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Title: The Dawn of History: An Introduction to Pre-Historic Study

Author: C. F. Keary

Contributor: Annie Keary

H. M. Keary

Release date: May 9, 2016 [eBook #52030]
Most recently updated: January 24, 2021

Language: English

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(etext transcriber's note)


THE DAWN OF HISTORY. An Introduction to Pre-historic Study. 12mo$1.25
OUTLINES OF PRIMITIVE BELIEF among the Indo-European Races. Crown 8vo.2.50






C. F. KEARY, M.A., F.S.A.






The present edition of the Dawn of History is a considerable enlargement upon the former one, as may be judged from the fact that the former, including the Appendix, contained only 231 pages, whereas the present edition contains 357. These enlargements have chiefly affected the first four chapters with the ninth and tenth, and, generally speaking, the chapters for which the editor is wholly responsible. He felt himself quite incapable of improving chapters eight, eleven, and thirteen, which can hardly fail to be recognized as the best in the volume; and, unhappily, the hand which wrote them—that of Annie Keary—is no longer able to revise or alter. Some slight corrections therefore have been made, in accordance with the advance of these branches of study during recent years, but nothing more. No more were needed, for (in the case of the chapters on writing, for example) further research has only tended to establish more firmly the conclusions here accepted. The chapters on early social life (vi., vii.), again, did{iv} not seem to the editor to require more than slight corrections.

In the chapters dealing with religion and mythology, it was not to be expected that the writers could avoid treading upon controversial ground; but as almost every proposition upon these matters is disputed by some one, it was not possible to adopt the plan of putting forward only those facts and theories which may be considered as established. Some disputed points are discussed in the Appendix. Even on the subject of language the views of one (small) school of philologists had to be relegated in like manner to the Appendix.

So far for the character of the alterations upon the first edition. The new matter introduced, whenever it has not been of the nature of a correction of the old, has been aimed in the direction of making more clear the processes through which the human mind has gone in the acquisition of each fresh capacity—more clear the extent to which each successive phase of pre-historic life has been built upon the preceding phase—more clear the process by which mankind seems to have gone through the stages of language-formation, and so forth. This has been the direction in which the editor has sought to improve upon the earlier edition: rather than in loading his pages by a greater accumulation of facts, to make the relationship of the various facts to one another plainer and more easy to remember; in one word, to appeal to the reason much more than to the memory.

This is by no means the principle on which a great{v} majority of introductions and manuals seem to have been written, but upon a principle almost the reverse of this.

Finally, it has never been lost sight of, that the present volume is meant to leave the reader, so to say, at the door of history. It is not designed to be an anthropology, or a history of the growth of faculty among mankind at large, but only a pre-historic study, an account of the ascertainable doings and thoughts on the part of the people who have gone to make up the historic races of the world. Even the stone-age civilization is treated, not as a phase of culture in the abstract, but as an element of the growth in culture of the historic nations of our planet.


200, Cromwell Road, S.W.




The advance of pre-historic study has been during the last ten years exceptionally rapid; and, considering upon how many subsidiary interests it touches, questions of politics, of social life, of religion almost, the science of pre-historic archæology might claim to stand in rivalry with geology as the favourite child of this century; as much a favourite of its declining years as geology was of its prime. But as yet, it will be confessed, we have little popular literature upon the subject, and that for want of it the general reader is left a good deal in arrear of the course of discovery. His ideas of nationalities and kindredship among peoples is, it may be guessed, still hazy. We still hear the Russians described as Tartars: and the notion that we English are descendants of the lost Israelitish tribes finds innumerable supporters. I am told that a society has been formed in London for collecting proofs of this more than Ovidian metamorphosis. The reason of this public indifference is very plain. Pre-historic science has not yet passed out of{viii} that early stage when workers are too busy in the various branches of the subject to spare much time for a comparison of the results of their labours; when, one may say, fresh contributions are pouring in too fast to be placed upon their proper shelves in the storehouse of our knowledge. In such a state of things the reader who is not a specialist is under peculiar disadvantages for a discovery of what has been done. He stands bewildered, like the sleeping partner in a firm, to whom no one—though he is after all the true beneficiary—explains the work which is passing before his eyes.

It will not be thought a misplaced object to attempt some such explanation, and that is the object of the following chapters. And as at some great triumph of mechanism and science—a manufactory, an observatory, an ironclad,—a junior clerk or a young engineer is told off to accompany the intelligent visitor and explain the workings of the machinery; or as, if the simile serve better, in those cities which are sought for their treasures of art and antiquity, the lower class of the population become self-constituted into guides to beauties which they certainly neither helped to create nor keep alive; so this book offers itself to the interested student as a guide over some parts of the ground covered by pre-historic inquiry, without advancing pretensions to stand beside the works of specialists in that field. The peculiar objects kept in view have been, to put the reader in possession of (1) the general results up to this time attained, the chief additions which pre-historic science has made to the sum of our knowledge, even if this{ix} knowledge can be given only in rough outline; (2) the method or mechanism of the science, the way in which it pieces together its acquisitions, and argues upon the facts it has ascertained; and (3) to put this information in a form which might be attractive and suitable to the general reader.

The various labours of a crowd of specialists are needed to give completeness to our knowledge of primitive man, and it is scarcely necessary to say that there are a hundred questions which in such a short book as this have been left untouched. The intention has been to present those features which can best be combined to form a continuous panorama, and also to avoid, as far as possible, the subjects most under controversy. No apology surely is needed for the conjoint character of the work: as in every chapter the conclusions of many different and sometimes contradictory writers had to be examined and compared, and as these chapters, few as they are, spread over various special fields of inquiry.

It is to be hoped that some readers to whom pre-historic study is a new thing may be sufficiently interested in it to desire to continue their researches. For the assistance of such, lists are given, at the end, of the chief authorities consulted on the subject of each chapter, with some notes upon questions of peculiar interest.

The vast extent of the field, the treasures of knowledge which have been already gathered, and the harvest which is still in the ear, impress the student more and more the deeper he advances into the study. Surely, if from some higher sphere, beings of a purely{x} spiritual nature—nourished, that is, not by material meats and drinks, but by ideas—look down upon the lot of man, they must be before everything amazed at the complaints of poverty which rise up from every side. When every stone on which we tread can yield a history, to follow up which is almost the work of a lifetime; when every word we use is a thread leading back the mind through centuries of man’s life on earth; it must be confessed that, for riches of any but a material sort, for a wealth of ideas, the mind’s nourishment, there ought to be no lack.{xi}


The Earliest Traces of Man (Editor)1
The Second Stone Age (Editor)28
The Growth of Language (Editor)55
Families of Language (Editor)83
The Nations of the Old World (Editor)113
Early Social Life (H. M. Keary)135
The Village Community (H. M. Keary){xii}156
Religion (A. Keary)171
Aryan Religions (Editor)197
The Other World (Editor)236
Mythologies and Folk-Tales (Editor)254
Picture-Writing (A. Keary)280
Phonetic Writing (A. Keary)297
Conclusion (Editor)313
AppendixNotes and Authorities329
Index: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, Y, Z





The dawn
of history.

When St. Paulinus came to preach Christianity to the people of Northumbria, King Eadwine (so runs the legend) being minded to hear him, and wishing that his people should do so too, called together a council of his chief men and asked them whether they would attend to hear what the saint had to tell; and one of the king’s thanes stood up and said, ‘Let us certainly hear what this man knows, for it seems to me that the life of man is like the flight of a sparrow through a large room, where you, King, are sitting at supper in winter, while storms of rain and snow rage abroad. The sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and straightway out again at another is, while within, safe from the storm; but soon it vanishes out of sight into the darkness whence it came. So the life of man appears for a short space; but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are all ways ignorant.’[1] This wise and true saying of the Saxon thane holds good too for the human race as far as its progress is revealed to us by{2} history. We can watch this progress through a brief interval—for the period over which real, continuous authentic history extends; and beyond that is a twilight space, wherein, amid many fantastic shapes of mere tradition or mythology, here and there an object or an event stands out more clearly, lit up by a gleam from the sources of more certain knowledge which we possess.

To draw with as much accuracy as may be the outline of these shapes out of the past is the business of the prehistoric student; and to assist him in his task, what has he? First, he has the Bible narrative, wherein some of the chief events of the world’s history are displayed, but at uncertain distances apart. Then we have the traditions preserved in other writings, in books, or on old temple stones—in these the truth has generally to be cleared from a mist of allegory, or at least of mythology. And, lastly, besides these conscious records of times gone by, we have other dumb memorials, old buildings—cities or temples—whose makers are long since forgotten, old tools or weapons, buried for thousands of years, to come to light in our days; and again, old words, old beliefs, old customs, old arts, old forms of civilization which have been unwittingly handed down to us, can all, if we know the art to interpret their language, be made to tell us histories of the antique world. It is, then, no uninteresting study by which we learn how to make these silent records speak. ‘Of man’s activity and attainment,’ Carlyle finely says, ‘the chief results are aeriform, mystic, and preserved in tradition only: such are his Forms of Government, with the Authority they rest on; his Customs or Fashions both of Cloth-habits and Soul-habits; much more his collective stock of Handicrafts, the whole Faculty he has acquired of manipulating nature—all these things, as indispensable and priceless as they are, cannot in{3} any way be fixed under lock and key, but must flit, spirit-like, on impalpable vehicles from Father to Son; if you demand sight of them they are nowhere to be met with. Visible Ploughmen and Hammermen there have been, even from Cain and Tubalcain downwards; but where does your accumulated Agricultural, Metallurgic and other Manufacturing SKILL lie warehoused? It transmits itself on the atmospheric air, on the sun’s rays (by Hearing and by Vision); it is a thing aeriform, impalpable, of quite spiritual sort.’

