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Müller, Friedrich. Lectures on the Science of Language. Second Series – T09

Lecture IX.
The Mythology of the Greeks.

To those who are acquainted with the history of
Greece, and have learnt to appreciate the intellectual,
moral, and artistic excellencies of the Greek mind,
it has often been a subject of wonderment how such
a nation could have accepted, could have tolerated
for a moment, such a religion. What the inhabitants
of the small city of Athens achieved in philosophy, in
poetry, in art, in science, in politics, is known to all
of us; and our admiration for them increases tenfold
if, by a study of other literatures, such as the literatures
of India, Persia, and China, we are enabled to
compare their achievements with those of other nations
of antiquity. The rudiments of almost everything,
with the exception of religion, we, the people
of Europe, the heirs to a fortune accumulated during
twenty or thirty centuries of intellectual toil, owe
to the Greeks; and, strange as it may sound, but
few, I think, would gainsay it, that to the present
day the achievements of these our distant ancestors
and earliest masters, the songs of Homer, the dialogues
of Plato, the speeches of Demosthenes, and the statues
of Phidias stand, if not unrivalled, at least unsurpassed
by anything that has been achieved by their
descendants and pupils. How the Greeks came to be
what they were, and how, alone of all other nations,
384they opened almost every mine of thought that has
since been worked by mankind; how they invented
and perfected almost every style of poetry and prose
which has since been cultivated by the greatest minds
of our race; how they laid the lasting foundation of
the principal arts and sciences, and in some of them,
achieved triumphs never since equalled, is a problem
which neither historian nor philosopher has as yet
been able to solve. Like their own goddess Athene,
the people of Athens seems to spring full armed into
the arena of history, and we look in vain to Egypt,
Syria, or India for more than a few of the seeds that
burst into such marvellous growth on the soil of

But the more we admire the native genius of
Hellas, the more we feel surprised at the crudities and
absurdities of what is handed down to us as their
religion. Their earliest philosophers knew as well as
we that the Deity, in order to be Deity, must be either
perfect or nothing — that it must be one, not many,
and without parts and passions; yet they believed in
many gods, and ascribed to all of them, and more
particularly to Jupiter, almost every vice and weakness
that disgraces human nature. Their poets had
an instinctive aversion to everything excessive or
monstrous; yet they would relate of their gods what
would make the most savage of the Red Indians
creep and shudder: — how that Uranos was maimed
by his son Kronos — how Kronos swallowed his own
children, and, after years of digestion, vomited out
alive his whole progeny — how Apollo, their fairest
god, hung Marsyas on a tree and flayed him alive —
how Demeter, the sister of Zeus, partook of the
shoulder of Pelops who had been butchered and
385roasted by his own father, Tantalus, as a feast for the
gods. I will not add any further horrors, or dwell on
crimes that have become unmentionable, but of which
the most highly cultivated Greek had to tell his sons
and daughters in teaching them the history of their
gods and heroes.

It would indeed be a problem, more difficult than
the problem of the origin of these stories themselves,
if the Greeks, such as we know them, had never been
startled by this, had never asked, How can these
things be, and how did such stories spring up? But
be it said to the honour of Greece, that although her
philosophers did not succeed in explaining the origin
of these religious fables, they certainly were, from the
earliest times, shocked by them. Xenophanes, who
lived, as far as we know, before Pythagoras, accuses *1
Homer and Hesiod of having ascribed to the gods
everything that is disgraceful among men — stealing,
adultery, and deceit. He remarks that 2 men seem to
have created their gods, and to have given to them
their own mind, voice, and figure; that the Ethiopians
made their gods black and flat-nosed, the
386Thracians red-haired and blue-eyed — just as cows or
lions, if they could but draw, would draw their
gods like cows and lions. He himself declares, in
the most unhesitating manner — and this nearly 600
years before our era — that ‘God *3 is one, the greatest
among gods and men, neither in form nor in thought
like unto men,’ He calls the battles of the Titans,
the Giants, and Centaurs, the inventions of former
generations 4 (πλάσματα των προτέρων.), and requires
that the Deity should be praised in holy stories and
pure strains.

Similar sentiments were entertained by most of the
great philosophers of Greece. Heraclitus seems to
have looked upon the Homeric system of theology,
if we may so -call it, as flippant infidelity. According
to Diogenes Laertius, 5 Heraclitus declared that
Homer, as well as Archilochus, deserved to be
ejected from public assemblies and flogged. The
same author relates §6 a story that Pythagoras saw the
soul of Homer in the lower world hanging on a tree,
and surrounded by serpents, as a punishment for
what he had said of the gods. No doubt the views
of these philosophers about the gods were far more
387exalted and pure than those of the Homeric poets,
who represented their gods as in many cases hardly
better than man. But as religion became mixed up
with politics, it was more and more dangerous to
pronounce these sublimer views, or to attempt to explain
the Homeric myths in any but the most literal
sense. Anaxagoras, who endeavoured to give to the
Homeric legends a moral meaning, and is said to
have interpreted the names of the gods allegorically —
nay, to have called Fate an empty name, was thrown
into prison at Athens, from whence he only escaped
through the powerful protection of his friend and
pupil Pericles. Protagoras, another friend of Pericles, *7
was expelled from Athens, and his books were publicly
burnt, because he had said that nothing could
be known about the gods, whether they existed or
no. 8 Socrates, though he never attacked the sacred
traditions and popular legends, 9 was suspected of
being no very strict believer in the ancient Homeric
theology, and he had to suffer martyrdom. After
the death of Socrates greater freedom of thought was
permitted at Athens in exchange for the loss of
political liberty. Plato declared that many a myth
388had a symbolical or allegorical meaning, but he
insisted, nevertheless, that the Homeric poems, such
as they were, should be banished from his Republic *10
Nothing can be more distinct and outspoken than the
words attributed to Epicurus: ‘The gods are indeed,
but they are not as the many believe them to be.
Not he is an infidel who denies the gods of the many,
but he who fastens on the gods the opinions of the
many.’ 11

In still later times an accommodation was attempted
between mythology and philosophy. Chrysippus (died
207), after stating his views about the immortal
gods, is said to have written a second book to show
how these might be brought into harmony with the
fables of Homer. 12

