Myths and Myth-Makers: Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted
comparative mythology by John Fiske

Part 4 out of 5

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


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