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Custom and Myth

Page: 56

molvis, μωλυ-ς, akin to μαλακος, soft.’ This does not suit Mr. Brown, who, to begin with, is persuaded that the herb is not a magical herb, sans phrase, like those which the Hottentots use, but that the basis of the myth ‘is simply the effect of night upon the world of day.’ Now, as moly is a name in use among the gods, Mr. Brown thinks ‘we may fairly examine the hypothesis of a foreign origin of the term.’ Anyone who holds that certain Greek gods were borrowed from abroad, may be allowed to believe that the gods used foreign words, and, as Mr. Brown points out, there are foreign elements in various Homeric names of imported articles, peoples, persons, and so forth. Where, then, is a foreign word like moly, which might have reached Homer? By a long process of research, Mr. Brown finds his word in ancient ‘Akkadian.’ From Professor Sayce he borrows a reference to Apuleius Barbarus, about whose life nothing is known, and whose date is vague. Apuleius Barbarus may have lived about four centuries after our era, and he says that ‘wild rue was called moly by the Cappadocians.’ Rue, like rosemary, and indeed like most herbs, has its magical repute, and if we supposed that Homer’s moly was rue, there would be some interest in the knowledge. Rue was called ‘herb of grace’ in English, holy water was sprinkled with it, and the name is a translation of Homer’s φαρμακον εσθλον. Perhaps rue was used in sprinkling, because in pre-Christian times rue had, by itself, power against sprites and powers of evil. Our ancestors may have thought it as well to combine the old charm of rue and the new Christian potency of holy water. Thus there would be a distinct analogy between Homeric moly and English ‘herb of grace.’

‘Euphrasy and rue’ were employed to purge and purify mortal eyes. Pliny is very learned about the magical virtues of rue. Just as the stolen potato is sovran for rheumatism, so ‘rue stolen thriveth the best.’ The Samoans think that their most valued vegetables were stolen from heaven by a Samoan visitor. {152a} It is remarkable that rue, according to Pliny, is killed by the touch of a woman in the same way as, according to Josephus, the mandrake is tamed. {152b} These passages prove that the classical peoples had the same extraordinary superstitions about women as the Bushmen and Red Indians. Indeed Pliny {152c} describes a magical manner of defending the crops from blight, by aid of women, which is actually practised in America by the Red Men. {152d}

Here, then, are proofs enough that rue was magical outside of Cappadocia. But this is not an argument on Mr. Brown’s lines. The Cappadocians called rue ‘moly’; what language, he asks, was spoken by the Cappadocians? Prof. Sayce (who knows so many tongues) says that ‘we know next to nothing of the language of the Cappadocians, or of the Moschi who lived in the same locality.’ But where Prof. Sayce is, the Hittites, if we may say so respectfully, are not very far off. In this case he thinks the Moschi (though he admits we know next to nothing about it) ‘seem to have spoken a language allied to that of the Cappadocians and Hittites.’ That is to say, it is not impossible that the language of the Moschi, about which next to nothing is known, may have been allied to that of the Cappadocians, about which we know next to nothing. All that we do know in this case is, that four hundred years after Christ the dwellers in Cappadocia employed a word ‘moly,’ which had been Greek for at least twelve hundred years. But Mr. Brown goes on to quote that one of the languages of which we know next to nothing, Hittite, was ‘probably allied to Proto-Armenian, and perhaps Lykian, and was above all not Semitic.’ In any case ‘the cuneiform mode of writing was used in Cappadocia at an early period.’ As even Professor Sayce declines to give more than a tentative reading of a Cappadocian cuneiform inscription, it seems highly rash to seek in this direction for an interpretation of a Homeric word ‘moly,’ used in Cappadocia very many centuries after the tablets were scratched. But, on the evidence of the Babylonian character of the cuneiform writing on Cappadocian tablets, Mr. Brown establishes a connection between the people of Accadia (who probably introduced the cuneiform style) and the people of Cappadocia. The connection amounts to this. Twelve hundred years after Homer, the inhabitants of Cappadocia are said to have called rue ‘moly.’ At some unknown period, the Accadians appear to have influenced the art of writing in Cappadocia. Apparently Mr. Brown thinks it not too rash to infer that the Cappadocian use of the word ‘moly’ is not derived from the Greeks, but from the Accadians. Now in Accadian, according to Mr. Brown, mul means ‘star.’ ‘Hence


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