But the maid followed them instantly and made the
door fast, then ran up stairs, where the landlord slept, that
she might wake him, but was unable, notwithstanding all her
shaking and calling. In the mean time the thieves had returned
and were endeavouring to enter the house by a window, but the
maid cast them down from the ladder. They then took a
different course, and would have forced an entrance, had it
not occurred to the maid that the burning fingers might
probably be the cause of her master's profound sleep.
Impressed with this idea she ran to the kitchen and blew them
out, when the master and his men-servants instantly awoke, and
soon drove away the robbers." The same event is said to have
occurred at Stainmore in England; and Torquermada relates of
Mexican thieves that they carry with them the left hand of a
woman who has died in her first childbed, before which
talisman all bolts yield and all opposition is benumbed. In
1831 "some Irish thieves attempted to commit a robbery on the
estate of Mr. Naper, of Loughcrew, county Meath. They entered
the house armed with a dead man's hand with a lighted candle
in it, believing in the superstitious notion that a candle
placed in a dead man's hand will not be seen by any but those
by whom it is used; and also that if a candle in a dead hand
be introduced into a house, it will prevent those who may be
asleep from awaking. The inmates, however, were alarmed, and
the robbers fled, leaving the hand behind them."[31]
[31] Henderson, Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England,
p. 202
In the Middle Ages the hand of glory was used, just like the
divining-rod, for the detection of buried treasures.
Here, then, we have a large and motley group of objects--the
forked rod of ash or hazel, the springwort and the
luck-flower, leaves, worms, stones, rings, and dead men's
hands--which are for the most part competent to open the way
into cavernous rocks, and which all agree in pointing out
hidden wealth. We find, moreover, that many of these charmed
objects are carried about by birds, and that some of them
possess, in addition to their generic properties, the specific
power of benumbing people's senses. What, now, is the common
origin of this whole group of superstitions? And since
mythology has been shown to be the result of primeval attempts
to explain the phenomena of nature, what natural phenomenon
could ever have given rise to so many seemingly wanton
conceptions? Hopeless as the problem may at first sight seem,
it has nevertheless been solved. In his great treatise on "The
Descent of Fire," Dr. Kuhn has shown that all these legends
and traditions are descended from primitive myths explanatory
of the lightning and the storm-cloud.[32]
[32] Kuhn, Die Herabkunft des Feuers und des Gottertranks.
Berlin, 1859.
To us, who are nourished from childhood on the truths revealed
by science, the sky is known to be merely an optical
appearance due to the partial absorption of the solar rays in
passing through a thick stratum of atmospheric air; the clouds
are known to be large masses of watery vapour, which descend
in rain-drops when sufficiently condensed; and the lightning
is known to be a flash of light accompanying an electric
discharge. But these conceptions are extremely recondite, and
have been attained only through centuries of philosophizing
and after careful observation and laborious experiment. To the
untaught mind of a child or of an uncivilized man, it seems
far more natural and plausible to regard the sky as a solid
dome of blue crystal, the clouds as snowy mountains, or
perhaps even as giants or angels, the lightning as a flashing
dart or a fiery serpent. In point of fact, we find that the
conceptions actually entertained are often far more grotesque
than these. I can recollect once framing the hypothesis that
the flaming clouds of sunset were transient apparitions,
vouchsafed us by way of warning, of that burning Calvinistic
hell with which my childish imagination had been unwisely
terrified;[33] and I have known of a four-year-old boy who
thought that the snowy clouds of noonday were the white robes
of the angels hung out to dry in the sun.[34] My little
daughter is anxious to know whether it is necessary to take a
balloon in order to get to the place where God lives, or
whether the same end can be accomplished by going to the
horizon and crawling up the sky;[35] the Mohammedan of old was
working at the same problem when he called the rainbow the
bridge Es-Sirat, over which souls must pass on their way to
heaven. According to the ancient Jew, the sky was a solid
plate, hammered out by the gods, and spread over the earth in
order to keep up the ocean overhead;[36] but the plate was
full of little windows, which were opened whenever it became
necessary to let the rain come through.[37] With equal
plausibility the Greek represented the rainy sky as a sieve in
which the daughters of Danaos were vainly trying to draw
water; while to the Hindu the rain-clouds were celestial
cattle milked by the wind-god. In primitive Aryan lore, the
sky itself was a blue sea, and the clouds were ships sailing
over it; and an English legend tells how one of these ships
once caught its anchor on a gravestone in the churchyard, to
the great astonishment of the people who were coming out of
church. Charon's ferry-boat was one of these vessels, and
another was Odin's golden ship, in which the souls of slain
heroes were conveyed to Valhalla. Hence it was once the
Scandinavian practice to bury the dead in boats; and in
Altmark a penny is still placed in the mouth of the corpse,
that it may have the means of paying its fare to the ghostly
ferryman.[38] In such a vessel drifted the Lady of Shalott on
her fatal voyage; and of similar nature was the dusky barge,
"dark as a funeral-scarf from stem to stern," in which Arthur
was received by the black-hooded queens.[39]
[33] "Saga me forwhan byth seo sunne read on aefen? Ic the
secge, forthon heo locath on helle.--Tell me, why is the sun
red at even? I tell thee, because she looketh on hell."
Thorpe, Analecta Anglo-Saxonica, p. 115, apud Tylor, Primitive
Culture, Vol. II. p. 63. Barbaric thought had partly
anticipated my childish theory.
[34] "Still in North Germany does the peasant say of thunder,
that the angels are playing skittles aloft, and of the snow,
that they are shaking up the feather beds in heaven."--
Baring-Gould, Book of Werewolves, p. 172.
[35] "The Polynesians imagine that the sky descends at the
horizon and encloses the earth. Hence they call foreigners
papalangi, or 'heaven-bursters,' as having broken in from
another world outside."--Max Muller, Chips, II. 268.
[36] "--And said the gods, let there be a hammered plate in the
midst of the waters, and let it be dividing between waters and
waters." Genesis i. 6.
[37] Genesis vii. 11.
[38] See Kelly, Indo-European Folk-Lore, p 120; who states
also that in Bengal the Garrows burn their dead in a small
boat, placed on top of the funeral-pile.
In their character of cows, also, the clouds were regarded as
psychopomps; and hence it is still a popular superstition that
a cow breaking into the yard foretokens a death in the family.
[39] The sun-god Freyr had a cloud-ship called Skithblathnir,
which is thus described in Dasent's Prose Edda: "She is so
great, that all the AEsir, with their weapons and war-gear,
may find room on board her"; but "when there is no need of
faring on the sea in her, she is made. . . . with so much
craft that Freyr may fold her together like a cloth, and keep
her in his bag." This same virtue was possessed by the fairy
pavilion which the Peri Banou gave to Ahmed; the cloud which
is no bigger than a man's hand may soon overspread the whole
heaven, and shade the Sultan's army from the solar rays.
But the fact that a natural phenomenon was explained in one
way did not hinder it from being explained in a dozen other
ways. The fact that the sun was generally regarded as an
all-conquering hero did not prevent its being called an egg,
an apple, or a frog squatting on the waters, or Ixion's wheel,
or the eye of Polyphemos, or the stone of Sisyphos, which was
no sooner pushed to the zenith than it rolled down to the
horizon. So the sky was not only a crystal dome, or a
celestial ocean, but it was also the Aleian land through which
Bellerophon wandered, the country of the Lotos-eaters, or
again the realm of the Graiai beyond the twilight; and finally
it was personified and worshipped as Dyaus or Varuna, the
Vedic prototypes of the Greek Zeus and Ouranos. The clouds,
too, had many other representatives besides ships and cows. In
a future paper it will be shown that they were sometimes
regarded as angels or houris; at present it more nearly
concerns us to know that they appear, throughout all Aryan
mythology, under the form of birds. It used to be a matter of
hopeless wonder to me that Aladdin's innocent request for a
roc's egg to hang in the dome of his palace should have been
regarded as a crime worthy of punishment by the loss of the
wonderful lamp; the obscurest part of the whole affair being
perhaps the Jinni's passionate allusion to the egg as his
master: "Wretch! dost thou command me to bring thee my
master, and hang him up in the midst of this vaulted dome?"
But the incident is to some extent cleared of its mystery when
we learn that the roc's egg is the bright sun, and that the
roc itself is the rushing storm-cloud which, in the tale of
Sindbad, haunts the sparkling starry firmament, symbolized as
a valley of diamonds.[40] According to one Arabic authority,
the length of its wings is ten thousand fathoms. But in
European tradition it dwindles from these huge dimensions to
the size of an eagle, a raven, or a woodpecker. Among the
birds enumerated by Kuhn and others as representing the
storm-cloud are likewise the wren or "kinglet" (French
roitelet); the owl, sacred to Athene; the cuckoo, stork, and
sparrow; and the red-breasted robin, whose name Robert was
originally an epithet of the lightning-god Thor. In certain
parts of France it is still believed that the robbing of a
wren's nest will render the culprit liable to be struck by
lightning. The same belief was formerly entertained in
Teutonic countries with respect to the robin; and I suppose
that from this superstition is descended the prevalent notion,
which I often encountered in childhood, that there is
something peculiarly wicked in killing robins.
[40] Euhemerism has done its best with this bird, representing
it as an immense vulture or condor or as a reminiscence of the
extinct dodo. But a Chinese myth, cited by Klaproth, well
preserves its true character when it describes it as "a bird
which in flying obscures the sun, and of whose quills are made
water-tuns." See Nouveau Journal Asiatique, Tom. XII. p. 235.
The big bird in the Norse tale of the "Blue Belt" belongs to
the same species.
Now, as the raven or woodpecker, in the various myths of
schamir, is the dark storm-cloud, so the rock-splitting worm
or plant or pebble which the bird carries in its beak and lets
fall to the ground is nothing more or less than the flash of
lightning carried and dropped by the cloud. "If the cloud was
supposed to be a great bird, the lightnings were regarded as
writhing worms or serpents in its beak. These fiery serpents,
elikiai gram-moeidws feromenoi, are believed in to this day by
the Canadian Indians, who call the thunder their hissing."[41]
[41] Baring-Gould, Curious Myths, Vol. II. p. 146. Compare
Tylor, Primitive Culture, Vol. II. p. 237, seq.
But these are not the only mythical conceptions which are to
be found wrapped up in the various myths of schamir and the
divining-rod. The persons who told these stories were not
weaving ingenious allegories about thunder-storms; they were
telling stories, or giving utterance to superstitions, of
which the original meaning was forgotten. The old grannies
who, along with a stoical indifference to the fate of quails
and partridges, used to impress upon me the wickedness of
killing robins, did not add that I should be struck by
lightning if I failed to heed their admonitions. They had
never heard that the robin was the bird of Thor; they merely
rehearsed the remnant of the superstition which had survived
to their own times, while the essential part of it had long
since faded from recollection. The reason for regarding a
robin's life as more sacred than a partridge's had been
forgotten; but it left behind, as was natural, a vague
recognition of that mythical sanctity. The primitive meaning
of a myth fades away as inevitably as the primitive meaning of
a word or phrase; and the rabbins who told of a worm which
shatters rocks no more thought of the writhing thunderbolts
than the modern reader thinks of oyster-shells when he sees
the word ostracism, or consciously breathes a prayer as he
writes the phrase good bye. It is only in its callow infancy
that the full force of a myth is felt, and its period of
luxuriant development dates from the time when its physical
significance is lost or obscured. It was because the Greek had
forgotten that Zeus meant the bright sky, that he could make
him king over an anthropomorphic Olympos. The Hindu Dyaus, who
carried his significance in his name as plainly as the Greek
Helios, never attained such an exalted position; he yielded to
deities of less obvious pedigree, such as Brahma and Vishnu.
Since, therefore, the myth-tellers recounted merely the
wonderful stories which their own nurses and grandmas had told
them, and had no intention of weaving subtle allegories or
wrapping up a physical truth in mystic emblems, it follows
that they were not bound to avoid incongruities or to preserve
a philosophical symmetry in their narratives. In the great
majority of complex myths, no such symmetry is to be found. A
score of different mythical conceptions would get wrought into
the same story, and the attempt to pull them apart and
construct a single harmonious system of conceptions out of the
pieces must often end in ingenious absurdity. If Odysseus is
unquestionably the sun, so is the eye of Polyphemos, which
Odysseus puts out.[42] But the Greek poet knew nothing of the
incongruity, for he was thinking only of a superhuman hero
freeing himself from a giant cannibal; he knew nothing of
Sanskrit, or of comparative mythology, and the sources of his
myths were as completely hidden from his view as the sources
of the Nile.
[42] "If Polyphemos's eye be the sun, then Odysseus, the solar
hero, extinguishes himself, a very primitive instance of
suicide." Mahaffy, Prolegomena, p. 57. See also Brown,
Poseidon, pp. 39, 40. This objection would be relevant only in
case Homer were supposed to be constructing an allegory with
entire knowledge of its meaning. It has no validity whatever
when we recollect that Homer could have known nothing of the
We need not be surprised, then, to find that in one version of
the schamir-myth the cloud is the bird which carries the worm,
while in another version the cloud is the rock or mountain
which the talisman cleaves open; nor need we wonder at it, if
we find stories in which the two conceptions are mingled
together without regard to an incongruity which in the mind of
the myth-teller no longer exists.[43]
[43] The Sanskrit myth-teller indeed mixes up his materials in
a way which seems ludicrous to a Western reader. He describes
Indra (the sun-god) as not only cleaving the cloud-mountains
with his sword, but also cutting off their wings and hurling
them from the sky. See Burnouf, Bhagavata Purana, VI. 12, 26.
In early Aryan mythology there is nothing by which the clouds
are more frequently represented than by rocks or mountains.
Such were the Symplegades, which, charmed by the harp of the
wind-god Orpheus, parted to make way for the talking ship
Argo, with its crew of solar heroes.[44] Such, too, were the
mountains Ossa and Pelion, which the giants piled up one upon
another in their impious assault upon Zeus, the lord of the
bright sky. As Mr. Baring-Gould observes: "The ancient Aryan
had the same name for cloud and mountain. To him the piles of
vapour on the horizon were so like Alpine ranges, that he had
but one word whereby to designate both.[45] These great
mountains of heaven were opened by the lightning. In the
sudden flash he beheld the dazzling splendour within, but only
for a moment, and then, with a crash, the celestial rocks
closed again. Believing these vaporous piles to contain
resplendent treasures of which partial glimpse was obtained by
mortals in a momentary gleam, tales were speedily formed,
relating the adventures of some who had succeeded in entering
these treasure-mountains."
[44] Mr. Tylor offers a different, and possibly a better,
explanation of the Symplegades as the gates of Night through
which the solar ship, having passed successfully once, may
henceforth pass forever. See the details of the evidence in
his Primitive Culture, I. 315.
[45] The Sanskrit parvata, a bulging or inflated body, means
both "cloud" and "mountain." "In the Edda, too, the rocks,
said to have been fashioned out of Ymir's bones, are supposed
to be intended for clouds. In Old Norse Klakkr means both
cloud and rock; nay, the English word CLOUD itself has been
identified with the Anglo-Saxon clud, rock. See Justi, Orient
und Occident, Vol. II. p. 62." Max Muller, Rig-Veda, Vol. 1.
p. 44.
This sudden flash is the smiting of the cloud-rock by the
arrow of Ahmed, the resistless hammer of Thor, the spear of
Odin, the trident of Poseidon, or the rod of Hermes. The
forked streak of light is the archetype of the divining-rod in
its oldest form,--that in which it not only indicates the
hidden treasures, but, like the staff of the Ilsenstein
shepherd, bursts open the enchanted crypt and reveals them to
the astonished wayfarer. Hence the one thing essential to the
divining-rod, from whatever tree it be chosen, is that it
shall be forked.
It is not difficult to comprehend the reasons which led the
ancients to speak of the lightning as a worm, serpent,
trident, arrow, or forked wand; but when we inquire why it was
sometimes symbolized as a flower or leaf; or when we seek to
ascertain why certain trees, such as the ash, hazel,
white-thorn, and mistletoe, were supposed to be in a certain
sense embodiments of it, we are entering upon a subject too
complicated to be satisfactorily treated within the limits of
the present paper. It has been said that the point of
resemblance between a cow and a comet, that both have tails,
was quite enough for the primitive word-maker: it was
certainly enough for the primitive myth-teller.[46] Sometimes
the pinnate shape of a leaf, the forking of a branch, the
tri-cleft corolla, or even the red colour of a flower, seems
to have been sufficient to determine the association of ideas.
The Hindu commentators of the Veda certainly lay great stress
on the fact that the palasa, one of their lightning-trees, is
trident-leaved. The mistletoe branch is forked, like a
wish-bone,[47] and so is the stem which bears the
forget-me-not or wild scorpion grass. So too the leaves of the
Hindu ficus religiosa resemble long spear-heads.[48] But in
many cases it is impossible for us to determine with
confidence the reasons which may have guided primitive men in
their choice of talismanic plants. In the case of some of
these stories, it would no doubt be wasting ingenuity to
attempt to assign a mythical origin for each point of detail.
The ointment of the dervise, for instance, in the Arabian
tale, has probably no special mythical significance, but was
rather suggested by the exigencies of the story, in an age
when the old mythologies were so far disintegrated and mingled
together that any one talisman would serve as well as another
the purposes of the narrator. But the lightning-plants of
Indo-European folk-lore cannot be thus summarily disposed of;
for however difficult it may be for us to perceive any
connection between them and the celestial phenomena which they
represent, the myths concerning them are so numerous and
explicit as to render it certain that some such connection was
imagined by the myth-makers. The superstition concerning the
hand of glory is not so hard to interpret. In the mythology of
the Finns, the storm-cloud is a black man with a bright copper
hand; and in Hindustan, Indra Savitar, the deity who slays the
demon of the cloud, is golden-handed. The selection of the
hand of a man who has been hanged is probably due to the
superstition which regarded the storm-god Odin as peculiarly
the lord of the gallows. The man who is raised upon the
gallows is placed directly in the track of the wild huntsman,
who comes with his hounds to carry off the victim; and hence
the notion, which, according to Mr. Kelly, is "very common in
Germany and not extinct in England," that every suicide by
hanging is followed by a storm.
[46] In accordance with the mediaeval "doctrine of
signatures," it was maintained "that the hard, stony seeds of
the Gromwell must be good for gravel, and the knotty tubers of
scrophularia for scrofulous glands; while the scaly pappus of
scaliosa showed it to be a specific in leprous diseases, the
spotted leaves of pulmonaria that it was a sovereign remedy
for tuberculous lungs, and the growth of saxifrage in the
fissures of rocks that it would disintegrate stone in the
bladder." Prior, Popular Names of British Plants, Introd., p.
xiv. See also Chapiel, La Doctrine des Signatures. Paris,
[47] Indeed, the wish-bone, or forked clavicle of a fowl,
itself belongs to the same family of talismans as the
[48] The ash, on the other hand, has been from time immemorial
used for spears in many parts of the Aryan domain. The word
oesc meant, in Anglo-Saxon, indifferently "ash-tree," or
"spear"; and the same is, or has been, true of the French
fresne and the Greek melia. The root of oesc appears in the
Sanskrit as, "to throw" or "lance," whence asa, "a bow," and
asana, "an arrow." See Pictet, Origines Indo-Europeennes, I.
The paths of comparative mythology are devious, but we have
now pursued them long enough I believe, to have arrived at a
tolerably clear understanding of the original nature of the
divining-rod. Its power of revealing treasures has been
sufficiently explained; and its affinity for water results so
obviously from the character of the lightning-myth as to need
no further comment. But its power of detecting criminals still
remains to be accounted for.
In Greek mythology, the being which detects and punishes crime
is the Erinys, the prototype of the Latin Fury, figured by
late writers as a horrible monster with serpent locks. But
this is a degradation of the original conception. The name
Erinys did not originally mean Fury, and it cannot be
explained from Greek sources alone. It appears in Sanskrit as
Saranyu, a word which signifies the light of morning creeping
over the sky. And thus we are led to the startling conclusion
that, as the light of morning reveals the evil deeds done
under the cover of night, so the lovely Dawn, or Erinys, came
to be regarded under one aspect as the terrible detector and
avenger of iniquity. Yet startling as the conclusion is, it is
based on established laws of phonetic change, and cannot be
But what has the avenging daybreak to do with the lightning
and the divining-rod? To the modern mind the association is
not an obvious one: in antiquity it was otherwise. Myths of
the daybreak and myths of the lightning often resemble each
other so closely that, except by a delicate philological
analysis, it is difficult to distinguish the one from the
other. The reason is obvious. In each case the phenomenon to
be explained is the struggle between the day-god and one of
the demons of darkness. There is essentially no distinction to
the mind of the primitive man between the Panis, who steal
Indra's bright cows and keep them in a dark cavern all night,
and the throttling snake Ahi or Echidna, who imprisons the
waters in the stronghold of the thunder-cloud and covers the
earth with a short-lived darkness. And so the poisoned arrows
of Bellerophon, which slay the storm-dragon, differ in no
essential respect from the shafts with which Odysseus
slaughters the night-demons who have for ten long hours beset
his mansion. Thus the divining-rod, representing as it does
the weapon of the god of day, comes legitimately enough by its
function of detecting and avenging crime.
But the lightning not only reveals strange treasures and gives
water to the thirsty land and makes plain what is doing under
cover of darkness; it also sometimes kills, benumbs, or
paralyzes. Thus the head of the Gorgon Medusa turns into stone
those who look upon it. Thus the ointment of the dervise, in
the tale of Baba Abdallah, not only reveals all the treasures
of the earth, but instantly thereafter blinds the unhappy man
who tests its powers. And thus the hand of glory, which bursts
open bars and bolts, benumbs also those who happen to be near
it. Indeed, few of the favoured mortals who were allowed to
visit the caverns opened by sesame or the luck-flower, escaped
without disaster. The monkish tale of "The Clerk and the
Image," in which the primeval mythical features are curiously
distorted, well illustrates this point.
In the city of Rome there formerly stood an image with its
right hand extended and on its forefinger the words "strike
here." Many wise men puzzled in vain over the meaning of the
inscription; but at last a certain priest observed that
whenever the sun shone on the figure, the shadow of the finger
was discernible on the ground at a little distance from the
statue. Having marked the spot, he waited until midnight, and
then began to dig. At last his spade struck upon something
hard. It was a trap-door, below which a flight of marble steps
descended into a spacious hall, where many men were sitting in
solemn silence amid piles of gold and diamonds and long rows
of enamelled vases. Beyond this he found another room, a
gynaecium filled with beautiful women reclining on richly
embroidered sofas; yet here, too, all was profound silence. A
superb banqueting-hall next met his astonished gaze; then a
silent kitchen; then granaries loaded with forage; then a
stable crowded with motionless horses. The whole place was
brilliantly lighted by a carbuncle which was suspended in one
corner of the reception-room; and opposite stood an archer,
with his bow and arrow raised, in the act of taking aim at the
jewel. As the priest passed back through this hall, he saw a
diamond-hilted knife lying on a marble table; and wishing to
carry away something wherewith to accredit his story, he
reached out his hand to take it; but no sooner had he touched
it than all was dark. The archer had shot with his arrow, the
bright jewel was shivered into a thousand pieces, the
staircase had fled, and the priest found himself buried
[49] Compare Spenser's story of Sir Guyon, in the "Faery
Queen," where, however, the knight fares better than this poor
priest. Usually these lightning-caverns were like Ixion's
treasure-house, into which none might look and live. This
conception is the foundation of part of the story of
Blue-Beard and of the Arabian tale of the third one-eyed
Usually, however, though the lightning is wont to strike dead,
with its basilisk glance, those who rashly enter its
mysterious caverns, it is regarded rather as a benefactor than
as a destroyer. The feelings with which the myth-making age
contemplated the thunder-shower as it revived the earth
paralyzed by a long drought, are shown in the myth of
Oidipous. The Sphinx, whose name signifies "the one who
binds," is the demon who sits on the cloud-rock and imprisons
the rain, muttering, dark sayings which none but the
all-knowing sun may understand. The flash of solar light which
causes the monster to fling herself down from the cliff with a
fearful roar, restores the land to prosperity. But besides
this, the association of the thunder-storm with the approach
of summer has produced many myths in which the lightning is
symbolized as the life-renewing wand of the victorious
sun-god. Hence the use of the divining-rod in the cure of
disease; and hence the large family of schamir-myths in which
the dead are restored to life by leaves or herbs. In Grimm's
tale of the Three Snake Leaves," a prince is buried alive
(like Sindbad) with his dead wife, and seeing a snake
approaching her body, he cuts it in three pieces. Presently
another snake, crawling from the corner, saw the other lying
dead, and going, away soon returned with three green leaves in
its mouth; then laying the parts of the body together so as to
join, it put one leaf on each wound, and the dead snake was
alive again. The prince, applying the leaves to his wife's
body, restores her also to life."[50] In the Greek story, told
by AElian and Apollodoros, Polyidos is shut up with the corpse
of Glaukos, which he is ordered to restore to life. He kills a
dragon which is approaching the body, but is presently
astonished at seeing another dragon come with a blade of grass
and place it upon its dead companion, which instantly rises
from the ground. Polyidos takes the same blade of grass, and
with it resuscitates Glaukos. The same incident occurs in the
Hindu story of Panch Phul Ranee, and in Fouque's "Sir Elidoc,"
which is founded on a Breton legend.
[50] Cox, Mythology of the Aryan Nations, Vol. 1. p. 161.
We need not wonder, then, at the extraordinary therapeutic
properties which are in all Aryan folk-lore ascribed to the
various lightning-plants. In Sweden sanitary amulets are made
of mistletoe-twigs, and the plant is supposed to be a specific
against epilepsy and an antidote for poisons. In Cornwall
children are passed through holes in ash-trees in order to
cure them of hernia. Ash rods are used in some parts of
England for the cure of diseased sheep, cows, and horses; and
in particular they are supposed to neutralize the venom of
serpents. The notion that snakes are afraid of an ash-tree is
not extinct even in the United States. The other day I was
told, not by an old granny, but by a man fairly educated and
endowed with a very unusual amount of good common-sense, that
a rattlesnake will sooner go through fire than creep over ash
leaves or into the shadow of an ash-tree. Exactly the same
statement is made by Piny, who adds that if you draw a circle
with an ash rod around the spot of ground on which a snake is
lying, the animal must die of starvation, being as effectually
imprisoned as Ugolino in the dungeon at Pisa. In Cornwall it
is believed that a blow from an ash stick will instantly kill
any serpent. The ash shares this virtue with the hazel and
fern. A Swedish peasant will tell you that snakes may be
deprived of their venom by a touch with a hazel wand; and when
an ancient Greek had occasion to make his bed in the woods, he
selected fern leaves if possible, in the belief that the smell
of them would drive away poisonous animals.[51]
[51] Kelly, Indo-European Folk-Lore, pp. 147, 183, 186, 193.
But the beneficent character of the lightning appears still
more clearly in another class of myths. To the primitive man
the shaft of light coming down from heaven was typical of the
original descent of fire for the benefit and improvement of
the human race. The Sioux Indians account for the origin of
fire by a myth of unmistakable kinship; they say that "their
first ancestor obtained his fire from the sparks which a
friendly panther struck from the rocks as he scampered up a
stony hill."[52] This panther is obviously the counterpart of
the Aryan bird which drops schamir. But the Aryan imagination
hit upon a far more remarkable conception. The ancient Hindus
obtained fire by a process similar to that employed by Count
Rumford in his experiments on the generation of heat by
friction. They first wound a couple of cords around a pointed
stick in such a way that the unwinding of the one would wind
up the other, and then, placing the point of the stick against
a circular disk of wood, twirled it rapidly by alternate pulls
on the two strings. This instrument is called a chark, and is
still used in South Africa,[53] in Australia, in Sumatra, and
among the Veddahs of Ceylon. The Russians found it in
Kamtchatka; and it was formerly employed in America, from
Labrador to the Straits of Magellan.[54] The Hindus churned
milk by a similar process;[55] and in order to explain the
thunder-storm, a Sanskrit poem tells how "once upon a time the
Devas, or gods, and their opponents, the Asuras, made a truce,
and joined together in churning the ocean to procure amrita,
the drink of immortality. They took Mount Mandara for a
churning-stick, and, wrapping the great serpent Sesha round it
for a rope, they made the mountain spin round to and fro, the
Devas pulling at the serpent's tail, and the Asuras at its
head."[56] In this myth the churning-stick, with its flying
serpent-cords, is the lightning, and the armrita, or drink of
immortality, is simply the rain-water, which in Aryan
folk-lore possesses the same healing virtues as the lightning.
"In Sclavonic myths it is the water of life which restores the
dead earth, a water brought by a bird from the depths of a
gloomy cave."[57] It is the celestial soma or mead which Indra
loves to drink; it is the ambrosial nectar of the Olympian
gods; it is the charmed water which in the Arabian Nights
restores to human shape the victims of wicked sorcerers; and
it is the elixir of life which mediaeval philosophers tried to
discover, and in quest of which Ponce de Leon traversed the
wilds of Florida.[58]
[52] Brinton, Myths of the New World, p. 151.
[53] Callaway, Zulu Nursery Tales, I. 173, Note 12.
[54] Tylor, Early History of Mankind, p. 238; Primitive
Culture, Vol. II. p. 254; Darwin, Naturalist's Voyage, p. 409.
"Jacky's next proceeding was to get some dry sticks and wood,
and prepare a fire, which, to George's astonishment, he
lighted thus. He got a block of wood, in the middle of which
he made a hole; then he cut and pointed a long stick, and
inserting the point into the block, worked it round between
his palms for some time and with increasing rapidity.
Presently there came a smell of burning wood, and soon after
it burst into a flame at the point of contact. Jacky cut
slices of shark and roasted them."--Reade, Never too Late to
Mend, chap. xxxviii.
[55] The production of fire by the drill is often called
churning, e. g. "He took the uvati [chark], and sat down and
churned it, and kindled a fire." Callaway, Zulu Nursery
Tales, I. 174.
[56] Kelly, Indo-European Folk-Lore, p. 39. Burnouf, Bhagavata
Purana, VIII. 6, 32.
[57] Baring-Gould, Curious Myths, p. 149.
[58] It is also the regenerating water of baptism, and the
"holy water " of the Roman Catholic.
The most interesting point in this Hindu myth is the name of
the peaked mountain Mandara, or Manthara, which the gods and
devils took for their churning-stick. The word means "a
churning-stick," and it appears also, with a prefixed
preposition, in the name of the fire-drill, pramantha. Now
Kuhn has proved that this name, pramantha, is etymologically
identical with Prometheus, the name of the beneficent Titan,
who stole fire from heaven and bestowed it upon mankind as the
richest of boons. This sublime personage was originally
nothing but the celestial drill which churns fire out of the
clouds; but the Greeks had so entirely forgotten his origin
that they interpreted his name as meaning "the one who thinks
beforehand," and accredited him with a brother, Epimetheus, or
"the one who thinks too late." The Greeks had adopted another
name, trypanon, for their fire-drill, and thus the primitive
character of Prometheus became obscured.
I have said above that it was regarded as absolutely essential
that the divining-rod should be forked. To this rule, however,
there was one exception, and if any further evidence be needed
to convince the most sceptical that the divining-rod is
nothing but a symbol of the lightning, that exception will
furnish such evidence. For this exceptional kind of
divining-rod was made of a pointed stick rotating in a block
of wood, and it was the presence of hidden water or treasure
which was supposed to excite the rotatory motion.
In the myths relating to Prometheus, the lightning-god appears
as the originator of civilization, sometimes as the creator of
the human race, and always as its friend,[59] suffering in its
behalf the most fearful tortures at the hands of the jealous
Zeus. In one story he creates man by making a clay image and
infusing into it a spark of the fire which he had brought from
heaven; in another story he is himself the first man. In the
Peloponnesian myth Phoroneus, who is Prometheus under another
name, is the first man, and his mother was an ash-tree. In
Norse mythology, also, the gods were said to have made the
first man out of the ash-tree Yggdrasil. The association of
the heavenly fire with the life-giving forces of nature is
very common in the myths of both hemispheres, and in view of
the facts already cited it need not surprise us. Hence the
Hindu Agni and the Norse Thor were patrons of marriage, and in
Norway, the most lucky day on which to be married is still
supposed to be Thursday, which in old times was the day of the
fire-god.[60] Hence the lightning-plants have divers virtues
in matters pertaining to marriage. The Romans made their
wedding torches of whitethorn; hazel-nuts are still used all
over Europe in divinations relating to the future lover or
sweetheart;[61] and under a mistletoe bough it is allowable
for a gentleman to kiss a lady. A vast number of kindred
superstitions are described by Mr. Kelly, to whom I am
indebted for many of these examples.[62]
[59] In the Vedas the rain-god Soma, originally the
personification of the sacrificial ambrosia, is the deity who
imparts to men life, knowledge, and happiness. See Breal,
Hercule et Cacus, p. 85. Tylor, Primitive Culture, Vol. II. p.
[60] We may, perhaps, see here the reason for making the Greek
fire-god Hephaistos the husband of Aphrodite.
[61] "Our country maidens are well aware that triple leaves
plucked at hazard from the common ash are worn in the breast,
for the purpose of causing prophetic dreams respecting a
dilatory lover. The leaves of the yellow trefoil are supposed
to possess similar virtues."--Harland and Wilkinson,
Lancashire Folk-Lore, p. 20.
[62] In Peru, a mighty and far-worshipped deity was Catequil,
the thunder-god, .... he who in thunder-flash and clap hurls
from his sling the small, round, smooth thunder-stones,
treasured in the villages as fire-fetishes and charms to
kindle the flames of love."--Tylor, op. cit. Vol. II. p. 239
Thus we reach at last the completed conception of the
divining-rod, or as it is called in this sense the wish-rod,
with its kindred talismans, from Aladdin's lamp and the purse
of Bedreddin Hassan, to the Sangreal, the philosopher's stone,
and the goblets of Oberon and Tristram. These symbols of the
reproductive energies of nature, which give to the possessor
every good and perfect gift, illustrate the uncurbed belief in
the power of wish which the ancient man shared with modern
children. In the Norse story of Frodi's quern, the myth
assumes a whimsical shape. The prose Edda tells of a primeval
age of gold, when everybody had whatever he wanted. This was
because the giant Frodi had a mill which ground out peace and
plenty and abundance of gold withal, so that it lay about the
roads like pebbles. Through the inexcusable avarice of Frodi,
this wonderful implement was lost to the world. For he kept
his maid-servants working at the mill until they got out of
patience, and began to make it grind out hatred and war. Then
came a mighty sea-rover by night and slew Frodi and carried
away the maids and the quern. When he got well out to sea, he
told them to grind out salt, and so they did with a vengeance.
They ground the ship full of salt and sank it, and so the
quern was lost forever, but the sea remains salt unto this
Mr. Kelly rightly identifies Frodi with the sun-god Fro or
Freyr, and observes that the magic mill is only another form
of the fire-churn, or chark. According to another version the
quern is still grinding away and keeping the sea salt, and
over the place where it lies there is a prodigious whirlpool
or maelstrom which sucks down ships.
In its completed shape, the lightning-wand is the caduceus, or
rod of Hermes. I observed, in the preceding paper, that in the
Greek conception of Hermes there have been fused together the
attributes of two deities who were originally distinct. The
Hermes of the Homeric Hymn is a wind-god; but the later Hermes
Agoraios, the patron of gymnasia, the mutilation of whose
statues caused such terrible excitement in Athens during the
Peloponnesian War, is a very different personage. He is a
fire-god, invested with many solar attributes, and represents
the quickening forces of nature. In this capacity the
invention of fire was ascribed to him as well as to
Prometheus; he was said to be the friend of mankind, and was
surnamed Ploutodotes, or "the giver of wealth."
The Norse wind-god Odin has in like manner acquired several of
the attributes of Freyr and Thor.[63] His lightning-spear,
which is borrowed from Thor, appears by a comical
metamorphosis as a wish-rod which will administer a sound
thrashing to the enemies of its possessor. Having cut a hazel
stick, you have only to lay down an old coat, name your
intended victim, wish he was there, and whack away: he will
howl with pain at every blow. This wonderful cudgel appears in
Dasent's tale of "The Lad who went to the North Wind," with
which we may conclude this discussion. The story is told, with
little variation, in Hindustan, Germany, and Scandinavia.
[63] In Polynesia, "the great deity Maui adds a new
complication to his enigmatic solar-celestial character by
appearing as a wind-god."--Tylor, op. cit. Vol. II. p. 242.
The North Wind, representing the mischievous Hermes, once blew
away a poor woman's meal. So her boy went to the North Wind
and demanded his rights for the meal his mother had lost. "I
have n't got your meal," said the Wind, "but here's a
tablecloth which will cover itself with an excellent dinner
whenever you tell it to." So the lad took the cloth and
started for home. At nightfall he stopped at an inn, spread
his cloth on the table, and ordered it to cover itself with
good things, and so it did. But the landlord, who thought it
would be money in his pocket to have such a cloth, stole it
after the boy had gone to bed, and substituted another just
like it in appearance. Next day the boy went home in great
glee to show off for his mother's astonishment what the North
Wind had given him, but all the dinner he got that day was
what the old woman cooked for him. In his despair he went back
to the North Wind and called him a liar, and again demanded
his rights for the meal he had lost. "I have n't got your
meal," said the Wind, "but here's a ram which will drop money
out of its fleece whenever you tell it to." So the lad
travelled home, stopping over night at the same inn, and when
he got home he found himself with a ram which did n't drop
coins out of its fleece. A third time he visited the North
Wind, and obtained a bag with a stick in it which, at the word
of command, would jump out of the bag and lay on until told to
stop. Guessing how matters stood as to his cloth and ram, he
turned in at the same tavern, and going to a bench lay down as
if to sleep. The landlord thought that a stick carried about
in a bag must be worth something, and so he stole quietly up
to the bag, meaning to get the stick out and change it. But
just as he got within whacking distance, the boy gave the
word, and out jumped the stick and beat the thief until he
promised to give back the ram and the tablecloth. And so the
boy got his rights for the meal which the North Wind had blown
away. October, 1870.