And not philosophers only felt these difficulties
about the gods as represented by Homer and Hesiod;
most of the ancient poets also were distressed by
the same doubts, and constantly find themselves involved
in contradictions which they are unable to
solve. Thus, in the Eumenides of Æschylus (v. 640),
the Chorus asks how Zeus could have called on
Orestes to avenge the murder of his father, he who
389himself had dethroned his father and bound him in
chains. Pindar, who is fond of weaving the traditions
of gods and heroes into his songs of victory,
suddenly starts when he meets with anything dishonourable
to the gods. ‘Lips,’ he says, *13 ‘throw
away this word, for it is an evil wisdom to speak evil
of the gods.’ His criterion in judging of mythology
would seem to have been very simple and straightforward,
namely, that nothing can be true in mythology
that is dishonourable to the gods. The whole
poetry of Euripides oscillates between two extremes:
he either taxes the gods with all the injustice and
crimes they are fabled to have committed, or he turns
round and denies the truth of the ancient myths
because they relate of the gods what is incompatible
with a divine nature. Thus, while in the Ion, 14 the
gods, even Apollo, Jupiter, and Neptune, are accused
of every crime, we read in another play: 15 ‘I do not
390think that the gods delight in unlawful marriages,
nor did I ever hold or shall ever believe that they
fasten chains on their hands, or that one is lord of
another. For a god, if he is really god, has no need
of anything: these are the miserable stories of poets!’
Or, again: *16If the gods commit anything that is
evil, they are no gods.’

These passages, to which many more might be
added, will be sufficient to show that the more thoughtful
among the Greeks were as much startled at their
mythology as we are. They would not have been
Greeks if they had not seen that those fables were irrational,
if they had not perceived that the whole of
their mythology presented a problem that required a
solution at the hand of the philosopher. If the Greeks
did not succeed in solving it, if they preferred a compromise
between what they knew to be true and what
they knew to be false, if the wisest among their wise
men spoke cautiously on the subject or kept aloof from
it altogether, let us remember that these myths, which
we now handle as freely as the geologist his fossil
bones, were then living things, sacred things, implanted
by parents in the minds of their children, accepted
with an unquestioning faith, hallowed by the memory
of the departed, sanctioned by the state, the foundation
on which some of the most venerable institutions had
been built up and established for ages. It is enough
for us to know that the Greeks expressed surprise and
dissatisfaction at these fables: to explain their origin
was a task left to a more dispassionate age.

The principal solutions that offered themselves to
the Greeks, when enquiring into the origin of their
391mythology, may be classed under three heads, which
I call ethical, physical, historical, according to the different
objects which the original framers of mythology
were supposed to have had in view. *17

Seeing how powerful an engine was supplied by
religion for awing individuals and keeping political
communities in order, some Greeks imagined that the
stories telling of the omniscience and omnipotence of
the gods, of their rewarding the good and punishing
the wicked, were invented by wise people of old for
the improvement and better government of men. 18
This view, though extremely shallow, and supported
by no evidence, was held by many among the ancients;
and even Aristotle, though admitting, as we shall see,
a deeper foundation of religion, was inclined to consider
the mythological form of the Greek religion as invented
for the sake of persuasion, and as useful for the support
of law and order. Well might Cicero, when examining
this view, exclaim, ‘Have not those who said that
the idea of immortal gods was made up by wise men for
the sake of the commonwealth, in order that those who
could not be led by reason might be led to their duty
by religion, destroyed all religion from the bottom?’ 19
Nay, it would seem to follow that if the useful portions
of mythology were invented by wise men, the immoral
stories about gods and men must be ascribed to foolish
poets — a view, as we saw before, more than hinted at
by Euripides.

A second class of interpretations may be comprehended
392under the name of physical, using that term in
the most general sense, so as to include even what are
commonly called metaphysical interpretations. According
to this school of interpreters, it was the intention
of the authors of mythology to convey to the people
at large a knowledge of certain facts of nature, or
certain views of natural philosophy, which they did in
a phraseology peculiar to themselves or to the times
they lived in, or, according to others, in a language
that was to veil rather than to unveil the mysteries
of their sacred wisdom. As all interpreters of this
class, though differing on the exact original intention
of each individual myth, agree in this, that no myth
must be understood literally, their system of interpretation
is best known under the name of allegorical,
allegorical being the most general name for that kind
of language which says one thing but means another. *20

So early a philosopher as Epicharmus, 21 the pupil of
Pythagoras, declared that the gods were really wind,
water, earth, the sun, lire, and the stars. Not long
after him, Empedocles (about 444 B. C.) ascribed to
the names of Zeus, Here, Aïdoneus, and Nestis, the
393meaning of the four elements, fire, air, earth, and
water. *22 Whatever the philosophers of Greece successively
discovered as the first principles of being and
thought, whether the air of Anaximenes 23 (about 548)
or the fire of Heraclitus 24 (about 503), or the Nous, the
mind, of Anaxagoras (died 428), was gladly identified
by them with Jupiter or other divine powers. Anaxagoras
and his school are said to have explained the
whole of the Homeric mythology allegorically. With
them Zeus was mind, Athene, art; while Metrodorus,
the contemporary of Anaxagoras, ‘resolved not only
the persons of Zeus, Here, and Athene, but also those
of Agamemnon, Achilles, and Hector, into various
elemental combinations and physical agencies, and
treated the adventures ascribed to them as natural
facts concealed under the veil of allegory.’ §25

Socrates declined this labour of explaining all fables
allegorically as too arduous and unprofitable; yet he,
as well as Plato, frequently pointed to what they called
the hypónoia, the under-meaning, if I may say so, of
the ancient myths.

There is a passage in the eleventh book of Aristotle's
394Metaphysics which has often been quoted *26 as showing
the clear insight of that philosopher into the origin
of mythology, though in reality it does not rise much
above the narrow views of other Greek philosophers.

This is what Aristotle writes: —

‘It has been handed down by early and very ancient
people, and left, in the form of myths, to those who
came after, that these (the first principles of the world)
are the gods, and that the divine embraces the whole
of nature. The rest has been added mythically, in
order to persuade the many, and in order to be used
in support of laws and other interests. Thus they
say that the gods have a human form, and that they
are like to some of the other living beings, and other
things consequent on this, and similar to what has
been said. If one separated out of these fables, and
took only that first point, that they believed the first
essences to be gods, one would think that it had been
divinely said, and that while every art and every
philosophy was probably invented ever so many times
and lost again, these opinions had, like fragments of
them, been preserved until now. So far only is the
opinion of our fathers, and that received from our first
ancestors, clear to us.’

