Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

356

RAIN AND LIGHTNING. hiding, fatally striking, was gradually associated with undulations of rivers and sea-waves on the earth, with the Milky-way, with 'coverers' of the sky-night and cloud-above all, with the darting, crooked, fork-tongued lightning. It may have been the lightning that was the Amrita churned out of the azure sea in the myth of the ‘Mahábhárata,' when the gods and demons turned the mountain with a huge serpent for cord (p. 59), meaning the descent of fire, or its discovery ; but other fair and fruitful things emerged also,—the goddess of wine, the cow of plenty, the tree of heaven. The inhabitants of Burmah still have a custom of pulling at a rope to produce rain. A rain party and a drought party tug against each other, the rain party being allowed the victory, which, in the popular notion is generally followed by rain. I have often seen snakes hung up after being killed to bring rain, in the State of Virginia. For there also rain means wealth. It is there believed also that, however much it may be crushed, a snake will not die entirely until it thunders. These are distant echoes of the Vedic sentences. 'Friend Vishnu,' says Indra, ' stride vastly; sky give room for the thunderbolt to strike; let us slay Vritra and let loose the waters.' When, Thunderer, thou didst by thy might slay Vritra, who stopped up the streams, then thy, dear steeds grew."

Vritra, though from the same root as Varuna (the sky), means at first a coverer of the sky-cloud or darkness; hence eventually he becomes the hider, the thief, who steals and conceals the bounties of heaven-a rainless cloud, a suffocating night; and eventually Vritra coalesces with the inost fearful phantasm of the Aryan mind-the serpent Ahi.

The Greek word for Adder, čxis, is a modification of Ahi. Perhaps there exists no more wonderful example

[blocks in formation]

of the unconscious idealism of human nature than the history of the name of the great Throttler, as it has been traced by Professor Max Müller. The Serpent was also called ahi in Sanskrit, in Greece echis or echidna, in Latin anguis. The root is ah in Sanskrit, or amh, which means to press together, to choke, to throttle. It is a curious root this amh, and it still lives in several modern words, In Latin it appears as ango, anxi, anctum, to strangle; in angina, quinsy; in angor, suffocation. But angor meant not only quinsy or compression of the neck: it assumed a moral import, and signifies anguish or anxiety. The two adjectives angustus, narrow, and anxius, uneasy, both came from the same root. In Greek the root retained its natural and material meaning; in eggys, near, and echis, serpent, throttler. But in Sanskrit it was chosen with great truth as the proper name of sin. Evil no doubt presented itself under various aspects to the human mind, and its names are many; but none so expressive as those derived from our root amh, to throttle. Amhas in Sanskrit means sin, but it does so only because it meant originally throttling -the consciousness of sin being like the grasp of the assassin on the throat of the victim. All who have seen and contemplated the statue of Laokoon and his sons, with the serpent coiled around them from head to foot, may realise what those ancients felt and saw when they cailed sin ainhas, or the throttler. This amhas is the same as the Greek agos, sin. In Gothic the same root has produced agis, in the sense of fear, and from the same source we have awe, in awful, i.e., fearful, and ug in ugly. The English anguish is from the French angoise, a corruption of the Latin angustiæ, a strait.1 In this wonderful history of a word, whose biography, as Max Müller in his Hibbert Lectures said of Deva, might fill a volume, may also

1^ Lectures on Language,' i. 435.

[ocr errors][merged small]

be included our ogre, and also the German unke, which means a 'frog' or 'toad, but originally a 'snake'—especially the little house-snake which plays a large part in Teutonic folklore, and was supposed to bring good luck.

This euphemistic vari-
ant is, however, the only
exception I can find
to the baleful branches
into which the root
ah has grown through
the world; one of its
fearful fruits being the
accompanying figure,
copied from one of the
ornamental bosses of

Wells Cathedral.
Fig. 25.-ANGUISH.

The Adder demonhas been universal. Herodotus relates that from a monster, halfwoman, half-serpent, sprang the Scythians, and the fable has often been remembered in the history of the Turks. The

Zohák ’of Firdusi is the Iranian form of Ahi. The name is the Arabicised form of the 'Azhi Daháka' of the Avesta, the 'baneful serpent' vanquished by Thraêtaono (Traitana of the Vedas), and this Iranian name again (Dásaka) is Ahi. The name reappears in the Median Astyages. Zohák is represented as having two serpents growing out of his shoulders, which the late Professor Wilson supposed might have been suggested by a phrase in the Kankato na (ye ansya ye angyáh) which he translates, ‘Those who move with their shoulders, those who move with their bodies,' which, however, may mean those produced on the

[graphic]

1 Grimm's 'Mythology,' p. 650 ff. Simrock, p. 440.

? Roth, in the 'Journal of the German Oriental Society,' vol. ii. p. 216 ff., has elucidated the whole myth.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

shoulders, biting with them,' and 'might furnish those who seek for analogies between Iranian and Indian legends with a parallel in the story of Zohák.' The legend alluded to is a favourite one in Persia, where it is used to point a moral, as in the instruction of the learned Saib to the Prince, his pupil. Saib related to the boy the story of King Zohák, to whom a magician came, and, breathing on him, caused two serpents to come forth from the region of his breast, and told him they would bring him great glory and pleasure, provided he would feed these serpents with the poorest of his subjects. This Zohák did; and he had great pleasure and wealth until his subjects revolted and shut the King up in a cavern where he became himself a prey to the two serpents. The young Prince to whom this legend was related was filled with horror, and begged Saib to tell him a pleasanter one. The teacher then related that a young Sultan placed his confidence in an artful courtier who filled his mind with false notions of greatness and happiness, and introduced into his heart Pride and Voluptuousness. To those two passions the young Sultan sacrificed the interests of his kingdom, until his subjects banished him ; but his Pride and Voluptuousness remained in him, and, unable to gratify them in his exile, he died of rage and despair. The prince-pupil said, 'I like this story better than the other.' And yet,' said Saib, “it is the same.'

It is curious that this old Persian fable should have survived in the witch-lore of America, and at last supplied Nathaniel Hawthorne with the theme of one of his beautiful allegorical romances,—that, namely, of the man with a snake in his bosom which ever threatened to throttle him if he did not feed it. It came to the American fabulist through many a mythical skin, so to say. One of the most beautiful it has worn is a story which is 360

A TEUTONIC LAOKOON.

still told by mothers to their children in some districts of Germany. It relates that a little boy and girl went into the fields to gather strawberries. After they had gathered they met an aged woman, who asked for some of the fruit. The little girl emptied her basket into the old woman's lap; but the boy clutched his, and said he wanted his berries for himself. When they had passed on the old woman called them back, and presented to each a little box. The girl opened hers, and found in it two white caterpillars which speedily became butterflies, then grew to be angels with golden wings, and bore her away to Paradise. The boy opened his box, and from it issued two tiny black worms; these swiftly swelled to huge serpents, which, twining all about the boy's limbs, drew him away into the dark forest; where this Teutonic Laokoon still remains to illustrate in his helplessness the mighty power of little faults to grow into bad habits and bind the whole man.

« ZurückWeiter »