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CHAPTER X.

MYTHOLOGY (continued).

:

Philosophical Myths : inferences become pseudo-history--Geological Myths

-Effect of doctrine of Miracles on Mythology–Magnetic Mountain -Myths of relation of Apes to Men by development or degeneration

- Ethnological import of myths of Ape-men, Men with tails, Men of the woods—Myths of Error, Perversion, and Exaggeration : stories of Giants, Dwarts, and Monstrous Tribes of men-Fanciful explanatory Myths—Myths attached to legendary or historical Personages-Etymo. logical Myths on names of places and persons—Eponymic Myths on names of tribes, nations, countries, &c. ; their ethnological importPragmatic Myths by realization of metaphors and ideas-AllegoryBeast-Fable_Uonclusion.

ALTHOUGH the attempt to reduce to rule and system the whole domain of mythology would as yet be rash and premature, yet the piecemeal invasion of one mythic province after another proves feasible and profitable. Having discussed the theory of nature-myths, it is worth while to gain in other directions glimpses of the crude and child-like thought of mankind, not arranged in abstract doctrines, but embodied by mythic fancy. We shall find the result in masses of legends, full of interest as bearing on the early history of opinion, and which may be roughly classified under the following headings: myths philosophical or explanatory ; 'myths based on real descriptions misunderstood, exaggerated, or perverted; myths attributing inferred events to legendary or historical personages ; myths based on realization of fanciful metaphor; and myths made or adapted to convey moral or social or political instruction.

Man's craving to know the causes at work in each event he witnesses, the reasons why each state of things he surveys is such as it is and no other, is no product of high civilization, but a characteristic of his race down to its lowest stages. Among rude savages it is already an intellectual appetite whose satisfaction claims many of the moments not engrossed by war or sport, food or sleep. Even to the Botocudo or Australian, scientific speculation has its germ in actual experience: he has learnt to do definite acts that definite results may follow, to see other acts done and their results following in course, to make inference from the result back to the previous action, and to find his inference verified in fact. When one day he has seen a deer or a kangaroo leave footprints in the soft ground, and the next day he has found new footprints and inferred that such an animal made them, and has followed up the track and killed the game, then he knows that he has reconstructed a history of past events, by inference from their results. But in the early stages of knowledge the confusion is extreme between actual tradition of events, and ideal reconstruction of them.) To this day there go about the world endless stories told as matter of known reality, but which a critical examination shows to be mere inferences, often utterly illusory ones, from facts which have stimulated the invention of some curious enquirer. Thus a writer in the Asiatick Researches at the end of the 18th century relates the following account of the Andaman islanders, as a historical fact of which he had been informed : 'Shortly after the Portuguese had discovered the passage to India round the Cape of Good Hope, one of their ships, on board of which were a number of Mozambique negroes, was lost on the Andaman islands, which were till then uninhabited. The blacks remained in the island and settled it: the Europeans made a small shallop in which they sailed to Pegu. Many readers

' must have had their interest excited by this curious story, but at the first touch of fact it dissolves into a philosophic myth, made by the easy transition from what might have been to what was. So far from the islands having been uninhabited at the time of Vasco de Gama's voyage, their population of naked blacks with frizzled hair had been described six hundred years earlier, and the story, which sounded reasonable to people puzzled by the appearance of a black population in the Andaman islands, is of course repudiated by ethnologists aware of the wide distribution of the negroid Papuans, really so distinct from any race of African negroes. Not long since, I met with a very perfect myth of this kind. In a brickfield near London, there had been found a number of fossil elephant bones, and soon afterwards a story was in circulation in the neighbourhood somewhat in this shape: 'A few years ago, one of Wombwell's caravans was here, an elephant died, and they buried him in the field, and now the scientific gentlemen have found his bones, and think they have got a præ-Adamite elephant.' It seemed almost cruel to spoil this ingenious myth by pointing out that such a prize as a living mammoth was beyond the resources even, of Wombwell's menagerie. But so exactly does such a story explain the facts to minds not troubled with nice distinctions between existing and extinct species of elephants, that it was on another occasion invented elsewhere under similar circumstances. This was at Oxford, where Mr. Buckland found the story of the Wombwell's caravan and dead elephant current to explain a similar find of fossil bones. Such explanations of the finding of fossils are easily devised and used to be freely made, as when fossil bones found in the Alps were set down to Hannibal's elephants, or when a petrified oyster-shell found near Mont Cenis set Voltaire reflecting on the crowd of pilgrims on their way to Rome, or when theologians supposed such shells on mountains to have been left on their slopes and summits by a rising deluge. Such theoretical explanations are unimpeachable in their philosophic spirit, until further observation may prove them