The attempts at finding in mythology the remnants
of ancient philosophy, have been carried on in different
ways from the days of Socrates to our own time.
Some writers thought they discovered astronomy, or
other physical sciences in the mythology of Greece:
and in our own days the great work of Creuzer
‘Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Volker’ (1819-21),
was written with the one object of proving that
395Greek mythology was composed by priests, born or
instructed in the East, who wished to raise the semi-barbarous
races of Greece to a higher civilization and
a purer knowledge of the Deity. There was, according
to Creuzer and his school, a deep mysterious wisdom,
and a monotheistic religion veiled under the symbolical
language of mythology, which language, though
unintelligible to the people, was understood by the
priests, and may be interpreted even now by the
thoughtful student of mythology.

The third theory on the origin of mythology I call
the historical. It goes generally by the name of Euhemerus,
though we find traces of it both before and
after his time. Euhemerus was a contemporary of
Alexander, and lived at the court of Cassander, in
Macedonia, by whom he is said to have been sent out
on an exploring expedition. Whether he really explored
the Red Sea and the southern coasts of Asia
we have no means of ascertaining. All we know is that,
in a religious novel which he wrote, he represented
himself as having sailed in that direction to a great
distance, until he came to the island of Panchæa. In
that island he said that he discovered a number of
inscriptions (ἀναγραφαί, hence the title of his book,
Ἱερὰ Ἀναγραφή) containing an account of the principal
gods of Greece, but representing them, not as
gods, but as kings, heroes, and philosophers, who after
their death had received divine honours among their
fellow-men. *27396

Though the book of Euhemerus itself, and its
translation by Ennius, are both lost, and we know
little either of its general spirit or of its treatment of
individual deities, such was the sensation produced by
it at the time, that Euhemerism has become the recognised
title of that system of mythological interpretation
which denies the existence of divine beings, and reduces
the gods of old to the level of men. A distinction,
however, must be made between the complete and
systematic denial of all gods, which is ascribed to
Euhemerus, and the partial application of his principles
which we find in many Greek writers. Thus
Hecatseus, a most orthodox Greek, *28 declares that
Geryon of Erytheia was really a king of Epirus, rich
in cattle; and that Cerberus, the dog of Hades, was a
certain serpent inhabiting a cavern on Cape Tsenarus. 29
Ephorus converted Tityos into a bandit, and the serpent
Python 30 into a rather troublesome person, Python
by name, alias Dracon, whom Apollo killed with
his arrows. According to Herodotus, an equally orthodox
writer, the two black doves from Egypt which
flew to Libya and Dodona, and directed the people to
found in each place an oracle of Zeus, were in reality
women who came from Thebes. The one that came
to Dodona was called a dove, because, he says, speaking
a foreign tongue, she seemed to utter sounds like
a bird, and she was called a black dove on account of
her black Egyptian colour. This explanation he
represents not as a guess of his own, but as founded
397on a statement made to him by Egyptian priests; and
I count it therefore as an historical, not as a merely
allegorical interpretation. Similar explanations become
more frequent in later Greek historians, who,
unable to admit anything supernatural or miraculous
as historical fact, strip the ancient legends of all that
renders them incredible, and then treat them as narrations
of real events, and not as fiction. *31 With them,
Æolus, the god of the winds, became an ancient
mariner skilled in predicting weather; the Cyclopes
were a race of savages inhabiting Sicily; the Centaurs
were horsemen; Atlas was a great astronomer, and
Scylla a fast-sailing filibuster. This system, too, like
the former, maintained itself almost to the present day.
The early Christian controversialists, St. Augustine,
Lactantius, Arnobius, availed themselves of this argument
in their attacks on the religious belief of the
Greeks and Romans, taunting them with worshipping
gods that were no gods, but known and admitted to
have been mere deified mortals. In their attacks on
the religion of the German nations, the Roman missionaries
recurred to the same argument. One of
them told the Angli in England that Woden, whom
they believed to be the principal and the best of their
gods, from whom they derived their origin, and to
whom they had consecrated the fourth day in the
week, had been a mortal, a king of the Saxons, from
whom many tribes claimed to be descended. When
his body had been reduced to dust, his soul was
buried in hell, and suffers eternal fire. 32 In many
of our handbooks of mythology and history, we still
398find traces of this system. Jupiter is still spoken of
as a ruler of Crete, Hercules as a successful general
or knight-errant, Priam as an eastern king, and
Achilles, the son of Jupiter and Thetis, as a valiant
champion in the siege of Troy. The siege of Troy
still retains its place in the minds of many as a historical
fact, though resting on no better authority
than the carrying off of Helena by Theseus and her
recovery by the Dioskuri, the siege of Olympus by
the Titans, or the taking of Jerusalem by Charlemagne,
described in the chivalrous romances *33 of the
Middle Ages.

