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THE DRAGON'S BREATH.
Medusa-Phenomena of recurrence-The Brood of Echidna and their
survival—Behemoth and Leviathan, The Mouth of Hell—The Lambton Worm-Ragnar—The Lambton Doom-The Worm's Orthodoxy—The Serpent, Superstition, and Science.
ASURA has already been mentioned as the most ancient Aryan name for deity. The meaning of it is, the Breather. It has also been remarked that in the course of time the word came to signify both the good and the evil spirit. What this evil breath meant in nature is told in Leonardo da Vinci's picture of the expiring Medusa, referred to on p. 386, from whose breath noxious creatures are produced. It may have been that the artist meant only to interpret the Gorgon as a personification of the malarious vapours of nature and their organic kindred; if so, he painted better than he knew, and has suggested that fatal vitality of the evil power which raised it to its throne as a principle coeternal with good.
The phenomena of recurrence in things evil made for man the mystery of iniquity. The darkness may be dispersed, but it returns; the storm may clear away, but it gathers again; inundations, sickly seasons, dog-days, Cain-winds, they go and return; the cancer is cut out and grows again; the tyrant may be slain, tyranny survives. The serpent slipping from one skin to another coils steadily into the symbol of endlessness. In another expression it PHENOMENA OF RECURRENCE.
is the poisonous breath of the Dragon. It is this breath that cannot be killed; the special incarnations of it, any temporary brood of it, may be destroyed, but the principle in nature which produces them cannot be exterminated.
Dragon fables have this undertone to their brave strain. In the Rig Veda (v. 32) it is said that when Indra slew Ahi,‘another more powerful was generated.' Isaiah (xiv. 29) cries, ‘Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.' Herakles struggles with the giant robber, Antæus, only to find the demon's strength restored by contact with the earth. He kills one head of the Hydra only to see two grow in its place; and even when he has managed to burn away these, the central head is found to be immortal, and he can only hide it under a rock. That one is the selfmultiplying principle of evil. The vast brood of Echidna in mythology expresses the brood of evil in nature. Echidna, daughter of Ge and Tartarus, Earth and Hellphonetic reappearance of Ahi-is half-serpent, half-woman, with black eyes, fearful and bloodthirsty. She becomes the mother of fire-breathing Typhon, buried beneath the earth by Jove's lightning when he aspired to scale Olympus; of the Dragon that guarded the Hesperian garden ; of the Sphinx which puzzled and devoured; of threeheaded Cerberus; of the eagle that preyed on rock-bound Prometheus; of the Nemæan lion which Herakles slew; of Chimæra; and of Scylla the monster whom Homer describes sitting between two large rocks waylaying mariners on the way from Italy to Sicily,-possessing twelve feet, six long necks and mouths, each with three rows of rushing teeth.
The Dragon that Cadmus slew also had terrible teeth; 408
BEHEMOTH AND LEVIATHAN.
and it will be remembered that when these teeth were sown they sprang up as armed men. Like them, the ancient Dragon-myths were also sown, broadcast, in the mental and moral fields, cleared and ploughed by a new theology, and they sprang up as dogmas more hard and cruel than the ferocious forces of nature which gave birth to their ancestral monsters.
What the superstitious method of interpreting nature, forced as it is to personify its painful as well as its pleasant phenomena, inevitably results in, finds illustration in the two great lines of tradition—the Aryan and the Semitic—which have converged to form the christian mythology.
The Hebrew personification, Jehovah, originating in a rude period, became invested with many savage and immoral traditions; but when his worshippers had reached a higher moral culture, national sentiment had become too deeply involved with the sovereign majesty of their deity for his alleged actions to be criticised, or his absolute supremacy and omnipotence to be questioned, even to save his moral character. Thus, the Rabbins appear to have been at their wits' end to account for the existence of the two great monsters which had got into their sacred records — from an early mythology — Behemoth and Leviathan. Unwilling to admit that Jehovah had created foes to his own kingdom, or that creatures which had become foes to it were beyond his power to control, they worked out a theory that Behemoth and Leviathan were made and preserved by special order of Jehovah to execute his decrees at the Messianic Day of Judgment. They probably corresponded at an earlier period with the gryphon, or grabber, and the serpent which bit, guardians at the gate of paradise; but the need of such guards, biters, and spies by the all-powerful all
THE BOOK OF NOAH.
seeing Shaddai having been recognised, the monsters had to be rationalised into accord with his character as a retributive ruler. Hence Behemoth and Leviathan are represented as being fattened with the wicked, who die in order to be the food of the righteous during the unsettled times that follow the revelation of the Messiah! Behemoth is Jehovah's 'cattle on a thousand hills' (Ps. 1. 10). In Pireque de Rabbi Eliezur he is described as feeding daily upon a thousand mountains on which the grass grows again every night; and the Jordan supplies him with drink, as it is said in Job (xl. 23), 'he trusteth that he can draw up Jordan into his mouth.' In the Talmud these monsters are divided into two pairs, but are said to have been made barren lest their progeny should destroy the earth. They are kept in the wilderness of Dendain, the mythical abode of the descendants of Cain, east of Eden, for the unique purpose mentioned.
But now we may remark the steady progress of these monsters to the bounds of their mythological habitat.
There came a time when Behemoth and Leviathan were hardly more presentable than other personified horrors. They too must take the veil,'—a period in the history of mythical, corresponding to extinction in that of actual, monsters. The following passage in the Book of Enoch is believed by Professor Drummond to be a later insertion, probably from the Book of Noah, and as early as the middle of the first century :—' In that day two monsters shall be divided; a female monster named Leviathan, to dwell in the abyss of the sea, above the sources of the waters; but the male is called Behemoth, which occupies with its breast a desolate wilderness named Dendain, on the east of the garden where the elect and righteous dwell, where my grandfather (Enoch) was taken up, being the seventh from Adam, the first man whom the Lord of
THE MOUTH OF HELL.
the spirits created. And I asked that other angel to show me the might of these monsters, how they were separated in one day, and one was set in the depth of the sea, the other on the firm land of the wilderness. And he spoke to me, ‘Thou son of man, thou desirest in this to know what has been concealed.' And the other angel who went with me, and showed me what is in concealment, spake, ... 'These two monsters are prepared conformably to the greatness of God to be fed, in order that the penal judgment of God may not be in vain.'1
We may thus see that there were antecedents to the sentiment of Aquinas,— Beati in regno cælesti videbunt pænas damnatorum, ut beatitudo illis magis complaceat.' Or, perhaps, one might say rather to the logic of Aquinas; for though he saw that it would be necessary for souls in bliss to be happy at vision of the damned or else deficient in bliss, it is said he could hardly be happy from thinking of the irreversible doom of Satan himself. It would appear that only the followers of the Genevan who anticipated his god's hell for Servetus managed to adapt their hearts to such logic, and glory in the endless tortures of their fellow-creatures.
An eloquent minister in New York, Octavius B. Frothingham, being requested to write out his views on the
question of everlasting damnation, began with the remark that he felt somewhat as a sportsman suddenly called upon to hunt the Iguanodon. Really it is Behemoth and Leviathan he was called to deal with. Leviathan transmitted from Jonah to the Middle Ages the idea of 'the belly of Hell,' and Behemoth's jaws expanded in the ‘mouth of Hell’of the Miracle-plays; and their utility, as described in the Book of Enoch, perhaps originated the
1 'The Jewish Messiah,' &c. By James Drummond, B.A. Longmans & Co. (1877). See in this valuable work chapter xxi.