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voice, calling to life and to labor, rang round the earth, and whose going forth was to the ends of heaven.”
Regarding thus the religious condition of the savage, we may comprehend the existence of myths, and his acceptance of them.
§ 6. Unreasonable Myths. — But he would maintain this attitude of acceptance only in the matter of good and beneficent gods and of righteous or reasonable inyths.
For how could a human being believe of the god whom he worshipped and revered, deeds and attributes more silly and more shameful than man can conceive of his fellow-man ? When, therefore, we find senseless and shameless myths existing side by side with stories of the justice and righteousness of the same god, we must conclude that, since the worshipper could not believe both sets of attributes, he preserved his religious attitude before the good god, only by virtue of rejecting the senseless myth.
A man's religious belief would assist him to entertain only the reasonable myths. How, then, did the senseless and cruel stories come into existence? And were they ever believed ?
How accounted for. - There are many answers to these ques. tions. They may, however, be classified according to the theory of civilization that they assume.
According to the Theory of Deterioration, or Human Depravity, man, although he had in the beginning knowledge of common facts, pure moral and religious ideas, and true poetic conceptions, has forgotten, with the lapse of time, the significance of words, facts, men, and events, adopted corrupt moral and religious notions, and given license to the diseased imagining of untrue and unlovely conceptions.
According to the Theory of Improvement, or Progress, man, beginning with crude dreams and fancies about experience, life, the world, and God, has gradually developed truer and higher conceptions of his own nature, of his relation to the world about him, of duty, of art, and of religion.
$ 7. Theory of Deterioration. - Let us consider first the interpretations of mythology that assume a backward tendency in early civilization. They are :
(1) The Historical, or better called after its author, Euhemerus (B.C. 316), the Euhemeristic. This explanation assumes that myths of the gods are exaggerated adventures of historic individuals, chieftains, medicine-men, heroes; and that supernatural events are distortions of natural but wonderful occurrences. In fact, it attributes to our forefathers a disease of the memory which prompted them to pervert facts. Jupiter, Odin, and Hercules were accordingly men who, after death, had been glorified, then deified, then invested with numerous characteristics and adventures appropriate to their exalted conditions of existence.
The custom of worshipping ancestors, still existent in China and other countries, is adduced in support of this method of investigating myths, and it is undoubtedly true that the method explains the origin and growth of some myths. But it accounts rather for the reasonable than the senseless element of mythical adventure, while it fails to show how savages come to exaggerate their heroes into beings entirely out of the realm of that actual experience which is the basis of the historical assumption.
(2) The Philological Interpretation' assumes also a disease of the memory by reason of which men misunderstand and confuse. the meanings of words, and misapply the words themselves. Professor Max Müller calls this affection a disease of language. In ancient languages every such word as day, night, earth, sun, spring, dawn, had an ending expressive of gender, which naturally produced the corresponding idea of sex. These objects accordingly became in the process of generations not only persons, but male and female. As, also, the phrases expressing the existence or the activity of these natural objects lost their ancient signification under new colloquial coloring, primitive and simple statements of natural events acquired the garb and dignity of elaborate and often incongruous narratives, no longer about natural events, but about persons. Ancient language may, for instance, have said sunrise
1 See Max Müller's Chips from a German Workshop, Science of Religion, etc.; Cox's Aryan Myths, and numerous articles by the learned authors of Roscher's Ausführliches Lexicon
follows the dawn. The word for sun was masculine; the word for dawn, feminine. In time the sentence came to mean Apollo the god of the sun chases Daphne, the maiden of the glowing dawn. But the word, Daphne, meant also a laurel that burned easily, hence might readily be devoted to the god of the sun. So Daphne, the maiden, assuming the form of Daphne, the laurel, escaped the pursuit of her ardent lover, by becoming the tree sacred to his worship. The merit of the philological method is, that, tracing the name of a mythical character through kindred languages, it frequently ascertains for us the family of the myth, brings to light kindred forms of the myth, discovers in what language the name was born, and sometimes, giving us the original meaning of the divine name, “throws light on the legend of the bearer of the name and on its origin and first home." ?
