Modern Mythology - Andrew Lang - E-Book

Modern Mythology E-Book

Andrew Lang

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Andrew Lang

Modern Mythology

EAN 8596547325659
DigiCat, 2022 Contact: [email protected]

Table of Contents

Mythology in 1860-1880
The Ugly Scars
My Criticism of Mr. Max Müller
Success of Anthropological Method
Mr. Max Müller’s Reply
Mr. Max Müller’s Method in Controversy
Tuna and Daphne
Criticism of Tuna and Daphne
The Explanation
Disease of Language and Folk-etymology
Mannhardt on Daphne
Italian Critics
A Dutch Defender
‘Braves Gens’
Professor Tiele on Our Merits
Destruction and Construction
Allies or Not?
Our Errors
Uses of Philology
Personal Controversy
The Story of Cronos
Professor Tiele on Sunset Myths
Our Lack of Scientific Exactness
My Lack of Explanation of Cronos
My Crime
My Reply to Professor Tiele
Conclusion as to Professor Tiele
Mannhardt’s Attitude
Moral Character Impeached
Mannhardt’s Letters
How Mannhardt differs from Mr. Max Müller
Mannhardt’s Method
Another Claim on Mannhardt
What Mannhardt said
My Relations to Mannhardt
Mannhardt’s Return to his old Colours
Mannhardt’s Attitude to Philology
Irritating Conduct of Mannhardt
Mannhardt on Demeter Erinnys
Mannhardt’s ‘Mean Argument’
Why Mannhardt is Thought to have been Converted
Mannhardt’s Final Confession
Mannhardt on Solar Myths
Mannhardt on Märchen.
‘The Two Brothers’
The Golden Fleece
Mannhardt’s Approach to Mr. Max Müller
Mr. Max Müller on Demeter Erinnys.
My Theory of the Horse Demeter
Totemism Defined
What a Totem is
The Evidence for Sign-boards
More about Totems
Heraldry and Totems
Gods and Totems
An Objection
A Weak Brother
Mr. Frazer and Myself
Greek Totemism
The Greek Mouse-totem?
Philological Theory
Mr. Frazer on Animals in Greek Religion
Aryan Totems (?)
Mr. Frazer and I
Mr. Frazer on Origin of Totemism
Mr. Frazer’s Theory
Anthropological Evidence
‘Positions one never held’
Positions which I never held
Anthropological Evidence
Mr. Max Müller’s Method of Controversy
Mr. Max Müller on our Evidence
The Test of Recurrences
Bias of Theory
Concerning Missionaries
Mr. Max Müller as Ethnologist
Names of Savage Gods
A Hottentot God
Cause of our Scepticism
Phonetic Bickerings
Phonetic Rules
Basis of a Science
Philology in Action—Indra
Obscuring the Veda
Mischief of Comparisons in Comparative Mythology
Dr. Oldenberg
Comparisons, when odious
A Question of Logic
Anthropology and the Mysteries
Abstract Ideas of Savages
Perception of the Infinite
Fetishism and Anthropological Method
Origin of Fetishes
‘Telekinetic’ Origin of Fetishism
Civilised ‘Fetishism’
More Mischiefs of Comparison
Still more Nemesis
For Us or Against Us?
The Fallacy of ‘Admits’
Conclusion as to our Method
What the Philological Theory Needs
The Riddle Theory
Mordvinian Mythology
Lettish Mythology
The Chances of Fancy
Otfried Müller
Beast Dances
The View of Classical Scholars
Mr. Max Müller’s Explanation
Wider Application of the Theory
The Bear Dance
The Method of Psychical Research
Mount Soracte
Hirpi Sorani
Mannhardt’s Deficiency
The Fire-walk
Fijian Fire-walk
Kling Fire-walk
Tupua’s Incantation used in Walking Over the Uum-Ti.—Translation
Corroborative Evidence
The Fire-walk in Trinidad.
Bulgarian Fire-walk
Indian Fire-walk
Psychical Parallels
Conclusion as to Fire-walk
Psychical Research
The Origin of Death
Death, regarded as Unnatural
Why Men are Mortal
Savage Death-Myths
The Greek Myth
The Serpent
Dualistic Myths
Economic Myth
Maui and Yama
Maui Myths
The Stealing of Fire
‘Fire Totems’
Savage Myths of Fire-stealing
Origin of the Myth of Fire-stealing
APPENDIX A: The Fire-walk in Spain
APPENDIX B: Mr. Macdonell on Vedic Mythology