In later times the same theory was revived, though
not for such practical purposes, and it became during
the last century the favourite theory with philosophical
historians, particularly in France. The comprehensive
work of the Abbé Banier, ‘The Mythology
and Fables of Antiquity, explained from History,’
secured to this school a temporary ascendancy in
France; and in England, too, his work, translated into
English, was quoted as an authority. His design was,
as he says, 34 ‘to prove that, notwithstanding all the
ornaments which accompany fables, it is no difficult
matter to see that they contain a part of the history
399of primitive times,’ It is useful to read these books,
written only about a hundred years ago, if it were
but to take warning against a too confident spirit in
working out theories which now seem so incontrovertible,
and which a hundred years hence may be
equally antiquated. ‘Shall we believe,’ says Abbé
Banier — and no doubt he thought his argument unanswerable
— ‘shall we believe in good earnest that
Alexander would have held Homer in such esteem,
had he looked upon him only as a mere relater of
fables? and would he have envied the happy lot of
Achilles in having such a one to sing his praises? *35
When Cicero is enumerating the sages, does he not
bring in Nestor and Ulysses? — would he have given
mere phantoms a place among them? Are we not
taught by Cicero (Tusc. Quæst. i. 5) that what gave occasion
to feign that the one supported the heavens on his
shoulders, and that the other was chained to Mount
Caucasus, was their indefatigable application to contemplate
the heavenly bodies? I might bring in here
the authority of most of the ancients: I might produce
that of the primitive Fathers of the Church, Arnobius,
Lactantius, and several others, who looked upon fables
to be founded on true histories; and I might finish
this list with the names of the most illustrious of our
moderns, who have traced out in ancient fictions so
many remains of the traditions of the primitive
ages.’ How like in tone to some incontrovertible arguments
used in our own days! And again: 36 ‘I shall
make it appear that Minotaur with Pasiphaë, and
the rest of that fable, contain nothing but an intrigue
of the Queen of Crete with a captain named Taurus,
400and the artifice of Dædalus, only a sly confident.
Atlas bearing heaven upon his shoulders was a king
that studied astronomy with a globe in his hand.
The golden apples of the delightful garden of the
Hesperides, and their dragon, were oranges watched
by mastiff dogs,’

As belonging in spirit to the same school, we have
still to mention those scholars who looked to Greek
mythology for traces, not of profane, but of sacred personages,
and who, like Bochart, imagined they could
recognise in Saturn the features of Noah, and in his
three sons, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto, the three
sons of Noah, Ham, Japhet, and Shem. *37 G. J.
, in his learned work, ‘De Theologia Gentili et
Physiologia Christiana, sive De Origine et Progressu
,’ 38 identified Saturn with Adam or with
Noah, Janus and Prometheus with Noah again, Pluto
with Japhet or Ham, Neptune with Japhet, Minerva
with Naamah, the sister of Tubal Cain, Vulcanus with
Tubal Cain, Typhon with Og, king of Bashan, &c.
Gerardus Cræsus, in his ‘Homerus Ebræus,’ maintains
that the Odyssey gives the history of the patriarchs,
the emigration of Lot from Sodom, and the death of
401Moses, while the Iliad tells the conquest and destruction
of Jericho. Huet, in his ‘Demonstratio Evangelica,’ *39
went still further. His object was to prove
the genuineness of the books of the Old Testament by
showing that nearly the whole theology of the heathen
nations was borrowed from Moses. Moses himself
is represented by him as having assumed the most incongruous
characters in the traditions of the Gentiles;
and not only ancient lawgivers like Zoroaster and
Orpheus, but gods like Apollo, Vulcan, and Faunus,
are traced back by the learned and pious bishop to
the same historical prototype. And as Moses was
the prototype of the Gentile gods, his sister Miriam
or his wife Zippora were supposed to have been the
models of all their goddesses. 40

You are aware that Mr. Gladstone, in his interesting
and ingenious work on Homer, takes a similar view,
and tries to discover in Greek mythology a dimmed
image of the sacred history of the Jews; not so
dimmed, however, as to prevent him from recognising,
as he thinks, in Jupiter, Apollo, and Minerva, the
faded outlines of the three Persons of the Trinity.
402In the last number of one of the best edited quarterlies,
in the ‘Home and Foreign Review,’ a Roman
Catholic organ, Mr. F. A. Paley, the well-known editor
of ‘Euripides,’ advocates the same sacred Euhemerism.
‘Atlas,’ he writes, ‘symbolizes the endurance of labour.
He is placed by Hesiod close to the garden of the Hesperides,
and it is impossible to doubt that here we
have a tradition of the garden of Eden, the golden
apples guarded by a dragon being the apple which
the serpent tempted Eve to gather, or the garden kept
by an angel with a flaming sword.’ *41

Though it was felt by all unprejudiced scholars that
none of these three systems of interpretation was in
the least satisfactory, yet it seemed impossible to suggest
any better solution of the problem; and though
at the present moment few, I believe, could be found
who adopt any of these three systems exclusively —
who hold that the whole of Greek mythology was invented
for the sake of inculcating moral precepts, or of
promulgating physical or metaphysical doctrines, or of
relating facts of ancient history, many have acquiesced
in a kind of compromise, admitting that some parts
of mythology might have a moral, others a physical,
others an historical character, but that there remained
a great body of fables, which yielded to no tests
whatever. The riddle of the Sphinx of Mythology
remained unsolved.

The first impulse to a new consideration of the
mythological problem came from the study of comparative
philology. Through the discovery of the
403ancient language of India, the so-called Sanskrit,
which was due to the labours of Wilkins, *42 Sir W.
Jones, and Colebrooke, some eighty years ago, and
through the discovery of the intimate relationship
between that language and the languages of the principal
races of Europe, due to the genius of Schlegel,
Humboldt, Bopp, and others, a complete revolution
took place in the views commonly entertained of the
ancient history of the world. I have no time to give
a full account of these researches; but I may state it
as a fact, suspected, I suppose, by no one before, and
doubted by no one after it was enunciated, that the
languages spoken by the Brahmans of India, by the
followers of Zoroaster and the subjects of Darius in
Persia; by the Greeks, by the Romans; by Celtic,
Teutonic, and Slavonic races, were all mere varieties
of one common type — stood, in fact, to each other in
the same relation as French, Italian, Spanish, and
Portuguese stand to each other as modern dialects of
Latin. This was, indeed, ‘the discovery of a new
world,’ or, if you like, the recovery of an old world.
All the landmarks of what was called the ancient
history of the human race had to be shifted, and it
had to be explained, in some way or other, how all
these languages, separated from each other by thousands
of miles and thousands of years, could have
originally started from one common centre.