How many of these intangible spiritual possessions must man have acquired before he has learned the art of writing history, and so of keeping a record of what had gone before: how much do we know that any individual race of men has learned before it brings itself forward with distinctness in this way! For as a first condition of all man must have learned to write; and writing, as we shall hereafter see, is a slowly developing art, which man acquired by ages of gradual experiment. His language, too, must ere this have reached a state of considerable cultivation; and it will be our object in the course of these pages to show through what a long history of its own the language of any nation must go before it becomes fit for the purposes of literature—through how many changes it passes, and what a story it reveals to us by every change. And then, again, before a nation can have a history it must be a nation, must have a national life to record; that is to say, the people who compose it must have left the simple condition of society which belongs to a primitive age, the state of a mere hunter or fisher, even the state of being a mere shepherd, the pastoral and nomadic life which precedes the knowledge of agriculture. He must have drawn closer the loose bonds which held men together under the conditions of patriarchal{4} life, and have constituted a more permanent system of society. Whether under pressure from without, the pressure of hostile nationalities, or only from the growth of a higher conception of social life, the nation has had to rise from out of a mere collection of tribes, until the head of the family has become the king—the rude tents of early days have grown into houses and temples, and the pens of their sheepfolds grown into walled cities, such as Corinth or Athens or Rome. Such changes as these must be completed before history comes to be written; and with such changes as these, and with a thousand others, changes and growths in Art, in Poetry, in Manufactures, in Commerce, and in Laws, the pre-historical student has to deal. On all these subjects we shall have something to say.

Before, however, we enter upon any one of these it is right that we remind the reader—and remind him once for all—that our knowledge upon all these points is but partial and uncertain, and never of such a character as will allow us to speak with dogmatic assurance. Our information can necessarily never be direct; it can only be built upon inferences of a higher or lower degree of probability. It is, however, a necessity of our minds that from whatever information we possess we must form an unbroken panorama—imagination has no place for unfilled blanks; and we may form our picture freely and without danger of harm, so long as we are ready to modify or enlarge it when more knowledge is forthcoming. As the eye can in a moment supply the deficiencies of some incompleted picture, a landscape of which it gets only a partial glance, or a statue which has lost a feature, so the mind selects from its knowledge those facts which form a continuous story, and loses those which are known only as isolated fragments.

Set a practised and an unpractised draughtsman to draw{5} a circle, and we may witness how differently they go to work. The second never takes his pencil off the paper, and produces his effect by one continuous line, which the eye has no choice but at once to condemn as incomplete. The wiser artist proceeds by a number of short consecutive strokes, splitting up, as it were, his divergence over the whole length of the figure he is drawing, and so allows the eye, or perhaps one should rather say the mind, by that faculty it has, to select the complete figure which it can conceive more easily than express. No one of the artist’s strokes is the true fraction of a circle, but the result is infinitely more satisfactory than if he had tried to make his pencil follow unswervingly the curve he wished to trace. Or again, notice how a skilful draughtsman will patch up by a number of small strokes any imperfect portion of a curve he is drawing, and we have another like instance of this selective faculty of the eye or of the mind. Just in the same way is it with memory. Our ideas must be carried on continuously, we cannot afford to remember lacunæ, mere blank spaces.

In the Bible narrative, for example, wherein, as has before been said, certain events of the world’s history are related with distinctness, but where as a rule nothing is said of the times which intervened between them, we are wont to make very insufficient allowance for these unmentioned periods, and form for ourselves a rather arbitrary picture of the real course of things, fitting two events on to one another which were really separated by long ages. To correct this view, to enlarge the series of known facts concerning the early history of the human race, comes in pre-historic inquiry; and again, to correct the picture we now form, doubtless fresh information will continue to pour in. All this is no reason why we should pronounce our present picture to be untrue; it is only incomplete. We must be always{6} ready to enlarge it, and to fill in the outlines, but still we can only remember the facts which we have already acquired, if we look at them, not as fragments only, but as a complete whole.

In representing, therefore, throughout the following chapters, the advance of the human race in the discovery of all those arts and faculties which go to make up civilization in the light of a continuous progress, it will not be necessary to pause and remind the reader in every case that these steps of progress which seem to spread themselves out so clearly before us have been made in an uncertain manner, sometimes rapidly, sometimes very slowly and painfully, sometimes by immense strides, sometimes by continual haltings and goings backwards and forwards. It will be enough to say here, once for all, that our history must be thought of as a history of events rather than a strictly chronological one; just as the geological periods are not measured by days and years, but by the mutations through which our solid-seeming earth has passed.


The earliest
traces of man.

First we turn to what must needs be our earliest inquiry—the search after the oldest traces of man which have been found upon the earth. It has been said that one of the first fruits of knowledge is to show us our own ignorance; and certainly in the early history of the world and of man there is nothing which science points out so clearly as the vast silent periods whereof until recently we had no idea. It is difficult for us of the present age to remember how short a time it is since all our certain knowledge, touching the earth on which we live, lay around that brief period of its existence during which it had come under the notice and the care of man.{7}

When all we knew of Europe, and especially of our own islands, belonged to the comparatively short time during which they have been known to history, we had in truth much to wonder at in the political changes these countries were seen to have undergone; and our imaginations could be busy with the contrast between the unchanged features of our lands and seas and the ever-varying character of those who dwelt upon or passed over them. It is interesting to think that on such a river bank or on such a shore Cæsar or Charlemagne have actually stood, and that perhaps the grass or flowers or shells under their feet looked just the same as they do now, that the waves beat upon the strand in the same cadence, or the water flowed by with the same trickling sound. But when we open the pages of geology, we have unrolled before us a history of the earth itself, extending over periods compared with which the longest epoch of what is commonly called history seems scarcely more than a day, and of mutations in the face of nature so grand and awful that as we reflect upon them, forgetting for an instant the enormous periods required to bring these changes about, they sound like the fantastic visions of some seer, telling in allegorical language the history of the creation and destruction of the world.

Of such changes, not the greatest, but the most interesting to the question we have at present in hand, were those vicissitudes of climate which followed upon the time when the formation of the crust of the earth had been practically completed. We learn of a time when, instead of the temperate climate which now favours our country, these islands, with the whole of the north of Europe, were wrapped in one impenetrable sheet of ice. The tops of our mountains, as well as of those of Scandinavia and the north of continental Europe, bear marks of the scraping of this enormous{8} glacier, which must have risen to a height of two or three thousand feet. Not a single green thing, therefore, might be seen between our latitudes and the pole, while the ice-sheet, passing along the floor of the North Sea, united these islands with Scandinavia and spread far out into the deep waters of the Atlantic. For thousands of years such a state of things endured, but at last it slowly passed away. As century followed century the glacier began to decrease in size. From being colder than that of any explored portion of our hemisphere, the climate of northern Europe began to amend, until at last a little land became visible, which was covered first with lichens, then with thicker moss, and then with grass; then shrubs began to grow, and they expanded into trees and the trees into forests, while still the ice-sheet went on decreasing, until now the glaciers remained only in the hills. Animals returned from warmer climates to visit our shores. The birds and beasts and fishes of the land and sea were not much different from those which now inhabit there; the species were different, but the genera were for the most part the same. Everything seemed to have been preparing for the coming of man, and it is about this time that we find the earliest traces of his presence upon earth.[2]

We may try and imagine what was the appearance of the world, and especially of Europe—for it is in Europe that most of these earliest traces of our race have as yet been found, though all tradition and likelihood point out man’s first home to have been in Asia—when we suppose that man first appeared upon these western shores. At this time the continent of Europe stood at a higher level than it does now. The whole of the North Sea, even between Scotland and Denmark, is not more than fifty fathoms, or{9} three hundred feet deep, while the Irish Sea is not more than sixty fathoms; and at this period undoubtedly the British Isles, besides being all joined together, formed part of the mainland, not by being united to France only, but by the presence of dry land all the way from Scotland to Denmark, over all that area now called the German Ocean. Our Thames and our other eastern rivers were then but tributaries of one large stream, which bore through this continent, and up into the northern seas, their waters united with those of the Rhine, and perhaps of the Weser and the Elbe. The same upheaval turned into land a portion of the Atlantic Ocean, all that bed probably which now extends from Spain and Africa as far as the Azores and the Canaries. The north of Africa was joined on to this continent and to Spain, for the narrow Straits of Gibraltar had not yet been formed; but a great sea stood where we now have the Great Sahara, and united the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, while a great Mediterranean Sea stood in Central Asia, and has left no more than traces in the Caspian Sea and the Sea of Aral.

We have to look at a map to see the effect of these changes in the appearance of Europe; and there were no doubt other internal changes in the appearances of the countries themselves. The climate still was much more extreme than it is now. The glaciers were not yet quite gone. And the melting of these and of the winter snows gave rise to enormous rivers which flowed from every hill. Our little river the Ouse, for instance, which flows out through Norfolk into the Wash, was, when swollen by these means, probably many miles broad. Vast forests grew upon the banks of the rivers, and have left their traces in our peat formations; and in these forests roamed animals unknown to us. Of these the most notable was the mammoth{10} (Elephas primigenius, in the language of the naturalists), a huge, maned elephant, whose skeleton and gigantic tusks are conspicuous in some of our museums, and who has given his name to this the earliest age of man’s existence: it is called the Mammoth Age of man. With the mammoth, too, lived other species of animals, which are either now extinct, or have since been driven from our latitudes; the woolly rhinoceros, the cave lion, the cave bear, the Lithuanian bison, the urus, the reindeer, and the musk-ox. It is with the remains of these animals, near the ancient banks of these great rivers, that we find the earliest tools and weapons manufactured by human hands.

Implements of
the river drift.

The earliest of all the known remains of human-kind are the implements which are found deposited in the ancient beds of rivers. Now flooded by melting snow into huge lakes and now again drained off by the sudden bursting of a bound, it was natural that these great streams should often change their course, and often dig out huge areas of soil from the land upon their banks. In doing so they sometimes dug out the implements which earlier generations of men had left behind them on the surface of the soil, and which a few years would be enough to cover with mould and hide from sight. Then carrying along these implements of flint, they have deposited them in great beds of sand and gravel, somewhere in their ancient course.

