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there a Wiswâmitras, or some other penitent, is raised to divine honours, through contemplative quietism and a strict adherence to the sacerdotal laws.
The early infancy of the nation, itself, is, beyond all comparison, the most important period in every mythic history, and to it any subsequent peculiarity, in manners or usages, laws or culture, is uniformly referred, there to be combined into an epic unity : at this period, the apologetic spirit of popular poetry is particularly active, in order to illuminate, by some spots of brightness, the gloomy darkness of antiquity ; civic laws and religious ceremonies are ascribed to the gods themselves, or to the early founders of the nation ; thus Bâhratas, among the Hindoos, is the inventor of dramatic entertainments; and the observance of the sabbath, the vengeance for the shedding of blood, and the rite of circumcision, are sanctioned by the Deity himself.
Arts and inventions, whose origin can no longer be traced, are placed in connexion with ancient migrations; thus, the introduction of the Phænician alphabet, which is a single fact, has been embodied in the legend of Cadmus; and significant names are also invented, to bestow an imposing air of truth and reality; as, for instance, the origin of agriculture is attributed to Demeter (the mother of the earth), and Eucheir and Eugrammos (Fine-hand and Finewriting) are said to have introduced the art of writing into Italy. Here and there, in myths of this description, we may dimly trace some historical fact, which has been individualized and embellished in the progress of time until it has acquired an epic character, as in the expedition of Ramas to Ceylon, the siege of Troy, the voyage of the Argonauts, or the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. Still, though in all such cases the original groundwork of
GENERAL REMARKS ON MYTHOLOGY.
fact has been completely transformed into popular legend, and the traditional narrative has no further value for objective history, the loss is amply compensated for, by the additional light that is thrown on the varieties of national character and on the progress of the human mind. If a nation has struggled hard to gain its footing in a country, and has long been occupied alternately in overcoming natural difficulties and in repelling the aggressions of hostile tribes, its mythic history is found to display on the one hand a sort of patriotic heroism in the extirpation of demons, dragons, and similar monsters, which the poets usually exaggerate and describe as marvellous chimæras; while, on the other hand, a rude courage and a spirit of implacable animosity towards the conquered enemies of their country betrays itself in the invidious tales that are current among the people.
The prevailing aim of these national libels is to cast some reproach on the hostile tribes around, either to depreciate their progress in civilization, and to represent it as borrowed from some domestic source, or to prove a discreditable origin from the very etymology of their names', or to declare that their future subjection, with other historical circumstances, was predicted by the patriarchs of old; in which latter case, the prophetical fiction is sufficiently betrayed by the actual history.
Finally, in those cases, where a people have gone beyond the limits of their own early history and particular traditions, and have transmitted their opinions on the origin and revolutions of the universe, we are struck with the remarkable fact, that their own conceptions agree in their
1 Thus, among the Hindoos, for example, the Bâhikas (foreigners) are said to descend from two demons, Bahis and Hikas.
PROGRESS OF MYTHS.
general outlines with the cosmogonies and theogonies of all the other nations of antiquity; and that in some particular speculations the coincidence is occasionally so close, that it cannot possibly be explained by any original conformity in the structure and tendencies of the human mind, but that it clearly proves, that these speculations must have spread from some common centre, or descended from some common source, and adapted themselves subsequently to the peculiar features of each particular locality. In such circumstances, there is generally little difficulty in deciding to which of these fictions the earliest date must be assigned; the very history of the eastern religions, and the comparison of the analogous myths with each other, is here sufficient to direct our steps, usually so uncertain, through the darkness of antiquity.
In the progress of time, the physical groundwork of the great problems of theogony or cosmogony is gradually lost sight of, and the myths receive a moral interpretation; those speculations, therefore, may be assumed to be most ancient, in which the fundamental conceptions of nature and of the Deity are the rudest, or are most closely connected with the worship of the heavenly bodies; because a nation which has once risen to the belief in one God, though it may possibly relapse into polytheism, can never sink back into absolute sabæism, and because it is only the improvement of a later age that spiritualizes the astrological myth, softens its more wild and extravagant features, and adapts them all to some moral end. Thus Buddha raised Brahminism, and Zoroaster the ancient faith of the Magi, to a higher grade of purity.
These general outlines may suffice to indicate the path which the historical critic of every cycle of legends is re
quired to pursue ; he must seek to divest the introductory speculations and reflections of their national dress, and cautiously to reduce them to their fundamental principles ; he must learn to regard the wonders, which belong to the very spirit of the ancient legends, as an inviolable national inheritance, neither setting them aside by forced interpretations, nor still less proscribing them as the offspring of pure imagination or intentional deception; but simply endeavouring to discover the original nucleus of fact, and the motives for the marvellous, under the peculiar aspect which they must necessarily derive from their early date and their eastern origin.
The historical critic must also respect the pious spirit of the sacerdotal authors of primæval history, and must not seek to destroy all reverence for their theocratic models, even when, according to modern principles of ethics, they cannot be considered as pure or perfect; but he must strive, on the contrary, unbiassed by preconceived opinion, fully to understand and fairly to estimate the individual character of every people, according to their own standard of perfection, their peculiar turn of thought and their mode of action; whilst, guided by all the light which he can gather from history, he must investigate the early institutions of antiquity, in order if possible to discover their source; and lastly, from the history of the people themselves, he must unfold those workings of patriotism combined with hostile feelings toward kindred and neighbouring tribes, to which the great majority of popular legends are indebted for their origin.
THE EARLY RECORDS OF THE HEBREWS, AND
TRANSITION INTO GENUINE HISTORY.
From these preliminary remarks, we now turn to the primæval history of a nation of Western Asia, which occupied, it is true, no important place on the stage of antiquity, and was neither distinguished by its brilliant deeds in war, nor by commerce and the arts of peace, nor even by any remarkable degree of mental culture, but which nevertheless, as the fountain of a pure religious faith, has exercised a most happy and important influence on all the civilized nations of the western world, and the remains of whose literature possess the highest interest for the antiquary, the historian, and above all for the divine.
The kindred races which spread over a large portion of Western Asia, from the Tigris through Arabia, and as far south as Ethiopia, have received, from the well-known Hebrew genealogy of [Shem], the name of Semitic. According to the position which they occupy, they may be divided into three great branches; the northern Semitic, or the Aramæan, in Mesopotamia and Syria ; the middle Semitic, or the Canaanitish, in Palestine; and the southern Semitic, or the Arabian and Abyssinian. The first among these nations who make their appearance in history, are the Phænicians, who occupied a narrow strip of coast on