1 Hamilton in ‘As. Res.' vol. ii. p. 344; Colebrooke, ibid. vol. iv. p. 385; Earl in ‘Journ. Ind. Archip.' vol. iii. p. 682 ; vol. iv. p. 9. See Renaudot, * Travels of Two Mahommedans,’ in Pinkerton, vol. vii. p. 183.

? F. Buckland, 'Curiosities of Nat. Hist.' 3rd series, vol. ii. p. 39.

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to be unsound. Their disastrous effect on the historic conscience of mankind only begins when the inference is turned upside down, to be told as a recorded fact.

In this connexion brief notice may be taken of the doctrine of miracles in its special bearing on mythology. The mythic wonder-episodes related by a savage tale-teller, the amazing superhuman feats of his gods and heroes, are often to his mind miracles in the original popular sense of the word, that is, they are strange and marvellous events; but they are not to his mind miracles in a frequent modern sense of the word, that is, they are not violations or supersessions of recognized laws of nature. Exceptio probat regulam; to acknowledge anything as an exception is to imply the rule it departs from; but the savage recognizes neither rule nor exception. Yet a European hearer, brought up to use a different canon of evidence, will calmly reject this savage's most revered ancestral traditions, simply on the ground that they relate events which are impossible. The ordinary standards of possibility, as applied to the credibility of tradition, have indeed changed vastly in the course of culture through its savage, barbaric, and civilized stages. What concerns us here is that there is an important department of legend which this change in public opinion, generally so resistless, left to a great extent unaltered. In the middle ages the long-accepted practice rose to its height, of allowing the mere assertion of supernatural influence by angels or devils, saints or sorcerers, to override the rules of evidence and the results of experience. The consequence was that the doctrine of miracles became as it were a bridge along which mythology travelled from the lower into the higher culture. Principles of myth-formation belonging properly to the mental state of the savage, were by its aid continued in strong action in the civilized world. Mythic episodes which Europeans would have rejected contemptuously if told of savage deities or heroes, only required to be adapted to appropriate local details, and to be set forth as miracles in the life of some superhuman per

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sonage, to obtain as of old a place of credit and honour in history.

From the enormous mass of available instances in proof of this let us take two cases belonging to the class of geological myths. The first is the well-known legend of St. Patrick and the serpents. It is thus given by Dr. Andrew Boorde in his description of Ireland and the Irish in Henry VIII.'s time. * Yet in Ierland is stupendyous thynges; for there is neyther Pyes nor venymus wormes. There is no Adder, nor Snake, nor Toode, nor Lyzerd, nor no Euyt, nor none such lyke. I haue sene stones the whiche haue had the forme and shap of a snake and other venimus wormes. And the people of the countre sayth that suche stones were wormes, and they were turned into stones by the power of God and the prayers of saynt Patryk. And Englysh marchauntes of England do fetch of the erth of Irlonde to caste in their gardens, to kepe out and to kyll venimus wormes.'1 In treating this passage, the first step is to separate pieces of imported foreign myth, belonging properly not to Ireland, but to islands of the Mediterranean; the story of the earth of the island of Krete being fatal to venomous serpents is to be found in Ælian, and St. Honoratus clearing the snakes from his island (one of the Lerins opposite Cannes) seems to take precedence of the Irish saint. What is left after these deductions is a philosophic myth accounting for the existence of fossil ammonites as being petrified snakes, to which myth a historical position is given by claiming it as a miracle, and ascribing it to St. Patrick. The second myth is valuable for the historical and geological evidence which it incidentally preserves. At the celebrated ruins of the temple of Jupiter Serapis at Pozzuoli, the ancient Puteoli, the marble columns, encircled half-way up by borings of lithodomi, stand to prove that the ground of the temple must have been formerly submerged

1 Andrew Boorde, ‘Introduction of Knowledge,' ed. by F. J. Furnivall, Early Eng. Text Soc. 1870, p. 133.

2 Ælian, De Nat. Animal. v. 2, see 8. 3 Acta Sanctorum Bolland. Jan, xvi.

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