We have no means of measuring the time which may have elapsed since these stone weapons and tools were made. And we need not speak here of the geological changes which must have passed over the surface of the earth since they were deposited upon it. All we know is that, after the great streams flowing through wide valleys have dug these implements from under the earth which time had heaped over{11} them, carried them along and deposited them once more amid sand and pebbles in a bed upon some point of its course, the river must through long subsequent years have cut so much deeper into the valley through which it flowed, and at the same time probably so shrunk in its bed, that these river drifts, as they are called, stand in many cases fifty, eighty, a hundred feet above the level of the present stream. It is because they are found in the beds made by the ancient rivers, that the implements of this period are called drift implements.

The river Ouse, of which we spoke just now, which, though to-day a small river, drains a large and level country as it runs through the counties of Bedford, Huntingdon, and Cambridge, has been one of the most prolific in this class of pre-historic remains. Another river which still better deserves to be remembered in this respect is the Somme in the north of France. For it was in the beds of this stream, by Abbeville and Amiens, that the drift implements were first discovered, or first recognized for what they really are, the earliest traces of human labour; and it was here that the foundation was laid for this branch of pre-historic study by M. Boucher de Perthes. This was forty-one years ago, in 1847.

These drift implements, then, form a class apart—apart even from all other stone implements made by man, and probably earlier than any other class. Very simple and rude are these drift implements. It would require a skilled eye to detect any difference between most of them and a flint which had only been chipped by natural means. But the first thing to remember is, that the makers of these implements had nothing but other still ruder materials to help them in this manufacture of theirs. Metals of all kinds were as yet utterly unknown to man.{12}

We who are so habituated to the employment of metal, either in the manufacture or the composition of every article which meets our eye, can scarcely realize that man lived long ages on the earth before the metals and minerals, its hidden treasures, were revealed to him. This pen I write with is of metal, or, were it a quill, it would still have been shaped by the use of steel; the rags of which this paper is made up have been first cut by metal knives, then bleached by a mineral (chlorine), then torn on a metal cylinder, then thrown into a vat which was either itself of metal or had been shaped by metal tools, then drawn on a wire-cloth, etc. And so it is with everything which is made nowadays. We can scarcely think of any single manufacture in which is not traceable the paramount influence of man’s discoveries beneath the surface of the ground. But primitive man could profit by no such inherited knowledge, and had only begun to acquire some powers which he could transmit to his own descendants. For his tools he must look to the surface of the earth only; and the hardest substances he could find were stones. Not only during the period of which we are now speaking, but for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years lasted man’s ignorance of the metals, ignorance therefore of all that the metals could produce for him. The long age of this state of ignorance is distinguished in pre-history by the name of the Stone Age, because the hardest things then known to mankind were stones, and the most important of his implements and utensils had therefore to be made of stones.

There can be no harm if we so far anticipate our second chapter as to say that this Stone Age is distinguished by pre-historic students into two main periods: (1) the age in which all the stone implements were made exclusively by chipping, (2) the age in which grinding or polishing was{13} brought in to supplement the use of chipping. Wherefore the first age is also called the Unpolished Stone Age, the second is called the Polished Stone Age. Not that by any means all the implements in the later age were made of polished stone; far from it. Only that, contemporaneously with the stone implements still made by chipping merely, others of polished stone were used. But of this more hereafter. Lastly, the two epochs are also distinguished more simply as the Old Stone Age and the New Stone Age—or, turned into Greek, the Palæolithic Era and the Neolithic Era.

Now we go back to speak of the Palæolithic Era only. And in this we have as yet got no further than the implements of the river drifts. It is not to be supposed that at any time of his history man used implements of stone and no others; for wood and bone must have been always as ready to his hand as stone was, and for many purposes bone and wooden utensils would serve better than stone ones. But the stone implements would always deserve to be accounted the most important; because by means of them the others of softer material must have been shaped. As regards the drift deposits, here the remains of man’s work are exclusively stone implements, but probably only because all that were made of some softer substance have perished, or remain as yet undiscovered. And most primitive these stone tools or weapons are. By the rudeness and uniformity of their shapes as contrasted even with other classes of stone implements, they testify to the simplicity of those who manufactured them. They have for the most part only two or three distinctive types: they are either of a long, pear-shaped make, narrowed almost to a point at the thin end, and adapted, we may suppose, for boring holes, while the broad end of the pear was pressed against the palm of{14} the hand; and secondly, of a sort of oval form, chipped all round the edge, capable of being fitted into a wooden haft, a cleft stick or whatever it might be, to form an implement which might be used for all sorts of cutting or scraping. A variety of this last implement, of rather a tongue-like shape, was called by the French workmen who worked under M. Boucher de Perthes, langue-de-chat. These might serve the purpose of spear-heads. Some have supposed that stones of this last form were used, as similar ones are used by the Esquimaux to this day, in cutting holes in the ice for the purpose of fishing: we must not forget that during at any rate a great part of the early stone age the conditions of life were those of arctic countries at the present time. A third variety of stone implements is made of thinner flakes, and capable of being used as a knife.[3]

We cannot determine all the uses to which primitive man must have put his rude and ineffective weapons; we can only wonder that with such he was able to maintain his existence among the savage beasts by which he was surrounded; and we long to form to ourselves some picture of the way in which he got the better of their huge strength, as well as of his dwelling-place, his habits, and his appearance. Rude as his weapons are, and showing no trace of improvement, it seems as though man of the drift period must have lived through long ages of the world’s history. These implements are found associated with the remains of the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros, animals naturally belonging to the arctic or semi-arctic climate which succeeded the glacial era; but like implements are found, associated with the remains of the bones of the lion, the{15} tiger, and the hippopotamus, all of which, and the last especially, are rarely found outside the torrid zone. This would imply that the drift implements lasted through the change from a rigid to a torrid climate, and probably back again to a cold temperate one.


Implements of
the caves.

Contemporary very likely with some portion of the drift period are another series of deposits which contain still more interesting traces of early man. These are what are called the cave deposits—a remarkable series of discoveries made in caves in various parts of Europe which appear to carry us down farther in the history of human development.

These caves are natural caverns, generally formed in the limestone rocks, and at present the most remarkable ‘finds’ have been obtained from the caves of Devonshire, of the Department of the Dordogne in France, from various caves in Belgium, and from a very remarkable cavern in the Neanderthal, near Düsseldorf, in Germany. But there is scarcely any country in Europe where some caves containing human bones and weapons have not been opened. The rudest drift implements seem older than almost any of those found in caves; and, on the whole, the cave-remains seem to give us a picture of man in a more civilized condition than the man of the drift.

Let us pause for one moment before these cave remains. For, simple as they are, they open a little bit the veil which hides from us the lives of the earliest of men. We call the things which we have found implements. For we cannot really tell whether they should be called tools or weapons. Nay, and this is a thing worth remembering, in the most primitive conditions of society man’s tools are his weapons and his weapons are almost his only tools. Man’s first{16} condition of life is the venatory condition. He is at first a mere hunter (or trapper) and fisherman. He begins without the use of any domestic animal. He has not even the dog, at first, to help him in his hunting; much less has he cattle or sheep to vary his occupation in life. With the rest of the animal creation he is constantly at war. He preys upon other animals, and other animals, if they can, prey upon him. Wherefore, as I have said, his earliest tools are likewise his weapons, his weapons are his tools; and the arts of peace and war are undistinguishable.

The next distinct stage of life is the pastoral stage. Man has now his domesticated animals; he has cattle and sheep and horses maybe. Tending his flocks and herds is now his chief occupation. But this tending implies protecting them and himself. And still, though some of his implements are for peaceful use—his crooks, his goads, his lassoes, his bridles, his hurdles and sheep-pens, or, again, his needles for sewing together the hides which form his clothes—still most are for war. Yet, if any distinction is possible, his weapons should now be those of defence rather than those of offence.

The third great stage is the agricultural—a stage of life at which all civilized nations and many which can hardly be called civilized have arrived; when man ploughs and sows, and reaps, plants vines and orchards. Then most of the implements used in these industries, the implements on which therefore his nourishment depends, are wholly distinct from the weapons of war, and the peaceful existence has become (as the phrase is) differentiated from the warlike. This is the token of a higher civilization.

At present we are far from such a stage of progress in the history of man. The cave-dwellers were, we may be sure, in the hunting and fishing stage of civilization; and we{17} cannot really tell, among a large proportion of their weapons, which were designed to serve against animals for the purposes of the chase, and which against their fellow-men. We can hardly distinguish among some of their weapons whether they were to be used in hunting or fishing. They had stone axes and spear-heads, and they also had what we may call harpoons. But harpoons are merely lances attached to a thong, and may be used with equal success against animals or against the larger fish, salmons or whales. These harpoons are barbed. They are made of wood and of bone. A curious and close inquiry has discovered that the bones of animals found among the human remains in the caves have been scored in such a way as to suggest that the sinews were cut from them—to be used, no doubt, as thongs to the harpoons, as lines for fishing, as threads for sewing garments, etc. The cave men had also barbed hooks—fishing-hooks we may call them; though they too may sometimes have been employed against animals or even birds. It is most probable that these primitive men did not know the use of the bow and arrow, and that the name arrow-heads sometimes given to certain of their weapons is a misnomer; that they should be called javelin-heads. Bone awls have been found, no doubt for the sake (chiefly) of piercing the scraped skins of animals, which might afterwards be sewn together into garments: bone knives, pins, and needles have also been found—the last a most important form of implement—in considerable numbers.

