by Anthony M. Ludovici
WHEN, according to Greek myth, the Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind, it will be remembered that Zeus is reported to have been so much enraged that he condemned this apparent benefactor of humanity to the savage penalty of being chained to a rock in Scythia while his liver was devoured by an eagle. Furthermore, in order to make his sufferings more lasting than they would normally have been, the devoured portions of his liver were miraculously restored every night.
In the Preface I mentioned two points in connection with this myth, – the necessity of stealing fire, and the apparently immoderate anger the theft provoked on the part of Zeus, which I declared received no satisfactory explanation at the hands of modern or even of ancient scholars. Why is this? Anyone uninfluenced by a study of the various theories mythologians have advanced on the whole subject might well be excused if they attached at least as much importance to the apparently immoderate anger of Zeus over the theft as they did to the theft itself. The proper explanation of the anger, it might be thought, would provide a clue to the reason why the fire had to be stolen, and why it was originally withheld.(1) And yet the matter, far from being explained, is frequently not even mentioned. In the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, for instance, which is ostensibly a purveyor of information to everybody, the late Mr. Andrew Lang makes no reference under "Prometheus" to the possible reasons actuating Zeus in his seemingly extravagant indignation over this culture-hero's deed, and impelling the ruler of the heavens to inflict upon his refractory subject so cruel and savage a punishment. When the Christian is told that the "old serpent," called the Devil, and Satan "was" cast out of heaven "and that" his angels were cast out with him,"(2) he imagines that the punishment more or less fits the crime, because Satan "deceiveth the whole world"; nor does the Christian question the Almighty's justice even when he learns that "the angels which kept not their first estate ... he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day."(3) But Prometheus apparently conferred a benefit upon mankind. He gave them a very much coveted power, the power of converting energy into fire.(4) Was this a deed that could be justly rewarded with punishment at all, not to mention the excruciating punishment inflicted upon Prometheus?
It is difficult to understand the general silence that prevails in the various textbooks over a matter which I believe to be quite as important as the fire-stealing itself, and it is still more difficult to realise how the very men who profess to interpret the myth can leave this interesting part out, without at least some apology, some confession of their perplexity, mystification, or ignorance. One would be prepared to forgive almost anything in regard to all this shelving of the question of Zeus's anger, except the implication which it appears deliberately to make that Zeus's anger is not material to an understanding of the myth.
I have in my Preface already suggested one reason which would account for this attitude on the part of scholars. I shall now proceed to offer three more reasons.
I suggest secondly as a reason for the deliberate silence on the subject of Zeus's anger in this instance that the modern mind is wont to approach antiquity in general too superciliously. It deigns ponderously and with an elaborate exhibition of graciousness to peer into the "childlike" mind of its remote ancestors; but it is too deeply conscious all the while of the magnanimity it is displaying to be in a fit state to learn anything from its enquiry. You can almost see the smile of superiority beaming through the stilted prose peculiar to the customary textbook on mythology. It is not merely a smile of superiority, it is one of incredulous contempt, as if to say: "I am about to deal with children's fairy-tales; I am going to condescend to treat them seriously; – don't laugh! don't be alarmed! – It is only in order to show you how innocent, how charming, but how empty they are!"
