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Custom and Myth

Page: 23

Mr. Müller, naturally, examines first the name of the god whose legend he is investigating. He writes: ‘There is no such being as Kronos in Sanskrit. Kronos did not exist till long after Zeus in Greece. Zeus was called by the Greeks the son of Time (Κρονος). This is a very simple and very common form of mythological expression. It meant originally, not that time was the origin or source of Zeus, but Κρονιων or Κρονιδης was used in the sense of “connected with time, representing time, existing through all time.” Derivatives in -ιων and -ιδης took, in later times, the more exclusive meaning of patronymics. . . . When this (the meaning of Κρονιδης as equivalent to Ancient of Days) ceased to be understood, . . . people asked themselves the question, Why is Ζευς called Κρονιδης? And the natural and almost inevitable answer was, Because he is the son, the offspring of a more ancient god, Κρονος. This may be a very old myth in Greece; but the misunderstanding which gave rise to it could have happened in Greece only. We cannot expect, therefore, a god Κρονος in the Veda.’ To expect Greek in the Veda would certainly be sanguine. ‘When this myth of Κρονος had once been started, it would roll on irresistibly. If Ζευς had once a father called Κρονος, Κρονος must have a wife.’ It is added, as confirmation, that ‘the name of Κρονιδης belongs originally to Zeus only, and not to his later’ (in Hesiod elder) ‘brothers, Poseidon and Hades.’ {58a}

Mr. Müller says, in his famous essay on ‘Comparative Mythology’ {58b}: ‘How can we imagine that a few generations before that time’ (the age of Solon) ‘the highest notions of the Godhead among the Greeks were adequately expressed by the story of Uranos maimed by Kronos,—of Kronos eating his children, swallowing a stone, and vomiting out alive his whole progeny. Among the lowest tribes of Africa and America, we hardly find anything more hideous and revolting.’ We have found a good deal of the sort in Africa and America, where it seems not out of place.

One objection to Mr. Müller’s theory is, that it makes the mystery no clearer. When Greeks were so advanced in Hellenism that their own early language had become obsolete and obscure, they invented the god Κρονος, to account for the patronymic (as they deemed it) Κρονιδης, son of Κρονος. But why did they tell such savage and revolting stories about the god they had invented? Mr. Müller only says the myth ‘would roll on irresistibly.’ But why did the rolling myth gather such very strange moss? That is the problem; and, while Mr. Müller’s hypothesis accounts for the existence of a god called Κρονος, it does not even attempt to show how full-blown Greeks came to believe such hideous stories about the god.

* * * * *

This theory, therefore, is of no practical service. The theory of Adalbert Kuhn, one of the most famous of Sanskrit scholars, and author of ‘Die Herabkunft des Feuers,’ is directly opposed to the ideas of Mr. Müller. In Cronus, Mr. Müller recognises a god who could only have come into being among Greeks, when the Greeks had begun to forget the original meaning of ‘derivatives in -ιων and -ιδης.’ Kuhn, on the other hand, derives Κρονος from the same root as the Sanskrit Krāna. {59} Krāna means, it appears, der für sich schaffende, he who creates for himself, and Cronus is compared to the Indian Pragapati, about whom even more abominable stories are told than the myths which circulate to the prejudice of Cronus. According to Kuhn, the ‘swallow-myth’ means that Cronus, the lord of light and dark powers, swallows the divinities of light. But in place of Zeus (that is, according to Kuhn, of the daylight sky) he swallows a stone, that is, the sun. When he disgorges the stone (the sun), he also disgorges the gods of light whom he had swallowed.

I confess that I cannot understand these distinctions between the father and lord of light and dark (Cronus) and the beings he swallowed. Nor do I find it easy to believe that myth-making man took all those distinctions, or held those views of the Creator. However, the chief thing to note is that Mr. Müller’s etymology and Kuhn’s etymology of Cronus can hardly both be true, which, as their systems both depend on etymological analysis, is somewhat discomfiting.

The next etymological theory is the daring speculation of Mr. Brown. In ‘The Great Dionysiak Myth’ {60a} Mr. Brown writes: ‘I regard Kronos as the equivalent of Karnos, Karnaios, Karnaivis, the Horned God; Assyrian, KaRNu; Hebrew, KeReN, horn; Hellenic, KRoNos, or KaRNos.’ Mr. Brown seems to think that Cronus is ‘the ripening power of harvest,’ and also ‘a wily savage god,’ in which opinion one quite agrees with him. Why the name of Cronus should mean ‘horned,’ when he is never represented with horns, it is hard to say. But among the various foreign gods in whom the Greeks recognised their own Cronus, one Hea, ‘regarded by Berosos as Kronos,’ seems to have been ‘horn-wearing.’ {60b} Horns are lacking in Seb and Il, if not in Baal Hamon, though Mr. Brown would like to behorn them.


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