What is still more interesting than all these discoveries, we here find the rudiments of art. Some of the bone implements, as well as some stones, are engraved, or even rudely sculptured, generally with the representation of an animal. These drawings are singularly faithful, and really give us a picture of the animals which were man’s contemporaries{18} upon the earth; so that we have the most positive proof that man lived the contemporary of animals long since extinct. The cave of La Madeleine, in the Dordogne, for instance, contained a piece of a mammoth’s tusk engraved with an outline of that animal; and as the mammoth was probably not contemporaneous with man during the latter part even of the old-stone age, this gives an immense antiquity to the first dawnings of art. How little could the scratcher of this rough sketch—for it is not equal in skill to drawings which have been found in other caves—dream of the interest which his performance would excite thousands of years after his death! Not the greatest painter of subsequent times, and scarcely the greatest sculptor, can hope for so near an approach to immortality for their works. Had man’s bones been only found in juxtaposition with those of the mammoth and his contemporary animals, this might possibly have been attributed to chance disturbances of the soil, to the accumulation of river deposits, or to many other accidental occurrences; or had the mammoth’s bone only been found worked by man, there was nothing positive to show that the animal had not been long since extinct, and this a chance bone which had come into the hands of a later inhabitant of the earth, just as it has since come into our hands; but the actual drawing of this old-world, and as it sometimes seems to us almost fabulous, animal, by one who actually saw him in real life, gives a strange picture of the antiquity of our race, and withal a strange feeling of fellowship with this stone-age man who drew so much in the same way as a clever child among us might have drawn to-day.[4]


It is worth while to look well at these cave-drawings. They are of various degrees of merit, for some are so skilful as to excite the admiration of artists and the astonishment of archæologists. And it is a curious fact that during ages which succeeded those of the cave-dwellers, all through the polished stone period and the age of bronze—of which we shall have to speak anon—no such ambitious imitative works of art seem to have been attempted. So far as we can tell, these after generations of men aimed at no such thing as a drawing of an animal or even of a plant. They confined themselves to ornamental patterns, to certain arrangements of points and lines. The love of imitation is doubtless one of the rudimentary feelings in the human mind; as we may see by watching children. But, rudimentary as it is, it springs from the same root as the highest promptings of the intellect—that is to say, from the wish to create—to fashion something actually ourselves. This is sufficient to explain the origin of these carvings; yet we need not suppose that when the art of making them was once known they were used merely for amusement. Long afterwards we find such drawings and representations looked upon as having some qualities of the things they represent; as, for instance, where in an ancient grave at Mæshow, in the Orkney islands, we find the drawing of a dragon, which had been supposed to watch over the treasures concealed therein. Savages in the present day often think that part of them is actually taken away when a drawing of them is made, and exactly a similar feeling gave rise to the superstition so prevalent in the Middle Ages, that witches and{20} magicians could make a figure in wax to imitate the one on whom they wished to wreak their vengeance, and that all the pains inflicted upon this waxen antitype were reproduced in the body of the victim. On such confusion of ideas do all idolatries rest. So may we not, without too bold a flight, imagine that some superstitious notions, touching the efficacy of these drawings, was a spur to the industry of our first forerunners on the earth, and contributed to their wonderfully acquired skill in their art? May they not have thought that their representations gave them some power over the animals they represented: that the lance-head carved with a mammoth would be efficient against the mammoth’s hide; that the harpoon containing the representation of a deer or a fish was the weapon best adapted for transfixing either?[5]

However this may be, we cannot close our eyes to the interest which attaches to the first dawnings of art in the world. Nor is this interest confined altogether to its æsthetic side—the mere beauty and value of art itself—great though this be. Not only does drawing share that mysterious power of imparting intense pleasure which belongs to every form of art, but it was likewise, after human speech, the first discovered means of conveying an idea from one man to another. As we shall come to see in a later chapter, the invention of drawing bore with it the seeds of the invention of writing, the greatest step forward, in material things at any rate, that man has ever made.

There is one other fact to be mentioned, and then the information which our cave discoveries can give us concerning the life of man in those days is pretty nearly exhausted. Traces of fires have been found in several caves, so that there can be no doubt that man had made this important discovery,{21} the discovery of fire, also. It seems to us impossible to imagine a time when men could have lived upon the earth without this all-useful element, when they must have devoured their food uncooked, and only sheltered themselves from the cold by the thickness of their clothing, or at night by huddling together in close underground houses. We have certainly no proof that man’s existence was ever of such a sort as this; but yet it is clear that the art of making fires is one not discoverable at first sight. How long man took to find out that method of ignition by friction of two sticks—the method employed in different forms by all the less cultivated nations spread over the globe, and one which we may therefore fairly take to be the most primitive and natural—we shall never know. We have only the negative evidence that he had discovered it at that primæval time when he began to leave his remains within the caves.

Thus have we completed the catalogue of facts upon which we may build up for ourselves some representation of the life of man in the earliest ages of his existence upon earth. It must be confessed that they are meagre enough. We should like some further facts which would help us to picture the man himself, his size, his appearance, what race he most resembled of any of those which now inhabit our globe. Unfortunately we have little that can assist us here. Human remains have been found—on one or two occasions a skeleton in tolerably complete preservation—but not yet in sufficient numbers to allow us to draw any certain conclusions from them, or even to hazard any very probable conjecture.


Among these discoveries of human skeletons, none excited more interest at the time it was made than the Neanderthal skeleton, so-called from the place in which it was found. The discovery was made in 1857 by Dr. Fuhlrott of Elberfeld; and when the{22} skull and other parts of the skeleton were exhibited at a scientific meeting at Bonn, in the same year, doubts were expressed as to the human character of the remains. These doubts, which were soon dissipated, arose from the very low type of the head, which was pronounced by many to be the most ape-like skull that they had ever seen. The bones themselves indicated a person of much the same stature as a European of the present day, but with such an unusual thickness in some of them as betokened a being of very extraordinary strength. This discovery, had it been supported by others, might have seemed to indicate a race of men of a type inferior even to the most savage races of our present globe. But it has not been so supported. On the contrary, another skull found at Engis, near Liége, not more than seventy miles from the cave of the Neanderthal, was proved after careful measurements not to differ materially from the skulls of individuals of the European race—a fact which prevents us from making any assertions respecting the primitive character in race or physical conformation of these cave-dwellers. Indeed, in a very careful and elaborate paper upon the Engis and Neanderthal skulls, Professor Huxley places an average skull of a modern native of Australia about half-way between those of the Neanderthal and Engis caves; but he also says that after going through a large collection of Australian skulls, he ‘found it possible to select from among these crania two (connected by all sorts of intermediate gradations), the one of which should very nearly resemble the Engis skull, while the other should somewhat less closely approximate to the Neanderthal skull in form, size, and proportions.’ And yet as regards blood, customs, or language, the natives of Southern and Western Australia are as pure and homogeneous as almost any race of savages in existence. This shows us how{23} difficult would have been any reasoning founded upon the insufficient data we possess. In fact, it would no doubt be possible to find in Europe among persons of abnormal under-development, such as idiots, skulls of a formation which would match that of the Neanderthal.

This class of evidence is therefore merely negative. We certainly cannot pronounce that man of the old stone age was of a lower type than low types of savages of the present day; we cannot even say that he was as undeveloped as are the Lapps of modern Europe; but in this negative evidence there is a certain amount of satisfaction. We might be not unwilling to place on the level of the Eskimo or the Lapp the fashioners of the rudest of the stone implements, but the artists of the caves we may well imagine to have attained a higher development. And there is nothing at all unreasonable or opposed to our experience of Nature in supposing a race of human beings to have flourished in Europe in these old times, to have been possessed of a certain amount of civilization, but not to have advanced from that towards any very great improvement before they were at last extinguished by some other race with a greater faculty for progress. As we shall come to see later on, there is some reason for connecting man of the later stone age as regards race with the Eskimo or Lapp of to-day. Yet even if this be admitted, we must look upon the latter rather as the dregs of the races they represent. It is not always the highest types of any particular race, whether of men, of animals, or of plants, which live the longest. Species which were once flourishing are often only represented by stunted and inferior descendants; just as the animals of the lizard class once upon a time, and long before the coming of man upon the earth, had their age of greatest development and reached proportions which are unknown in these days.{24}

So we may imagine man spreading out at various times and in many different streams from his first home in Asia. The earlier races to leave this nursing-place did not, we may suppose, contain sufficient force to carry them beyond a low level of culture; very likely they sank in civilization and in the end got pushed on one side by more energetic people who came like a second wave from the common source. When, in the history of the world, we come to speak of races of whom we know more, we shall see strong reasons to believe that this was the rule followed; nay, it is even followed at the present day, where European races are spreading over all the world, and gradually absorbing or extinguishing inferior members of the human family. We must, therefore, in our present state of ignorance, be content to look upon palæolithic man merely as we find him, and not to advance vague surmises whether he gradually advanced to the use of better stone weapons, and at last to metals, or whether he was extinguished by subsequent races who did thus advance.

The life of
palæolithic man.

Taking, then, this race as we find it, without speculating upon its immediate origin or future, we may endeavour to gather some notion of man’s way of life in these primitive times. It was of the simplest. We may well suppose, for some proofs to the contrary would otherwise most likely have been discovered, that his life was that of the hunter, which is, it has been said, generally the earliest phase of human society, and that he had not yet learned to till the ground, or to keep domestic animals for his use. No bones of animals like the sheep or dog are found among palæolithic remains, and therefore it seems probable that palæolithic man had not yet entered upon the next and higher phase, the pastoral life. He had probably no fixed home, no idea of nationality, scarcely{25} any of obligations beyond the circle of his own family, in that larger sense in which the word ‘family’ is generally understood by savages. Some sort of family or tribe no doubt held together, were it only for the sake of protecting themselves against the attacks of their neighbours. For the rest, their time was spent, as the time of other savages is spent, out of doors in fighting and hunting, within doors in preserving their food and their skins, in elaborately manufacturing their implements of stone and bone. In the inclement seasons they were crowded together in their caves, perhaps for months together, as the Eskimo are in winter, almost without moving. As appears from the remains in the caves, they were in the habit at such times of throwing the old bones and the offal of their food into any corner (the Eskimo do so to this day), without taking the smallest trouble to obviate the unpleasant effects produced by the decay of all this animal matter in an atmosphere naturally close. Through the long winter nights they found time to perfect their skill in those wonderful bone carvings, and to lay up a store of weapons which they afterwards—anticipating the rise of commerce—exchanged with the inhabitants of some other cave for their peculiar manufacture; for in one of the caves of the Dordogne we find the remains of what must have been a regular manufactory of one sort of flint-knife or lance-head, almost to the exclusion of any other of the ordinary weapons, while another cave seems to have been devoted as exclusively to the production of implements of bone.

