1000 Mythological Characters Briefly Described
Page: 2Every people, no matter how degraded and sunken in barbarism, has some perception, some explanation of, and a more or less well-grounded belief in, a First Cause. Far back among the mists of antiquity, at the [Pg 5] remotest beginnings of the shadowy centuries, sits enthroned a Being, who in His infinite might and power brought mankind, the universe, and all animate and inanimate things into existence, and who rewards those of His children who do His will, and punishes those who disobey His commands. That will, as interpreted by believers, is as various in its application to the conduct of man as are the standards of right and wrong among the civilized and even among the barbarous nations of to-day. What is virtue with one is vice with the other, as beauty and ugliness of form or feature, being relative terms, are opposites with many different peoples.
Since the Greeks and Romans were not among those who received the divine story of creation, they were forced to devise a theory to explain their own existence and account for the origin of all things. The foundation of this theory lay in the marvelous phenomena of nature around them. The growth of the mighty tree from the tiny seed, the bursting bud and blossom, the [Pg 6] changing hues and the fragrance of flowers, the alternation of day and night, the flash of the rock-rending lightning, the rage of the tempest, the flow of the rivers; the towering mountains, the lovely valleys; dew, rain, the clouds, and the ever-shifting panorama on every hand; the majestic sweep of the blazing worlds through space—all these pointed unerringly to a First Cause, which originally launched them into being, and maintains the constant order of things and the miraculous procession of the planets and the orderly succession of the seasons in obedience to laws that know no change.
To the Greeks and Romans, there was a time more remote than history gives us any account of, when there was neither land nor water, and when the earth and all things within and upon it were “without form and void.” Over that misty, nebulous mixing and mingling brooded the god Chaos, who shared his throne with Nox, the goddess of night. From this union the innumerable myths gradually sprang up and developed, which in their own imaginative though [Pg 7] often grotesque way explained the various phases of creation. These finally became crystallized into a literature, or mythology, which has since been the inspiration alike of romancers and poets.
The most learned of mythologists differ in their analysis of the multitude of myths that have descended to us. Their varying analyses, however, may be separated into two distinct classes or divisions, each of which has its own adherents and supporters.
The first school is that of the philologists, and the second that of the anthropologists, or comparative mythologists.
Philology relates to the study of language, especially when treated in a philosophical manner. This school maintains that the myths had their origin in a “disease of the language, as the pearl is a result of a disease of the oyster.” The key, therefore, to all mythologies, they say, is found in language. The names originally applied to the gods generally referred to the phenomena of the clouds, winds, rain, sunshine, etc. Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit, the great languages of [Pg 8] antiquity, they demonstrate, had their foundation in a single source which is still older. As further proof of their position, they point to the similarity in the most ordinary words in the various languages of the same family, and show that they have undergone few or very trifling changes.