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

Page: 20

HYMN TO DEMETER

THE ALLEGED EGYPTIAN ORIGINS

In what has been said as to the Greek Mysteries, I have regarded them as of native origin. I have exhibited rites of analogous kinds in the germ, as it were, among savage and barbaric communities. In Peru, under the Incas, we actually find Mama and Cora (Demeter and Korê) as Goddesses of the maize (Acosta), and for rites of sympathetic magic connected with the production of fertile harvests (as in the Thesmophoria at Athens) it is enough to refer to the vast collection in Mr. Frazer’s “Golden Bough.” I have also indicated the closest of all known parallels to the Eleusinian in a medicine-dance and legend of the Pawnees. For other savage Mysteries in which a moral p. 82element occurs, I have quoted Australian and African examples. Thence I have inferred that the early Greeks might, and probably did, evolve their multiform mystic rites out of germs of such things inherited from their own prehistoric ancestors. No process, on the other hand, of borrowing from Greece can conceivably account for the Pawnee and Peruvian rites, so closely analogous to those of Hellas. Therefore I see no reason why, if Egypt, for instance, presents parallels to the Eleusinia, we should suppose that the prehistoric Greeks borrowed the Eleusinia from Egypt. These things can grow up, autochthonous and underived, out of the soil of human nature anywhere, granting certain social conditions. Monsieur Foucart, however, has lately argued in favour of an Egyptian origin of the Eleusinia. {82}

The Greeks naturally identified Demeter and Dionysus with Isis and Osiris. There were analogies in the figures and the legends, p. 83and that was enough. So, had the Greeks visited America, they would have recognised Demeter in the Pawnee Earth Mother, and Persephone or Eubouleus in Chibiabos. To account for the similarities they would probably have invented a fable of Pawnee visitors to Greece, or of Greek missionaries among the Pawnees. So they were apt to form a theory of an Egyptian origin of Dionysus and Demeter.

M. Foucart, however, argues that agriculture, corn-growing at least, came into Greece at one stride, barley and wheat not being indigenous in a wild state. The Greeks, however, may have brought grain in their original national migration (the Greek words for grain and ploughing are common to other families of Aryan speech) or obtained it from Phœnician settlements. Demeter, however, in M. Foucart’s theory, would be the Goddess of the foreigners who carried the grain first to Hellas. Now both the Homeric epics and the Egyptian monuments show us Egypt and Greece in contact in the p. 84Greek prehistoric period. But it does not exactly follow that the prehistoric Greeks would adopt Egyptian gods; or that the Thesmophoria, an Athenian harvest-rite of Demeter, was founded by colonists from Egypt, answering to the daughters of Danaus. {84} Egyptians certainly did not introduce the similar rite among the Khonds, or the Incas. The rites could grow up without importation, as the result of the similarities of primitive fancy everywhere. If Isis is Lady of the Grain in Egypt, so is Mama in Peru, and Demeter need no more have been imported from Egypt than Mama. If Osiris taught the arts of life and the laws of society in Egypt, so did Daramulun in Australia, and Yehl in British Columbia. All the gods and culture heroes everywhere play this


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