I have quoted the opinions of these Greek philosophers, to which many more might have been added, partly in order to show how many of the most distinguished minds of ancient Greece agreed in demanding an interpretation, whether physical or metaphysical, of Greek mythology, partly in order to satisfy those classical scholars, who, forgetful of their own classics, forgetful of their own Plato and Aristotle, seem to imagine that the idea of seeing in the gods and heroes of Greece anything beyond what they appear to be in the songs of Homer, was a mere fancy and invention of the students of Comparative Mythology.
There were, no doubt, Greeks, and eminent Greeks too, who took the legends of their gods and heroes in their literal sense. But what do these say of Homer and Hesiod? Xenophanes, the contemporary of Pythagoras, holds Homer and Hesiod responsible for the popular superstitions of Greece. In this he agrees with Herodotus, when he declares that these two poets made the theogony for the Greeks, and gave to the gods their names, and assigned to them their honors and their arts, and described their appearances. But he then continues in a very different strain from the pious historian.(20) "Homer," he says,(21) "and Hesiod ascribed to the gods whatever is disgraceful and scandalous among men, yea, they declared that the gods had committed nearly all unlawful acts, such as theft, adultery, and fraud." "Men seem to have created their gods, and to have given to them their own mind, voice, and figure. The Ethiopians made their gods black and flat-nosed; the Thracians red-haired and blue-eyed." This was spoken about 500 B. C. Herakleitos, about 460 B. C., one of the boldest thinkers of ancient Greece, declared that Homer deserved to be ejected from public assemblies and flogged; and a story is told that Pythagoras (about 540 B. C.) saw the soul of Homer in Hades, hanging on a tree and surrounded by serpents, as a punishment for what he had said of the gods. And what can be stronger than the condemnation passed on Homer by Plato? I shall read an extract from the "Republic," from the excellent translation lately published by Professor Jowett:—
"But what fault do you find with Homer and Hesiod, and the other great story-tellers of mankind?"
"A fault which is most serious," I said: "the fault of telling a lie, and a bad lie."
"But when is this fault committed?"
"Whenever an erroneous representation is made of the nature of gods and heroes—like the drawing of a limner which has not the shadow of a likeness to the truth."
" 'Yes,' he said, 'that sort of thing is certainly very blamable; but what are the stories which you mean?' "
" 'First of all,' I said, 'there was that greatest of all lies in high places, which the poet told about Uranos, and which was an immoral lie too—I mean what Hesiod says that Uranos did, and what Kronos did to him. The fact is that the doings of Kronos, and the sufferings which his son inflicted upon him, even if they were true, ought not to be lightly told to young and simple persons; if possible, they had better be buried in silence. But if there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a very few might hear them in a mystery, and then let them sacrifice not a common (Eleusinian) pig, but some huge and unprocurable victim; this would have the effect of very greatly reducing the number of the hearers.' "
" 'Why, yes,' said he, 'these stories are certainly objectionable.' "
" 'Yes, Adeimantos, they are stories not to be narrated in our state; the young man should not be told that in committing the worst of crimes he is far from doing anything outrageous, and that he may chastise his father when he does wrong in any manner that he likes, and in this will only be following the example of the first and greatest of the gods.' "
" 'I quite agree with you,' he said; 'in my opinion those stories are not fit to be repeated.' 'Neither, if we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarrelling as dishonorable, should anything be said of the wars in heaven, and of the plots and fightings of the gods against one another, which are quite untrue. Far be it from us to tell them of the battles of the giants, and embroider them on garments; or of all the innumerable other quarrels of gods and heroes with their friends and relations. If they would only believe us, we would tell them that quarrelling is unholy, and that never up to this time has there been any quarrel between citizens; this is what old men and old women should begin by telling children, and the same when they grow up. And these are the sort of fictions which the poets should be required to compose. But the narrative of Hephaestos binding Here his mother, or how, on another occasion, Zeus sent him flying for taking her part when she was being beaten—such tales must not be admitted in our state, whether they are supposed to have an allegorical meaning or not. For the young man cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal, and anything that he receives into his mind at that age is apt to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore the tales which they first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts.' "
To those who look upon mythology as an ancient form of religion, such freedom of language as is here used by Xenophanes and Plato, must seem startling. If the Iliad were really the Bible of the Greeks, as it has not infrequently been called, such violent invectives would have been impossible. For let us bear in mind that Xenophanes, though he boldly denied the existence of all the mythological deities, and declared his belief in One God, "neither in form nor in thought like unto mortals,"(22) was not therefore considered a heretic. He never suffered for uttering his honest convictions: on the contrary, as far as we know, he was honored by the people among whom he lived and taught. Nor was Plato ever punished on account of his unbelief, and though he, as well as his master, Sokrates, became obnoxious to the dominant party at Athens, this was due to political far more than to theological motives. At all events, Plato, the pupil, the friend, the apologist of Sokrates, was allowed to teach at Athens to the end of his life, and few men commanded greater respect in the best ranks of Greek society.
But, although mythology was not religion in our sense of the word, and although the Iliad certainly never enjoyed among Greeks the authority either of the Bible, or even of the Veda among the Brahmans, or the Zend Avesta among the Parsis, yet I would not deny altogether that in a certain sense the mythology of the Greeks belonged to their religion. We must only be on our guard, here as everywhere else, against the misleading influence of words. The word Religion has, like most words, had its history; it has grown and changed with each century, and it cannot, therefore, have meant with the Greeks and Brahmans what it means with us. Religions have sometimes been divided into national or traditional, as distinguished from individual or statutable religion. The former are, like languages, home-grown, autochthonic, without an historical beginning, generally without any recognized founder, or even an authorized code; the latter have been founded by historical persons, generally in antagonism to traditional systems, and they always rest on the authority of a written code. I do not consider this division as very useful(23) for a scientific study of religion, because in many cases it is extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to draw a sharp line of demarcation, and to determine whether a given religion should be considered as the work of one man, or as the combined work of those who came before him, who lived with him, nay, even of those who came after him. For our present purpose, however, for showing at once the salient difference between what the Greeks and what we ourselves should mean by Religion, this division is very serviceable. The Greek religion was clearly a national and traditional religion, and, as such, it shared both the advantages and disadvantages of this form of religious belief; the Christian religion is an historical and, to a great extent, an individual religion, and it possesses the advantage of an authorized code and of a settled system of faith. Let it not be supposed, however, that between traditional and individual religions the advantages are all on one, the disadvantages on the other side. As long as the immemorial religions of the different branches of the human race remained in their natural state, and were not pressed into the service of political parties or an ambitious priesthood, they allowed great freedom of thought and a healthy growth of real piety, and they were seldom disgraced by an intolerant or persecuting spirit. They were generally either honestly believed, or, as we have just seen, honestly attacked, and a high tone of intellectual morality was preserved, untainted by hypocrisy, equivocation, or unreasoning dogmatism. The marvellous development of philosophy in Greece, particularly in ancient Greece, was chiefly due, I believe, to the absence of an established religion and an influential priesthood; and it is impossible to overrate the blessing which the fresh, pure, invigorating, and elevating air of that ancient Greek philosophy has conferred on all ages, not excepting our own. I shudder at the thought of what the world would have been without Plato and Aristotle, and I tremble at the idea that the youth of the future should ever be deprived of the teaching and the example of these true prophets of the absolute freedom of thought. Unfortunately, we know but little of the earliest fathers of Greek philosophy; we have but fragments, and those not always trustworthy, nor easily intelligible, of what they taught on the highest questions that can stir the heart of man. We have been accustomed to call the oracular sayings of men like Thales, Pythagoros, Xenophanes, or Herakleitos, philosophy, but there was in them as much of religion as in the songs of Homer and Hesiod. Homer and Hesiod were great powers, but their poems were not the only feeders of the religious life of Greece. The stream of ancient wisdom and philosophy flowed parallel with the stream of legend and poetry; and both were meant to support the religious cravings of the soul. We have only to attend without prejudice to the utterances of these ancient prophets, such as Xenophanes and Herakleitos, in order to convince ourselves that these men spoke with authority to the people,(24) that they considered themselves the equals of Homer and Hesiod, nay, their betters, and in no way fettered by the popular legends about gods and goddesses. While modern religions assume in general a hostile attitude towards philosophy, ancient religions have either included philosophy as an integral part, or they have at least tolerated its growth in the very precincts of their temples.
After we have thus seen what limitations we must place on the meaning of the word Religion, if we call mythology the religion of the ancient world, we may now advance another step.
We have glanced at the principal interpretations which have been proposed by the ancients themselves of the original purpose and meaning of mythology. But there is one question which none, either of the ancient or of the modern interpreters of mythology, has answered, or even asked, and on which, nevertheless, the whole problem of mythology seems to turn. If mythology is history changed into fable, why was it so changed? If it is fable represented as history, why were such fables invented? If it contains precepts of moral philosophy, whence their immoral disguise? If it is a picture of the great forms and forces of nature, the same question still returns, why were these forms and forces represented as heroes and heroines, as nymphs and shepherds, as gods and goddesses? It is easy enough to call the sun a god, or the dawn a goddess, after these predicates have once been framed. But how were these predicates framed? How did people come to know of gods and goddesses, heroes and nymphs, and what meaning did they originally connect with these terms? In fact, the real question which a philosophy of mythology has to answer is this—Is the whole of mythology an invention, the fanciful poetry of a Homer or Hesiod, or is it a growth? Or, to speak more definitely, Was mythology a mere accident, or was it inevitable? Was it only a false step, or was it a step that could not have been left out in the historical progress of the human mind?