IT is related by Ovid that Lykaon, king of Arkadia, once
invited Zeus to dinner, and served up for him a dish of human
flesh, in order to test the god's omniscience. But the trick
miserably failed, and the impious monarch received the
punishment which his crime had merited. He was transformed
into a wolf, that he might henceforth feed upon the viands
with which he had dared to pollute the table of the king of
Olympos. From that time forth, according to Pliny, a noble
Arkadian was each year, on the festival of Zeus Lykaios, led
to the margin of a certain lake. Hanging his clothes upon a
tree, he then plunged into the water and became a wolf. For
the space of nine years he roamed about the adjacent woods,
and then, if he had not tasted human flesh during all this
time, he was allowed to swim back to the place where his
clothes were hanging, put them on, and return to his natural
form. It is further related of a certain Demainetos, that,
having once been present at a human sacrifice to Zeus Lykaios,
he ate of the flesh, and was transformed into a wolf for a
term of ten years.[64]
[64] Compare Plato, Republic, VIII. 15.
These and other similar mythical germs were developed by the
mediaeval imagination into the horrible superstition of
A werewolf, or loup-garou[65] was a person who had the power
of transforming himself into a wolf, being endowed, while in
the lupine state, with the intelligence of a man, the ferocity
of a wolf, and the irresistible strength of a demon. The
ancients believed in the existence of such persons; but in the
Middle Ages the metamorphosis was supposed to be a phenomenon
of daily occurrence, and even at the present day, in secluded
portions of Europe, the superstition is still cherished by
peasants. The belief, moreover, is supported by a vast amount
of evidence, which can neither be argued nor pooh-poohed into
insignificance. It is the business of the comparative
mythologist to trace the pedigree of the ideas from which such
a conception may have sprung; while to the critical historian
belongs the task of ascertaining and classifying the actual
facts which this particular conception was used to interpret.
[65] Were-wolf = man-wolf, wer meaning "man." Garou is a
Gallic corruption of werewolf, so that loup-garou is a
tautological expression.
The mediaeval belief in werewolves is especially adapted to
illustrate the complicated manner in which divers mythical
conceptions and misunderstood natural occurrences will combine
to generate a long-enduring superstition. Mr. Cox, indeed,
would have us believe that the whole notion arose from an
unintentional play upon words; but the careful survey of the
field, which has been taken by Hertz and Baring-Gould, leads
to the conclusion that many other circumstances have been at
work. The delusion, though doubtless purely mythical in its
origin, nevertheless presents in its developed state a curious
mixture of mythical and historical elements.
With regard to the Arkadian legend, taken by itself, Mr. Cox
is probably right. The story seems to belong to that large
class of myths which have been devised in order to explain the
meaning of equivocal words whose true significance has been
forgotten. The epithet Lykaios, as applied to Zeus, had
originally no reference to wolves: it means "the bright one,"
and gave rise to lycanthropic legends only because of the
similarity in sound between the names for "wolf" and
"brightness." Aryan mythology furnishes numerous other
instances of this confusion. The solar deity, Phoibos
Lykegenes, was originally the "offspring of light"; but
popular etymology made a kind of werewolf of him by
interpreting his name as the "wolf-born." The name of the hero
Autolykos means simply the "self-luminous"; but it was more
frequently interpreted as meaning "a very wolf," in allusion
to the supposed character of its possessor. Bazra, the name of
the citadel of Carthage, was the Punic word for "fortress";
but the Greeks confounded it with byrsa, "a hide," and hence
the story of the ox-hides cut into strips by Dido in order to
measure the area of the place to be fortified. The old theory
that the Irish were Phoenicians had a similar origin. The name
Fena, used to designate the old Scoti or Irish, is the plural
of Fion, "fair," seen in the name of the hero Fion Gall, or
"Fingal"; but the monkish chroniclers identified Fena with
phoinix, whence arose the myth; and by a like misunderstanding
of the epithet Miledh, or "warrior," applied to Fion by the
Gaelic bards, there was generated a mythical hero, Milesius,
and the soubriquet "Milesian," colloquially employed in
speaking of the Irish.[66] So the Franks explained the name of
the town Daras, in Mesopotamia, by the story that the Emperor
Justinian once addressed the chief magistrate with the
exclamation, daras, "thou shalt give":[67] the Greek
chronicler, Malalas, who spells the name Doras, informs us
with equal complacency that it was the place where Alexander
overcame Codomannus with dorn, "the spear." A certain passage
in the Alps is called Scaletta, from its resemblance to a
staircase; but according to a local tradition it owes its name
to the bleaching skeletons of a company of Moors who were
destroyed there in the eighth century, while attempting to
penetrate into Northern Italy. The name of Antwerp denotes the
town built at a "wharf"; but it sounds very much like the
Flemish handt werpen, "hand-throwing": "hence arose the legend
of the giant who cut of the hands of those who passed his
castle without paying him black-mail, and threw them into the
Scheldt."[68] In the myth of Bishop Hatto, related in a
previous paper, the Mause-thurm is a corruption of maut-thurm;
it means "customs-tower," and has nothing to do with mice or
rats. Doubtless this etymology was the cause of the floating
myth getting fastened to this particular place; that it did
not give rise to the myth itself is shown by the existence of
the same tale in other places. Somewhere in England there is a
place called Chateau Vert; the peasantry have corrupted it
into Shotover, and say that it has borne that name ever since
Little John shot over a high hill in the neighbourhood.[69]
Latium means "the flat land"; but, according to Virgil, it is
the place where Saturn once hid (latuisset) from the wrath of
his usurping son Jupiter.[70]
[66] Meyer, in Bunsen's Philosophy of Universal History, Vol.
I. p. 151.
[67] Aimoin, De Gestis Francorum, II. 5.
[68] Taylor, Words and Places, p. 393.
[69] Very similar to this is the etymological confusion upon
which is based the myth of the "confusion of tongues" in the
eleventh chapter of Genesis. The name "Babel" is really
Bab-Il, or "the gate of God"; but the Hebrew writer
erroneously derives the word from the root balal, "to
confuse"; and hence arises the mythical explanation,--that
Babel was a place where human speech became confused. See
Rawlinson, in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. I. p. 149;
Renan, Histoire des Langues Semitiques, Vol. I. p. 32;
Donaldson, New Cratylus, p. 74, note; Colenso on the
Pentateuch, Vol. IV. p. 268.
[70] Vilg. AEn. VIII. 322. With Latium compare plat?s, Skr.
prath (to spread out), Eng. flat. Ferrar, Comparative Grammar
of Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit, Vol. I. p. 31.
It was in this way that the constellation of the Great Bear
received its name. The Greek word arktos, answering to the
Sanskrit riksha, meant originally any bright object, and was
applied to the bear--for what reason it would not be easy to
state--and to that constellation which was most conspicuous in
the latitude of the early home of the Aryans. When the Greeks
had long forgotten why these stars were called arktoi, they
symbolized them as a Great Bear fixed in the sky. So that, as
Max Muller observes, "the name of the Arctic regions rests on
a misunderstanding of a name framed thousands of years ago in
Central Asia, and the surprise with which many a thoughtful
observer has looked at these seven bright stars, wondering why
they were ever called the Bear, is removed by a reference to
the early annals of human speech." Among the Algonquins the
sun-god Michabo was represented as a hare, his name being
compounded of michi, "great," and wabos, "a hare"; yet wabos
also meant "white," so that the god was doubtless originally
called simply "the Great White One." The same naive process
has made bears of the Arkadians, whose name, like that of the
Lykians, merely signified that they were "children of light";
and the metamorphosis of Kallisto, mother of Arkas, into a
bear, and of Lykaon into a wolf, rests apparently upon no
other foundation than an erroneous etymology. Originally
Lykaon was neither man nor wolf; he was but another form of
Phoibos Lykegenes, the light-born sun, and, as Mr. Cox has
shown, his legend is but a variation of that of Tantalos, who
in time of drought offers to Zeus the flesh of his own
offspring, the withered fruits, and is punished for his
It seems to me, however, that this explanation, though valid
as far as it goes, is inadequate to explain all the features
of the werewolf superstition, or to account for its presence
in all Aryan countries and among many peoples who are not of
Aryan origin. There can be no doubt that the myth-makers
transformed Lykaon into a wolf because of his unlucky name;
because what really meant "bright man" seemed to them to mean
"wolf-man"; but it has by no means been proved that a similar
equivocation occurred in the case of all the primitive Aryan
werewolves, nor has it been shown to be probable that among
each people the being with the uncanny name got thus
accidentally confounded with the particular beast most dreaded
by that people. Etymology alone does not explain the fact that
while Gaul has been the favourite haunt of the man-wolf,
Scandinavia has been preferred by the man-bear, and Hindustan
by the man-tiger. To account for such a widespread phenomenon
we must seek a more general cause.
Nothing is more strikingly characteristic of primitive
thinking than the close community of nature which it assumes
between man and brute. The doctrine of metempsychosis, which
is found in some shape or other all over the world, implies a
fundamental identity between the two; the Hindu is taught to
respect the flocks browsing in the meadow, and will on no
account lift his hand against a cow, for who knows but it may
he his own grandmother? The recent researches of Mr. M`Lennan
and Mr. Herbert Spencer have served to connect this feeling
with the primeval worship of ancestors and with the savage
customs of totemism.[71]
[71] M`Lennan, "The Worship of Animals and Plants,"
Fortnightly Review, N. S. Vol. VI. pp. 407-427, 562-582, Vol.
VII. pp 194-216; Spencer, "The Origin of Animal Worship," Id.
Vol. VII. pp. 535-550, reprinted in his Recent Discussions in
Science, etc., pp. 31-56.
The worship of ancestors seems to have been every where the
oldest systematized form of fetichistic religion. The
reverence paid to the chieftain of the tribe while living was
continued and exaggerated after his death The uncivilized man
is everywhere incapable of grasping the idea of death as it is
apprehended by civilized people. He cannot understand that a
man should pass away so as to be no longer capable of
communicating with his fellows. The image of his dead chief or
comrade remains in his mind, and the savage's philosophic
realism far surpasses that of the most extravagant mediaeval
schoolmen; to him the persistence of the idea implies the
persistence of the reality. The dead man, accordingly, is not
really dead; he has thrown off his body like a husk, yet still
retains his old appearance, and often shows himself to his old
friends, especially after nightfall. He is no doubt possessed
of more extensive powers than before his transformation,[72]
and may very likely have a share in regulating the weather,
granting or withholding rain. Therefore, argues the
uncivilized mind, he is to be cajoled and propitiated more
sedulously now than before his strange transformation.
[72] Thus is explained. the singular conduct of the Hindu, who
slays himself before his enemy's door, in order to acquire
greater power of injuring him. "A certain Brahman, on whose
lands a Kshatriya raja had built a house, ripped himself up in
revenge, and became a demon of the kind called Brahmadasyu,
who has been ever since the terror of the whole country, and
is the most common village-deity in Kharakpur. Toward the
close of the last century there were two Brahmans, out of
whose house a man had wrongfully, as they thought, taken forty
rupees; whereupon one of the Brahmans proceeded to cut off his
own mother's head, with the professed view, entertained by
both mother and son, that her spirit, excited by the beating
of a large drum during forty days might haunt, torment, and
pursue to death the taker of their money and those concerned
with him." Tylor, Primitive Culture, Vol. II. p. 103.
This kind of worship still maintains a languid existence as
the state religion of China, and it still exists as a portion
of Brahmanism; but in the Vedic religion it is to be seen in
all its vigour and in all its naive simplicity. According to
the ancient Aryan, the pitris, or "Fathers" (Lat. patres),
live in the sky along with Yama, the great original Pitri of
mankind. This first man came down from heaven in the
lightning, and back to heaven both himself and all his
offspring must have gone. There they distribute light unto men
below, and they shine themselves as stars; and hence the
Christianized German peasant, fifty centuries later, tells his
children that the stars are angels' eyes, and the English
cottager impresses it on the youthful mind that it is wicked
to point at the stars, though why he cannot tell. But the
Pitris are not stars only, nor do they content themselves with
idly looking down on the affairs of men, after the fashion of
the laissez-faire divinities of Lucretius. They are, on the
contrary, very busy with the weather; they send rain, thunder,
and lightning; and they especially delight in rushing over the
housetops in a great gale of wind, led on by their chief, the
mysterious huntsman, Hermes or Odin.
It has been elsewhere shown that the howling dog, or
wish-hound of Hermes, whose appearance under the windows of a
sick person is such an alarming portent, is merely the tempest
personified. Throughout all Aryan mythology the souls of the
dead are supposed to ride on the night-wind, with their
howling dogs, gathering into their throng the souls of those
just dying as they pass by their houses.[73] Sometimes the
whole complex conception is wrapped up in the notion of a
single dog, the messenger of the god of shades, who comes to
summon the departing soul. Sometimes, instead of a dog, we
have a great ravening wolf who comes to devour its victim and
extinguish the sunlight of life, as that old wolf of the tribe
of Fenrir devoured little Red Riding-Hood with her robe of
scarlet twilight.[74] Thus we arrive at a true werewolf myth.
The storm-wind, or howling Rakshasa of Hindu folk-lore, is "a
great misshapen giant with red beard and red hair, with
pointed protruding teeth, ready to lacerate and devour human
flesh; his body is covered with coarse, bristling hair, his
huge mouth is open, he looks from side to side as he walks,
lusting after the flesh and blood of men, to satisfy his
raging hunger and quench his consuming thirst. Towards
nightfall his strength increases manifold; he can change his
shape at will; he haunts the woods, and roams howling through
the jungle."[75]
[73] Hence, in many parts of Europe, it is still customary to
open the windows when a person dies, in order that the soul
may not be hindered in joining the mystic cavalcade.
[74] The story of little Red Riding-Hood is "mutilated in the
English version, but known more perfectly by old wives in
Germany, who can tell that the lovely little maid in her
shining red satin cloak was swallowed with her grandmother by
the wolf, till they both came out safe and sound when the
hunter cut open the sleeping beast." Tylor, Primitive
Culture, I. 307, where also see the kindred Russian story of
Vasilissa the Beautiful. Compare the case of Tom Thumb, who
"was swallowed by the cow and came out unhurt"; the story of
Saktideva swallowed by the fish and cut out again, in Somadeva
Bhatta, II. 118-184; and the story of Jonah swallowed by the
whale, in the Old Testament. All these are different versions
of the same myth, and refer to the alternate swallowing up and
casting forth of Day by Night, which is commonly personified
as a wolf, and now and then as a great fish. Compare Grimm's
story of the Wolf and Seven Kids, Tylor, loc. cit., and see
Early History of Mankind, p. 337; Hardy, Manual of Budhism, p.
[75] Baring-Gould, Book of Werewolves, p. 178; Muir, Sanskrit
Texts, II. 435.
Now if the storm-wind is a host of Pitris, or one great Pitri
who appears as a fearful giant, and is also a pack of wolves
or wish-hounds, or a single savage dog or wolf, the inference
is obvious to the mythopoeic mind that men may become wolves,
at least after death. And to the uncivilized thinker this
inference is strengthened, as Mr. Spencer has shown, by
evidence registered on his own tribal totem or heraldic
emblem. The bears and lions and leopards of heraldry are the
degenerate descendants of the totem of savagery which
designated the tribe by a beast-symbol. To the untutored mind
there is everything in a name; and the descendant of Brown
Bear or Yellow Tiger or Silver Hyaena cannot be pronounced
unfaithful to his own style of philosophizing, if he regards
his ancestors, who career about his hut in the darkness of
night, as belonging to whatever order of beasts his totem
associations may suggest.
Thus we not only see a ray of light thrown on the subject of
metempsychosis, but we get a glimpse of the curious process by
which the intensely realistic mind of antiquity arrived at the
notion that men could be transformed into beasts. For the
belief that the soul can temporarily quit the body during
lifetime has been universally entertained; and from the
conception of wolf-like ghosts it was but a short step to the
conception of corporeal werewolves. In the Middle Ages the
phenomena of trance and catalepsy were cited in proof of the
theory that the soul can leave the body and afterwards return
to it. Hence it was very difficult for a person accused of
witchcraft to prove an alibi; for to any amount of evidence
showing that the body was innocently reposing at home and in
bed, the rejoinder was obvious that the soul may nevertheless
have been in attendance at the witches' Sabbath or busied in
maiming a neighbour's cattle. According to one mediaeval
notion, the soul of the werewolf quit its human body, which
remained in a trance until its return.[76]
[76] In those days even an after-dinner nap seems to have been
thought uncanny. See Dasent, Burnt Njal, I. xxi.
The mythological basis of the werewolf superstition is now, I
believe, sufficiently indicated. The belief, however, did not
reach its complete development, or acquire its most horrible
features, until the pagan habits of thought which had
originated it were modified by contact with Christian
theology. To the ancient there was nothing necessarily
diabolical in the transformation of a man into a beast. But
Christianity, which retained such a host of pagan conceptions
under such strange disguises, which degraded the "All-father"
Odin into the ogre of the castle to which Jack climbed on his
bean-stalk, and which blended the beneficent lightning-god
Thor and the mischievous Hermes and the faun-like Pan into the
grotesque Teutonic Devil, did not fail to impart a new and
fearful character to the belief in werewolves. Lycanthropy
became regarded as a species of witchcraft; the werewolf was
supposed to have obtained his peculiar powers through the
favour or connivance of the Devil; and hundreds of persons
were burned alive or broken on the wheel for having availed
themselves of the privilege of beast-metamorphosis. The
superstition, thus widely extended and greatly intensified,
was confirmed by many singular phenomena which cannot be
omitted from any thorough discussion of the nature and causes
of lycanthropy.
The first of these phenomena is the Berserker insanity,
characteristic of Scandinavia, but not unknown in other
countries. In times when killing one's enemies often formed a
part of the necessary business of life, persons were
frequently found who killed for the mere love of the thing;
with whom slaughter was an end desirable in itself, not merely
a means to a desirable end. What the miser is in an age which
worships mammon, such was the Berserker in an age when the
current idea of heaven was that of a place where people could
hack each other to pieces through all eternity, and when the
man who refused a challenge was punished with confiscation of
his estates. With these Northmen, in the ninth century, the
chief business and amusement in life was to set sail for some
pleasant country, like Spain or France, and make all the
coasts and navigable rivers hideous with rapine and massacre.
When at home, in the intervals between their freebooting
expeditions, they were liable to become possessed by a strange
homicidal madness, during which they would array themselves in
the skins of wolves or bears, and sally forth by night to
crack the backbones, smash the skulls, and sometimes to drink
with fiendish glee the blood of unwary travellers or
loiterers. These fits of madness were usually followed by
periods of utter exhaustion and nervous depression.[77]
[77] See Dasent, Burnt Njai, Vol. I. p. xxii.; Grettis Saga,
by Magnusson and Morris, chap. xix.; Viga Glum's Saga, by Sir
Edmund Head, p. 13, note, where the Berserkers are said to
have maddened themselves with drugs. Dasent compares them with
the Malays, who work themselves into a frenzy by means of
arrack, or hasheesh, and run amuck.
Such, according to the unanimous testimony of historians, was
the celebrated "Berserker rage," not peculiar to the
Northland, although there most conspicuously manifested.
Taking now a step in advance, we find that in comparatively
civilized countries there have been many cases of monstrous
homicidal insanity. The two most celebrated cases, among those
collected by Mr. Baring-Gould, are those of the Marechal de
Retz, in 1440, and of Elizabeth, a Hungarian countess, in the
seventeenth century. The Countess Elizabeth enticed young
girls into her palace on divers pretexts, and then coolly
murdered them, for the purpose of bathing in their blood. The
spectacle of human suffering became at last such a delight to
her, that she would apply with her own hands the most
excruciating tortures, relishing the shrieks of her victims as
the epicure relishes each sip of his old Chateau Margaux. In
this way she is said to have murdered six hundred and fifty
persons before her evil career was brought to an end; though,
when one recollects the famous men in buckram and the
notorious trio of crows, one is inclined to strike off a
cipher, and regard sixty-five as a sufficiently imposing and
far less improbable number. But the case of the Marechal de
Retz is still more frightful. A marshal of France, a scholarly
man, a patriot, and a man of holy life, he became suddenly
possessed by an uncontrollable desire to murder children.
During seven years he continued to inveigle little boys and
girls into his castle, at the rate of about TWO EACH WEEK, (?)
and then put them to death in various ways, that he might
witness their agonies and bathe in their blood; experiencing
after each occasion the most dreadful remorse, but led on by
an irresistible craving to repeat the crime. When this
unparalleled iniquity was finally brought to light, the castle
was found to contain bins full of children's bones. The
horrible details of the trial are to be found in the histories
of France by Michelet and Martin.
Going a step further, we find cases in which the propensity to
murder has been accompanied by cannibalism. In 1598 a tailor
of Chalons was sentenced by the parliament of Paris to be
burned alive for lycanthropy. "This wretched man had decoyed
children into his shop, or attacked them in the gloaming when
they strayed in the woods, had torn them with his teeth and
killed them, after which he seems calmly to have dressed their
flesh as ordinary meat, and to have eaten it with a great
relish. The number of little innocents whom he destroyed is
unknown. A whole caskful of bones was discovered in his
house."[78] About 1850 a beggar in the village of Polomyia, in
Galicia, was proved to have killed and eaten fourteen
children. A house had one day caught fire and burnt to the
ground, roasting one of the inmates, who was unable to escape.
The beggar passed by soon after, and, as he was suffering from
excessive hunger, could not resist the temptation of making a
meal off the charred body. From that moment he was tormented
by a craving for human flesh. He met a little orphan girl,
about nine years old, and giving her a pinchbeck ring told her
to seek for others like it under a tree in the neighbouring
wood. She was slain, carried to the beggar's hovel, and eaten.
In the course of three years thirteen other children
mysteriously disappeared, but no one knew whom to suspect. At
last an innkeeper missed a pair of ducks, and having no good
opinion of this beggar's honesty, went unexpectedly to his
cabin, burst suddenly in at the door, and to his horror found
him in the act of hiding under his cloak a severed head; a
bowl of fresh blood stood under the oven, and pieces of a
thigh were cooking over the fire.[79]
[78] Baring-Gould, Werewolves, p. 81.
[79] Baring-Gould, op. cit. chap. xiv.
This occurred only about twenty years ago, and the criminal,
though ruled by an insane appetite, is not known to have been
subject to any mental delusion. But there have been a great
many similar cases, in which the homicidal or cannibal craving
has been accompanied by genuine hallucination. Forms of
insanity in which the afflicted persons imagine themselves to
be brute animals are not perhaps very common, but they are not
unknown. I once knew a poor demented old man who believed
himself to be a horse, and would stand by the hour together
before a manger, nibbling hay, or deluding himself with the
presence of so doing. Many of the cannibals whose cases are
related by Mr. Baring-Gould, in his chapter of horrors,
actually believed themselves to have been transformed into
wolves or other wild animals. Jean Grenier was a boy of
thirteen, partially idiotic, and of strongly marked canine
physiognomy; his jaws were large and projected forward, and
his canine teeth were unnaturally long, so as to protrude
beyond the lower lip. He believed himself to be a werewolf.
One evening, meeting half a dozen young girls, he scared them
out of their wits by telling them that as soon as the sun had
set he would turn into a wolf and eat them for supper. A few
days later, one little girl, having gone out at nightfall to
look after the sheep, was attacked by some creature which in
her terror she mistook for a wolf, but which afterwards proved
to be none other than Jean Grenier. She beat him off with her
sheep-staff, and fled home. As several children had
mysteriously disappeared from the neighbourhood, Grenier was
at once suspected. Being brought before the parliament of
Bordeaux, he stated that two years ago he had met the Devil
one night in the woods and had signed a compact with him and
received from him a wolf-skin. Since then he had roamed about
as a wolf after dark, resuming his human shape by daylight. He
had killed and eaten several children whom he had found alone
in the fields, and on one occasion he had entered a house
while the family were out and taken the baby from its cradle.
A careful investigation proved the truth of these statements,
so far as the cannibalism was concerned. There is no doubt
that the missing children were eaten by Jean Grenier, and
there is no doubt that in his own mind the halfwitted boy was
firmly convinced that he was a wolf. Here the lycanthropy was
In the year 1598, "in a wild and unfrequented spot near Caude,
some countrymen came one day upon the corpse of a boy of
fifteen, horribly mutilated and bespattered with blood. As the
men approached, two wolves, which had been rending the body,
bounded away into the thicket. The men gave chase immediately,
following their bloody tracks till they lost them; when,
suddenly crouching among the bushes, his teeth chattering with
fear, they found a man half naked, with long hair and beard,
and with his hands dyed in blood. His nails were long as
claws, and were clotted with fresh gore and shreds of human
[80] Baring-Gould, op. cit. p. 82.
This man, Jacques Roulet, was a poor, half-witted creature
under the dominion of a cannibal appetite. He was employed in
tearing to pieces the corpse of the boy when these countrymen
came up. Whether there were any wolves in the case, except
what the excited imaginations of the men may have conjured up,
I will not presume to determine; but it is certain that Roulet
supposed himself to be a wolf, and killed and ate several
persons under the influence of the delusion. He was sentenced
to death, but the parliament of Paris reversed the sentence,
and charitably shut him up in a madhouse.
The annals of the Middle Ages furnish many cases similar to
these of Grenier and Roulet. Their share in maintaining the
werewolf superstition is undeniable; but modern science finds
in them nothing that cannot be readily explained. That
stupendous process of breeding, which we call civilization,
has been for long ages strengthening those kindly social
feelings by the possession of which we are chiefly
distinguished from the brutes, leaving our primitive bestial
impulses to die for want of exercise, or checking in every
possible way their further expansion by legislative
enactments. But this process, which is transforming us from
savages into civilized men, is a very slow one; and now and
then there occur cases of what physiologists call atavism, or
reversion to an ancestral type of character. Now and then
persons are born, in civilized countries, whose intellectual
powers are on a level with those of the most degraded
Australian savage, and these we call idiots. And now and then
persons are born possessed of the bestial appetites and
cravings of primitive man, his fiendish cruelty and his liking
for human flesh. Modern physiology knows how to classify and
explain these abnormal cases, but to the unscientific
mediaeval mind they were explicable only on the hypothesis of
a diabolical metamorphosis. And there is nothing strange in
the fact that, in an age when the prevailing habits of thought
rendered the transformation of men into beasts an easily
admissible notion, these monsters of cruelty and depraved
appetite should have been regarded as capable of taking on
bestial forms. Nor is it strange that the hallucination under
which these unfortunate wretches laboured should have taken
such a shape as to account to their feeble intelligence for
the existence of the appetites which they were conscious of
not sharing with their neighbours and contemporaries. If a
myth is a piece of unscientific philosophizing, it must
sometimes be applied to the explanation of obscure
psychological as well as of physical phenomena. Where the
modern calmly taps his forehead and says, "Arrested
development," the terrified ancient made the sign of the cross
and cried, "Werewolf."
We shall be assisted in this explanation by turning aside for
a moment to examine the wild superstitions about
"changelings," which contributed, along with so many others,
to make the lives of our ancestors anxious and miserable.
These superstitions were for the most part attempts to explain
the phenomena of insanity, epilepsy, and other obscure nervous
diseases. A man who has hitherto enjoyed perfect health, and
whose actions have been consistent and rational, suddenly
loses all self-control and seems actuated by a will foreign to
himself. Modern science possesses the key to this phenomenon;
but in former times it was explicable only on the hypothesis
that a demon had entered the body of the lunatic, or else that
the fairies had stolen the real man and substituted for him a
diabolical phantom exactly like him in stature and features.
Hence the numerous legends of changelings, some of which are
very curious. In Irish folk-lore we find the story of one
Rickard, surnamed the Rake, from his worthless character. A
good-natured, idle fellow, he spent all his evenings in
dancing,--an accomplishment in which no one in the village
could rival him. One night, in the midst of a lively reel, he
fell down in a fit. "He's struck with a fairy-dart,"
exclaimed all the friends, and they carried him home and
nursed him; but his face grew so thin and his manner so morose
that by and by all began to suspect that the true Rickard was
gone and a changeling put in his place. Rickard, with all his
accomplishments, was no musician; and so, in order to put the
matter to a crucial test, a bagpipe was left in the room by
the side of his bed. The trick succeeded. One hot summer's
day, when all were supposed to be in the field making hay,
some members of the family secreted in a clothes-press saw the
bedroom door open a little way, and a lean, foxy face, with a
pair of deep-sunken eyes, peer anxiously about the premises.
Having satisfied itself that the coast was clear, the face
withdrew, the door was closed, and presently such ravishing
strains of music were heard as never proceeded from a bagpipe
before or since that day. Soon was heard the rustle of
innumerable fairies, come to dance to the changeling's music.
Then the "fairy-man" of the village, who was keeping watch
with the family, heated a pair of tongs red-hot, and with
deafening shouts all burst at once into the sick-chamber. The
music had ceased and the room was empty, but in at the window
glared a fiendish face, with such fearful looks of hatred,
that for a moment all stood motionless with terror. But when
the fairy-man, recovering himself, advanced with the hot tongs
to pinch its nose, it vanished with an unearthly yell, and
there on the bed was Rickard, safe and sound, and cured of his
[81] Kennedy, Fictions of the Irish Celts, p. 90.
Comparing this legend with numerous others relating to
changelings, and stripping off the fantastic garb of
fairy-lore with which popular imagination has invested them,
it seems impossible to doubt that they have arisen from myths
devised for the purpose of explaining the obscure phenomena of
mental disease. If this be so, they afford an excellent
collateral illustration of the belief in werewolves. The same
mental habits which led men to regard the insane or epileptic
person as a changeling, and which allowed them to explain
catalepsy as the temporary departure of a witch's soul from
its body, would enable them to attribute a wolf's nature to
the maniac or idiot with cannibal appetites. And when the
myth-forming process had got thus far, it would not stop short
of assigning to the unfortunate wretch a tangible lupine body;
for all ancient mythology teemed with precedents for such a
It remains for us to sum up,--to tie into a bunch the keys
which have helped us to penetrate into the secret causes of
the werewolf superstition. In a previous paper we saw what a
host of myths, fairy-tales, and superstitious observances have
sprung from attempts to interpret one simple natural
phenomenon,--the descent of fire from the clouds. Here, on the
other hand, we see what a heterogeneous multitude of mythical
elements may combine to build up in course of time a single
enormous superstition, and we see how curiously fact and fancy
have co-operated in keeping the superstition from falling. In
the first place the worship of dead ancestors with wolf totems
originated the notion of the transformation of men into divine
or superhuman wolves; and this notion was confirmed by the
ambiguous explanation of the storm-wind as the rushing of a
troop of dead men's souls or as the howling of wolf-like
monsters. Mediaeval Christianity retained these conceptions,
merely changing the superhuman wolves into evil demons; and
finally the occurrence of cases of Berserker madness and
cannibalism, accompanied by lycanthropic hallucinations, being
interpreted as due to such demoniacal metamorphosis, gave rise
to the werewolf superstition of the Middle Ages. The
etymological proceedings, to which Mr. Cox would incontinently
ascribe the origin of the entire superstition, seemed to me to
have played a very subordinate part in the matter. To suppose
that Jean Grenier imagined himself to be a wolf, because the
Greek word for wolf sounded like the word for light, and thus
gave rise to the story of a light-deity who became a wolf,
seems to me quite inadmissible. Yet as far as such verbal
equivocations may have prevailed, they doubtless helped to
sustain the delusion.
Thus we need no longer regard our werewolf as an inexplicable
creature of undetermined pedigree. But any account of him
would be quite imperfect which should omit all consideration
of the methods by which his change of form was accomplished.
By the ancient Romans the werewolf was commonly called a
"skin-changer" or "turn-coat" (versipellis), and similar
epithets were applied to him in the Middle Ages The mediaeval
theory was that, while the werewolf kept his human form, his
hair grew inwards; when he wished to become a wolf, he simply
turned himself inside out. In many trials on record, the
prisoners were closely interrogated as to how this inversion
might be accomplished; but I am not aware that any one of them
ever gave a satisfactory answer. At the moment of change their
memories seem to have become temporarily befogged. Now and
then a poor wretch had his arms and legs cut off, or was
partially flayed, in order that the ingrowing hair might be
detected.[82] Another theory was, that the possessed person
had merely to put on a wolf's skin, in order to assume
instantly the lupine form and character; and in this may
perhaps be seen a vague reminiscence of the alleged fact that
Berserkers were in the habit of haunting the woods by night,
clothed in the hides of wolves or bears.[83] Such a wolfskin
was kept by the boy Grenier. Roulet, on the other hand,
confessed to using a magic salve or ointment. A fourth method
of becoming a werewolf was to obtain a girdle, usually made of
human skin. Several cases are related in Thorpe's "Northern
Mythology." One hot day in harvest-time some reapers lay down
to sleep in the shade; when one of them, who could not sleep,
saw the man next him arise quietly and gird him with a strap,
whereupon he instantly vanished, and a wolf jumped up from
among the sleepers and ran off across the fields. Another man,
who possessed such a girdle, once went away from home without
remembering to lock it up. His little son climbed up to the
cupboard and got it, and as he proceeded to buckle it around
his waist, he became instantly transformed into a
strange-looking beast. Just then his father came in, and
seizing the girdle restored the child to his natural shape.
The boy said that no sooner had he buckled it on than he was
tormented with a raging hunger.
[82] "En 1541, a Padoue, dit Wier, un homme qui se croyait
change en loup courait la campagne, attaquant et mettant a
mort ceux qu'il rencontrait. Apres bien des difficultes, on
parvint s'emparer de lui. Il dit en confidence a ceux qui
l'arreterent: Je suis vraiment un loup, et si ma peau ne
parait pas etre celle d'un loup, c'est parce qu'elle est
retournee et que les poils sont en dedans.--Pour s'assurer du
fait, on coupa le malheureux aux differentes parties du corps,
on lui emporta les bras et les jambes."--Taine, De
l'Intelligence, Tom. II. p. 203. See the account of Slavonic
werewolves in Ralston, Songs of the Russian People, pp.
[83] Mr. Cox, whose scepticism on obscure points in history
rather surpasses that of Sir G. C. Lewis, dismisses with a
sneer the subject of the Berserker madness, observing that
"the unanimous testimony of the Norse historians is worth as
much and as little as the convictions of Glanvil and Hale on
the reality of witchcraft." I have not the special knowledge
requisite for pronouncing an opinion on this point, but Mr.
Cox's ordinary methods of disposing of such questions are not
such as to make one feel obliged to accept his bare assertion,
unaccompanied by critical arguments. The madness of the
bearsarks may, no doubt, be the same thing us the frenzy of
Herakles; but something more than mere dogmatism is needed to
prove it.
Sometimes the werewolf transformation led to unlucky
accidents. At Caseburg, as a man and his wife were making hay,
the woman threw down her pitchfork and went away, telling her
husband that if a wild beast should come to him during her
absence he must throw his hat at it. Presently a she-wolf
rushed towards him. The man threw his hat at it, but a boy
came up from another part of the field and stabbed the animal
with his pitchfork, whereupon it vanished, and the woman's
dead body lay at his feet.
A parallel legend shows that this woman wished to have the hat
thrown at her, in order that she might be henceforth free from
her liability to become a werewolf. A man was one night
returning with his wife from a merry-making when he felt the
change coming on. Giving his wife the reins, he jumped from
the wagon, telling her to strike with her apron at any animal
which might come to her. In a few moments a wolf ran up to the
side of the vehicle, and, as the woman struck out with her
apron, it bit off a piece and ran away. Presently the man
returned with the piece of apron in his mouth and consoled his
terrified wife with the information that the enchantment had
left him forever.
A terrible case at a village in Auvergne has found its way
into the annals of witchcraft. "A gentleman while hunting was
suddenly attacked by a savage wolf of monstrous size.
Impenetrable by his shot, the beast made a spring upon the
helpless huntsman, who in the struggle luckily, or unluckily
for the unfortunate lady, contrived to cut off one of its
fore-paws. This trophy he placed in his pocket, and made the
best of his way homewards in safety. On the road he met a
friend, to whom he exhibited a bleeding paw, or rather (as it
now appeared) a woman's hand, upon which was a wedding-ring.
His wife's ring was at once recognized by the other. His
suspicions aroused, he immediately went in search of his wife,
who was found sitting by the fire in the kitchen, her arm
hidden beneath her apron, when the husband, seizing her by the
arm, found his terrible suspicions verified. The bleeding
stump was there, evidently just fresh from the wound. She was
given into custody, and in the event was burned at Riom, in
presence of thousands of spectators."[84]
[84] Williams, Superstitions of Witchcraft, p. 179. See a
parallel case of a cat-woman, in Thorpe's Northern Mythology,
II. 26. "Certain witches at Thurso for a long time tormented
an honest fellow under the usual form of cats, till one night
he put them to flight with his broadsword, and cut off the leg
of one less nimble than the rest; taking it up, to his
amazement he found it to be a woman's leg, and next morning he
discovered the old hag its owner with but one leg
left."--Tylor, Primitive Culture, I. 283.
Sometimes a werewolf was cured merely by recognizing him while
in his brute shape. A Swedish legend tells of a cottager who,
on entering the forest one day without recollecting to say his
Patter Noster, got into the power of a Troll, who changed him
into a wolf. For many years his wife mourned him as dead. But
one Christmas eve the old Troll, disguised as a beggarwoman,
came to the house for alms; and being taken in and kindly
treated, told the woman that her husband might very likely
appear to her in wolf-shape. Going at night to the pantry to
lay aside a joint of meat for tomorrow's dinner, she saw a
wolf standing with its paws on the window-sill, looking
wistfully in at her. "Ah, dearest," said she, "if I knew that
thou wert really my husband, I would give thee a bone."
Whereupon the wolf-skin fell off, and her husband stood before
her in the same old clothes which he had on the day that the
Troll got hold of him.
