Images de page
PDF
ePub

The more absurd a story is that has been invented to account for a name, the more fondly people cling to it.

Among the American Indians an object of worship, and the centre of a cycle of legend, is Michabo, the Great Hare, or Rabbit.

From the remotest wilds of the north-west to the coast of the Atlantic, from the southern boundaries of Carolina to the cheerless swamps of Hudson's Bay, the Algonquins were never tired of gathering around the winter fire, and repeating the story of Manibozho or Michabo, the Great Hare. With entire unanimity their various branches, the Powhatans of Virginia, the Lenni-Lenape of the Delaware, the warlike hordes of New England, the Ottawas of the far north, and the western tribes perhaps without exception, spoke of this chimerical beast,' as one of the old missionaries calls it, as their common ancestor.”l Michabo is described as having been four-legged, monstrous; crouching on the face of the primeval waste of waters, with all his court composed of four-footed creatures around him, he formed the earth out of a grain of sand taken from the bottom of the ocean. 2

It is strange that such an insignificant creature as a hare should have received this apotheosis; and it has been generally regarded as an instance of the senseless brute worship of savages. But its prevalence leads the mythologist to suspect that some confusion of words has led to a confusion of ideas, a suspicion which becomes a certainty when the name is analysed; for it is then found to be the Great White One, or Great Light, and to be in reality the sun, a fact of which the modern Indians are utterly unaware.3

i Brinton : Myths of New World, p. 162.

2 Charlevoix : Journal, ii. 107; London, 1761. Atherne Jones : Traditions of North America. Indians, ii. 43 ; London, 1830.

3 Brinton, p. 165.

In Greek theogony Athene is named Tpitoyévera, that is, the daughter of Tritos. But this deity had faded out of Hellenic mythology, though discoverable in the Vedas, as Trita, the ruler of the waters. Traces of this name remain in Triton, Tritopater, and Amphitrite. When the god Tritos was no longer known, the name Tpitoyévela became an enigma; and the Eolians, who in their dialect called the head TpT6,1 forged the story of Athene having sprung from the head of Zeus. S. Renatus, according to his legend, was revived after having lain in his grave seven years, through the instrumentality of S. Maurilius. The story is palpably forged out of the name. Veronica is the Latinized form of Bernice: in this name was found a barbarous combination of Greek and Latin words, having the meaning of true-representation; sufficient substructure on which to rear a quaint legend which has left its impress on Catholic devotion to this day.

5. A fifth cause of the formation of myths is to be discovered in the allegorizing of poets and priests. Truths of natural and moral law were veiled in metaphor, and presented to the peoples in parables, the significance of which soon evaporated, leaving the story behind as an historic or sacred fact. The Romans personified and offered sacrifice to Fides, Victoria, Concordia, and Honor, and the Greeks to Νίκη, Αιδώς, "Ελεος, Φόβος, Φήμη, Ορμή, Δίκη, Ειρήνη, Túxn, IIcibó, and the like. The story of Harmonia, the offspring of love and war, endowed with a vestment dyed in crime, is a manifest allegory; but to the people generally it was a religious truth. The story that Victory was the daughter of Pallas, Wisdom, and the sister of Strength and Valour, is transparent enough, yet she was no abstraction · Aristoph. Nub. v. 989.

? Bréal, p. 17.

to the Greeks, or to Sylla, who raised a temple at Rome, and instituted sacrifices and festivals in her honour. When Marcellus erected two temples, one to Virtue and the other to Honour, so that to reach the latter the worshipper was obliged to pass through the former, the allegory was apparent; but it soon lost its significance, and the abstract qualities were invoked as personalities.

The mediæval parable of S. Christopher is so obviously allegorical that it is marvellous that popular obtuseness should have failed to discern the meaning at a glance. Yet that such was the case is evident from the fact of a day having been set apart in his honour, and of special hymns having found their way into the office books of the Church, e.g.:

“O sancte Christophore,
Qui portasti Jesum Christum

Per mare Rubrum,

Nec fraxisti crurum,
Et hoc est non mirum

Quia fuisti magnum virum.” The uneducated and vulgar mind at once personifies what is absolute, and materializes what is abstract. If a philosophic idea be brought before it, it drags it to its own level, or rejects it altogether; if a truth be offered, such a mind distorts ere it receives it.