The study of the history of language, which is only a part of the study of the history of thought, has enabled us to give a decisive answer to this question. Mythology is inevitable, it is natural, it is an inherent necessity of language, if we recognize in language the outward form and manifestation of thought: it is, in fact, the dark shadow which language throws on thought, and which can never disappear till language becomes altogether commensurate with thought, which it never will. Mythology, no doubt, breaks out more fiercely during the early periods of the history of human thought, but it never disappears altogether. Depend upon it, there is mythology now as there was in the time of Homer, only we do not perceive it, because we ourselves live in the very shadow of it, and because we all shrink from the full meridian light of truth. We are ready enough to see that if the ancients called their kings and heroes Διογενεῖς, sprung of Zeus, that expression, intended originally to convey the highest praise which man can bestow on man, was apt to lapse into mythology. We easily perceive how such a conception, compatible in its origin with the highest reverence for the gods, led almost inevitably to the growth of fables, which transferred to divine beings the incidents of human paternity and sonship. But we are not so ready to see that it is our fate, too, to move in allegories which illustrate things intellectual by visions exhibited to the fancy. In our religion, too, the conceptions of paternity and sonship have not always been free from all that is human, nor are we always aware that nearly every note that belongs to human paternity and sonship must be taken out of these terms, before they can be pronounced safe against mythological infection. Papal decisions on immaculate conception are of no avail against that mythology. The mind must become immaculate and rise superior to itself; or it must close its eyes and shut its lips in the presence of the Divine.
If then we want to understand mythology, in the ordinary and restricted sense of the word, we must discover the larger circle of mental phenomena to which it belongs. Greek mythology, is but a small segment of mythology; the religious mythologies of all the races of mankind are again but a small segment of mythology. Mythology, in the highest sense, is the power exercised by language on thought in every possible sphere of mental activity; and I do not hesitate to call the whole history of philosophy, from Thales down to Hegel, an uninterrupted battle against mythology, a constant protest of thought against language. This will require some explanation.
Ever since the time of Wilhelm von Humboldt, all who have seriously grappled with the highest problems of the Science of Language have come to the conviction that thought and language are inseparable, that language is as impossible without thought as thought is without language; that they stand to each other somewhat like soul and body, like power and function, like substance and form. The objections which have been raised against this view arise generally from a mere misunderstanding. If we speak of language as the outward realization of thought, we do not mean language as deposited in a dictionary, or sketched in a grammar; we mean language as an act, language as being spoken, language as living and dying with every word that is uttered. We might perhaps call this speech, as distinguished from language.
Secondly, though if we speak of language, we mean chiefly phonetic articulate language, we do not exclude the less perfect symbols of thought, such as gestures, signs, or pictures. They, too, are language in a certain sense, and they must be included in language before we are justified in saying that discursive thought can be realized in language only. One instance will make this clear. We hold that we cannot think without language. But can we not count without language? We certainly can. We can form the conception of three without any spoken word, by simply holding up three fingers. In the same manner, the hand might stand for five, both hands for ten, hands and feet for twenty.(25) This is how people who possessed no organs of speech would speak; this is how the deaf and dumb do speak. Three fingers are as good as three strokes, three strokes are as good as three clicks of the tongue, three clicks of the tongue are as good as the sound three, or trois, or drei, or shalosh in Hebrew, or san in Chinese. All these are signs, more or less perfect, but being signs, they fall under the category of language; and all we maintain is, that without some kind of sign, discursive thought is impossible, and that in that sense, language, or λόγος, is the only possible realization of human thought.
Another very common misunderstanding is this: people imagine that, if it be impossible to think, except in language, language and thought must be one and the same thing. But a true philosophy of language leads to the very opposite result. Every philosopher would say that matter cannot exist without form, nor form without matter, but no philosopher would say that therefore it is impossible to distinguish between form and matter. In the same way, though we maintain that thought cannot exist without language nor language without thought, we do distinguish between thought and language, between the inward and the outward λόγος, between the substance and the form. Nay, we go a step beyond. We admit that language necessarily reacts on thought, and we see in this reaction, in this refraction of the rays of language, the real solution of the old riddle of mythology.
You will now see why these somewhat abstruse disquisitions were necessary for our immediate purpose, and I can promise those who have hitherto followed me on this rather barren and rugged track, that they will now be able to rest, and command, from the point of view which we have reached, the whole panorama of the mythology of the human mind.
We saw just now that the names of numbers may most easily be replaced by signs. Numbers are simple analytical conceptions, and for that very reason they are not liable to mythology: name and conception being here commensurate, no misunderstanding is possible. But as soon as we leave this department of thought, mythology begins. I shall try by at least one example to show how mythology not only pervades the sphere of religion or religious tradition, but infects more or less the whole realm of thought.
When man wished for the first time to grasp and express a distinction between the body and something else within him distinct from the body, an easy name that suggested itself was breath. The breath seemed something immaterial and almost invisible, and it was connected with the life that pervaded the body, for as soon as the breath ceased, the life of the body became extinct. Hence the Greek name ψυχή,(26) which originally meant breath, was chosen to express at first the principle of life, as distinguished from the decaying body, afterwards the incorporeal, the immaterial, the undecaying, the immortal part of man—his soul, his mind, his Self. All this was very natural. When a person dies, we too say that he has given up the ghost, and ghost, too, meant originally spirit, and spirit meant breath.
A very instructive analogous case is quoted by Mr. E. B. Tylor from a compendium of the theology of the Indians of Nicaragua, the record of question and answer in an inquest held by Father Francisco de Bobadilla in the early days of the Spanish conquest. Asked, among other things, concerning death, the Indians said: "Those who die in their houses go underground, but those who are killed in war go to serve the gods (teotes). When men die, there comes forth from their mouth something which resembles a person, and is called julio (Aztec yuli, 'to live'). This being is like a person, but does not die, and the corpse remains here." The Spanish ecclesiastics inquired whether those who go on high keep the same body, features, and limbs as here below; to which the Indians answered, "No, there is only the heart." "But," said the Spaniards, "as the hearts are torn out" (they meant in the case of warriors who fell into the hands of the enemy), "what happens then?" Hereupon the Indians replied: "It is not precisely the heart, but that which is in them, and makes them live, and which quits the body when they die;" and again they said, "It is not their heart which goes up on high, but that which makes them live, that is, the breath coming out from their mouth, which is called julio." "Then," asked the Spaniards, "does this heart, julio, or soul, die with the body?" "When the deceased has lived well," replied the Indians, "the julio goes up on high with our gods; but when he has lived ill, the julio perishes with the body, and there is an end of it."
The Greeks expressed the same idea by saying that the ψυχή had left the body,(27) had fled through the mouth, or even through a bleeding wound,(28) and had gone into Hades, which meant literally no more than the place of the Invisible (Ἁίδης). That the breath had become invisible was matter of fact; that it had gone to the house of Hades, was mythology springing spontaneously from the fertile soil of language.
The primitive mythology was by no means necessarily religious. In the very case which we have chosen, philosophical mythology sprang up by the side of religious mythology. The religious mythology consisted in speaking of the spirits of the departed as ghosts, as mere breath and air, as fluttering about the gates of Hades, or ferried across the Styx in the boat of Charon.(29)
The philosophical mythology, however, that sprang from this name was much more important. We saw that Psyche, meaning originally the breathing of the body, was gradually used in the sense of vital breath, and as something independent of the body; and that at last, when it had assumed the meaning of the immortal part of man, it retained that character of something independent of the body, thus giving rise to the conception of a soul, not only as a being without a body, but in its very nature opposed to body. As soon as that opposition had been established in language and thought, philosophy began its work in order to explain how two such heterogeneous powers could act on each other—how the soul could influence the body, and how the body could determine the soul. Spiritualistic and materialistic systems of philosophy arose, and all this in order to remove a self-created difficulty, in order to join together again what language had severed, the living body and the living soul. The question whether there is a soul or spirit, whether there is in man something different from the mere body, is not at all affected by this mythological phraseology. We certainly can distinguish between body and soul, but as long as we keep within the limits of human knowledge, we have no right to speak of the living soul as a breath, or of spirits and ghosts as fluttering about like birds or fairies. The poet of the nineteenth century says:—
"The spirit does but mean the breath, I know no more."
And the same thought was expressed by Cicero two thousand years ago: "Whether the soul is air or fire, I do not know." As men, we only know of embodied spirits, however ethereal their bodies may be conceived to be, but of spirits, separate from body, without form or frame, we know as little as we know of thought without language, or of the Dawn as a goddess, or of the Night as the mother of the Day.