In Denmark it was believed that if a woman were to creep
through a colt's placental membrane stretched between four
sticks, she would for the rest of her life bring forth
children without pain or illness; but all the boys would in
such case be werewolves, and all the girls Maras, or
nightmares. In this grotesque superstition appears that
curious kinship between the werewolf and the wife or maiden of
supernatural race, which serves admirably to illustrate the
nature of both conceptions, and the elucidation of which shall
occupy us throughout the remainder of this paper.
It is, perhaps, needless to state that in the personality of
the nightmare, or Mara, there was nothing equine. The Mara was
a female demon,[85] who would come at night and torment men or
women by crouching on their chests or stomachs and stopping
their respiration. The scene is well enough represented in
Fuseli's picture, though the frenzied-looking horse which
there accompanies the demon has no place in the original
superstition. A Netherlandish story illustrates the character
of the Mara. Two young men were in love with the same damsel.
One of them, being tormented every night by a Mara, sought
advice from his rival, and it was a treacherous counsel that
he got. "Hold a sharp knife with the point towards your
breast, and you'll never see the Mara again," said this false
friend. The lad thanked him, but when he lay down to rest he
thought it as well to be on the safe side, and so held the
knife handle downward. So when the Mara came, instead of
forcing the blade into his breast, she cut herself badly, and
fled howling; and let us hope, though the legend here leaves
us in the dark, that this poor youth, who is said to have been
the comelier of the two, revenged himself on his malicious
rival by marrying the young lady.
[85] "The mare in nightmare means spirit, elf, or nymph;
compare Anglo-Saxon wudurmaere (wood-mare) = echo."--Tylor,
Primitive Culture, Vol. II. p. 173.
But the Mara sometimes appeared in less revolting shape, and
became the mistress or even the wife of some mortal man to
whom she happened to take a fancy. In such cases she would
vanish on being recognized. There is a well-told monkish tale
of a pious knight who, journeying one day through the forest,
found a beautiful lady stripped naked and tied to a tree, her
back all covered with deep gashes streaming with blood, from a
flogging which some bandits had given her. Of course he took
her home to his castle and married her, and for a while they
lived very happily together, and the fame of the lady's beauty
was so great that kings and emperors held tournaments in honor
of her. But this pious knight used to go to mass every Sunday,
and greatly was he scandalized when he found that his wife
would never stay to assist in the Credo, but would always get
up and walk out of church just as the choir struck up. All her
husband's coaxing was of no use; threats and entreaties were
alike powerless even to elicit an explanation of this strange
conduct. At last the good man determined to use force; and so
one Sunday, as the lady got up to go out, according to custom,
he seized her by the arm and sternly commanded her to remain.
Her whole frame was suddenly convulsed, and her dark eyes
gleamed with weird, unearthly brilliancy. The services paused
for a moment, and all eyes were turned toward the knight and
his lady. "In God's name, tell me what thou art," shouted the
knight; and instantly, says the chronicler, "the bodily form
of the lady melted away, and was seen no more; whilst, with a
cry of anguish and of terror, an evil spirit of monstrous form
rose from the ground, clave the chapel roof asunder, and
disappeared in the air."
In a Danish legend, the Mara betrays her affinity to the
Nixies, or Swan-maidens. A peasant discovered that his
sweetheart was in the habit of coming to him by night as a
Mara. He kept strict watch until he discovered her creeping
into the room through a small knot-hole in the door. Next day
he made a peg, and after she had come to him, drove in the peg
so that she was unable to escape. They were married and lived
together many years; but one night it happened that the man,
joking with his wife about the way in which he had secured
her, drew the peg from the knot-hole, that she might see how
she had entered his room. As she peeped through, she became
suddenly quite small, passed out, and was never seen again.
The well-known pathological phenomena of nightmare are
sufficient to account for the mediaeval theory of a fiend who
sits upon one's bosom and hinders respiration; but as we
compare these various legends relating to the Mara, we see
that a more recondite explanation is needed to account for all
her peculiarities. Indigestion may interfere with our
breathing, but it does not make beautiful women crawl through
keyholes, nor does it bring wives from the spirit-world. The
Mara belongs to an ancient family, and in passing from the
regions of monkish superstition to those of pure mythology we
find that, like her kinsman the werewolf, she had once seen
better days. Christianity made a demon of the Mara, and
adopted the theory that Satan employed these seductive
creatures as agents for ruining human souls. Such is the
character of the knight's wife, in the monkish legend just
cited. But in the Danish tale the Mara appears as one of that
large family of supernatural wives who are permitted to live
with mortal men under certain conditions, but who are
compelled to flee away when these conditions are broken, as is
always sure to be the case. The eldest and one of the
loveliest of this family is the Hindu nymph Urvasi, whose love
adventures with Pururavas are narrated in the Puranas, and
form the subject of the well-known and exquisite Sanskrit
drama by Kalidasa. Urvasi is allowed to live with Pururavas so
long as she does not see him undressed. But one night her
kinsmen, the Gandharvas, or cloud-demons, vexed at her long
absence from heaven, resolved to get her away from her mortal
companion, They stole a pet lamb which had been tied at the
foot of her couch, whereat she bitterly upbraided her husband.
In rage and mortification, Pururavas sprang up without
throwing on his tunic, and grasping his sword sought the
robber. Then the wicked Gandharvas sent a flash of lightning,
and Urvasi, seeing her naked husband, instantly vanished.
The different versions of this legend, which have been
elaborately analyzed by comparative mythologists, leave no
doubt that Urvasi is one of the dawn-nymphs or bright fleecy
clouds of early morning, which vanish as the splendour of the
sun is unveiled. We saw, in the preceding paper, that the
ancient Aryans regarded the sky as a sea or great lake, and
that the clouds were explained variously as Phaiakian ships
with bird-like beaks sailing over this lake, or as bright
birds of divers shapes and hues. The light fleecy cirrhi were
regarded as mermaids, or as swans, or as maidens with swan's
plumage. In Sanskrit they are called Apsaras, or "those who
move in the water," and the Elves and Maras of Teutonic
mythology have the same significance. Urvasi appears in one
legend as a bird; and a South German prescription for getting
rid of the Mara asserts that if she be wrapped up in the
bedclothes and firmly held, a white dove will forthwith fly
from the room, leaving the bedclothes empty.[86]
[86] See Kuhn, Herabkunft des Feuers, p. 91; Weber, Indische
Studien. I. 197; Wolf, Beitrage zur deutschen Mythologie, II.
233-281 Muller, Chips, II. 114-128.
In the story of Melusina the cloud-maiden appears as a kind of
mermaid, but in other respects the legend resembles that of
Urvasi. Raymond, Count de la Foret, of Poitou, having by an
accident killed his patron and benefactor during a hunting
excursion, fled in terror and despair into the deep recesses
of the forest. All the afternoon and evening he wandered
through the thick dark woods, until at midnight he came upon a
strange scene. All at once "the boughs of the trees became
less interlaced, and the trunks fewer; next moment his horse,
crashing through the shrubs, brought him out on a pleasant
glade, white with rime, and illumined by the new moon; in the
midst bubbled up a limpid fountain, and flowed away over a
pebbly-floor with a soothing murmur. Near the fountain-head
sat three maidens in glimmering white dresses, with long
waving golden hair, and faces of inexpressible beauty."[87]
One of them advanced to meet Raymond, and according to all
mythological precedent, they were betrothed before daybreak.
In due time the fountain-nymph[88] became Countess de la
Foret, but her husband was given to understand that all her
Saturdays would be passed in strictest seclusion, upon which
he must never dare to intrude, under penalty of losing her
forever. For many years all went well, save that the fair
Melusina's children were, without exception, misshapen or
disfigured. But after a while this strange weekly seclusion
got bruited about all over the neighbourhood, and people shook
their heads and looked grave about it. So many gossiping tales
came to the Count's ears, that he began to grow anxious and
suspicious, and at last he determined to know the worst. He
went one Saturday to Melusina's private apartments, and going
through one empty room after another, at last came to a locked
door which opened into a bath; looking through a keyhole,
there he saw the Countess transformed from the waist downwards
into a fish, disporting herself like a mermaid in the water.
Of course he could not keep the secret, but when some time
afterwards they quarrelled, must needs address her as "a vile
serpent, contaminator of his honourable race." So she
disappeared through the window, but ever afterward hovered
about her husband's castle of Lusignan, like a Banshee,
whenever one of its lords was about to die.
[87] Baring-Gould, Curious Myths, II. 207.
[88] The word nymph itself means "cloud-maiden," as is
illustrated by the kinship between the Greek numph and the
Latin nubes.
The well-known story of Undine is similar to that of Melusina,
save that the naiad's desire to obtain a human soul is a
conception foreign to the spirit of the myth, and marks the
degradation which Christianity had inflicted upon the denizens
of fairy-land. In one of Dasent's tales the water-maiden is
replaced by a kind of werewolf. A white bear marries a young
girl, but assumes the human shape at night. She is never to
look upon him in his human shape, but how could a young bride
be expected to obey such an injunction as that? She lights a
candle while he is sleeping, and discovers the handsomest
prince in the world; unluckily she drops tallow on his shirt,
and that tells the story. But she is more fortunate than poor
Raymond, for after a tiresome journey to the "land east of the
sun and west of the moon," and an arduous washing-match with a
parcel of ugly Trolls, she washes out the spots, and ends her
husband's enchantment.[89]
[89] This is substantially identical with the stories of
Beauty and the Beast, Eros and Psyche, Gandharba Sena, etc.
In the majority of these legends, however, the Apsaras, or
cloud-maiden, has a shirt of swan's feathers which plays the
same part as the wolfskin cape or girdle of the werewolf. If
you could get hold of a werewolf's sack and burn it, a
permanent cure was effected. No danger of a relapse, unless
the Devil furnished him with a new wolfskin. So the
swan-maiden kept her human form, as long as she was deprived
of her tunic of feathers. Indo-European folk-lore teems with
stories of swan-maidens forcibly wooed and won by mortals who
had stolen their clothes. A man travelling along the road
passes by a lake where several lovely girls are bathing; their
dresses, made of feathers curiously and daintily woven, lie on
the shore. He approaches the place cautiously and steals one
of these dresses.[90] When the girls have finished their
bathing, they all come and get their dresses and swim away as
swans; but the one whose dress is stolen must needs stay on
shore and marry the thief. It is needless to add that they
live happily together for many years, or that finally the good
man accidentally leaves the cupboard door unlocked, whereupon
his wife gets back her swan-shirt and flies away from him,
never to return. But it is not always a shirt of feathers. In
one German story, a nobleman hunting deer finds a maiden
bathing in a clear pool in the forest. He runs stealthily up
to her and seizes her necklace, at which she loses the power
to flee. They are married, and she bears seven sons at once,
all of whom have gold chains about their necks, and are able
to transform themselves into swans whenever they like. A
Flemish legend tells of three Nixies, or water-sprites, who
came out of the Meuse one autumn evening, and helped the
villagers celebrate the end of the vintage. Such graceful
dancers had never been seen in Flanders, and they could sing
as well as they could dance. As the night was warm, one of
them took off her gloves and gave them to her partner to hold
for her. When the clock struck twelve the other two started
off in hot haste, and then there was a hue and cry for gloves.
The lad would keep them as love-tokens, and so the poor Nixie
had to go home without them; but she must have died on the
way, for next morning the waters of the Meuse were blood-red,
and those damsels never returned.
[90] The feather-dress reappears in the Arabian story of
Hasssn of El-Basrah, who by stealing it secures possession of
the Jinniya. See Lane's Arabian Nights, Vol. III. p. 380.
Ralston, Songs of the Russian People, p. 179.
In the Faro Islands it is believed that seals cast off their
skins every ninth night, assume human forms, and sing and
dance like men and women until daybreak, when they resume
their skins and their seal natures. Of course a man once found
and hid one of these sealskins, and so got a mermaid for a
wife; and of course she recovered the skin and escaped.[91] On
the coasts of Ireland it is supposed to be quite an ordinary
thing for young sea-fairies to get human husbands in this way;
the brazen things even come to shore on purpose, and leave
their red caps lying around for young men to pick up; but it
behooves the husband to keep a strict watch over the red cap,
if he would not see his children left motherless.
[91] Thorpe, Northern Mythology, III. 173; Kennedy, Fictions
of the Irish Celts, p. 123.
This mermaid's cap has contributed its quota to the
superstitions of witchcraft. An Irish story tells how Red
James was aroused from sleep one night by noises in the
kitchen. Going down to the door, he saw a lot of old women
drinking punch around the fireplace, and laughing and joking
with his housekeeper. When the punchbowl was empty, they all
put on red caps, and singing
"By yarrow and rue, And my red cap too,
Hie me over to England,"
they flew up chimney. So Jimmy burst into the room, and seized
the housekeeper's cap, and went along with them. They flew
across the sea to a castle in England, passed through the
keyholes from room to room and into the cellar, where they had
a famous carouse. Unluckily Jimmy, being unused to such good
cheer, got drunk, and forgot to put on his cap when the others
did. So next morning the lord's butler found him dead-drunk on
the cellar floor, surrounded by empty casks. He was sentenced
to be hung without any trial worth speaking of; but as he was
carted to the gallows an old woman cried out, "Ach, Jimmy
alanna! Would you be afther dyin' in a strange land without
your red birredh?" The lord made no objections, and so the red
cap was brought and put on him. Accordingly when Jimmy had got
to the gallows and was making his last speech for the
edification of the spectators, he unexpectedly and somewhat
irrelevantly exclaimed, "By yarrow and rue," etc., and was off
like a rocket, shooting through the blue air en route for old
[92] Kennedy, Fictions of the Irish Celts, p. 168.
In another Irish legend an enchanted ass comes into the
kitchen of a great house every night, and washes the dishes
and scours the tins, so that the servants lead an easy life of
it. After a while in their exuberant gratitude they offer him
any present for which he may feel inclined to ask. He desires
only "an ould coat, to keep the chill off of him these could
nights"; but as soon as he gets into the coat he resumes his
human form and bids them good by, and thenceforth they may
wash their own dishes and scour their own tins, for all him.
But we are diverging from the subject of swan-maidens, and are
in danger of losing ourselves in that labyrinth of popular
fancies which is more intricate than any that Daidalos ever
planned. The significance of all these sealskins and
feather-dresses and mermaid caps and werewolf-girdles may best
be sought in the etymology of words like the German leichnam,
in which the body is described as a garment of flesh for the
soul.[93] In the naive philosophy of primitive thinkers, the
soul, in passing from one visible shape to another, had only
to put on the outward integument of the creature in which it
wished to incarnate itself. With respect to the mode of
metamorphosis, there is little difference between the werewolf
and the swan-maiden; and the similarity is no less striking
between the genesis of the two conceptions. The original
werewolf is the night-wind, regarded now as a manlike deity
and now as a howling lupine fiend; and the original
swan-maiden is the light fleecy cloud, regarded either as a
woman-like goddess or as a bird swimming in the sky sea. The
one conception has been productive of little else but horrors;
the other has given rise to a great variety of fanciful
creations, from the treacherous mermaid and the fiendish
nightmare to the gentle Undine, the charming Nausikaa, and the
stately Muse of classic antiquity.
[93] Baring-Gould, Book of Werewolves, p. 133.
We have seen that the original werewolf, howling in the wintry
blast, is a kind of psychopomp, or leader of departed souls;
he is the wild ancestor of the death-dog, whose voice under
the window of a sick-chamber is even now a sound of ill-omen.
The swan-maiden has also been supposed to summon the dying to
her home in the Phaiakian land. The Valkyries, with their
shirts of swan-plumage, who hovered over Scandinavian
battle-fields to receive the souls of falling heroes, were
identical with the Hindu Apsaras; and the Houris of the
Mussulman belong to the same family. Even for the
angels,--women with large wings, who are seen in popular
pictures bearing mortals on high towards heaven,--we can
hardly claim a different kinship. Melusina, when she leaves
the castle of Lusignan, becomes a Banshee; and it has been a
common superstition among sailors, that the appearance of a
mermaid, with her comb and looking-glass, foretokens
shipwreck, with the loss of all on board.
October, 1870.
WHEN Maitland blasphemously asserted that God was but "a Bogie
of the nursery," he unwittingly made a remark as suggestive in
point of philology as it was crude and repulsive in its
atheism. When examined with the lenses of linguistic science,
the "Bogie" or "Bug-a-boo" or "Bugbear" of nursery lore turns
out to be identical, not only with the fairy "Puck," whom
Shakespeare has immortalized, but also with the Slavonic "Bog"
and the "Baga" of the Cuneiform Inscriptions, both of which
are names for the Supreme Being. If we proceed further, and
inquire after the ancestral form of these epithets,--so
strangely incongruous in their significations,--we shall find
it in the Old Aryan "Bhaga," which reappears unchanged in the
Sanskrit of the Vedas, and has left a memento of itself in the
surname of the Phrygian Zeus "Bagaios." It seems originally
to have denoted either the unclouded sun or the sky of noonday
illumined by the solar rays. In Sayana's commentary on the
Rig-Veda, Bhaga is enumerated among the seven (or eight) sons
of Aditi, the boundless Orient; and he is elsewhere described
as the lord of life, the giver of bread, and the bringer of
[94] Muir's Sanskrit Texts, Vol. IV. p. 12; Muller, Rig-Veda
Sanhita, Vol. I. pp. 230-251; Fick, Woerterbuch der
Indogermanischen Grundsprache, p. 124, s v. Bhaga.
Thus the same name which, to the Vedic poet, to the Persian of
the time of Xerxes, and to the modern Russian, suggests the
supreme majesty of deity, is in English associated with an
ugly and ludicrous fiend, closely akin to that grotesque
Northern Devil of whom Southey was unable to think without
laughing. Such is the irony of fate toward a deposed deity.
The German name for idol--Abgott, that is, "ex-god," or
"dethroned god"--sums up in a single etymology the history of
the havoc wrought by monotheism among the ancient symbols of
deity. In the hospitable Pantheon of the Greeks and Romans a
niche was always in readiness for every new divinity who could
produce respectable credentials; but the triumph of monotheism
converted the stately mansion into a Pandemonium peopled with
fiends. To the monotheist an "ex-god" was simply a devilish
deceiver of mankind whom the true God had succeeded in
vanquishing; and thus the word demon, which to the ancient
meant a divine or semi-divine being, came to be applied to
fiends exclusively. Thus the Teutonic races, who preserved the
name of their highest divinity, Odin,--originally, Guodan,--by
which to designate the God of the Christian,[95] were unable
to regard the Bog of ancient tradition as anything but an
"ex-god," or vanquished demon.
[95] In the North American Review, October, 1869, p. 354, I
have collected a number of facts which seem to me to prove
beyond question that the name God is derived from Guodan, the
original form of Odin, the supreme deity of our Pagan
forefathers. The case is exactly parallel to that of the
French Dieu, which is descended from the Deus of the pagan
The most striking illustration of this process is to be found
in the word devil itself: To a reader unfamiliar with the
endless tricks which language delights in playing, it may seem
shocking to be told that the Gypsies use the word devil as the
name of God.[96] This, however, is not because these people
have made the archfiend an object of worship, but because the
Gypsy language, descending directly from the Sanskrit, has
retained in its primitive exalted sense a word which the
English language has received only in its debased and
perverted sense. The Teutonic words devil, teufel, diuval,
djofull, djevful, may all be traced back to the Zend dev,[97]
a name in which is implicitly contained the record of the
oldest monotheistic revolution known to history. The influence
of the so-called Zoroastrian reform upon the long-subsequent
development of Christianity will receive further notice in the
course of this paper; for the present it is enough to know
that it furnished for all Christendom the name by which it
designates the author of evil. To the Parsee follower of
Zarathustra the name of the Devil has very nearly the same
signification as to the Christian; yet, as Grimm has shown, it
is nothing else than a corruption of deva, the Sanskrit name
for God. When Zarathustra overthrew the primeval Aryan
nature-worship in Bactria, this name met the same evil fate
which in early Christian times overtook the word demon, and
from a symbol of reverence became henceforth a symbol of
detestation.[98] But throughout the rest of the Aryan world it
achieved a nobler career, producing the Greek theos, the
Lithuanian diewas, the Latin deus, and hence the modern French
Dieu, all meaning God.
[96] See Pott, Die Zigeuner, II. 311; Kuhn, Beitrage, I. 147.
Yet in the worship of dewel by the Gypsies is to be found the
element of diabolism invariably present in barbaric worship.
"Dewel, the great god in heaven (dewa, deus), is rather feared
than loved by these weather-beaten outcasts, for he harms them
on their wanderings with his thunder and lightning, his snow
and rain, and his stars interfere with their dark doings.
Therefore they curse him foully when misfortune falls on them;
and when a child dies, they say that Dewel has eaten it."
Tylor, Primitive Culture, Vol. II. p. 248.
[97] See Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, 939.
[98] The Buddhistic as well as the Zarathustrian reformation
degraded the Vedic gods into demons. "In Buddhism we find
these ancient devas, Indra and the rest, carried about at
shows, as servants of Buddha, as goblins, or fabulous heroes."
Max Muller, Chips, I. 25. This is like the Christian change of
Odin into an ogre, and of Thor into the Devil.
If we trace back this remarkable word to its primitive source
in that once lost but now partially recovered mother-tongue
from which all our Aryan languages are descended, we find a
root div or dyu, meaning "to shine." From the first-mentioned
form comes deva, with its numerous progeny of good and evil
appellatives; from the latter is derived the name of Dyaus,
with its brethren, Zeus and Jupiter. In Sanskrit dyu, as a
noun, means "sky" and "day"; and there are many passages in
the Rig-Veda where the character of the god Dyaus, as the
personification of the sky or the brightness of the ethereal
heavens, is unmistakably apparent. This key unlocks for us one
of the secrets of Greek mythology. So long as there was for
Zeus no better etymology than that which assigned it to the
root zen, "to live,"[99] there was little hope of
understanding the nature of Zeus. But when we learn that Zeus
is identical with Dyaus, the bright sky, we are enabled to
understand Horace's expression, "sub Jove frigido," and the
prayer of the Athenians, "Rain, rain, dear Zeus, on the land
of the Athenians, and on the fields."[100] Such expressions as
these were retained by the Greeks and Romans long after they
had forgotten that their supreme deity was once the sky. Yet
even the Brahman, from whose mind the physical significance of
the god's name never wholly disappeared, could speak of him as
Father Dyaus, the great Pitri, or ancestor of gods and men;
and in this reverential name Dyaus pitar may be seen the exact
equivalent of the Roman's Jupiter, or Jove the Father. The
same root can be followed into Old German, where Zio is the
god of day; and into Anglo-Saxon, where Tiwsdaeg, or the day
of Zeus, is the ancestral form of Tuesday.
[99] Zeus--Dia--Zhna--di on ............ Plato Kratylos, p.
396, A., with Stallbaum's note. See also Proklos, Comm. ad
Timaeum, II. p. 226, Schneider; and compare Pseudo-Aristotle,
De Mundo, p. 401, a, 15, who adopts the etymology. See also
Diogenes Laertius, VII. 147.
[100] Marcus Aurelius, v. 7; Hom. Iliad, xii. 25, cf.
Petronius Arbiter, Sat. xliv.
Thus we again reach the same results which were obtained from
the examination of the name Bhaga. These various names for the
supreme Aryan god, which without the help afforded by the
Vedas could never have been interpreted, are seen to have been
originally applied to the sun-illumined firmament. Countless
other examples, when similarly analyzed, show that the
earliest Aryan conception of a Divine Power, nourishing man
and sustaining the universe, was suggested by the light of the
mighty Sun; who, as modern science has shown, is the
originator of all life and motion upon the globe, and whom the
ancients delighted to believe the source, not only of "the
golden light,"[101] but of everything that is bright,
joy-giving, and pure. Nevertheless, in accepting this
conclusion as well established by linguistic science, we must
be on our guard against an error into which writers on
mythology are very liable to fall. Neither sky nor sun nor
light of day, neither Zeus nor Apollo, neither Dyaus nor
Indra, was ever worshipped by the ancient Aryan in anything
like a monotheistic sense. To interpret Zeus or Jupiter as
originally the supreme Aryan god, and to regard classic
paganism as one of the degraded remnants of a primeval
monotheism, is to sin against the canons of a sound inductive
philosophy. Philology itself teaches us that this could not
have been so. Father Dyaus was originally the bright sky and
nothing more. Although his name became generalized, in the
classic languages, into deus, or God, it is quite certain that
in early days, before the Aryan separation, it had acquired no
such exalted significance. It was only in Greece and Rome--or,
we may say, among the still united Italo-Hellenic tribes--that
Jupiter-Zeus attained a pre-eminence over all other deities.
The people of Iran quite rejected him, the Teutons preferred
Thor and Odin, and in India he was superseded, first by Indra,
afterwards by Brahma and Vishnu. We need not, therefore, look
for a single supreme divinity among the old Aryans; nor may we
expect to find any sense, active or dormant, of monotheism in
the primitive intelligence of uncivilized men.[102] The whole
fabric of comparative mythology, as at present constituted,
and as described above, in the first of these papers, rests
upon the postulate that the earliest religion was pure
[101] "Il Sol, dell aurea luce eterno forte." Tasso,
Gerusalemme, XV. 47; ef. Dante, Paradiso, X. 28.
[102] The Aryans were, however, doubtless better off than the
tribes of North America. "In no Indian language could the
early missionaries find a word to express the idea of God.
Manitou and Oki meant anything endowed with supernatural
powers, from a snake-skin or a greasy Indian conjurer up to
Manabozho and Jouskeha. The priests were forced to use a
circumlocution,--`the great chief of men,' or 'he who lives in
the sky.' " Parkman, Jesuits in North America, p. lxxix. "The
Algonquins used no oaths, for their language supplied none;
doubtless because their mythology had no beings sufficiently
distinct to swear by." Ibid, p. 31.
In the unsystematic nature-worship of the old Aryans the gods
are presented to us only as vague powers, with their nature
and attributes dimly defined, and their relations to each
other fluctuating and often contradictory. There is no
theogony, no regular subordination of one deity to another.
The same pair of divinities appear now as father and daughter,
now as brother and sister, now as husband and wife; and again
they quite lose their personality, and are represented as mere
natural phenomena. As Muller observes, "The poets of the Veda
indulged freely in theogonic speculations without being
frightened by any contradictions. They knew of Indra as the
greatest of gods, they knew of Agni as the god of gods, they
knew of Varuna as the ruler of all; but they were by no means
startled at the idea that their Indra had a mother, or that
their Agni [Latin ignis] was born like a babe from the
friction of two fire-sticks, or that Varuna and his brother
Mitra were nursed in the lap of Aditi."[103] Thus we have seen
Bhaga, the daylight, represented as the offspring, of Aditi,
the boundless Orient; but he had several brothers, and among
them were Mitra, the sun, Varuna, the overarching firmament,
and Vivasvat, the vivifying sun. Manifestly we have here but
so many different names for what is at bottom one and the same
conception. The common element which, in Dyaus and Varuna, in
Bhaga and Indra, was made an object of worship, is the
brightness, warmth, and life of day, as contrasted with the
darkness, cold, and seeming death of the night-time. And this
common element was personified in as many different ways as
the unrestrained fancy of the ancient worshipper saw fit to
[103] Muller, Rig-Veda-Sanhita, I. 230.
[104] Compare the remarks of Breal, Hercule et Cacus, p. 13.
Thus we begin to see why a few simple objects, like the sun,
the sky, the dawn, and the night, should be represented in
mythology by such a host of gods, goddesses, and heroes. For
at one time the Sun is represented as the conqueror of hydras
and dragons who hide away from men the golden treasures of
light and warmth, and at another time he is represented as a
weary voyager traversing the sky-sea amid many perils, with
the steadfast purpose of returning to his western home and his
twilight bride; hence the different conceptions of Herakles,
Bellerophon, and Odysseus. Now he is represented as the son of
the Dawn, and again, with equal propriety, as the son of the
Night, and the fickle lover of the Dawn; hence we have, on the
one hand, stories of a virgin mother who dies in giving birth
to a hero, and, on the other hand, stories of a beautiful
maiden who is forsaken and perhaps cruelly slain by her
treacherous lover. Indeed, the Sun's adventures with so many
dawn-maidens have given him quite a bad character, and the
legends are numerous in which he appears as the prototype of
Don Juan. Yet again his separation from the bride of his youth
is described as due to no fault of his own, but to a
resistless decree of fate, which hurries him away as Aineias
was compelled to abandon Dido. Or, according to a third and
equally plausible notion, he is a hero of ascetic virtues, and
the dawn-maiden is a wicked enchantress, daughter of the
sensual Aphrodite, who vainly endeavours to seduce him. In the
story of Odysseus these various conceptions are blended
together. When enticed by artful women,[105] he yields for a
while to the temptation; but by and by his longing to see
Penelope takes him homeward, albeit with a record which
Penelope might not altogether have liked. Again, though the
Sun, "always roaming with a hungry heart," has seen many
cities and customs of strange men, he is nevertheless confined
to a single path,--a circumstance which seems to have
occasioned much speculation in the primeval mind. Garcilaso de
la Vega relates of a certain Peruvian Inca, who seems to have
been an "infidel" with reference to the orthodox mythology of
his day, that he thought the Sun was not such a mighty god
after all; for if he were, he would wander about the heavens
at random instead of going forever, like a horse in a
treadmill, along the same course. The American Indians
explained this circumstance by myths which told how the Sun
was once caught and tied with a chain which would only let him
swing a little way to one side or the other. The ancient Aryan
developed the nobler myth of the labours of Herakles,
performed in obedience to the bidding of Eurystheus. Again,
the Sun must needs destroy its parents, the Night and the
Dawn; and accordingly his parents, forewarned by prophecy,
expose him in infancy, or order him to be put to death; but
his tragic destiny never fails to be accomplished to the
letter. And again the Sun, who engages in quarrels not his
own, is sometimes represented as retiring moodily from the
sight of men, like Achilleus and Meleagros: he is short-lived
and ill-fated, born to do much good and to be repaid with
ingratitude; his life depends on the duration of a burning
brand, and when that is extinguished he must die.
[105] It should be borne in mind, however, that one of the
women who tempt Odysseus is not a dawn-maiden, but a goddess
of darkness; Kalypso answers to Venus-Ursula in the myth of
Tannhauser. Kirke, on the other hand, seems to be a
dawn-maiden, like Medeia, whom she resembles. In her the
wisdom of the dawn-goddess Athene, the loftiest of Greek
divinities, becomes degraded into the art of an enchantress.
She reappears, in the Arabian Nights, as the wicked Queen
Labe, whose sorcery none of her lovers can baffle, save Beder,
king of Persia.
The myth of the great Theban hero, Oidipous, well illustrates
the multiplicity of conceptions which clustered about the
daily career of the solar orb. His father, Laios, had been
warned by the Delphic oracle that he was in danger of death
from his own son. The newly born Oidipous was therefore
exposed on the hillside, but, like Romulus and Remus, and all
infants similarly situated in legend, was duly rescued. He was
taken to Corinth, where he grew up to manhood. Journeying once
to Thebes, he got into a quarrel with an old man whom he met
on the road, and slew him, who was none other than his father,
Laios. Reaching Thebes, he found the city harassed by the
Sphinx, who afflicted the land with drought until she should
receive an answer to her riddles. Oidipous destroyed the
monster by solving her dark sayings, and as a reward received
the kingdom, with his own mother, Iokaste, as his bride. Then
the Erinyes hastened the discovery of these dark deeds;
Iokaste died in her bridal chamber; and Oidipous, having
blinded himself, fled to the grove of the Eumenides, near
Athens, where, amid flashing lightning and peals of thunder,
he died.
Oidipous is the Sun. Like all the solar heroes, from Herakles
and Perseus to Sigurd and William Tell, he performs his
marvellous deeds at the behest of others. His father, Laios,
is none other than the Vedic Dasyu, the night-demon who is
sure to be destroyed by his solar offspring In the evening,
Oidipous is united to the Dawn, the mother who had borne him
at daybreak; and here the original story doubtless ended. In
the Vedic hymns we find Indra, the Sun, born of Dahana
(Daphne), the Dawn, whom he afterwards, in the evening
twilight, marries. To the Indian mind the story was here
complete; but the Greeks had forgotten and outgrown the
primitive signification of the myth. To them Oidipous and
Iokaste were human, or at least anthropomorphic beings; and a
marriage between them was a fearful crime which called for
bitter expiation. Thus the latter part of the story arose in
the effort to satisfy a moral feeling As the name of Laios
denotes the dark night, so, like Iole, Oinone, and Iamos, the
word Iokaste signifies the delicate violet tints of the
morning and evening clouds. Oidipous was exposed, like Paris
upon Ida (a Vedic word meaning "the earth"), because the
sunlight in the morning lies upon the hillside.[106] He is
borne on to the destruction of his father and the incestuous
marriage with his mother by an irresistible Moira, or Fate;
the sun cannot but slay the darkness and hasten to the couch
of the violet twilight.[107] The Sphinx is the storm-demon who
sits on the cloud-rock and imprisons the rain; she is the same
as Medusa, Ahi, or Echidna, and Chimaira, and is akin to the
throttling snakes of darkness which the jealous Here sent to
destroy Herakles in his cradle. The idea was not derived from
Egypt, but the Greeks, on finding Egyptian figures resembling
their conception of the Sphinx, called them by the same name.
The omniscient Sun comprehends the sense of her dark
mutterings, and destroys her, as Indra slays Vritra, bringing
down rain upon the parched earth. The Erinyes, who bring to
light the crimes of Oidipous, have been explained, in a
previous paper, as the personification of daylight, which
reveals the evil deeds done under the cover of night. The
grove of the Erinyes, like the garden of the Hyperboreans,
represents "the fairy network of clouds, which are the first
to receive and the last to lose the light of the sun in the
morning and in the evening; hence, although Oidipous dies in a
thunder-storm, yet the Eumenides are kind to him, and his last
hour is one of deep peace and tranquillity."[108] To the last
remains with him his daughter Antigone, "she who is born
opposite," the pale light which springs up opposite to the
setting sun.
[106] The Persian Cyrus is an historical personage; but the
story of his perils in infancy belongs to solar mythology as
much as the stories of the magic sleep of Charlemagne and
Barbarossa. His grandfather, Astyages, is purely a mythical
creation, his name being identical with that of the
night-demon, Azidahaka, who appears in the Shah-Nameh as the
biting serpent Zohak. See Cox, Mythology of the Aryan Nations,
II. 358.
[107] In mediaeval legend this resistless Moira is transformed
into the curse which prevents the Wandering Jew from resting
until the day of judgment.
[108] Cox, Manual of Mythology, p. 134.
These examples show that a story-root may be as prolific of
heterogeneous offspring as a word-root. Just as we find the
root spak, "to look," begetting words so various as sceptic,
bishop, speculate, conspicsuous, species, and spice, we must
expect to find a simple representation of the diurnal course
of the sun, like those lyrically given in the Veda, branching
off into stories as diversified as those of Oidipous,
Herakles, Odysseus, and Siegfried. In fact, the types upon
which stories are constructed are wonderfully few. Some clever
playwright--I believe it was Scribe--has said that there are
only seven possible dramatic situations; that is, all the
plays in the world may be classed with some one of seven
archetypal dramas.[109] If this be true, the astonishing
complexity of mythology taken in the concrete, as compared
with its extreme simplicity when analyzed, need not surprise
[109] In his interesting appendix to Henderson's Folk Lore of
the Northern Counties of England, Mr. Baring-Gould has made an
ingenious and praiseworthy attempt to reduce the entire
existing mass of household legends to about fifty story-roots;
and his list, though both redundant and defective, is
nevertheless, as an empirical classification, very
The extreme limits of divergence between stories descended
from a common root are probably reached in the myths of light
and darkness with which the present discussion is mainly
concerned The subject will be best elucidated by taking a
single one of these myths and following its various fortunes
through different regions of the Aryan world. The myth of
Hercules and Cacus has been treated by M. Breal in an essay
which is one of the most valuable contributions ever made to
the study of comparative mythology; and while following his
footsteps our task will be an easy one.
The battle between Hercules and Cacus, although one of the
oldest of the traditions common to the whole Indo-European
race, appears in Italy as a purely local legend, and is
narrated as such by Virgil, in the eighth book of the AEneid;
by Livy, at the beginning of his history; and by Propertius
and Ovid. Hercules, journeying through Italy after his victory
over Geryon, stops to rest by the bank of the Tiber. While he
is taking his repose, the three-headed monster Cacus, a son of
Vulcan and a formidable brigand, comes and steals his cattle,
and drags them tail-foremost to a secret cavern in the rocks.