Man had no doubt a hard life, not only to obtain the food he needed, but to defend himself against the attacks of many wild animals by whom he was surrounded, animals whose particular species have in many cases become extinct, and whose classes have long ceased to inhabit Europe.{26} Such are the cave lion, cave bear, cave hyæna, brown bear, grizzly bear, mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, urus, bison, and such rarities (with us) as the reindeer, the Irish elk, and the beaver.

Some people have thought that they discovered in the traces of fires which had been sometimes lighted before caves in which were found human skeletons, the indication of sepulchral rites, and that these caves were used as burial-places. But these suppositions are too vague and uncertain to be relied upon. It may, however, be said that we have evidence pointing to the fact that even in the drift period men buried their dead, and it is hardly possible to believe that they did so without paying some obsequies to the remains. On this interesting subject of sepulchral rites we must forbear to say anything until we come to speak of the second stone age. Our knowledge of the early stone-people must close with the slight picture we have been able to form of their life; of their death, of their rites of the dead, and the ideas concerning a future state which these might indicate, we cannot speak.

This, then, is all we know of man of the first stone age, and it is not probable that our knowledge will ever be greatly increased. New finds of these stone implements are being made almost every day, not in Europe only, though at present chiefly there, but in many other parts of the globe. But the new discoveries closely resemble the old, the same sort of implements recur again and again, and we only learn by them over how great a part of the globe this stage in our civilization extended. Further information of this kind may change some of our theories concerning the duration or the origin of this civilization, but it will not add much to our knowledge of its nature. Yet it cannot be denied that the thought of man’s existence{27} only, though we know little more than this, a contemporary of the mammoth at the time which immediately succeeded the glacial period, or perhaps before the glacial period had quite come to an end, is full of the deepest interest for us. The long silent time which intervenes between the creation of our first parents and those biblical events whereof the narration is to a certain extent continuous and consecutive, till the dawn of history in the Bible narrative in fact, is to some small extent filled in. We shall see in the next chapter how the second stone age serves to carry the same picture further. In rudest outline the life of man is placed before us, and if we have no more than this, we have at any rate something which may occupy our imaginations, and prevent them, as they otherwise would do, as, of old, men’s minds did, from leaping almost at a bound from the Creation to the Flood, and from the Flood to the time of Abraham.{28}



The age of
polished stone.

Between the earlier and the later stone age, between man of the drift period and man of the neolithic era, occurs a vast blank which we cannot fill in. We bid adieu to the primitive inhabitants of our earth while they are still the contemporaries of the mammoth and woolly rhinoceros, or of the cave lion and the cave bear, and while the very surface of the earth wears a different aspect from what it now wears. With a changed condition of things, with a race of animals which differed not essentially from those known to us, and with a settled conformation of our lands and seas not again to be departed from, comes before us the second race of man—man of the polished stone age. We cannot account for the sudden break; or, what is in truth the same thing, many different suggestions to account for it have been made. Some have supposed that the palæolithic men lived at a time anterior to the last glacial era, for there were many glacial periods in Europe, and were either exterminated altogether or driven thence to more southern countries by the change in climate. Others have imagined that a new and more cultivated race migrated into these countries, and at once introduced the improved weapons of the later stone age;{29} and lastly, others have looked upon the first stone age as having existed before the Deluge, and hold that the second race of man, the descendants of Noah, began at once with a higher sort of civilization. Two of these four theories, it will be seen, must suppose that man somewhere went through the stages of improvement necessary to the introduction of the newer sort of weapons, and they therefore take it for granted that the graduated series of stone implements, indicating a gradual progress from the old time to the newer, though they have not yet been found, are to be discovered somewhere. The first and last theories would seem to be more independent of this supposition, and therefore, as far as our knowledge yet goes, to be more in accordance with the facts which we possess. It is, however, by no means safe to affirm that the graduated series of implements required to support the other suppositions will never be found.



Be this as it may, with the second era begins something like a continuous history of our race. However scanty the marks of his tracks, we may feel sure that from this time forward man passed on one unbroken journey of development and change through the forgotten eras of the world’s life down to the dawn of history. We take the rudest condition in which we find man to be the most primitive, and we start with him in this new stone age as still a fisher or a hunter only. He first appears before us as depending for his nourishment chiefly upon the shell-fish on certain coasts of northern Europe. In the north of Europe—that is to say, upon the shores of the Baltic—are found numbers of mounds, some five or ten feet high, and in length as much, sometimes, as a thousand feet, by one or two hundred feet in breadth. The{30} mounds consist for the most part of myriads of cast-away shells of oysters, mussels, cockles, and other shell-fish; mixed up with these are not a few bones of birds and quadrupeds, showing that these also served for food to the primitive dwellers by the shell mounds. The mounds are called in the present day kjökken-möddings, kitchen-middens. They have been chiefly found in Denmark. They are, in truth, the refuse heaps of the earliest kitchens which have smoked in these northern regions;[6] for they are the remains of some of the earliest among the polished-stone age inhabitants of Europe. So primitive are the weapons of the Danish kitchen-middens, that they have sometimes been classed with the old stone age implements. But I believe some traces of grinding if not of polishing have been found on them. And at any rate the mammalia contemporary with the kitchen-midden men are very different from those of the drift or of the caves.

The raisers of these refuse mounds were, we may judge, pre-eminently fishers; and not generally fishers of that adventurous kind who seek their treasure in the depths of the ocean. They lived chiefly upon those smaller fish and shell-fish which could be caught without much difficulty or danger. Yet not only on these; for the bones of some deep-sea fish have also been discovered, whence we know that these mound-raisers were possessed of the art of navigation, though doubtless in a most primitive form. Among remains believed to be contemporary with the shell mounds are found canoes not built of planks, as our boats and as most canoes are nowadays, but merely hollowed out of the trunks of trees; sometimes these canoes are quite{31} straight fore and aft, just as the trunk was when it was cut, sometimes a little bevelled from below, like a punt of the present day; but we believe they are never found rounded or pointed at the prow. Here, then, we see another discovery which has been of the greatest use to mankind, whereof the first traces come to us from these northern shell mounds. That ‘heart with oak and bronze thrice bound,’ the man who first ventured to sea in the first vessel, had lived before this time. Whoever he was, we cannot, if we think of it, refuse to endorse the praise bestowed upon him by the poet; it required no mean courage to venture out to sea on such a strange make-shift as was the first canoe. Perhaps the earliest experiment was an involuntary one, made by some one who was washed away upon a large log or felled tree. We can fancy how thence would arise the notion of venturing again a little way, then of hollowing a seat in the middle of the trunk, until the primitive canoes, such as we find, came into existence.

In these imperfect vessels men gradually ventured further and further into the ocean; and, judging of the extent of their voyages by the deep-sea remains, we may be certain that their bravery was fatal to many. This is in all probability the history of the discovery or re-discovery of the art of navigation among savage people generally; in all cases does the canoe precede the regular boat. I say ‘re-discovery’ because a nation which has settled long inland might very easily lose the art even if their ancestors had possessed it. For it is a fact that people rarely begin attempts at ship-building before they come to live near the sea. As long as they can range freely on land, their rivers do not tempt them to any dangerous experiments. But the vast plain of the sea is too important, and makes too great an impression on their imagination for its charm to be long withstood.{32} Sooner or later, with much risk of life, men are sure to try and explore its solitudes, and navigation takes its rise. This art of seafaring, then, is amongst the most noticeable of the belongings of the fishermen of the shell mounds. Considering that they had none but rude stone implements, the felling and hollowing of trees must have been an affair of no small labour, and very likely occupied a great deal of their time when they were not actually seeking their food, even though the agency of fire supplemented the ineffectual blows of their stone weapons. They probably used nets for their sea-fishing, made most likely of twisted bark or grass. And they were hunters as well as fishers, for it has been said that the remains of various animals have been discovered on the shell mounds. From these remains we see that the age of the post-glacial animals has by this time quite passed away; no mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, or cave lion or bear is found; even the reindeer, which in palæolithic days must have ranged over France and Switzerland, has retired to the north.

The fact is, the climate is now much more temperate and uniform than in the first stone age. Then the reindeer and the chamois, animals which belong naturally to regions of ice and snow, freely traversed, in winter at least, the valleys or the plains far towards the south of Europe.[7] But as the climate changed, the first was driven to the extreme north of Europe, and the second to the higher mountain peaks. The only extinct species belonging to the shell mounds is the wild bull (bos primigenius), which however survived in Europe until quite historical times. His remains appear in great numbers, as do those of the seal, now very rare, and the beaver, which is extinct in Denmark. No remains of any domesticated animal are found; but the{33} existence of tame dogs is guessed at from the fact that the bones bear traces of the gnawing of canine teeth, and from the absence of bones of young birds and of the softer bones of animals generally. For it has been shown experimentally that just such portions are absent from these skeletons as will be devoured when birds or animals of the same species are given to dogs at this day. Dogs, therefore, we may feel pretty sure, were domesticated by the stone-age men; so here again we can see the beginning of a step in civilization which has been of incalculable benefit to man, the taming of animals for his use. The ox, the sheep, the goat, were as yet unknown; man was still in the hunter’s condition, and had not advanced to the shepherd state, only training for his use the dog, to assist him in pursuit of the wild animals who supplied part of his food. He was, too, utterly devoid of all agricultural knowledge. Probably the domestication of the dog marks a sort of transition state between the hunter and the shepherd. When that experiment has been tried, the notion must sooner or later spring up of training other animals, and keeping them for use or food. With regard to the dogs themselves, it is a curious fact that those of the stone age are smaller than those of the bronze period, while the dogs of the bronze age are again smaller than those of the age of iron. This is an illustration of the well-known fact that domestication increases the size and improves the character of animals, as gardening does that of plants.

