Custom and Myth eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 287 pages of information about Custom and Myth.

We must suppose, therefore, either that all wits jumped and invented the same romantic series of situations by accident, or that all men spread from one centre, where the story was known, or that the story, once invented, has drifted all round the world.  If the last theory be approved of, the tale will be like the Indian Ocean shell found lately in the Polish bone-cave, {102a} or like the Egyptian beads discovered in the soil of Dahomey.  The story will have been carried hither and thither, in the remotest times, to the remotest shores, by traders, by slaves, by captives in war, or by women torn from their own tribe and forcibly settled as wives among alien peoples.

Stories of this kind are everywhere the natural property of mothers and grandmothers.  When we remember how widely diffused is the law of exogamy, which forbids marriage between a man and woman of the same stock, we are impressed by the number of alien elements which must have been introduced with alien wives.  Where husband and wife, as often happened, spoke different languages, the woman would inevitably bring the hearthside tales of her childhood among a people of strange speech.  By all these agencies, working through dateless time, we may account for the diffusion, if we cannot explain the origin, of tales like the central arrangement of incidents in the career of Jason. {102b}


Why is Apollo, especially the Apollo of the Troad, he who showered the darts of pestilence among the Greeks, so constantly associated with a mouse?  The very name, Smintheus, by which his favourite priest calls on him in the ‘Iliad’ (i. 39), might be rendered ‘Mouse Apollo,’ or ’Apollo, Lord of Mice.’  As we shall see later, mice lived beneath the altar, and were fed in the holy of holies of the god, and an image of a mouse was placed beside or upon his sacred tripod.  The ancients were puzzled by these things, and, as will be shown, accounted for them by ‘mouse-stories,’ [Greek], so styled by Eustathius, the mediaeval interpreter of Homer.  Following our usual method, let us ask whether similar phenomena occur elsewhere, in countries where they are intelligible.  Did insignificant animals elsewhere receive worship:  were their effigies elsewhere placed in the temples of a purer creed?  We find answers in the history of Peruvian religion.

After the Spanish conquest of Peru, one of the European adventurers, Don Garcilasso de la Vega, married an Inca princess.  Their son, also named Garcilasso, was born about 1540.  His famous book, ‘Commentarias Reales,’ contains the most authentic account of the old Peruvian beliefs.  Garcilasso was learned in all the learning of the Europeans, and, as an Inca on the mother’s side, had claims on the loyalty of the defeated race.  He set himself diligently to collect both their priestly and popular traditions, and his account of them is the more trustworthy as it coincides with what we know to have been true in lands with which Garcilasso had little acquaintance.

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Custom and Myth from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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