Now I suggest that it is this immense modern conceit, this ungovernable latter-day insolence in regard to the ancient world, which is the greatest obstacle in the way of any real advance in culture; because it is those standing in the gateway of culture, and guarding, as it were, its holy of holies, who are without exception the most guilty of this failing. It is an attitude of mind which takes for granted the very idea which I am hoping I shall do most to discredit in this essay: the idea that we certainly ought to be, that in any case we must be, – in fact, that we are superior to the ancients. It is part and parcel of a belief as foolish as it is inveterate in the modern European, particularly the Protestant Englishman and his spinster aunts, sisters and cousins, that children are innocent, that at all events childhood is the age of innocence, whatever individual children may be, and therefore that the childhood of mankind must be the age of irresponsible fairy-tales, with which wiser and less innocent generations may be permitted to deal at least cavalierly. That is to say, if anything in antiquity appears to be a little too "puerile" or "repulsive," it can be ignored. If any aspects of the mind of primitive man strike us as obscure, obscene, or unchildlike, we are allowed by the rules of the game to leave such aspects out. As the whole is more or less jejune why attach particular value to a part? Thus the mass of apparently irrelevant details that cling to the old myths – some of which are distinctly disturbing to our sense of propriety – may be conveniently set aside as immaterial. This is certainly most convenient. But should we dare to behave in this way with anyone except a child? Thus the alleged virgin-birth of many great figures of antiquity strikes the average mythologian as a gratuitous and fantastic invention of the "childlike" mind, and he does not trouble to enquire into it further. The Puritanical bias of the Christian investigator explains this recurrent feature of certain myths on the ground that sexual intercourse being rightly regarded by the innocent childlike mind as impure, the idea of virgin-birth arose to circumvent the difficulty. But whether it be an atheistic or a Christian interpreter who confronts this alleged virgin-birth of certain notable types of the pest, you may be quite certain that he will miss the real, the true, the human interpretation of it, – and why? Because the real, the true, the human interpretation of it would be thought incompatible with his fatuous preconceived notion of the "innocence of childhood," and therefore incompatible with his stubborn certainty about the innocence of "childlike" mankind.
The same remarks apply to the alleged occurrence of cannibalism and incest among the early Greek gods, and to almost every detail, unpleasant or obscene, traditionally reported of them.
Observe Professor Gilbert Murray, for instance, in his acrobatic antics, stalking loftily across the insavoury swamp of the Uranus-Cronus myth. What could be more edifying? Here is a professor, mounted on stilts in order to avoid the mire, and professing nevertheless to have sufficiently examined its substance to be able to tell us all about it!(5)
"Cronus arose and conquered him [Uranus]," says Professor Gilbert Murray complacently; and then he proceeds: "the exact meaning of the mutilation I leave aside."(6)
This is typical. The exact meaning of the mutilation may be discomfiting, it may be indelicate, it may even be unfit for the ears of lady-students; but it is impossible to understand the myth unless you understand the meaning of the mutilation. It is nonsense to pretend to interpret these ancient legends if you are bent on selecting only the pleasant, the savoury and the immediately comprehensible aspects of them. Any young lady can do that. I am not going to offer readers of this book any explanation of the virgin-birth myth, or of the Uranus-Cronus myth – they are not my present concern – though what I believe to be the correct explanation of these myths is to hand.(7) I merely mention them in order to show briefly that what I allege is not imaginary, and that too much conscious superiority is indeed displayed by the qualified investigator of the mind of antiquity, who repeatedly shows himself over-ready to exercise his own discretion in judging what is important and what is unimportant in the creations of the "childhood" of man's mind.
Only an attitude of conscious or unconscious contempt towards the primitive mind could possibly account for such liberties being taken. If it invariably led to the truth, one would not quarrel with it; but I am convinced that more useful, more satisfactory, and certainly more reasonable interpretations are to be found by the diametrically opposite attitude – the attitude of reverence, in which an endeavour is at least made properly to account for every detail in the legend, because every detail is taken seriously.
I suggest thirdly as a reason for the resolute silence on the part of mythologians respecting the apparently immoderate anger of Zeus in the Prometheus myth, a curious prejudice which may be regarded as distinctly modern: I refer to the doubt that most peoples, since the invention of the printing-press and the general spread of shortness of memory in which it has resulted, have been wont to cast on the reliability and accuracy of traditions that are dependent upon memory alone for their survival. Indeed, this prejudice is almost as remarkable as the conscious shortness of memory to which it owes its existence.
After a contemplation of himself and his fellows, modern man certainly cannot fail to recognise one extraordinarily pronounced feature which unites him and them in one common category. Indeed, if a Brotherhood of civilised man may be believed to exist at all, it is surely this feature which constitutes its most powerful bond, and chiefly distinguishes civilised man from the horse, the elephant, the savage, and the man of the past. I refer, of course, to bad memory. This is surely one of the most unmistakable signs of "progress"; for wherever "progress" appears it is accompanied by this characteristic. Modern conditions might even be said to have reared a new and hitherto unknown type of man: Homo sapiens sine memoria. His politicians, his entertainers, his exploiters, his most flourishing criminals, aye, even his traitors frequently depend for the success of their careers upon this very failing in him. His huge and flatulent press reckons and speculates upon it; for how, indeed, could the average modern European read his morning, midday and evening papers if he possessed anything remotely resembling a memory? In fact, the whole of modern life is organised on the assumption that the memory of civilised man will not survive a few hours, not to mention a few days. Hence the sudden vogue of a system like that of Pelman, which undertakes to extend this period beyond its normal limits.
