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

Page: 9

In the same way, in Christian Europe, we may contrast Dunbar’s pious “Ballat of Our Lady” with his “Kynd Kittok,” in which God has his eye on the soul of an intemperate ale-wife who has crept into Paradise. “God lukit, and saw her lattin in, and leugh His heart sair.” Examples of this kind of sportive irreverence are common enough; their root is in human nature: and they could not be absent in the mythology of savage or of ancient peoples. To Zeus the myths of this kind would come to be attached in several ways.

As a nature-god of the Heaven he marries the Earth. The tendency of men being to p. 29claim descent from a God, for each family with this claim a myth of a separate divine amour was needed. Where there had existed Totemism, or belief in kinship with beasts, the myth of the amour of a wolf, bull, serpent, swan, and so forth, was attached to the legend of Zeus. Zeus had been that swan, serpent, wolf, or bull. Once more, ritual arose, in great part, from the rites of sympathetic magic.

This or that mummery was enacted by men for a magical purpose, to secure success in the chase, agriculture, or war. When the performers asked, “Why do we do thus and thus?” the answer was, “Zeus first did so,” or Demeter, or Apollo did so, on a certain occasion. About that occasion a myth was framed, and finally there was no profligacy, cruelty, or absurdity of which the God was not guilty. Yet, all the time, he punished adultery, inhospitality, perjury, incest, cannibalism, and other excesses, of which, in legend, he was always setting the example. We know from Xenophanes, Plato, p. 30and St. Augustine how men’s consciences were tormented by this unceasing contradiction: this overgrowth of myth on the stock of an idea originally noble. It is thus that I would attempt to account for the contradictory conceptions of Zeus, for example.

As to Apollo, I do not think that mythologists determined to find, in Apollo, some deified aspect of Nature, have laid stress enough on his counterparts in savage myth. We constantly find, in America, in the Andaman Isles, and in Australia, that, subordinate to the primal Being, there exists another who enters into much closer relations with mankind. He is often concerned with healing and with prophecy, or with the inspiration of conjurers or shamans. Sometimes he is merely an underling, as in the case of the Massachusetts Kiehtan, and his more familiar subordinate, Hobamoc. {30} But frequently this go-between of God and Man is (like Apollo) the Son of the primal Being (often an unbegotten Son) or his Messenger p. 31(Andaman, Noongaburrah, Kurnai, Kamilaroi, and other Australian tribes). He reports to the somewhat otiose primal Being about men’s conduct, and he sometimes superintends the Mysteries. I am disposed to regard the prophetic and oracular Apollo (who, as the Hymn to Hermes tells us, alone knows the will of Father Zeus) as the Greek modification of this personage in savage theology. Where this Son is found in Australia, I by no means regard him as a savage refraction from Christian teaching about a mediator, for Christian teaching, in fact, has not been accepted, least of all by the highly conservative sorcerers, or shamans, or wirreenuns of the tribes. European observers, of course, have been struck by (and have probably exaggerated in some instances) the Christian analogy. But if they had been as well acquainted with ancient Greek as with Christian theology they would have remarked that the Andaman, American, and Australian “mediators” are infinitely more akin to Apollo, in his relations with Zeus p. 32and with men, than to any Person about whom missionaries can preach. But the most devoted believer in borrowing will not say that, when the Australian mediator, Tundun, son of Mungun-gnaur, turns into a porpoise, the Kurnai have borrowed from our Hymn of the Dolphin Apollo. It is absurd to maintain that the Son of the God, the go-between of God and men, in savage theology, is borrowed from missionaries, while this being has so much more in common with Apollo (from whom he cannot conceivably be borrowed) than with Christ. The Tundun-porpoise story seems to have arisen in gratitude to the porpoise, which drives fishes inshore, for the natives to catch. Neither Tharamulun nor Hobamoc (Australian and American Gods of healing and soothsaying), who appear to men as serpents, are borrowed from Asclepius, or from the Python of Apollo. The processes have been quite different, and in Apollo, the oracular son of Zeus, who declares his counsel to men, I am apt to see a beautiful Greek modification of p. 33the type of the mediating Son of the primal Being of savage belief, adorned with many of the attributes of the Sun God, from whom, however, he is fundamentally distinct. Apollo, I think, is an adorned survival of the Son of the God of savage theology. He was not, at first, a Nature God, solar or not. This opinion, if it seems valid, helps to account, in part, for the animal metamorphoses of Apollo, a survival from the mental confusion of savagery. Such a confusion, in Greece, makes it necessary for the wise son of Zeus to seek information, as in the Hymn to Hermes, from an old clown. This medley of ideas, in the mind of a civilised poet, who believes that Apollo is all-knowing in the counsels of eternity, is as truly mythological as Dunbar’s God who laughs his heart sore at an ale-house jest. Dunbar, and the author of the Hymn, and the savage with his tale of Tundun or Daramulun, have all quite contradictory sets of ideas alternately present to their minds; the mediæval poet, of course, being conscious of the contradiction, which p. 34makes the essence of his humour, such as it is. To Greece, in its loftier moods, Apollo was, despite his myth, a noble source of inspiration, of art, and of conduct. But the contradiction in the low myth and high doctrine of Apollo, could never be eradicated under any influence less potent than that of Christianity. {34} If this theory of Apollo’s origin be correct, many pages of learned works on Mythology need to be rewritten. p. 35


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