On this, 43 however, I cannot dwell now; and I must
proceed at once to state how, after some time, it was
discovered that not only the radical elements of all
these languages which are called Aryan or Indo-European
— not only their numerals, pronouns, prepositions,
404and grammatical terminations — not only their
household words, such as father, mother, brother,
daughter, husband, brother-in-law, cow, dog, horse,
cattle, tree, ox, corn, mill, earth, sky, water, stars,
and many hundreds more, were identically the same,
but that each possessed the elements of a mythological
phraseology, displaying the palpable traces of a common

What followed from this for the Science of Mythology?
Exactly the same as what followed for the
Science of Language from the discovery that Sanskrit,
Greek, Latin, German, Celtic, and Slavonic had all
one and the same origin. Before that discovery was
made, it was allowable to treat each language by itself,
and any etymological explanation that was in accordance
with the laws of each particular language might
have been considered satisfactory. If Plato derived
theós, the Greek word for god, from the Greek verb théein,
to run, because the first gods were the sun and moon,
always running through the sky; *44 or if Herodotus 45
derived the same word from tithénai, to set, because
the gods set everything in order, we can find no fault
with either. But if we find that the same name for
god exists in Sanskrit and Latin, as deva and deus, it
is clear that we cannot accept any etymology for the
Greek word that is not equally applicable to the corresponding
terms in Sanskrit and Latin. If we knew
French only, we might derive the French feu, fire,
from the German Feuer. But if we see that the same
word exists in Italian as fuoco, in Spanish as fuego, it
is clear that we must look for an etymology applicable
to all three, which we find in the Latin focus, and not
405in the German Feuer. Even so thoughtful a scholar
as Grimm does not seem to have perceived the absolute
stringency of this rule. Before it was known that
there existed in Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, and Slavonic,
the same word for name, identical with the Gothic namo
(gen. namins), it would have been allowable to derive
the German word from a German root. Thus Grimm
(‘Grammatik,’ ii. 30) derived the German Name from
the verb nehmen, to take. This would have been a perfectly
legitimate etymology. But when it became evident
that the Sanskrit náman stood for gnâ-man, just
as nomen, for gnomen (cognomen, ignominia), and was
derived from a verb gnâ, to know, it became impossible
to retain the derivation of Name from nehmen, and at
the same time to admit that of nâman from gnâ *46.
Each word can have but one etymology, as each living
being can have but one mother.

Let us apply this to the mythological phraseology
of the Aryan nations. If we had to explain only the
names and fables of the Greek gods, an explanation
such as that which derives the name of Zeús from the
verb zên, to live, would be by no means contemptible.
But if we find that Zeus in Greek is the same word as
Dyaus in Sanskrit, Ju in Jupiter, and Tiu in Tuesday,
we perceive that no etymology would be satisfactory
that did not explain all these words together. Hence
it follows, that in order to understand the origin and
meaning of the names of the Greek gods, and to enter
into the original intention of the fables told of each,
we must not confine our view within the Greek
horizon, but must take into account the collateral
406evidence supplied by Latin, German, Sanskrit, and
Zend mythology. The key that is to open one must
open all; otherwise it cannot be the right key.

Strong objections have been raised against this line
of reasoning by classical scholars; and even those who
have surrendered Greek etymology as useless without
the aid of Sanskrit, protest against this desecration of
the Greek Pantheon, and against any attempt at deriving
the gods and fables of Homer and Hesiod from
the monstrous idols of the Brahmans. I believe this
is mainly owing to a misunderstanding. No sound
scholar would ever think of deriving any Greek or
Latin word from Sanskrit. Sanskrit is not the mother
of Greek and Latin, as Latin is of French and Italian.
Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin are sisters, varieties of one
and the same type. They all point to some earlier
stage when they were less different from each other
than they now are; but no more. All we can say in
favour of Sanskrit is, that it is the eldest sister; that
it has retained many words and forms less changed
and corrupted than Greek and Latin. The more
primitive character and transparent structure of Sanskrit
have naturally endeared it to the student of
language, but they have not blinded him to the fact,
that on many points Greek and Latin — nay, Gothic
and Celtic — have preserved primitive features which
Sanskrit has lost. Greek is co-ordinate with, not
subordinate to Sanskrit; and the only distinction
which Sanskrit is entitled to claim is that which
Austria used to claim in the German Confederation —
to be the first among equals, primus inter pares.

There is, however, another reason which has made
any comparison of Greek and Hindu gods more particularly
distasteful to classical scholars. At the very
407beginning of Sanskrit philology attempts were made
by no less a person than Sir W. Jones *47 at identifying
the deities of the modern Hindu mythology with those
of Homer. This was done in the most arbitrary
manner, and has brought any attempt of the same
kind into deserved disrepute among sober critics.
Sir W. Jones is not responsible, indeed, for such comparisons
as Cupid and Dipuc (dipaka); but to compare,
as he does, modern Hindu gods, such as Vishnu,
Śiva, or Krishna, with the gods of Homer was indeed
like comparing modern Hindustáni with ancient
Greek. Trace Hindustáni back to Sanskrit, and it
will be possible then to compare it with Greek and
Latin; but not otherwise. The same in mythology.
Trace the modern system of Hindu mythology back
to its earliest form, and there will then be some
reasonable hope of discovering a family likeness between
the sacred names worshipped by the Aryans of
India and the Aryans of Greece.

This was impossible at the time of Sir William
Jones; it is even now but partially possible. Though
Sanskrit has now been studied for three generations,
the most ancient work of Sanskrit literature, the Rig-Veda,
is still a book with seven seals. The wish expressed
by Otfried Müller in 1825, in his ‘Prolegomena
to a Scientific Mythology,’ ‘Oh that we had an
408intelligible translation of the Veda!’ is still unfulfilled;
and though of late years nearly all Sanskrit scholars
have devoted their energies to the elucidation of
Vedic literature, many years are still required before
Otfried Müller's desire can be realized. Now Sanskrit
literature without the Veda is like Greek literature
without Homer, like Jewish literature without
the Bible, like Mohammedan literature without the
Koran; and you will easily understand how, if we do
not know the most ancient form of Hindu religion
and mythology, it is premature to attempt any comparison
between the gods of India and the gods of any
other country. What was wanted as the only safe
foundation, not only of Sanskrit literature, but of
Comparative Mythology — nay, of Comparative Philology — was
an edition of the most ancient document of
Indian literature, Indian religion, Indian language —
an edition of the Rig-Veda. Eight of the ten books of
the Rig-Veda have now been published in the original,
together with an ample Indian commentary, and there
is every prospect of the two remaining books passing
through the press in four or five years. But,
after the text and commentary of the Rig-Veda are
published, the great task of translating, or, I should
rather say, deciphering these ancient hymns still remains.
There are, indeed, two translations; one by a
Frenchman, the late M. Langlois, the other by the
late Professor Wilson; but the former, though very
ingenious, is mere guesswork, the latter is a reproduction,
and not always a faithful reproduction, of
the commentary of Say ana, which I have published.
It shows us how the ancient hymns were misunderstood
by later grammarians, and theologians, and philosophers;
but it does not attempt a critical restoration
409of the original sense of these simple and primitive
hymns by the only process by which it can be
effected — by a comparison of every passage in which
the same words occur. This process of deciphering
is a slow one; yet, through the combined labours of
various scholars, some progress has been made, and
some insight been gained into the mythological
phraseology of the Vedic Rishis. One thing we can
clearly see, that the same position which Sanskrit, as the
most primitive, most transparent of the Aryan dialects,
holds in the science of language, the Veda and
its most primitive, most transparent system of religion,
will hold in the science of mythology. In the
hymns of the Rig-Veda we still have the last chapter
of the real Theogony of the Aryan races: we just
catch a glimpse, behind the scenes, of the agencies
which were at work in producing that magnificent
stage-effect witnessed in the drama of the Olympian
gods. There, in the Veda, the Sphinx of Mythology
still utters a few words to betray her own secret, and
shows us that it is man, that it is human thought
and human language combined, which naturally and
inevitably produced that strange conglomerate of ancient
fable which has perplexed all rational thinkers,
from the days of Xenophanes to our own time.