There is one other negative fact which we gather from the bones of these refuse-heaps—no human bones are mingled with them; so we may conclude that these men were not cannibals. In fact, cannibalism is an extraordinary perversion of human nature, arising it is difficult to say exactly how, and only showing itself among particular people and{34} under peculiar conditions. There is no doubt that, among a very large proportion of the savage nations which at present inhabit our globe, cannibalism is practised, and of this fact many explanations have been offered; but they are generally far-fetched and unsatisfactory; and it is certainly not within our scope to discuss them here. How little natural cannibalism is even to the most savage men is proved by the fact that man is scarcely ever, except under urgent necessity, found to feed upon the flesh of carnivorous or flesh-eating animals, and this alone, besides every instinct of our nature, would be sufficient to prevent him from eating his fellow-men.

We have many proofs of the great antiquity of the shell mounds. Their position gives one. Whilst most of them are confined to the immediate neighbourhood of the seashore, some few are found at a distance of several miles inland. These exceptions may always be referred to the presence of a stream which has gradually deposited its mud at the place where it emptied itself into the sea, or to some other sufficient cause of the protrusion of the coast-line; so that these miles of new coast have come into existence after the shell mounds were raised. On the other hand, there are no mounds upon those parts of the coast which border on the Western Ocean. But it is just here that, owing to a gradual depression of the land at the rate of two or three inches in a century[8] the waves are slowly eating away the shore. This is what happens on every sea-coast. Almost all over the world there is a small but{35} constant movement of the solid crust of the earth, which is, in fact, only a crust over the molten mass within. Sometimes, and in some places, the imprisoned mass makes itself felt, in violent upheavals, in sudden cracks of the inclosing surface, which we call earthquakes and volcanoes; but oftener its effect is slight and almost unnoticed. This interchange of state between the kingdoms of the land and of the ocean helps to show us the time which has passed between the making of the kitchen-middens and our own days. There seems little doubt that all along the Danish coast of the North Sea, as well as on that of the Baltic, these mounds once stood; but by the gradual undermining of the cliffs the former series have all been swept away, while the latter have, as it appears, been moved a little inland; and we have seen that when there was another cause present to form land between the kitchen-middens and the sea, the distance has often been increased to several miles.

Here is another and a still stronger proof of the antiquity of the shell mounds. If we examine the shells themselves, we find that they all belong to still living species, and they are all exactly similar to such as might be found in the ocean at the present day. But it happens that this is not now the case with the shells of the same fish belonging to the Baltic Sea. For the waters of this sea are now brackish, and not salt; and since they became so the shell-fish in it have gradually grown smaller, and do not now attain half their natural size. The oyster, moreover, will not now live at all in the Baltic, except near its entrance, where, whenever the wind blows from the north-west, a strong current of salt ocean water is poured in. Yet oyster shells are especially abundant in the kitchen-middens. From all this we gather that, at the time of the making of these mounds, there must have been free communication between the{36} ocean and the Baltic Sea. In all probability, in fact, there were a number of such passages through the peninsula of Jutland, which was consequently at that time an archipelago.


The tumuli
or barrows.

As ages passed on the descendants of these isolated fishermen spread themselves over Europe, and, improving in their way of life and mastery over mechanical arts, found themselves no longer constrained to trust for their livelihood to the spoils of the sea-shallows. They made lances and axes (headed with stone), and perfected the use of the bow and arrow until they became masters of the game of the forest. And then, after a while, man grew out of this hunter stage and domesticated other animals besides the dog: oxen, pigs, and geese. No longer occupied solely by the search for his daily food, he raised mighty tombs—huge mounds of earth enclosing a narrow grave—to the departed great men of his race; and he reared up those enormous masses of stone called cromlechs or dolmens—such as we see at Stonehenge—as altars to his gods.[9]

The great tombs of earth—which have their fellows not in Europe only, but over the greater part of the world—are the special and characteristic features of the stone age. The raisers of the kitchen-middens probably preceded the men who built the tombs; for their mode of life was, as we should say, the most primitive; but they were confined to a corner of Europe. The tomb-builders formed one of a mighty brotherhood of men linked together by the characteristics of a common civilization. These stone-age sepulchres,{37} called in England tumuli, barrows, or hows, are hills of earth from one to as much as four hundred feet long, by a breadth and height of from thirty to fifty feet. They are either chambered or unchambered; that is, they are either raised over a small vault made of stone (with perhaps a sort of vestibule or entrance chamber), or else a mere hollow has been excavated within the mound. In these recesses repose the bodies of the dead, some great chieftain or hero—the father of his people, who came to be regarded after his death with almost the veneration of a god. Beside the dead were placed various implements and utensils, left there to do him honour or service, to assist him upon the journey to that undiscovered country whither he was bound; the best of sharpened knives or spear-heads, some jars of their rude pottery, once filled with food and drink, porridge, rough cakes and beer.[10] And maybe a wife or two, and some captives of the last battle were sacrificed to his shade, that he might not go quite unattended into that ‘other world.’ The last ceremony, the slaughter of human victims to the manes of the dead, was not always, but it must have been often, enacted. Out of thirty-two stone-age barrows excavated in Wiltshire, seventeen contained only one skeleton, and the rest various numbers, from two to an indefinite number; and, in one case at least, all the skulls save one were found cleft as by a stone hatchet.

At the doors of the mounds or in an entrance chamber many bones have been discovered, the traces of a funeral feast, the wake or watch kept on the evening of the burial. Likely enough, if the chief were almost deified after death,{38} the funeral feast would become periodical. It would be considered canny and of good omen that the elders of the tribe should meet there at times in solemn conclave, on the eve of a warlike expedition or whenever the watchful care of the dead hero might avail his descendants. From the remains of these feasts, and from the relics of the tombs, we have the means of forming some idea of man’s acquirements at this time. His implements are improvements upon those of the stone age: in all respects, that is, save in this one, that he had now no barbed weapons; whereas we remember that in the caves barbed harpoons are frequently met with. Nor, again, had he the artistic talent of the cave-dwellers: no traces of New Stone-age drawings have come to light. For the rest, his implements and weapons may be divided into a few distinctive classes:—

1. Hammers, hatchets, tomahawks, or chisels; an instrument made of a heavy piece of stone brought to a sharp cutting edge at one end, and at the other rounded or flat, so as to serve the double purpose of a hammer and an axe. When these are of an elongated form they are called celts or chisels. As subspecies to the hammers and celts we have picks and gouges. 2. Arrow and spear heads, which differ in size but not much in form, both being long and narrow in shape, often closely resembling the leaf of the laurel or the bay, sometimes of a diamond shape, but more often having the lateral corners nearest to the end which fitted into the shaft. Viewed edgeways, they also appear to taper towards either end, for while one point was designed to pierce the victim, the other was fitted into a cleft handle, and bound into it with cord or sinew. Implements have been discovered still fitted into their handles. 3. The stone knives, which have generally two cutting edges, and when this is the case do not greatly differ from the spear-heads,{39} though they are commonly less pointed than the latter. And to these three important forms we may add, as less important types, a rounded form of implement, generally called a scraper, and similar to the scrapers of the palæolithic era; stones designed for slinging, net-weights, and perhaps corn-grinders or nut-crushers. A few bone implements have been found in the tumuli, a pin, a chisel, and a knife or so; but they are very rare, they are never carved, and have not one quarter of the interest which belongs to the bone implements of the caves. Finally, we must not omit to say that in Anhalt, in Germany, a large stone has been found which seems to have served the purpose of a plough. For there can be little doubt that if some of the tumuli belong to a time before the use of domesticated animals—save the dog—they last down to a time when man not only had tame oxen, pigs, goats, and geese,[11] but also sowed and planted, and lived the life of an agricultural race; nor will it be said that such an advance was extraordinary when we say that the minimum duration of the age of polished stone in central Europe was probably two thousand years.

Other relics from the mounds, not less interesting than the weapons, are their vessels of pottery; for here we see the earliest traces of another art. This pottery is of a black colour, curiously mixed with powdered shells, perhaps to strengthen the clay, perhaps for ornament. Its pottery belongs to the latter portion of this age of stone, a period distinguished not only by the use of domestic animals, but also by the growth of cereals. We have said that bones of cattle, swine, and in one case of a goose, have been found among the refuse of the funeral feasts. But man was still a{40} hunter, as he is to this day, though he had found other means of support besides the wild game; so we also find the bones of the red deer and the wild bull, both of which supplied him with food. Wolves’ teeth, too, have been found pierced, so as to be strung into a necklace; for personal adornment formed, in those days as now, part of the interest of life. Jet beads have been discovered in large numbers, and even some of amber, which seems to have been brought from the Baltic to these countries and as far south as Switzerland; and it is known that during the last portion of what is, nevertheless, still the stone period, the most precious metal of all, gold, was used for ornament. Gold is the one metal which is frequently found on the surface of the ground, and therefore it was naturally the first to come under the eye of man.

