Зображення сторінки

For the reader the study of mythology does, in this respect, as much as for the poet. It assists him to thrid the labyrinth of art: not merely with the clue of tradition, but with a thread of surer knowledge whose surest strand is sympathy. The study has led men soberly to trace the progress of their kind from the twilight of gray conjecture to the dawn of spiritual conviction and rational individuality; to discern an onward continuity of thought, an outward reach of imagination, an upward lift of moral and religious ideas; to confess the brotherhood of humanity and the fatherhood of One whose purposes hold good for every race, and through all time. And, so, the knowledge of mythic lore has led men broadly to appreciate the motives and conditions of ancient art and literature, and the uniform and ordered evolution of the aesthetic sense.

Beside enriching us with heirlooms of fiction, and pointing us to the sources of imaginative joy from which the forefathers of Hellenic verse, or Norse, or English, drank, the classic myths quicken our imaginative and emotional faculties in no inappreciable degree. How many a man held by the sorrows of the I-abdacidae or the love of Alcestis, by some curious wonder in Pausanias, or some woe in Hyginus, has waked to the consciousness of artistic fancy and creative force within himself! How many, indifferent to the well-known round, the trivial task, the nearest care of home, have read the Farewell to Andromache and lived a new sympathy, an unselfish thrill, a purified delight! And not only as an impulse toward artistic output, or patriotic devotion, or domestic altruism, but as a restraining influence, a chastener of aesthetic excess, a moderator of the 'unchartered freedom' that knows no mean betwee* idolatry and loathing, of the foolish frenzy that affects new things, abnormal and sensational, in literature, music, and the plastic arts, — as such a tutor and governor is the study of beautiful myths invaluable. Long familiarity with the sweet simplicity, the orderly restraint, the severe regard, the filial awe that pervade the myths of Greece and Rome, — or with the newness of life and fulness and wonder of it, the naivete and the romance, of Eddie lore, — cannot but graciously temper our modern estimate of artistic worth.

Furthermore, it must be borne in mind that the myths of the ancients, as the earliest literary crystallization of social order and religious fear, record the incipient history of religious ideals and of moral conduct. For though ethnologists may insist that to search for truth in mythology is vain, the best of them will grant that to search for truth through mythology is wise and profitable. If we accept the statement (often stretched beyond its proper limit) that mythology is primitive philosophy, and the other statement that an ancient philosophy never dies, but by process of internal growth, of modification, and of accretion acquires a purer spirit and a new and higher form, — then, since truth was never yet conceived of error (ex nihilo nihil fit), the truth now recognized, while it did not exist in that fraction of myth which happens to be irrational, existed as an archetypal impulse: set the myth in motion; and, as a process refining the mind of man, tended steadily to eliminate from primitive philosophy — that is, from the myths that embodied primitive philosophy — the savage, ephemeral, and irrational element. For all myths spring from the universal and inalienable desire to know, to enjoy, to teach. These impulses of knowledge, of imaginative relaxation, of conduct, are the throbbing of the heart of reason; the first or the second is the primal pulse of every myth ; and to the life of every myth each impulse may be, at some period, contributory.

Let us, by way of example, consider the stages of mythologic philosophy described by Professor J. W. Powell in his First Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology.1 We do not find the truth free from dross in what he calls the lowest stage, hecastotheism, where everything is endowed " with life: with personality, will, and design . . . where everything discovered by the senses is looked upon

1 Report of the Director of the Bureau to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1879-80, pp. 29-33. I have, merely for the sake of condensation, occasionally adapted a sentence.

subjectively by the philosopher, and endowed with all the attributes supposed to be inherent in himself; where everything is a god." Nor do we discover the truth unalloyed in iootheism, in which "men no longer attribute life indiscriminately to inanimate things; where the same powers and attributes recognized by subjective vision in man are attributed to the animals by which he is surrounded; . . . where man worships beasts, and the phenomena of nature are the doings of animal gods." Nor do we hold truth undebased in the third stage, physitheism; where "animal gods are dethroned; the powers and phenomena- of nature are personified and deified, and the gods are strictly anthropomorphic, having the form as well as the mental, moral, and social attributes of men." In these deities of the sun, the moon, and the dawn, we do not yet know the pure, the genuine truth. Nor do we recognize it in psychotheism, a still higher plane of mythologic philosophy, where " mental, moral, and social characteristics are personified and deified," . . . and gods of war, of love, of revelry, of wisdom, and of youth, " preside over the institutions and occupations of mankind." In none of these presumptive stages of mythologic philosophy do we discover the truth without admixture; no later stage is without trace of earlier creed; but in every stage a power is manifest making for righteousness, a love yearning for sympathy divine, a moral sense striving through humanized nature and spiritualized man, through pantheism and monotheism to the Spirit in whom we live and move and have our being, — who lives and moves through all.

