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it postulates a mere act of perception which stops short of induction. The "small help from fancy” required to clothe the idea with form would certainly be larger than the poet thinks needful, if it were possible to consider this theory as having any but the most limited application to the facts of mythology.
The Poetic theory, as generally held, may be stated in the words of Mr. Grote, its most distinguished English advocate. The myths of Greece, he writes, “are a special product of the imagination and feelings, radically distinct both from history and philosophy; they cannot be broken down and decomposed into the one, nor allegorised into the other." * This assertion is qualified by an admission that the allegory is presumable in certain particular and assignable cases, and that a proportion of historic fact is presumable also in other cases, which, though not positively assignable, are capable of verification by collateral evidence. That many myths owe their origin to the exuberant fancy of forgotten poets is a conjecture supported by the form of much ancient mythological literature, as the Rig Veda, the Orphic and the Eddaic hymns. This formation, however, may be the result of a later hand, as is exemplified in the case of the Persian prince, who, desirous of preserving the early records of his country, committed them to Firdoosee as materials for an epic poem. It may at least be admitted that there is often reason to father upon individual artists much of the fiction which has been incorporated with national mythologies. The rise of Mormonism in our own day affords an instructive spectacle of myth-manufacture, and the history of modern literature supplies instances of fabrication which warrant us in making the most liberal allowance for ancient invention. If the genuineness of the poems attributed to Ossian be only suspicious, scepticism is superfluous as regards the Irish fairy legends, one of whose editors, Mr. Keightley, candidly avows for himself and his colleague, Mr. Crofton Croker, " that some of the more poetic traits owe their origin to the fancy of the writers, who were in many cases more anxious to produce amusing tales than to transmit legends faithfully”—Fairy Mythology, p. 364).
With these facts borne in mind, one may feel justified in refusing to "pragmatise” Homer after the fashion of his ancient com. mentators, or to map out with some modern critics the itinerary of the Olyssey, and materialise its golden dream into a cosmographic narrative. Why should not many of its most fascinating episodes, such, for example, as the adventure of the lotos-eaters, be attributed to the poet's native imagination, without seeking for their source in any fountain of Hellenic tradition?
A novel combination of the Historic and Poetic theories of Mythology has become famous in connection with the name of its adapter, the late Dr. Strauss. It requires for the constitution of a myth a nucleus of historic fact, round which circle not only ordinary exaggerations and the shapes of misread allegories, but spontaneous fictions, originating in
History of Greece, v. i. c. 16, p. 699. † Malcolm's History of Persia, i. 202. VOL. XXXV.-20. 208.
popular expectation and fancy, which, as soon as a fateful crisis arrives, condense into a narrative form. This hypothetical employment of reason and imagination is similar to that which is eternally repeated in the human religion and practical poetry of love, wherein, upon a rational basis, the beauty and virtue of his mistress, which he gradually enlarges by exaggeration, the lover, when his supreme moment of passion has arrived, constructs, by the aid of fancy and hope, an ideal of perfection. Strauss's special application of his theory we are not concerned to discuss, but it has the effect of being devised pro re nata, and can scarcely be generally serviceable.
The Allegorical theory describes itself. The function of imagination in generating allegory is normal, and the author must be credited with deliberate intention. Lord Bacon thus quaintly expounds this view :“Concerning human wisdom, I do indeed ingenuously and freely confess that I am inclined to imagine that under some of the ancient fictions lay couched certain mysteries and allegories even from their first invention. And I am persuaded (whether ravished with the reverence of antiquity, or bocause in some fables I find such singular proportion between the similitude and the thing signified, and such apt and clear coherence in the very structure of them, and propriety of names wherewith the persons or actors in them are inscribed and intituled), that no man can constantly deny but this sense was in the authors' intent and meaning when they first invented them, and that they purposely shadowed it in this sort.” * The use of allegory as an educational agent is so familiar that in examining the structure of a matured mythology, especially that which has gathered round a creed, we may reasonably assume a large portion to be made up of distorted symbolism. How the premeditated emblems of poet-priests became misconceived by their disciples may be illustrated by the kindred instance of idolatry, which is nothing but an ignorant worship of the sign for the thing signified. It is often, however, a matter of no little difficulty to ascertain under the corrupted mask of age, whether the features of a legend be truly allegorical or not. The criterion must be mainly negative. Where an elaborate basis of knowledge supports the imaginative structure, the mythist may be reasonably credited with design rather than delusion. The application of this theory is indefinitely extensive, and fatally provocative of uninten. tional mythology on the part of those who employ it.