Table of Contents

It may well be doubted whether works of controversy serve any useful purpose. ‘On an opponent,’ as Mr. Matthew Arnold said, ‘one never does make any impression,’ though one may hope that controversy sometimes illuminates a topic in the eyes of impartial readers. The pages which follow cannot but seem wandering and desultory, for they are a reply to a book, Mr. Max Müller’s ContributionstotheScienceofMythology, in which the attack is of a skirmishing character. Throughout more than eight hundred pages the learned author keeps up an irregular fire at the ideas and methods of the anthropological school of mythologists. The reply must follow the lines of attack.

Criticism cannot dictate to an author how he shall write his own book. Yet anthropologists and folk-lorists, ‘agriologists’ and ‘Hottentotic’ students, must regret that Mr. Max Müller did not state their general theory, as he understands it, fully and once for all. Adversaries rarely succeed in quite understanding each other; but had Mr. Max Müller made such a statement, we could have cleared up anything in our position which might seem to him obscure.

Our system is but one aspect of the theory of evolution, or is but the application of that theory to the topic of mythology. The archæologist studies human life in its material remains; he tracks progress (and occasional degeneration) from the rudely chipped flints in the ancient gravel beds, to the polished stone weapon, and thence to the ages of bronze and iron. He is guided by material ‘survivals’—ancient arms, implements, and ornaments. The student of Institutions has a similar method. He finds his relics of the uncivilised past in agricultural usages, in archaic methods of allotment of land, in odd marriage customs, things rudimentary—fossil relics, as it were, of an early social and political condition. The archæologist and the student of Institutions compare these relics, material or customary, with the weapons, pottery, implements, or again with the habitual law and usage of existing savage or barbaric races, and demonstrate that our weapons and tools, and our laws and manners, have been slowly evolved out of lower conditions, even out of savage conditions.

The anthropological method in mythology is the same. In civilised religion and myth we find rudimentary survivals, fossils of rite and creed, ideas absolutely incongruous with the environing morality, philosophy, and science of Greece and India. Parallels to these things, so out of keeping with civilisation, we recognise in the creeds and rites of the lower races, even of cannibals; but there the creeds and rites are not incongruous with their environment of knowledge and culture. There they are as natural and inevitable as the flint-headed spear or marriage by capture. We argue, therefore, that religions and mythical faiths and rituals which, among Greeks and Indians, are inexplicably incongruous have lived on from an age in which they were natural and inevitable, an age of savagery.

That is our general position, and it would have been a benefit to us if Mr. Max Müller had stated it in his own luminous way, if he wished to oppose us, and had shown us where and how it fails to meet the requirements of scientific method. In place of doing this once for all, he often assails our evidence, yet never notices the defences of our evidence, which our school has been offering for over a hundred years. He attacks the excesses of which some sweet anthropological enthusiasts have been guilty or may be guilty, such as seeing totems wherever they find beasts in ancient religion, myth, or art. He asks for definitions (as of totemism), but never, I think, alludes to the authoritative definitions by Mr. McLennan and Mr. Frazer. He assails the theory of fetishism as if it stood now where De Brosses left it in a purely pioneer work—or, rather, where he understands De Brosses to have left it. One might as well attack the atomic theory where Lucretius left it, or the theory of evolution where it was left by the elder Darwin.

Thus Mr. Max Müller really never conies to grips with his opponents, and his large volumes shine rather in erudition and style than in method and system. Anyone who attempts a reply must necessarily follow Mr. Max Müller up and down, collecting his scattered remarks on this or that point at issue. Hence my reply, much against my will, must seem desultory and rambling. But I have endeavoured to answer with some kind of method and system, and I even hope that this little book may be useful as a kind of supplement to Mr. Max Müller’s, for it contains exact references to certain works of which he takes the reader’s knowledge for granted.