“ Die Eule siht bei Nacht, der Adler schaut in's Licht:
Thun beide, Wissenschaft und Andacht, Gleiches nicht?
Von dennen jede hat ihr eigenes Gebiet,
Das der geschieden hat, der Tag und Nacht einst shied.
Und wer vermischen will die zwei, was kommt heraus ?

Ein misslich Mittelding, der Dämmerung Fledermaus.' 6. The attempt to explain natural eccentricities has given birth to a number of myths. There is scarcely a rock of peculiar shape which has not a legend connected

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

with it to account for its shape. Natural water-worn hollows on stones are devil's footprints, or the hoof-marks of some phantom steed. The erratic boulders deposited by glacier or floating iceberg are said to have been cast by giant hands. The phenomenon of the drift is well known to modern geologists, but the ancients accounted for the stones scattered here and there by a myth. “Æschylus," says Strabo,“ having perceived the difficulty of explaining how these stones came where they are, and having heard about them from some one else, wrested the whole matter into a myth."1 In some lines preserved by Strabo, he related that Prometheus told Herakles that in combating with the Ligurians, if missiles failed him, and the soft earth did not yield him stones, Zeus, compassionating his defenceless state, would rain down a shower of boulders against his foes, which, strewing the ground, would excite the wonder of after ages.

Fossil remains have always excited the interest and speculation of the vulgar. In Siberia the carcasses of mammoths are found in gravel cliffs. To account for their presence underground, the natives suppose them to have been burrowing animals. In the Chinese Encyclopædia of Kang-hi is the following account :-“The cold is extreme and almost continual on the coast of the Northern Sea beyond the Tai-tong-Kiang; on this coast is found the animal Fen-shu, which resembles a rat in shape, but is as big as an elephant; it dwells in dark caverns, and ever shuns the light. There is got from it an ivory as white as that of the elephant, but easier to work, and not liable to split. Its flesh is very cold, and excellent for refreshing the blood." The ancient book “Shin-y-King” speaks of the animal in the following terms :-" There is

Strabo, iv. 1, 7.

in the extreme north, among the snows and ice which cover this region, a shu (rat), which weighs up to a thousand pounds : its flesh is very good for those who are heated. The Tse-shu calls it Fen-shu, and speaks of another kind which is of less size. It is only," says this authority," as large as a buffalo; it burrows like the moles, shuns the light, and almost always stays in its underground caves. It is said that it would die if it saw the light of the sun, or even of the moon.”1

The discovery of large fossil bones is the basis on which many a story of dragon and giant is founded. Those strewn over the Sewalik, or lowest ranges of the Himalayas, are said to have belonged to the gigantic Rakshasas of Indian mythology slain by Indra.2 S. Augustine, in his chapter on the Lives and Sizes of the Antediluvians, says "Concerning the magnitude of their bodies, the graves laid bare by age or the force of rivers and various accidents, especially convict the incredulous where they have come to light, or where bones of the dead of incredible magnitude have fallen. I have seen, and not I alone, on the shore of Utica, so huge a molar tooth of a man, that were it cut up into small models of teeth like ours, it would seem enough to make a hundred of them. But this I should think had belonged to some giant, for beside that the bodies of all men were then much larger than ours, the giants again far exceeded the rest." Cieca de Leon, quoted by Garcilasso de la Vega,“ relates a tradition common among the natives of Manta, of giants who in former times landed on their shores and infested them. He adds, that large bones have been found which confirm the tradition. Waffer says:5_“It is

1 Mém. concernant les Chinois, tome iv. p. 481.

Tylor: Early Hist. of Mankind, p. 316. 3 S. Augustine: De Civitate Dei, xv. 9.

4 Lib. ix. C. 9. 5 Hist. Générale des Voyages, ed. Hol. xviii. 459.

« PrécédentContinuer »