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criticism when the nation awoke into conscious reflection. The Greeks were too subtle and thoughtful a people to remain content with any received dogmas either in religion or in politics, without sifting and testing them by the light of reason; and the Epic theology of the Greeks required no singular acuteness to exhibit its inherent defects. Apart from the element of the supernatural, which must always lack scientific evidence, and is generally made to act without sufficient reason-apart, I say, from this elementthere were open and uncensured immoralities, which must shock the moral sense of any sound human nature. To these blots in the Epic literature I have already often adverted. The constant quarrels of the gods, carried on by confessed fraud and deceit, and involving injustice in the treatment of innocent mortals, are almost the salient feature in the Iliad. In the Odyssey we have, in the same way, but little rational Providence, and in place of it, the man represented as the mere plaything of his friendly or hostile god. In addition to this, we have, in the lay of Demodocus, the first of these strange poems, called hymns to the gods, which detail adulteries and perjuries and fornications as no exceptional part of an eternal and supremely happy life.
The remarkable feature in this Epic theology is however, that it is by no means made up of immoralities. These are a frequent and prominent feature in the poems, but appear rather as the sport and recreation of the blessed gods. For there are distinct moral principles —justice, humanity, gratitude,-underlying the levities
and excesses of the gods, and it still remains to us a problem hard to solve, how these higher notions should have been combined with what was plainly disgusting and immoral, even in the serious thoughts of the poets themselves.
Of the many theories suggested in explanation I shall refute only one, because it has the merit of comparative novelty, and because it seems to me exactly to reverse the real facts of the case. For under such circumstances a refutation is a statement of the right theory. I allude to the popular views of the comparative mythologers, who hold that the immoral stories about the Greek gods and heroes were not composed as such by the poets, but are misunderstood and mistranslated versions of old physical aspects of nature. The old poetical view of the sun or dawn being overpowered by the dark clouds, or by the night, thus turns into the story of Helen, the wife of Menelaus, being carried away by the adulterous Paris. The stealing of the oxen of Apollo by Hermes, as detailed in the hymn to Hermes, is the same fact, or a similar one, translated into mythical symbolism. Mythology is forsooth only a disease in language, a literal understanding of primitive metaphors, a forgetting that even the ideas most remote from sense must have names of sensuous origin, and that the action most remote from voluntary action must be assimilated to it in our nomenclature. Thus, say the comparative mythologers, the Greek poets did not invent immoralities about the gods, but fell into believing them by mistake, and propagating them by tradition.
It is indeed difficult to discuss such a theory seriously, especially when we find it in its naked extravagance in the works of Mr. Cox'. In a former book I have gone into some detail upon the theory, and have shown a good many of the fundamental fallacies with which it positively teems. The best and most proper answer to it is such a reductio ad absurdum as was performed by a brilliant and well known writer in the fifth number of the Dublin University Kottabos, and has been accepted with the highest satisfaction by competent judges all over the literary world.
But here I am concerned with only one point, the confessed immorality of so many of the Greek myths, a point which I did not touch in my former refutation. I ask, has the theory in question even attempted to explain it? For how does the misunderstanding of an old pictorial statement about natural phenomena introduce immorality? It may introduce volition; it may introduce motives and intentions like unto ours; but why must it give these humanised actions an immoral turn! Why must Paris be an adulterer; why must Helen go with him of her own accord; why must Hermes perjure himself after his theft; why must Aphrodite seduce Anchises? Under their clouds of words, and their series of examples, the mythologers seem to have completely forgotten what they had to prove, and to have substituted assertion for argument. Given the facts in their primitive and pictorial dress,
1 Especially his Mythology of the Aryan Nations, a book which is very useful in showing the full results of the theory.
2 Prolegomena to Ancient History, pp. 42, sqq.
they do not suggest anything but simple acts carried out by conscious agents, instead of mere natural forces. The old language does not suggest the motives, or paint the scenery-these must be added by the epic poet, when he is about to produce the story in a mythical form. And so if the poet were a serious and moral author, he would give these stories a serious and moral complexion, and add to the facts such motives as he thought worthy of the blessed gods; if on the contrary he were a smooth court poet, singing to an audience of loose morals, and of doubtful honesty, he would naturally attribute to the gods motives similar to those common among his own hearers, and transfer to the immortals the foibles and the doubtful amusements of human princes and princesses.
This is what was done by the Homeric poets. The levity of the Ionic character,—which we see afterwards in the history of the Asiatic colonies, which speaks in the fragments of Mimnermus and of Anacreon,-was present in the Homeric audiences, who received with laughter and amusement these sallies about the immortal gods. We can imagine what ground for satire was given by the theory that the gods came down from Olympus, and allied themselves secretly with mortal beauties; and we can also imagine the effect upon the morals of Homeric princesses, if a breach of chastity might be ascribed to Divine persuasion, and the child of shame glorified by a supernatural origin,
The immoral elements in the Greek Epos were therefore late additions to the old beliefs about the gods, and invented by the rhapsodists to please the tastes of
a luxurious and corrupt age. They are not nearly so prominent in what we call Homer, as they are in the Theogony of Hesiod and in the Homeric Hymns,a strong argument in support of their late appearance in the Epic age. The primitive features, on the contrary, are noble and simple. The awful Zeus of Dodona, to whom the husbandman raises his hands. in pure adoration, is not only older but far purer than the Zeus of Olympus, a sort of immortalised Agamemnon-the prey of moral weakness within, and of turbulent subjects without. Thus the Epic poets built upon an old and pure foundation, but deformed and defaced it with their voluptuous additions.
Far therefore from these immoralities being primitive or early features of the Greek religion, as the mythologers pretend, they were the accidental outcome of a special court poetry, and it was as such that they were so severely criticised by Xenophanes, and Socrates, and all sound Greek philosophers. These sober critics knew perfectly that they were inventions of the Epic poets, overlaying a pure and simple basis, and could they have eliminated this feature in the Epos, they would doubtless have recommended expurgated editions, as we now have (practically) expurgated Bibles, in which we pass by objectionable chapters and even palliate apparent immoralities, in order to force moral lessons out of the rude history of the old Hebrews.
This analogy is far closer than at first appears, and there is a vast deal of truth in calling Homer the Bible of the Greeks. There are indeed three or four special features so closely analogous to those of our faith in