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in the Avesta, as a type at once of the Golden Age in thes, *
past and of paradise in the future.
284 TO WERS OF SILEAVCE.
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 Parsi 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 Parsi 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 Parsis 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
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.” 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 I’ 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 286 HERAKLES, CHRIST AND DEATH.
* “The Avesta.' ‘Oriental and Linguistic Studies,” p. 196.
Hercules; he vanquishes Death; he leads forth Alcestis from ‘beneath into the light.' With her he comes into the presence of Admetus, who is still in grief. Admetus cannot recognise her; but when he recognises her with joy, Hercules warns him that it is not lawful for Alcestis to address him ‘until she is unbound from her consecration to the gods beneath, and the third day come.’ It only requires a change of names to make Alcestis a Passion-play. The unappeasable Justice which is as a Fate binding the deity, though it may be satisfied vicariously; “the last enemy, Death;’ the atonement by sacrifice of a saintly human being, who from a father's palace is brought by love freely to submit to death; the son of a god (Zeus) by a human mother (Alcmene), the god-man Herakles, – commissioned to destroy earthly evils by twelve great labours, descending to conquer Death and deliver one of the ‘spirits in prison, the risen spirit not recognised at first, as Jesus was not by Mary; still bearing the consecration of the grave until the third day, which forbade intercourse with the living (‘Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father’), −all these enable us to recognise in the theologic edifices around us the fragments of a crumbled superstition as they lay around Euripides. From the old pictures of Christ's triumphal pilgrimage on earth parallels for the chief Labours of Herakles may be found; he is shown treading on the lion, asp, dragon, and Satan; but the myths converge in the Descent into Hades and the conquest of Death. It is remarkable that in the old pictures of Christ delivering souls from Hades he is generally represented closely followed by Eve, whose form so emerging would once have been to the greater part of Europe already familiar as that of either Alcestis, Eurydice, or Persephone. One of the earliest examples
QUEENS OF DEATH. 287
of the familiar subject, Christ conquering Death, is that in the ancient (tenth century) Missal of Worms, that city whose very name preserves the record of the same combat under the guise of Siegfried and the Worm, or Dragon. The cross is now the sword thrust near the monster's mouth. The picture illustrates the chant of Holy Week: ‘De manu Mortis liberabo eos, de Morte redimam eos. Ero Mors tua, O Mors; morsus tuus ero, inferne.' From the pierced mouth of Death are vomited flames, which remind us of his ethnical origin; but it is not likely that to the christianised pagans of Worms the picture could ever have conveyed an impression so weirdly horrible as that of their own goddess of Death, Hel. ‘Her hall is called Elvidnir, realm of the cold storm: Hunger is her table; Starvation, her knife; Delay, her man; Slowness, her maid; Precipice, her threshold; Care, her bed; burning Anguish, the hangings of her apartments. One half of her body is livid, the other half the colour of human flesh.’ With the Scandinavian picture of the Abode of Death may be compared the description of the Abode of Nin-kigal, the Assyrian Queen of Death, from a tablet in the British Museum, translated by Mr. Fox Talbot: *
To the House men enter—but cannot depart from :
The Semitic tribes, undisturbed, like the importers of their theology into the age of science, by the strata in which so many perished animal kingdoms are entombed, attributed all death, even that of animals, to the forbidden
* “Records of the Past,’ i. 143.