<<<
>>>

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

Page: 16

Till the end of the present century, mythologists did not usually employ the method of comparing Greek rites and legends with, first, the sympathetic magic and the fables of peasant folk-lore; second, with the Mysteries and myths of contemporary savage races, of which European folk-lore is mainly a survival. For a study of Demeter from these sides (a study still too much neglected in Germany) readers may consult Mannhardt’s works, Mr. Frazer’s “Golden Bough,” and the present translator’s “Custom and Myth,” and “Myth, Ritual, and Religion.” Mr. Frazer, especially, has enabled the English reader to understand the savage and rural element of sympathetic magic as a factor in the Demeter myth. Meanwhile Mr. Pater has dealt with the higher sentiment, the more religious aspect, of the myth and the rites. I am not inclined to go all lengths with Mr. Frazer’s ingenious and learned system, as will be seen, while regretting that the new edition of his “Golden Bough” is not yet accessible. p. 61

If we accept (which I do not entirely) Mr. Frazer’s theory of the origin of the Demeter myth, there is no finer example of the Greek power of transforming into beauty the superstitions of Barbarism. The explanation to which I refer is contained in Mr. J. G. Frazer’s learned and ingenious work, “The Golden Bough.” While mythologists of the schools of Mr. Max Müller and Kuhn have usually resolved most Gods and heroes into Sun, Sky, Dawn, Twilight; or, again, into elemental powers of Thunder, Tempest, Lightning, and Night, Mr. Frazer is apt to see in them the Spirit of Vegetation. Osiris is a Tree Spirit or a Corn Spirit (Mannhardt, the founder of the system, however, took Osiris to be the Sun). Balder is the Spirit of the Oak. The oak, “we may certainly conclude, was one of the chief, if not the very chief divinity of the Aryans before the dispersion.” {61} If so, the Aryans before the dispersion were on an infinitely lower religious level than those Australian tribes, whose chief divinity p. 62is not a gum-tree, but a being named “Our Father,” dwelling beyond the visible heavens. When we remember the vast numbers of gods of sky or heaven among many scattered races, and the obvious connection of Zeus with the sky (sub Jove frigido), and the usually assigned sense of the name of Zeus, it is not easy to suppose that he was originally an oak. But Mr. Frazer considers the etymological connection of Zeus with the Sanscrit word for sky, an insufficient reason for regarding Zeus as, in origin, a sky-god. He prefers, it seems, to believe that, as being the wood out of which fire was kindled by some Aryan-speaking peoples, the oak may have come to be called “The Bright or Shining One” (Zeus, Jove), by the ancient Greeks and Italians. {62} The Greeks, in fact, used the laurel (daphne) for making fire, not, as far as I am aware, the oak. Though the oak was the tree of Zeus, the heavens were certainly his province, and, despite the oak of Dodona, and the oak on the Capitol, he is much more generally p. 63connected with the sky than with the tree. In fact this reduction of Zeus, in origin, to an oak, rather suggests that the spirit of system is too powerful with Mr. Frazer.

He makes, perhaps, a more plausible case for his reduction of dread Persephone to a Pig. The process is curious. Early agricultural man believed in a Corn Spirit, a spiritual essence animating the grain (in itself no very unworthy conception). But because, as the field is mown, animals in the corn are driven into the last unshorn nook, and then into the open, the beast which rushed out of the last patch was identified with the Corn Spirit in some animal shape, perhaps that of a pig; many other animals occur. The pig has a great part in the ritual of Demeter. Pigs of pottery were found by Sir Charles Newton on her sacred ground. The initiate in the Mysteries brought pigs to Eleusis, and bathed with them in the sea. The pig was sacrificed to her; in fact (though not in our Hymn) she was closely associated with pigs. “We may now ask . . . may not the pig be nothing p. 64but the Goddess herself in animal form?” {64a} She would later become anthropomorphic: a lovely Goddess, whose hair, as in the Hymn, is “yellow as ripe corn.” But the prior pig could not be shaken off. At the Attic Thesmophoria the women celebrated the Descent and Ascent of Persephone,—a “double” of Demeter. In this rite pigs and other things were thrown into certain caverns. Later, the cold remains of pig were recovered and placed on the altar. Fragments were scattered for luck on the fields with the seed-corn. A myth explained that a flock of pigs were swallowed by Earth when Persephone was ravished by Hades to the lower world, of which matter the Hymn says nothing. “In short, the pigs were Proserpine.” {64b} The eating of pigs at the Thesmophoria was “a partaking of the body of the God,” though the partakers, one thinks, must have been totally unconscious of the circumstance. We must presume that (if this theory be correct) a very considerable time was needed for the p. 65evolution of a pig into the Demeter of the Hymn, and the change is quite successfully complete; a testimony to the transfiguring power of the Greek genius.


<<<
>>>