This would be all very well, and I, too, would gladly join in the general applause over such an important achievement of progress, were it not that modern man is so much inclined to take himself as the norm, as the pattern, that he strongly suspects of charlatanism or of bluff anyone who appears to have a memory that is capable of retaining impressions not only for months, but for years.
As for a memory which can last throughout several generations, for hundreds and hundreds of years, and still be accurate and historically reliable at the end of that long spell of time, civilised man simply scoffs at such a possibility; and rightly too, as far as he is concerned. Where his scoffing arrogance leads him astray, however, is at the point when he approaches the problems of ancient memory, and of the beliefs and legends which owe their survival to this more vigorous brand of the function in which he is so deplorably deficient. Then, with the same impudence with which, as we have seen, he condescends to enquire into the spiritual creations of mankind's so-called "childhood," he becomes pompously and obdurately incredulous. He knows nothing of the robust powers of retention that men possessed before they could print, and is even more ignorant of the inextinguishable memory that was theirs before they could even write.
Speaking of the customs of the Druids not to commit their sacred verses to writing, Julius Caesar says: "And they do not think it proper to commit these utterances to writing, although in almost all other matters, and in their public and private accounts, they make use of Greek letters. I believe that they have adopted this practice for two reasons – that they do not wish the rule to become common property, nor those who learn the rule to rely on writing and so neglect the cultivation of the memory." And then Caesar adds: "And, in fact, it does usually happen that the assistance of writing tends to relax the diligence of the student and the action of the memory."(8)
Thus, according to Caesar, who was as a rule a careful and accurate observer of his fellows, the ancient Druids not only knew the devastating effects of writing upon the memory, but also actually guarded against them.
Delitsch, Dillmann and Lenormant all believed that a basis of historical truth underlay the various traditional flood legends handed down for thousands of years by most ancient peoples; the anthropologist, A. H. Keane, has also pointed out how accurate was the "vague tradition" concerning the succession of the ages, Copper, Bronze and Iron, – which survived amongst the ancients(9) down to historical times;(10) while Tylor has given innumerable amazing proofs of the general reliability of unwritten tradition among people not yet able to record their history except upon the tablets of memory,(11) and has also shown what a number of ethno-graphical truths lie concealed in old proverbs, folk-lore and songs.(12)
Two of the instances given by Tylor appear so extraordinary to the modern mind that I feel they must be reproduced here, even at the risk of postponing the discussion of the main theme, seeing that they are extremely helpful in supporting the point of view I am advancing.
"It is related by Mr. Whitmore the missionary," says Tylor,(13) "that in the island of Rotuma [South Sea Islands], there was a very old tree under which, according to tradition, the stone seat of a famous chief had been buried; this was lately blown down, and sure enough, there was the stone seat under its roots, which must have been out of sight for centuries."
And here is another instance of an historical fact having been handed down accurately without the assistance of written record, for hundreds of years: –
"In the Ellice group [South Sea Islands]," says Tylor,(14) "the natives declared that their ancestors came from a valley in the distant island of Samoa generations before, and they preserved an old worm-eaten staff, pieced to hold it together, which in their assemblies the orator held in his hand as the sign of having the right to speak; this staff was lately taken to Samoa, and proved to be made of wood that grew there, while the people of the valley in question had a tradition of a great party going out to sea exploring, who never came back."
Now if savages of the South Sea Islands, who are presumably of a race inferior to that of the ancestors of European peoples, can be capable of such stupendous feats of accurate memory, what are we to expect of the ancient ancestors of the Indian, Persian and Greek peoples themselves?(15) Even among the civilised people of antiquity who had long possessed the art of writing, however, the survival of a remarkably vigorous memory in certain noted individuals helps us to form some idea of what their original endowment must have been before writing had begun to effect its deleterious results.