The general problem at issue is apt to be lost sight of in this guerilla kind of warfare. It is perhaps more distinctly stated in the preface to Mr. Max Müller’s ChipsfromaGermanWorkshop, vol. iv. (Longmans, 1895), than in his two recent volumes. The general problem is this: Has language—especially language in a state of ‘disease,’ been the great source of the mythology of the world? Or does mythology, on the whole, represent the survival of an old stage of thought—not caused by language—from which civilised men have slowly emancipated themselves? Mr. Max Müller is of the former, anthropologists are of the latter, opinion. Both, of course, agree that myths are a product of thought, of a kind of thought almost extinct in civilised races; but Mr. Max Müller holds that language caused that kind of thought. We, on the other hand, think that language only gave it one means of expressing itself.

The essence of myth, as of fairy tale, we agree, is the conception of the things in the world as all alike animated, personal, capable of endless interchanges of form. Men may become beasts; beasts may change into men; gods may appear as human or bestial; stones, plants, winds, water, may speak and act like human beings, and change shapes with them.

Anthropologists demonstrate that the belief in this universal kinship, universal personality of things, which we find surviving only in the myths of civilised races, is even now to some degree part of the living creed of savages. Civilised myths, then, they urge, are survivals from a parallel state of belief once prevalent among the ancestors of even the Aryan race. But how did this mental condition, this early sort of false metaphysics, come into existence? We have no direct historical information on the subject. If I were obliged to offer an hypothesis, it would be that early men, conscious of personality, will, and life—conscious that force, when exerted by themselves, followed on a determination of will within them—extended that explanation to all the exhibitions of force which they beheld without them. Rivers run (early man thought), winds blow, fire burns, trees wave, as a result of their own will, the will of personal conscious entities. Such vitality, and even power of motion, early man attributed even to inorganic matter, as rocks and stones. All these things were beings, like man himself. This does not appear to me an unnatural kind of nascent, half-conscious metaphysics. ‘Man never knows how much he anthropomorphises.’ He extended the only explanation of his own action which consciousness yielded to him, he extended it to explain every other sort of action in the sensible world. Early Greek philosophy recognised the stars as living bodies; all things had once seemed living and personal. From the beginning, man was eager causascognoscerererum. The only cause about which self-consciousness gave him any knowledge was his own personal will. He therefore supposed all things to be animated with a like will and personality. His mythology is a philosophy of things, stated in stories based on the belief in universal personality.

My theory of the origin of that belief is, of course, a mere guess; we have never seen any race in the process of passing from a total lack of a hypothesis of causes into that hypothesis of universally distributed personality which is the basis of mythology.

But Mr. Max Müller conceives that this belief in universally distributed personality (the word ‘Animism’ is not very clear) was the result of an historical necessity—not of speculation, but of language. ‘Roots were all, or nearly all, expressive of action. . . . Hence a river could only be called or conceived as a runner, or a roarer, or a defender; and in all these capacities always as something active and animated, nay, as something masculine or feminine.’

But why conceived as ‘masculine or feminine’? This necessity for endowing inanimate though active things, such as rivers, with sex, is obviously a necessity of a stage of thought wholly unlike our own. We know that active inanimate things are sexless, are neuter; we feel no necessity to speak of them as male or female. How did the first speakers of the human race come to be obliged to call lifeless things by names connoting sex, and therefore connoting, not only activity, but also life and personality? We explain it by the theory that man called lifeless things male or female—by using gender-terminations—as a result of his habit of regarding lifeless things as personal beings; that habit, again, being the result of his consciousness of himself as a living will.

Mr. Max Müller takes the opposite view. Man did not call lifeless things by names denoting sex because he regarded them as persons; he came to regard them as persons because he had already given them names connoting sex. And why had he done that? This is what Mr. Max Müller does not explain. He says:

‘In ancient languages every one of these words’ (sky, earth, sea, rain) ‘had necessarily’ (why necessarily?) ‘a termination expressive of gender, and this naturally produced in the mind the corresponding idea of sex, so that these names received not only an individual but a sexual character.’ {0a}

It is curious that, in proof apparently of this, Mr. Max Müller cites a passage from the Printer’sRegister, in which we read that to little children ‘everything is alive. . . . The same instinct that prompts the child to personify everything remains unchecked in the savage, and grows up with him to manhood. Hence in all simple and early languages there are but two genders, masculine and feminine.’