Though breath, or spirit, or ghost are the most common names that were assigned through the metaphorical nature of language to the vital, and afterwards to the intellectual, principle in man, they were by no means the only possible names. We speak, for instance, of the shades of the departed, which meant originally their shadows. Those who first introduced this expression—and we find it in the most distant parts of the world(30)—evidently took the shadow as the nearest approach to what they wished to express; something that should be incorporeal, yet closely connected with the body. The Greek εἰδῶλον, too, is not much more than the shadow, while the Latin manes meant probably in the beginning no more than the Little Ones, the Small Folk.(31) But the curious part, as showing again the influence of language on thought, an influence more powerful even than the evidence of the senses, is this, that people who speak of the life or soul as the shadow of the body, have brought themselves to believe that a dead body casts no shadow, because the shadow has departed from it; that it becomes, in fact, a kind of Peter Schlemihl.(32)
Let us now return to mythology in the narrower sense of the word. One of the earliest objects that would strike and stir the mind of man, and for which a sign or a name would soon be wanted, is surely the Sun. It is very hard for us to realize the feelings with which the first dwellers on the earth looked upon the sun, or to understand fully what they meant by a morning prayer, or a morning sacrifice. Perhaps there are few people here present who have watched a sunrise more than once or twice in their lives; few people who have ever known the true meaning of a morning prayer, or a morning sacrifice. But think of man at the very dawn of time: forget for a moment, if you can, after having read the fascinating pages of Mr. Darwin, forget what man is supposed to have been before he was man; forget it, because it does not concern us here whether his bodily form and frame were developed once for all in the mind of a Creator, or gradually in the creation itself, which from the first monad or protoplasm to the last of the primates, or man, is not, I suppose, to be looked on as altogether causeless, meaningless, purposeless; think of him only as man (and man means the thinker), with his mind yet lying fallow, though full of germs—germs of which I hold as strongly as ever no trace has ever, no trace will ever, be discovered anywhere but in man; think of the Sun awakening the eyes of man from sleep, and his mind from slumber! Was not the Sunrise to him the first wonder, the first beginning of all reflection, all thought, all philosophy? was it not to him the first revelation, the first beginning of all trust, of all religion? To us that wonder of wonders has ceased to exist, and few men now would even venture to speak of the sun as Sir John Herschel has spoken, calling him "the Almoner of the Almighty, the delegated dispenser to us of light and warmth, as well as the centre of attraction, and as such, the immediate source of all our comforts, and, indeed, of the very possibility of our existence on earth."(33)
Man is a creature of habit, and wherever we can watch him, we find that before a few generations have passed he has lost the power of admiring what is regular, and that he can see signs and wonders only in what is irregular. Few nations only have preserved in their ancient poetry some remnants of the natural awe with which the earliest dwellers on the earth saw that brilliant being slowly rising from out the darkness of the night, raising itself by its own might higher and higher, till it stood triumphant on the arch of heaven, and then descended and sank down in its fiery glory into the dark abyss of the heaving and hissing sea. In the hymns of the Veda the poet still wonders whether the sun will rise again; he asks how he can climb the vault of heaven? why he does not fall back? why there is no dust on his path? And when the rays of the morning rouse him from sleep and call him back to new life; when he sees the sun, as he says, stretching out his golden arms to bless the world and rescue it from the terrors of darkness, he exclaims, "Arise, our life, our spirit has come back! the darkness is gone, the light approaches!"
For so prominent an object in the primeval picture-gallery of the human mind, a sign or a name must have been wanted at a very early period. But how was this to be achieved? As a mere sign, a circle would have been sufficient, such as we find in the hieroglyphics of Egypt, in the graphic system of China, or even in our own astronomical tables. If such a sign was fixed upon, we have a beginning of language in the widest sense of the word, for we have brought the Sun under the general concept of roundness, and we have found a sign for this concept which is made up of a large number of single sensuous impressions. With such definite signs mythology has little chance; yet the mere fact that the sun was represented as a circle would favor the idea that the sun was round; or, as ancient people, who had no adjective as yet for round or rotundus,(34) would say, that the sun was a wheel, a rota. If, on the contrary, the round sign reminded the people of an eye, then the sign of the sun would soon become the eye of heaven, and germs of mythology would spring up even from the barren soil of such hieroglyphic language.
But now, suppose that a real name was wanted for the sun, how could that be achieved?
We know that all words are derived from roots, that these roots express general concepts, and that, with few exceptions, every name is founded on a general concept under which the object that has to be named can be ranged. How these roots came to be, is a question into which we need not enter at present. Their origin and growth form a problem of psychology rather than of philology, and each science must keep within its proper bounds. If a name was wanted for snow, the early framers of language singled out one of the general predicates of snow, its whiteness, its coldness, or its liquidity, and called the snow the white, the cold, or the liquid, by means of roots conveying the general idea of whiteness, coldness, or liquidity. Not only Nix, nivis, but Niobe(35) too, was a name of the snow, and meant the melting; the death of her beautiful children by the arrows of Apollon and Artemis represents the destruction of winter by the rays of the sun. If the sun itself was to be named, it might be called the brilliant, the awakener, the runner, the ruler, the father, the giver of warmth, of fertility, of life, the scorcher, the destroyer, the messenger of death, and many other names; but there was no possibility of naming it, except by laying hold of one of its characteristic features, and expressing that feature by means of one of the conceptual or predicative roots.
Let us trace the history of at least one of these names. Before the Aryan nations separated, before there was a Latin, a Greek, or a Sanskrit language, there existed a root svar or sval, which meant to beam, to glitter, to warm. It exists in Greek, σέλας, splendor; σελήνη, moon; in Anglo-Saxon, as swelan, to burn, to sweal; in modern German, schwuel, oppressively hot. From it we have in Sanskrit the noun svar, meaning sometimes the sky, sometimes the sun; and exactly the same word has been preserved in Latin, as sol; in Gothic as sauil; in Anglo-Saxon, as sol. A secondary form of svar is the Sanskrit surya for svarya, the sun, which is the same word as the Greek ἥλιος.
All these names were originally mere predicates; they meant bright, brilliant, warm. But as soon as the name svar or surya was formed, it became, through the irresistible influence of language, the name, not only of a living, but of a male being. Every noun in Sanskrit must be either a masculine or a feminine (for the neuter gender was originally confined to the nominative case), and as surya had been formed as a masculine, language stamped it once for all as the sign of a male being, as much as if it had been the name of a warrior or a king. In other languages where the name for sun is a feminine, and the sun is accordingly conceived as a woman, as a queen, as the bride of the moon, the whole mythology of the love-making of the heavenly bodies is changed.
You may say that all this shows, not so much the influence of language on thought, as of thought on language; and that the sexual character of all words reflects only the peculiarities of a child's mind, which can conceive of nothing except as living, as male or female. If a child hurts itself against a chair, it beats and scolds the chair. The chair is looked upon not as it, but as he; it is the naughty chair, quite as much as a boy is a naughty boy. There is some truth in this, but it only serves to confirm the right view of the influence of language on thought; for this tendency, though in its origin intentional, and therefore the result of thought, became soon a mere rule of tradition in language, and it then reacted on the mind with irresistible power. As soon, in fact, as suryas or ἥλιος appears as a masculine, we are in the very thick of mythology. We have not yet arrived at Helios as a god—that is a much later stage of thought, which we might describe almost in the words of Plato at the beginning of the seventh book of the "Republic," "And after this, he will reason that the sun is he who gives the seasons and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold." We have not yet advanced so far, but we have reached at least the first germs of a myth. In the Homeric hymn to Helios, Helios is not yet called an immortal, but only ἐπιείκελος ἀθανάτοισι, like unto immortals, yet he is called the child of Euryphaessa, the son of Hyperion, the grandson of Uranos and Gaea.(36)
All this is mythology; it is ancient language going beyond its first intention.
Nor is there much difficulty in interpreting this myth. Helios, the sun, is called the son of Hyperion, sometimes Hyperion himself. This name Hyperion is derived from the preposition ὑπέρ, the Latin super, which means above. It is derived by means of the suffix -ιων, which originally was not a patronymic, but simply expressed belonging to. So if Helios was called Hyperion, this simply meant he who dwells on high, and corresponds to Latin Summanus or Superior, or Excelsior. If, on the contrary, Helios is called Hyperionides, this, too, which meant originally no more than he who comes from, or belongs to those who dwell on high,(37) led to the myth that he was the descendant of Hyperion; so that in this case, as in the case of Zeus Kronion, the son really led to the conception of his father. Zeus Kronion meant originally no more than Zeus the eternal, the god of ages, the ancient of days; but -ιων becoming usual as a patronymic suffix, Kronion was supposed to mean the son of Kronos. Kronos, the father, was created in order to account for the existence of the name Kronion. If Hyperion is called the son of Euryphaessa, the wide-shining, this requires no commentary; for even at present a poet might say that the sun is born of the wide-shining dawn. You see the spontaneous generation of mythology with every new name that is formed. As not only the sun, but also the moon and the dawn could be called dwellers on high, they, too, took the name of Hyperionis or Hyperionides; and hence Homer called Selene, the Moon, and Eos, the Dawn, sisters of Helios, and daughters of Hyperion and Euryphaessa, the Dawn doing service twice, both as mother, Euryphaessa, and as daughter, Eos. Nay, according to Homer, Euryphaessa, the Dawn, is not only the wife, but also the sister of Helios. All this is perfectly intelligible, if we watch the growth of language and mythology; but it leads, of course, to the most tragic catastrophes as soon as it is all taken in a literal sense.
