Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions Being a Comparison of the Old and New Testament Myths and Miracles with those of the Heathen Nations of Antiquity Considering also their Origin and Meaning
Page: 272For the proofs of these assertions, the Vedic poems furnish indisputable evidence, that such as this was the origin and growth of Greek and Teutonic mythology. In these poems, the names of many, perhaps of most, of the Greek gods, indicate natural objects which, if endued with life, have not been reduced to human [Pg 469]personality. In them Daphne is still simply the morning twilight ushering in the splendor of the new born sun; the cattle of Helios there are still the light-colored clouds which the dawn leads out into the fields of the sky. There the idea of Hercules has not been separated from the image of the toiling and struggling sun, and the glory of the life-giving Helios has not been transferred to the god of Delos and Pytho. In the Vedas the myths of Endymion, of Kephalos and Prokris, Orpheus and Eurydike, are exhibited in the form of detached mythical phrases, which furnished for each their germ. The analysis may be extended indefinitely: but the conclusion can only be, that in the Vedic language we have the foundation, not only of the glowing legends of Hellas, but of the dark and sombre mythology of the Scandinavian and the Teuton. Both alike have grown up chiefly from names which have been grouped around the sun; but the former has been grounded on those expressions which describe the recurrence of day and night, the latter on the great tragedy of nature, in the alternation of summer and winter.
Of this vast mass of solar myths, some have emerged into independent legends, others have furnished the groundwork of whole epics, others have remained simply as floating tales whose intrinsic beauty no poet has wedded to his verse.[469:1]
"The results obtained from the examination of language in its several forms leaves no room for doubt that the general system of mythology has been traced to its fountain head. We can no longer shut our eyes to the fact that there was a stage in the history of human speech, during which all the abstract words in constant use among ourselves were utterly unknown, when men had formed no notions of virtue or prudence, of thought and intellect, of slavery or freedom, but spoke only of the man who was strong, who could point the way to others and choose one thing out of many, of the man who was not bound to any other and able to do as he pleased.
"That even this stage was not the earliest in the history of language is now a growing opinion among philologists; but for the comparison of legends current in different countries it is not necessary to carry the search further back. Language without words denoting abstract qualities implies a condition of thought in which men were only awakening to a sense of the objects which surrounded them, and points to a time when the world was to them full of strange sights and sounds, some beautiful, some bewildering, some terrific, when, in short, they knew little of themselves beyond [Pg 470]the vague consciousness of their existence, and nothing of the phenomena of the world without. In such a state they could but attribute to all that they saw or touched or heard, a life which was like their own in its consciousness, its joys, and its sufferings. That power of sympathizing with nature which we are apt to regard as the peculiar gift of the poet was then shared alike by all. This sympathy was not the result of any effort, it was inseparably bound up with the words which rose to their lips. It implied no special purity of heart or mind; it pointed to no Arcadian paradise where shepherds knew not how to wrong or oppress or torment each other. We say that the morning light rests on the mountains; they said that the sun was greeting his bride, as naturally as our own poet would speak of the sunlight clasping the earth, or the moonbeams as kissing the sea.
"We have then before us a stage of language corresponding to a stage in the history of the human mind in which all sensible objects were regarded as instinct with a conscious life. The varying phases of that life were therefore described as truthfully as they described their own feelings or sufferings; and hence every phase became a picture. But so long as the conditions of their life remained unchanged, they knew perfectly what the picture meant, and ran no risk of confusing one with another. Thus they had but to describe the things which they saw, felt, or heard, in order to keep up an inexhaustible store of phrases faithfully describing the facts of the world from their point of view. This language was indeed the result of an observation not less keen than that by which the inductive philosopher extorts the secrets of the natural world. Nor was its range much narrower. Each object received its own measure of attention, and no one phenomenon was so treated as to leave no room for others in their turn. They could not fail to note the changes of days and years, of growth and decay, of calm and storm;