The Printer’sRegister states our theory in its own words. First came the childlike and savage belief in universal personality. Thence arose the genders, masculine and feminine, in early languages. These ideas are the precise reverse of Mr. Max Müller’s ideas. In his opinion, genders in language caused the belief in the universal personality even of inanimate things. The Printer’sRegister holds that the belief in universal personality, on the other hand, caused the genders. Yet for thirty years, since 1868, Mr. Max Müller has been citing his direct adversary, in the Printer’sRegister, as a supporter of his opinion! We, then, hold that man thought all things animated, and expressed his belief in gender-terminations. Mr. Max Müller holds that, because man used gender-terminations, therefore he thought all things animated, and so he became mythopœic. In the passage cited, Mr. Max Müller does not say why ‘in ancient languages every one of these words had necessarily terminations expressive of gender.’ He merely quotes the hypothesis of the Printer’sRegister. If he accepts that hypothesis, it destroys his own theory—that gender-terminations caused all things to be regarded as personal; for, exhypothesi, it was just because they were regarded as personal that they received names with gender-terminations. Somewhere—I cannot find the reference—Mr. Max Müller seems to admit that personalising thought caused gender-terminations, but these later ‘reacted’ on thought, an hypothesis which multiplies causes præternecessitatem.

Here, then, at the very threshold of the science of mythology we find Mr. Max Müller at once maintaining that a feature of language, gender-terminations, caused the mythopœic state of thought, and quoting with approval the statement that the mythopœic state of thought caused gender-terminations.

Mr. Max Müller’s whole system of mythology is based on reasoning analogous to this example. His motd’ordre, as Professor Tiele says, is ‘a disease of language.’ This theory implies universal human degradation. Man was once, for all we know, rational enough; but his mysterious habit of using gender-terminations, and his perpetual misconceptions of the meaning of old words in his own language, reduced him to the irrational and often (as we now say) obscene and revolting absurdities of his myths. Here (as is later pointed out) the objection arises, that all languages must have taken the disease in the same way. A Maori myth is very like a Greek myth. If the Greek myth arose from a disease of Greek, how did the wholly different Maori speech, and a score of others, come to have precisely the same malady?

Mr. Max Müller alludes to a Maori parallel to the myth of Cronos. {0b} ‘We can only say that there is a rusty lock in New Zealand, and a rusty lock in Greece, and that, surely, is very small comfort.’ He does not take the point. The point is that, as the myth occurs in two remote and absolutely unconnected languages, a theory of disease of language cannot turn the wards of the rusty locks. The myth is, in part at least, a nature-myth—an attempt to account for the severance of Heaven and Earth (once united) by telling a story in which natural phenomena are animated and personal. A disease of language has nothing to do with this myth. It is cited as a proof against the theory of disease of language.

The truth is, that while languages differ, men (and above all early men) have the same kind of thoughts, desires, fancies, habits, institutions. It is not that in which all races formally differ—their language—but that in which all early races are astonishingly the same—their ideas, fancies, habits, desires—that causes the amazing similarity of their myths.

Mythologists, then, who find in early human nature the living ideas which express themselves in myths will hardily venture to compare the analogous myths of all peoples. Mythologists, on the other hand, who find the origin of myths in a necessity imposed upon thought by misunderstood language will necessarily, and logically, compare only myths current among races who speak languages of the same family. Thus, throughout Mr. Max Müller’s new book we constantly find him protesting, on the whole and as a rule, against the system which illustrates Aryan myths by savage parallels. Thus he maintains that it is perilous to make comparative use of myths current in languages—say, Maori or Samoyed—which the mythologists confessedly do not know. To this we can only reply that we use the works of the best accessible authorities, men who do know the languages—say, Dr. Codrington or Bishop Callaway, or Castren or Egede. Now it is not maintained that the myths, on the whole, are incorrectly translated. The danger which we incur, it seems, is ignorance of the original sense of savage or barbaric divine or heroic names—say, Maui, or Yehl, or Huitzilopochhtli, or Heitsi Eibib, or Pundjel. By Mr. Max Müller’s system such names are old words, of meanings long ago generally lost by the speakers of each language, but analysable by ‘true scholars’ into their original significance. That will usually be found by the philologists to indicate ‘the inevitable Dawn,’ or Sun, or Night, or the like, according to the taste and fancy of the student.