The religion of the mound-builders probably consisted in part of the worship of the dead, so that the very tombs themselves, and not the cromlechs only, were a sort of temples. And yet they had the deepest dread of the reappearance of the departed upon earth—of his ghost. To prevent his ‘walking’ they adopted a strange practical form of exorcism. They strewed the ground at the grave’s mouth with sharp stones or broken pieces of pottery, as though a ghost could have his feet cut, and by fear of that be kept from returning to his old haunts. For ages and ages after the days of the mound-builders the same custom lived on of which we here see the rise. The same ceremony—turned now to an unmeaning rite—was used for the graves of those, such as murderers or suicides, who might be expected to sleep uneasily in their narrow house. This is the custom which is referred to in the speech of the priest to Laertes.[12] Ophelia had died under such suspicion of suicide, that it{41} was a stretch of their rule, he says, to grant her Christian burial.

‘And but the great command o’ersways our order,
She should in ground unsanctified have lodged
To the last trumpet: for charitable prayers,
Shards, flints and pebbles, should be thrown on her.’
  *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The body of him for whom the mound was built was not buried in the centre, but at one end, and that commonly the east, for in most cases the barrows lie east and west. It is never stretched out flat, but lies or sits in a crouched attitude, the head brought down upon the breast, and the knees raised up to meet the chin. So that the dead man was generally left facing toward the west—the going down of the sun. There cannot but be some significance in this. The daily death of the sun has, in all ages and to all people, spoken of man’s own death, his western course has seemed to tell of that last journey upon which all are bent. So that the resting-place of the soul is nearly always imagined to lie westward in the home of the setting sun. For the rest, there seems little doubt that the barrows represent nothing else—though upon a large scale—than the dwelling-home of the time, and we may believe that the greater part of the funeral rights connected with the mounds were very literal and unsymbolical.[13] The Eskimo and Lapps of our day{42} dwell in huts no more commodious than the small chambers of the barrows, and exceedingly like them in shape; only they keep them warm by heaping up over them not earth but snow. In these hovels they sit squatting, in an attitude not unlike that of the skeleton of the tumuli. Of the human remains the skulls are small and round, and have a prominent ridge over the sockets of the eyes, showing that the ancient race was of small stature with round heads—what is called brachycephalus, or short-headed, and had over-hanging eyebrows; in short, their skeletons bare a considerable resemblance to those of the modern Laplanders.

We are still, however, left in darkness about that part of the stone-age thought which has left the grandest traces, and of which we should so much have wished to be informed; I mean the religion. Besides the tumuli we have those enormous piles of stone called cromlechs, or dolmens, and sometimes miscalled Druid circles—such as the well-known Stonehenge; these cromlechs were, we may believe, temples or sacred places. Each arrangement of the stones is generally like a simple portico, made by placing one enormous block upon two others; and these porticoes are sometimes arranged in circles, as at Stonehenge, sometimes in long colonnades, as at Carnac in Brittany. Lesser dolmens have been found in most European countries. There can be little doubt that these huge monuments possessed a religious character. And here is one proof of the fact. As a rule, the grave-mounds—the tumuli—are built upon elevations commanding a considerable prospect, and it is rare to find two within sight. Yet over Salisbury Plain, and the part about Stonehenge, they are much more numerous, as many as a hundred and fifty having been discovered in this neighbourhood, as though all the ground about this great cromlech were a hallowed region, and it were a desired{43} privilege to be buried within such sacred precincts. Of the worship which these stone altars commemorate we know absolutely nothing. There seems to be no reasonable doubt that they belong to the period we are describing. The name Druid Circles, which has been sometimes given them, is an absurd anachronism, for, as we shall have occasion to see later on, the ancestors of the Kelts (or Celts), to whom the Druidical religion belonged, were probably at this time still living on the banks of the Oxus in Central Asia; at any rate they had not yet migrated to Brittany or to Great Britain. Thus, though we must continue to wonder how these people could ever have raised such enormous stones as altars of their religion, the nature of that religion itself is hidden from us.

The tumuli and the relics which they contain are the truest representatives of the second stone age which have come down to us. The barrows raise their summits in every land, and the characteristic features of the remains found in them are the same for each. We must judge that they, that the most genuine stone-age tumuli, arose during the greatest extension of the stone-age races, before any new peoples had come to dispute their territory. What the kitchen-middens show in the germ, they show in its perfection—all the perfection attainable by it.

We have already enumerated the most important forms of weapons and implements found in these tumuli; and there would be no use in entering upon a lengthy verbal description of what would be so much better illustrated by drawings. The books enumerated in the Appendix give abundant illustrations of the stone-age remains. One caution, however, we need to give the reader. This second stone age is called, we know, the age of polished stone. But, as has been already said, that by no means implies that all the implements{44} made in these days were polished. On the contrary, certain stone manufactures, notably arrow-heads, were never polished. They went on being made by chipping, not only during the whole of the second stone age, but far into the first metal age, when bronze had been introduced and was used for the manufacture of numerous weapons and implements. The grinding of the edges of certain sharp weapons is a more important characteristic than the polishing of the whole or a portion of their surface. But this grinding was not universally employed, but used generally only for the larger implements.


The lake

And now, having dealt with the remains from the tumuli, the flower, as we may call them, of the second stone period, we pass on to a third series of remains, which must be in part contemporary with the stone-using men, and have continued on and been absorbed into the metal age, which next supervened. These remains came from what are called the lake-dwellings, and though traces of such dwellings have been found in many countries in Europe, in our isles among others, still the chief provenance of the lake-dwellings, so far as our discoveries yet go, is in Switzerland and the north of Italy. But let it not be supposed that these lake-dwellings extended over a short period. A variety of separate pieces of evidence enforce upon us the conclusion that the stone age in Europe endured for at least two thousand years. Even the latter portion of that epoch will allow a cycle vast enough for the lives of the lake-dwellers; for the dwellings did not come to an end at the end of the age of stone, they only began in it. They were seen by Roman eyes almost as late as the beginning of our own era.

For at least two thousand years, then, we may say, the{45} men who lived in the country of the Swiss lakes, and those of Northern Italy, adopted for the sake of security the custom of making their dwellings, not upon the solid ground, but upon platforms constructed with infinite trouble above the waters of the lake. And the way they set about it was in this wise: Having chosen their spot—if attainable, a sunny shore protected as much as possible from storms, and having a lake-bottom of a soft and sandy nature—they proceeded to drive in piles, composed of tree-stems taken from the neighbouring forests, from four to eight inches in diameter. These piles had to be felled, and afterwards sharpened, either by fire or a stone axe, then driven in from a raft by the use of ponderous stone mallets; and when we have said that in one instance the number of piles of a lake village has been estimated at from 40,000 to 50,000, the enormous labour of the process will be apparent. This task finished, the piles were levelled at a certain height above the water, and a platform of boards was fastened on with pegs. On the platform were erected huts, probably square or oblong in shape, not more than twenty feet or so in length, adapted however for the use of a single family, and generally furnished, it would appear, with a hearthstone and a corn-crusher apiece. The huts were made of wattle-work, coated on both sides with clay. Stalls were provided for the cattle, and a bridge of from only ten or twelve to as much as a hundred yards in length led back to the mainland. Over this the cattle must have been driven every day, at least in summer, to pasture on the bank; and no doubt the village community separated each morning for the various occupations of fishing, for hunting, for agriculture, and for tending the cattle. As may be imagined, these wooden villages were in peculiar danger from fire, and a very large number have suffered{46} destruction in this way; a circumstance fortunate for modern science, for many things which had been partially burnt before falling into the lake have, by the coating of charcoal formed round them, been made impervious to the corroding influence of the water. Thus we have preserved their very grain itself, and their loaves or cakes of crushed but not ground meal. The grains are of various kinds of wheat and barley, oats, and millet.[14]

It is natural to ask for what object the enormous trouble of erecting these lake-dwellings could have been undertaken; and the only answer which can be given is, that it was to protect their inhabitants from their enemies. Whether each village formed a separate tribe and made war upon its neighbours, or whether the lake-dwellers were a peaceful race fleeing from more savage people of the mainland, is uncertain. There is nothing which leads us to suppose they were a race of a warlike character, and as far as the arts of peace go they had advanced considerably upon the men of the tumuli. More especially do the woven cloths, sometimes worked with simple but not inartistic patterns, excite our admiration. They had their trade too. Ornaments of amber are frequent, and amber must have been brought from the Baltic; while in one settlement, believed to be of the stone age, the presence of a glass bead would seem to imply indirect commerce with Egypt, the only country in which the traces of glass manufacture at this remote period have been found.[15] It is believed by good authorities, that the stone age in Europe came to an end about two thousand years before Christ, or at a date{47} which is generally considered to be about that of Abraham; and its shortest duration, as we saw, must also be considered to be two thousand years.

These men of the lakes stand in no degree behind the mound-builders for the material elements of civilization. Nay, they are in some respects before them. Their life seems to have been more confined and simple than that which was going on in other parts of Europe. Its very peacefulness and simplicity gave men the opportunity for perfecting some of their arts. Thus their agriculture was more careful and more extended than that of the men of the tumuli. Their cattle would appear to have been numerous; all were stall-fed upon the island home; if in the morning driven out to pasture over the long bridge to the mainland, they were brought home again at night. To agriculture these lake-dwellers had added the special art of gardening, for they cultivated fruit-trees; and they span hemp and flax, and even constructed—it is believed—some sort of loom for weaving cloth. Yet for all that, if in these respects they were superior to the men of the tumuli, their life was probably more petty and narrow than the others’. There must have been some grandeur in the ideas of men who could have built those enormous tombs and raised those wondrous piles of altar-stones. If the first were made in honour of their chiefs, the existence of such chiefs implies a power in the stone-age men of expanding into a wide social life; so too the immense labour which the raising of the cromlechs demanded argues strong if not the most elevated religious ideas. And it has been often and truly remarked that these two elements of progress, social and religious life, are always intimately associated. It is in a common worship more than in common language that we find the beginning of nationalities. It was so in Greece.{48} The city life grew up around the temple of a particular tutelary deity, and the associations of cities arose from their association in the worship at some common shrine. The common nationality of the Hellenes was kept alive more than anything in the quadrennial games in honour of the Olympian Zeus, just as the special citizenship of Athens found expression in the peculiar worship of the virgin goddess Athênê. So we may well argue from the great stone remains, that man had even then made some progress in political life. They show us the extended conditions of tribal government. But the lake-dwellers only give us a picture of the simplest and narrowest form of the village community. It is with them a complete condition of social equality; there is no appearance of any grade of rank; no hut on these islands is found larger or better supplied or more cared for than the rest. A condition of things not unlike that which we find in Switzerland at the present day; one favourable to happiness and contentment, to improvement in the simpler arts, but not to wide views of life, or to any great or general progress.


