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Custom and Myth

Page: 38

Many explanations of the Jason myth have been given by Scholars who thought they recognised elemental phenomena in the characters. As usual these explanations differ widely. Whenever a myth has to be interpreted, it is certain that one set of Scholars will discover the sun and the dawn, where another set will see the thunder-cloud and lightning. The moon is thrown in at pleasure. Sir G. W. Cox determines {96} ‘that the name Jason (Iasôn) must be classed with the many others, Iasion, Iamus, Iolaus, Iaso, belonging to the same root.’ Well, what is the root? Apparently the root is ‘the root i, as denoting a crying colour, that is, a loud colour’ (ii. 81). Seemingly (i. 229) violet is a loud colour, and, wherever you have the root i, you have ‘the violet-tinted morning from which the sun is born.’ Medea is ‘the daughter of the sun,’ and most likely, in her ‘beneficent aspect,’ is the dawn. But (ii. 81, note) ios has another meaning, ‘which, as a spear, represents the far-darting ray of the sun’; so that, in one way or another, Jason is connected with the violet-tinted morning or with the sun’s rays. This is the gist of the theory of Sir George Cox.

Preller {97a} is another Scholar, with another set of etymologies. Jason is derived, he thinks, from ιαομαι, to heal, because Jason studied medicine under the Centaur Chiron. This is the view of the Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius (i. 554). Jason, to Preller’s mind, is a form of Asclepius, ‘a spirit of the spring with its soft suns and fertile rains.’ Medea is the moon. Medea, on the other hand, is a lightning goddess, in the opinion of Schwartz. {97b} No philological reason is offered. Meanwhile, in Sir George Cox’s system, the equivalent of Medea, ‘in her beneficent aspect,’ is the dawn.

We must suppose, it seems, that either the soft spring rains and the moon, or the dawn and the sun, or the lightning and the thunder-cloud, in one arrangement or another, irresistibly suggested, to early Aryan minds, the picture of a wooer, arriving in a hostile home, winning a maiden’s love, achieving adventures by her aid, fleeing with her from her angry father and delaying his pursuit by various devices. Why the spring, the moon, the lightning, the dawn—any of them or all of them—should have suggested such a tale, let Scholars determine when they have reconciled their own differences. It is more to our purpose to follow the myth among Samoans, Algonquins, and Finns. None of these races speak an Aryan language, and none can have been beguiled into telling the same sort of tale by a disease of Aryan speech.

Samoa, where we find our story, is the name of a group of volcanic islands in Central Polynesia. They are about 3,000 miles from Sidney, were first observed by Europeans in 1722, and are as far removed as most spots from direct Aryan influences. Our position is, however, that in the shiftings and migrations of peoples, the Jason tale has somehow been swept, like a piece of drift-wood, on to the coasts of Samoa. In the islands, the tale has an epical form, and is chanted in a poem of twenty-six stanzas. There is something Greek in the free and happy life of the Samoans—something Greek, too, in this myth of theirs. There was once a youth, Siati, famous for his singing, a young Thamyris of Samoa. But as, according to Homer, ‘the Muses met Thamyris the Thracian, and made an end of his singing, for he boasted and said that he would vanquish even the Muses if he sang against them,’ so did the Samoan god of song envy Siati. The god and the mortal sang a match: the daughter of the god was to be the mortal’s prize if he proved victorious. Siati won, and he set off, riding on a shark, as Arion rode the dolphin, to seek the home of the defeated deity. At length he reached the shores divine, and thither strayed Puapae, daughter of the god, looking for her comb which she had lost. ‘Siati,’ said she, ‘how camest thou hither?’ ‘I am come to seek the song-god, and to wed his daughter.’ ‘My father,’ said the maiden, ‘is more a god than a man; eat nothing he hands you, never sit on a high seat, lest death follow.’ So they were united in marriage. But the god, like Æetes, was wroth, and began to set Siati upon perilous tasks: ‘Build me a house, and let it be finished this very day, else death and the oven await thee.’ {99a}


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