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The Homeric Hymns A New Prose translation and Essays, Literary and Mythological

Page: 12

“The wandering waters knew her, the winds and the viewless ways,
And the roses grew rosier, and bluer the sea-blue streams of the bays.”

But the charm of Aphrodite is Greek. Even without foreign influence, Greek polytheism would have developed a Goddess of Love, as did the polytheism of the North (Frigga) and p. 44of the Aztecs. The rites of Adonis, the vernal year, are, even in the name of the hero, Oriental. “The name Adonis is the Phœnician Adon, ‘Lord.’” {44} “The decay and revival of vegetation” inspires the Adonis rite, which is un-Homeric; and was superfluous, where the descent and return of Persephone typified the same class of ideas. To whatever extent contaminated by Phœnician influence, Aphrodite in Homer is purely Greek, in grace and happy humanity.

The origins of Aphrodite, unlike the origins of Apollo, cannot be found in a state of low savagery. She is a departmental Goddess, and as such, as ruling a province of human passion, she belongs to a late development of religion. To Christianity she was a scandal, one of the scandals which are absent from the most primitive of surviving creeds. Polytheism, as if of set purpose, puts every conceivable aspect of life, good or bad, under divine sanction. This is much less the case p. 45in the religion of the very backward races. We do not know historically, what the germs of religion were; if we look at the most archaic examples, for instance in Australia or the Andaman Islands, we find neither sacrifice nor departmental deities.

Religion there is mainly a belief in a primal Being, not necessarily conceived as spiritual, but rather as an undying magnified Man, of indefinitely extensive powers. He dwells above “the vaulted sky beyond which lies the mysterious home of that great and powerful Being, who is Bunjil, Baiame, or Daramulun in different tribal languages, but who in all is known by a name the equivalent of the only one used by the Kurnai, which is Mungan-ngaur, or ‘Our Father.’” {45} This Father is conceived of in some places as “a very great old man with a long beard,” enthroned on, or growing into, a crystal throne. Often he is served by a son or sons (Apollo, Hermes), frequently regarded as spiritually begotten; elsewhere, looked on as the son of the wife p. 46of the deity, and as father of the tribe. {46a} Scandals connected with fatherhood, amorous intrigues so abundant in Greek mythology, are usually not reported among the lowest races. In one known case, the deity, Pundjel or Bunjil, takes the wives of Karween, who is changed into a crane. {46b} This is one of the many savage ætiological myths which account for the peculiarities of animals as a result of metamorphosis, in the manner of Ovid. It has been connected with the legend of Bunjil, who is thus envisaged, not as “Our Father” beyond the vault of heaven, who still inspires poets, {46c} but as a wandering, shape-shifting medicine-man. Zeus, the Heavenly Father, of course appears times without number in the same contradictory aspect.


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