« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
earth on nine posts. The Brahmins figure it as propped up on four elephants. But on what foundation do these nine posts and four elephants repose? What Anak of a god can support on his brawny shoulders the burden of the terrestrial mass? Without pausing over these questions, let us complete our outline of the Grecian picture: The solid vault of the heavens is traversed by the stars in chariots of silver, impelled by the
PAN-KOU-CHEE, THE CREATOR (FROM AN OLD CHINESE PAINTING). rapid clouds. When the sun bursts upon human eyes, he emerges from the sea on the side of the east; in the evening, he re-plunges, on the west, into the same great river. During the night, borne in a golden car, he re-ascends, beneath the earth, the pathway of the eternal ocean. There— that is to say, below the earth-spreads another vault, corresponding
in its curvature to that of the sky: the vault of Tartarus-the shadowy realm of the Titians, those rebellious and vanquished angels of the Pagan mythology. Sombre and silent, Tartarus is shrouded in everlasting night.
Chinese Legend of the Creation.
When we cast a glance upon creation, we are astonished at its vastness, and we see that none of our fictions attain the sublimity of its proportions. For instance, the Chinese account of creation represents the first organizer of chaos under the form of a feeble old man, enervated and tottering, called Pan-Kou-Ché, surrounded by confused masses of rock, and holding a chisel in one hand and a hammer in the other. He toils painfully at his work, with chisel and hammer, and, covered with perspiration, carves out the crust of the globe, at the same time that he clears a path through a wilderness of rocky masses. One shudders at the relative feebleness of the workman to the immensity of the task. Well nigh lost amidst enormous masses of shattered stone, which surround him on every side and encumber the picture, he appears to be a real pigmy executing a herculean task.
On the other hand, the people of the North, looking upon their land so often devastated by floods, thought that some god in his anger had broken. up the surface of it, and gathered the ruins into heaps. But to the children. of Scandinavia this deity was not a trembling used-up old man; they required a divinity endowed with their own savage energy. In their eyes it was the god of tempests; the redoubtable and gigantic Thor, who, armed with a blacksmith's hammer, and suspended over the abyss, with mighty blows broke up the crust of the earth, and fashioned out the rocks and mountains with the splinters. Here we see already an advance upon the feeble old Pan-Kou-Ché; strength is substituted for the weakness of old age. Thor shows like a revolted giant, raging and shattering everything that falls within his reach.
To us such images appear very puerile. Instead of these old men and giants laboriously occupied in hammering out the globe, we only trace everywhere the invisible hand of the Creator. In one place, with a delicacy which passes all conception, it animates the insect with the breath of life, in another, expanding itself to vast dimensions, it reins the worlds scattered through space, and convulses or annihilates them. It is at such times that, in the midst of its throes, our globe cleaves its mountains and opens its abysses; and upon each of its gigantic ruins, as upon each grain of sand, the philosopher finds written a grand page of natural wonders.
In the Scandinavian mythology we discover some pictures of the great events which then took place in the earth and in the heavens. The description paints the ravages of the volcanic eruptions and of the waves of a wild and untamed ocean. The inspired sybil relates that at this time. the sun did not rise where it now does, and that the East was invaded by polar ices. I remember, says the sybil, nine worlds and nine heavens.
THOR, THE GIANT-GOD OF THE SCANDINAVIANS, RECONSTRUCTING THE GLOBE.
Before the sons of the gods raised the globes, the sun shone in the South. In the East is seated the old woman in the forest of iron (the polar ices). The sun is covered with clouds, the earth sinks in the sea, the shining stars disappear from the heavens, clouds of smoke envelop the allnourishing tree, lofty flames mount even to heaven; the sea rears itself violently towards the skies and passes over the lands. Neither earth
nor sun exist any longer; the air is overcome by glittering streams. The sybil for the second time sees the earth, covered with verdure, rise from the sea.
Thus the people of antiquity had their superstitions and their fabulous legends, but these were never so widely diffused as they became in the middle ages, a period of simple ignorance and ardent faith. At that time, as M. Figuier says in his excellent work on this epoch, all classes of the people, and even a great part of the nobility, the magistracy, and the clergy, believed in magic. Learned men vied with each other in collecting all the fables of their forefathers and recording them in their works. They found monsters in every kingdom of nature, and equally in the depths of the sea as in the heavens. They appeared to think men were compelled to draw on their imaginations for the marvelous, the absurdity of which amuses us at the present day, for we have learned that in the great realms of nature scenes are presented which are more extraordinary and thrilling than any fictions of ancient times. Yet the most eminent men of the middle ages, who could discuss all branches of human knowledge of that day with. perfect clearness, seemed to be struck with blindness as or as the question turned upon monsters. One well-known naturalist describes with minute precision all the localities in the Alps, all the animals to be found there, and every flower that blooms in their valleys. Every object is drawn with extraordinary skill; there is so much delicacy in his engravings that the humblest moss may be recognized. But along with these faithful representations of nature, we find frightful aërial monsters; winged dragons which swarm in the obscure windings of roads, and stop the alarmed traveller. The perusal of the work of this author might well have sufficed to prevent our credulous ancestors from venturing into the gorges of the Alps or searching into their dark caverns!
The Earth Born of Fire and Water.
Another celebrated work represents sirens, monks, and men-atarms of the sea, all covered with scales, and as fresh as if they had just withdrawn from the gulfs of Neptune. Kircher, who was also a well-known writer, pictures frightful dragons which guard the riches of the earth, and which must be vanquished before obtaining possession of them.
When learned men began to occupy themselves with the formation of the earth, they became divided into two very clearly defined opposite parties: the Plutonists, who attributed the crust of the globe exclusively to fire; and the Neptunists, who, on the contrary, derived everything from the action of water. The truth is that fire and water have had
their share by turns. One part of the terrestrial crust is the result of ignition, the other that of the deposit from water. It is evident that the globe is only a sun crusted over and partially extinguished, the hardened surface of which hides the great interior furnace from view.
The globe on fire, and launched into space, necessarily gave off heat, and when after a long succession of ages it had sufficiently cooled
COMBAT WITH KIRCHER'S WINGED DRAGON.
its surface became solidified, and constituted the primitive crust. When this cooling process had made sufficient progress, the vapors from the earth, an immense atmosphere of which enveloped the globe, became condensed and for ages descended upon the earth in torrents of rain. Gleams of lightning and incessant peals of thunder accompanied these imposing