I shall try to make my meaning clearer. You will
see that a great point is gained in comparative mythology
if we succeed in discovering the original
meaning of the names of the gods. If we knew, for
instance, what Athene, or Here, or Apollo meant in
Greek, we should have something firm to stand on or
to start from, and be able to follow more securely the
later development of these names. We know, for
instance, that Selene in Greek means moon, and knowing
410this, we at once understand the myths that she
is the sister of Helios, for helios means sun; that she
is the sister of Eos, for eos means dawn; — and if another
poet calls her the sister of Euryphaëssa, we are not
much perplexed, for euryphaëssa, meaning wideshining,
can only be another name for the dawn. If
she is represented with two horns, we at once remember
the two horns of the moon; and if she is said to
have become the mother of Erse by Zeus, we again
perceive that erse means dew, and that to call Erse
the daughter of Zeus and Selene was no more than if
we, in our more matter-of-fact language, say that
there is dew after a moonlight night.

Now one great advantage in the Veda is that many
of the names of the gods are still intelligible, are used,
in fact, not only as proper names, but likewise as appellative
nouns. Agni, one of their principal gods,
means clearly fire; it is used in that sense; it is the
same word as the Latin ignis. Hence we have a right
to explain his other names, and all that is told of
him, as originally meant for fire. Vâyu or Vâta means
clearly wind, Marut means storm, Parjanya rain,
Savitar the sun, Ushas, as well as its synonyms,
Urvaśî, Ahanâ, Saraṇyû, means dawn; Pṛithivî earth,
Dyâvâpṛithivî, heaven and earth. Other divine names
in the Veda which are no longer used as appellatives,
become easily intelligible, because they are used as
synonyms of more intelligible names (such as urvaśî
for ushas), or because they receive light from other
languages, such as Varuṇa, clearly the same word as
the Greek ouranos, and meaning originally the sky.

Another advantage which the Veda offers is this, that
in its numerous hymns we can still watch the gradual
growth of the gods, the slow transition of appellatives
411into proper names, the first tentative steps towards
personification. The Vedic Pantheon is held together
by the loosest ties of family relationship; nor is there
as yet any settled supremacy like that of Zeus among
the gods of Homer. Every god is conceived as supreme,
or at least as inferior to no other god, at the
time that he is praised or invoked by the Vedic poets;
and the feeling that the various deities are but different
names, different conceptions of that Incomprehensible
Being which no thought can reach, and no
language express, is not yet quite extinct in the minds
of some of the more thoughtful Rishis.412

1* Πάντα θεοῖς ἀνέθηκαν Ὅμηρός θ' Ἡσίοδός τε,
ὅσσα παρ' ἀνθρώποισιν ὀνείδεα καὶ ψόγος ἐστίν....
Ὣς πλεῖστ' ἐφθέγξαντο θεῶν ἀθεμίστια ἔργα,
κλέπτειν μοιχεύειν τε καὶ ἀλλήλους ἀπατεύειν¤

Cf. Sextus Emp. adv. Math. i. 289, ix. 193.

2 Ἀλλ' βροτοὶ δοκέουσι θεοὺς γεγενῆσθαι,
τὴν σφετέρην τ`αἴσθησιν ἔχειν φωνήν τε δέμας τε....
Ἀλλ' εἴτοι χεῖρας γ' εἶχον βόες ἠὲ λέοντες,
ἢ γράψαι χείρεσσι καὶ ἔργα τελεῖν ἅπερ ἄνδρες,
καί κε θεῶν ἰδέας ἔγραφον καὶ σώματ' ἐποίουν
τοιαῦθ' οἷόν περ καὐτοὶ δέμας εἶχον ὁμοῖον,
ἵπποι μέν θ' ἵπποισι, βόες δέ τε βουσὶν ὁμοία

Cf. Clem. Alex. Strom. v. p. 601 C.

3* Εἷς θεὸς ἒν τε Θεοῖσι καὶ ἀνθρώποισι μέγιστος,
οὔ τι δέμας θνητοῖσι ὁμοίιος οὐδὲ νόημα

Cf. Clem. Alex. l. c.

4 Cf. Isocrates, ii. 38 (Nägelsbach, p. 45).

5 Τόν θ᾿Ὅμηρον ἔφασκεν ἄξιον ἐκ τῶν αγώνων ἐκβάλλεσθαι καὶ
ῥαπίζεσθαι, καὶ Ἀρχίλοχον ὁμοίως
. — Diog. Laert. ix. I.

Ἠσέβησε εἰ μὴ ἠλληγόρισε, Ὅμηρος. Bertrand, Les Dieux Protecteurs,
p. 143.

6§ Φησὶ δ᾿ Ἱερώνυμος κατελθόντα αὐτόν εἰς ᾅδου τὴν μὲν Ἡσιόδου
ψυχὴν ἰδεῖν πρὸς κίονι χαλκῷ δεδεμένην καὶ τρίζουσαν, τὴν δ᾿Ὁμήρου
κρεμαμένην ἀπὸ δένδρου καὶ ὄφεις περὶ αὐτὴν ἀνθ᾿ὧν εἶπον περὶ
. — Diog. Laert. viii. 21.

7* Δοκεῖ δὲ πρῶτος, καθά φησι Φαβωρῖνος ἐν Παντοδαπῇ ἱστορίᾳ,
τὴν Ὁμήρου ποίησιν ἀποφήνασθαι εἶναι περὶἀρετῆς καὶ δικαιοσύνης·
ἐπὶ πλεῖον δὲ προστῆναι τοῦ λόγου Μητρόδωρον τὸν Λαμψακηνόν
γνώριμον ὄντα αὐτοῦ, ὃν καὶ πρῶτον σπουδάσαι τοῦ ποιητοῦ περὶ τὴν
φυσικὴν πραγματείαν
. — Diog. Laert. ii. 11.

8 περὶ μὲν θεῶν οὐκ ἔχω εἰδέναι οὔθ' ὡς εἰσίν, οὔθ' ὡς οὐκ εἰσίν·
πολλὰ γὰρ τὰ κωλύοντα εἰδέναι, ἥ τ' ἀδηλότης καὶ βραχὺς ὢν ὁ βίος
τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. Διὰ ταύτην δὲ τὴν ἀρχὴν τοῦ συγγράμματος ἐξεβλήθη
πρὸς Ἀθηναίων·καὶ τὰ βιβλία αὐτοῦ κατέκαυσαν ἐν τῇ ἀγορᾷ, ὑπὸ
κήρυκος ἀναλεξάμενοι παρ' ἑκάστου τῶν κεκτημένων.
. — Diog. Laert. ix.
51. Cicero, Nat. Deor. i. 23, 63.

9 Grote, History of Greece, vol. i. p. 504.

10* Οὓς Ἡσίοδός τε, εἶπον, καὶ Ὅμηρος ἡμῖν ἐλεγέτην καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι
ποιηταί· οὗτοι γάρ που μύθους τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ψευδεῖς συντιθέντες
ἔλεγόν τε καὶ λέγουσιν
. — Plat. Polit. β. 377 d. Grote, History,
i. 593.

11 Diog. Laert. x. 123. Ritter and Preller, Historia Philosophiæ,
p. 419. θεοὶ μὲν γὰρ εἰσίν· ἐναργὴς γὰρ αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ γνῶσις· οἵους
δ' αὐτοὺς οἱ πολλοὶ νομίζουσιν οὐκ εἰσίν· οὐ γὰρ φυλάττουσιν αὐτοὺς
οἵους νομίζουσιν. ἀσεβὴς δὲ οὐχ ὁ τοὺς τῶν πολλῶν θεοὺς ἀναιρῶν
ἀλλ' ὁ τὰς τῶν πολλῶν δόξας θεοῖς προσάπτων

12 In secundo autera libro Homeri fabulas accommodare voluit
ad ea quæ ipse primo libro de diis immortalibus dixerit. — Cic.
Nat. Deor. i. 15. Bertrand, Sur les Dieux Protecteurs (Rennes,
1858), p. 38.

13* Olymp. ix. 38, ed. Boekh. Ἀπό μοι λόγον τούτον, στόμα, ρίψον·
ἐπεὶ τό γε λοιδορήσαι Θεούς ἐχθρὰ σοφία

14 Ion, 444, ed. Paley:

Εἰ δ', οὐ γὰρ ἔσται, τῷ λόγῳ δὲ χρήσομαι,
δίκας βιαίων δώσετ' ἀνθρώποις γάμων
σὺ καὶ Ποσειδῶν Ζεύς θ' ὃς οὐρανοῦ κρατεῖ,
ναούς τίνοντες ἀδικίας κενώσετε....
οὐκέτ' ἀνθρώπους κακοὺς
λέγειν δίκαιον, εἰ τὰ τῶν θεῶν κακὰ
μιμούμεθ', ἀλλὰ τοὺς διδάσκοντας τάδε

Cf. Herc. fur. 339.

15 Herc. fur. 1341, ed. Paley:

ἐγὼ δὲ τοὺς θεοὺς οὔτε λέκτρ' ἃ μὴ θέμις
στέργειν νομίζω, δεσμά τ' ἐξάπτειν χεροῖν
οὔτ' ἠξίωσα πώποτ' οὔτε πείσομαι,
οὐδ' ἄλλον ἄλλου δεσπότην πεφυκέναι.
δεῖται γὰρ ὁ θεός, εἴπερ ἔστ' ὀρθῶς θεός,
οὐδενός· ἀοιδῶν οἵδε δύστηνοι λόγοι

See Euripides, ed. Paley, vol. i. Preface, p. xx.

16* Eur. Fragm. Belleroph. 300: εἰ θεοί τι δρῶσιν αἰσχρὸν, οὐκ
εἰσιν θεοί

17* Cf. Augustinus, De Civ. Dei, vii. 5. De paganorum secretiore
doctrina physicisque rationibus.

18 Cf. Wagner, Fragm. Trag. iii. p. 102. Nägelsbach, Nachhomerische
, pp. 435, 445.

19 Cic. N. D. i. 42, 118.

20* Cf. Müller, Prolegomena, p. 335, n. 6. ἄλλο μὲν ἀγορεύει,
ἄλλο δὲ νοεῖ
. The difference between a myth and an allegory
has been simply but most happily explained by Professor Blackie,
in his article on Mythology in Chambers' Cyclopædia: ‘A myth
is not to be confounded with an allegory; the one being an unconscious
act of the popular mind at an early stage of society, the
other a conscious act of the individual mind at any stage of social

21 Stobæus, Flor. xci. 29: —

Ὁ μὲν Ἐπιχαρμος τοὺς θεοὺς εἶναι λέγει
Ἀνέμους, ὔδωρ, γῆν, ἥλιον, πῦρ, ἀστέρας

Cf. Bernays, Rhein. Mus. 1853, p. 280. Kruseman, Epicharmi
, Harlemi, 1834.