But unfortunately there is very often no agreement among scholars about the original meaning of the names of mythical beings. The same name is frequently explained in half a dozen different ways. The same deity is reduced by different interpreters to half a dozen elements of nature. A certain goddess represents now the upper air, now light, now lightning, and yet again clouds. Naturally the attempts at construing her adventures must terminate in correspondingly dissimilar and unconvincing results. In fine, the philological explanation assumes as its starting-point masculine and feminine names for objects of nature. It does not attempt to show how an object like the ocean came to be male, and not female, or how it came to be a person at all. And this latter, in studying the origin of myths, is what should first be ascertained. We must not, however, fall into the error of supposing that the philologists look for the origin and growth of all myths in words and the diseases of words. Max Müller grants that mythology does not always create its own heroes, but sometimes lays hold of real history. He insists that mythologists should bear in mind
1 Max Müller, Essay on Comp. Mythol, Oxford Essays, 1856. Sci. Relig. II. 548 n.
2 Andrew Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, I. 24-25, and Professor C. P. Tiele, as cited by Lang.
that there may be in every mythological riddle elements which resist etymological analysis, for the simple reason that their origin was not etymological, but historical.
(3) The Allegorical Interpretation is akin to the philological in its results. It leads us to explain myths as embodiments in symbolic guise of hidden meaning: of physical, chemical, or astronomical facts; or of moral, religious, philosophical truth. The stories would at first exist as allegories, but in process of time would come to be understood literally. Thus Cronus, who devours his own children, is identified with the power that the Greeks called Chronos (Time), which may truly be said to destroy whatever it has brought into existence. The story of Io is interpreted in a similar manner. Io is the moon, and Argus the starry sky, which, 'as it were, keeps sleepless watch over her. The fabulous wanderings of Io represent the continual revolutions of the moon. This method of explanation rests upon the assumption that the men who made the allegories were proficient in physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc., and clever in allegory; but that, for some unknown reason, their descendants becoming stupid, knowledge as well as wit deserted the race. In some cases the myth was, without doubt, from the first an allegory; but where the myth was consciously fashioned as an allegory, in all probability it was preserved as such. It is not, however, likely that allegories of deep scientific or philosophical import were invented by savages. Where the myth has every mark of great antiquity, - is especially silly and senseless and savage, - it is safe to believe that any profound allegorical meaning, read into it, is the work of men of a later generation who thus attempted to make reasonable the divine and heroic narratives which they could not otherwise justify, and of whose existence they were ashamed. We find, moreover, in some cases a great variety of symbolic explanations of the same myth, one with as great claim to credence as another, since they spring from the same source, the caprice or fancy of the expounder.
Among the ancients Theagenes of Rhegium, six hundred years before Christ, suggested the allegorical theory and method of
interpretation. In modern times he has been supported by Lord Bacon, whose "Wisdom of the Ancients” treats myths as “ elegant and instructive fables," and by many Germans, especially Professor Creuzer.
(4) The Theological Interpretation. — This premises that mankind, either in general or through some chosen nationality, received from God an original revelation of pure religious ideas, and that, with the systematic and continued perversion of the moral sense, this knowledge of truth, morality, and spiritual religion fell into corruption. So in Greek mythology the attributes of the various gods would be imperfect irradiations of the attributes of the one God. A more limited conception is, that all mythological legends are derived from the narratives of Scripture, though the real facts have been disguised and altered. Thus, Deucalion is only another name for Noah, Hercules for Samson, Arion for Jonah, etc. Sir Walter Raleigh, in his “ History of the World," says, “ Jubal, Tubal, and Tubal-Cain were Mercury, Vulcan, and Apollo, inventors of pasturage, smithing, and music. The dragon which kept the golden apples was the serpent that beguiled Eve. Nimrod's tower was the attempt of the giants against heaven.” There are doubtless many curious coincidences like these, but the theory cannot, without extravagance, be pushed so far as to account for any great proportion of the stories. For many myths antedate the scriptural narratives of which they are said to be copies ; many more, though resembling the scriptural stories, originated among peoples ignorant of the Hebrew Bible. The theory rests upon two unproved assumptions : one, that all nations have had a chance to be influenced by the same set of religious doctrines; the other, that God made his revelation in the beginning once for all, and has done nothing to help man toward righteousness since then. The theological theory has been advocated by Voss and other Germans in the seventeenth century, by Jacob Bryant in 1774, and in this century most ably by Gladstone.
i W. E. Gladstone, Homer and the Homeric Age: Juventus Mundi; The Olympian Religion (North Am. Review, Feb.-May, 1892).