To all this a reply is urged in the following pages. In agreement with Curtius and many other scholars, we very sincerely doubt almost all etymologies of old proper names, even in Greek or Sanskrit. We find among philologists, as a rule, the widest discrepancies of interpretation. Moreover, every name must mean something. Now, whatever the meaning of a name (supposing it to be really ascertained), very little ingenuity is needed to make it indicate one or other aspect of Dawn or Night, of Lightning or Storm, just as the philologist pleases. Then he explains the divine or heroic being denoted by the name—as Dawn or Storm, or Fire or Night, or Twilight or Wind—in accordance with his private taste, easily accommodating the facts of the myth, whatever they may be, to his favourite solution. We rebel against this kind of logic, and persist in studying the myth in itself and in comparison with analogous myths in every accessible language. Certainly, if divine and heroic names—Artemis or Pundjel—can be interpreted, so much is gained. But the myth may be older than the name.

As Mr. Hogarth points out, Alexander has inherited in the remote East the myths of early legendary heroes. We cannot explain these by the analysis of the name of Alexander! Even if the heroic or divine name can be shown to be the original one (which is practically impossible), the meaning of the name helps us little. That Zeus means ‘sky’ cannot conceivably explain scores of details in the very composite legend of Zeus—say, the story of Zeus, Demeter, and the Ram. Moreover, we decline to admit that, if a divine name means ‘swift,’ its bearer must be the wind or the sunlight. Nor, if the name means ‘white,’ is it necessarily a synonym of Dawn, or of Lightning, or of Clear Air, or what not. But a mythologist who makes language and names the fountain of myth will go on insisting that myths can only be studied by people who know the language in which they are told. Mythologists who believe that human nature is the source of myths will go on comparing all myths that are accessible in translations by competent collectors.

Mr. Max Müller says, ‘We seldom find mythology, as it were, insitu—as it lived in the minds and unrestrained utterances of the people. We generally have to study it in the works of mythographers, or in the poems of later generations, when it had long ceased to be living and intelligible.’ The myths of Greece and Rome, in Hyginus or Ovid, ‘are likely to be as misleading as a hortussiccus would be to a botanist if debarred from his rambles through meadows and hedges.’ {0c}

Nothing can be more true, or more admirably stated. These remarks are, indeed, the charter, so to speak, of anthropological mythology and of folklore. The old mythologists worked at a hortussiccus, at myths dried and pressed in thoroughly literary books, Greek and Latin. But we now study myths ‘in the unrestrained utterances of the people,’ either of savage tribes or of the European Folk, the unprogressive peasant class. The former, and to some extent the latter, still live in the mythopœic state of mind—regarding bees, for instance, as persons who must be told of a death in the family. Their myths are still not wholly out of concord with their habitual view of a world in which an old woman may become a hare. As soon as learned Jesuits like Père Lafitau began to understand their savage flocks, they said, ‘These men are living in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.’ They found mythology insitu! Hence mythologists now study mythology insitu—in savages and in peasants, who till very recently were still in the mythopœic stage of thought. Mannhardt made this idea his basis. Mr. Max Müller says, {0d} very naturally, that I have been ‘popularising the often difficult and complicated labours of Mannhardt and others.’ In fact (as is said later), I published all my general conclusions before I had read Mannhardt. Quite independently I could not help seeing that among savages and peasants we had mythology, not in a literary hortussiccus, but insitu. Mannhardt, though he appreciated Dr. Tylor, had made, I think, but few original researches among savage myths and customs. His province was European folklore. What he missed will be indicated in the chapter on ‘The Fire-Walk’—one example among many.

But this kind of mythology insitu, in ‘the unrestrained utterances of the people,’ Mr. Max Müller tells us, is no province of his. ‘I saw it was hopeless for me to gain a knowledge at first hand of innumerable local legends and customs;’ and it is to be supposed that he distrusted knowledge acquired by collectors: Grimm, Mannhardt, Campbell of Islay, and an army of others. ‘A scholarlike knowledge of Maori or Hottentot mythology’ was also beyond him. We, on the contrary, take our Maori lore from a host of collectors: Taylor, White, Manning (‘The Pakeha Maori’), Tregear, Polack, and many others. From them we flatter ourselves that we get—as from Grimm, Mannhardt, Islay, and the rest—mythology insitu. We compare it with the dry mythologic blossoms of the classical hortussiccus, and with Greek ritual and temple legend, and with Märchen in the scholiasts, and we think the comparisons very illuminating. They have thrown new light on Greek mythology, ritual, mysteries, and religion. This much we think we have already done, though we do not know Maori, and though each of us can hope to gather but few facts from the mouths of living peasants.