But the lowing of the cows arouses Hercules, and he runs
toward the cavern where the robber, already frightened, has
taken refuge. Armed with a huge flinty rock, he breaks open
the entrance of the cavern, and confronts the demon within,
who vomits forth flames at him and roars like the thunder in
the storm-cloud. After a short combat, his hideous body falls
at the feet of the invincible hero, who erects on the spot an
altar to Jupiter Inventor, in commemoration of the recovery of
his cattle. Ancient Rome teemed with reminiscences of this
event, which Livy regarded as first in the long series of the
exploits of his countrymen. The place where Hercules pastured
his oxen was known long after as the Forum Boarium; near it
the Porta Trigemina preserved the recollection of the
monster's triple head; and in the time of Diodorus Siculus
sight-seers were shown the cavern of Cacus on the slope of the
Aventine. Every tenth day the earlier generations of Romans
celebrated the victory with solemn sacrifices at the Ara
Maxima; and on days of triumph the fortunate general deposited
there a tithe of his booty, to be distributed among the
In this famous myth, however, the god Hercules did not
originally figure. The Latin Hercules was an essentially
peaceful and domestic deity, watching over households and
enclosures, and nearly akin to Terminus and the Penates. He
does not appear to have been a solar divinity at all. But the
purely accidental resemblance of his name to that of the Greek
deity Herakles,[110] and the manifest identity of the
Cacus-myth with the story of the victory of Herakles over
Geryon, led to the substitution of Hercules for the original
hero of the legend, who was none other than Jupiter, called by
his Sabine name Sancus. Now Johannes Lydus informs us that, in
Sabine, Sancus signified "the sky," a meaning which we have
already seen to belong to the name Jupiter. The same
substitution of the Greek hero for the Roman divinity led to
the alteration of the name of the demon overcome by his
thunderbolts. The corrupted title Cacus was supposed to be
identical with the Greek word kakos, meaning "evil" and the
corruption was suggested by the epithet of Herakles,
Alexikakos, or "the averter of ill." Originally, however, the
name was Caecius, "he who blinds or darkens," and it
corresponds literally to the name of the Greek demon Kaikias,
whom an old proverb, preserved by Aulus Gellius, describes as
a stealer of the clouds.[111]
[110] There is nothing in common between the names Hercules
and Herakles. The latter is a compound, formed like
Themistokles; the former is a simple derivative from the root
of hercere, "to enclose." If Herakles had any equivalent in
Latin, it would necessarily begin with S, and not with H, as
septa corresponds to epta, sequor to epomai, etc. It should be
noted, however, that Mommsen, in the fourth edition of his
History, abandons this view, and observes: "Auch der
griechische Herakles ist fruh als Herclus, Hercoles, Hercules
in Italien einheimisch und dort in eigenthumlicher Weise
aufgefasst worden, wie es scheint zunachst als Gott des
gewagten Gewinns und der ausserordentlichen
Vermogensvermehrung." Romische Geschichte, I. 181. One would
gladly learn Mommsen's reasons for recurring to this
apparently less defensible opinion.
[111] For the relations between Sancus and Herakles, see
Preller, Romische Mythologie, p. 635; Vollmer, Mythologie, p.
Thus the significance of the myth becomes apparent. The
three-headed Cacus is seen to be a near kinsman of Geryon's
three-headed dog Orthros, and of the three-headed Kerberos,
the hell-hound who guards the dark regions below the horizon.
He is the original werewolf or Rakshasa, the fiend of the
storm who steals the bright cattle of Helios, and hides them
in the black cavernous rock, from which they are afterwards
rescued by the schamir or lightning-stone of the solar hero.
The physical character of the myth is apparent even in the
description of Virgil, which reads wonderfully like a Vedic
hymn in celebration of the exploits of Indra. But when we turn
to the Veda itself, we find the correctness of the
interpretation demonstrated again and again, with
inexhaustible prodigality of evidence. Here we encounter again
the three-headed Orthros under the identical title of Vritra,
"he who shrouds or envelops," called also Cushna, "he who
parches," Pani, "the robber," and Ahi, "the strangler." In
many hymns of the Rig-Veda the story is told over and over,
like a musical theme arranged with variations. Indra, the god
of light, is a herdsman who tends a herd of bright golden or
violet-coloured cattle. Vritra, a snake-like monster with
three heads, steals them and hides them in a cavern, but Indra
slays him as Jupiter slew Caecius, and the cows are recovered.
The language of the myth is so significant, that the Hindu
commentators of tile Veda have themselves given explanations
of it similar to those proposed by modern philologists. To
them the legend never became devoid of sense, as the myth of
Geryon appeared to Greek scholars like Apollodoros.[112]
[112] Burnouf, Bhagavata-Purana, III. p. lxxxvi; Breal, op.
cit. p. 98.
These celestial cattle, with their resplendent coats of purple
and gold, are the clouds lit up by the solar rays; but the
demon who steals them is not always the fiend of the storm,
acting in that capacity. They are stolen every night by Vritra
the concealer, and Caecius the darkener, and Indra is obliged
to spend hours in looking for them, sending Sarama, the
inconstant twilight, to negotiate for their recovery. Between
the storm-myth and the myth of night and morning the
resemblance is sometimes so close as to confuse the
interpretation of the two. Many legends which Max Muller
explains as myths of the victory of day over night are
explained by Dr. Kuhn as storm-myths; and the disagreement
between two such powerful champions would be a standing
reproach to what is rather prematurely called the SCIENCE of
comparative mythology, were it not easy to show that the
difference is merely apparent and non-essential. It is the old
story of the shield with two sides; and a comparison of the
ideas fundamental to these myths will show that there is no
valid ground for disagreement in the interpretation of them.
The myths of schamir and the divining-rod, analyzed in a
previous paper, explain the rending of the thunder-cloud and
the procuring of water without especial reference to any
struggle between opposing divinities. But in the myth of
Hercules and Cacus, the fundamental idea is the victory of the
solar god over the robber who steals the light. Now whether
the robber carries off the light in the evening when Indra has
gone to sleep, or boldly rears his black form against the sky
during the daytime, causing darkness to spread over the earth,
would make little difference to the framers of the myth. To a
chicken a solar eclipse is the same thing as nightfall, and he
goes to roost accordingly. Why, then, should the primitive
thinker have made a distinction between the darkening of the
sky caused by black clouds and that caused by the rotation of
the earth? He had no more conception of the scientific
explanation of these phenomena than the chicken has of the
scientific explanation of an eclipse. For him it was enough to
know that the solar radiance was stolen, in the one case as in
the other, and to suspect that the same demon was to blame for
both robberies.
The Veda itself sustains this view. It is certain that the
victory of Indra over Vritra is essentially the same as his
victory over the Panis. Vritra, the storm-fiend, is himself
called one of the Panis; yet the latter are uniformly
represented as night-demons. They steal Indra's golden cattle
and drive them by circuitous paths to a dark hiding-place near
the eastern horizon. Indra sends the dawn-nymph, Sarama, to
search for them, but as she comes within sight of the dark
stable, the Panis try to coax her to stay with them: "Let us
make thee our sister, do not go away again; we will give thee
part of the cows, O darling."[113] According to the text of
this hymn, she scorns their solicitations, but elsewhere the
fickle dawn-nymph is said to coquet with the powers of
darkness. She does not care for their cows, but will take a
drink of milk, if they will be so good as to get it for her.
Then she goes back and tells Indra that she cannot find the
cows. He kicks her with his foot, and she runs back to the
Panis, followed by the god, who smites them all with his
unerring arrows and recovers the stolen light. From such a
simple beginning as this
has been deduced the Greek myth of the faithlessness of
[113] Max Muller, Science of Language, II 484.
[114] As Max Muller observes, "apart from all mythological
considerations, Sarama in Sanskrit is the same word as Helena
in Greek." Op. cit. p. 490. The names correspond phonetically
letter for letter, as, Surya corresponds to Helios, Sarameyas
to Hermeias, and Aharyu to Achilleus. Muller has plausibly
suggested that Paris similarly answers to the Panis.
These night-demons, the Panis, though not apparently regarded
with any strong feeling of moral condemnation, are
nevertheless hated and dreaded as the authors of calamity.
They not only steal the daylight, but they parch the earth and
wither the fruits, and they slay vegetation during the winter
months. As Caecius, the "darkener," became ultimately changed
into Cacus, the "evil one," so the name of Vritra, the
"concealer," the most famous of the Panis, was gradually
generalized until it came to mean "enemy," like the English
word fiend, and began to be applied indiscriminately to any
kind of evil spirit. In one place he is called Adeva, the
"enemy of the gods," an epithet exactly equivalent to the
Persian dev.
In the Zendavesta the myth of Hercules and Cacus has given
rise to a vast system of theology. The fiendish Panis are
concentrated in Ahriman or Anro-mainyas, whose name signifies
the "spirit of darkness," and who carries on a perpetual
warfare against Ormuzd or Ahuramazda, who is described by his
ordinary surname, Spentomainyas, as the "spirit of light." The
ancient polytheism here gives place to a refined dualism, not
very different from what in many Christian sects has passed
current as monotheism. Ahriman is the archfiend, who struggles
with Ormuzd, not for the possession of a herd of perishable
cattle, but for the dominion of the universe. Ormuzd creates
the world pure and beautiful, but Ahriman comes after him and
creates everything that is evil in it. He not only keeps the
earth covered with darkness during half of the day, and
withholds the rain and destroys the crops, but he is the
author of all evil thoughts and the instigator of all wicked
actions. Like his progenitor Vritra and his offspring Satan,
he is represented under the form of a serpent; and the
destruction which ultimately awaits these demons is also in
reserve for him. Eventually there is to be a day of reckoning,
when Ahriman will be bound in chains and rendered powerless,
or when, according to another account, he will be converted to
righteousness, as Burns hoped and Origen believed would be the
case with Satan.
This dualism of the ancient Persians has exerted a powerful
influence upon the development of Christian theology. The very
idea of an archfiend Satan, which Christianity received from
Judaism, seems either to have been suggested by the Persian
Ahriman, or at least to have derived its principal
characteristics from that source. There is no evidence that
the Jews, previous to the Babylonish captivity, possessed the
conception of a Devil as the author of all evil. In the
earlier books of the Old Testament Jehovah is represented as
dispensing with his own hand the good and the evil, like the
Zeus of the Iliad.[115] The story of the serpent in Eden--an
Aryan story in every particular, which has crept into the
Pentateuch--is not once alluded to in the Old Testament; and
the notion of Satan as the author of evil appears only in the
later books, composed after the Jews had come into close
contact with Persian ideas.[116] In the Book of Job, as
Reville observes, Satan is "still a member of the celestial
court, being one of the sons of the Elohim, but having as his
special office the continual accusation of men, and having
become so suspicious by his practice as public accuser, that
he believes in the virtue of no one, and always presupposes
interested motives for the purest manifestations of human
piety." In this way the character of this angel became
injured, and he became more and more an object of dread and
dislike to men, until the later Jews ascribed to him all the
attributes of Ahriman, and in this singularly altered shape he
passed into Christian theology. Between the Satan of the Book
of Job and the mediaeval Devil the metamorphosis is as great
as that which degraded the stern Erinys, who brings evil deeds
to light, into the demon-like Fury who torments wrong-doers in
Tartarus; and, making allowance for difference of
circumstances, the process of degradation has been very nearly
the same in the two cases.
[115] "I create evil," Isaiah xiv. 7; "Shall there be evil in
the city, and the Lord hath not done it?" Amos iii. 6; cf.
Iliad, xxiv. 527, and contrast 2 Samuel xxiv. 1 with 1
Chronicles xxi. 1.
[116] Nor is there any ground for believing that the serpent
in the Eden myth is intended for Satan. The identification is
entirely the work of modern dogmatic theology, and is due,
naturally enough, to the habit, so common alike among
theologians and laymen, of reasoning about the Bible as if it
were a single book, and not a collection of writings of
different ages and of very different degrees of historic
authenticity. In a future work, entitled "Aryana Vaedjo," I
hope to examine, at considerable length, this interesting myth
of the garden of Eden.
The mediaeval conception of the Devil is a grotesque compound
of elements derived from all the systems of pagan mythology
which Christianity superseded. He is primarily a rebellious
angel, expelled from heaven along with his followers, like the
giants who attempted to scale Olympos, and like the impious
Efreets of Arabian legend who revolted against the beneficent
rule of Solomon. As the serpent prince of the outer darkness,
he retains the old characteristics of Vritra, Ahi, Typhon, and
Echidna. As the black dog which appears behind the stove in
Dr. Faust's study, he is the classic hell-hound Kerberos, the
Vedic Carvara. From the sylvan deity Pan he gets his goat-like
body, his horns and cloven hoofs. Like the wind-god Orpheus,
to whose music the trees bent their heads to listen, he is an
unrivalled player on the bagpipes. Like those other wind-gods
the psychopomp Hermes and the wild huntsman Odin, he is the
prince of the powers of the air: his flight through the
midnight sky, attended by his troop of witches mounted on
their brooms, which sometimes break the boughs and sweep the
leaves from the trees, is the same as the furious chase of the
Erlking Odin or the Burckar Vittikab. He is Dionysos, who
causes red wine to flow from the dry wood, alike on the deck
of the Tyrrhenian pirate-ship and in Auerbach's cellar at
Leipzig. He is Wayland, the smith, a skilful worker in metals
and a wonderful architect, like the classic fire-god
Hephaistos or Vulcan; and, like Hephaistos, he is lame from
the effects of his fall from heaven. From the lightning-god
Thor he obtains his red beard, his pitchfork, and his power
over thunderbolts; and, like that ancient deity, he is in the
habit of beating his wife behind the door when the rain falls
during sunshine. Finally, he takes a hint from Poseidon and
from the swan-maidens, and appears as a water-imp or Nixy
(whence probably his name of Old Nick), and as the Davy (deva)
whose "locker" is situated at the bottom of the sea.[117]
[117] For further particulars see Cox, Mythology of the Aryan
Nations, Vol. II. pp 358, 366; to which I am indebted for
several of the details here given. Compare Welcker,
Griechische Gotterlehre, I. 661, seq.
According to the Scotch divines of the seventeenth century,
the Devil is a learned scholar and profound thinker. Having
profited by six thousand years of intense study and
meditation, he has all science, philosophy, and theology at
his tongue's end; and, as his skill has increased with age, he
is far more than a match for mortals in cunning.[118] Such,
however, is not the view taken by mediaeval mythology, which
usually represents his stupidity as equalling his malignity.
The victory of Hercules over Cacus is repeated in a hundred
mediaeval legends in which the Devil is overreached and made a
laughing-stock. The germ of this notion may be found in the
blinding of Polyphemos by Odysseus, which is itself a victory
of the sun-hero over the night-demon, and which curiously
reappears in a Middle-Age story narrated by Mr. Cox. "The
Devil asks a man who is moulding buttons what he may be doing;
and when the man answers that he is moulding eyes, asks him
further whether he can give him a pair of new eyes. He is told
to come again another day; and when he makes his appearance
accordingly, the man tells him that the operation cannot be
performed rightly unless he is first tightly bound with his
back fastened to a bench. While he is thus pinioned he asks
the man's name. The reply is Issi (`himself'). When the lead
is melted, the Devil opens his eyes wide to receive the deadly
stream. As soon as he is blinded, he starts up in agony,
bearing away the bench to which he had been bound; and when
some workpeople in the fields ask him who had thus treated
him, his answer is, 'Issi teggi' (`Self did it'). With a laugh
they bid him lie on the bed which he has made: 'selbst
gethan, selbst habe.' The Devil died of his new eyes, and was
never seen again."
[118] "Many amusing passages from Scotch theologians are cited
in Buckle's History of Civilization, Vol. II. p. 368. The same
belief is implied in the quaint monkish tale of "Celestinus
and the Miller's Horse." See Tales from the Gesta Romanorum,
p. 134.
In his attempts to obtain human souls the Devil is frequently
foiled by the superior cunning of mortals. Once, he agreed to
build a house for a peasant in exchange for the peasant's
soul; but if the house were not finished before cockcrow, the
contract was to be null and void. Just as the Devil was
putting on the last tile the man imitated a cockcrow and waked
up all the roosters in the neighbourhood, so that the fiend
had his labour for his pains. A merchant of Louvain once sold
himself to the Devil, who heaped upon him all manner of riches
for seven years, and then came to get him. The merchant "took
the Devil in a friendly manner by the hand and, as it was just
evening, said, 'Wife, bring a light quickly for the
gentleman.' 'That is not at all necessary,' said the Devil;
'I am merely come to fetch you.' 'Yes, yes, that I know very
well,' said the merchant, 'only just grant me the time till
this little candle-end is burnt out, as I have a few letters
to sign and to put on my coat.' 'Very well,' said the Devil,
'but only till the candle is burnt out.' 'Good,' said the
merchant, and going into the next room, ordered the
maid-servant to place a large cask full of water close to a
very deep pit that was dug in the garden. The men-servants
also carried, each of them, a cask to the spot; and when all
was done, they were ordered each to take a shovel, and stand
round the pit. The merchant then returned to the Devil, who
seeing that not more than about an inch of candle remained,
said, laughing, 'Now get yourself ready, it will soon be burnt
out.' 'That I see, and am content; but I shall hold you to
your word, and stay till it IS burnt.' 'Of course,' answered
the Devil; 'I stick to my word.' 'It is dark in the next
room,' continued the merchant, 'but I must find the great book
with clasps, so let me just take the light for one moment.'
'Certainly,' said the Devil, 'but I'll go with you.' He did
so, and the merchant's trepidation was now on the increase.
When in the next room he said on a sudden, 'Ah, now I know,
the key is in the garden door.' And with these words he ran
out with the light into the garden, and before the Devil could
overtake him, threw it into the pit, and the men and the maids
poured water upon it, and then filled up the hole with earth.
Now came the Devil into the garden and asked, 'Well, did you
get the key? and how is it with the candle? where is it?' 'The
candle?' said the merchant. 'Yes, the candle.' 'Ha, ha, ha! it
is not yet burnt out,' answered the merchant, laughing, 'and
will not be burnt out for the next fifty years; it lies there
a hundred fathoms deep in the earth.' When the Devil heard
this he screamed awfully, and went off with a most intolerable
[119] Thorpe, Northern Mythology, Vol. 11. p. 258.
One day a fowler, who was a terrible bungler and could n't hit
a bird at a dozen paces, sold his soul to the Devil in order
to become a Freischutz. The fiend was to come for him in seven
years, but must be always able to name the animal at which he
was shooting, otherwise the compact was to be nullified. After
that day the fowler never missed his aim, and never did a
fowler command such wages. When the seven years were out the
fowler told all these things to his wife, and the twain hit
upon an expedient for cheating the Devil. The woman stripped
herself, daubed her whole body with molasses, and rolled
herself up in a feather-bed, cut open for this purpose. Then
she hopped and skipped about the field where her husband stood
parleying with Old Nick. "there's a shot for you, fire away,"
said the Devil. "Of course I'll fire, but do you first tell me
what kind of a bird it is; else our agreement is cancelled,
Old Boy." There was no help for it; the Devil had to own
himself nonplussed, and off he fled, with a whiff of brimstone
which nearly suffocated the Freischutz and his good
[120] Thorpe, Northern Mythology, Vol. II. p. 259. In the
Norse story of "Not a Pin to choose between them," the old
woman is in doubt as to her own identity, on waking up after
the butcher has dipped her in a tar-barrel and rolled her on a
heap of feathers; and when Tray barks at her, her perplexity
is as great as the Devil's when fooled by the Frenschutz. See
Dasent, Norse Tales, p. 199.
In the legend of Gambrinus, the fiend is still more
ingloriously defeated. Gambrinus was a fiddler, who, being
jilted by his sweetheart, went out into the woods to hang
himself. As he was sitting on the bough, with the cord about
his neck, preparatory to taking the fatal plunge, suddenly a
tall man in a green coat appeared before him, and offered his
services. He might become as wealthy as he liked, and make his
sweetheart burst with vexation at her own folly, but in thirty
years he must give up his soul to Beelzebub. The bargain was
struck, for Gambrinus thought thirty years a long time to
enjoy one's self in, and perhaps the Devil might get him in
any event; as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. Aided by
Satan, he invented chiming-bells and lager-beer, for both of
which achievements his name is held in grateful remembrance by
the Teuton. No sooner had the Holy Roman Emperor quaffed a
gallon or two of the new beverage than he made Gambrinus Duke
of Brabant and Count of Flanders, and then it was the
fiddler's turn to laugh at the discomfiture of his old
sweetheart. Gambrinus kept clear of women, says the legend,
and so lived in peace. For thirty years he sat beneath his
belfry with the chimes, meditatively drinking beer with his
nobles and burghers around him. Then Beelzebub sent Jocko, one
of his imps, with orders to bring back Gambrinus before
midnight. But Jocko was, like Swiveller's Marchioness,
ignorant of the taste of beer, never having drunk of it even
in a sip, and the Flemish schoppen were too much for him. He
fell into a drunken sleep, and did not wake up until noon next
day, at which he was so mortified that he had not the face to
go back to hell at all. So Gambrinus lived on tranquilly for a
century or two, and drank so much beer that he turned into a
[121] See Deulin, Contes d'un Buveur de Biere, pp. 3-29.
The character of gullibility attributed to the Devil in these
legends is probably derived from the Trolls, or "night-folk,"
of Northern mythology. In most respects the Trolls resemble
the Teutonic elves and fairies, and the Jinn or Efreets of the
Arabian Nights; but their pedigree is less honourable. The
fairies, or "White Ladies," were not originally spirits of
darkness, but were nearly akin to the swan-maidens,
dawn-nymphs, and dryads, and though their wrath was to be
dreaded, they were not malignant by nature. Christianity,
having no place for such beings, degraded them into something
like imps; the most charitable theory being that they were
angels who had remained neutral during Satan's rebellion, in
punishment for which Michael expelled them from heaven, but
has left their ultimate fate unannounced until the day of
judgment. The Jinn appear to have been similarly degraded on
the rise of Mohammedanism. But the Trolls were always imps of
darkness. They are descended from the Jotuns, or Frost-Giants
of Northern paganism, and they correspond to the Panis, or
night-demons of the Veda. In many Norse tales they are said to
burst when they see the risen sun.[122] They eat human flesh,
are ignorant of the simplest arts, and live in the deepest
recesses of the forest or in caverns on the hillside, where
the sunlight never penetrates. Some of these characteristics
may very likely have been suggested by reminiscences of the
primeval Lapps, from whom the Aryan invaders wrested the
dominion of Europe.[123] In some legends the Trolls are
represented as an ancient race of beings now superseded by the
human race. " 'What sort of an earth-worm is this?' said one
Giant to another, when they met a man as they walked. 'These
are the earth-worms that will one day eat us up, brother,'
answered the other; and soon both Giants left that part of
Germany." " 'See what pretty playthings, mother!' cries the
Giant's daughter, as she unties her apron, and shows her a
plough, and horses, and a peasant. 'Back with them this
instant,' cries the mother in wrath, 'and put them down as
carefully as you can, for these playthings can do our race
great harm, and when these come we must budge.' " Very
naturally the primitive Teuton, possessing already the
conception of night-demons, would apply it to these men of the
woods whom even to this day his uneducated descendants believe
to be sorcerers, able to turn men into wolves. But whatever
contributions historical fact may have added to his character,
the Troll is originally a creation of mythology, like
Polyphemos, whom he resembles in his uncouth person, his
cannibal appetite, and his lack of wit. His ready gullibility
is shown in the story of "Boots who ate a Match with the
Troll." Boots, the brother of Cinderella, and the counterpart
alike of Jack the Giant-killer, and of Odysseus, is the
youngest of three brothers who go into a forest to cut wood.
The Troll appears and threatens to kill any one who dares to
meddle with his timber. The elder brothers flee, but Boots
puts on a bold face. He pulled a cheese out of his scrip and
squeezed it till the whey began to spurt out. "Hold your
tongue, you dirty Troll," said he, "or I'll squeeze you as I
squeeze this stone." So the Troll grew timid and begged to be
spared,[124] and Boots let him off on condition that he would
hew all day with him. They worked till nightfall, and the
Troll's giant strength accomplished wonders. Then Boots went
home with the Troll, having arranged that he should get the
water while his host made the fire. When they reached the hut
there were two enormous iron pails, so heavy that none but a
Troll could lift them, but Boots was not to be frightened.
"Bah!" said he. "Do you suppose I am going to get water in
those paltry hand-basins? Hold on till I go and get the spring
itself!" "O dear!" said the Troll, "I'd rather not; do you
make the fire, and I'll get the water." Then when the soup
was made, Boots challenged his new friend to an eating-match;
and tying his scrip in front of him, proceeded to pour soup
into it by the ladleful. By and by the giant threw down his
spoon in despair, and owned himself conquered. "No, no! don't
give it up yet," said Boots, "just cut a hole in your stomach
like this, and you can eat forever." And suiting the action to
the words, he ripped open his scrip. So the silly Troll cut
himself open and died, and Boots carried off all his gold and
[122] Dasent, Popular Tales from the Norse, No. III. and No.
[123] See Dasent's Introduction, p. cxxxix; Campbell, Tales of
the West Highlands, Vol. IV. p. 344; and Williams, Indian Epic
Poetry, p. 10.
[124] "A Leopard was returning home from hunting on one
occasion, when he lighted on the kraal of a Ram. Now the
Leopard had never seen a Ram before, and accordingly,
approaching submissively, he said, 'Good day, friend! what may
your name be?' The other, in his gruff voice, and striking
his breast with his forefoot, said, 'I am a Ram; who are you?'
'A Leopard,' answered the other, more dead than alive; and
then, taking leave of the Ram, he ran home as fast as he
could." Bleek, Hottentot Fables, p. 24.
Once there was a Troll whose name was Wind-and-Weather, and
Saint Olaf hired him to build a church. If the church were
completed within a certain specified time, the Troll was to
get possession of Saint Olaf. The saint then planned such a
stupendous edifice that he thought the giant would be forever
building it; but the work went on briskly, and at the
appointed day nothing remained but to finish the point of the
spire. In his consternation Olaf rushed about until he passed
by the Troll's den, when he heard the giantess telling her
children that their father, Wind-and-Weather, was finishing
his church, and would be home to-morrow with Saint Olaf. So
the saint ran back to the church and bawled out, "Hold on,
Wind-and-Weather, your spire is crooked!" Then the giant
tumbled down from the roof and broke into a thousand pieces.
As in the cases of the Mara and the werewolf, the enchantment
was at an end as soon as the enchanter was called by name.
These Trolls, like the Arabian Efreets, had an ugly habit of
carrying off beautiful princesses. This is strictly in keeping
with their character as night-demons, or Panis. In the stories
of Punchkin and the Heartless Giant, the night-demon carries
off the dawn-maiden after having turned into stone her solar
brethren. But Boots, or Indra, in search of his kinsfolk, by
and by arrives at the Troll's castle, and then the dawn-nymph,
true to her fickle character, cajoles the Giant and enables
Boots to destroy him. In the famous myth which serves as the
basis for the Volsunga Saga and the Nibelungenlied, the dragon
Fafnir steals the Valkyrie Brynhild and keeps her shut up in a
castle on the Glistening Heath, until some champion shall be
found powerful enough to rescue her. The castle is as hard to
enter as that of the Sleeping Beauty; but Sigurd, the Northern
Achilleus, riding on his deathless horse, and wielding his
resistless sword Gram, forces his way in, slays Fafnir, and
recovers the Valkyrie.
In the preceding paper the Valkyries were shown to belong to
the class of cloud-maidens; and between the tale of Sigurd and
that of Hercules and Cacus there is no difference, save that
the bright sunlit clouds which are represented in the one as
cows are in the other represented as maidens. In the myth of
the Argonauts they reappear as the Golden Fleece, carried to
the far east by Phrixos and Helle, who are themselves
Niblungs, or "Children of the Mist" (Nephele), and there
guarded by a dragon. In all these myths a treasure is stolen
by a fiend of darkness, and recovered by a hero of light, who
slays the demon. And--remembering what Scribe said about the
fewness of dramatic types--I believe we are warranted in
asserting that all the stories of lovely women held in bondage
by monsters, and rescued by heroes who perform wonderful
tasks, such as Don Quixote burned to achieve, are derived
ultimately from solar myths, like the myth of Sigurd and
Brynhild. I do not mean to say that the story-tellers who
beguiled their time in stringing together the incidents which
make up these legends were conscious of their solar character.
They did not go to work, with malice prepense, to weave
allegories and apologues. The Greeks who first told the story
of Perseus and Andromeda, the Arabians who devised the tale of
Codadad and his brethren, the Flemings who listened over their
beer-mugs to the adventures of Culotte-Verte, were not
thinking of sun-gods or dawn-maidens, or night-demons; and no
theory of mythology can be sound which implies such an
extravagance. Most of these stories have lived on the lips of
the common people; and illiterate persons are not in the habit
of allegorizing in the style of mediaeval monks or rabbinical
commentators. But what has been amply demonstrated is, that
the sun and the clouds, the light and the darkness, were once
supposed to be actuated by wills analogous to the human will;
that they were personified and worshipped or propitiated by
sacrifice; and that their doings were described in language
which applied so well to the deeds of human or quasi-human
beings that in course of time its primitive purport faded from
recollection. No competent scholar now doubts that the myths
of the Veda and the Edda originated in this way, for philology
itself shows that the names employed in them are the names of
the great phenomena of nature. And when once a few striking
stories had thus arisen,--when once it had been told how Indra
smote the Panis, and how Sigurd rescued Brynhild, and how
Odysseus blinded the Kyklops,--then certain mythic or
dramatic types had been called into existence; and to these
types, preserved in the popular imagination, future stories
would inevitably conform. We need, therefore, have no
hesitation in admitting a common origin for the vanquished
Panis and the outwitted Troll or Devil; we may securely
compare the legends of St. George and Jack the Giant-killer
with the myth of Indra slaying Vritra; we may see in the
invincible Sigurd the prototype of many a doughty
knight-errant of romance; and we may learn anew the lesson,
taught with fresh emphasis by modern scholarship, that in the
deepest sense there is nothing new under the sun.
I am the more explicit on this point, because it seems to me
that the unguarded language of many students of mythology is
liable to give rise to misapprehensions, and to discredit both
the method which they employ and the results which they have
obtained. If we were to give full weight to the statements
which are sometimes made, we should perforce believe that
primitive men had nothing to do but to ponder about the sun
and the clouds, and to worry themselves over the disappearance
of daylight. But there is nothing in the scientific
interpretation of myths which obliges us to go any such
length. I do not suppose that any ancient Aryan, possessed of
good digestive powers and endowed with sound common-sense,
ever lay awake half the night wondering whether the sun would
come back again.[125] The child and the savage believe of
necessity that the future will resemble the past, and it is
only philosophy which raises doubts on the subject.[126] The
predominance of solar legends in most systems of mythology is
not due to the lack of "that Titanic assurance with which we
say, the sun MUST rise";[127] nor again to the fact that the
phenomena of day and night are the most striking phenomena in
nature. Eclipses and earthquakes and floods are phenomena of
the most terrible and astounding kind, and they have all
generated myths; yet their contributions to folk-lore are
scanty compared with those furnished by the strife between the
day-god and his enemies. The sun-myths have been so prolific
because the dramatic types to which they have given rise are
of surpassing human interest. The dragon who swallows the sun
is no doubt a fearful personage; but the hero who toils for
others, who slays hydra-headed monsters, and dries the tears
of fair-haired damsels, and achieves success in spite of
incredible obstacles, is a being with whom we can all
sympathize, and of whom we never weary of hearing.
[125] I agree, most heartily, with Mr. Mahaffy's remarks,
Prolegomena to Ancient History, p. 69.
[126] Sir George Grey once told some Australian natives about
the countries within the arctic circle where during part of
the year the sun never sets. "Their astonishment now knew no
bounds. 'Ah! that must be another sun, not the same as the one
we see here,' said an old man; and in spite of all my
arguments to the contrary, the others adopted this opinion."
Grey's Journals, I. 293, cited in Tylor, Early History of
Mankind, p. 301.
[127] Max Muller, Chips, II. 96.
With many of these legends which present the myth of light and
darkness in its most attractive form, the reader is already
acquainted, and it is needless to retail stories which have
been told over and over again in books which every one is
presumed to have read. I will content myself with a weird
Irish legend, narrated by Mr. Patrick Kennedy,[128] in which
we here and there catch glimpses of the primitive mythical
symbols, as fragments of gold are seen gleaming through the
crystal of quartz.
[128] Fictions of the Irish Celts, pp. 255-270.
Long before the Danes ever came to Ireland, there died at
Muskerry a Sculloge, or country farmer, who by dint of hard
work and close economy had amassed enormous wealth. His only
son did not resemble him. When the young Sculloge looked about
the house, the day after his father's death, and saw the big
chests full of gold and silver, and the cupboards shining with
piles of sovereigns, and the old stockings stuffed with large
and small coin, he said to himself, "Bedad, how shall I ever
be able to spend the likes o' that!" And so he drank, and
gambled, and wasted his time in hunting and horse-racing,
until after a while he found the chests empty and the
cupboards poverty-stricken, and the stockings lean and
penniless. Then he mortgaged his farm-house and gambled away
all the money he got for it, and then he bethought him that a
few hundred pounds might be raised on his mill. But when he
went to look at it, he found "the dam broken, and scarcely a
thimbleful of water in the mill-race, and the wheel rotten,
and the thatch of the house all gone, and the upper millstone
lying flat on the lower one, and a coat of dust and mould over
everything." So he made up his mind to borrow a horse and take
one more hunt to-morrow and then reform his habits.
As he was returning late in the evening from this farewell
hunt, passing through a lonely glen he came upon an old man
playing backgammon, betting on his left hand against his
right, and crying and cursing because the right WOULD win.
"Come and bet with me," said he to Sculloge. "Faith, I have
but a sixpence in the world," was the reply; "but, if you
like, I'll wager that on the right." "Done," said the old
man, who was a Druid; "if you win I'll give you a hundred
guineas." So the game was played, and the old man, whose right
hand was always the winner, paid over the guineas and told
Sculloge to go to the Devil with them.
Instead of following this bit of advice, however, the young
farmer went home and began to pay his debts, and next week he
went to the glen and won another game, and made the Druid
rebuild his mill. So Sculloge became prosperous again, and by
and by he tried his luck a third time, and won a game played
for a beautiful wife. The Druid sent her to his house the next
morning before he was out of bed, and his servants came
knocking at the door and crying, "Wake up! wake up! Master
Sculloge, there's a young lady here to see you." "Bedad, it's
the vanithee[129] herself," said Sculloge; and getting up in a
hurry, he spent three quarters of an hour in dressing himself.
At last he went down stairs, and there on the sofa was the
prettiest lady ever seen in Ireland! Naturally, Sculloge's
heart beat fast and his voice trembled, as he begged the
lady's pardon for this Druidic style of wooing, and besought
her not to feel obliged to stay with him unless she really
liked him. But the young lady, who was a king's daughter from
a far country, was wondrously charmed with the handsome
farmer, and so well did they get along that the priest was
sent for without further delay, and they were married before
sundown. Sabina was the vanithee's name; and she warned her
husband to have no more dealings with Lassa Buaicht, the old
man of the glen. So for a while all went happily, and the
Druidic bride was as good as she was beautiful But by and by
Sculloge began to think he was not earning money fast enough.
He could not bear to see his wife's white hands soiled with
work, and thought it would be a fine thing if he could only
afford to keep a few more servants, and drive about with
Sabina in an elegant carriage, and see her clothed in silk and
adorned with jewels.
[129] A corruption of Gaelic bhan a teaigh, "lady of the
"I will play one more game and set the stakes high," said
Sculloge to himself one evening, as he sat pondering over
these things; and so, without consulting Sabina, he stole away
to the glen, and played a game for ten thousand guineas. But
the evil Druid was now ready to pounce on his prey, and he did
not play as of old. Sculloge broke into a cold sweat with
agony and terror as he saw the left hand win! Then the face of
Lassa Buaicht grew dark and stern, and he laid on Sculloge the
curse which is laid upon the solar hero in misfortune, that he
should never sleep twice under the same roof, or ascend the
couch of the dawn-nymph, his wife, until he should have
procured and brought to him the sword of light. When Sculloge
reached home, more dead than alive, he saw that his wife knew
all. Bitterly they wept together, but she told him that with
courage all might be set right. She gave him a Druidic horse,
which bore him swiftly over land and sea, like the enchanted
steed of the Arabian Nights, until he reached the castle of
his wife's father who, as Sculloge now learned, was a good
Druid, the brother of the evil Lassa Buaicht. This good Druid
told him that the sword of light was kept by a third brother,
the powerful magician, Fiach O'Duda, who dwelt in an enchanted
castle, which many brave heroes had tried to enter, but the
dark sorcerer had slain them all. Three high walls surrounded
the castle, and many had scaled the first of these, but none
had ever returned alive. But Sculloge was not to be daunted,
and, taking from his father-in-law a black steed, he set out
for the fortress of Fiach O'Duda. Over the first high wall
nimbly leaped the magic horse, and Sculloge called aloud on
the Druid to come out and surrender his sword. Then came out a
tall, dark man, with coal-black eyes and hair and melancholy
visage, and made a furious sweep at Sculloge with the flaming
blade. But the Druidic beast sprang back over the wall in the
twinkling of an eye and rescued his rider, leaving, however,
his tail behind in the court-yard. Then Sculloge returned in
triumph to his father-in-law's palace, and the night was spent
in feasting and revelry.
Next day Sculloge rode out on a white horse, and when he got
to Fiach's castle, he saw the first wall lying in rubbish. He
leaped the second, and the same scene occurred as the day
before, save that the horse escaped unharmed.
The third day Sculloge went out on foot, with a harp like that
of Orpheus in his hand, and as he swept its strings the grass
bent to listen and the trees bowed their heads. The castle
walls all lay in ruins, and Sculloge made his way unhindered
to the upper room, where Fiach lay in Druidic slumber, lulled
by the harp. He seized the sword of light, which was hung by
the chimney sheathed in a dark scabbard, and making the best
of his way back to the good king's palace, mounted his wife's
steed, and scoured over land and sea until he found himself in
the gloomy glen where Lassa Buaicht was still crying and
cursing and betting on his left hand against his right.
"Here, treacherous fiend, take your sword of light!" shouted
Sculloge in tones of thunder; and as he drew it from its
sheath the whole valley was lighted up as with the morning
sun, and next moment the head of the wretched Druid was lying
at his feet, and his sweet wife, who had come to meet him, was
laughing and crying in his arms. November, 1870.
THE theory of mythology set forth in the four preceding
papers, and illustrated by the examination of numerous myths
relating to the lightning, the storm-wind, the clouds, and the
sunlight, was originally framed with reference solely to the
mythic and legendary lore of the Aryan world. The phonetic
identity of the names of many Western gods and heroes with the
names of those Vedic divinities which are obviously the
personifications of natural phenomena, suggested the theory
which philosophical considerations had already foreshadowed in
the works of Hume and Comte, and which the exhaustive analysis
of Greek, Hindu, Keltic, and Teutonic legends has amply
confirmed. Let us now, before proceeding to the consideration
of barbaric folk-lore, briefly recapitulate the results
obtained by modern scholarship working strictly within the
limits of the Aryan domain.
In the first place, it has been proved once for all that the
languages spoken by the Hindus, Persians, Greeks, Romans,
Kelts, Slaves, and Teutons are all descended from a single
ancestral language, the Old Aryan, in the same sense that
French, Italian, and Spanish are descended from the Latin. And
from this undisputed fact it is an inevitable inference that
these various races contain, along with other elements, a
race-element in common, due to their Aryan pedigree. That the
Indo-European races are wholly Aryan is very improbable, for
in every case the countries overrun by them were occupied by
inferior races, whose blood must have mingled in varying
degrees with that of their conquerors; but that every
Indo-European people is in great part descended from a common
Aryan stock is not open to question.
In the second place, along with a common fund of moral and
religious ideas and of legal and ceremonial observances, we
find these kindred peoples possessed of a common fund of
myths, superstitions, proverbs, popular poetry, and household
legends. The Hindu mother amuses her child with fairy-tales
which often correspond, even in minor incidents, with stories
in Scottish or Scandinavian nurseries; and she tells them in
words which are phonetically akin to words in Swedish and
Gaelic. No doubt many of these stories might have been devised
in a dozen different places independently of each other; and
no doubt many of them have been transmitted laterally from one
people to another; but a careful examination shows that such
cannot have been the case with the great majority of legends
and beliefs. The agreement between two such stories, for
instance, as those of Faithful John and Rama and Luxman is so
close as to make it incredible that they should have been
independently fabricated, while the points of difference are
so important as to make it extremely improbable that the one
was ever copied from the other. Besides which, the essential
identity of such myths as those of Sigurd and Theseus, or of
Helena and Sarama, carries us back historically to a time when
the scattered Indo-European tribes had not yet begun to hold
commercial and intellectual intercourse with each other, and
consequently could not have interchanged their epic materials
or their household stories. We are therefore driven to the
conclusion--which, startling as it may seem, is after all the
most natural and plausible one that can be stated--that the
Aryan nations, which have inherited from a common ancestral
stock their languages and their customs, have inherited also
from the same common original their fireside legends. They
have preserved Cinderella and Punchkin just as they have
preserved the words for father and mother, ten and twenty; and
the former case, though more imposing to the imagination, is
scientifically no less intelligible than the latter.
Thirdly, it has been shown that these venerable tales may be
grouped in a few pretty well defined classes; and that the
archetypal myth of each class--the primitive story in
conformity to which countless subsequent tales have been
generated--was originally a mere description of physical
phenomena, couched in the poetic diction of an age when
everything was personified, because all natural phenomena were
supposed to be due to the direct workings of a volition like
that of which men were conscious within themselves. Thus we
are led to the striking conclusion that mythology has had a
common root, both with science and with religious philosophy.
The myth of Indra conquering Vritra was one of the theorems of
primitive Aryan science; it was a provisional explanation of
the thunder-storm, satisfactory enough until extended
observation and reflection supplied a better one. It also
contained the germs of a theology; for the life-giving solar
light furnished an important part of the primeval conception
of deity. And finally, it became the fruitful parent of
countless myths, whether embodied in the stately epics of
Homer and the bards of the Nibelungenlied, or in the humbler
legends of St. George and William Tell and the ubiquitous
Such is the theory which was suggested half a century ago by
the researches of Jacob Grimm, and which, so far as concerns
the mythology of the Aryan race, is now victorious along the
whole line. It remains for us to test the universality of the
general principles upon which it is founded, by a brief
analysis of sundry legends and superstitions of the barbaric
world. Since the fetichistic habit of explaining the outward
phenomena of nature after the analogy of the inward phenomena
of conscious intelligence is not a habit peculiar to our Aryan
ancestors, but is, as psychology shows, the inevitable result
of the conditions under which uncivilized thinking proceeds,
we may expect to find the barbaric mind personifying the
powers of nature and making myths about their operations the
whole world over. And we need not be surprised if we find in
the resulting mythologic structures a strong resemblance to
the familiar creations of the Aryan intelligence. In point of
fact, we shall often be called upon to note such resemblance;
and it accordingly behooves us at the outset to inquire how
far a similarity between mythical tales shall be taken as
evidence of a common traditional origin, and how far it may be
interpreted as due merely to the similar workings of the
untrained intelligence in all ages and countries.
Analogies drawn from the comparison of languages will here be
of service to us, if used discreetly; otherwise they are
likely to bewilder far more than to enlighten us. A theorem
which Max Muller has laid down for our guidance in this kind
of investigation furnishes us with an excellent example of the
tricks which a superficial analogy may play even with the
trained scholar, when temporarily off his guard. Actuated by a
praiseworthy desire to raise the study of myths to something
like the high level of scientific accuracy already attained by
the study of words, Max Muller endeavours to introduce one of
the most useful canons of philology into a department of
inquiry where its introduction could only work the most
hopeless confusion. One of the earliest lessons to be learned
by the scientific student of linguistics is the uselessness of
comparing together directly the words contained in derivative
languages. For example, you might set the English twelve side
by side with the Latin duodecim, and then stare at the two
words to all eternity without any hope of reaching a
conclusion, good or bad, about either of them: least of all
would you suspect that they are descended from the same
radical. But if you take each word by itself and trace it back
to its primitive shape, explaining every change of every
letter as you go, you will at last reach the old Aryan
dvadakan, which is the parent of both these strangely
metamorphosed words.[130] Nor will it do, on the other hand,
to trust to verbal similarity without a historical inquiry
into the origin of such similarity. Even in the same language
two words of quite different origin may get their corners
rubbed off till they look as like one another as two pebbles.
The French words souris, a "mouse," and souris, a "smile," are
spelled exactly alike; but the one comes from Latin sorex and
the other from Latin subridere.
[130] For the analysis of twelve, see my essay on "The Genesis
of Language," North American Review, October 1869, p. 320.
Now Max Muller tells us that this principle, which is
indispensable in the study of words, is equally indispensable
in the study of myths.[131] That is, you must not rashly
pronounce the Norse story of the Heartless Giant identical
with the Hindu story of Punchkin, although the two correspond
in every essential incident. In both legends a magician turns
several members of the same family into stone; the youngest
member of the family comes to the rescue, and on the way saves
the lives of sundry grateful beasts; arrived at the magician's
castle, he finds a captive princess ready to accept his love
and to play the part of Delilah to the enchanter. In both
stories the enchanter's life depends on the integrity of
something which is elaborately hidden in a far-distant island,
but which the fortunate youth, instructed by the artful
princess and assisted by his menagerie of grateful beasts,
succeeds in obtaining. In both stories the youth uses his
advantage to free all his friends from their enchantment, and
then proceeds to destroy the villain who wrought all this
wickedness. Yet, in spite of this agreement, Max Muller, if I
understand him aright, would not have us infer the identity of
the two stories until we have taken each one separately and
ascertained its primitive mythical significance. Otherwise,
for aught we can tell, the resemblance may be purely
accidental, like that of the French words for "mouse" and
[131] Chips from a German Workshop, Vol. II. p. 246.
A little reflection, however, will relieve us from this
perplexity, and assure us that the alleged analogy between the
comparison of words and the comparison of stories is utterly
superficial. The transformations of words--which are often
astounding enough--depend upon a few well-established
physiological principles of utterance; and since philology has
learned to rely upon these principles, it has become nearly as
sure in its methods and results as one of the so-called "exact
sciences." Folly enough is doubtless committed within its
precincts by writers who venture there without the laborious
preparation which this science, more than almost any other,
demands. But the proceedings of the trained philologist are no
more arbitrary than those of the trained astronomer. And
though the former may seem to be straining at a gnat and
swallowing a camel when he coolly tells you that violin and
fiddle are the same word, while English care and Latin cura
have nothing to do with each other, he is nevertheless no more
indulging in guess-work than the astronomer who confesses his
ignorance as to the habitability of Venus while asserting his
knowledge of the existence of hydrogen in the atmosphere of
Sirius. To cite one example out of a hundred, every
philologist knows that s may become r, and that the broad
a-sound may dwindle into the closer o-sound; but when you
adduce some plausible etymology based on the assumption that r
has changed into s, or o into a, apart from the demonstrable
influence of some adjacent letter, the philologist will shake
his head.
Now in the study of stories there are no such simple rules all
cut and dried for us to go by. There is no uniform
psychological principle which determines that the three-headed
snake in one story shall become a three-headed man in the
next. There is no Grimm's Law in mythology which decides that
a Hindu magician shall always correspond to a Norwegian Troll
or a Keltic Druid. The laws of association of ideas are not so
simple in application as the laws of utterance. In short, the
study of myths, though it can be made sufficiently scientific
in its methods and results, does not constitute a science by
itself, like philology. It stands on a footing similar to that
occupied by physical geography, or what the Germans call
"earth-knowledge." No one denies that all the changes going on
over the earth's surface conform to physical laws; but then no
one pretends that there is any single proximate principle
which governs all the phenomena of rain-fall, of
soil-crumbling, of magnetic variation, and of the distribution
of plants and animals. All these things are explained by
principles obtained from the various sciences of physics,
chemistry, geology, and physiology. And in just the same way
the development and distribution of stories is explained by
the help of divers resources contributed by philology,
psychology, and history. There is therefore no real analogy
between the cases cited by Max Muller. Two unrelated words may
be ground into exactly the same shape, just as a pebble from
the North Sea may be undistinguishable from another pebble on
the beach of the Adriatic; but two stories like those of
Punchkin and the Heartless Giant are no more likely to arise
independently of each other than two coral reefs on opposite
sides of the globe are likely to develop into exactly similar
Shall we then say boldly, that close similarity between
legends is proof of kinship, and go our way without further
misgivings? Unfortunately we cannot dispose of the matter in
quite so summary a fashion; for it remains to decide what kind
and degree of similarity shall be considered satisfactory
evidence of kinship. And it is just here that doctors may
disagree. Here is the point at which our "science" betrays its
weakness as compared with the sister study of philology.
Before we can decide with confidence in any case, a great mass
of evidence must be brought into court. So long as we remained
on Aryan ground, all went smoothly enough, because all the
external evidence was in our favour. We knew at the outset,
that the Aryans inherit a common language and a common
civilization, and therefore we found no difficulty in
accepting the conclusion that they have inherited, among other
things, a common stock of legends. In the barbaric world it is
quite otherwise. Philology does not pronounce in favour of a
common origin for all barbaric culture, such as it is. The
notion of a single primitive language, standing in the same
relation to all existing dialects as the relation of old Aryan
to Latin and English, or that of old Semitic to Hebrew and
Arabic, was a notion suited only to the infancy of linguistic
science. As the case now stands, it is certain that all the
languages actually existing cannot be referred to a common
ancestor, and it is altogether probable that there never was
any such common ancestor. I am not now referring to the
question of the unity of the human race. That question lies
entirely outside the sphere of philology. The science of
language has nothing to do with skulls or complexions, and no
comparison of words can tell us whether the black men are
brethren of the white men, or whether yellow and red men have
a common pedigree: these questions belong to comparative
physiology. But the science of language can and does tell us
that a certain amount of civilization is requisite for the
production of a language sufficiently durable and wide-spread
to give birth to numerous mutually resembling offspring
Barbaric languages are neither widespread nor durable. Among
savages each little group of families has its own dialect, and
coins its own expressions at pleasure; and in the course of
two or three generations a dialect gets so strangely altered
as virtually to lose its identity. Even numerals and personal
pronouns, which the Aryan has preserved for fifty centuries,
get lost every few years in Polynesia. Since the time of
Captain Cook the Tahitian language has thrown away five out of
its ten simple numerals, and replaced them by brand-new ones;
and on the Amazon you may acquire a fluent command of some
Indian dialect, and then, coming back after twenty years, find
yourself worse off than Rip Van Winkle, and your learning all
antiquated and useless. How absurd, therefore, to suppose that
primeval savages originated a language which has held its own
like the old Aryan and become the prolific mother of the three
or four thousand dialects now in existence! Before a durable
language can arise, there must be an aggregation of numerous
tribes into a people, so that there may be need of
communication on a large scale, and so that tradition may be
strengthened. Wherever mankind have associated in nations,
permanent languages have arisen, and their derivative dialects
bear the conspicuous marks of kinship; but where mankind have
remained in their primitive savage isolation, their languages
have remained sporadic and transitory, incapable of organic
development, and showing no traces of a kinship which never
The bearing of these considerations upon the origin and
diffusion of barbaric myths is obvious. The development of a
common stock of legends is, of course, impossible, save where
there is a common language; and thus philology pronounces
against the kinship of barbaric myths with each other and with
similar myths of the Aryan and Semitic worlds. Similar stories
told in Greece and Norway are likely to have a common
pedigree, because the persons who have preserved them in
recollection speak a common language and have inherited the
same civilization. But similar stories told in Labrador and
South Africa are not likely to be genealogically related,
because it is altogether probable that the Esquimaux and the
Zulu had acquired their present race characteristics before
either of them possessed a language or a culture sufficient
for the production of myths. According to the nature and
extent of the similarity, it must be decided whether such
stories have been carried about from one part of the world to
another, or have been independently originated in many
different places.
Here the methods of philology suggest a rule which will often
be found useful. In comparing, the vocabularies of different
languages, those words which directly imitate natural sounds--
such as whiz, crash, crackle--are not admitted as evidence of
kinship between the languages in which they occur.
Resemblances between such words are obviously no proof of a
common ancestry; and they are often met with in languages
which have demonstrably had no connection with each other. So
in mythology, where we find two stories of which the primitive
character is perfectly transparent, we need have no difficulty
in supposing them to have originated independently. The myth
of Jack and his Beanstalk is found all over the world; but the
idea of a country above the sky, to which persons might gain
access by climbing, is one which could hardly fail to occur to
every barbarian. Among the American tribes, as well as among
the Aryans, the rainbow and the Milky-Way have contributed the
idea of a Bridge of the Dead, over which souls must pass on
the way to the other world. In South Africa, as well as in
Germany, the habits of the fox and of his brother the jackal
have given rise to fables in which brute force is overcome by
cunning. In many parts of the world we find curiously similar
stories devised to account for the stumpy tails of the bear
and hyaena, the hairless tail of the rat, and the blindness of
the mole. And in all countries may be found the beliefs that
men may be changed into beasts, or plants, or stones; that the
sun is in some way tethered or constrained to follow a certain
course; that the storm-cloud is a ravenous dragon; and that
there are talismans which will reveal hidden treasures. All
these conceptions are so obvious to the uncivilized
intelligence, that stories founded upon them need not be
supposed to have a common origin, unless there turns out to be
a striking similarity among their minor details. On the other
hand, the numerous myths of an all-destroying deluge have
doubtless arisen partly from reminiscences of actually
occurring local inundations, and partly from the fact that the
Scriptural account of a deluge has been carried all over the
world by Catholic and Protestant missionaries.[132]
[132] For various legends of a deluge, see Baring-Gould,
Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 85-106.
By way of illustrating these principles, let us now cite a few
of the American myths so carefully collected by Dr. Brinton in
his admirable treatise. We shall not find in the mythology of
the New World the wealth of wit and imagination which has so
long delighted us in the stories of Herakles, Perseus, Hermes,
Sigurd, and Indra. The mythic lore of the American Indians is
comparatively scanty and prosaic, as befits the product of a
lower grade of culture and a more meagre intellect. Not only
are the personages less characteristically pourtrayed, but
there is a continual tendency to extravagance, the sure index
of an inferior imagination. Nevertheless, after making due
allowances for differences in the artistic method of
treatment, there is between the mythologies of the Old and the
New Worlds a fundamental resemblance. We come upon solar myths
and myths of the storm curiously blended with culture-myths,
as in the cases of Hermes, Prometheus, and Kadmos. The
American parallels to these are to be found in the stories of
Michabo, Viracocha, Ioskeha, and Quetzalcoatl. "As elsewhere
the world over, so in America, many tribes had to tell of ....
an august character, who taught them what they knew,--the
tillage of the soil, the properties of plants, the art of
picture-writing, the secrets of magic; who founded their
institutions and established their religions; who governed
them long with glory abroad and peace at home; and finally did
not die, but, like Frederic Barbarossa, Charlemagne, King
Arthur, and all great heroes, vanished mysteriously, and still
lives somewhere, ready at the right moment to return to his
beloved people and lead them to victory and happiness."[133]
Everyone is familiar with the numerous legends of
white-skinned, full-bearded heroes, like the mild
Quetzalcoatl, who in times long previous to Columbus came from
the far East to impart the rudiments of civilization and
religion to the red men. By those who first heard these
stories they were supposed, with naive Euhemerism, to refer to
pre-Columbian visits of Europeans to this continent, like that
of the Northmen in the tenth century. But a scientific study
of the subject has dissipated such notions. These legends are
far too numerous, they are too similar to each other, they are
too manifestly symbolical, to admit of any such
interpretation. By comparing them carefully with each other,
and with correlative myths of the Old World, their true
character soon becomes apparent.
[133] Brinton, Myths of the New World, p. 160.
One of the most widely famous of these culture-heroes was
Manabozho or Michabo, the Great Hare. With entire unanimity,
says Dr. Brinton, the various branches of the Algonquin race,
"the Powhatans of Virginia, the Lenni Lenape of the Delaware,
the warlike hordes of New England, the Ottawas of the far
North, and the Western tribes, perhaps without exception,
spoke of this chimerical beast,' as one of the old
missionaries calls it, as their common ancestor. The totem, or
clan, which bore his name was looked up to with peculiar
respect." Not only was Michabo the ruler and guardian of these
numerous tribes,--he was the founder of their religious
rites, the inventor of picture-writing, the ruler of the
weather, the creator and preserver of earth and heaven. "From
a grain of sand brought from the bottom of the primeval ocean
he fashioned the habitable land, and set it floating on the
waters till it grew to such a size that a strong young wolf,
running constantly, died of old age ere he reached its
limits." He was also, like Nimrod, a mighty hunter. "One of
his footsteps measured eight leagues, the Great Lakes were the
beaver-dams he built, and when the cataracts impeded his
progress he tore them away with his hands." "Sometimes he was
said to dwell in the skies with his brother, the Snow, or,
like many great spirits, to have built his wigwam in the far
North on some floe of ice in the Arctic Ocean..... But in the
oldest accounts of the missionaries he was alleged to reside
toward the East; and in the holy formulae of the meda craft,
when the winds are invoked to the medicine lodge, the East is
summoned in his name, the door opens in that direction, and
there, at the edge of the earth where the sun rises, on the
shore of the infinite ocean that surrounds the land, he has
his house, and sends the luminaries forth on their daily
journeys."[134] From such accounts as this we see that Michabo
was no more a wise instructor and legislator than Minos or
Kadmos. Like these heroes, he is a personification of the
solar life-giving power, which daily comes forth from its home
in the east, making the earth to rejoice. The etymology of his
name confirms the otherwise clear indications of the legend
itself. It is compounded of michi, "great," and wabos, which
means alike "hare" and "white." "Dialectic forms in Algonquin
for white are wabi, wape, wampi, etc.; for morning, wapan,
wapanch, opah; for east, wapa, wanbun, etc.; for day, wompan,
oppan; for light, oppung." So that Michabo is the Great White
One, the God of the Dawn and the East. And the etymological
confusion, by virtue of which he acquired his soubriquet of
the Great Hare, affords a curious parallel to what has often
happened in Aryan and Semitic mythology, as we saw when
discussing the subject of werewolves.
[134] Brinton, op. cit. p. 163.
Keeping in mind this solar character of Michabo, let us note
how full of meaning are the myths concerning him. In the first
cycle of these legends, "he is grandson of the Moon, his
father is the West Wind, and his mother, a maiden, dies in
giving him birth at the moment of conception. For the Moon is
the goddess of night; the Dawn is her daughter, who brings
forth the Morning, and perishes herself in the act; and the
West, the spirit of darkness, as the East is of light,
precedes, and as it were begets the latter, as the evening
does the morning. Straightway, however, continues the legend,
the son sought the unnatural father to revenge the death of
his mother, and then commenced a long and desperate struggle.
It began on the mountains. The West was forced to give ground.
Manabozho drove him across rivers and over mountains and
lakes, and at last he came to the brink of this world. 'Hold,'
cried he, 'my son, you know my power, and that it is
impossible to kill me.' What is this but the diurnal combat of
light and darkness, carried on from what time 'the jocund morn
stands tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops,' across the wide
world to the sunset, the struggle that knows no end, for both
the opponents are immortal?"[135]
[135] Brinton, op. cit. p. 167.
Even the Veda nowhere affords a more transparent narrative
than this. The Iroquois tradition is very similar. In it
appear twin brothers,[136] born of a virgin mother, daughter
of the Moon, who died in giving them life. Their names,
Ioskeha and Tawiskara, signify in the Oneida dialect the White
One and the Dark One. Under the influence of Christian ideas
the contest between the brothers has been made to assume a
moral character, like the strife between Ormuzd and Ahriman.
But no such intention appears in the original myth, and Dr.
Brinton has shown that none of the American tribes had any
conception of a Devil. When the quarrel came to blows, the
dark brother was signally discomfited; and the victorious
Ioskeha, returning to his grandmother, "established his lodge
in the far East, on the horders of the Great Ocean, whence the
sun comes. In time he became the father of mankind, and
special guardian of the Iroquois." He caused the earth to
bring forth, he stocked the woods with game, and taught his
children the use of fire. "He it was who watched and watered
their crops; 'and, indeed, without his aid,' says the old
missionary, quite out of patience with their puerilities,
'they think they could not boil a pot.' " There was more in it
than poor Brebouf thought, as we are forcibly reminded by
recent discoveries in physical science. Even civilized men
would find it difficult to boil a pot without the aid of solar
energy. Call him what we will,--Ioskeha, Michabo, or
Phoibos,--the beneficent Sun is the master and sustainer of us
all; and if we were to relapse into heathenism, like
Erckmann-Chatrian's innkeeper, we could not do better than to
select him as our chief object of worship.
[136] Corresponding, in various degrees, to the Asvins, the
Dioskouroi, and the brothers True and Untrue of Norse
The same principles by which these simple cases are explained
furnish also the key to the more complicated mythology of
Mexico and Peru. Like the deities just discussed, Viracocha,
the supreme god of the Quichuas, rises from the bosom of Lake
Titicaca and journeys westward, slaying with his lightnings
the creatures who oppose him, until he finally disappears in
the Western Ocean. Like Aphrodite, he bears in his name the
evidence of his origin, Viracocha signifying "foam of the
sea"; and hence the "White One" (l'aube), the god of light
rising white on the horizon, like the foam on the surface of
the waves. The Aymaras spoke of their original ancestors as
white; and to this day, as Dr. Brinton informs us, the
Peruvians call a white man Viracocha. The myth of Quetzalcoatl
is of precisely the same character. All these solar heroes
present in most of their qualities and achievements a striking
likeness to those of the Old World. They combine the
attributes of Apollo, Herakles, and Hermes. Like Herakles,
they journey from east to west, smiting the powers of
darkness, storm, and winter with the thunderbolts of Zeus or
the unerring arrows of Phoibos, and sinking in a blaze of
glory on the western verge of the world, where the waves meet
the firmament. Or like Hermes, in a second cycle of legends,
they rise with the soft breezes of a summer morning, driving
before them the bright celestial cattle whose udders are heavy
with refreshing rain, fanning the flames which devour the
forests, blustering at the doors of wigwams, and escaping with
weird laughter through vents and crevices. The white skins and
flowing beards of these American heroes may be aptly compared
to the fair faces and long golden locks of their Hellenic
compeers. Yellow hair was in all probability as rare in Greece
as a full beard in Peru or Mexico; but in each case the
description suits the solar character of the hero. One
important class of incidents, however is apparently quite
absent from the American legends. We frequently see the Dawn
described as a virgin mother who dies in giving birth to the
Day; but nowhere do we remember seeing her pictured as a
lovely or valiant or crafty maiden, ardently wooed, but
speedily forsaken by her solar lover. Perhaps in no respect is
the superior richness and beauty of the Aryan myths more
manifest than in this. Brynhild, Urvasi, Medeia, Ariadne,
Oinone, and countless other kindred heroines, with their
brilliant legends, could not be spared from the mythology of
our ancestors without, leaving it meagre indeed. These were
the materials which Kalidasa, the Attic dramatists, and the
bards of the Nibelungen found ready, awaiting their artistic
treatment. But the mythology of the New World, with all its
pretty and agreeable naivete, affords hardly enough, either of
variety in situation or of complexity in motive, for a grand
epic or a genuine tragedy.
But little reflection is needed to assure us that the
imagination of the barbarian, who either carries away his wife
by brute force or buys her from her relatives as he would buy
a cow, could never have originated legends in which maidens
are lovingly solicited, or in which their favour is won by the
performance of deeds of valour. These stories owe their
existence to the romantic turn of mind which has always
characterized the Aryan, whose civilization, even in the times
before the dispersion of his race, was sufficiently advanced
to allow of his entertaining such comparatively exalted
conceptions of the relations between men and women. The
absence of these myths from barbaric folk-lore is, therefore,
just what might be expected; but it is a fact which militates
against any possible hypothesis of the common origin of Aryan
and barbaric mythology. If there were any genetic relationship
between Sigurd and Ioskeha, between Herakles and Michabo, it
would be hard to tell why Brynhild and Iole should have
disappeared entirely from one whole group of legends, while
retained, in some form or other, throughout the whole of the
other group. On the other hand, the resemblances above noticed
between Aryan and American mythology fall very far short of
the resemblances between the stories told in different parts
of the Aryan domain. No barbaric legend, of genuine barbaric
growth, has yet been cited which resembles any Aryan legend as
the story of Punchkin resembles the story of the Heartless
Giant. The myths of Michabo and Viracocha are direct copies,
so to speak, of natural phenomena, just as imitative words are
direct copies of natural sounds. Neither the Redskin nor the
Indo-European had any choice as to the main features of the
career of his solar divinity. He must be born of the
Night,--or of the Dawn,--must travel westward, must slay
harassing demons. Eliminating these points of likeness, the
resemblance between the Aryan and barbaric legends is at once
at an end. Such an identity in point of details as that
between the wooden horse which enters Ilion, and the horse
which bears Sigurd into the place where Brynhild is
imprisoned, and the Druidic steed which leaps with Sculloge
over the walls of Fiach's enchanted castle, is, I believe,
nowhere to be found after we leave Indo-European territory.
Our conclusion, therefore, must be, that while the legends of
the Aryan and the non-Aryan worlds contain common mythical
elements, the legends themselves are not of common origin. The
fact that certain mythical ideas are possessed alike by
different races, shows that in each case a similar human
intelligence has been at work explaining similar phenomena;
but in order to prove a family relationship between the
culture of these different races, we need something more than
this. We need to prove not only a community of mythical ideas,
but also a community between the stories based upon these
ideas. We must show not only that Michabo is like Herakles in
those striking features which the contemplation of solar
phenomena would necessarily suggest to the imagination of the
primitive myth-maker, but also that the two characters are
similarly conceived, and that the two careers agree in
seemingly arbitrary points of detail, as is the case in the
stories of Punchkin and the Heartless Giant. The mere fact
that solar heroes, all over the world, travel in a certain
path and slay imps of darkness is of great value as throwing
light upon primeval habits of thought, but it is of no value
as evidence for or against an alleged community of
civilization between different races. The same is true of the
sacredness universally attached to certain numbers. Dr.
Blinton's opinion that the sanctity of the number four in
nearly all systems of mythology is due to a primitive worship
of the cardinal points, becomes very probable when we
recollect that the similar pre-eminence of seven is almost
demonstrably connected with the adoration of the sun, moon,
and five visible planets, which has left its record in the
structure and nomenclature of the Aryan and Semitic week.[137]
[137] See Humboldt's Kosmos, Tom. III. pp. 469-476. A
fetichistic regard for the cardinal points has not always been
absent from the minds of persons instructed in a higher
theology as witness a well-known passage in Irenaeus, and also
the custom, well-nigh universal in Europe, of building
Christian churches in a line east and west.
In view of these considerations, the comparison of barbaric
myths with each other and with the legends of the Aryan world
becomes doubly interesting, as illustrating the similarity in
the workings of the untrained intelligence the world over. In
our first paper we saw how the moon-spots have been variously
explained by Indo-Europeans, as a man with a thorn-bush or as
two children bearing a bucket of water on a pole. In Ceylon it
is said that as Sakyamuni was one day wandering half starved
in the forest, a pious hare met him, and offered itself to him
to be slain and cooked for dinner; whereupon the holy Buddha
set it on high in the moon, that future generations of men
might see it and marvel at its piety. In the Samoan Islands
these dark patches are supposed to be portions of a woman's
figure. A certain woman was once hammering something with a
mallet, when the moon arose, looking so much like a
bread-fruit that the woman asked it to come down and let her
child eat off a piece of it; but the moon, enraged at the
insult, gobbled up woman, mallet, and child, and there, in the
moon's belly, you may still behold them. According to the
Hottentots, the Moon once sent the Hare to inform men that as
she died away and rose again, so should men die and again come
to life. But the stupid Hare forgot the purport of the
message, and, coming down to the earth, proclaimed it far and
wide that though the Moon was invariably resuscitated whenever
she died, mankind, on the other hand, should die and go to the
Devil. When the silly brute returned to the lunar country and
told what he had done, the Moon was so angry that she took up
an axe and aimed a blow at his head to split it. But the axe
missed and only cut his lip open; and that was the origin of
the "hare-lip." Maddened by the pain and the insult, the Hare
flew at the Moon and almost scratched her eyes out; and to
this day she bears on her face the marks of the Hare's
[138] Bleek, Hottentot Fables and Tales, p. 72. Compare the
Fiji story of Ra Vula, the Moon, and Ra Kalavo, the Rat, in
Tylor, Primitive Culture, I. 321.
Again, every reader of the classics knows how Selene cast
Endymion into a profound slumber because he refused her love,
and how at sundown she used to come and stand above him on the
Latmian hill, and watch him as he lay asleep on the marble
steps of a temple half hidden among drooping elm-trees, over
which clambered vines heavy with dark blue grapes. This
represents the rising moon looking down on the setting sun; in
Labrador a similar phenomenon has suggested a somewhat
different story. Among the Esquimaux the Sun is a maiden and
the Moon is her brother, who is overcome by a wicked passion
for her. Once, as this girl was at a dancing-party in a
friend's hut, some one came up and took hold of her by the
shoulders and shook her, which is (according to the legend)
the Esquimaux manner of declaring one's love. She could not
tell who it was in the dark, and so she dipped her hand in
some soot and smeared one of his cheeks with it. When a light
was struck in the hut, she saw, to her dismay, that it was her
brother, and, without waiting to learn any more, she took to
her heels. He started in hot pursuit, and so they ran till
they got to the end of the world,--the jumping-off
place,--when they both jumped into the sky. There the Moon
still chases his sister, the Sun; and every now and then he
turns his sooty cheek toward the earth, when he becomes so
dark that you cannot see him.[139]
[139] Tylor, Early History of Mankind, p. 327.
Another story, which I cite from Mr. Tylor, shows that Malays,
as well as Indo-Europeans, have conceived of the clouds as
swan-maidens. In the island of Celebes it is said that "seven
heavenly nymphs came down from the sky to bathe, and they were
seen by Kasimbaha, who thought first that they were white
doves, but in the bath he saw that they were women. Then he
stole one of the thin robes that gave the nymphs their power
of flying, and so he caught Utahagi, the one whose robe he had
stolen, and took her for his wife, and she bore him a son. Now
she was called Utahagi from a single white hair she had, which
was endowed with magic power, and this hair her husband pulled
out. As soon as he had done it, there arose a great storm, and
Utahagi went up to heaven. The child cried for its mother, and
Kasimbaha was in great grief, and cast about how he should
follow Utahagi up into the sky." Here we pass to the myth of
Jack and the Beanstalk. "A rat gnawed the thorns off the
rattans, and Kasimbaha clambered up by them with his son upon
his back, till he came to heaven. There a little bird showed
him the house of Utahagi, and after various adventures he took
up his abode among the gods."[140]
[140] Tylor, op. cit., p. 346.
In Siberia we find a legend of swan-maidens, which also
reminds us of the story of the Heartless Giant. A certain
Samojed once went out to catch foxes, and found seven maidens
swimming in a lake surrounded by gloomy pine-trees, while
their feather dresses lay on the shore. He crept up and stole
one of these dresses, and by and by the swan-maiden came to
him shivering with cold and promising to become his wife if he
would only give her back her garment of feathers. The
ungallant fellow, however, did not care for a wife, but a
little revenge was not unsuited to his way of thinking. There
were seven robbers who used to prowl about the neighbourhood,
and who, when they got home, finding their hearts in the way,
used to hang them up on some pegs in the tent. One of these
robbers had killed the Samojed's mother; and so he promised to
return the swan-maiden's dress after she should have procured
for him these seven hearts. So she stole the hearts, and the
Samojed smashed six of them, and then woke up the seventh
robber, and told him to restore his mother to life, on pain of
instant death, Then the robber produced a purse containing the
old woman's soul, and going to the graveyard shook it over her
bones, and she revived at once. Then the Samojed smashed the
seventh heart, and the robber died; and so the swan-maiden got
back her plumage and flew away rejoicing.[141]
[141] Baring-Gould, Curious Myths, II. 299-302.
Swan-maidens are also, according to Mr. Baring-Gould, found
among the Minussinian Tartars. But there they appear as foul
demons, like the Greek Harpies, who delight in drinking the
blood of men slain in battle. There are forty of them, who
darken the whole firmament in their flight; but sometimes they
all coalesce into one great black storm-fiend, who rages for
blood, like a werewolf.
In South Africa we find the werewolf himself.[142] A certain
Hottentot was once travelling with a Bushwoman and her child,
when they perceived at a distance a troop of wild horses. The
man, being hungry, asked the woman to turn herself into a
lioness and catch one of these horses, that they might eat of
it; whereupon the woman set down her child, and taking off a
sort of petticoat made of human skin became instantly
transformed into a lioness, which rushed across the plain,
struck down a wild horse and lapped its blood. The man climbed
a tree in terror, and conjured his companion to resume her
natural shape. Then the lioness came back, and putting on the
skirt made of human skin reappeared as a woman, and took up
her child, and the two friends resumed their journey after
making a meal of the horse's flesh.[143]
[142] Speaking of beliefs in the Malay Archipelago, Mr.
Wallace says: "It is universally believed in Lombock that some
men have the power to turn themselves into crocodiles, which
they do for the sake of devouring their enemies, and many
strange tales are told of such transformations." Wallace,
Malay Archipelago, Vol. I. p. 251.
[143] Bleek, Hottentot Fables and Tales, p. 58.
The werewolf also appears in North America, duly furnished
with his wolf-skin sack; but neither in America nor in Africa
is he the genuine European werewolf, inspired by a diabolic
frenzy, and ravening for human flesh. The barbaric myths
testify to the belief that men can be changed into beasts or
have in some cases descended from beast ancestors, but the
application of this belief to the explanation of abnormal
cannibal cravings seems to have been confined to Europe. The
werewolf of the Middle Ages was not merely a transformed
man,--he was an insane cannibal, whose monstrous appetite, due
to the machinations of the Devil, showed its power over his
physical organism by changing the shape of it. The barbaric
werewolf is the product of a lower and simpler kind of
thinking. There is no diabolism about him; for barbaric races,
while believing in the existence of hurtful and malicious
fiends, have not a sufficiently vivid sense of moral abnormity
to form the conception of diabolism. And the cannibal craving,
which to the mediaeval European was a phenomenon so strange as
to demand a mythological explanation, would not impress the
barbarian as either very exceptional or very blameworthy.
In the folk-lore of the Zulus, one of the most quick-witted
and intelligent of African races, the cannibal possesses many
features in common with the Scandinavian Troll, who also has a
liking for human flesh. As we saw in the preceding paper, the
Troll has very likely derived some of his characteristics from
reminiscences of the barbarous races who preceded the Aryans
in Central and Northern Europe. In like manner the long-haired
cannibal of Zulu nursery literature, who is always represented
as belonging to a distinct race, has been supposed to be
explained by the existence of inferior races conquered and
displaced by the Zulus. Nevertheless, as Dr. Callaway
observes, neither the long-haired mountain cannibals of
Western Africa, nor the Fulahs, nor the tribes of Eghedal
described by Barth, "can be considered as answering to the
description of long-haired as given in the Zulu legends of
cannibals; neither could they possibly have formed their
historical basis..... It is perfectly clear that the cannibals
of the Zulu legends are not common men; they are magnified
into giants and magicians; they are remarkably swift and
enduring; fierce and terrible warriors." Very probably they
may have a mythical origin in modes of thought akin to those
which begot the Panis of the Veda and the Northern Trolls. The
parallelism is perhaps the most remarkable one which can be
found in comparing barbaric with Aryan folk-lore. Like the
Panis and Trolls, the cannibals are represented as the foes of
the solar hero Uthlakanyana, who is almost as great a
traveller as Odysseus, and whose presence of mind amid trying
circumstances is not to be surpassed by that of the
incomparable Boots. Uthlakanyana is as precocious as Herakles
or Hermes. He speaks before he is born, and no sooner has he
entered the world than he begins to outwit other people and
get possession of their property. He works bitter ruin for the
cannibals, who, with all their strength and fleetness, are no
better endowed with quick wit than the Trolls, whom Boots
invariably victimizes. On one of his journeys, Uthlakanyana
fell in with a cannibal. Their greetings were cordial enough,
and they ate a bit of leopard together, and began to build a
house, and killed a couple of cows, but the cannibal's cow was
lean, while Uthlakanyana's was fat. Then the crafty traveller,
fearing that his companion might insist upon having the fat
cow, turned and said, " 'Let the house be thatched now then we
can eat our meat. You see the sky, that we shall get wet.'
The cannibal said, 'You are right, child of my sister; you are
a man indeed in saying, let us thatch the house, for we shall
get wet.' Uthlakanyana said, 'Do you do it then; I will go
inside, and push the thatching-needle for you, in the house.'
The cannibal went up. His hair was very, very long.
Uthlakanyana went inside and pushed the needle for him. He
thatched in the hair of the cannibal, tying it very tightly;
he knotted it into the thatch constantly, taking it by
separate locks and fastening it firmly, that it might be
tightly fastened to the house." Then the rogue went outside
and began to eat of the cow which was roasted. "The cannibal
said, 'What are you about, child of my sister? Let us just
finish the house; afterwards we can do that; we will do it
together.' Uthlakanyana replied, 'Come down then. I cannot go
into the house any more. The thatching is finished.' The
cannibal assented. When he thought he was going to quit the
house, he was unable to quit it. He cried out saying, 'Child
of my sister, how have you managed your thatching?'
Uthlakanyana said, 'See to it yourself. I have thatched well,
for I shall not have any dispute. Now I am about to eat in
peace; I no longer dispute with anybody, for I am now alone
with my cow.' " So the cannibal cried and raved and appealed
in vain to Uthlakanyana's sense of justice, until by and by
"the sky came with hailstones and lightning Uthlakanyana took
all the meat into the house; he stayed in the house and lit a
fire. It hailed and rained. The cannibal cried on the top of
the house; he was struck with the hailstones, and died there
on the house. It cleared. Uthlakanyana went out and said,
'Uncle, just come down, and come to me. It has become clear.
It no longer rains, and there is no more hail, neither is
there any more lightning. Why are you silent?' So
Uthlakanyana ate his cow alone, until he had finished it. He
then went on his way."[144]
[144] Callaway, Zulu Nursery Tales, pp. 27-30.
In another Zulu legend, a girl is stolen by cannibals, and
shut up in the rock Itshe-likantunjambili, which, like the
rock of the Forty Thieves, opens and shuts at the command of
those who understand its secret. She gets possession of the
secret and escapes, and when the monsters pursue her she
throws on the ground a calabash full of sesame, which they
stop to eat. At last, getting tired of running, she climbs a
tree, and there she finds her brother, who, warned by a dream,
has come out to look for her. They ascend the tree together
until they come to a beautiful country well stocked with fat
oxen. They kill an ox, and while its flesh is roasting they
amuse themselves by making a stout thong of its hide. By and
by one of the cannibals, smelling the cooking meat, comes to
the foot of the tree, and looking up discovers the boy and
girl in the sky-country! They invite him up there; to share in
their feast, and throw him an end of the thong by which to
climb up. When the cannibal is dangling midway between earth
and heaven, they let go the rope, and down he falls with a
terrible crash.[145]
[145] Callaway, op. cit. pp. 142-152; cf. a similar story in
which the lion is fooled by the jackal. Bleek, op. cit. p. 7.
I omit the sequel of the tale.
In this story the enchanted rock opened by a talismanic
formula brings us again into contact with Indo-European
folk-lore. And that the conception has in both cases been
suggested by the same natural phenomenon is rendered probable
by another Zulu tale, in which the cannibal's cave is opened
by a swallow which flies in the air. Here we have the elements
of a genuine lightning-myth. We see that among these African
barbarians, as well as among our own forefathers, the clouds
have been conceived as birds carrying the lightning which can
cleave the rocks. In America we find the same notion
prevalent. The Dakotahs explain the thunder as "the sound of
the cloud-bird flapping his wings," and the Caribs describe
the lightning as a poisoned dart which the bird blows through
a hollow reed, after the Carib style of shooting.[146] On the
other hand, the Kamtchatkans know nothing of a cloud-bird, but
explain the lightning as something analogous to the flames of
a volcano. The Kamtchatkans say that when the mountain goblins
have got their stoves well heated up, they throw overboard,
with true barbaric shiftlessness, all the brands not needed
for immediate use, which makes a volcanic eruption. So when it
is summer on earth, it is winter in heaven; and the gods,
after heating up their stoves, throw away their spare
kindlingwood, which makes the lightning.[147]
[146] Brinton, op. cit. p. 104.
[147] Tylor, op. cit. p. 320.
When treating of Indo-European solar myths, we saw the
unvarying, unresting course of the sun variously explained as
due to the subjection of Herakles to Eurystheus, to the anger
of Poseidon at Odysseus, or to the curse laid upon the
Wandering Jew. The barbaric mind has worked at the same
problem; but the explanations which it has given are more
childlike and more grotesque. A Polynesian myth tells how the
Sun used to race through the sky so fast that men could not
get enough daylight to hunt game for their subsistence. By and
by an inventive genius, named Maui, conceived the idea of
catching the Sun in a noose and making him go more
deliberately. He plaited ropes and made a strong net, and,
arming himself with the jawbone of his ancestress,
Muri-ranga-whenua, called together all his brethren, and they
journeyed to the place where the Sun rises, and there spread
the net. When the Sun came up, he stuck his head and fore-paws
into the net, and while the brothers tightened the ropes so
that they cut him and made him scream for mercy, Maui beat him
with the jawbone until he became so weak that ever since he
has only been able to crawl through the sky. According to
another Polynesian myth, there was once a grumbling Radical,
who never could be satisfied with the way in which things are
managed on this earth. This bold Radical set out to build a
stone house which should last forever; but the days were so
short and the stones so heavy that he despaired of ever
accomplishing his project. One night, as he lay awake thinking
the matter over, it occurred to him that if he could catch the
Sun in a net, he could have as much daylight as was needful in
order to finish his house. So he borrowed a noose from the god
Itu, and, it being autumn, when the Sun gets sleepy and
stupid, he easily caught the luminary. The Sun cried till his
tears made a great freshet which nearly drowned the island;
but it was of no use; there he is tethered to this day.
Similar stories are met with in North America. A Dog-Rib
Indian once chased a squirrel up a tree until he reached the
sky. There he set a snare for the squirrel and climbed down
again. Next day the Sun was caught in the snare, and night
came on at once. That is to say, the sun was eclipsed.
"Something wrong up there," thought the Indian, "I must have
caught the Sun"; and so he sent up ever so many animals to
release the captive. They were all burned to ashes, but at
last the mole, going up and burrowing out through the GROUND
OF THE SKY, (!) succeeded in gnawing asunder the cords of the
snare. Just as it thrust its head out through the opening made
in the sky-ground, it received a flash of light which put its
eyes out, and that is why the mole is blind. The Sun got away,
but has ever since travelled more deliberately.[148]
[148] Tylor, op. cit. pp. 338-343.
These sun-myths, many more of which are to be found collected
in Mr. Tylor's excellent treatise on "The Early History of
Mankind," well illustrate both the similarity and the
diversity of the results obtained by the primitive mind, in
different times and countries, when engaged upon similar
problems. No one would think of referring these stories to a
common traditional origin with the myths of Herakles and
Odysseus; yet both classes of tales were devised to explain
the same phenomenon. Both to the Aryan and to the Polynesian
the steadfast but deliberate journey of the sun through the
firmament was a strange circumstance which called for
explanation; but while the meagre intelligence of the
barbarian could only attain to the quaint conception of a man
throwing a noose over the sun's head, the rich imagination of
the Indo-European created the noble picture of Herakles doomed
to serve the son of Sthenelos, in accordance with the
resistless decree of fate.
Another world-wide myth, which shows how similar are the
mental habits of uncivilized men, is the myth of the tortoise.
The Hindu notion of a great tortoise that lies beneath the
earth and keeps it from falling is familiar to every reader.
According to one account, this tortoise, swimming in the
primeval ocean, bears the earth on his back; but by and by,
when the gods get ready to destroy mankind, the tortoise will
grow weary and sink under his load, and then the earth will be
overwhelmed by a deluge. Another legend tells us that when the
gods and demons took Mount Mandara for a churning-stick and
churned the ocean to make ambrosia, the god Vishnu took on the
form of a tortoise and lay at the bottom of the sea, as a
pivot for the whirling mountain to rest upon. But these
versions of the myth are not primitive. In the original
conception the world is itself a gigantic tortoise swimming in
a boundless ocean; the flat surface of the earth is the lower
plate which covers the reptile's belly; the rounded shell
which covers his back is the sky; and the human race lives and
moves and has its being inside of the tortoise. Now, as Mr.
Tylor has pointed out, many tribes of Redskins hold
substantially the same theory of the universe. They regard the
tortoise as the symbol of the world, and address it as the
mother of mankind. Once, before the earth was made, the king
of heaven quarrelled with his wife, and gave her such a
terrible kick that she fell down into the sea. Fortunately a
tortoise received her on his back, and proceeded to raise up
the earth, upon which the heavenly woman became the mother of
mankind. These first men had white faces, and they used to dig
in the ground to catch badgers. One day a zealous burrower
thrust his knife too far and stabbed the tortoise, which
immediately sank into the sea and drowned all the human race
save one man.[149] In Finnish mythology the world is not a
tortoise, but it is an egg, of which the white part is the
ocean, the yolk is the earth, and the arched shell is the sky.
In India this is the mundane egg of Brahma; and it reappears
among the Yorubas as a pair of calabashes put together like
oyster-shells, one making a dome over the other. In Zulu-land
the earth is a huge beast called Usilosimapundu, whose face is
a rock, and whose mouth is very large and broad and red: "in
some countries which were on his body it was winter, and in
others it was early harvest." Many broad rivers flow over his
back, and he is covered with forests and hills, as is
indicated in his name, which means "the rugose or
knotty-backed beast." In this group of conceptions may be seen
the origin of Sindbad's great fish, which lay still so long
that sand and clay gradually accumulated upon its back, and at
last it became covered with trees. And lastly, passing from
barbaric folk-lore and from the Arabian Nights to the highest
level of Indo-European intelligence, do we not find both Plato
and Kepler amusing themselves with speculations in which the
earth figures as a stupendous animal?
[149] Tylor, op. cit. p. 336. November, 1870
[150] Juventus Mundi. The Gods and Men of the Heroic Age. By
the Rt. Hon. William Ewart Gladstone. Boston: Little, Brown,
& Co. 1869.
TWELVE years ago, when, in concluding his "Studies on Homer
and the Homeric Age," Mr. Gladstone applied to himself the
warning addressed by Agamemnon to the priest of Apollo,
"Let not Nemesis catch me by the swift ships."
he would seem to have intended it as a last farewell to
classical studies. Yet, whatever his intentions may have been,
they have yielded to the sweet desire of revisiting familiar
ground,--a desire as strong in the breast of the classical
scholar as was the yearning which led Odysseus to reject the
proffered gift of immortality, so that he might but once more
behold the wreathed smoke curling about the roofs of his
native Ithaka. In this new treatise, on the "Youth of the
World," Mr. Gladstone discusses the same questions which were
treated in his earlier work; and the main conclusions reached
in the "Studies on Homer" are here so little modified with
reference to the recent progress of archaeological inquiries,
that the book can hardly be said to have had any other reason
for appearing, save the desire of loitering by the ships of
the Argives, and of returning thither as often as possible.
The title selected by Mr. Gladstone for his new work is either
a very appropriate one or a strange misnomer, according to the
point of view from which it is regarded. Such being the case,
we might readily acquiesce in its use, and pass it by without
comment, trusting that the author understood himself when he
adopted it, were it not that by incidental references, and
especially by his allusions to the legendary literature of the
Jews, Mr. Gladstone shows that he means more by the title than
it can fairly be made to express. An author who seeks to
determine prehistoric events by references to Kadmos, and
Danaos, and Abraham, is at once liable to the suspicion of
holding very inadequate views as to the character of the epoch
which may properly be termed the "youth of the world." Often
in reading Mr. Gladstone we are reminded of Renan's strange
suggestion that an exploration of the Hindu Kush territory,
whence probably came the primitive Aryans, might throw some
new light on the origin of language. Nothing could well be
more futile. The primitive Aryan language has already been
partly reconstructed for us; its grammatical forms and
syntactic devices are becoming familiar to scholars; one great
philologist has even composed a tale in it; yet in studying
this long-buried dialect we are not much nearer the first
beginnings of human speech than in studying the Greek of
Homer, the Sanskrit of the Vedas, or the Umbrian of the
Igovine Inscriptions. The Aryan mother-tongue had passed into
the last of the three stages of linguistic growth long before
the break-up of the tribal communities in Aryana-vaedjo, and
at that early date presented a less primitive structure than
is to be seen in the Chinese or the Mongolian of our own
times. So the state of society depicted in the Homeric poems,
and well illustrated by Mr. Gladstone, is many degrees less
primitive than that which is revealed to us by the
archaeological researches either of Pictet and Windischmann,
or of Tylor, Lubbock, and M'Lennan. We shall gather evidences
of this as we proceed. Meanwhile let us remember that at least
eleven thousand years before the Homeric age men lived in
communities, and manufactured pottery on the banks of the
Nile; and let us not leave wholly out of sight that more
distant period, perhaps a million years ago, when sparse
tribes of savage men, contemporaneous with the mammoths of
Siberia and the cave-tigers of Britain, struggled against the
intense cold of the glacial winters.
Nevertheless, though the Homeric age appears to be a late one
when considered with reference to the whole career of the
human race, there is a point of view from which it may be
justly regarded as the "youth of the world." However long man
may have existed upon the earth, he becomes thoroughly and
distinctly human in the eyes of the historian only at the
epoch at which he began to create for himself a literature. As
far back as we can trace the progress of the human race
continuously by means of the written word, so far do we feel a
true historical interest in its fortunes, and pursue our
studies with a sympathy which the mere lapse of time is
powerless to impair. But the primeval man, whose history never
has been and never will be written, whose career on the earth,
dateless and chartless, can be dimly revealed to us only by
palaeontology, excites in us a very different feeling. Though
with the keenest interest we ransack every nook and corner of
the earth's surface for information about him, we are all the
while aware that what we are studying is human zoology and not
history. Our Neanderthal man is a specimen, not a character.
We cannot ask him the Homeric question, what is his name, who
were his parents, and how did he get where we found him. His
language has died with him, and he can render no account of
himself. We can only regard him specifically as Homo
Anthropos, a creature of bigger brain than his congener Homo
Pithekos, and of vastly greater promise. But this, we say, is
physical science, and not history.
For the historian, therefore, who studies man in his various
social relations, the youth of the world is the period at
which literature begins. We regard the history of the western
world as beginning about the tenth century before the
Christian era, because at that date we find literature, in
Greece and Palestine, beginning to throw direct light upon the
social and intellectual condition of a portion of mankind.
That great empires, rich in historical interest and in
materials for sociological generalizations, had existed for
centuries before that date, in Egypt and Assyria, we do not
doubt, since they appear at the dawn of history with all the
marks of great antiquity; but the only steady historical light
thrown upon them shines from the pages of Greek and Hebrew
authors, and these know them only in their latest period. For
information concerning their early careers we must look, not
to history, but to linguistic archaeology, a science which can
help us to general results, but cannot enable us to fix dates,
save in the crudest manner.
We mention the tenth century before Christ as the earliest
period at which we can begin to study human society in general
and Greek society in particular, through the medium of
literature. But, strictly speaking, the epoch in question is
one which cannot be fixed with accuracy. The earliest
ascertainable date in Greek history is that of the Olympiad of
Koroibos, B. C. 776. There is no doubt that the Homeric poems
were written before this date, and that Homer is therefore
strictly prehistoric. Had this fact been duly realized by
those scholars who have not attempted to deny it, a vast
amount of profitless discussion might have been avoided.
Sooner or later, as Grote says, "the lesson must be learnt,
hard and painful though it be, that no imaginable reach of
critical acumen will of itself enable us to discriminate fancy
from reality, in the absence of a tolerable stock of
evidence." We do not know who Homer was; we do not know where
or when he lived; and in all probability we shall never know.
The data for settling the question are not now accessible, and
it is not likely that they will ever be discovered. Even in
early antiquity the question was wrapped in an obscurity as
deep as that which shrouds it to-day. The case between the
seven or eight cities which claimed to be the birthplace of
the poet, and which Welcker has so ably discussed, cannot be
decided. The feebleness of the evidence brought into court may
be judged from the fact that the claims of Chios and the story
of the poet's blindness rest alike upon a doubtful allusion in
the Hymn to Apollo, which Thukydides (III. 104) accepted as
authentic. The majority of modern critics have consoled
themselves with the vague conclusion that, as between the two
great divisions of the early Greek world, Homer at least
belonged to the Asiatic. But Mr. Gladstone has shown good
reasons for doubting this opinion. He has pointed out several
instances in which the poems seem to betray a closer
topographical acquaintance with European than with Asiatic
Greece, and concludes that Athens and Argos have at least as
good a claim to Homer as Chios or Smyrna.
It is far more desirable that we should form an approximate
opinion as to the date of the Homeric poems, than that we
should seek to determine the exact locality in which they
originated. Yet the one question is hardly less obscure than
the other. Different writers of antiquity assigned eight
different epochs to Homer, of which the earliest is separated
from the most recent by an interval of four hundred and sixty
years,--a period as long as that which separates the Black
Prince from the Duke of Wellington, or the age of Perikles
from the Christian era. While Theopompos quite preposterously
brings him down as late as the twenty-third Olympiad, Krates
removes him to the twelfth century B. C. The date ordinarily
accepted by modern critics is the one assigned by Herodotos,
880 B. C. Yet Mr. Gladstone shows reasons, which appear to me
convincing, for doubting or rejecting this date.
I refer to the much-abused legend of the Children of Herakles,
which seems capable of yielding an item of trustworthy
testimony, provided it be circumspectly dealt with. I differ
from Mr. Gladstone in not regarding the legend as historical
in its present shape. In my apprehension, Hyllos and Oxylos,
as historical personages, have no value whatever; and I
faithfully follow Mr. Grote, in refusing to accept any date
earlier than the Olympiad of Koroibos. The tale of the "Return
of the Herakleids" is undoubtedly as unworthy of credit as the
legend of Hengst and Horsa; yet, like the latter, it doubtless
embodies a historical occurrence. One cannot approve, as
scholarlike or philosophical, the scepticism of Mr. Cox, who
can see in the whole narrative nothing but a solar myth. There
certainly was a time when the Dorian tribes--described in the
legend as the allies of the Children of Herakles--conquered
Peloponnesos; and that time was certainly subsequent to the
composition of the Homeric poems. It is incredible that the
Iliad and the Odyssey should ignore the existence of Dorians
in Peloponnesos, if there were Dorians not only dwelling but
ruling there at the time when the poems were written. The
poems are very accurate and rigorously consistent in their use
of ethnical appellatives; and their author, in speaking of
Achaians and Argives, is as evidently alluding to peoples
directly known to him, as is Shakespeare when he mentions
Danes and Scotchmen. Now Homer knows Achaians, Argives, and
Pelasgians dwelling in Peloponnesos; and he knows Dorians
also, but only as a people inhabiting Crete. (Odyss. XIX.
175.) With Homer, moreover, the Hellenes are not the Greeks in
general but only a people dwelling in the north, in Thessaly.
When these poems were written, Greece was not known as Hellas,
but as Achaia,--the whole country taking its name from the
Achaians, the dominant race in Peloponnesos. Now at the
beginning of the truly historical period, in the eighth
century B. C., all this is changed. The Greeks as a people are
called Hellenes; the Dorians rule in Peloponnesos, while their
lands are tilled by Argive Helots; and the Achaians appear
only as an insignificant people occupying the southern shore
of the Corinthian Gulf. How this change took place we cannot
tell. The explanation of it can never be obtained from
history, though some light may perhaps be thrown upon it by
linguistic archaeology. But at all events it was a great
change, and could not have taken place in a moment. It is fair
to suppose that the Helleno-Dorian conquest must have begun at
least a century before the first Olympiad; for otherwise the
geographical limits of the various Greek races would not have
been so completely established as we find them to have been at
that date. The Greeks, indeed, supposed it to have begun at
least three centuries earlier, but it is impossible to collect
evidence which will either refute or establish that opinion.
For our purposes it is enough to know that the conquest could
not have taken place later than 900 B. C.; and if this be the
case, the MINIMUM DATE for the composition of the Homeric
poems must be the tenth century before Christ; which is, in
fact, the date assigned by Aristotle. Thus far, and no
farther, I believe it possible to go with safety. Whether the
poems were composed in the tenth, eleventh, or twelfth century
cannot be determined. We are justified only in placing them
far enough back to allow the Helleno-Dorian conquest to
intervene between their composition and the beginning of
recorded history. The tenth century B. C. is the latest date
which will account for all the phenomena involved in the case,
and with this result we must be satisfied. Even on this
showing, the Iliad and Odyssey appear as the oldest existing
specimens of Aryan literature, save perhaps the hymns of the
Rig-Veda and the sacred books of the Avesta.
The apparent difficulty of preserving such long poems for
three or four centuries without the aid of writing may seem at
first sight to justify the hypothesis of Wolf, that they are
mere collections of ancient ballads, like those which make up
the Mahabharata, preserved in the memories of a dozen or
twenty bards, and first arranged under the orders of
Peisistratos. But on a careful examination this hypothesis is
seen to raise more difficulties than it solves. What was there
in the position of Peisistratos, or of Athens itself in the
sixth century B. C., so authoritative as to compel all Greeks
to recognize the recension then and there made of their
revered poet? Besides which the celebrated ordinance of Solon
respecting the rhapsodes at the Panathenaia obliges us to
infer the existence of written manuscripts of Homer previous
to 550 B. C. As Mr. Grote well observes, the interference of
Peisistratos "presupposes a certain foreknown and ancient
aggregate, the main lineaments of which were familiar to the
Grecian public, although many of the rhapsodes in their
practice may have deviated from it both by omission and
interpolation. In correcting the Athenian recitations
conformably with such understood general type, Peisistratos
might hope both to procure respect for Athens and to
constitute a fashion for the rest of Greece. But this step of
'collecting the torn body of sacred Homer' is something
generically different from the composition of a new Iliad out
of pre-existing songs: the former is as easy, suitable, and
promising as the latter is violent and gratuitous."[151]
[151] Hist. Greece, Vol. II. p. 208.
As for Wolf's objection, that the Iliad and Odyssey are too
long to have been preserved by memory, it may be met by a
simple denial. It is a strange objection indeed, coming from a
man of Wolf's retentive memory. I do not see how the
acquisition of the two poems can be regarded as such a very
arduous task; and if literature were as scanty now as in Greek
antiquity, there are doubtless many scholars who would long
since have had them at their tongues' end. Sir G. C. Lewis,
with but little conscious effort, managed to carry in his head
a very considerable portion of Greek and Latin classic
literature; and Niebuhr (who once restored from recollection a
book of accounts which had been accidentally destroyed) was in
the habit of referring to book and chapter of an ancient
author without consulting his notes. Nay, there is Professor
Sophocles, of Harvard University, who, if you suddenly stop
and interrogate him in the street, will tell you just how many
times any given Greek word occurs in Thukydides, or in
AEschylos, or in Plato, and will obligingly rehearse for you
the context. If all extant copies of the Homeric poems were to
be gathered together and burnt up to-day, like Don Quixote's
library, or like those Arabic manuscripts of which Cardinal
Ximenes made a bonfire in the streets of Granada, the poems
could very likely be reproduced and orally transmitted for
several generations; and much easier must it have been for the
Greeks to preserve these books, which their imagination
invested with a quasi-sanctity, and which constituted the
greater part of the literary furniture of their minds. In
Xenophon's time there were educated gentlemen at Athens who
could repeat both Iliad and Odyssey verbatim. (Xenoph.
Sympos., III. 5.) Besides this, we know that at Chios there
was a company of bards, known as Homerids, whose business it
was to recite these poems from memory; and from the edicts of
Solon and the Sikyonian Kleisthenes (Herod., V. 67), we may
infer that the case was the same in other parts of Greece.
Passages from the Iliad used to be sung at the Pythian
festivals, to the accompaniment of the harp (Athenaeus, XIV.
638), and in at least two of the Ionic islands of the AEgaean
there were regular competitive exhibitions by trained young
men, at which prizes were given to the best reciter. The
difficulty of preserving the poems, under such circumstances,
becomes very insignificant; and the Wolfian argument quite
vanishes when we reflect that it would have been no easier to
preserve a dozen or twenty short poems than two long ones.
Nay, the coherent, orderly arrangement of the Iliad and
Odyssey would make them even easier to remember than a group
of short rhapsodies not consecutively arranged.
When we come to interrogate the poems themselves, we find in
them quite convincing evidence that they were originally
composed for the ear alone, and without reference to
manuscript assistance. They abound in catchwords, and in
verbal repetitions. The "Catalogue of Ships," as Mr. Gladstone
has acutely observed, is arranged in well-defined sections, in
such a way that the end of each section suggests the beginning
of the next one. It resembles the versus memoriales found in
old-fashioned grammars. But the most convincing proof of all
is to be found in the changes which Greek pronunciation went
through between the ages of Homer and Peisistratos. "At the
time when these poems were composed, the digamma (or w) was an
effective consonant, and figured as such in the structure of
the verse; at the time when they were committed to writing, it
had ceased to be pronounced, and therefore never found a place
in any of the manuscripts,--insomuch that the Alexandrian
critics, though they knew of its existence in the much later
poems of Alkaios and Sappho, never recognized it in Homer. The
hiatus, and the various perplexities of metre, occasioned by
the loss of the digamma, were corrected by different
grammatical stratagems. But the whole history of this lost
letter is very curious, and is rendered intelligible only by
the supposition that the Iliad and Odyssey belonged for a wide
space of time to the memory, the voice, and the ear
[152] Grote, Hist. Greece, Vol. II. p. 198.
Many of these facts are of course fully recognized by the
Wolfians; but the inference drawn from them, that the Homeric
poems began to exist in a piecemeal condition, is, as we have
seen, unnecessary. These poems may indeed be compared, in a
certain sense, with the early sacred and epic literature of
the Jews, Indians, and Teutons. But if we assign a plurality
of composers to the Psalms and Pentateuch, the Mahabharata,
the Vedas, and the Edda, we do so because of internal evidence
furnished by the books themselves, and not because these books
could not have been preserved by oral tradition. Is there,
then, in the Homeric poems any such internal evidence of dual
or plural origin as is furnished by the interlaced Elohistic
and Jehovistic documents of the Pentateuch? A careful
investigation will show that there is not. Any scholar who has
given some attention to the subject can readily distinguish
the Elohistic from the Jehovistic portions of the Pentateuch;
and, save in the case of a few sporadic verses, most Biblical
critics coincide in the separation which they make between the
two. But the attempts which have been made to break up the
Iliad and Odyssey have resulted in no such harmonious
agreement. There are as many systems as there are critics, and
naturally enough. For the Iliad and the Odyssey are as much
alike as two peas, and the resemblance which holds between the
two holds also between the different parts of each poem. From
the appearance of the injured Chryses in the Grecian camp down
to the intervention of Athene on the field of contest at
Ithaka, we find in each book and in each paragraph the same
style, the same peculiarities of expression, the same habits
of thought, the same quite unique manifestations of the
faculty of observation. Now if the style were commonplace, the
observation slovenly, or the thought trivial, as is wont to be
the case in ballad-literature, this argument from similarity
might not carry with it much conviction. But when we reflect
that throughout the whole course of human history no other
works, save the best tragedies of Shakespeare, have ever been
written which for combined keenness of observation, elevation
of thought, and sublimity of style can compare with the
Homeric poems, we must admit that the argument has very great
weight indeed. Let us take, for example, the sixth and
twenty-fourth books of the Iliad. According to the theory of
Lachmann, the most eminent champion of the Wolfian hypothesis,
these are by different authors. Human speech has perhaps never
been brought so near to the limit of its capacity of
expressing deep emotion as in the scene between Priam and
Achilleus in the twenty-fourth book; while the interview
between Hektor and Andromache in the sixth similarly wellnigh
exhausts the power of language. Now, the literary critic has a
right to ask whether it is probable that two such passages,
agreeing perfectly in turn of expression, and alike exhibiting
the same unapproachable degree of excellence, could have been
produced by two different authors. And the physiologist--with
some inward misgivings suggested by Mr. Galton's theory that
the Greeks surpassed us in genius even as we surpass the
negroes--has a right to ask whether it is in the natural
course of things for two such wonderful poets, strangely
agreeing in their minutest psychological characteristics, to
be produced at the same time. And the difficulty thus raised
becomes overwhelming when we reflect that it is the
coexistence of not two only, but at least twenty such geniuses
which the Wolfian hypothesis requires us to account for. That
theory worked very well as long as scholars thoughtlessly
assumed that the Iliad and Odyssey were analogous to ballad
poetry. But, except in the simplicity of the primitive
diction, there is no such analogy. The power and beauty of the
Iliad are never so hopelessly lost as when it is rendered into
the style of a modern ballad. One might as well attempt to
preserve the grandeur of the triumphant close of Milton's
Lycidas by turning it into the light Anacreontics of the ode
to "Eros stung by a Bee." The peculiarity of the Homeric
poetry, which defies translation, is its union of the
simplicity characteristic of an early age with a sustained
elevation of style, which can be explained only as due to
individual genius.
The same conclusion is forced upon us when we examine the
artistic structure of these poems. With regard to the Odyssey
in particular, Mr. Grote has elaborately shown that its
structure is so thoroughly integral, that no considerable
portion could be subtracted without converting the poem into a
more or less admirable fragment. The Iliad stands in a
somewhat different position. There are unmistakable
peculiarities in its structure, which have led even Mr. Grote,
who utterly rejects the Wolfian hypothesis, to regard it as
made up of two poems; although he inclines to the belief that
the later poem was grafted upon the earlier by its own author,
by way of further elucidation and expansion; just as Goethe,
in his old age, added a new part to "Faust." According to Mr.
Grote, the Iliad, as originally conceived, was properly an
Achilleis; its design being, as indicated in the opening lines
of the poem, to depict the wrath of Achilleus and the
unutterable woes which it entailed upon the Greeks The plot of
this primitive Achilleis is entirely contained in Books I.,
VIII., and XI.-XXII.; and, in Mr. Grote's opinion, the
remaining books injure the symmetry of this plot by
unnecessarily prolonging the duration of the Wrath, while the
embassy to Achilleus, in the ninth book, unduly anticipates
the conduct of Agamemnon in the nineteenth, and is therefore,
as a piece of bungling work, to be referred to the hands of an
inferior interpolator. Mr. Grote thinks it probable that these
books, with the exception of the ninth, were subsequently
added by the poet, with a view to enlarging the original
Achilleis into a real Iliad, describing the war of the Greeks
against Troy. With reference to this hypothesis, I gladly
admit that Mr. Grote is, of all men now living, the one best
entitled to a reverential hearing on almost any point
connected with Greek antiquity. Nevertheless it seems to me
that his theory rests solely upon imagined difficulties which
have no real existence. I doubt if any scholar, reading the
Iliad ever so much, would ever be struck by these alleged
inconsistencies of structure, unless they were suggested by
some a priori theory. And I fear that the Wolfian theory, in
spite of Mr. Grote's emphatic rejection of it, is responsible
for some of these over-refined criticisms. Even as it stands,
the Iliad is not an account of the war against Troy. It begins
in the tenth year of the siege, and it does not continue to
the capture of the city. It is simply occupied with an episode
in the war,--with the wrath of Achilleus and its consequences,
according to the plan marked out in the opening lines. The
supposed additions, therefore, though they may have given to
the poem a somewhat wider scope, have not at any rate changed
its primitive character of an Achilleis. To my mind they seem
even called for by the original conception of the consequences
of the wrath. To have inserted the battle at the ships, in
which Sarpedon breaks down the wall of the Greeks, immediately
after the occurrences of the first book, would have been too
abrupt altogether. Zeus, after his reluctant promise to
Thetis, must not be expected so suddenly to exhibit such fell
determination. And after the long series of books describing
the valorous deeds of Aias, Diomedes, Agamemnon, Odysseus, and
Menelaos, the powerful intervention of Achilleus appears in
far grander proportions than would otherwise be possible. As
for the embassy to Achilleus, in the ninth book, I am unable
to see how the final reconciliation with Agamemnon would be
complete without it. As Mr. Gladstone well observes, what
Achilleus wants is not restitution, but apology; and Agamemnon
offers no apology until the nineteenth book. In his answer to
the ambassadors, Achilleus scornfully rejects the proposals
which imply that the mere return of Briseis will satisfy his
righteous resentment, unless it be accompanied with that
public humiliation to which circumstances have not yet
compelled the leader of the Greeks to subject himself.
Achilleus is not to be bought or cajoled. Even the extreme
distress of the Greeks in the thirteenth book does not prevail
upon him; nor is there anything in the poem to show that he
ever would have laid aside his wrath, had not the death of
Patroklos supplied him with a new and wholly unforeseen
motive. It seems to me that his entrance into the battle after
the death of his friend would lose half its poetic effect,
were it not preceded by some such scene as that in the ninth
book, in which he is represented as deaf to all ordinary
inducements. As for the two concluding books, which Mr. Grote
is inclined to regard as a subsequent addition, not
necessitated by the plan of the poem, I am at a loss to see
how the poem can be considered complete without them. To leave
the bodies of Patroklos and Hektor unburied would be in the
highest degree shocking to Greek religious feelings.
Remembering the sentence incurred, in far less superstitious
times, by the generals at Arginusai, it is impossible to
believe that any conclusion which left Patroklos's manes
unpropitiated, and the mutilated corpse of Hektor unransomed,
could have satisfied either the poet or his hearers. For
further particulars I must refer the reader to the excellent
criticisms of Mr. Gladstone, and also to the article on "Greek
History and Legend" in the second volume of Mr. Mill's
"Dissertations and Discussions." A careful study of the
arguments of these writers, and, above all, a thorough and
independent examination of the Iliad itself, will, I believe,
convince the student that this great poem is from beginning to
end the consistent production of a single author.
The arguments of those who would attribute the Iliad and
Odyssey, taken as wholes, to two different authors, rest
chiefly upon some apparent discrepancies in the mythology of
the two poems; but many of these difficulties have been
completely solved by the recent progress of the science of
comparative mythology. Thus, for example, the fact that, in
the Iliad, Hephaistos is called the husband of Charis, while
in the Odyssey he is called the husband of Aphrodite, has been
cited even by Mr. Grote as evidence that the two poems are not
by the same author. It seems to me that one such discrepancy,
in the midst of complete general agreement, would be much
better explained as Cervantes explained his own inconsistency
with reference to the stealing of Sancho's mule, in the
twenty-second chapter of "Don Quixote." But there is no
discrepancy. Aphrodite, though originally the moon-goddess,
like the German Horsel, had before Homer's time acquired many
of the attributes of the dawn-goddess Athene, while her lunar
characteristics had been to a great extent transferred to
Artemis and Persephone. In her renovated character, as goddess
of the dawn, Aphrodite became identified with Charis, who
appears in the Rig-Veda as dawn-goddess. In the post-Homeric
mythology, the two were again separated, and Charis, becoming
divided in personality, appears as the Charites, or Graces,
who were supposed to be constant attendants of Aphrodite. But
in the Homeric poems the two are still identical, and either
Charis or Aphrodite may be called the wife of the fire-god,
without inconsistency.
Thus to sum up, I believe that Mr. Gladstone is quite right in
maintaining that both the Iliad and Odyssey are, from
beginning to end, with the exception of a few insignificant
interpolations, the work of a single author, whom we have no
ground for calling by any other name than that of Homer. I
believe, moreover, that this author lived before the beginning
of authentic history, and that we can determine neither his
age nor his country with precision. We can only decide that he
was a Greek who lived at some time previous to the year 900
Here, however, I must begin to part company with Mr.
Gladstone, and shall henceforth unfortunately have frequent
occasion to differ from him on points of fundamental
importance. For Mr. Gladstone not only regards the Homeric age
as strictly within the limits of authentic history, but he
even goes much further than this. He would not only fix the
date of Homer positively in the twelfth century B. C., but he
regards the Trojan war as a purely historical event, of which
Homer is the authentic historian and the probable eye-witness.
Nay, he even takes the word of the poet as proof conclusive of
the historical character of events happening several
generations before the Troika, according to the legendary
chronology. He not only regards Agamemnon, Achilleus, and
Paris as actual personages, but he ascribes the same reality
to characters like Danaos, Kadmos, and Perseus, and talks of
the Pelopid and Aiolid dynasties, and the empire of Minos,
with as much confidence as if he were dealing with Karlings or
Capetians, or with the epoch of the Crusades.
It is disheartening, at the present day, and after so much has
been finally settled by writers like Grote, Mommsen, and Sir
G. C. Lewis, to come upon such views in the work of a man of
scholarship and intelligence. One begins to wonder how many
more times it will be necessary to prove that dates and events
are of no historical value, unless attested by nearly
contemporary evidence. Pausanias and Plutarch were able men no
doubt, and Thukydides was a profound historian; but what these
writers thought of the Herakleid invasion, the age of Homer,
and the war of Troy, can have no great weight with the
critical historian, since even in the time of Thukydides these
events were as completely obscured by lapse of time as they
are now. There is no literary Greek history before the age of
Hekataios and Herodotos, three centuries subsequent to the
first recorded Olympiad. A portion of this period is
satisfactorily covered by inscriptions, but even these fail us
before we get within a century of this earliest ascertainable
date. Even the career of the lawgiver Lykourgos, which seems
to belong to the commencement of the eighth century B. C.,
presents us, from lack of anything like contemporary records,
with many insoluble problems. The Helleno-Dorian conquest, as
we have seen, must have occurred at some time or other; but it
evidently did not occur within two centuries of the earliest
known inscription, and it is therefore folly to imagine that
we can determine its date or ascertain the circumstances which
attended it. Anterior to this event there is but one fact in
Greek antiquity directly known to us,--the existence of the
Homeric poems. The belief that there was a Trojan war rests
exclusively upon the contents of those poems: there is no
other independent testimony to it whatever. But the Homeric
poems are of no value as testimony to the truth of the
statements contained in them, unless it can be proved that
their author was either contemporary with the Troika, or else
derived his information from contemporary witnesses. This can
never be proved. To assume, as Mr. Gladstone does, that Homer
lived within fifty years after the Troika, is to make a purely
gratuitous assumption. For aught the wisest historian can
tell, the interval may have been five hundred years, or a
thousand. Indeed the Iliad itself expressly declares that it
is dealing with an ancient state of things which no longer
exists. It is difficult to see what else can be meant by the
statement that the heroes of the Troika belong to an order of
men no longer seen upon the earth. (Iliad, V. 304.) Most
assuredly Achilleus the son of Thetis, and Sarpedon the son of
Zeus, and Helena the daughter of Zeus, are no ordinary
mortals, such as might have been seen and conversed with by
the poet's grandfather. They belong to an inferior order of
gods, according to the peculiar anthropomorphism of the
Greeks, in which deity and humanity are so closely mingled
that it is difficult to tell where the one begins and the
other ends. Diomedes, single-handed, vanquishes not only the
gentle Aphrodite, but even the god of battles himself, the
terrible Ares. Nestor quaffs lightly from a goblet which, we
are told, not two men among the poet's contemporaries could by
their united exertions raise and place upon a table. Aias and
Hektor and Aineias hurl enormous masses of rock as easily as
an ordinary man would throw a pebble. All this shows that the
poet, in his naive way, conceiving of these heroes as
personages of a remote past, was endeavouring as far as
possible to ascribe to them the attributes of superior beings.