We are told, for instance, that Cyneas, who was sent by King Pyrrhus on an embassy to the Romans, learnt so perfectly in the course of one day the names of all those persons whom he had seen that on the following day he could name all the members of the Senate, and all the Romans who had assembled round them. It is also said that King Cyrus was able to name all the soldiers of his army, and L. Scipio all the citizens of Rome. Mithridates, the King of two-and-twenty nations, held courts in as many languages, and could converse with each nation in its own tongue without using an interpreter. Themistocles is said actually to have been oppressed by the strength and tenacity of his memory; and in the course of a year he learnt to speak Persic with perfect accuracy. Crassus, while governor of Asia, learnt the five Greek dialects so completely that he was able to give judgments in each. Ilortensius, the Roman orator, is reported to have been able to deliver a whole oration in the words in which he had originally conceived it, without committing it to writing, and to go through all the arguments of an opponent in their proper order. It is alleged that he once attended a whole day at a public sale, and at the end of it recited in regular order the names of all the buyers, the articles sold, and their prices, with perfect exactitude. Finally, Seneca, in his youth, is believed to have been able to pronounce two thousand given words in their proper order, and having got a verse from each of his school-fellows, he repeated more than two hundred of them correctly. And many other instances could be given.
Whatever the truth may be regarding the feats of memory of which these individual ancients were capable, it seems fair to assume that the further one recedes from the age of printing, and the nearer one gets to the age when even writing was either an exceptional craft (like sculpture today), or else totally unknown, the more vigorous and more reliable is likely to be the memory of the people one encounters; for, seeing that so much of very great interest to men, no matter how small their social community, depends upon antecedent events, it may be regarded as most highly probable, even if we had not other good grounds for believing it, that where the power of recording these events, except in memory, does not exist, memory will be proportionately developed. If the reader doubts the alleged interest of antecedent events in the lives of every fresh generation of men in a people not possessed of the power of writing, let him for a moment think of the number of privileges and prerogatives that are secured by bygone happenings alone, – rights of property, rights of rank, titular rights, etc., all holders of which must be prepared, if need be, to produce some historical foundation for their claims, and while being most anxious to supply the necessary proofs, would only have memorised tradition to fall back upon in establishing their positions. To argue that such men would not be driven by the most powerful incentives to develop their memories, and to make them inordinately retentive and accurate, is deliberately to discount the extreme importance which may reasonably be attached to the issues depending upon tradition in such circumstances. It has been shown by a well-known anthropologist, – his name does not occur to me while I write,(16) – that the territorial claims of the ancient inhabitants of New Zealand, together with all the genealogical trees connected with them, were faithfully recorded by the memory of the people alone, and that when any dispute arose, it was settled by reference to these memorised traditions and family pedigrees. There was no other authority.
Bearing these considerations in mind, there can be little doubt that not only are we, a people that has long been in possession of the power of writing and printing, incapable except with great difficulty of imagining the full depth and force of the incentives which led ancient peoples to cultivate their memories, but we are also unfavourably constituted for grasping the power of the memories thus cultivated. It is in view of this that I think it right to insist upon an attitude of greater respect and more generous confidence in approaching the myths of antiquity, particularly those that have their first written record very early in the history of a people. It is unscientific for modern man to apply his own inadequate standards of a dwarfed memory, and probably of a shrunken intellect to boot, to the solution of the problems presented by these myths. He ought to assume from the start, not that myths and traditional legends are wild and irresponsible creations, or fantastic poetic flights, of an infantile human mind, comparable to the grotesque fancies of our babies of today (although the infantile mind, even of the modern child, does not create nearly such wild and fantastic notions as the modern adult fondly imagines); but that they most probably are records of actual occurrences, slightly coloured, it may be, by repeated reiteration, but substantially true, and having their basis in the feats or experiences of some notorious ancestor, or some extremely gifted stranger who greatly impressed the remote forebears of the race or people responsible for the myth.(17)
Such an attitude, I repeat, is only fair; because it discounts the degeneration that has occurred both in our own memories, and, I believe, our own intellects as well; and, what is even more important, forces us to regard every detail of the particular myth or legend with reverence, and therefore with an honest effort at understanding; instead of leaving us free, as at present, to reject and select as we please, and conveniently to leave out of account, as mythologians are wont to do, an essential portion of a fable, simply because it appears to be irrelevant to a sun, dawn, wind, or lightning interpretation, or because it is an awkward subject to discuss.
And this brings me to the fourth reason accounting for the determined silence on the part of mythologians respecting the apparently immoderate anger of Zeus in the Prometheus myth. I refer to the well-meaning kindness of endowing the mind of "childlike" man with a nice, clean, poetical and middle-class drawingroom tendency towards the personification and deification of natural phenomena. I agree with Herbert Spencer – who I think has satisfactorily disposed of this comforting school of mythology, and has shown the general unreliability of their conclusions – that the weight of the evidence is all on the side of ancestor worship as the origin of myths, and not of the personification and deification of the wind, the sky, the sun, the moon and the dawn.
Consider the practice of cannibalism, for instance, mentioned in the very early Greek myths in connection with the first gods. Now imagine yourself possessed of a strange reluctance to believe anything so horrible as cannibalism of the ancestors of the noble Hellenes, and you will find distinct comfort from the thought that all these stories arose from the deification of the sun and the dawn. Let us suppose it possible to interpret the occurrence of cannibalism as follows: – The sun (deified) rises in the heavens to find the moon or the earth (both deified) surrounded by all her children (the stars deified). The stars disappear, – that is, they are eaten up by the sun; – but the moon sinks down behind the horizon to find a fresh brood of children with which to fight and defeat the sun on the following evening. Clearly this explanation, while satisfying your scruples against imputing so vile a practice as cannibalism to the remote ancestors of the noble Greeks, acquires quite unexpected plausibility from the fact that the very names occurring in the myth to be interpreted belong to the heavenly bodies or natural phenomena.
Now if cannibalism were an impossibility; if it had never been heard of; if it were totally unknown except among modern civilised peoples (who may be regarded as indirect cannibals, seeing that so long as undeserved deaths by starvation occur in modern civilised countries, the bodies of the industrious poor may rightly be said to have been absorbed by the rich), we should find ourselves compelled to adopt some such fanciful and pretty story as the one outlined above, to account for its occurrence among the ancient gods of the Greeks. But seeing that cannibalism still occurs among certain savage races, that on occasion the Eskimos of the present day are "driven to this terrible resort,"(18) and that in any case there are reasons for believing not only that it is more frequently practised because of the great palatableness of human flesh than because of religious motives, but also that human flesh should be the physiologically best food for men(19) it is surely not difficult to believe that the remote ancestors of the Greeks indulged in this form of diet. Unless, therefore, you happen to be averse from imputing so grave a malpractice to the remote ancestors of your noble Hellenes, it seems more reasonable to attempt first of all an interpretation of the myth as a statement of fact, than as a poetical fancy as far-fetched as the one outlined above.
The school which favours the theory of the deification and personification of natural phenomena is ably and learnedly represented by Professor Max Müller, and, stated in his own terms, its attitude is as follows: – "Most of the Greek, the Roman, the Indian, and all other heathen gods are nothing but poetical names, which were gradually allowed to assume a divine personality never contemplated by their original inventors. Eos was a name of the dawn before she became a goddess, the wife of Tithonus, or the dying day... Zeus originally meant the bright heaven, in Sanscrit Dyaus; and many of the stories told of him as the supreme god, had a meaning only as told originally of the bright heaven, whose rays, like golden rain, descended on the lap of the earth, the Danaë of old, kept by her father in the dark prison of winter. No one doubts that Luna, for "losna," originally "louxna," was simply a name of the moon; but so was likewise Lucina. Hekate, too, was an old name of the moon, the feminine Hekatos and Hekatebolos, the far-darting sun; and Pyrrha, the Eve of the Greeks, was nothing but a name of the red earth, and in particular of Thessaly."(20)
And again: "I look upon the sunrise and sunset, on the daily return of day and night, on the battle between light and darkness, on the whole solar drama in all its details, that is acted every day, every month, every year, in heaven and in earth, as the principal subject of early mythology. I consider that the very idea of divine powers sprang from the wonderment with which the forefathers of the Aryan family stared at the bright (deva) powers that came and went no one knew whence or whither, that never failed, never faded, never died, and were called immortal, – i.e., unfading, – as compared with the feeble and decaying race of man. I consider the regular recurrence of phenomena an almost indispensable condition of their being raised, through the charms of mythological phraseology, to the rank of immortals, and I give a proportionately small space to meteorological phenomena, such as clouds, thunder and lightning, which, although causing for a time a violent commotion in nature and in the heart of man, would not be ranked together with the immortal beings, but would rather be classed either as their subjects or their enemies."(21)
Thus most mythological accounts of the divine powers are, according to Professor Max Müller, either solar myths or dawn myths; but while the monotony of this form of interpretation is frankly admitted by the learned Professor himself,(22) this, it strikes me, would constitute no fatal objection to the method, if a more human, more natural, and more universally applicable mythgenesis were not already to hand.
Other mythologians, such as Professors Kuhn and Schwartz, proceed very much in the same way; but instead of laying the bulk of the burden of origin on the sun and the dawn, they enlist the assistance of meteorological phenomena.
Against this attitude towards ancient myths, Herbert Spencer, whom I follow in these pages, devotes several chapters of his Principles of Sociology; and with his customary lucidity and masterly command of facts satisfactorily, I believe, disposes of it.(23)
He feels a certain difficulty, shared, I confess, by myself, in believing that men could thus personalise "transitory appearances as unlike humanity as can be conceived," and regards the points of resemblance between certain performances of the heavenly bodies and those of certain legendary human beings as a projection into nature of personal, i.e., ancestral doings, through the coincidence in names.
Thus, a certain ancestor, or distinguished neighbour, or strange visitor, or conqueror,(24) let us suppose, of a race of hunters, receives at birth, or later, the name of "Sun." There is no reason why he should not receive such a name. We speak even today of "sunny countenances," "cloudy looks," etc. A child born when the sun was high in the heavens, might easily for want of a better name be called "Sun." In later life he shows remarkable powers either of speed, accuracy of aim, inventiveness, virile procreativeness, strength, wisdom, or what not, so that he quickly becomes an important member of the race, vividly remembered both by the men and the women. At his death he is wildly lamented. It is sought to reincarnate his spirit by offering his dead remains freshly shed blood, either of animal or human victims. He becomes the subject of magnificats, the object of sacrifices, the highest appeal in cases of racial traditional authority for certain observances, modes of action, manner of dress. In time, through a confusion of the two names, his qualities are transferred to the sun, and the sun's qualities to him. But it is his personal peculiarities that stamp the myth concerning him with its indelible identity, and it is human powers that are glorified in his memory.
It is impossible here to reproduce even in a condensed form the elaborate arguments which Spencer advances against the mythologians of the Max Müller school, and in support of the origin of myths outlined above; I can but recommend the reader, who questions the wisdom of my adoption of the Spencerian theory of interpretation, to consult his treatise on the subject, which I have mentioned only to indicate and justify the lines upon which I myself propose to discuss the myth of Prometheus.
Assuming, as I believe with good reason, that all religions, all deities, and all kinds of worship, have arisen from the glorification of certain ancestors and their achievements (including their most unpleasant deeds), Herbert Spencer comes much nearer than the Max Müller class of theologian to a respectful attitude towards the traditional myths of antiquity, while at the same time, he clears away most of the glaring perplexities which otherwise have to remain unravelled, if we trace the origin of the myths to deified natural phenomena. For instance, according to the Spencerian mode of interpretation it is not improbable that Cronus did mutilate Uranus in the manner related in the myth; but how can the son of the sky be understood as mutilating the sky in this manner? Also, according to the Spencerian theory, and according to the latest anthropological research, it is not improbable that the ancestors of the Greeks did pass through a stage of cannibalism and incest; but how can we reasonably or even unreasonably evolve incest out of the observed relationship of heavenly bodies?
Max Müller, holding, as he did, the sun-myth and dawn-myth theory, was naturally compelled, in order to explain all these unsavoury details about the gods, to speak of the "disease" that overtakes all religious ideas,(25) and also felt it necessary to apologise for the deities of Homer and their peculiar practices. He writes: "The gods of Homer, though, in their mythological aspect, represented as weak, easily deceived, and led astray by the lowest passions, are nevertheless, in the more reverent language of religion, endowed with nearly all the qualities which we claim for a divine and perfect Being."(26) Thereupon he proceeds to quote from the Odyssey to substantiate his view.
But this apology from Max Müller is in itself the best acknowledgment that his interpretation cannot satisfactorily place all the facts; for there is no such need for apologies or for emphasising the "disease that overtakes religious ideas," if one knows one is dealing with the recorded actions of human beings quite well able to behave not only unsavourily, but even inhumanly in certain circumstances.
After showing that the religion of the Fijians was the outcome of the glorification of certain exceptional individuals who had existed from time to time among them, Herbert Spencer proceeds:–
"Beyond all doubt the Fijian pantheon has arisen by that apotheosis of men which was still going on when travellers went among them: and if we say that by the Greeks, who also apotheosised men, a pantheon was generated in like manner, the interpretation is consistent. We are forbidden to suppose this, however. These Greek gods, with their human structures, dispositions, acts, histories, resulted from the personalisation of natural objects and powers. So that, marvelous to relate, identical conceptions have been produced by diametrically opposite processes."(27)
Whereupon Spencer concludes: "And so the universality of anthropomorphism has the sufficient cause that divine man as conceived, had everywhere for antecedent a powerful man as perceived.(28)... There is no exception then. Using the phrase ancestor-worship in its broadest sense as comprehending all worship of the dead, be they of the same blood or not, we conclude that ancestor-worship is the root of every religion."(29)
The satisfactory nature of this position becomes at once apparent, whether we contemplate the Greek theogony, the Christian theogony, or the tbeogony of the Hindus. Such attributes as Jealousy (ascribed to the Christian god), Lechery (ascribed to the Greek gods), Vanity and Pride (ascribed to the Hindu gods, though not exclusively to them), become comprehensible when it is remembered that these gods are glorifications of once existing ancestors of the race; they are incomprehensible nonsense when applied to omniscient and almighty gods derived from the deification of the forces of nature. In addition, therefore, to the purely human misdemeanours, such as rape, incest, emasculation, etc., which are best explained by the Spencerian theory, the moral attributes of the gods are more easily derived from human than from natural origins. The Spencerian position, moreover, as I have already hinted above, leads to a more respectful attitude towards the incidental details of each particular myth, than does the other theory; for instead of these theories constituting minor characteristics and vagaries, more or less negligible, of irresponsible clouds, storms and stars; according to the Spencerian method, they represent the traditional record of the actual idiosyncrasies and performances of particular individuals who once belonged to the race in which the myth was found. Mythology, in this way, acquires a much deeper meaning, and a much more general interest. It almost becomes Anthropology; – indeed, if we make allowances for the inevitable distortion which must result from constant repetition, even admitting a phenomenally accurate memory in the narrators (for we must allow for the artistic element of over-emphasis), it is anthropology pure and simple.
It is in the attitude of mind derived from these considerations, – that is to say, (1) with a feeling far from favourable for Prometheus, (2) with a spirit of uncustomary respect for the traditional myths of antiquity, (3) with a consciousness of the immense vigour and general accuracy of ancient man's memory and intellect, and (4) with a firm belief that the origin of ancient mythology is to be found in the worship of the dead, and that therefore all mythology is largely concealed anthropology, – that I now propose to approach the legend of Prometheus.
(1) That is to say, it might further elucidate the reason already adduced by Hesiod to explain this. See Works and Days, 50.
(2) See Rev. xii. 9.
(3) See Jude 6.
(4) Shelley was conscious of the comparison that could be drawn between Satan and Prometheus. See his Preface to the Prometheus Unbound: "The only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus is Satan, and Prometheus is in my judgment a more poetical character than Satan, because in addition to courage and majesty, and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the taints of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement." It will be seen that this view of Shelley's is as shallow as that of the scholars.
(5) It should be remembered that Socrates, the inveterate moralist and Puritan, was also shocked by the details of the Cronus myth, and could not believe that a god Cronus mutilated his father Uranus. Socrates seems evidently to have set the tone in this matter as in many others in modern Europe. See Plato, Euthyphron.
(6) Anthropology of the Classics, p.84.
(7) The reader is, however, recommended for his own amusement to glance at the "alleged" interpretation of this myth offered by Sir James Frazer, or the gentleman who shares with him the responsibility for the article Saturn (Saturnus) in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It must be admitted that Mr. Andrew Lang's interpretation, which is hinted at by Sir James Frazer, or his colleague, is not satisfactory either. It omits to explain the mutilation, and Mr. Andrew Lang does not conceal the fact that he regards this part of the myth as too abominable to be referred to except with hasty perfunctoriness. See Custom and Myth, particularly p.59. However, Mr. Andrew Lang does us a great service in showing us in his chapter on the Cronus myth the hopeless disagreement between such scholars as Max Müller, Kuhn, Brown, Preller, Hartung, etc. regarding the etymology of the word Cronus, and therefore regarding the etymological source of the myth. See pp.57-63.
(8) De Bello Gallico, vi., 14.
(9) Man Past and Present, pp.16, 17.
(10) See for instance Hesiod, Works and Days, 110-178.
(11) Primitive Culture, vol. i., chap. iii.
(12) Ibid., pp.83-85, and also Anthropology, p.375.
(13) Anthropology, p.374.
(14) Anthropology, p.374. For some further remarkable instances of an accurate memory of events that happened centuries before in the history of a race, see W. Ridgway, M.A., The Early Age of Greece (London, 1901), pp.127-151. Prof. Ridgway mentions one case in which an accurate record of an event was kept by tradition for 800 years.
(15) See C. 0. Müller's Introduction to a Scientific System of Mythology, chap. ii., for some interesting instances of remote historical facts being retained in Greek myths. For historical fact unwittingly concealed in Homer, see Appendix I. in the above.
(16) Quatrefages, I believe.
(17) Can anyone really suppose that it is only by chance, only by a trick of fancy such as may occur in the elaboration of a fairy-tale that the Muses who "celebrate in song first of all the reverend race of the gods from the beginning, those whom Earth and wide Heaven begot, and the gods sprung of these, givers of good things.... And again ... chant the race of men and strong giants ... [and] sing the laws of all and the goodly ways of the immortals," – can anyone really suppose, I say, that it is merely by chance that the Muses are said to have been the daughters of Mnemosyne (Memory)? See Hesiod, Theogony, 43-67.
(18) Sollas, Ancient Hunters, p.146.
(19) Sollas, ibid., p.145: "It is asserted on the evidence of some recent experiments that human flesh should be the physiologically best food for men."
(20) See Lectures on the Science of Language, vol. i., pp.12, 13.
(21) Max Müller, op. cit., vol. ii., pp.565-566.
(22) Max Müller, op. cit., vol. ii., p.548.
(23) See particularly Principles of Sociology, 3rd ed., vol. i., pp.363-384.
(24) It is important to notice here that Herbert Spencer advances many cogent arguments and produces much convincing evidence to show that, in cases where the difference between the distinguished neighbour or neighbours, strange visitor or visitors, conqueror or conquerors of a given race, and that race, is sufficiently great to make the former appear very much more exalted than the latter, the superior are immediately deified, or regarded as gods by the inferior race. See Principles of Sociology, 3rd ed., vol. i., pp.396-398: – " The immigrant member of a superior race," says Spencer, "becomes a god among an inferior race.... It is said by Bushmen, 'Those white men are children of God; they know everything.' The East African exclaims: 'Truly ye are gods,' and Europeans are thus spoken of in the Congo.... When Thompson and Moffat wished to see a religious ceremony peculiar to the Bechuana women, the women said: 'These are gods, let them walk in....' When the Spaniards went to Mexico the Mexicans exclaimed that their god Quetzalcoatl had come back with his companions." There is a good deal more evidence on these pages which I omit. "With such evidence before us," says Herbert Spencer (p.400), "what shall we think about the 'gods and men' who figure in the legends of higher races? ... We shall conclude that these 'gods and men' were simply conquering and conquered races: all mythological interpretations notwithstanding." I must remind the reader here that all conquest is not "bloody" conquest. For instance, it is said that the Incas of Peru conquered without the sword. This is also said of the Chinese invasion of the territory now called the Middle Kingdom.
(25) Op. cit., vol. ii, p.455.
(26) Op. cit., vol. ii., p.459.
(27) Op. cit., vol. i., p.403.
(28) Op. cit., p.409.
(29) Op. cit., p.411.