2. The benefits accruing from the consideration of mythology, and particularly of the classic myths, are not only general, but specific. For, the study, when illustrated by masterpieces of literature and art, should lead to the appreciation of concrete artistic productions of both these kinds.

It goes without saying that a rational series of somewhat consecutive stories is more serviceable to the reader than a congeries of data acquired by spasmodic consultation of the Classical Dictionary, — a mass of information bolted, as it were, but by no means digested. When, however, these stories are treated in genealogical and realistic sequence and are illustrated by lyric, narrative, and descriptive passages of modern literature, there is furnished not only that material of allusion and reference for which the student nowadays trusts to meagre and disjointed textbook notes, but a potentiality that should render the general reading of belles lettres more profitable. For, a previous acquaintance with the material of literary tradition heightens the appreciation of each allusive passage as it is encountered; it enables the reader to sympathize with the mood and to enter into the purpose of the poet, the essayist, the novelist, the orator; it expands the intellectual lungs for the atmosphere breathed by the artist, at any rate for a literary and social atmosphere less asthmatic than that to which so many of us are unconsciously habituated. Of course, all this advantage would far better result from the first-hand nutriment and discipline of the Greek and Latin classics; of course, direct familiarity with the writers of Greece and Rome is the sine qua non of level-headed criticism and broad evaluation of modern literature; and, of course, a sympathy with the imaginings of old is the best incentive to an aesthetic estimate not only of art, but of nature to-day; but if our American pupils and many of their teachers cannot quaff Massic and Falernian, they do well to scent the bouquet. In time, a sense of flavor may, perchance, be stimulated, and, ultimately, a desire for nearer acquaintance with the literatures that we inherit.

In respect of the plastic arts, a similar indirect instruction may well be conveyed. A modest collection of photographs of the paintings and sculptures that have best represented mythical subjects, would, if used in the school and at home in connection with the study of classic myths, avail much toward lifting our American public from the dead level of apathy and provinciality in matters of imagination. A ray of artistic culture, even though refracted ideals of callow youth, and orient the "chorus of indolent reviewers."

For, a second specific advantage to be derived from this study is that it quickens the aesthetic judgment, and heightens the enjoyment of such works of literature and art as not treating of mythical or classical subjects still possess the characteristics of the classic: the unconscious simplicity, the inevitable charm, and the noble ideality. The Lycidas, the Adonais, the Thyrsis, the In Memoriam, the Ode to Duty, the Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich, the Hymn of Man, Love is Enough, Prospice, Festus, the Ode of Life, the Dream of Gerontius, Lying in the Grass, and Simmenthal must mean little to one devoid of the spirit of classicism.

3. A few hints to teachers of the Classic Myths in their relation to English Literature may, perhaps, be acceptable.

From the outset care should be taken that pupils give to the classical names their proper accent, and that they anglicize both vowels and consonants according to the recognized rules laid down in the Latin grammars, and the English dictionaries.

Mythological and classical geography must also be carefully studied. The maps accompanying this volume will be serviceable; but there should be in the class-room one of Kiepert's maps of the World as Known to the Ancients (Orbis Veteribus Notus), or maps of Ancient Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor. The teacher will find The International Atlas (G. P. Putnam's Sons, N.Y.), A. Keith Johnston's School and College Atlas of Ancient Geography, or the new edition of the same by James Cranstoun issued as Ginn and Company's Classical Atlas, indispensable in the prosecution of general reading.

Most of the myths will naturally be studied out of class and recited in class. Some of the longer ones, however, such as the Wanderings of Ulysses, or the Adventures of ^Eneas, might in the latter part of the course be read aloud in class for some fifteen minutes every day, in order that interest in the narrative as a whole may be maintained while careful and continual review is had of the numerous allusions and references to earlier myths

« НазадПродовжити »