Helios is called ἀκάμας, the never-tiring; πανδερκής, the all-seeing; φαέθων, the shining; and also φοῖβος, the brilliant. This last epithet φοῖβος has grown into an independent deity Phoebus, and it is particularly known as a name of Apollon, Phoibos Apollon; thus showing what is also known from other sources, that in Apollo, too, we have one of the many mythic disguises of the sun.
So far all is clear, because all the names which we have to deal with are intelligible, or, at all events, yield to the softest etymological pressure. But now if we hear the story of Phoibos Apollon falling in love with Daphne, and Daphne praying to her mother, the Earth, to save her from Phoibos; and if we read how either the earth received her in her lap, and then a laurel tree sprang up where she had disappeared, or how she herself was changed into a laurel tree, what shall we think of this? It is a mere story, it might be said, and why should there be any meaning in it? My answer is, because people do not tell such stories of their gods and heroes, unless there is some sense in them. Besides, if Phoibos means the sun, why should not Daphne have a meaning too? Before, therefore, we can decide whether the story of Phoibos and Daphne is a mere invention, we must try to find out what can have been the meaning of the word Daphne.
In Greek it means a laurel,(38) and this would explain the purely Greek legend that Daphne was changed into a laurel tree. But who was Daphne? In order to answer this question, we must have recourse to etymology, or, in other words, we must examine the history of the word. Etymology, as you know, is no longer what it used to be; and though there may still be a classical scholar here and there who crosses himself at the idea of a Greek word being explained by a reference to Sanskrit, we naturally look to Sanskrit as the master-key to many a lock which no Greek key will open. Now Daphne, as I have shown, can be traced back to Sanskrit Ahana, and Ahana in Sanskrit means the dawn. As soon as we know this, everything becomes clear. The story of Phoibos and Daphne is no more than a description of what every one may see every day; first, the appearance of the Dawn in the eastern sky, then the rising of the Sun as if hurrying after his bride, then the gradual fading away of the bright Dawn at the touch of the fiery rays of the sun, and at last her death or disappearance in the lap of her mother, the Earth. All this seems to me as clear as daylight, and the only objection that could be raised against this reading of the ancient myth would be, if it could be proved, that Ahana does not mean Dawn, and that Daphne cannot be traced back to Ahana, or that Helios does not mean the Sun.
I know there is another objection, but it seems to me so groundless as hardly to deserve an answer. Why, it is asked, should the ancient nations have told these endless stories about the Sun and the Dawn, and why should they have preserved them in their mythology? We might as well ask why the ancient nations should have invented so many irregular verbs, and why they should have preserved them in their grammar. A fact does not cease to be a fact, because we cannot at once explain it. As far as our knowledge goes at present, we are justified in stating that the Aryan nations preserved not only their grammatical structure, and a large portion of their dictionary, from the time which preceded their separation, but that they likewise retained the names of some of their deities, some legends about their gods, some popular sayings and proverbs, and in these, it may be, the seeds of parables, as part of their common Aryan heirloom. Their mythological lore fills, in fact, a period in the history of Aryan thought, half-way between the period of language and the period of literature, and it is this discovery which gives to mythology its importance in the eyes of the student of the most ancient history and psychology of mankind.
And do not suppose that the Greeks, or the Hindus, or the Aryan nations in general, were the only people who possessed such tales. Wherever we look, in every part of the world, among uncivilized as well as a civilized people, we find the same kind of stories, the same traditions, the same myths.
I shall give one story from the extreme North, another from the extreme South.
Among the Esquimaux of Repulse Bay, on the west side of Hudson's Bay, on the Arctic Circle, Mr. John Rae picked up the following story:—
"Many years ago, a great Esquimaux Conqueror gained so much power that he was able to rise unto the heavens, taking with him on one occasion a sister, a very beautiful girl, and some fire. He added much fuel to the fire, and thus formed the Sun. For some time he and his sister lived in great harmony, but after a time he became very cruel, and ill-treated his sister in many ways. She bore it at first with great patience, until at last he threw fire at her, and scorched one side of her face. This spoiling of her beauty was beyond endurance; she therefore ran away from him, and formed the Moon. Her brother then began, and still continues to chase her; but although he sometimes got near, he has not yet overtaken her, nor ever will.
"When it is New Moon, the burnt side of the face is towards us; at Full Moon it is the reverse."
There are dialectic varieties in the Mythology of the Esquimaux as of the Greeks and Hindus, and, with a change of gender between Sun and Moon, the same story occurs among other tribes in the following form:—
"There was a girl at a party, and some one told his love for her by shaking her shoulders, after the manner of the country. She could not see who it was in the dark hut, so she smeared her hands with soot, and when he came back she blackened his cheek with her hand. When a light was brought she saw that it was her brother and fled. He ran after her, followed her, and as she came to the end of the earth, he sprang out into the sky. Then she became the sun, and he the moon, and this is why the moon is always chasing the sun through the heavens, and why the moon is sometimes dark as he turns his blackened cheek towards the earth."(39)
We now turn to the South, and here, among the lowest of the low, among the Hottentots, who are despised even by their black neighbors, the Zulus, we find the following gem of a fable, beaming with mingled rays of religion and philosophy:—
"The Moon, it is said, sent once an insect to men, saying, 'Go thou to men, and tell them, As I die, and dying live, so ye shall also die, and dying live.' The insect started with the message, but whilst on his way was overtaken by the hare, who asked: 'On what errand art thou bound?' The insect answered, 'I am sent by the Moon to men, to tell them that as she dies and dying lives, they also shall die and dying live.' The hare said, 'As thou art an awkward runner, let me go' (to take the message). With these words he ran off, and when he reached men, he said, 'I am sent by the Moon to tell you, As I die, and dying perish, in the same manner ye also shall die and come wholly to an end.' Then the hare returned to the Moon, and told her what he had said to men. The Moon reproached him angrily, saying, 'Darest thou tell the people a thing which I have not said?' With these words she took up a piece of wood, and struck him on the nose. Since that day the hare's nose is slit."
Of this story, too, there are various versions and in one of them the end is as follows:—
"The hare, having returned to the Moon, was questioned as to the message delivered, and the Moon, having heard the true state of the case, became so enraged with him that she took up a hatchet to split his head; falling short, however, of that, the hatchet fell upon the upper lip of the hare, and cut it severely. Hence it is that we see the 'hare-lip.' The hare, being duly incensed at having received such treatment, raised his claws, and scratched the Moon's face; and the dark parts which we now see on the surface of the Moon are the scars which she received on that occasion."(40)
The Finns, Lapps, and Esthonians do not seem a very poetical race, yet there is poetry even in their smoky huts, poetry surrounded with all the splendor of an arctic night, and fragrant with the perfume of moss and wild flowers. Here is one of their legends:—
"Wanna Issi had two servants, Koit and Aemmarik, and he gave them a torch which Koit should light every morning, and Aemmarik should extinguish in the evening. In order to reward their faithful services, Wanna Issi told them they might be man and wife, but they asked Wanna Issi that he would allow them to remain forever bride and bridegroom. Wanna Issi assented, and henceforth Koit handed the torch every evening to Aemmarik, and Aemmarik took it and extinguished it. Only during four weeks in summer they remain together at midnight; Koit hands the dying torch to Aemmarik, but Aemmarik does not let it die, but lights it again with her breath. Then their hands are stretched out, and their lips meet, and the blush of the face of Aemmarik colors the midnight sky."
This myth requires hardly any commentary; yet as long as it is impossible to explain the names, Wanna Issi, Koit, and Aemmarik, it might be said that the story was but a love story, invented by an idle Lapp, or Finn, or Esthonian. But what if Wanna Issi in Esthonian means the Old Father, and if Koit means the Dawn? Can we then doubt any longer that Aemmarik(41) must be the Gloaming and that their meeting in the summer reflects those summer evenings when, particularly in the North, the torch of the sun seems never to die, and when the Gloaming is seen kissing the Dawn?
I wish I could tell you some more of these stories which have been gathered from all parts of the world, and which, though they may be pronounced childish and tedious by some critics, seem to me to glitter with the brightest dew of nature's own poetry, and to contain those very touches that make us feel akin, not only with Homer or Shakespeare, but even with Lapps, and Finns, and Kaffirs.
I cannot resist, however, the temptation of inserting here a poetical rendering of the story of Koit and Aemmarik, sent to me from the New World, remarking only that instead of Lapland, Esthonia is really the country that may claim the original story.
A LEGEND OF LAPLAND.