Examples of the results of our method will be found in the following pages. Thus, if the myth of the fire-stealer in Greece is explained by misunderstood Greek or Sanskrit words in no way connected with robbery, we shall show that the myth of the theft of fire occurs where no Greek or Sanskrit words were ever spoken. There, we shall show, the myth arose from simple inevitable human ideas. We shall therefore doubt whether in Greece a common human myth had a singular cause—in a ‘disease of language.’

It is with no enthusiasm that I take the opportunity of Mr. Max Müller’s reply to me ‘by name.’ Since Myth, Ritual, andReligion (now out of print, but accessible in the French of M. Marillier) was published, ten years ago, I have left mythology alone. The general method there adopted has been applied in a much more erudite work by Mr. Frazer, TheGoldenBough, by Mr. Farnell in CultsoftheGreekStates, by Mr. Jevons in his IntroductiontotheHistoryofReligion, by Miss Harrison in explanations of Greek ritual, by Mr. Hartland in TheLegendofPerseus, and doubtless by many other writers. How much they excel me in erudition may be seen by comparing Mr. Farnell’s passage on the Bear Artemis {0e} with the section on her in this volume.

Mr. Max Müller observes that ‘Mannhardt’s mythological researches have never been fashionable.’ They are now very much in fashion; they greatly inspire Mr. Frazer and Mr. Farnell. ‘They seemed to me, and still seem to me, too exclusive,’ says Mr. Max Müller. {0f} Mannhardt in his second period was indeed chiefly concerned with myths connected, as he held, with agriculture and with tree-worship. Mr. Max Müller, too, has been thought ‘exclusive’—‘as teaching,’ he complains, ‘that the whole of mythology is solar.’ That reproach arose, he says, because ‘some of my earliest contributions to comparative mythology were devoted exclusively to the special subject of solar myths.’ {0g} But Mr. Max Müller also mentions his own complaints, of ‘the omnipresent sun and the inevitable dawn appearing in ever so many disguises.’

Did they really appear? Were the myths, say the myths of Daphne, really solar? That is precisely what we hesitate to accept. In the same way Mannhardt’s preoccupation with vegetable myths has tended, I think, to make many of his followers ascribe vegetable origins to myths and gods, where the real origin is perhaps for ever lost. The corn-spirit starts up in most unexpected places. Mr. Frazer, Mannhardt’s disciple, is very severe on solar theories of Osiris, and connects that god with the corn-spirit. But Mannhardt did not go so far. Mannhardt thought that the myth of Osiris was solar. To my thinking, these resolutions of myths into this or that original source—solar, nocturnal, vegetable, or what not—are often very perilous. A myth so extremely composite as that of Osiris must be a stream flowing from many springs, and, as in the case of certain rivers, it is difficult or impossible to say which is the real fountain-head.

One would respectfully recommend to young mythologists great reserve in their hypotheses of origins. All this, of course, is the familiar thought of writers like Mr. Frazer and Mr. Farnell, but a tendency to seek for exclusively vegetable origins of gods is to be observed in some of the most recent speculations. I well know that I myself am apt to press a theory of totems too far, and in the following pages I suggest reserves, limitations, and alternative hypotheses. Ilyaserpentetserpent; a snake tribe may be a local tribe named from the Snake River, not a totem kindred. The history of mythology is the history of rash, premature, and exclusive theories. We are only beginning to learn caution. Even the prevalent anthropological theory of the ghost-origin of religion might, I think, be advanced with caution (as Mr. Jevons argues on other grounds) till we know a little more about ghosts and a great deal more about psychology. We are too apt to argue as if the psychical condition of the earliest men were exactly like our own; while we are just beginning to learn, from Prof. William James, that about even our own psychical condition we are only now realising our exhaustive ignorance. How often we men have thought certain problems settled for good! How often we have been compelled humbly to return to our studies! Philological comparative mythology seemed securely seated for a generation. Her throne is tottering: