An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 16"To generalize," said Blake, "is to be an idiot," but to generalize is one of the functions of science. In a general sense, then, the more simple and archaic the characteristics of a myth, and the more it reflects an early state of society, the greater the antiquity it is naturally likely to possess. The more 'literary,' the more embellished it is by the graces of art, and the more cunning it displays in the business of story-telling, the later it will be. Many myths have, of course, been built up[Pg 39] by slow degrees only, the myth of Osiris being an admirable example. It grew with the importance of the god himself, who perhaps from a mere local spirit came to be the great deity of the dead.
Proof of the authenticity of myth—that is, the proof by which it is known as the genuine aboriginal product of a primitive folk—is obtained by what Tylor has called "the test of recurrence." That is, if we discover a tale possessing the same elements in several different parts of the world "we cannot set down the coincidence to chance or fraud." This is practically a 'law,' and is one of the most valuable conclusions which has as yet enriched mythological science.
An outline—and merely an outline—of the principal questions with which students of myth are at present chiefly concerned has now been furnished. These, as has been said, will be amplified in succeeding chapters, the purpose of this introduction having been served if the reader is enabled by its perusal to follow intelligently the subsequent examination, on a more extensive scale, of the subjects indicated.