"Two servants were in Wanna Issi's pay; A blazing torch their care; Each morning Koit must light it till its ray Flamed through the air;
"And every evening Aemmarik's fair hand Must quench the waning light; Then over all the weary, waiting land Fell the still night.
"So passed the time; then Wanna Issi said, "For faithful service done, Lo, here reward! To-morrow shall ye wed, And so be one."
" 'Not so,' said Koit; 'for sweeter far to me The joy that neareth still; Then grant us ever fast betrothed to be." They had their will.
"And now the blazing lustre to transfer Himself, is all his claim; Warm from her lover's hand it comes to her, To quench the flame.
"Only for four times seven lengthening days, At midnight, do they stand Together, while Koit gives the dying blaze To Aemmarik's hand.
"O wonder then! She lets it not expire, But lights it with her breath— The breath of love, that, warm with quickening fire, Wakes life from death.
"Then hands stretch out, and touch, and clasp on high, Then lip to lip is pressed, And Aemmarik's blushes tinge the midnight sky From east to west."
ANNA C. BRACKETT.
If people cannot bring themselves to believe in solar and celestial myths among the Hindus and Greeks, let them study the folk-lore of the Semitic and Turanian races. I know there is, on the part of some of our most distinguished scholars, the same objection against comparing Aryan to non-Aryan myths, as there is against any attempt to explain the features of Sanskrit or Greek by a reference to Finnish or Bask. In one sense that objection is well founded, for nothing would create greater confusion than to ignore the genealogical principle as the only safe one in a scientific classification of languages, of myths, and even of customs. We must first classify our myths and legends, as we classify our languages and dialects. We must first of all endeavor to explain what wants explanation in one member of a family by a reference to other members of the same family, before we allow ourselves to glance beyond. But there is in a comparative study of languages and myths not only a philological, but also a philosophical, and, more particularly, a psychological interest, and though even in this more general study of mankind the frontiers of language and race ought never to disappear, yet they can no longer be allowed to narrow or intercept our view. How much the student of Aryan mythology and ethnology may gain for his own progress by allowing himself a wider survey over the traditions and customs of the whole human race, is best known to those who have studied the works of Klemm, Waitz, Bastian, Sir John Lubbock, Mr. Tylor, and Dr. Callaway. What is prehistoric in language among the Aryan nations, is frequently found as still historic among Turanian races. The same applies with regard to religions, myths, legends, and customs. Among Finns and Lapps, among Zulus and Maoris, among Khonds and Karens, we sometimes find the most startling analogies to Aryan traditions, and we certainly learn, again and again, this one important lesson, that as in language, so in mythology, there is nothing which had not originally a meaning, that every name of the gods and heroes had a beginning, a purpose, and a history.
Jupiter was no more called Jupiter by accident, than the Polynesian Maui, the Samoyede Num, or the Chinese Tien.(42) If we can discover the original meaning of these names, we have reached the first ground of their later growth. I do not say that, if we can explain the first purpose of the mythological names, we have solved the whole riddle of mythology, but I maintain that we have gained firm ground. I maintain that every true etymology gives us an historical fact, because the first giving of a name was an historical fact, and an historical fact of the greatest importance for the later development of ancient ideas. Think only of this one fact, which no one would now venture to doubt, that the supreme deity of the Greeks, the Romans, the Germans, is called by the same name as the supreme deity of the earliest Aryan settlers in India. Does not this one fact draw away the curtain from the dark ages of antiquity, and open before our eyes an horizon which we can hardly measure by years? The Greek Zeus is the same word as the Latin Ju in Jupiter, as the German Tiu; and all these were merely dialectic varieties of the Vedic Dyaus.(43) Now dyaus in Sanskrit is the name of the sky, if used as a feminine; if used as a masculine, as it is still in the Veda, it is the sky as a man or as a god—it is Zeus, the father of gods and men. You know, of course, that the whole language of ancient India is but a sister dialect of Greek, Latin, of German, Keltic, and Slavonic, and that if the Greek says es-ti, he is, if the Roman says est, the German ist, the Slave yeste, the Hindu, three thousand years ago, said as-ti, he is. This as-ti is a compound of a root as, to be, and the pronoun ti. The root meant originally to breathe, and dwindled down after a time to the meaning of to be. All this must have happened before a single Greek or German reached the shores of Europe, and before a single Brahman descended into the plains of India. At that distant time we must place the gradual growth of language and ideas, of a language which we are still speaking, of ideas which we are still thinking; and at the same time only can we explain the framing of those names which were the first attempts at grasping supernatural powers, which became in time the names of the deities of the ancient world, the heroes of mythology, the chief actors in many a legend, nay, some of which have survived in the nursery tales of our own time.(44)
My time, I see, is nearly over, but before I finish, I feel that I have a duty to perform from which I ought not to shrink. Some of those who have honored me with their presence to-night may recollect that about a year ago a lecture was delivered in this very room by Professor Blackie, in which he tried to throw discredit on the scientific method of the interpretation of popular myths, or on what I call Comparative Mythology. Had he confined his remarks to the subject itself, I should have felt most grateful for his criticisms, little minding the manner in which they were conveyed—for a student of language knows what words are made of. Nor, had his personal reflections concerned myself alone, should I have felt called upon to reply to them thus publicly, for it has always seemed to me that unless we protest against unmerited praise, we have no right to protest against unmerited abuse. I believe I can appeal to all here present, that during the many years I have had the honor to lecture in this Institution, I have not once allowed myself to indulge in any personal remarks, or attacked those who, being absent, cannot defend themselves. Even when I had to answer objections, or to refute false theories, I have always most carefully avoided mentioning the names of living writers. But as Professor Blackie has directed his random blows, not against myself, but against a friend of mine, Mr. Cox, the author of a work on Aryan Mythology, I feel that I must for once try to get angry, and return blow for blow. Professor Blackie speaks of Mr. Cox as if he had done nothing beyond repeating what I had said before. Nothing can be more unfair. My own work in Comparative Mythology has consisted chiefly in laying down some of the general principles of that science, and in the etymological interpretation of some of the ancient names of gods, goddesses, and heroes. In fact, I have made it a rule never to interpret or to compare the legends of India, Greece, Italy, or Germany, except in cases where it was possible, first of all, to show an identity or similarity in the Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, or German names of the principal actors. Mr. Cox having convinced himself that the method which I have followed in mythology rests on sound and truly scientific principles, has adopted most, though by no means all, of my etymological interpretations. Professor Blackie, on the contrary, without attempting any explanation of the identity of mythological names in Greek and Sanskrit which must be either disproved or explained, thunders forth the following sentence of condemnation: "Even under the scientific guidance of a Bopp, a Bott, a Grimm, and a Mueller, a sober man may sometimes, even in the full blaze of the new sun of comparative philology, allow himself to drink deep draughts, if not of maundering madness, at least of manifest hallucination."
If such words are thrown at my head, I pick them up chiefly as etymological curiosities, and as striking illustrations of what Mr. Tylor calls "survivals in culture," showing how the most primitive implements of warfare, rude stones and unpolished flints, which an ethnologist would suppose to be confined to prehistoric races, to the red Indians of America or the wild Picts of Caledonia, turn up again most unexpectedly at the present day in the very centre of civilized life. All I can say is, that if, as a student of Comparative Mythology, I have been drinking deep draughts of maundering madness, I have been drinking in good company. In this respect Mr. Cox has certainly given me far more credit than I deserve. I am but one out of many laborers in this rich field of scientific research, and he ought to have given far greater prominence to the labors of Grimm, Burnouf, Bopp, and, before all, of my learned friend, Professor Kuhn.
But while, with regard to etymology, Mr. Cox contents himself with reporting the results of other scholars, he stands quite independent in his own treatment of Comparative Mythology. Of this Professor Blackie seems to have no suspicion whatever. The plan which Mr. Cox follows is to collect the coincidences in the legends themselves, and to show how in different myths the same story with slight variations is told again and again of different gods and heroes. In this respect his work is entirely original and very useful; for although these coincidences may be explained in different ways, and do not afford a proof of a common historical origin of the mythologies of India, Greece, Italy, and Germany, they are all the more interesting from a purely psychological point of view, and supply important material for further researches. Mr. Tylor has lately worked with great success in the same rich mine; extending the limits of mythological research far beyond the precincts of the Aryan world, and showing that there are solar myths wherever the sun shines. I differ from Mr. Cox on many points, as he differs from me. I shall certainly keep to my own method of never attempting an interpretation or a comparison, except where the ground has first been cleared of all uncertainty by etymological research, and where the names of different gods and heroes have been traced back to a common source. I call this the nominalistic as opposed to the realistic method of Comparative Mythology, and it is the former only that concerns the student of the Science of Language. I gratefully acknowledge, however, the help which I have received from Mr. Cox's work, particularly as suggesting new clusters of myths that might be disentangled by etymological analysis.