If all that were divine, marvellous, or superhuman were to be
left out of the poems, the supposed historical residue would
hardly be worth the trouble of saving. As Mr. Cox well
observes, "It is of the very essence of the narrative that
Paris, who has deserted Oinone, the child of the stream
Kebren, and before whom Here, Athene, and Aphrodite had
appeared as claimants for the golden apple, steals from Sparta
the beautiful sister of the Dioskouroi; that the chiefs are
summoned together for no other purpose than to avenge her woes
and wrongs; that Achilleus, the son of the sea-nymph Thetis,
the wielder of invincible weapons and the lord of undying
horses, goes to fight in a quarrel which is not his own; that
his wrath is roused because he is robbed of the maiden
Briseis, and that henceforth he takes no part in the strife
until his friend Patroklos has been slain; that then he puts
on the new armour which Thetis brings to him from the anvil of
Hephaistos, and goes forth to win the victory. The details are
throughout of the same nature. Achilleus sees and converses
with Athene; Aphrodite is wounded by Diomedes, and Sleep and
Death bear away the lifeless Sarpedon on their noiseless wings
to the far-off land of light." In view of all this it is
evident that Homer was not describing, like a salaried
historiographer, the state of things which existed in the time
of his father or grandfather. To his mind the occurrences
which he described were those of a remote, a wonderful, a
semi-divine past.
This conclusion, which I have thus far supported merely by
reference to the Iliad itself, becomes irresistible as soon as
we take into account the results obtained during the past
thirty years by the science of comparative mythology. As long
as our view was restricted to Greece, it was perhaps excusable
that Achilleus and Paris should be taken for exaggerated
copies of actual persons. Since the day when Grimm laid the
foundations of the science of mythology, all this has been
changed. It is now held that Achilleus and Paris and Helena
are to be found, not only in the Iliad, but also in the
Rig-Veda, and therefore, as mythical conceptions, date, not
from Homer, but from a period preceding the dispersion of the
Aryan nations. The tale of the Wrath of Achilleus, far from
originating with Homer, far from being recorded by the author
of the Iliad as by an eyewitness, must have been known in its
essential features in Aryana-vaedjo, at that remote epoch when
the Indian, the Greek, and the Teuton were as yet one and the
same. For the story has been retained by the three races
alike, in all its principal features; though the Veda has left
it in the sky where it originally belonged, while the Iliad
and the Nibelungenlied have brought it down to earth, the one
locating it in Asia Minor, and the other in Northwestern
[153] For the precise extent to which I would indorse the
theory that the Iliad-myth is an account of the victory of
light over darkness, let me refer to what I have said above on
p. 134. I do not suppose that the struggle between light and
darkness was Homer's subject in the Iliad any more than it was
Shakespeare's subject in "Hamlet." Homer's subject was the
wrath of the Greek hero, as Shakespeare's subject was the
vengeance of the Danish prince. Nevertheless, the story of
Hamlet, when traced back to its Norse original, is
unmistakably the story of the quarrel between summer and
winter; and the moody prince is as much a solar hero as Odin
himself. See Simrock, Die Quellen des Shakespeare, I. 127-133.
Of course Shakespeare knew nothing of this, as Homer knew
nothing of the origin of his Achilleus. The two stories,
therefore, are not to be taken as sun-myths in their present
form. They are the offspring of other stories which were
sun-myths; they are stories which conform to the sun-myth type
after the manner above illustrated in the paper on Light and
Darkness. [Hence there is nothing unintelligible in the
inconsistency--which seems to puzzle Max Muller (Science of
Language, 6th ed. Vol. II. p. 516, note 20)--of investing
Paris with many of the characteristics of the children of
light. Supposing, as we must, that the primitive sense of the
Iliad-myth had as entirely disappeared in the Homeric age, as
the primitive sense of the Hamlet-myth had disappeared in the
times of Elizabeth, the fit ground for wonder is that such
inconsistencies are not more numerous.] The physical theory of
myths will be properly presented and comprehended, only when
it is understood that we accept the physical derivation of
such stories as the Iliad-myth in much the same way that we
are bound to accept the physical etymologies of such words as
soul, consider, truth, convince, deliberate, and the like. The
late Dr. Gibbs of Yale College, in his "Philological
Studies,"--a little book which I used to read with delight
when a boy,--describes such etymologies as "faded metaphors."
In similar wise, while refraining from characterizing the
Iliad or the tragedy of Hamlet--any more than I would
characterize Le Juif Errant by Sue, or La Maison Forestiere by
Erckmann-Chatrian--as nature-myths, I would at the same time
consider these poems well described as embodying "faded
In the Rig-Veda the Panis are the genii of night and winter,
corresponding to the Nibelungs, or "Children of the Mist," in
the Teutonic legend, and to the children of Nephele (cloud) in
the Greek myth of the Golden Fleece. The Panis steal the
cattle of the Sun (Indra, Helios, Herakles), and carry them by
an unknown route to a dark cave eastward. Sarama, the creeping
Dawn, is sent by Indra to find and recover them. The Panis
then tamper with Sarama, and try their best to induce her to
betray her solar lord. For a while she is prevailed upon to
dally with them; yet she ultimately returns to give Indra the
information needful in order that he might conquer the Panis,
just as Helena, in the slightly altered version, ultimately
returns to her western home, carrying with her the treasures
(ktemata, Iliad, II. 285) of which Paris had robbed Menelaos.
But, before the bright Indra and his solar heroes can
reconquer their treasures they must take captive the offspring
of Brisaya, the violet light of morning. Thus Achilleus,
answering to the solar champion Aharyu, takes captive the
daughter of Brises. But as the sun must always be parted from
the morning-light, to return to it again just before setting,
so Achilleus loses Briseis, and regains her only just before
his final struggle. In similar wise Herakles is parted from
Iole ("the violet one"), and Sigurd from Brynhild. In sullen
wrath the hero retires from the conflict, and his Myrmidons
are no longer seen on the battle-field, as the sun hides
behind the dark cloud and his rays no longer appear about him.
Yet toward the evening, as Briseis returns, he appears in his
might, clothed in the dazzling armour wrought for him by the
fire-god Hephaistos, and with his invincible spear slays the
great storm-cloud, which during his absence had wellnigh
prevailed over the champions of the daylight. But his triumph
is short-lived; for having trampled on the clouds that had
opposed him, while yet crimsoned with the fierce carnage, the
sharp arrow of the night-demon Paris slays him at the Western
Gates. We have not space to go into further details. In Mr.
Cox's "Mythology of the Aryan Nations," and "Tales of Ancient
Greece," the reader will find the entire contents of the Iliad
and Odyssey thus minutely illustrated by comparison with the
Veda, the Edda, and the Lay of the Nibelungs.
Ancient as the Homeric poems undoubtedly are, they are modern
in comparison with the tale of Achilleus and Helena, as here
unfolded. The date of the entrance of the Greeks into Europe
will perhaps never be determined; but I do not see how any
competent scholar can well place it at less than eight hundred
or a thousand years before the time of Homer. Between the two
epochs the Greek, Latin, Umbrian, and Keltic lauguages had
time to acquire distinct individualities. Far earlier,
therefore, than the Homeric "juventus mundi" was that "youth
of the world," in which the Aryan forefathers, knowing no
abstract terms, and possessing no philosophy but fetichism,
deliberately spoke of the Sun, and the Dawn, and the Clouds,
as persons or as animals. The Veda, though composed much later
than this,--perhaps as late as the Iliad,--nevertheless
preserves the record of the mental life of this period. The
Vedic poet is still dimly aware that Sarama is the fickle
twilight, and the Panis the night-demons who strive to coax
her from her allegiance to the day-god. He keeps the scene of
action in the sky. But the Homeric Greek had long since
forgotten that Helena and Paris were anything more than
semi-divine mortals, the daughter of Zeus and the son of the
Zeus-descended Priam. The Hindu understood that Dyaus ("the
bright one") meant the sky, and Sarama ("the creeping one")
the dawn, and spoke significantly when he called the latter
the daughter of the former. But the Greek could not know that
Zeus was derived from a root div, "to shine," or that Helena
belonged to a root sar, "to creep." Phonetic change thus
helped him to rise from fetichism to polytheism. His
nature-gods became thoroughly anthropomorphic; and he probably
no more remembered that Achilleus originally signified the
sun, than we remember that the word God, which we use to
denote the most vast of conceptions, originally meant simply
the Storm-wind. Indeed, when the fetichistic tendency led the
Greek again to personify the powers of nature, he had recourse
to new names formed from his own language. Thus, beside Apollo
we have Helios; Selene beside Artemis and Persephone; Eos
beside Athene; Gaia beside Demeter. As a further consequence
of this decomposition and new development of the old Aryan
mythology, we find, as might be expected, that the Homeric
poems are not always consistent in their use of their mythic
materials. Thus, Paris, the night-demon, is--to Max Muller's
perplexity--invested with many of the attributes of the
bright solar heroes. "Like Perseus, Oidipous, Romulus, and
Cyrus, he is doomed to bring ruin on his parents; like them he
is exposed in his infancy on the hillside, and rescued by a
shepherd." All the solar heroes begin life in this way.
Whether, like Apollo, born of the dark night (Leto), or like
Oidipous, of the violet dawn (Iokaste), they are alike
destined to bring destruction on their parents, as the night
and the dawn are both destroyed by the sun. The exposure of
the child in infancy represents the long rays of the
morning-sun resting on the hillside. Then Paris forsakes
Oinone ("the wine-coloured one"), but meets her again at the
gloaming when she lays herself by his side amid the crimson
flames of the funeral pyre. Sarpedon also, a solar hero, is
made to fight on the side of the Niblungs or Trojans, attended
by his friend Glaukos ("the brilliant one"). They command the
Lykians, or "children of light"; and with them comes also
Memnon, son of the Dawn, from the fiery land of the Aithiopes,
the favourite haunt of Zeus and the gods of Olympos.
The Iliad-myth must therefore have been current many ages
before the Greeks inhabited Greece, long before there was any
Ilion to be conquered. Nevertheless, this does not forbid the
supposition that the legend, as we have it, may have been
formed by the crystallization of mythical conceptions about a
nucleus of genuine tradition. In this view I am upheld by a
most sagacious and accurate scholar, Mr. E. A. Freeman, who
finds in Carlovingian romance an excellent illustration of the
problem before us.
The Charlemagne of romance is a mythical personage. He is
supposed to have been a Frenchman, at a time when neither the
French nation nor the French language can properly be said to
have existed; and he is represented as a doughty crusader,
although crusading was not thought of until long after the
Karolingian era. The legendary deeds of Charlemagne are not
conformed to the ordinary rules of geography and chronology.
He is a myth, and, what is more, he is a solar myth,--an
avatar, or at least a representative, of Odin in his solar
capacity. If in his case legend were not controlled and
rectified by history, he would be for us as unreal as
History, however, tells us that there was an Emperor Karl,
German in race, name, and language, who was one of the two or
three greatest men of action that the world has ever seen, and
who in the ninth century ruled over all Western Europe. To the
historic Karl corresponds in many particulars the mythical
Charlemagne. The legend has preserved the fact, which without
the information supplied by history we might perhaps set down
as a fiction, that there was a time when Germany, Gaul, Italy,
and part of Spain formed a single empire. And, as Mr. Freeman
has well observed, the mythical crusades of Charlemagne are
good evidence that there were crusades, although the real Karl
had nothing whatever to do with one.
Now the case of Agamemnon may be much like that of
Charlemagne, except that we no longer have history to help us
in rectifying the legend. The Iliad preserves the tradition of
a time when a large portion of the islands and mainland of
Greece were at least partially subject to a common suzerain;
and, as Mr. Freeman has again shrewdly suggested, the
assignment of a place like Mykenai, instead of Athens or
Sparta or Argos, as the seat of the suzerainty, is strong
evidence of the trustworthiness of the tradition. It appears
to show that the legend was constrained by some remembered
fact, instead of being guided by general probability.
Charlemagne's seat of government has been transferred in
romance from Aachen to Paris; had it really been at Paris,
says Mr. Freeman, no one would have thought of transferring it
to Aachen. Moreover, the story of Agamemnon, though
uncontrolled by historic records, is here at least supported
by archaeologic remains, which prove Mykenai to have been at
some time or other a place of great consequence. Then, as to
the Trojan war, we know that the Greeks several times crossed
the AEgaean and colonized a large part of the seacoast of Asia
Minor. In order to do this it was necessary to oust from their
homes many warlike communities of Lydians and Bithynians, and
we may be sure that this was not done without prolonged
fighting. There may very probably have been now and then a
levy en masse in prehistoric Greece, as there was in mediaeval
Europe; and whether the great suzerain at Mykenai ever
attended one or not, legend would be sure to send him on such
an expedition, as it afterwards sent Charlemagne on a crusade.
It is therefore quite possible that Agamemnon and Menelaos may
represent dimly remembered sovereigns or heroes, with their
characters and actions distorted to suit the exigencies of a
narrative founded upon a solar myth. The character of the
Nibelungenlied here well illustrates that of the Iliad.
Siegfried and Brunhild, Hagen and Gunther, seem to be mere
personifications of physical phenomena; but Etzel and Dietrich
are none other than Attila and Theodoric surrounded with
mythical attributes; and even the conception of Brunhild has
been supposed to contain elements derived from the traditional
recollection of the historical Brunehault. When, therefore,
Achilleus is said, like a true sun-god, to have died by a
wound from a sharp instrument in the only vulnerable part of
his body, we may reply that the legendary Charlemagne conducts
himself in many respects like a solar deity. If Odysseus
detained by Kalypso represents the sun ensnared and held
captive by the pale goddess of night, the legend of Frederic
Barbarossa asleep in a Thuringian mountain embodies a portion
of a kindred conception. We know that Charlemagne and Frederic
have been substituted for Odin; we may suspect that with the
mythical impersonations of Achilleus and Odysseus some
traditional figures may be blended. We should remember that in
early times the solar-myth was a sort of type after which all
wonderful stories would be patterned, and that to such a type
tradition also would be made to conform.
In suggesting this view, we are not opening the door to
Euhemerism. If there is any one conclusion concerning the
Homeric poems which the labours of a whole generation of
scholars may be said to have satisfactorily established, it is
this, that no trustworthy history can be obtained from either
the Iliad or the Odyssey merely by sifting out the mythical
element. Even if the poems contain the faint reminiscence of
an actual event, that event is inextricably wrapped up in
mythical phraseology, so that by no cunning of the scholar can
it be construed into history. In view of this it is quite
useless for Mr. Gladstone to attempt to base historical
conclusions upon the fact that Helena is always called "Argive
Helen," or to draw ethnological inferences from the
circumstances that Menelaos, Achilleus, and the rest of the
Greek heroes, have yellow hair, while the Trojans are never so
described. The Argos of the myth is not the city of
Peloponnesos, though doubtless so construed even in Homer's
time. It is "the bright land" where Zeus resides, and the
epithet is applied to his wife Here and his daughter Helena,
as well as to the dog of Odysseus, who reappears with
Sarameyas in the Veda. As for yellow hair, there is no
evidence that Greeks have ever commonly possessed it; but no
other colour would do for a solar hero, and it accordingly
characterizes the entire company of them, wherever found,
while for the Trojans, or children of night, it is not
A wider acquaintance with the results which have been obtained
during the past thirty years by the comparative study of
languages and mythologies would have led Mr. Gladstone to
reconsider many of his views concerning the Homeric poems, and
might perhaps have led him to cut out half or two thirds of
his book as hopelessly antiquated. The chapter on the
divinities of Olympos would certainly have had to be
rewritten, and the ridiculous theory of a primeval revelation
abandoned. One can hardly preserve one's gravity when Mr.
Gladstone derives Apollo from the Hebrew Messiah, and Athene
from the Logos. To accredit Homer with an acquaintance with
the doctrine of the Logos, which did not exist until the time
of Philo, and did not receive its authorized Christian form
until the middle of the second century after Christ, is
certainly a strange proceeding. We shall next perhaps be
invited to believe that the authors of the Volsunga Saga
obtained the conception of Sigurd from the "Thirty-Nine
Articles." It is true that these deities, Athene and Apollo,
are wiser, purer, and more dignified, on the whole, than any
of the other divinities of the Homeric Olympos. They alone, as
Mr. Gladstone truly observes, are never deceived or
frustrated. For all Hellas, Apollo was the interpreter of
futurity, and in the maid Athene we have perhaps the highest
conception of deity to which the Greek mind had attained in
the early times. In the Veda, Athene is nothing but the dawn;
but in the Greek mythology, while the merely sensuous glories
of daybreak are assigned to Eos, Athene becomes the
impersonation of the illuminating and knowledge-giving light
of the sky. As the dawn, she is daughter of Zeus, the sky, and
in mythic language springs from his forehead; but, according
to the Greek conception, this imagery signifies that she
shares, more than any other deity, in the boundless wisdom of
Zeus. The knowledge of Apollo, on the other hand, is the
peculiar privilege of the sun, who, from his lofty position,
sees everything that takes place upon the earth. Even the
secondary divinity Helios possesses this prerogative to a
certain extent.
Next to a Hebrew, Mr. Gladstone prefers a Phoenician ancestry
for the Greek divinities. But the same lack of acquaintance
with the old Aryan mythology vitiates all his conclusions. No
doubt the Greek mythology is in some particulars tinged with
Phoenician conceptions. Aphrodite was originally a purely
Greek divinity, but in course of time she acquired some of the
attributes of the Semitic Astarte, and was hardly improved by
the change. Adonis is simply a Semitic divinity, imported into
Greece. But the same cannot be proved of Poseidon;[154] far
less of Hermes, who is identical with the Vedic Sarameyas, the
rising wind, the son of Sarama the dawn, the lying, tricksome
wind-god, who invented music, and conducts the souls of dead
men to the house of Hades, even as his counterpart the Norse
Odin rushes over the tree-tops leading the host of the
departed. When one sees Iris, the messenger of Zeus, referred
to a Hebrew original, because of Jehovah's promise to Noah,
one is at a loss to understand the relationship between the
two conceptions. Nothing could be more natural to the Greeks
than to call the rainbow the messenger of the sky-god to
earth-dwelling men; to call it a token set in the sky by
Jehovah, as the Hebrews did, was a very different thing. We
may admit the very close resemblance between the myth of
Bellerophon and Anteia, and that of Joseph and Zuleikha; but
the fact that the Greek story is explicable from Aryan
antecedents, while the Hebrew story is isolated, might perhaps
suggest the inference that the Hebrews were the borrowers, as
they undoubtedly were in the case of the myth of Eden. Lastly,
to conclude that Helios is an Eastern deity, because he reigns
in the East over Thrinakia, is wholly unwarranted. Is not
Helios pure Greek for the sun? and where should his sacred
island be placed, if not in the East? As for his oxen, which
wrought such dire destruction to the comrades of Odysseus, and
which seem to Mr. Gladstone so anomalous, they are those very
same unhappy cattle, the clouds, which were stolen by the
storm-demon Cacus and the wind-deity Hermes, and which
furnished endless material for legends to the poets of the
[154] I have no opinion as to the nationality of the
Earth-shaker, and, regarding the etymology of his name, I
believe we can hardly do better than acknowledge, with Mr.
Cox, that it is unknown. It may well be doubted, however,
whether much good is likely to come of comparisons between
Poseidon, Dagon, Oannes, and Noah, or of distinctions between
the children of Shem and the children of Ham. See Brown's
Poseidon; a Link between Semite, Hamite, and Aryan, London,
1872,--a book which is open to several of the criticisms here
directed against Mr. Gladstone's manner of theorizing.
But the whole subject of comparative mythology seems to be
terra incognita to Mr. Gladstone. He pursues the even tenour
of his way in utter disregard of Grimm, and Kuhn, and Breal,
and Dasent, and Burnouf. He takes no note of the Rig-Veda, nor
does he seem to realize that there was ever a time when the
ancestors of the Greeks and Hindus worshipped the same gods.
Two or three times he cites Max Muller, but makes no use of
the copious data which might be gathered from him. The only
work which seems really to have attracted his attention is M.
Jacolliot's very discreditable performance called "The Bible
in India." Mr. Gladstone does not, indeed, unreservedly
approve of this book; but neither does he appear to suspect
that it is a disgraceful piece of charlatanry, written by a
man ignorant of the very rudiments of the subject which he
professes to handle.
Mr. Gladstone is equally out of his depth when he comes to
treat purely philological questions. Of the science of
philology, as based upon established laws of phonetic change,
he seems to have no knowledge whatever. He seems to think that
two words are sufficiently proved to be connected when they
are seen to resemble each other in spelling or in sound. Thus
he quotes approvingly a derivation of the name Themis from an
assumed verb them, "to speak," whereas it is notoriously
derived from tiqhmi, as statute comes ultimately from stare.
His reference of hieros, "a priest," and geron, "an old man,"
to the same root, is utterly baseless; the one is the Sanskrit
ishiras, "a powerful man," the other is the Sanskrit jaran,
"an old man." The lists of words on pages 96-100 are
disfigured by many such errors; and indeed the whole purpose
for which they are given shows how sadly Mr. Gladstone's
philology is in arrears. The theory of Niebuhr--that the words
common to Greek and Latin, mostly descriptive of peaceful
occupations, are Pelasgian--was serviceable enough in its day,
but is now rendered wholly antiquated by the discovery that
such words are Aryan, in the widest sense. The Pelasgian
theory works very smoothly so long as we only compare the
Greek with the Latin words,--as, for instance, sugon with
jugum; but when we add the English yoke and the Sanskrit
yugam, it is evident that we have got far out of the range of
the Pelasgoi. But what shall we say when we find Mr. Gladstone
citing the Latin thalamus in support of this antiquated
theory? Doubtless the word thalamus is, or should be,
significative of peaceful occupations; but it is not a Latin
word at all, except by adoption. One might as well cite the
word ensemble to prove the original identity or kinship
between English and French.
When Mr. Gladstone, leaving the dangerous ground of pure and
applied philology, confines himself to illustrating the
contents of the Homeric poems, he is always excellent. His
chapter on the "Outer Geography" of the Odyssey is exceedingly
interesting; showing as it does how much may be obtained from
the patient and attentive study of even a single author. Mr.
Gladstone's knowledge of the SURFACE of the Iliad and Odyssey,
so to speak, is extensive and accurate. It is when he attempts
to penetrate beneath the surface and survey the treasures
hidden in the bowels of the earth, that he shows himself
unprovided with the talisman of the wise dervise, which alone
can unlock those mysteries. But modern philology is an
exacting science: to approach its higher problems requires an
amount of preparation sufficient to terrify at the outset all
but the boldest; and a man who has had to regulate taxation,
and make out financial statements, and lead a political party
in a great nation, may well be excused for ignorance of
philology. It is difficult enough for those who have little
else to do but to pore over treatises on phonetics, and thumb
their lexicons, to keep fully abreast with the latest views in
linguistics. In matters of detail one can hardly ever broach a
new hypothesis without misgivings lest somebody, in some
weekly journal published in Germany, may just have anticipated
and refuted it. Yet while Mr. Gladstone may be excused for
being unsound in philology, it is far less excusable that he
should sit down to write a book about Homer, abounding in
philological statements, without the slightest knowledge of
what has been achieved in that science for several years past.
In spite of all drawbacks, however, his book shows an abiding
taste for scholarly pursuits, and therefore deserves a certain
kind of praise. I hope,--though just now the idea savours of
the ludicrous,--that the day may some time arrive when OUR
Congressmen and Secretaries of the Treasury will spend their
vacations in writing books about Greek antiquities, or in
illustrating the meaning of Homeric phrases.
July, 1870.
NO earnest student of human culture can as yet have forgotten
or wholly outlived the feeling of delight awakened by the
first perusal of Max Muller's brilliant "Essay on Comparative
Mythology,"--a work in which the scientific principles of
myth-interpretation, though not newly announced, were at least
brought home to the reader with such an amount of fresh and
striking concrete illustration as they had not before
received. Yet it must have occurred to more than one reader
that, while the analyses of myths contained in this noble
essay are in the main sound in principle and correct in
detail, nevertheless the author's theory of the genesis of
myth is expressed, and most likely conceived, in a way that is
very suggestive of carelessness and fallacy. There are obvious
reasons for doubting whether the existence of mythology can be
due to any "disease," abnormity, or hypertrophy of metaphor in
language; and the criticism at once arises, that with the
myth-makers it was not so much the character of the expression
which originated the thought, as it was the thought which gave
character to the expression. It is not that the early Aryans
were myth-makers because their language abounded in metaphor;
it is that the Aryan mother-tongue abounded in metaphor
because the men and women who spoke it were myth-makers. And
they were myth-makers because they had nothing but the
phenomena of human will and effort with which to compare
objective phenomena. Therefore it was that they spoke of the
sun as an unwearied voyager or a matchless archer, and
classified inanimate no less than animate objects as masculine
and feminine. Max Muller's way of stating his theory, both in
this Essay and in his later Lectures, affords one among
several instances of the curious manner in which he combines a
marvellous penetration into the significance of details with a
certain looseness of general conception.[155] The principles
of philological interpretation are an indispensable aid to us
in detecting the hidden meaning of many a legend in which the
powers of nature are represented in the guise of living and
thinking persons; but before we can get at the secret of the
myth-making tendency itself, we must leave philology and enter
upon a psychological study. We must inquire into the
characteristics of that primitive style of thinking to which
it seemed quite natural that the sun should be an unerring
archer, and the thunder-cloud a black demon or gigantic robber
finding his richly merited doom at the hands of the indignant
Lord of Light.
[155] "The expression that the Erinys, Saranyu, the Dawn,
finds out the criminal, was originally quite free from
TO LIGHT SOME DAY OR OTHER. It became mythological, however,
as soon as the etymological meaning of Erinys was forgotten,
and as soon as the Dawn, a portion of time, assumed the rank
of a personal being."--Science of Language, 6th edition, II.
615. This paragraph, in which the italicizing is mine,
contains Max Muller's theory in a nutshell. It seems to me
wholly at variance with the facts of history. The facts
concerning primitive culture which are to be cited in this
paper will show that the case is just the other way. Instead
of the expression "Erinys finds the criminal" being originally
a metaphor, it was originally a literal statement of what was
believed to be fact. The Dawn (not "a portion of time,"(!) but
the rosy flush of the morning sky) was originally regarded as
a real person. Primitive men, strictly speaking, do not talk
in metaphors; they believe in the literal truth of their
similes and personifications, from which, by survival in
culture, our poetic metaphors are lineally descended. Homer's
allusion to a rolling stone as essumenos or "yearning" (to
keep on rolling), is to us a mere figurative expression; but
to the savage it is the description of a fact.
Among recent treatises which have dealt with this interesting
problem, we shall find it advantageous to give especial
attention to Mr. Tylor's "Primitive Culture,"[156] one of the
few erudite works which are at once truly great and thoroughly
entertaining. The learning displayed in it would do credit to
a German specialist, both for extent and for minuteness, while
the orderly arrangement of the arguments and the elegant
lucidity of the style are such as we are accustomed to expect
from French essay-writers. And what is still more admirable is
the way in which the enthusiasm characteristic of a genial and
original speculator is tempered by the patience and caution of
a cool-headed critic. Patience and caution are nowhere more
needed than in writers who deal with mythology and with
primitive religious ideas; but these qualities are too seldom
found in combination with the speculative boldness which is
required when fresh theories are to be framed or new paths of
investigation opened. The state of mind in which the
explaining powers of a favourite theory are fondly
contemplated is, to some extent, antagonistic to the state of
mind in which facts are seen, with the eye of impartial
criticism, in all their obstinate and uncompromising reality.
To be able to preserve the balance between the two opposing
tendencies is to give evidence of the most consummate
scientific training. It is from the want of such a balance
that the recent great work of Mr. Cox is at times so
unsatisfactory. It may, I fear, seem ill-natured to say so,
but the eagerness with which Mr. Cox waylays every available
illustration of the physical theory of the origin of myths has
now and then the curious effect of weakening the reader's
conviction of the soundness of the theory. For my own part,
though by no means inclined to waver in adherence to a
doctrine once adopted on good grounds, I never felt so much
like rebelling against the mythologic supremacy of the Sun and
the Dawn as when reading Mr. Cox's volumes. That Mr. Tylor,
while defending the same fundamental theory, awakens no such
rebellious feelings, is due to his clear perception and
realization of the fact that it is impossible to generalize in
a single formula such many-sided correspondences as those
which primitive poetry end philosophy have discerned between
the life of man and the life of outward nature. Whoso goes
roaming up and down the elf-land of popular fancies, with sole
intent to resolve each episode of myth into some answering
physical event, his only criterion being outward resemblance,
cannot be trusted in his conclusions, since wherever he turns
for evidence he is sure to find something that can be made to
serve as such. As Mr. Tylor observes, no household legend or
nursery rhyme is safe from his hermeneutics. "Should he, for
instance, demand as his property the nursery 'Song of
Sixpence,' his claim would be easily established,--obviously
the four-and-twenty blackbirds are the four-and-twenty hours,
and the pie that holds them is the underlying earth covered
with the overarching sky,--how true a touch of nature it is
that when the pie is opened, that is, when day breaks, the
birds begin to sing; the King is the Sun, and his counting out
his money is pouring out the sunshine, the golden shower of
Danae; the Queen is the Moon, and her transparent honey the
moonlight; the Maid is the 'rosy-fingered' Dawn, who rises
before the Sun, her master, and hangs out the clouds, his
clothes, across the sky; the particular blackbird, who so
tragically ends the tale by snipping off her nose, is the hour
of sunrise." In all this interpretation there is no a priori
improbability, save, perhaps, in its unbroken symmetry and
completeness. That some points, at least, of the story are
thus derived from antique interpretations of physical events,
is in harmony with all that we know concerning nursery rhymes.
In short, "the time-honoured rhyme really wants but one thing
to prove it a sun-myth, that one thing being a proof by some
argument more valid than analogy." The character of the
argument which is lacking may be illustrated by a reference to
the rhyme about Jack and Jill, explained some time since in
the paper on "The Origins of FolkLore." If the argument be
thought valid which shows these ill-fated children to be the
spots on the moon, it is because the proof consists, not in
the analogy, which is in this case not especially obvious, but
in the fact that in the Edda, and among ignorant Swedish
peasants of our own day, the story of Jack and Jill is
actually given as an explanation of the moon-spots. To the
neglect of this distinction between what is plausible and what
is supported by direct evidence, is due much of the crude
speculation which encumbers the study of myths.
[156] Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of
Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom By Edward B.
Tylor. 2 vols. 8vo. London. 1871.
It is when Mr. Tylor merges the study of mythology into the
wider inquiry into the characteristic features of the mode of
thinking in which myths originated, that we can best
appreciate the practical value of that union of speculative
boldness and critical sobriety which everywhere distinguishes
him. It is pleasant to meet with a writer who can treat of
primitive religious ideas without losing his head over
allegory and symbolism, and who duly realizes the fact that a
savage is not a rabbinical commentator, or a cabalist, or a
Rosicrucian, but a plain man who draws conclusions like
ourselves, though with feeble intelligence and scanty
knowledge. The mystic allegory with which such modern writers
as Lord Bacon have invested the myths of antiquity is no part
of their original clothing, but is rather the late product of
a style of reasoning from analogy quite similar to that which
we shall perceive to have guided the myth-makers in their
primitive constructions. The myths and customs and beliefs
which, in an advanced stage of culture, seem meaningless save
when characterized by some quaintly wrought device of symbolic
explanation, did not seem meaningless in the lower culture
which gave birth to them. Myths, like words, survive their
primitive meanings. In the early stage the myth is part and
parcel of the current mode of philosophizing; the explanation
which it offers is, for the time, the natural one, the one
which would most readily occur to any one thinking on the
theme with which the myth is concerned. But by and by the mode
of philosophizing has changed; explanations which formerly
seemed quite obvious no longer occur to any one, but the myth
has acquired an independent substantive existence, and
continues to be handed down from parents to children as
something true, though no one can tell why it is true: Lastly,
the myth itself gradually fades from remembrance, often
leaving behind it some utterly unintelligible custom or
seemingly absurd superstitious notion. For example,--to recur
to an illustration already cited in a previous paper,--it is
still believed here and there by some venerable granny that it
is wicked to kill robins; but he who should attribute the
belief to the old granny's refined sympathy with all sentient
existence, would be making one of the blunders which are
always committed by those who reason a priori about historical
matters without following the historical method. At an earlier
date the superstition existed in the shape of a belief that
the killing of a robin portends some calamity; in a still
earlier form the calamity is specified as death; and again,
still earlier, as death by lightning. Another step backward
reveals that the dread sanctity of the robin is owing to the
fact that he is the bird of Thor, the lightning god; and
finally we reach that primitive stage of philosophizing in
which the lightning is explained as a red bird dropping from
its beak a worm which cleaveth the rocks. Again, the belief
that some harm is sure to come to him who saves the life of a
drowning man, is unintelligible until it is regarded as a case
of survival in culture. In the older form of the superstition
it is held that the rescuer will sooner or later be drowned
himself; and thus we pass to the fetichistic interpretation of
drowning as the seizing of the unfortunate person by the
water-spirit or nixy, who is naturally angry at being deprived
of his victim, and henceforth bears a special grudge against
the bold mortal who has thus dared to frustrate him.
The interpretation of the lightning as a red bird, and of
drowning as the work of a smiling but treacherous fiend, are
parts of that primitive philosophy of nature in which all
forces objectively existing are conceived as identical with
the force subjectively known as volition. It is this
philosophy, currently known as fetichism, but treated by Mr.
Tylor under the somewhat more comprehensive name of "animism,"
which we must now consider in a few of its most conspicuous
exemplifications. When we have properly characterized some of
the processes which the untrained mind habitually goes
through, we shall have incidentally arrived at a fair solution
of the genesis of mythology.
Let us first note the ease with which the barbaric or
uncultivated mind reaches all manner of apparently fanciful
conclusions through reckless reasoning from analogy. It is
through the operation of certain laws of ideal association
that all human thinking, that of the highest as well as that
of the lowest minds, is conducted: the discovery of the law
of gravitation, as well as the invention of such a
superstition as the Hand of Glory, is at bottom but a case of
association of ideas. The difference between the scientific
and the mythologic inference consists solely in the number of
checks which in the former case combine to prevent any other
than the true conclusion from being framed into a proposition
to which the mind assents. Countless accumulated experiences
have taught the modern that there are many associations of
ideas which do not correspond to any actual connection of
cause and effect in the world of phenomena; and he has learned
accordingly to apply to his newly framed notions the rigid
test of verification. Besides which the same accumulation of
experiences has built up an organized structure of ideal
associations into which only the less extravagant newly framed
notions have any chance of fitting. The primitive man, or the
modern savage who is to some extent his counterpart, must
reason without the aid of these multifarious checks. That
immense mass of associations which answer to what are called
physical laws, and which in the mind of the civilized modern
have become almost organic, have not been formed in the mind
of the savage; nor has he learned the necessity of
experimentally testing any of his newly framed notions, save
perhaps a few of the commonest. Consequently there is nothing
but superficial analogy to guide the course of his thought
hither or thither, and the conclusions at which he arrives
will be determined by associations of ideas occurring
apparently at haphazard. Hence the quaint or grotesque fancies
with which European and barbaric folk-lore is filled, in the
framing of which the myth-maker was but reasoning according to
the best methods at his command. To this simplest class, in
which the association of ideas is determined by mere analogy,
belong such cases as that of the Zulu, who chews a piece of
wood in order to soften the heart of the man with whom he is
about to trade for cows, or the Hessian lad who "thinks he may
escape the conscription by carrying a baby-girl's cap in his
pocket,--a symbolic way of repudiating manhood."[157] A
similar style of thinking underlies the mediaeval
necromancer's practice of making a waxen image of his enemy
and shooting at it with arrows, in order to bring about the
enemy's death; as also the case of the magic rod, mentioned in
a previous paper, by means of which a sound thrashing can be
administered to an absent foe through the medium of an old
coat which is imagined to cover him. The principle involved
here is one which is doubtless familiar to most children, and
is closely akin to that which Irving so amusingly illustrates
in his doughty general who struts through a field of cabbages
or corn-stalks, smiting them to earth with his cane, and
imagining himself a hero of chivalry conquering single-handed
a host of caitiff ruffians. Of like origin are the fancies
that the breaking of a mirror heralds a death in the family,--
probably because of the destruction of the reflected human
image; that the "hair of the dog that bit you" will prevent
hydrophobia if laid upon the wound; or that the tears shed by
human victims, sacrificed to mother earth, will bring down
showers upon the land. Mr. Tylor cites Lord Chesterfield's
remark, "that the king had been ill, and that people generally
expected the illness to be fatal, because the oldest lion in
the Tower, about the king's age, had just died. 'So wild and
capricious is the human mind,' " observes the elegant
letter-writer. But indeed, as Mr. Tylor justly remarks, "the
thought was neither wild nor capricious; it was simply such an
argument from analogy as the educated world has at length
painfully learned to be worthless, but which, it is not too
much to declare, would to this day carry considerable weight
to the minds of four fifths of the human race." Upon such
symbolism are based most of the practices of divination and
the great pseudo-science of astrology. "It is an old story,
that when two brothers were once taken ill together,
Hippokrates, the physician, concluded from the coincidence
that they were twins, but Poseidonios, the astrologer,
considered rather that they were born under the same
constellation; we may add that either argument would be
thought reasonable by a savage." So when a Maori fortress is
attacked, the besiegers and besieged look to see if Venus is
near the moon. The moon represents the fortress; and if it
appears below the companion planet, the besiegers will carry
the day, otherwise they will be repulsed. Equally primitive
and childlike was Rousseau's train of thought on the memorable
day at Les Charmettes when, being distressed with doubts as to
the safety of his soul, he sought to determine the point by
throwing a stone at a tree. "Hit, sign of salvation; miss,
sign of damnation!" The tree being a large one and very near
at hand, the result of the experiment was reassuring, and the
young philosopher walked away without further misgivings
concerning this momentous question.[158]
[157] Tylor, op. cit. I. 107.
