Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

$ 8. We are now ready for the explanation of myth-making based upon the Theory of Progress. This is best stated by Mr. Andrew Lang,' whose argument is, when possible, given in his own language. To the question how the senseless element got into myths, the advocates of this theory answer that it was in the minds and in the social condition of the savages who invented the myths. But since we cannot put ourselves back in history thousands of years to exan ine the habits of thought and life of early savages, we are constrained to examine whether anywhere nowadays there may exist “any stage of the human intellect in which these divine adventures and changes of men into animals, trees, stars, this belief in seeing and talking with the dead, are regarded as possible incidents of daily human life.” As the result of such scientific investigation, numerous races of savages have been found who at this present day accept and believe just such silly and senseless elements of myth as puzzle us, and have puzzled many of the cultivated ancients who found them in their inherited mythologies. The theory of development is, then, that “the savage and senseless element in mythology is, for the most part, a legacy from ancestors of civilized races who at the time that they invented the senseless stories were in an intellectual state not higher than that of our contemporary Australians, Bushmen, Red Indians, the lower races of South America, and other worse than barbaric people of the nineteenth century.” But what are the characteristics of the mental state of our contemporary savages? First and foremost, curiosity that leads them to inquire into the causes of things; and second, credulity that impels them to invent or to accept childish stories that may satisfy their untutored experience. We find, moreover, that savages nowadays think of everything around them as having life and the parts and passions of persons like themselves. “The sky, sun, wind, sea, earth, mountains, trees, regarded as persons, are mixed up with men, beasts, stars, and stones on the same level of personality and life.” The forces of nature, animals, and things have for these Polynesians and Bushmen the same powers and attributes that men have; and in their opinion men have the following attributes :

1 Andrew Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, 2 vols., London, 1887; and Encyc. Brit., 9th ed., article, Mythology. Mannhardt, Antike Wald- und Feldkultus, Berlin, 1877. E. B. Tylor, Anthropology; Primitive Culture,

“1. Relationship to animals and ability to be transformed, and to transform others into animals and other objects.

“ 2. Magical accomplishments, such as power to call up ghosts, or to visit ghosts and the region of the dead; power over the seasons, the sun, moon, stars, weather, and so forth.")

The stories of savages to-day abound in adventures based upon qualities and incidents like these. If these stories should survive in the literature of these nations after the nations have been civilized, they would appear senseless and silly and cruel to the descendants of our contemporary savages. In like manner, “as the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Norsemen advanced in civilization, their religious thought and artistic taste were shocked by myths which were preserved by local priesthoods, or in ancient poems, or in popular religious ceremonials. ... We may believe that ancient and early tribes framed gods like themselves in action and in experience, and that the allegorical element in myths is the addition of later peoples who had attained to purer ideas of divinity, yet dared not reject the religion of their ancestors." ? The senseless element in the myths would, by this theory, be, for the most part, a “survival.” Instead, then, of deteriorating, the races that invented senseless myths are, with ups and downs of civilization, intellectually and morally improved, to such extent that they desire to repudiate the senseless element in their mythical and religious traditions, or to explain it as reasonable by way of allegory. This method of research depends upon the science of mind — psychology, and the science of man - anthropology. It may be called the Anthropological Method. The theory is that of “survival.”

1 Ency. Brit., Mythology.

2 Chr. A. Lobeck, Aglaophamus : On the Causes of Greek Mythology. Cited by Lang.

It is of course probable that occasionally the questionable element of the myth originated in germs other than savage curiosity and credulity : for instance, in the adventures of some great hero, or in a disease of language by which statements about objects came to be understood as stories about persons, or perhaps in a conscious allegory, or, even, in the perversion of some ancient purer form of moral or religious truth. But, in general, the root of myth-making is to be found in the mental and social condition of primitive man, the confused personality that he extended to his surroundings, and the belief in magical powers that he conferred upon those of his tribesmen that were shrewdest and most influential. This mental condition of the myth-maker should be premised in all scientific explanations of myth-making.

Then, with the aid of the philological method of interpretation and of the euhemeristic, the transition is intelligible from a personification of the elements of nature or an exaggeration of historic facts to the notion of supernatural beings presiding over, and governing, the different objects of nature — air, fire, water, the sun, moon, and stars, the mountains, forests, and streams — or possessing marvellous qualities of action, passion, virtue, foresight, spirituality, and vice.

