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in hand with the anthropological, or "survivalist," explanation of the elements of myth. "In the long history of mankind," says Mr. Andrew Lang, "it is impossible to deny that stories may conceivably have spread from a single centre, and been handed on from races like the Indo-European and Semitic to races as far removed from them in every way as the Zulus, the Australians, the Eskimo, the natives of the South Sea Islands. But while the possibility of the diffusion of myths by borrowing and transmission must be allowed for, the hypothesis of the origin of myths in the savage state of the intellect supplies a ready explanation of their wide diffusion." Many products of early art — clay bowls and stone weapons — are peculiar to no one national taste or skill, they are what might have been expected of human conditions and intelligence. "Many myths may be called 'human' in this sense. They are the rough product of the early human mind, and are not yet characterized by the differentiations of race and culture. Such myths might spring up anywhere among untutored men, and anywhere might survive into civilized literature." 1
The distribution of myth, like its origin, is inexplicable by any one theory. The discovery of racial families and of family traditions narrows the problem, but does not solve it. The existence of the same story in unrelated nationalities remains a perplexing fact, toward the explanation of which the theories of "borrowing" and of "similar historic tradition," while plausible, are but unsubstantiated contributions. And until we possess the earliest records of those unrelated nationalities that have similar myths, or until we discover monuments and log-books of some commercial nation that, in prehistoric times, circumnavigated the globe, and deposited on remote shores and islands the seeds of the parent mythic plant, we must accept as our only scientific explanation the psychological, or so-called human, theory : — Given similar mental condition with similar surroundings, similar imaginative products, called myths, will result.2
1 Ency. Brit, 9th ed., article, Mythology. Cf. Tylor's Primitive Culture, I. 369: Tylor's Anthropology, 397.
4 See T. C. Johnston's Did the Phoenicians Discover America? 1802.
THE PRESERVATION OF MYTHS.
§ 10. Before the introduction of writing, myths were preserved in popular traditions, in the sacred ceremonials of colleges of priests, in the narratives chanted by families of minstrels or by professional bards wandering from village to village—from court to court, and in occasional hymns sung by privileged harpists, like Demodocus of Phaeacia,1 in honor of a chieftain, an ancestor, or a god. Many of these early bards are mere names to us. Most of them are probably as mythical as the songs with which they are accredited. The following is a brief account of mythical prophets, of mythical musicians and poets, and of the actual poets and historians who recorded the mythologies from which English literature draws its classical myths: the Greek, the Roman, the Norse, and the German.
§ Ii. In Greece. — (i) Mythical Prophets. — To some of the oldest bards was attributed the gift of prophecy. Indeed, nearly every expedition of mythology was accompanied by one of these seers, priests, or " medicine-men," as we might call them.
^Melampus was the first Greek said to be endowed with prophetic powers. Before his house there stood an oak tree containing a serpent's nest. The old serpents were killed by the slaves, but Melampus saved the young ones. One day when he was asleep under the oak, the serpents licked his ears with their tongues, enabling him to understand the language of birds and creeping things.2 At one time his enemies seized and imprisoned him.
But Melampus in the silence of the night heard from the woodworms in the timbers that the supports of the house were nearly eaten through and the roof would soon fall in. He told his captors. They took his warning, escaped destruction, rewarded the prophet, and held him in high honor.
Other famous soothsayers were Amphiaraus, who took part in the War of the Seven against Thebes; Calchas, who accompanied the Greeks during the Trojan War; Helenus and Cassandra, of King Priam's family, who prophesied for the Trojan forces; Tiresias, the blind prophet of Thebes; and Mopsus, who attended the Argonauts. The stories of these expeditions will follow in due course.
(2) Mythical Musicians and Poets. — Since the poets of antiquity sang their stories or hymns to an accompaniment of their own upon the harp or lyre, they were skilled in the art of music as well as in that of verse.