In a fascinating volume of miscellaniesť Professor Max Müller has propounded another theory, which may be called the Etymological. To express it in his own words,“ mythology is only a dialect, an ancient form of language: “ancient poetry is only the faint echo of ancient language.” Thus he interprets the Greek myth of the love of Selene (the moon) for Endymion by showing that the word Endymion is “one of the many names of the sun," used
* Wisdom of the Ancients-- Preface.
“with special reference to the setting or dying sun”. (p. 81). "In
* the ancient poetical and proverbial language of Elis (where the myth arose) people said, 'Selene loves and watches Endymion,' instead of it is getting late;' 'Selene embraces Endymion,' instead of the sun is setting and the moon is rising ;''Selene kisses Endymion into sleep,' instead of “it is night'" (p. 83). Similar explanations by the aid of etymology are plausibly given of kindred myths belonging to Hindoo, Greek, and Scandinavian legend. Professor Max Müller distinguishes this theory alike from the Poetic and Allegorical theories, although it is obviously allied to both. He proceeds to admit the existence of historical facts round which such a myth as that of Herakles (in whom also he finds a synonym of the sun) has probably crystallised, and accounts for the narrative form which has been given to so many legends of this character hy observing that “the human mind is generally as anxious for a reason as ready to invent one” (p. 115). This sufficiently concedes the union of rational and imaginative elements in the constitution of mythology,
The Ætiological,+ or explanatory theory, which is the last we shall notice, is founded upon the general law stated above. The distinction between reason and imagination, already pointed out, must be kept in view. These powers, in the infancy of the race, advance with unequal steps. The former, dependent on experience alone for guidance, is able to proceed but a brief distance in its analytic course, and soon stands dumb amid a thousand new phenomena all demanding explanation. Imagination, meantime, has encountered no difficulty or disappointment. It has not the desire to explain, but revels in the eternal joy of dreams. The resemblances on which it feasts have been brought from every realm of nature; rare and vague points of union between objects essentially dissimilar, and presenting no evidences of congruity to the analytic eye. But, bafiled in the search for knowledge and eagerly craving food, reason perceives that the acceptance of some of these resemblances will satisfy its appetite, and realise its aim. For the sake of a single coincidence that will solve a problem it consents to ignore a thousand marks of repulsion. The fruits of this abnormal alliance of analysis and synthesis are constantly to be recognised in the early annals of science. As a typical example of the ætiological myth we may take the story of Clytia. I The maiden loved the sun-god, who deserted her for another mistress. Clytia, pining away, was changed into a heliotrope, whose enamoured eyes have ever since followed its idol. Here it is easy to discern that reason was called upon to explain the attraction existing between the sun and a flower. The laws of vegetable physiology, by which the question would now he answered, were as yet undreamed of. The resemblance between the flower and
A poor girl whose heart is set
Ovid. Metam. iv. 268.
which could only have suggested itself to a poet's imagination as a graceful simile, was pressed into the service of science as a rational explanation. To minds educated under the discipline of post-Baconian schools there must be something abhorrent in the very constitution of the ætiological myth. The sober Bishop Butler is for once moved from his wonted placidity in the Analogy at a recollection of the mischief effected by imagination, when used as an agent of scientific inquiry. “ That forward, delusive faculty," he stigmatises it, “ever obtruding beyond its sphere." It may be admitted that the censure is well merited, if confined to modern transgressions in this direction. “ Optat ephippia bos piger” is not too severe a comment on the blunders of the savant who meddles with art; and the misemployment of a synthetic mind in analytic research is often more fatal if less ludicrous. But any rigorous definition of mental functions would have been wholly out of place in the primeval world. The intellectual food of the early thinker must have been scanty indeed, had his harvest been limited to the result of his own experimental sowing, had not the wind-sown flowers of fancy supplied him with aliment adequate to sustain his frame.