22* Plut. de Plac. Phil. i. 30: Ἐμπεδοκλῆς φύσιν μηδὲν εἶναι, μῖξιν
δὲ τῶν στοιχείων καὶ διάστασιν. γράφει γὰρ οὕτως ἐν τῷ πρώτῳ φυσικῷ

Τέσσαρα τῶν πάντων ῥιζώματα πρώτον ἄκουε.
Ζεὺς ἀργὴς Ἥρη τε, φερέσβιος ἠδ᾿Ἀϊδωνεύς,
Νῆστίς θ᾿ἣ δακρύοις τέγγει κρούνωμα βρότειον

23 Cic. N. D. i. 10. Rilter and Preller, § 27.

24 Clem. Alex. Strom. v. p. 603 D. Ritter and Preller, § 38.
Bernays, Neue Bruchstücke des Heraklit, p. 256: ἓν τὸ σοφὸν μοῦνον
λέγεσθαι ἐθέλει, καὶ οὐκ ἐθέλει Ζηνὸς οὔνομα

25§ Syncellus, Chron. p. 149, ed. Paris. Ἑρμηνεύουσι δὲ οἱ
Ἀναξαγόρειοι τοὺς μυθώδεις θεοὺς, νοῦν μὲν τὸν Δία, τὴν δὲ Ἀθηνᾶν
. Grote, vol. i. p. 563. Ritter and Preller, Hist. Phil.
§ 48. Lobeck, Aglaoph. p. 156. Diog. Laert. ii. 11.

26* Bunsen, Gott in der Geschichte, vol. iii. p. 532. Ar. Met.
xi. 8, 19.

27* Quid? qui aut fortes aut claros aut potentes viros tradunt
post mortem ad deos pervenisse, eosque esse ipsos quos nos colere,
precari, venerarique soleamus, nonne expertes sunt religionum
omnium? Quæ ratio maxima tractata ab Euhemero est, quam
noster et interpretatus et secutus est præter cæteros Ennius. —
Cic., De Nat. Deor. i. 42.

28* Grote, History of Greece, vol. i. p. 526.

29 Strabo, ix. p. 422. Grote, H. G. i. p. 552.

30 Possibly connected with the Vedic Ahir Budhnya.

31* Grote, i. 554.

32 Kemble, Saxons in England, i. 338. Legend. Nova, fol.
210 b.

33* Grote, i. 636. ‘The series of articles by M. Fauriel, published
in the Revue des deux Mondes, vol. xiii., are full of instruction
respecting the origin, tenor, and influence of the romances
of chivalry. Though the name of Charlemagne appears, the
romancers are really unable to distinguish him from Charles
Martel, or from Charles the Bald (pp. 537-39). They ascribe to
him an expedition to the Holy Land, in which he conquered Jerusalem
from the Saracens,’ &c.

34 The Mythology and Fables of the Ancients, explained from
, by the Abbé Banier. London, 1739, in six vols. Vol. i.
p. ix.

35* Vol. i. p. 21.

36 Vol. i. p. 29.

37* Geographia Sacra, lib. i. l. c.: ‘Noam esse Saturnum tam
multa docent ut vix sit dubitandi locus.’ Ut Noam esse Saturnum
multis argumentis constitit, sic tres Noæ filios cum Saturni tribus
filiis conferenti, Hamum vel Chamum esse Jovem probabunt hæ
rationes. — Japhet idem qui Neptunus. Semum Plutonis nomine
detruserunt in inferos. — Lib. i. c. 2. Jam si libet etiam ad nepotes
descendere; in familia Hami sive Jovis Hammonis, Put est
Apollo Pythius; Chanaan idem qui Mercurius. — Quis non videt
Nimrodum esse Bacchum? Bacchus enim idem qui bar-chus, i. e.
Chusi filius. Videtur et Magog esse Prometheus.

38 Amsterdami, 1668, pp. 71, 73, 77, 97. Og est iste qui a Græcis
dicitur Τυφῶν, &c.

39* Parisiis, 1677.

40 Caput tertium. I. Universa propemodum Ethnicorum Theologia
ex Mose, Mosisve actis aut scriptis manavit. II. Velut
illa Phœnicum. Tautus idem ac Moses. III. Adonis idem ac
Moses. IV. Thammus Ezechielis idem ac Moses. V. Πολυώνυμος
fuit Moses. VI. Marnas Gazensium Deus idem ac Moses. — Caput
quartum. VIII. Vulcanus idem ac Moses. IX. Typhon idem ac
Moses. — Caput quintum. II. Zoroastres idem ac Moses. — Caput
octavum. III. Apollo idem ac Moses. IV. Pan idem ac Moses.
V. Priapus idem ac Moses, &c. &c. — p. 121. Cum demonstratum
sit Græcanicos Deos, in ipsa Mosis persona larvata, et ascititio
habitu contecta provenisse, nunc probare aggredior ex Mosis
scriptionibus, verbis, doctrina, et institutis, aliquos etiam Græcorum
eorundem Deos, ac bonam Mythologiæ ipsorum partem manasse.

41* Home and Foreign Review, No. 7, p. 111, 1864: — ‘The
Cyclopes were probably a race of pastoral and metal-working
people from the East, characterised by their rounder faces,
whence arose the story of their one eye.’ — F. A. P.

42* Wilkins, Bhagavadgita, 1785.

43 Lectures on the Science of Language, First Series, p. 147 seq.

44* Plat. Crat. 397 C.

45 Her. ii. 52.

46* Grimm, Geschichte der Deutschen Sprache, p. 153. Other
words derived from gnâ, are notus, nobilis, gnarus, ignarus,
ignoro, narrare (gnarigare), gnōmōn, I ken, I know, uncouth, &c.

47* Sir W. Jones, On the Gods of Greece, Italy, and India.
(Works, vol. i. p. 229.) He compares Janus with Ganeśa, Saturn
with Manu Satyavrata, nay, with Noah; Ceres with Śrî, Jupiter
with Divaspati and with Śiva (τριοφθαλμος = trilochana), Bacchus
with Bagisa, Juno with Parvati, Mars with Skanda, nay, with
the Secander of Persia, Minerva with Durga and Sarasvati, Osiris
and Isis with Îsvara and Îśî, Dionysos with Râma, Apollo with
Kṛishṇa, Vulcan with Pâvaka and Viśvakarman, Mercury with
Nârada, Hekate with Kâlî.