But not only has Professor Blackie failed to perceive the real character of Mr. Cox's researches, but he has actually charged him with holding opinions which both Mr. Cox and myself have repeatedly disavowed, and most strenuously opposed. Again and again have we warned the students of Comparative Mythology that they must not expect to be able to explain everything. Again and again have we pointed out that there are irrational elements in mythology, and that we must be prepared to find grains of local history on which, as I said,(45) the sharpest tools of Comparative Mythology must bend or break. Again and again have we shown that historical persons(46)—not only Cyrus and Charlemagne, but Frederick Barbarossa and even Frederick the Great—have been drawn into the vortex of popular mythology. Yet these are the words of Professor Blackie: "The cool way in which Max Mueller and his English disciple, Mr. Cox, assume that there are no human figures and historical characters in the whole gallery of heroes and demi-gods in the Greek Mythology, is something very remarkable."
I readily admit that some of the etymologies which I have proposed of mythological names are open to criticism; and if, like other scholars, Professor Blackie had pointed out to me any cases where I might seem to him to have offended against Grimm's law or other phonetic rules, I should have felt most grateful; but if he tells me that the Greek Erinys should not be derived from the Sanskrit Saranyu, but from the Greek verb ἐρινύειν, to be angry, he might as well derive critic from to criticise;(47) and if he maintains that a name may have two or three legitimate etymologies, I can only answer that we might as well say that a child could have two or three legitimate mothers.
I have most reluctantly entered upon these somewhat personal explanations, and I should not have done so if I alone had been concerned in Professor Blackie's onslaught. I hope, however, that I have avoided anything that could give just offence to Professor Blackie, even if he should be present here tonight. Though he abuses me as a German, and laughs at the instinctive aversion to external facts and the extravagant passion for self-evolved ideas as national failings of all Germans (I only wonder that the story of the camel and the inner consciousness did not come in), yet I know that for many years German poetry and German scholarship have had few more ardent admirers, and German scholars few more trusty friends, than Professor Blackie. Nationality, it seems to me, has as little to do with scholarship as with logic. On the contrary, in every nation he that will work hard and reason honestly may be sure to discover some grains of truth. National jealousies and animosities have no place in the republic of letters, which is, and I trust always will be, the true international republic of all friends of work, of order, and of truth.
ON FALSE ANALOGIES IN COMPARATIVE THEOLOGY.
Very different from the real similarities that can be discovered in nearly all the religions of the world, and which, owing to their deeply human character, in no way necessitate the admission that one religion borrowed from the other, are those minute coincidences between the Jewish and the Pagan religions which have so often been discussed by learned theologians, and which were intended by them as proof positive, either that the Pagans borrowed their religious ideas direct from the Old Testament, or that some fragments of a primeval revelation, granted to the ancestors of the whole race of mankind, had been preserved in the temples of Greece and Italy.
Bochart, in his "Geographia Sacra," considered the identity of Noah and Saturn so firmly established as hardly to admit of the possibility of a doubt. The three sons of Saturn—Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto—he represented as having been originally the three sons of Noah: Jupiter being Ham; Neptune, Japhet; and Shem, Pluto. Even in the third generation the two families were proved to have been one, for Phut, the son of Ham, or of Jupiter Hammon, could be no other than Apollo Pythius; Canaan no other than Mercury; and Nimrod no other than Bacchus, whose original name was supposed to have been Bar-chus, the son of Cush. G. J. Vossius, in his learned work, "De Origine et Progressu Idolatriae" (1688), identified Saturn with Adam, Janus with Noah, Pluto with Ham, Neptune with Japhet, Minerva with Naamah, Vulcan with Tubal Cain, Typhon with Og. Huet, the friend of Bochart, and the colleague of Bossuet, went still farther; and in his classical work, the "Demonstratio Evangelica," he attempted to prove that the whole theology of the heathen nations was borrowed from Moses, whom he identified not only with ancient law-givers, like Zoroaster and Orpheus, but with gods and demi-gods, such as Apollo, Vulcan, Faunus, and Priapus.
All this happened not more than two hundred years ago; and even a hundred years ago, nay, even after the discovery of Sanskrit and the rise of Comparative Philology, the troublesome ghost of Huet was by no means laid at once. On the contrary, as soon as the ancient language and religion of India became known in Europe, they were received by many people in the same spirit. Sanskrit, like all other languages, was to be derived from Hebrew, the ancient religion of the Brahmans from the Old Testament.
There was at that time an enthusiasm among Oriental scholars, particularly at Calcutta, and an interest for Oriental antiquities in the public at large, of which we in these days of apathy for Eastern literature can hardly form an adequate idea. Everybody wished to be first in the field, and to bring to light some of the treasures which were supposed to be hidden in the sacred literature of the Brahmans. Sir William Jones, the founder of the Asiatic Society at Calcutta, published in the first volume of the "Asiatic Researches" his famous essay, "On the Gods of Greece, Italy, and India;" and he took particular care to state that his essay, though published only in 1788, had been written in 1784. In that essay he endeavored to show that there existed an intimate connection, not only between the mythology of India and that of Greece and Italy, but likewise between the legendary stories of the Brahmans and the accounts of certain historical events as recorded in the Old Testament. No doubt, the temptation was great. No one could look down for a moment into the rich mine of religious and mythological lore that was suddenly opened before the eyes of scholars and theologians, without being struck by a host of similarities, not only in the languages, but also in the ancient traditions of the Hindus, the Greeks, and the Romans; and if at that time the Greeks and Romans were still supposed to have borrowed their language and their religion from Jewish quarters, the same conclusion could hardly be avoided with regard to the language and the religion of the Brahmans of India.
The first impulse to look in the ancient religion of India for reminiscences of revealed truth seems to have come from missionaries rather than from scholars. It arose from a motive, in itself most excellent, of finding some common ground for those who wished to convert and those who were to be converted. Only, instead of looking for that common ground where it really was to be found—namely, in the broad foundations on which all religions are built up: the belief in a divine power, the acknowledgment of sin, the habit of prayer, the desire to offer sacrifice, and the hope of a future life—the students of Pagan religion as well as Christian missionaries were bent on discovering more striking and more startling coincidences, in order to use them in confirmation of their favorite theory that some rays of a primeval revelation, or some reflection of the Jewish religion, had reached the uttermost ends of the world. This was a dangerous proceeding—dangerous because superficial, dangerous because undertaken with a foregone conclusion; and very soon the same arguments that had been used on one side in order to prove that all religious truth had been derived from the Old Testament were turned against Christian scholars and Christian missionaries, in order to show that it was not Brahmanism and Buddhism which had borrowed from the Old and New Testament, but that the Old and the New Testament had borrowed from the more ancient religions of the Brahmans and Buddhists.
This argument was carried out, for instance, in Holwell's "Original Principles of the Ancient Brahmans," published in London as early as 1779, in which the author maintains that "the Brahmanic religion is the first and purest product of supernatural revelation," and "that the Hindu scriptures contain to a moral certainty the original doctrines and terms of restoration delivered from God himself, by the mouth of his first created Birmah, to mankind, at his first creation in the form of man."
Sir William Jones(48) tells us that one or two missionaries in India had been absurd enough, in their zeal for the conversion of the Gentiles, to urge "that the Hindus were even now almost Christians, because their Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesa were no other than the Christian Trinity;" a sentence in which, he adds, we can only doubt whether folly, ignorance, or impiety predominates.
Sir William Jones himself was not likely to fall into that error. He speaks against it most emphatically. "Either," he says, "the first eleven chapters of Genesis—all due allowance being made for a figurative Eastern style—are true, or the whole fabric of our national religion is false; a conclusion which none of us, I trust, would wish to be drawn. But it is not the truth of our national religion as such that I have at heart; it is truth itself; and if any cool, unbiassed reasoner will clearly convince me that Moses drew his narrative through Egyptian conduits from the primeval fountains of Indian literature, I shall esteem him as a friend for having weeded my mind from a capital error, and promise to stand amongst the foremost in assisting to circulate the truth which he has ascertained."
But though he speaks so strongly against the uncritical proceedings of those who would derive anything that is found in the Old Testament from Indian sources, Sir William Jones himself was really guilty of the same want of critical caution in his own attempts to identify the gods and heroes of Greece and Rome with the gods and heroes of India. He begins his essay,(49) "On the Gods of Greece, Italy, and India," with the following remarks:—
"We cannot justly conclude, by arguments preceding the proof of facts, that one idolatrous people must have borrowed their deities, rites, and tenets from another, since gods of all shapes and dimensions may be framed by the boundless powers of imagination, or by the frauds and follies of men, in countries never connected; but when features of resemblance, too strong to have been accidental, are observable in different systems of polytheism, without fancy or prejudice to color them and improve the likeness, we can scarce help believing that some connection has immemorially subsisted between the several nations who have adopted them. It is my design in this essay to point out such a resemblance between the popular worship of the old Greeks and Italians and that of the Hindus; nor can there be any room to doubt of a great similarity between their strange religions and that of Egypt, China, Persia, Phrygia, Phoenice, and Syria; to which, perhaps, we may safely add some of the southern kingdoms, and even islands of America; while the Gothic system which prevailed in the northern regions of Europe was not merely similar to those of Greece and Italy, but almost the same in another dress, with an embroidery of images apparently Asiatic. From all this, if it be satisfactorily proved, we may infer a general union or affinity between the most distinguished inhabitants of the primitive world at the time when they deviated, as they did too early deviate, from the rational adoration of the only true God."