As usually propounded by their respective advocates, the several theories above considered may seem to be mutually exclusive, but if we bave succeeded in showing that the factors of reason and imagination have harmoniously united in the generation of all alike, there can be no essential incompatibility between them. Each may be serviceable in its place, though none is a philosopher's stone able to resolve into elemental unity all the intricate problems which every national creed and history, every collection of folk-lore, and many single legends present for elucidation. These, when dissected, usually prove to be conglomerates. In most cases the critic discovers that his labours have been greatly increased by unscientific attempts on the part of his forerunners to methodize popular beliefs. Large additions to the original bulk of a mythology have probably often been made by alien hands. Chief among the sources of confusion is he arbitrary nationalism which ever “sees itself in all it sees.” The mistakes of the scholars of the Renaissance in confounding Greek with Italian conceptions of the Deity may be excused by ancient precedents. The great conquerors of Egypt would only acknowledge Amun and Neith as manifestations of Zeus or Jupiter, Athena or Minerva. Profoundly interesting might be the historic revelation, were it possible to resolve each complicated structure of truth and fiction that passes for an organised mythology into its individual elements, and rescue from the tyranny of ages the captive creeds and philosophies disguised under foreign
In default of this, the labours of Voss, Müller, Creuzer, and their fellow-scholars of Germany, and of Mackay, Keightley, and others among ourselves, have done much to reduce the legendary lore of Greece and Rome, at all events, into an intelligible shape. We can only indicate the directions in which the principal theories of mythology may most usefully be applied.
The Historical theory finds its widest scope in the field of national and local tradition. The legends of kings, heroes, and sages which fill the place of written records, at the outset of our own and other histories; the miraculous acts narrated of saints and martyrs, and the tales of love, valour, and mystery, which cling more firmly than the ivy round the ruined keep of Rhenish castle, or the roofless chapel of English abbey, have often no more recondite origin than the gradual exaggeration of ordinary facts. The impossibility, however, of keeping within the limits of any single theory becomes manifest, when legends of a kindred description are submitted to analysis. We glide at once into the poetic, the allegorical, or the etymological province, when dealing with such myths as those concerning Herakles. After admitting the probability that some hero answering to that name actually existed, and making the fullest allowance for exaggeration in the tradition of his exploits, a residuum of pure fancy or misconceived symbolism is requisite to explain the story of his conquest of the Hydra. Professor Max Müller's plausible explanation of this as a solar myth, in which the Hydra answers to the phenomenon of night or storm, may be accepted faute de mieux. Homer's Elysium, again, which it has been thought "received its form from exaggerated reports of navigators," * is obviously indebted to poetry for
" its colouring. The simple historic myth probably meets us in cases where the belief is shared by a whole nation or race, such, for example, as the Norse legend touching the giants who dwell “among the woods, rocks, and hills" of Scandinavia, which Sir George Dasent reasonably attributes to “the memory of the suppression and extinction of some hostile race, who gradually retired into the natural fastnesses of the land, and speedily became mythic." +
To lay down any rules for the application of the Poetic theory would be obviously impossible, since we have reason to suspect that the capricious genius of individual poets is to be credited with much mythology that has passed into national belief. The only test upon this point that it seems practicable to put, is at best doubtful. If the myth under consideration be first found upon record in the verse of a single poet and compounded in its texture with the semblance of literary art, there is a prima facie likelihood of its being due to his invention. It is otherwise in the case of myths that are in common circulation, to which alone, by the conditions of its hypothesis, the Etymological theory can be applied. The favourite, if not the sole scope of its interpretation lies among the most familiar aspects of nature. According to Professor Max Müller, all the love-legends of the Greeks, the stories of Apollo and Daphne, Cephalus and Procris, Orpheus and Eurydice, should be interpreted as originating in poetic phrases touching diurnal or seasonal phenomena, which became concreted by the lapse of time into narratives. We
* Mackay's Progress of the Intellect, i. 100.
Popular Tales from the Norse. Introd. p. 76.