Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

Paine, and its fearful result is found in the degree to which priesthoods are still able to paralyse the common sense and heart of the masses by the barbaric ceremonials

[merged small][ocr errors]

Fig. 19.-Dives and Lazarus (Russian, 17th cent.). with which they are permitted to surround death, and the arrogant line drawn between unorthodox goats and credulous sheep by consecrated' ground.

[blocks in formation]

Mr. Keary, in his interesting volume on ‘The Dawn of History, 1 says that it has been suggested that the youthful winged figure on the drum of a column from the temple of Diana at Ephesus to the British Museum, may be a representation of Thanatos, Death. It would be agreeable to believe that the only important representation of Death left by Greek art is that exquisite figure, whose high tribute is that it was at first thought to be Love! The figure is somewhat like the tender Eros of preraphaelite art, and with the same look of gentle melancholy. Such a sweet and simple form of Death would be worthy of the race which, amid all the fiery or cold rivers of the underworld which had gathered about their religion, still saw running there the soft-flowing stream of forgetfulness. Let one study this Ephesian Thanatos reverently–no engraving or photograph can do it even partial justiceand then in its light read those myths of Death which seem to bear us back beyond the savagery of war and the artifices of priests to the simpler conceptions of humanity. In its serene light we may especially read both Vedic and Iranian hymns and legends of Yama.

The first man to die became the powerful Yama of the Hindus, the monarch of the dead; and he became invested with metaphors of the sun that had set.2 In a solemn and pathetic hymn of the Vedas he is said to have crossed the rapid waters, to have shown the way to many, to have first known the path on which our fathers crossed over. But in the splendours of sunset human hope found its prophetic pictures of a heaven beyond. The Vedic Yama is ever the friend. It is one of the most picturesque facts of mythology that, after Yama had become in India another

1 Published by Mozle, and Smith, 1878.
" Max Müller. 'Lectures on Language,' ii. p. 562, et seq.

3 See the beautifully translated funereal hymn of the Veda in Professor Whitney's ‘Oriental and Linguistic Studies,' p. 52, etc.

YAMA AND YIMA.

283

name for Death, the same name reappeared in Persia, and in the Avesta, as a type at once of the Golden Age in the past and ot paradise in the future.

Such was the Iranian Yima. He was that 'flos regum' whose reign represented the ideal of human happiness, when there was neither illness nor death, neither heat nor cold,' and who has never died. According to the earlier traditions of the Avesta,' says Spiegel, ‘Jima does not die, but when evil and misery began to prevail on earth, retires to a smaller space, a kind of garden or Eden, where he continues his happy life with those who remained true to him.' Such have been the antecedents of our many beautiful myths which ascribe even an earthly immortality to the great,—to Barbarossa, Arthur, and even to the heroes of humbler races as Hiawatha and Glooscap of North American tribes,—who are or were long believed to have ‘sailed into the fiery sunset,' or sought some fair island, or to slumber in a hidden grotto, until the world shall have grown up to their stature and requires their return.

In Japan the (Sintoo) god of Hell is now named Amma, and one may suspect that it is some imitation of Yama by reason of the majesty he still retains in the popular conception. He is pictured as a grave man, wearing a judicial cap, and no cruelties seem to be attributed to him personally, but only to the oni or demons of whom he is lord.

The kindly characteristics of the Hindu Yama seem in Persia to have been replaced by the bitterness of Ahriman, or Anra-mainyu, the genius of evil. Haug interprets Anramainyu as 'Death-darting. The word is the counterpart of Speñta-mainyu, and means originally the 'throttling spirit;' being thus from anh, philologically the root of all evil, as we shall see when we consider its dragon brood. Professor Whitney translates the name ‘Malevolent.' But, 284

TOWERS OF SILENCE.

whatever may be the meaning of the word, there is little doubt that the Twins of Vedic Mythology-Yama and Yami-parted into genii of Day and Night, and were ultimately spiritualised in the Spirit of Light and Spirit of Darkness which have made the basis of all popular theology from the time of Zoroaster until this day.

Nothing can be more remarkable than the extreme difference between the ancient Hindu and the Persian view of death. As to the former it was the happy introduction to Yama, to the latter it was the visible seal of Ahriman's equality with Ormuzd. They held it in absolute horror. The Towers of Silence stand in India to-day as monuments of this darkest phase of the Parsî belief. The dead body belonged to Ahriman, and was left to be devoured by wild creatures; and although the raising of towers for the exposure of the corpse, so limiting its consumption to birds, has probably resulted from a gradual rationalism which has from time to time suggested that by such means souls of the good may wing their way to Ormuzd, yet the Parsî horror of death is strong enough to give rise to such terrible suspicions, even if they were unfounded, as those which surrounded the Tower (Khao's Dokhma) in June 1877. The strange behaviour of the corpse-bearers in leaving one tower, going to another, and afterwards (as was said) secretly repairing to the first, excited the belief that a man had been found alive in the first and was afterwards murdered. The story seems to have begun with certain young Parsîs themselves, and, whether it be true or not, they have undoubtedly interpreted rightly the ancient feeling of that sect with regard to all that had been within the kingdom of the King of Terrors. “As sickness and death,' says Professor Whitney, 'were supposed to be the work of the malignant powers, the dead body itself was regarded with superstitious horror. It had ALCESTIS.

285 .

been gotten by the demons into their own peculiar possession, and became a chief medium through which they exercised their defiling action upon the living. Everything that came into its neighbourhood was unclean, and to a certain extent exposed to the influences of the malevolent spirits, until purified by the ceremonies which the law prescribed.'1 It is to be feared this notion has crept in among the Brahmans; the Indian Mirror (May 26, 1878) states that a Chandernagore lady, thrown into the Ganges, but afterwards found to be alive, was believed to be possessed by Dano (an evil spirit), and but for interference would have found a watery grave. The Jews also were influenced by this belief, and to this day it is forbidden a Cohen, or descendant of the priesthood, to touch a dead body. ,

The audience at the Crystal Palace which recently witnessed the performance of Euripides' Alcestis could hardly, it is to be feared, have realised the relation of the drama to their own religion. Apollo induces the Fates to consent that Admetus shall not die provided he can find a substitute for him. The pure Alcestis steps forward and devotes herself to death to save her husband. Apollo tries to persuade Death to give back Alcestis, but Death declares her fate demanded by justice. While Alcestis is dying, Admetus bids her entreat the gods for pity; but Alcestis says it is a god who has brought on the necessity, and adds, 'Be it so!' She sees the hall of the dead, with the winged Pluto staring from beneath his black eyebrows.' She reminds her husband of the palace and regal sway she might have enjoyed in Thessaly had she not left it for him. Bitterly does Pheres reproach Admetus for accepting life through the vicarious suffering and death of another. Then comes

1. The Avesta.' 'Oriental and Linguistic Studies,' p. 196.

« ZurückWeiter »