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and companionable deity, with whom you may walk hand in hand, as a child with its brother or its sister; and lastly, the moral significance of the image, which is in all the great myths eternally and beneficently true.”
Myth, in fine, “is not to be regarded as mere error and folly, but as an interesting product of the human mind. It is sham history, the fictitious narrative of events that never happened.”l But that is not the full statement of the case. Myth is also actual history of early and imperfect stages of thought and belief: it is the true narrative of unenlightened observation, of infantine gropings after truth. Whatever reservations scholars may make on other points, most of them will concur in these : that some myths came into existence by a “ disease of language"; that some were invented to explain names of nations and of places, and some to explain the existence of fossils and bones that suggested prehistoric animals and men ; that many were invented to gratify the ancestral pride of chieftains and clans, and that very many obtained consistency and form as explanations of the phenomena of nature, as expressions of the reverence felt for the powers of nature, and as personifications, in general, of the passions and the ideals of primitive mankind.
1 E. B. Tylor, Anthropology, p. 387. New York, 1881.
2 See also L. Preller, Griechische Mythologie, 1. 19. Max Müller, Comparative Mythology, Oxford Essays, 1856, p. 1-87; also Science of Religion, 1873, p. 335
Paul, Grundriss d. Germ. Phil. Bd. 1, Lig. 5, 982-995, Mythologie (von E. Mogk),
THE DISTRIBUTION OF MYTHS.
$ 9. Several theories of the appearance of the same explanatory or æsthetic myth, under various guises, in lands remote one from another, have been advanced; but none of them fully unveils the mystery. The difficulty lies not so much in accounting for the similarity of thought or material in different stories, as for the resemblance in isolated incidents and in the arrangement of incidents or plot. The principal theories of the distribution of myths are as follows:
(1) That the resemblances between the myths of different nations are purely accidental. This theory leaves us no wiser than we were.
(2) That the stories have been borrowed by one nation from another. This will account for exchange only between nations historically acquainted with each other. It will not account for the existence of the same arrangement of incidents in a Greek myth and in a Polynesian romance.
(3) That all myths, if traced chronologically backward, and geographically from land to land, will be found to have originated in India. This theory fails to account for numerous stories current among the modern nationalities of Europe, of Africa, and of India itself. It leaves also unexplained the existence of certain myths in Egypt many centuries before India had any known history: such as, in all probability, the Egyptian myth of Osiris. The theory, therefore, is open to the objection made to the theory of borrowing.
(4) That similar myths are based upon historical traditions similar in various countries, or inherited from some mother coun
1 Benfey and Cosquin. See Lang's Myth, Ritual, and Religion, II. 299.
try. But, although some historical myths may have descended from a mother race, it has already been demonstrated ($ 7.1) that the historical (Euhemeristic) hypothesis is inadequate. It is, moreover, not likely that many historical incidents like those related in the Iliad and the Odyssey happened in the same order, and as actual history, in Asia Minor, Ithaca, Persia, and Norway. But we find myths containing such incidents in all these countries.
(5) That the Aryan tribes (from which the Indians, Persians, Phrygians, Greeks, Romans, Germans, Norsemen, Russians, and Celts are descended) "started from a common centre" in the highlands of Northern India, “and that from their ancient home they must have carried away, if not the developed myth, yet the quickening germ from which might spring leaves and fruits, varying in form and hue according to the soil to which it should be committed and the climate under which the plant might reach maturity.”? Against this theory, it may be urged that stories having only the undeveloped germ or idea in common would not, with any probability, after they had been developed independently of each other, possess the remarkable resemblance in details that many widely separated myths display. Moreover, the assumption of this common stock considers only Aryan tribes : it ignores Africans, Mongolians, American Indians, and other peoples whose myths resemble the Aryan, but are not traceable to the same original germ. The Aryan germ-theory has, however, the merit of explaining resemblances between many myths of different Aryan nations.
(6) That the existence of similar incidents or situations is to be explained as resulting from the common facts of human thought, experience, and sentiment. This may be called the psychological theory. It was entertained by Grimm, and goes hand
1 Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion, II. 300; Cox, Mythology of the Aryan Nations, 1. 100.
* The Rev. Sir G. W. Cox, Mythology of Aryan Nations, I. 99; also, same theory, Max Müller's Chips from a German Workshop: Andrew Lang. Myth Ritual, and Religion, II. 207.
in hand with the anthropological, or “survivalist,” explanation of the elements of myth. “In the long history of mankind," says Mr. Andrew Lang, “it is impossible to deny that stories may conceivably have spread from a single centre, and been handed on from races like the Indo-European and Semitic to races as far removed from them in every way as the Zulus, the Australians, the Eskimo, the natives of the South Sea Islands. But while the possibility of the diffusion of myths by borrowing and transmission must be allowed for, the hypothesis of the origin of myths in the savage state of the intellect supplies a ready explanation of their wide diffusion.” Many products of early art — clay bowls and stone weapons — are peculiar to no one national taste or skill, they are what might have been expected of human conditions and intelligence. “Many myths may be called 'human' in this sense. They are the rough product of the early human mind, and are not yet characterized by the differentiations of race and culture. Such myths might spring up anywhere among untutored men, and anywhere might survive into civilized literature.” 1
The distribution of myth, like its origin, is inexplicable by any one theory. The discovery of racial families and of family traditions narrows the problem, but does not solve it. The existence of the same story in unrelated nationalities remains a perplexing fact, toward the explanation of which the theories of “ borrowing” and of “similar historic tradition," while plausible, are but unsubstantiated contributions. And until we possess the earliest records of those unrelated nationalities that have similar myths, or until we discover monuments and log-books of some commercial nation that, in prehistoric times, circumnavigated the globe, and deposited on remote shores and islands the seeds of the parent mythic plant, we must accept as our only scientific explanation the psychological, or so-called human, theory :- Given similar mental condition with similar surroundings, similar imaginative products, called myths, will result.”
1 Ency. Brit., 9th ed., article, Mythology. Cf. Tylor's Primitive Culture, I. 369; Tylor's Anthropology, 397.
2 See T. C. Johnston's Did the Phænicians Discover America ? 1892.
THE PRESERVATION OF MYTHS.
§ 10. Before the introduction of writing, myths were preserved in popular traditions, in the sacred ceremonials of colleges of priests, in the narratives chanted by families of minstrels or by professional bards wandering from village to village — from court to court, and in occasional hymns sung by privileged harpists, like Demodocus of Phæacia,' in honor of a chieftain, an ancestor, or a god. Many of these early bards are mere names to us. Most of them are probably as mythical as the songs with which they are accredited. The following is a brief account of mythical prophets, of mythical musicians and poets, and of the actual poets and historians who recorded the mythologies from which English literature draws its classical myths : the Greek, the Roman, the Norse, and the German.
$ 11. In Greece. — (1) Mythical Prophets. - To some of the oldest bards was attributed the gift of prophecy. Indeed, nearly every expedition of mythology was accompanied by one of these seers, priests, or “medicine-men,” as we might call them.
Melampus was the first Greek said to be endowed with prophetic powers. Before his house there stood an oak tree containing a serpent's nest. The old serpents were killed by the slaves, but Melampus saved the young ones. One day when he was asleep under the oak, the serpents licked his ears with their tongues, enabling him to understand the language of birds and creeping things. At one time his enemies seized and imprisoned him.
1 Odyssey 8: 250.
2 Cf. the experience of Sigurd, § 185.