[158] Rousseau, Confessions, I. vi. For further illustration,
see especially the note on the "doctrine of signatures,"
supra, p. 55.
When the savage, whose highest intellectual efforts result
only in speculations of this childlike character, is
confronted with the phenomena of dreams, it is easy to see
what he will make of them. His practical knowledge of
psychology is too limited to admit of his distinguishing
between the solidity of waking experience and what we may call
the unsubstantialness of the dream. He may, indeed, have
learned that the dream is not to be relied on for telling the
truth; the Zulu, for example, has even reached the perverse
triumph of critical logic achieved by our own Aryan ancestors
in the saying that "dreams go by contraries." But the Zulu has
not learned, nor had the primeval Aryan learned, to disregard
the utterances of the dream as being purely subjective
phenomena. To the mind as yet untouched by modern culture, the
visions seen and the voices heard in sleep possess as much
objective reality as the gestures and shouts of waking hours.
When the savage relates his dream, he tells how he SAW certain
dogs, dead warriors, or demons last night, the implication
being that the things seen were objects external to himself.
As Mr. Spencer observes, "his rude language fails to state the
difference between seeing and dreaming that he saw, doing and
dreaming that he did. From this inadequacy of his language it
not only results that he cannot truly represent this
difference to others, but also that he cannot truly represent
it to himself. Hence in the absence of an alternative
interpretation, his belief, and that of those to whom he tells
his adventures, is that his OTHER SELF has been away and came
back when he awoke. And this belief, which we find among
various existing savage tribes, we equally find in the
traditions of the early civilized races."[159]
[159] Spencer, Recent Discussions in Science, etc., p. 36,
"The Origin of Animal Worship."
Let us consider, for a moment, this assumption of the OTHER
SELF, for upon this is based the great mass of crude inference
which constitutes the primitive man's philosophy of nature.
The hypothesis of the OTHER SELF, which serves to account for
the savage's wanderings during sleep in strange lands and
among strange people, serves also to account for the presence
in his dreams of parents, comrades, or enemies, known to be
dead and buried. The other self of the dreamer meets and
converses with the other selves of his dead brethren, joins
with them in the hunt, or sits down with them to the wild
cannibal banquet. Thus arises the belief in an ever-present
world of souls or ghosts, a belief which the entire experience
of uncivilized man goes to strengthen and expand. The
existence of some tribe or tribes of savages wholly destitute
of religious belief has often been hastily asserted and as
often called in question. But there is no question that, while
many savages are unable to frame a conception so general as
that of godhood, on the other hand no tribe has ever been
found so low in the scale of intelligence as not to have
framed the conception of ghosts or spiritual personalities,
capable of being angered, propitiated, or conjured with.
Indeed it is not improbable a priori that the original
inference involved in the notion of the other self may be
sufficiently simple and obvious to fall within the capacity of
animals even less intelligent than uncivilized man. An
authentic case is on record of a Skye terrier who, being
accustomed to obtain favours from his master by sitting on his
haunches, will also sit before his pet india-rubber ball
placed on the chimney-piece, evidently beseeching it to jump
down and play with him.[160] Such a fact as this is quite in
harmony with Auguste Comte's suggestion that such intelligent
animals as dogs, apes, and elephants may be capable of forming
a few fetichistic notions. The behaviour of the terrier here
rests upon the assumption that the ball is open to the same
sort of entreaty which prevails with the master; which
implies, not that the wistful brute accredits the ball with a
soul, but that in his mind the distinction between life and
inanimate existence has never been thoroughly established.
Just this confusion between things living and things not
living is present throughout the whole philosophy of
fetichism; and the confusion between things seen and things
dreamed, which suggests the notion of another self, belongs to
this same twilight stage of intelligence in which primeval man
has not yet clearly demonstrated his immeasurable superiority
to the brutes.[161]
[160] See Nature, Vol. VI. p. 262, August 1, 1872. The
circumstances narrated are such as to exclude the supposition
that the sitting up is intended to attract the master's
attention. The dog has frequently been seen trying to soften
the heart of the ball, while observed unawares by his master.
[161] "We would, however, commend to Mr. Fiske's attention Mr.
Mark Twain's dog, who 'couldn't be depended on for a special
providence,' as being nearer to the actual dog of every-day
life than is the Skye terrier mentioned by a certain
correspondent of Nature, to whose letter Mr. Fiske refers. The
terrier is held to have had 'a few fetichistic notions,'
because he was found standing up on his hind legs in front of
a mantel-piece, upon which lay an india-rubber ball with which
he wished to play, but which he could not reach, and which,
says the letter-writer, he was evidently beseeching to come
down and play with him. We consider it more reasonable to
suppose that a dog who had been drilled into a belief that
standing upon his hind legs was very pleasing to his master,
and who, therefore, had accustomed himself to stand on his
hind legs whenever he desired anything, and whose usual way of
getting what he desired was to induce somebody to get it for
him, may have stood up in front of the mantel-piece rather
from force of habit and eagerness of desire than because he
had any fetichistic notions, or expected the india-rubber ball
to listen to his supplications. We admit, however, to avoid
polemical controversy, that in matter of religion the dog is
capable of anything." The Nation, Vol. XV. p. 284, October 1,
1872. To be sure, I do not know for certain what was going on
in the dog's mind; and so, letting both explanations stand, I
will only add another fact of similar import. "The tendency in
savages to imagine that natural objects and agencies are
animated by spiritual or living essences is perhaps
illustrated by a little fact which I once noticed: my dog, a
full-grown and very sensible animal, was lying on the lawn
during a hot and still day; but at a little distance a slight
breeze occasionally moved an open parasol, which would have
been wholly disregarded by the dog, had any one stood near it.
As it was, every time that the parasol slightly moved, the dog
growled fiercely and barked. He must, I think, have reasoned
to himself, in a rapid and unconscious manner, that movement
without any apparent cause indicated the presence of some
strange living agent, and no stranger had a right to be on his
territory." Darwin, Descent of Man, Vol. 1. p. 64. Without
insisting upon all the details of this explanation, one may
readily grant, I think, that in the dog, as in the savage,
there is an undisturbed association between motion and a
living motor agency; and that out of a multitude of just such
associations common to both, the savage, with his greater
generalizing power, frames a truly fetichistic conception.
The conception of a soul or other self, capable of going away
from the body and returning to it, receives decisive
confirmation from the phenomena of fainting, trance,
catalepsy, and ecstasy,[162] which occur less rarely among
savages, owing to their irregular mode of life, than among
civilized men. "Further verification," observes Mr. Spencer,
"is afforded by every epileptic subject, into whose body,
during the absence of the other self, some enemy has entered;
for how else does it happen that the other self on returning
denies all knowledge of what his body has been doing? And this
supposition, that the body has been 'possessed' by some other
being, is confirmed by the phenomena of somnambulism and
insanity." Still further, as Mr. Spencer points out, when we
recollect that savages are very generally unwilling to have
their portraits taken, lest a portion of themselves should get
carried off and be exposed to foul play,[163] we must readily
admit that the weird reflection of the person and imitation of
the gestures in rivers or still woodland pools will go far to
intensify the belief in the other self. Less frequent but
uniform confirmation is to be found in echoes, which in Europe
within two centuries have been commonly interpreted as the
voices of mocking fiends or wood-nymphs, and which the savage
might well regard as the utterances of his other self.
[162] Note the fetichism wrapped up in the etymologies of
these Greek words. Catalepsy, katalhyis, a seizing of the body
by some spirit or demon, who holds it rigid. Ecstasy,
ekstasis, a displacement or removal of the soul from the body,
into which the demon enters and causes strange laughing,
crying, or contortions. It is not metaphor, but the literal
belief ill a ghost-world, which has given rise to such words
as these, and to such expressions as "a man beside himself or
[163] Something akin to the savage's belief in the animation
of pictures may be seen in young children. I have often been
asked by my three-year-old boy, whether the dog in a certain
picture would bite him if he were to go near it; and I can
remember that, in my own childhood, when reading a book about
insects, which had the formidable likeness of a spider stamped
on the centre of the cover, I was always uneasy lest my finger
should come in contact with the dreaded thing as I held the
With the savage's unwillingness to have his portrait taken,
lest it fall into the hands of some enemy who may injure him
by conjuring with it, may be compared the reluctance which he
often shows toward telling his name, or mentioning the name of
his friend, or king, or tutelar ghost-deity. In fetichistic
thought, the name is an entity mysteriously associated with
its owner, and it is not well to run the risk of its getting
into hostile hands. Along with this caution goes the similarly
originated fear that the person whose name is spoken may
resent such meddling with his personality. For the latter
reason the Dayak will not allude by name to the small pox, but
will call it "the chief" or "jungle-leaves"; the Laplander
speaks of the bear as the "old man with the fur coat"; in
Annam the tiger is called "grandfather" or "Lord"; while in
more civilized communities such sayings are current as "talk
of the Devil, and he will appear," with which we may also
compare such expressions as "Eumenides" or "gracious ones" for
the Furies, and other like euphemisms. Indeed, the maxim nil
mortuis nisi bonum had most likely at one time a fetichistic
In various islands of the Pacific, for both the reasons above
specified, the name of the reigning chief is so rigorously
"tabu," that common words and even syllables resembling that
name in sound must be omitted from the language. In New
Zealand, where a chiefs name was Maripi, or "knife," it became
necessary to call knives nekra; and in Tahiti, fetu, "star,"
had to be changed into fetia, and tui, "to strike," became
tiai, etc., because the king's name was Tu. Curious freaks are
played with the languages of these islands by this
ever-recurring necessity. Among the Kafirs the women have come
to speak a different dialect from the men, because words
resembling the names of their lords or male relatives are in
like manner "tabu." The student of human culture will trace
among such primeval notions the origin of the Jew's
unwillingness to pronounce the name of Jehovah; and hence we
may perhaps have before us the ultimate source of the horror
with which the Hebraizing Puritan regards such forms of light
swearing--"Mon Dieu," etc.--as are still tolerated on the
continent of Europe, but have disappeared from good society in
Puritanic England and America. The reader interested in this
group of ideas and customs may consult Tylor, Early History of
Mankind, pp. 142, 363; Max Muller, Science of Language, 6th
edition, Vol. II. p. 37; Mackay, Religious Development of the
Greeks and Hebrews, Vol. I. p. 146.
Chamisso's well-known tale of Peter Schlemihl belongs to a
widely diffused family of legends, which show that a man's
shadow has been generally regarded not only as an entity, but
as a sort of spiritual attendant of the body, which under
certain circumstances it may permanently forsake. It is in
strict accordance with this idea that not only in the classic
languages, but in various barbaric tongues, the word for
"shadow" expresses also the soul or other self. Tasmanians,
Algonquins, Central-Americans, Abipones, Basutos, and Zulus
are cited by Mr. Tylor as thus implicitly asserting the
identity of the shadow with the ghost or phantasm seen in
dreams; the Basutos going so far as to think "that if a man
walks on the river-bank, a crocodile may seize his shadow in
the water and draw him in." Among the Algonquins a sick person
is supposed to have his shadow or other self temporarily
detached from his body, and the convalescent is at times
"reproached for exposing himself before his shadow was safely
settled down in him." If the sick man has been plunged into
stupor, it is because his other self has travelled away as far
as the brink of the river of death, but not being allowed to
cross has come back and re-entered him. And acting upon a
similar notion the ailing Fiji will sometimes lie down and
raise a hue and cry for his soul to be brought back. Thus,
continues Mr. Tylor, "in various countries the bringing back
of lost souls becomes a regular part of the sorcerer's or
priest's profession."[164] On Aryan soil we find the notion of
a temporary departure of the soul surviving to a late date in
the theory that the witch may attend the infernal Sabbath
while her earthly tabernacle is quietly sleeping at home. The
primeval conception reappears, clothed in bitterest sarcasm,
in Dante's reference to his living contemporaries whose souls
he met with in the vaults of hell, while their bodies were
still walking about on the earth, inhabited by devils.
[164] Tylor, Primitive Culture, I. 394. "The Zulus hold that a
dead body can cast no shadow, because that appurtenance
departed from it at the close of life." Hardwick, Traditions,
Superstitions, and Folk-Lore, p. 123.
The theory which identifies the soul with the shadow, and
supposes the shadow to depart with the sickness and death of
the body, would seem liable to be attended with some
difficulties in the way of verification, even to the dim
intelligence of the savage. But the propriety of identifying
soul and breath is borne out by all primeval experience. The
breath, which really quits the body at its decease, has
furnished the chief name for the soul, not only to the Hebrew,
the Sanskrit, and the classic tongues; not only to German and
English, where geist, and ghost, according to Max Muller, have
the meaning of "breath," and are akin to such words as gas,
gust, and geyser; but also to numerous barbaric languages.
Among the natives of Nicaragua and California, in Java and in
West Australia, the soul is described as the air or breeze
which passes in and out through the nostrils and mouth; and
the Greenlanders, according to Cranz, reckon two separate
souls, the breath and the shadow. "Among the Seminoles of
Florida, when a woman died in childbirth, the infant was held
over her face to receive her parting spirit, and thus acquire
strength and knowledge for its future use..... Their state of
mind is kept up to this day among Tyrolese peasants, who can
still fancy a good man's soul to issue from his mouth at death
like a little white cloud."[165] It is kept up, too, in
Lancashire, where a well-known witch died a few years since;
"but before she could 'shuffle off this mortal coil' she must
needs TRANSFER HER FAMILIAR SPIRIT to some trusty successor.
An intimate acquaintance from a neighbouring township was
consequently sent for in all haste, and on her arrival was
immediately closeted with her dying friend. What passed
between them has never fully transpired, but it is confidently
affirmed that at the close of the interview this associate
HER FAMILIAR SPIRIT. The dreaded woman thus ceased to exist,
but her powers for good or evil were transferred to her
companion; and on passing along the road from Burnley to
Blackburn we can point out a farmhouse at no great distance
with whose thrifty matron no neighbouring farmer will yet dare
to quarrel."[166]
[165] Tylor, op. cit. I. 391.
[166] Harland and Wilkinson, Lancashire Folk-Lore, 1867, p.
Of the theory of embodiment there will be occasion to speak
further on. At present let us not pass over the fact that the
other self is not only conceived as shadow or breath, which
can at times quit the body during life, but is also supposed
to become temporarily embodied in the visible form of some
bird or beast. In discussing elsewhere the myth of Bishop
Hatto, we saw that the soul is sometimes represented in the
form of a rat or mouse; and in treating of werewolves we
noticed the belief that the spirits of dead ancestors, borne
along in the night-wind, have taken on the semblance of
howling dogs or wolves. "Consistent with these quaint ideas
are ceremonies in vogue in China of bringing home in a cock
(live or artificial) the spirit of a man deceased in a distant
place, and of enticing into a sick man's coat the departing
spirit which has already left his body and so conveying it
back."[167] In Castren's great work on Finnish mythology, we
find the story of the giant who could not be killed because he
kept his soul hidden in a twelve-headed snake which he carried
in a bag as he rode on horseback; only when the secret was
discovered and the snake carefully killed, did the giant yield
up his life. In this Finnish legend we have one of the
thousand phases of the story of the "Giant who had no Heart in
his Body," but whose heart was concealed, for safe keeping, in
a duck's egg, or in a pigeon, carefully disposed in some
belfry at the world's end a million miles away, or encased in
a wellnigh infinite series of Chinese boxes.[168] Since, in
spite of all these precautions, the poor giant's heart
invariably came to grief, we need not wonder at the Karen
superstition that the soul is in danger when it quits the body
on its excursions, as exemplified in countless Indo-European
stories of the accidental killing of the weird mouse or pigeon
which embodies the wandering spirit. Conversely it is held
that the detachment of the other self is fraught with danger
to the self which remains. In the philosophy of "wraiths" and
"fetches," the appearance of a double, like that which
troubled Mistress Affery in her waking dreams of Mr.
Flintwinch, has been from time out of mind a signal of alarm.
"In New Zealand it is ominous to see the figure of an absent
person, for if it be shadowy and the face not visible, his
death may erelong be expected, but if the face be seen he is
dead already. A party of Maoris (one of whom told the story)
were seated round a fire in the open air, when there appeared,
seen only by two of them, the figure of a relative, left ill
at home; they exclaimed, the figure vanished, and on the
return of the party it appeared that the sick man had died
about the time of the vision."[169] The belief in wraiths has
survived into modern times, and now and then appears in the
records of that remnant of primeval philosophy known as
"spiritualism," as, for example, in the case of the lady who
"thought she saw her own father look in at the church-window
at the moment he was dying in his own house."
[167] Tylor, op. cit. II. 139.
[168] In Russia the souls of the dead are supposed to be
embodied in pigeons or crows. "Thus when the Deacon Theodore
and his three schismatic brethren were burnt in 1681, the
souls of the martyrs, as the 'Old Believers' affirm, appeared
in the air as pigeons. In Volhynia dead children are supposed
to come back in the spring to their native village under the
semblance of swallows and other small birds, and to seek by
soft twittering or song to console their sorrowing parents."
Ralston, Songs of the Russian People, p. 118.
[169] Tylor, op. cit. I. 404.
The belief in the "death-fetch," like the doctrine which
identifies soul with shadow, is instructive as showing that in
barbaric thought the other self is supposed to resemble the
material self with which it has customarily been associated.
In various savage superstitions the minute resemblance of soul
to body is forcibly stated. The Australian, for instance, not
content with slaying his enemy, cuts off the right thumb of
the corpse, so that the departed soul may be incapacitated
from throwing a spear. Even the half-civilized Chinese prefer
crucifixion to decapitation, that their souls may not wander
headless about the spirit-world.[170] Thus we see how far
removed from the Christian doctrine of souls is the primeval
theory of the soul or other self that figures in dreamland. So
grossly materialistic is the primitive conception that the
savage who cherishes it will bore holes in the coffin of his
dead friend, so that the soul may again have a chance, if it
likes, to revisit the body. To this day, among the peasants in
some parts of Northern Europe, when Odin, the spectral hunter,
rides by attended by his furious host, the windows in every
sick-room are opened, in order that the soul, if it chooses to
depart, may not be hindered from joining in the headlong
chase. And so, adds Mr. Tylor, after the Indians of North
America had spent a riotous night in singeing an unfortunate
captive to death with firebrands, they would howl like the
fiends they were, and beat the air with brushwood, to drive
away the distressed and revengeful ghost. "With a kindlier
feeling, the Congo negroes abstained for a whole year after a
death from sweeping the house, lest the dust should injure the
delicate substance of the ghost"; and even now, "it remains a
German peasant saying that it is wrong to slam a door, lest
one should pinch a soul in it."[172] Dante's experience with
the ghosts in hell and purgatory, who were astonished at his
weighing down the boat in which they were carried, is belied
by the sweet German notion "that the dead mother's coming back
in the night to suckle the baby she has left on earth may be
known by the hollow pressed down in the bed where she lay."
Almost universally ghosts, however impervious to thrust of
sword or shot of pistol, can eat and drink like Squire
Westerns. And lastly, we have the grotesque conception of
souls sufficiently material to be killed over again, as in the
case of the negro widows who, wishing to marry a second time,
will go and duck themselves in the pond, in order to drown the
souls of their departed husbands, which are supposed to cling
about their necks; while, according to the Fiji theory, the
ghost of every dead warrior must go through a terrible fight
with Samu and his brethren, in which, if he succeeds, he will
enter Paradise, but if he fails he will be killed over again
and finally eaten by the dreaded Samu and his unearthly
[171] Tylor, op. cit. I. 407.
[172] Tylor, op. cit. I. 410. In the next stage of survival
this belief will take the shape that it is wrong to slam a
door, no reason being assigned; and in the succeeding stage,
when the child asks why it is naughty to slam a door, he will
be told, because it is an evidence of bad temper. Thus do
old-world fancies disappear before the inroads of the
practical sense.
From the conception of souls embodied in beast-forms, as above
illustrated, it is not a wide step to the conception of
beast-souls which, like human souls, survive the death of the
tangible body. The wide-spread superstitions concerning
werewolves and swan-maidens, and the hardly less general
belief in metempsychosis, show that primitive culture has not
arrived at the distinction attained by modern philosophy
between the immortal man and the soulless brute. Still more
direct evidence is furnished by sundry savage customs. The
Kafir who has killed an elephant will cry that he did n't mean
to do it, and, lest the elephant's soul should still seek
vengeance, he will cut off and bury the trunk, so that the
mighty beast may go crippled to the spirit-land. In like
manner, the Samoyeds, after shooting a bear, will gather about
the body offering excuses and laying the blame on the
Russians; and the American redskin will even put the pipe of
peace into the dead animal's mouth, and beseech him to forgive
the deed. In Assam it is believed that the ghosts of slain
animals will become in the next world the property of the
hunter who kills them; and the Kamtchadales expressly declare
that all animals, even flies and bugs, will live after
death,--a belief, which, in our own day, has been indorsed on
philosophical grounds by an eminent living naturalist.[173]
The Greenlanders, too, give evidence of the same belief by
supposing that when after an exhausting fever the patient
comes up in unprecedented health and vigour, it is because he
has lost his former soul and had it replaced by that of a
young child or a reindeer. In a recent work in which the
crudest fancies of primeval savagery are thinly disguised in a
jargon learned from the superficial reading of modern books of
science, M. Figuier maintains that human souls are for the
most part the surviving souls of deceased animals; in general,
the souls of precocious musical children like Mozart come from
nightingales, while the souls of great architects have passed
into them from beavers, etc., etc.[174]
[173] Agassiz, Essay on Classification, pp. 97-99.
[174] Figuier, The To-morrow of Death, p. 247.
The practice of begging pardon of the animal one has just
slain is in some parts of the world extended to the case of
plants. When the Talein offers a prayer to the tree which he
is about to cut down, it is obviously because he regards the
tree as endowed with a soul or ghost which in the next life
may need to be propitiated. And the doctrine of transmigration
distinctly includes plants along with animals among the future
existences into which the human soul may pass.
As plants, like animals, manifest phenomena of life, though to
a much less conspicuous degree, it is not incomprehensible
that the savage should attribute souls to them. But the
primitive process of anthropomorphisation does not end here.
Not only the horse and dog, the bamboo, and the oak-tree, but
even lifeless objects, such as the hatchet, or bow and arrows,
or food and drink of the dead man, possess other selves which
pass into the world of ghosts. Fijis and other contemporary
savages, when questioned, expressly declare that this is their
belief. "If an axe or a chisel is worn out or broken up, away
flies its soul for the service of the gods." The Algonquins
told Charlevoix that since hatchets and kettles have shadows,
no less than men and women, it follows, of course, that these
shadows (or souls) must pass along with human shadows (or
souls) into the spirit-land. In this we see how simple and
consistent is the logic which guides the savage, and how
inevitable is the genesis of the great mass of beliefs, to our
minds so arbitrary and grotesque, which prevail throughout the
barbaric world. However absurd the belief that pots and
kettles have souls may seem to us, it is nevertheless the only
belief which can be held consistently by the savage to whom
pots and kettles, no less than human friends or enemies, may
appear in his dreams; who sees them followed by shadows as
they are moved about; who hears their voices, dull or ringing,
when they are struck; and who watches their doubles
fantastically dancing in the water as they are carried across
the stream.[175] To minds, even in civilized countries, which
are unused to the severe training of science, no stronger
evidence can be alleged than what is called "the evidence of
the senses"; for it is only long familiarity with science
which teaches us that the evidence of the senses is
trustworthy only in so far as it is correctly interpreted by
reason. For the truth of his belief in the ghosts of men and
beasts, trees and axes, the savage has undeniably the evidence
of his senses which have so often seen, heard, and handled
these other selves.
[175] Here, as usually, the doctrine of metempsychosis comes
in to complete the proof. "Mr. Darwin saw two Malay women in
Keeling Island, who had a wooden spoon dressed in clothes like
a doll; this spoon had been carried to the grave of a dead
man, and becoming inspired at full moon, in fact lunatic, it
danced about convulsively like a table or a hat at a modern
spirit-seance." Tylor, op. cit. II. 139.
The funeral ceremonies of uncultured races freshly illustrate
this crude philosophy, and receive fresh illustration from it.
On the primitive belief in the ghostly survival of persons and
objects rests the almost universal custom of sacrificing the
wives, servants, horses, and dogs of the departed chief of the
tribe, as well as of presenting at his shrine sacred offerings
of food, ornaments, weapons, and money. Among the Kayans the
slaves who are killed at their master's tomb are enjoined to
take great care of their master's ghost, to wash and shampoo
it, and to nurse it when sick. Other savages think that "all
whom they kill in this world shall attend them as slaves after
death," and for this reason the thrifty Dayaks of Borneo until
lately would not allow their young men to marry until they had
acquired some post mortem property by procuring at least one
human head. It is hardly necessary to do more than allude to
the Fiji custom of strangling all the wives of the deceased at
his funeral, or to the equally well-known Hindu rite of
suttee. Though, as Wilson has shown, the latter rite is not
supported by any genuine Vedic authority, but only by a
shameless Brahmanic corruption of the sacred text, Mr. Tylor
is nevertheless quite right in arguing that unless the
horrible custom had received the sanction of a public opinion
bequeathed from pre-Vedic times, the Brahmans would have had
no motive for fraudulently reviving it; and this opinion is
virtually established by the fact of the prevalence of widow
sacrifice among Gauls, Scandinavians, Slaves, and other
European Aryans.[176] Though under English rule the rite has
been forcibly suppressed, yet the archaic sentiments which so
long maintained it are not yet extinct. Within the present
year there has appeared in the newspapers a not improbable
story of a beautiful and accomplished Hindu lady who, having
become the wife of a wealthy Englishman, and after living
several years in England amid the influences of modern
society, nevertheless went off and privately burned herself to
death soon after her husband's decease.
[176] Tylor, op. cit. I. 414-422.
The reader who thinks it far-fetched to interpret funeral
offerings of food, weapons, ornaments, or money, on the theory
of object-souls, will probably suggest that such offerings may
be mere memorials of affection or esteem for the dead man.
Such, indeed, they have come to be in many countries after
surviving the phase of culture in which they originated; but
there is ample evidence to show that at the outset they were
presented in the belief that their ghosts would be eaten or
otherwise employed by the ghost of the dead man. The stout
club which is buried with the dead Fiji sends its soul along
with him that he may be able to defend himself against the
hostile ghosts which will lie in ambush for him on the road to
Mbulu, seeking to kill and eat him. Sometimes the club is
afterwards removed from the grave as of no further use, since
its ghost is all that the dead man needs. In like manner, "as
the Greeks gave the dead man the obolus for Charon's toll, and
the old Prussians furnished him with spending money, to buy
refreshment on his weary journey, so to this day German
peasants bury a corpse with money in his mouth or hand," and
this is also said to be one of the regular ceremonies of an
Irish wake. Of similar purport were the funeral feasts and
oblations of food in Greece and Italy, the "rice-cakes made
with ghee" destined for the Hindu sojourning in Yama's
kingdom, and the meat and gruel offered by the Chinaman to the
manes of his ancestors. "Many travellers have described the
imagination with which the Chinese make such offerings. It is
that the spirits of the dead consume the impalpable essence of
the food, leaving behind its coarse material substance,
wherefore the dutiful sacrificers, having set out sumptuous
feasts for ancestral souls, allow them a proper time to
satisfy their appetite, and then fall to themselves."[177] So
in the Homeric sacrifice to the gods, after the deity has
smelled the sweet savour and consumed the curling steam that
rises ghost-like from the roasting viands, the assembled
warriors devour the remains."[178]
[177] Tylor, op. cit. I. 435, 446; II. 30, 36.
[178] According to the Karens, blindness occurs when the SOUL
OF THE EYE is eaten by demons. Id., II. 353.
Thus far the course of fetichistic thought which we have
traced out, with Mr. Tylor's aid, is such as is not always
obvious to the modern inquirer without considerable concrete
illustration. The remainder of the process, resulting in that
systematic and complete anthropomorphisation of nature which
has given rise to mythology, may be more succinctly described.
Gathering together the conclusions already obtained, we find
that daily or frequent experience of the phenomena of shadows
and dreams has combined with less frequent experience of the
phenomena of trance, ecstasy, and insanity, to generate in the
mind of uncultured man the notion of a twofold existence
appertaining alike to all animate or inanimate objects: as
all alike possess material bodies, so all alike possess ghosts
or souls. Now when the theory of object-souls is expanded into
a general doctrine of spirits, the philosophic scheme of
animism is completed. Once habituated to the conception of
souls of knives and tobacco-pipes passing to the land of
ghosts, the savage cannot avoid carrying the interpretation
still further, so that wind and water, fire and storm, are
accredited with indwelling spirits akin by nature to the soul
which inhabits the human frame. That the mighty spirit or
demon by whose impelling will the trees are rooted up and tile
storm-clouds driven across the sky should resemble a freed
human soul, is a natural inference, since uncultured man has
not attained to the conception of physical force acting in
accordance with uniform methods, and hence all events are to
his mind the manifestations of capricious volition. If the
fire burns down his hut, it is because the fire is a person
with a soul, and is angry with him, and needs to be coaxed
into a kindlier mood by means of prayer or sacrifice. Thus the
savage has a priori no alternative but to regard fire-soul as
something akin to human-soul; and in point of fact we find
that savage philosophy makes no distinction between the human
ghost and the elemental demon or deity. This is sufficiently
proved by the universal prevalence of the worship of
ancestors. The essential principle of manes-worship is that
the tribal chief or patriarch, who has governed the community
during life, continues also to govern it after death,
assisting it in its warfare with hostile tribes, rewarding
brave warriors, and punishing traitors and cowards. Thus from
the conception of the living king we pass to the notion of
what Mr. Spencer calls "the god-king," and thence to the
rudimentary notion of deity. Among such higher savages as the
Zulus, the doctrine of divine ancestors has been developed to
the extent of recognizing a first ancestor, the Great Father,
Unkulunkulu, who made the world. But in the stratum of savage
thought in which barbaric or Aryan folk-lore is for the most
part based, we find no such exalted speculation. The ancestors
of the rude Veddas and of the Guinea negroes, the Hindu pitris
(patres, "fathers"), and the Roman manes have become elemental
deities which send rain or sunshine, health or sickness,
plenty or famine, arid to which their living offspring appeal
for guidance amid the vicissitudes of life.[179] The theory of
embodiment, already alluded to, shows how thoroughly the
demons which cause disease are identified with human and
object souls. In Australasia it is a dead man's ghost which
creeps up into the liver of the impious wretch who has
ventured to pronounce his name; while conversely in the
well-known European theory of demoniacal possession, it is a
fairy from elf-land, or an imp from hell, which has entered
the body of the sufferer. In the close kinship, moreover,
between disease-possession and oracle-possession, where the
body of tile Pythia, or the medicine-man, is placed under the
direct control of some great deity,[180] we may see how by
insensible transitions the conception of the human ghost
passes into the conception of the spiritual numen, or
[179] The following citation is interesting as an illustration
of the directness of descent from heathen manes-worship to
Christian saint-worship: "It is well known that Romulus,
mindful of his own adventurous infancy, became after death a
Roman deity, propitious to the health and safety of young
children, so that nurses and mothers would carry sickly
infants to present them in his little round temple at the foot
of the Palatine. In after ages the temple was replaced by the
church of St. Theodorus, and there Dr. Conyers Middleton, who
drew public attention to its curious history, used to look in
and see ten or a dozen women, each with a sick child in her
lap, sitting in silent reverence before the altar of the
saint. The ceremony of blessing children, especially after
vaccination, may still be seen there on Thursday mornings."
Op. cit. II. 111.
[180] Want of space prevents me from remarking at length upon
Mr. Tylor's admirable treatment of the phenomena of oracular
inspiration. Attention should be called, however, to the
brilliant explanation of the importance accorded by all
religions to the rite of fasting. Prolonged abstinence from
food tends to bring on a mental state which is favourable to
visions. The savage priest or medicine-man qualifies himself
for the performance of his duties by fasting, and where this
is not sufficient, often uses intoxicating drugs; whence the
sacredness of the hasheesh, as also of the Vedic soma-juice.
The practice of fasting among civilized peoples is an instance
of survival.
To pursue this line of inquiry through the countless nymphs
and dryads and nixies of the higher nature-worship up to the
Olympian divinities of classic polytheism, would be to enter
upon the history of religious belief, and in so doing to lose
sight of our present purpose, which has merely been to show by
what mental process the myth-maker can speak of natural
objects in language which implies that they are animated
persons. Brief as our account of this process has been, I
believe that enough has been said, not only to reveal the
inadequacy of purely philological solutions (like those
contained in Max Muller's famous Essay) to explain the growth
of myths, but also to exhibit the vast importance for this
purpose of the kind of psychological inquiry into the mental
habits of savages which Mr. Tylor has so ably conducted.
Indeed, however lacking we may still be in points of detail, I
think we have already reached a very satisfactory explanation
of the genesis of mythology. Since the essential
characteristic of a myth is that it is an attempt to explain
some natural phenomenon by endowing with human feelings and
capacities the senseless factors in the phenomenon, and since
it has here been shown how uncultured man, by the best use he
can make of his rude common sense, must inevitably come, and
has invariably come, to regard all objects as endowed with
souls, and all nature as peopled with supra-human entities
shaped after the general pattern of the human soul, I am
inclined to suspect that we have got very near to the root of
the whole matter. We can certainly find no difficulty in
seeing why a water-spout should be described in the "Arabian
Nights" as a living demon: "The sea became troubled before
them, and there arose from it a black pillar, ascending
towards the sky, and approaching the meadow,.... and behold it
was a Jinni, of gigantic stature." We can see why the Moslem
camel-driver should find it most natural to regard the
whirling simoom as a malignant Jinni; we may understand how it
is that the Persian sees in bodily shape the scarlet fever as
"a blushing maid with locks of flame and cheeks all rosy red";
and we need not consider it strange that the primeval Aryan
should have regarded the sun as a voyager, a climber, or an
archer, and the clouds as cows driven by the wind-god Hermes
to their milking. The identification of William Tell with the
sun becomes thoroughly intelligible; nor can we be longer
surprised at the conception of the howling night-wind as a
ravenous wolf. When pots and kettles are thought to have souls
that live hereafter, there is no difficulty in understanding
how the blue sky can have been regarded as the sire of gods
and men. And thus, as the elves and bogarts of popular lore
are in many cases descended from ancient divinities of Olympos
and Valhalla, so these in turn must acknowledge their
ancestors in the shadowy denizens of the primeval ghost-world.
August, 1872.
THE following are some of the modern works most likely to be
of use to the reader who is interested in the legend of
William Tell.
HISELY, J. J. Dissertatio historiea inauguralis de Oulielmo
Tellio, etc. Groningae, 1824.
IDELER, J. L. Die Sage von dem Schuss des Tell. Berlin, 1836.
HAUSSER, L. Die Sage von Tell aufs Neue kritisch untersucht.
Heidelberg, 1840.
HISELY, J. J. Recherches critiques sur l'histoire de Guillaume
Tell. Lausanne, 1843.
LIEBENAU, H. Die Tell-Sage zu dem Jahre 1230 historisoh nach
neuesten Quellen. Aarau, 1864.
VISCHER, W. Die Sage von der Befreinng der Waldstatte, etc.
Nebst einer Beilage: das alteste Tellensehauspiel. Leipzig,
BORDIER, H. L. Le Grutli et Guillaume Tell, ou defense de la
tradition vulgaire sur les origines de la confederation
suisse. Geneve et Bale, 1869.
The same. La querelle sur les traditions concernant l'origine
de la confederation suisse. Geneve et Bale, 1869.
RILLIET, A. Les origines de la confederation suisse: histoire
et legende. 2eS ed., revue et corrigee. Geneve et Bale, 1869.
The same. Lettre a M. Henri Bordier a propos de sa defense de
la tradition vulgaire sur les origines de la confederation
suisse. Geneve et Bale, 1869.
HUNGERBUHLER, H. Etude critique sur les traditions relatives
aux origines de la confederation suisse. Geneve et Bale, 1869.
MEYER, KARL. Die Tellsage. [In Bartsch, Germanistische
Studien, I. 159-170. Wien, 1872.
See also the articles by M. Scherer, in Le Temps, 18 Feb.,
1868; by M. Reuss, in the Revue critique d'histoire, 1868; by
M. de Wiss, in the Journal de Geneve, 7 July, 1868; also Revue
critique, 17 July, 1869; Journal de Geneve, 24 Oct., 1868;
Gazette de Lausanne, feuilleton litteraire, 2-5 Nov., 1868,
"Les origines de la confederation suisse," par M. Secretan;
Edinburgh Review, Jan., 1869, "The Legend of Tell and Rutli."

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