An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 98

[1] See above, p. 122.

[2] The Gods of the Egyptians, vol. i, pp. 264-265.

[3] The writer does not recall having read this passage until a few weeks ago, yet in a volume of verse published in 1913 he included some stanzas the two last of which offer such a striking resemblance to the Biblical verses just quoted that he ventures to print them here as an example of the manner in which the imagination of men may run on similar lines, although centuries of time separate them:


Do ye hearken, ye dead, with your faces so nobly quiet,
Do ye list to the lays that are sung, and the lusts that are said,
Do ye wot of the frenzies, the fears, the desires, and the riot,
Do ye hearken, ye dead?

"O'er our lips and our hearts are the sods and the cerements spread,
But we hearken the harps and the whispers, the songs that ye sigh at,
All your manifold furies and fears do we list in our bed.

"We would rise, we would rise to partake of your doom and your diet,
But on lips and on eyes the worms and the vampires have fed,
We can kiss, we can smile not—awaiting eternity's fiat.
We hearken, we dead!"

[4] Appendix to Book III, chap. iii.

[5] I quote from my own manuscript translation of Sagahun.

[6] Brinton, Myths of the New World.

[7] Journal of the Indian Archipelago, vol. iv, p. 119.

[8] Compare the recently coined (?) war phrase or idiom 'gone west.'

[Pg 221]



Folk-tale, and indeed folklore of every description, is worthy of study by the student of myth; for not only will he often find that the principles which govern it are identical with those of myth, but he will glean much knowledge of methods from those who work this neighbouring row in the vineyard of tradition.

Some people regard mythology as merely a branch of wider study of folklore, but in the definitions in the first the chapter of this work we called the former "the study of a primitive or early form of religion while it was a living faith," and folklore "the study of primitive religion and customs still practised." Let us now examine the writings of the great authorities on folklore and see what they have to say upon this interesting subject.

Sir George Gomme, in his Folklore as an Historical Science (p. 148), says: "The folk-tale is secondary to the myth. It is the primitive myth dislodged from its primitive place. It has become a part of the life of the people independently of its primary form and object and in a different sense. The mythic or historic fact has been obscured, or has been displaced from the life of the people. But the myth lives on through the affections of the people for the traditions of their older life. They love to tell the story which their ancestors revered as myth, even though it has lost its oldest and most impressive significance. The artistic setting of it, born of the years through which it has lived, fashioned by the minds which have handed it down and embellished it through the generations, has helped its life. It has become the fairy tale or the nursery tale. It is told to grown-up people, not as belief, but as what[Pg 222] was once believed; it is told to children, not to men; to lovers of romance, not to worshippers of the unknown; it is told by mothers and nurses, not by philosophers or priestesses; in the gathering ground of home life, or in the nursery, not in the hushed sanctity of a great wonder."

Coming down to hard-and-fast definition, Sir George Gomme says: "The myth belongs to the most primitive stages of human thought, and is the recognisable explanation of some natural phenomenon, some forgotten or unknown object of human origin, or some event of lasting influence; the folk-tale is a survival preserved amidst culture-surroundings of a more advanced stage, and deals with events and ideas of primitive times in terms of the experience or of episodes in the lives of unnamed human beings; the legend belongs to an historical personage, locality, or event. These are new definitions, and are suggested in order to give some sort of exactness to the terms in use. All these terms—myth, folk-tale, and legend—are now used indiscriminately with no particular definiteness. The possession of three such distinct terms forms an asset which should be put to its full use, and this cannot be done until we agree upon a definite meaning for each."