*" Orpheus, whose adventures are elsewhere narrated,1 passes in tradition for the oldest of Greek lyrists, and the special favorite, even the son, of the god Apollo, patron of musicians. This Thracian bard is said to have taught mysterious truths concerning the origin of things and the immortality of the soul. But the fragments of Orphic Hymns which are attributed to him are probably the work of philosophers of a much later period in Greek literature.
Another Thracian bard, Thamyris, is said in his presumption to have challenged the Muses to a trial of skill. Conquered in the contest, he was deprived of his sight. To'Musaeus, the son of Orpheus, was attributed a hymn on the Eleusinian Mysteries,2 and other sacred poems and oracles. Milton couples his name with that of Orpheus : —
"But O, sad virgin, that thy power
Drew iron tears down Pluto's cheek,
And made Hell grant what love did seek."1
Other legendary bards or musicians were Linus, Marsyas, and Amphion.2
(3) The Poets of Mythology. — Homer, from whose poems of the Iliad and Odyssey we have taken the chief part of our chapters on the Trojan War and the return of the Grecians, is almost as mythical a personage as the heroes he celebrates. The traditionary story is that he was a wandering minstrel, blind and old, who travelled from place to place singing his lays to the music of his harp, in the courts of princes or the cottages of peasants, — a dependant upon the voluntary offerings of his hearers. Byron calls him " the blind old man of Scio's rocky isle "; and a wellknown epigram, alluding to the uncertainty of the fact of his birthplace, runs:—
"Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead,
These seven places were Smyrna, Chios (now Scio), Colophon,
Modern scholars have doubted whether the Homeric poems are the work of any single mind. This uncertainty arises, in part, from the difficulty of believing that poems of such length could have been committed to writing in the age usually assigned to these, when materials capable of transmitting long productions were not yet in use. On the other hand, it is asked how poems of such length could have been handed down from age to age by means of the memory alone. This question is answered by the statement that there was a professional body of men whose business it was to commit to memory, and rehearse for pay, the national and patriotic legends.
Pisistratus of Athens ordered a commission of scholars (about
1 II Penseroso, II. 103-108.
1 See § 78 Linus, p.447 Marsyas, § 64 Amphion; and Commentary.
537 B.C.) to collect and revise the Homeric poems; and it is probable that at that time certain passages of the Iliad and Odyssey, as we now have them, were interpolated. Beside the Iliad and the Odyssey, many other epics passed in antiquity under Homer's name. The so-called Homeric Hymns to the gods which were composed, by various poets, after the death of Homer, are a source of valuable information concerning the attributes of the divinities addressed.
The date assigned to Homer, on the authority of Herodotus, is 850 B.C. The preservation and further fashioning of myths fell, after Homer's time, into the hands of the Rhapsodists, who chanted epic songs, and of the Cyclic Poets, who elaborated into various epic circles, or completed wholes, neglected traditions of the Trojan War and myths of the two wars against Thebes.1
Hesiod is, like Homer, one of the most important sources of our knowledge of Greek mythology. He is thought by some to have been a contemporary of Homer, but concerning the relative dates of the two poets there is no certainty. Hesiod was born in Ascra in Boeotia; he spent his youth as a shepherd on Mount Helicon, his manhood in the neighborhood of Corinth, and wrote two great poems, the Works and Days, and the Theogony, or Genealogy of the Gods. From the former we obtain a connected account of Greek traditions concerning the primitive commodities of life, the arts of agriculture and navigation, the sacred calendar, and the various prehistoric ages. From the latter poem we learn the Greek mythology of the creation of the world, the family of the gods, their wars, and their attitude toward primaeval man. While Hesiod may have written at a somewhat later period than Homer, it is noteworthy that his stories of the gods have more of the savage or senseless element than Homer's. The artist of the Iliad and the Odyssey seems to have refined the stories into poetic gold; Hesiod has gathered them in the ore like so many specimens for a museum.
A company of Lyric Poets, of whom Stesichorus (620 B.C.),
1 §§ 163-164 a.