Here, then, in an essay written nearly a hundred years ago by Sir W. Jones, one of the most celebrated Oriental scholars in England, it might seem as if we should find the first outlines of that science which is looked upon as but of to-day or yesterday—the outlines of Comparative Mythology. But in such an expectation we are disappointed. What we find is merely a superficial comparison of the mythology of India and that of other nations, both Aryan and Semitic, without any scientific value, because carried out without any of those critical tests which alone keep Comparative Mythology from running riot. This is not intended as casting a slur on Sir W. Jones. At his time the principles which have now been established by the students of the science of language were not yet known, and as with words, so with the names of deities, similarity of sound, the most treacherous of all sirens, was the only guide in such researches.
It is not pleasant to have to find fault with a man possessed of such genius, taste, and learning as Sir W. Jones, but no one who is acquainted with the history of these researches will be surprised at my words. It is the fate of all pioneers, not only to be left behind in the assault which they had planned, but to find that many of their approaches were made in a false direction, and had to be abandoned. But as the authority of their names continues to sway the public at large, and is apt to mislead even painstaking students and to entail upon them repeated disappointments, it is necessary that those who know should speak out, even at the risk of being considered harsh or presumptuous.
A few instances will suffice to show how utterly baseless the comparisons are which Sir W. Jones instituted between the gods of India, Greece, and Italy. He compares the Latin Janus with the Sanskrit deity Ganesa. It is well known that Janus is connected with the same root that has yielded the names of Jupiter, Zeus, and Dyaus, while Ganesa is a compound, meaning lord of hosts, lord of the companies of gods.
Saturnus is supposed to have been the same as Noah, and is then identified by Sir W. Jones with the Indian Manu Satyavrata, who escaped from the flood. Ceres is compared with the goddess Sri, Jupiter or Diespiter with Indra or Divaspati; and though etymology is called a weak basis for historical inquiries, the three syllables Jov in Jovis, Zeu in Zeus, and Siv in Siva are placed side by side, as possibly containing the same root, only differently pronounced. Now the s of Siva is a palatal s, and no scholar who has once looked into a book on Comparative Philology need be told that such an s could never correspond to a Greek Zeta or a Latin J.
In Krishna, the lovely shepherd-god, Sir W. Jones recognizes the features of Apollo Nomius, who fed the herds of Admetus, and slew the dragon Python; and he leaves it to etymologists to determine whether Gopala—i. e., the cow-herd—may not be the same word as Apollo. We are also assured, on the authority of Colonel Vallancey, that Krishna in Irish means the sun, and that the goddess Kali, to whom human sacrifices were offered, as enjoined in the Vedas (?) was the same as Hekate. In conclusion, Sir W. Jones remarks, "I strongly incline to believe that Egyptian priests have actually come from the Nile to the Ganga and Yamuna, and that they visited the Sarmans of India, as the sages of Greece visited them, rather to acquire than to impart knowledge."
The interest that had been excited by Sir William Jones's researches did not subside, though he himself did not return to the subject, but devoted his great powers to more useful labors. Scholars, both in India and in Europe, wanted to know more of the ancient religion of India. If Jupiter, Apollo, and Janus had once been found in the ancient pantheon of the Brahmans; if the account of Noah and the deluge could be traced back to the story of Manu Satyavrata, who escaped from the flood, more discoveries might be expected in this newly-opened mine, and people rushed to it with all the eagerness of gold-diggers. The idea that everything in India was of extreme antiquity had at that time taken a firm hold on the minds of all students of Sanskrit; and, as there was no one to check their enthusiasm, everything that came to light in Sanskrit literature was readily accepted as more ancient than Homer, or even than the Old Testament.
It was under these influences that Lieutenant Wilford, a contemporary of Sir William Jones at Calcutta, took up the thread which Sir William Jones had dropped, and determined at all hazards to solve the question which at that time had excited a worldwide interest. Convinced that the Brahmans possessed in their ancient literature the originals, not only of Greek and Roman mythology, but likewise of the Old Testament history, he tried every possible means to overcome their reserve and reticence. He related to them, as well as he could, the principal stories of classical mythology, and the leading events in the history of the Old Testament; he assured them that they would find the same things in their ancient books, if they would but look for them; he held out the hopes of ample rewards for any extracts from their sacred literature containing the histories of Adam and Eve, of Deukalion and Prometheus; and at last he succeeded. The coyness of the Pandits yielded; the incessant demand created a supply; and for several years essay after essay appeared in the "Asiatic Researches," with extracts from Sanskrit MSS., containing not only the names of Deukalion, Prometheus, and other heroes and deities of Greece, but likewise the names of Adam and Eve, of Abraham and Sarah, and all the rest.
Great was the surprise, still greater the joy, not only in Calcutta, but in London, at Paris, and all the universities of Germany. The Sanskrit MSS. from which Lieutenant Wilford quoted, and on which his theories were based, had been submitted to Sir W. Jones and other scholars; and though many persons were surprised, and for a time even incredulous, yet the fact could not be denied that all was found in these Sanskrit MSS. as stated by Lieutenant Wilford. Sir W. Jones, then President of the Asiatic Society, printed the following declaration at the end of the third volume of the "Asiatic Researches":—
"Since I am persuaded that the learned essay on Egypt and the Nile has afforded you equal delight with that which I have myself received from it, I cannot refrain from endeavoring to increase your satisfaction by confessing openly that I have at length abandoned the greatest part of the natural distrust, and incredulity which had taken possession of my mind before I had examined the sources from which our excellent associate, Lieutenant Wilford, has drawn so great a variety of new and interesting opinions. Having lately read again and again, both alone and with a Pandit, the numerous original passages in the Puranas, and other Sanskrit books, which the writer of the dissertation adduces in support of his assertions, I am happy in bearing testimony to his perfect good faith and general accuracy, both in his extracts and in the translation of them."
Sir W. Jones then proceeds himself to give a translation of some of these passages. "The following translation," he writes, "of an extract from the Padma-purana is minutely exact":—
"1. To Satyavarman, the sovereign of the whole earth, were born three sons; the eldest, Sherma; then Charma; and thirdly, Jyapeti.
"2. They were all men of good morals, excellent in virtue and virtuous deeds, skilled in the use of weapons to strike with, or to be thrown, brave men, eager for victory in battle.
"3. But Satyavarman, being continually delighted with devout meditation, and seeing his sons fit for dominion, laid upon them the burden of government,
"4. Whilst he remained honoring and satisfying the gods, and priests, and kine. One day, by the act of destiny, the king, having drunk mead,
"5. Became senseless, and lay asleep naked; then was he seen by Charma, and by him were his two brothers called.
"6. To whom he said: What now has befallen? In what state is this our sire? By those two was he hidden with clothes, and called to his senses again and again.
"7. Having recovered his intellect, and perfectly knowing what had passed, he cursed Charma, saying, Thou shalt be the servant of servants:
"8. And since thou wast a laugher in their presence, from laughter shalt thou acquire a name. Then he gave to Sherma the wide domain on the south of the snowy mountains.
"9. And to Jyapeti he gave all on the north of the snowy mountains; but he, by the power of religious contemplation, obtained supreme bliss."
After this testimony from Sir W. Jones—wrung from him, as it would seem, against his own wish and will—Lieutenant Wilford's essays became more numerous and more startling every year.
At last, however, the coincidences became too great. The MSS. were again carefully examined; and then it was found that a clever forgery had been committed, that leaves had been inserted in ancient MSS., and that on these leaves the Pandits, urged by Lieutenant Wilford to disclose their ancient mysteries and traditions, had rendered in correct Sanskrit verse all that they had heard about Adam and Abraham from their inquisitive master. Lieutenant (then Colonel) Wilford did not hesitate for one moment to confess publicly that he had been imposed upon; but in the meantime the mischief had been done, his essays had been read all over Europe, they retained their place in the volumes of the "Asiatic Researches," and to the present day some of his statements and theories continue to be quoted authoritatively by writers on ancient religion.
Such accidents, and, one might almost say, such misfortunes, will happen, and it would be extremely unfair were we to use unnecessarily harsh language with regard to those to whom they have happened. It is perfectly true that at present, after the progress that has been made in an accurate and critical study of Sanskrit, it would be unpardonable if any Sanskrit scholar accepted such passages as those translated by Sir W. Jones as genuine. Yet it is by no means certain that a further study of Sanskrit will not lead to similar disenchantments, and deprive many a book in Sanskrit literature which now is considered as very ancient of its claims to any high antiquity. Certain portions of the Veda even, which, as far as our knowledge goes at present, we are perfectly justified in referring to the tenth or twelfth century before our era, may some day or other dwindle down from their high estate, and those who have believed in their extreme antiquity will then be held up to blame or ridicule, like Sir W. Jones or Colonel Wilford. This cannot be avoided, for science is progressive, and does not acknowledge, even in the most distinguished scholars, any claims to infallibility. One lesson only may we learn from the disappointment that befell Colonel Wilford, and that is to be on our guard against anything which in ordinary language would be called "too good to be true."