The Greeks, whose imagination was lively, peopled all nature with such invisible inhabitants and powers. In Greece, says Wordsworth : 1

“In that fair clime the lonely herdsman, stretched
On the soft grass through half a summer's day,
With music lulled his indolent repose;
And, in some fit of weariness, if he,
When his own breath was silent, chanced to hear
A distant strain far sweeter than the sounds
Which his poor skill could make, his fancy fetched
Even from the blazing chariot of the Sun
A beardless youth who touched a golden lute,
And filled the illumined groves with ravishment.
The nightly hunter, lifting up his eyes
Toward the crescent Moon, with grateful heart

1 Excursion, Bk. IV.

Called on the lovely Wanderer who bestowed
That timely light to share his joyous sport;
And hence a beaming goddess with her nymphs
Across the lawn and through the darksome grove
(Not unaccompanied with tuneful notes
By echo multiplied from rock or cave)
Swept in the storm of chase; as moon and stars
Glance rapidly along the clouded heaven
When winds are blowing strong. The traveller slaked
His thirst from rill or gushing fount, and thanked
The Naiad. Sunbeams upon distant hills
Gliding apace with shadows in their train,
Might, with small help from fancy, be transformed
Into fleet Oreads sporting visibly.
The Zephyrs, fanning, as they passed, their wings,
Lacked not for love fair objects whom they wooed
With gentle whisper. Withered boughs grotesque,
Stripped of their leaves and twigs by hoary age,
From depth of shaggy covert peeping forth
In the low vale, or on steep mountain side;
And sometimes intermixed with stirring horns
of the live deer, or goat's depending beard;
These were the lurking Satyrs, a wild brood
Of gamesome deities; or Pan himself,

The simple shepherd's awe-inspiring god.” The phases of significance and beauty through which the physical or natural myth may develop are expressed with poetic grace by Ruskin, in his “Queen of the Air.”! The reader must, however, guard against the supposition that any myth has sprung into existence fully equipped with physical, religious, and moral import. Ruskin himself says, “ To the mean person the myth always meant little ; to the noble person, much." Accordingly, as we know, to the savage the myth was sayage; to the devotee it became religious; to the artist, beautiful ; to the philosopher, recondite and significant - in the course of centuries.

1 Concerning which may be accepted the verdict that Mr. Ruskin passes upon Payne Knight's Symbolical Language of Ancient Art, "Not trustworthy, being little more than a mass of conjectural memoranda; but the heap is suggestive, it well sifted,"

“If we seek,” says Ruskin, “ to ascertain the manner in which the story first crystallized into its shape, we shall find ourselves led back generally to one or other of two sources - either to actual historical events, represented by the fancy under figures personifying them, or else to natural phenomena similarly endowed with life by the imaginative power, usually more or less under the influence of terror. The historical myths we must leave the masters of history to follow; they, and the events they record, being yet involved in great, though attractive and penetrable, mystery. But the stars and hills and storms are with us now, as they were with others of old; and it only needs that we look at them with the earnestness of those childish eyes to understand the first words spoken of them by the children of men. And then, in all the most beautiful and enduring myths, we shall find not only a literal story of a real person — not only a parallel imagery of moral principle — but an underlying worship of natural phenomena, out of which both have sprung, and in which both forever remain rooted. Thus, from the real sun, rising and setting; from the real atmosphere, calm in its dominion of unfading blue and fierce in its descent of tempest — the Greek forms first the idea of two entirely personal and corporeal gods (Apollo and Athena), whose limbs are clothed in divine flesh, and whose brows are crowned with divine beauty; yet so real that the quiver rattles at their shoulder, and the chariot bends beneath their weight. And, on the other hand, collaterally with these corporeal images, and never for one instant separated from them, he conceives also two omnipresent spiritual influences, of which one illuminates, as the sun, with a constant fire, whatever in humanity is skilful and wise ; and the other, like the living air, breathes the calm of heavenly fortitude and strength of righteous anger into every human breast that is pure and brave.

“Now, therefore, in nearly every myth of importance, ... you have to discern these three structural parts — the root and the two branches. The root, in physical existence, sun, or sky, or cloud, or sea; then the personal incarnation of that, becoming a trusted

« НазадПродовжити »