Comparative Philology has taught us again and again that when we find a word exactly the same in Greek and Sanskrit, we may be certain that it cannot be the same word; and the same applies to Comparative Mythology. The same god or the same hero cannot have exactly the same name in Sanskrit and Greek, for the simple reason that Sanskrit and Greek have deviated from each other, have both followed their own way, have both suffered their own phonetic corruptions; and hence, if they do possess the same word, they can only possess it either in its Greek or its Sanskrit disguise. And if that caution applies to Sanskrit and Greek, members of the same family of language, how much more strongly must it apply to Sanskrit and Hebrew! If the first man were called in Sanskrit Adima, and in Hebrew Adam, and if the two were really the same word, then Hebrew and Sanskrit could not be members of two different families of speech, or we should be driven to admit that Adam was borrowed by the Jews from the Hindus for it is in Sanskrit only that adima means the first, whereas in Hebrew it has no such meaning.
The same remark applies to a curious coincidence pointed out many years ago by Mr. Ellis in his "Polynesian Researches" (London, 1829, vol. ii. p. 38). We there read:—
"A very generally received Tahitian tradition is that the first human pair were made by Taaroa, the principal deity formerly acknowledged by the nation. On more than one occasion I have listened to the details of the people respecting his work of creation. They say that, after Taaroa had formed the world, he created man out of araea, red earth, which was also the food of man until bread first was made. In connection with this some relate that Taaroa one day called for the man by name. When he came, he caused him to fall asleep, and, while he slept, he took out one of his ivi, or bones, and with it made a woman, whom he gave to the man as his wife, and they became the progenitors of mankind. This," Mr. Ellis continues, "always appeared to me a mere recital of the Mosaic account of creation, which they had heard from some European, and I never placed any reliance on it, although they have repeatedly told me it was a tradition among them before any foreigners arrived. Some have also stated that the woman's name was Ivi, which would be by them pronounced as if written Eve. Ivi is an aboriginal word, and not only signifies a bone, but also a widow, and a victim slain in war. Notwithstanding the assertion of the natives, I am disposed to think that Ivi, or Eve, is the only aboriginal part of the story, as far as it respects the mother of the human race. Should more careful and minute inquiry confirm the truth of this declaration, and prove that their account was in existence among them prior to their intercourse with Europeans, it will be the most remarkable and valuable oral tradition of the origin of the human race yet known."
In this case, I believe the probability is that the story of the creation of the first woman from the bone of a man(50) existed among the Tahitians before their intercourse with Christians, but I need hardly add that the similarity between the Polynesian name for bone, ivi, even when it was used as the name of the first woman, and the English corruption of the Hebrew הוה, Chavah, Eve, could be the result of accident only. Whatever Chavah meant in Hebrew, whether life or living or anything else, it never meant bone, while the Tahitian ivi, the Maori wheva,(51) meant bone, and bone only.
These principles and these cautions were hardly thought of in the days of Sir William Jones and Colonel Wilford, but they ought to be thought of at present. Thus, before Bopp had laid down his code of phonetic laws, and before Burnouf had written his works on Buddhism, one cannot be very much surprised that Buddha should have been identified with Minos and Lamech; nay, that even the Babylonian deity Belus, and the Teutonic deity Wodan or Odin, should have been supposed to be connected with the founder of Buddhism in India. As Burnouf said in his "Introduction a l'Histoire du Buddhisme," p. 70: "On avait meme fait du Buddha une planete; et je ne sais pas si quelques savants ne se plaisent pas encore aujourd'hui a retrouver ce sage paisible sous les traits du belliqueux Odin." But we did not expect that we should have to read again, in a book published in 1869, such statements as these:(52)—
"There is certainly a much greater similarity between the Buddhism of the Topes and the Scandinavian mythology than between it and the Buddhism of the books; but still the gulf between the two is immense; and if any traces of the doctrines of the gentle ascetic (Buddha) ever existed in the bosom of Odin or his followers, while dwelling near the roots of the Caucasus, all that can be said is, that they suffered fearful shipwreck among the rocks of the savage superstitions of the North, and sank, never again to appear on the surface of Scandinavian mythology. If the two religions come anywhere in contact, it is at their base, for underlying both there existed a strange substratum of Tree and Serpent Worship; on this the two structures seem to have been raised, though they afterwards diverged into forms so strangely dissimilar" (p. 34).
Or again (p. 32):—
"We shall probably not err far if we regard these traces of serpent worship as indicating the presence in the Northeast of Scotland of the head of that column of migration, or of propagandism, which, under the myth of Wodenism, we endeavored in a previous chapter to trace from the Caucasus to Scandinavia."
"The arbors under which two of the couples are seated are curious instances of that sort of summer-house which may be found adorning tea-gardens in the neighborhood of London to the present day. It is scenes like these that make us hesitate before asserting that there could not possibly be any connection between Buddhism and Wodenism" (p. 140).
"One of the most tempting nominal similarities connected with this subject is suggested by the name of Maya. The mother of Buddha was called Maya. The mother of Mercury was also Maia, the daughter of Atlas. The Romans always called Wodin, Mercury, and dies Mercurii and Wodensday alike designated the fourth day of the week.... These and other similarities have been frequently pointed out and insisted upon, and they are too numerous and too distinct not to have some foundation in reality" (p. 186, note).
Statements like these cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed or uncontradicted, particularly if supported by the authority of a great name; and after having spoken so freely of the unscientific character of the mythological comparisons instituted by scholars like Sir William Jones and Lieutenant Wilford, who can no longer defend themselves, it would be mere cowardice to shrink from performing the same unpleasant duty in the case of a living writer, who has shown that he knows how to wield the weapons both of defence and attack.
It is perfectly true that the mother of Buddha was called Maya, but it is equally true that the Sanskrit Maya cannot be the Greek Maia. It is quite true, also, that the fourth day of the week is called dies Mercurii in Latin, and Wednesday in English; nay, that in Sanskrit the same day is called Budha-dina or Budha-vara. But the origin of all these names falls within perfectly historical times, and can throw no light whatever on the early growth of mythology and religion.
First of all, we have to distinguish between Budha and Buddha. The two names, though so like each other, and therefore constantly mistaken one for the other, have nothing in common but their root. Buddha with two d's, is the participle of budh, and means awakened, enlightened.(53) It is the name given to those who have reached the highest stage of human wisdom, and it is known most generally as the title of Gotama, Sakya-muni, the founder of Buddhism, whose traditional era dates from 543 B. C. Budha, on the contrary, with one d, means simply knowing, and it became in later times, when the Hindus received from the Greeks a knowledge of the planets, the name of the planet Mercury.
It is well known that the names of the seven days of the week are derived from the names of the planets,(54) and it is equally well known that in Europe the system of weeks and week-days is comparatively of very modern origin. It was not a Greek, nor a Roman, nor a Hindu, but a Jewish or Babylonian invention. The Sabbath (Sabbata) was known and kept at Rome in the first century B. C. with many superstitious practices. It is mentioned by Horace, Ovid, Tibullus (dies Saturni), Persius, Juvenal. Ovid calls it a day "rebus minus apta gerendis." Augustus (Suet. "Aug." c. 76) evidently imagined that the Jews fasted on their Sabbath, for he said, "Not even a Jew keeps the fast of the Sabbath so strictly as I have kept this day." In fact, Josephus ("Contra Apion." ii. 39) was able to say that there was no town, Greek or not Greek, where the custom observing the seventh day had not spread.(55) It is curious that we find the seventh day, the Sabbath, even under its new Pagan name, as dies Saturni or Kronike, mentioned by Roman and Greek writers, before the names of the other days of the week made their appearance. Tibullus speaks of the day of Saturn, dies Saturni; Julius Frontinus (under Nerva, 96-98) says that Vespasian attacked the Jews on the day of Saturn, dies Saturni; and Justin Martyr (died 165) states that Christ was crucified the day before the day of Kronos, and appeared to his disciples the day after the day of Kronos. He does not use the names of Friday and Sunday. Sunday, as dies Solis, is mentioned by Justin Martyr ("Apolog." i. 67), and by Tertullian (died 220), the usual name of that day amongst Christians being the Lord's-day, Κυριακή, dominica or dominicus. Clemens of Alexandria (died 220) seems to have been the first who used the names of Wednesday and Friday, Ἑρμοῦ καὶ Ἀφροδίτης ἡμέρα.
It is generally stated, on the authority of Cassius Dio, that the system of counting by weeks and weekdays was first introduced in Egypt, and that at his time, early in the third century, the Romans had adopted it, though but recently. Be this as it may, it would seem that, if Tibullus could use the name of dies Saturni for Saturday, the whole system of weekdays must have been settled and known at Rome in his time. Cassius Dio tells us that the names were assigned to each day διὰ τεσσάρων, by fours; or by giving the first hour of the week to Saturn, then giving one hour to each planet in succession, till the twenty-fifth hour became again the first of the next day. Both systems lead to the same result, as will be seen from the following table:—