The civilization of
the stone ages.

And now let us, before we bid adieu to the men of the stone age, recount our gains, and see what picture the researches of pre-historic science allow us to draw of the progress of mankind from its earliest condition to that in which we now find it. We will forget for a moment the great gap which intervenes between the two stone ages, the age of unpolished stone and the age of polished stone, and simply following step by step the changes in human implements much as if we were walking round the cases of some well-arranged museum, we will note, as we pass it, each marked improvement or new acquisition in the arts of life.{49}


1. To begin, then, with the men of the river drift—so far as we can judge, the rudest and most uncultured of all. It is not certain that these men had so much as wooden handles to their implements of stone, but it is probable that they had them. As we have said, they had only two or three marked varieties in these weapons. How little advance there seems from the state of simply using or hurling the stones in the state in which they are found! At the same time, it must be said that the implements of wood or horn, pointed stakes or even javelins, which these early men may have had would almost certainly have perished.

Nor, again, is there any evidence that the men of the drift period were cognizant of the use of fire, though here it is more likely that they were than that they were not.


2. When we come to the cave-dwellers we see marked signs of a higher civilization. The first and most important of these signs undoubtedly is the evidence of knowledge how to procure fire. We see a much greater variety in the implements used by the cave-dwellers. This, no doubt, is due in part to the disappearance of a portion of the implements of the drift age; but still we must take things as we find them. And putting side by side the specimens of the drift-implements and the cave-implements, we are at once struck by the superiority of the latter in make and in variety of form.

Thirdly, as has already been pointed out, we have here the earliest traces of art. On that subject it is not necessary again to dwell.


3. And now pass on to the second stone age, and see what progress man has made in the interval which separates the two periods. We begin with the society represented by{50} the kitchen-middens. We do not possess any certainly polished-stone implements from these refuse-heaps. But I do not lay any great stress upon the invention of the art of polishing or even of grinding the stone; though that was not without importance, for it enabled the men of the second stone age to make use of much harder and more durable sorts of stone for their cutting implements. The earliest stone-age men made their implements of all sorts almost exclusively of flints, because the flint was a stone not difficult to chip into shape and to give an edge to by chipping. But when it comes to polishing or grinding instead of chipping an edge upon stones, there are a variety of other kinds of stone which are much more durable and much more serviceable than flints are, for the very reason that they are not liable to chip, and these stones (jade, granite, greenstone, obsidian, or one or other of the marbles, for example) we find a good deal employed during the latter stone age.

What, however, is more significant than would be the use of polished-stone implements by the kitchen-midden men is the evidence of their use of canoes, and therefore the evidence that they understood the art of navigation.

Next after that we must place the use of the bow, which also was probably known to the earliest men of the polished-stone age, but not to those of the preceding era.

Finally, we have the beginning of domestication of animals in the domestication of the dog. But we have as yet no beginning of agriculture.


4. Pass on to the men who raised the tumuli and we find still further signs of progress. Of these the tumuli themselves are the most significant. For in them we see the beginning of the art of building. I do not say that houses were unknown to the kitchen-midden men; only that we{51} have no proof that they lived in houses; and we are here taking the evidences of advancing civilization as we come across them. In the case of the still earlier cave-dwellers we may take it for granted that the art of house-building was unknown to them, and quite as much so to the men of the river drift.[16]

True, the tumuli are not houses; they are tombs. But the men who could raise these tombs could raise houses likewise, and there can be little doubt that the architecture of the tombs, here and throughout the history of mankind, was modelled upon the architecture of the houses. Wherefore we may assume that these last were low and narrow chambers, a sort of constructed caves, so to speak, which is just what we should expect the earliest houses to be. We should expect that the first advance from cave-dwelling or burrowing in the ground would be to raise an artificial mountain and burrow within that. But soon the insecurity of this house would become apparent, and the next advance—no mean one, however,—would be the propping of stones upon others to make a chamber before the earth was heaped up in the tumulus, and when that step had been reached the art of house-building had begun.

We might call the next step forward the acquisition of a religion, of which the first signs are apparent in the cromlechs of this age. In this case, again, we only follow the testimony of the remains that have been discovered in the order in which they have come to light. It would be far too much to say that the earlier stone-age men were without religious{52} observances. All we can say is, that the first certain remains of these belong to the time of the tumuli and the cromlechs. The reasons which lead us to believe that these last, the cromlechs, had a religious character have been already given.

Commerce was not unknown even to the cave-dwellers, but the first proofs of anything like a distant commerce come to us from the date of the grave-mounds.

The domestic animals of the tumuli begin to be numerous—oxen, pigs, goats, and geese,—though these remains are not found in the earliest mounds. And there is likewise among them some trace of agriculture.

Finally, traces of the art of pottery-making appear for the first time in these graves.


5. The village communities show an advance to the most undoubted use of agriculture, to the planting of fruit-trees, to the weaving of cloths, and a much more extended practice of domestication than obtained among the men of the grave-mounds.

Thus we see that as long ago as the stone age, before man had yet discovered any metal except, maybe, gold, he had advanced so far as to have discovered the most necessary arts of life, hunting, fishing, navigation (in some form), the domestication of animals, agriculture, planting, weaving, the making of garments—not of skin only, but also of linen or cloth—and the making of pottery.

And now let us note one other thing—the point where the stone age seems to approach most nearly to the borders of actual history. History begins in Egypt. For no continuous Biblical history exists for the days prior to Abraham. But in Egypt, for many centuries before Abraham, we have a continuous history, or at least continuous chronicles and{53} dynastic lists, whose authenticity is admitted, and the remains of no mean civilization in the buildings contemporary with these earliest chronicles.

Egyptian history may be said to begin with the builders of the pyramids. But the pyramids themselves are nothing else than the children of the tumuli of the second stone age. We may call them a sort of crystallized tumuli—barrows of stone instead of earth. But, in truth, the earliest pyramids were probably not built of stone. It is generally believed that the stone pyramids which we see to-day at Gîza and Sakkara were preceded by pyramids of unbaked brick. And what are such buildings of unbaked brick save carefully raised mounds of earth? Here, then, we get the nearest meeting-point between the stone age and the age of history.

Again, the principle upon which were constructed the Egyptian tombs—of which the pyramids were only the most conspicuous forms—were precisely the same as the principles which governed the construction of the more elaborate barrows. These last had not only a chamber for the dead. This chamber was in many cases approached by a passage also made of stones covered with earth; and there can be no question that the mouth of the tomb was used as a sort of ante-room in which the relatives of the dead might hold their wake, or funeral feast. Here have been found the traces of fires, the remains of animals, fragments of vessels of pottery, etc., used or consumed in the feasts. We may believe that the ceremony was repeated at stated intervals. The very same principle governed the construction of the Egyptian tombs. These likewise (in their earliest known forms) consisted of an inner tomb and of an outer chamber; generally between the one and the other there was a passage. The outer chamber is that to which archæologists have given the name of mastaba. In it{54} the relatives of the dead continued year after year to keep a funeral feast in his memory. Or we may say more than in memory of the dead—with the dead, we may say. For the essence of the feast, the fumes of the baked meats, was thought to penetrate along the passage and reach the mummy himself in his dark chamber.


Ages of bronze
and iron.

Thus we come to the end of the stone age or ages. The next great discovery which man made was that of the metals. Not iron at first; before iron was discovered there supervened the age known as the Bronze Age, when copper and tin were known but not iron, and all the most important implements were made of that mixture of copper and tin—bronze, the hardest substance then obtainable. In some countries the discovery of the metals was natural, and one age followed upon the other in gradual sequence. But in Europe it was not so. The men of the bronze age were a new race, sallying out of the East to dispossess the older inhabitants, and if in some places the bronze men and the stone men seem to have gone on for a time side by side, the general character of the change is that of a sudden break.

Therefore we do not now proceed to speak of the characteristic civilization of the bronze age. As will be seen hereafter, the bringers of the new weapons belonged to a race concerning whom we have much ampler means of information than is possessed for the first inhabitants of these lands; and we are spared the necessity of drawing all our knowledge from a scrutiny of their arms or tombs. But before we can satisfactorily show who were the successors of the stone-age men in Europe, and whence they came, we must turn aside towards another inquiry, viz. into the origin of language.{55}



The growth of

We have looked upon man fashioning the first implements and weapons and houses which were ever made; we now turn aside and ask what were the first of those immaterial instruments, those ‘aëriform, mystic’ legacies which were handed down and gradually improved from the time of the earliest inhabitants of our globe? Foremost among these, long anterior to the ‘metallurgic and other manufacturing skill,’ comes language. With us, in whose minds thought and speech are so bound together as to be almost inseparable, the idea that language is an instrument which through long ages has been slowly improved to its present perfection, seems difficult of credit. We think of early man having the same ideas and expressing them as readily as we do now; but this he could not really have done. Not, indeed, that we have any reason to believe that there was a time when man had no language at all; but it seems certain that long ages were necessary before this instrument could be wrought to the fineness in which we find it, and to which, in all the languages with which we are likely to become acquainted, we are accustomed. A rude iron knife or spear-head seems a simple and natural thing to{56} make. But we know that before it could be made iron had to be discovered, and the art of extracting iron from the ore; and, as a matter of fact, we know that thousands of years passed before the iron spear-head was a possibility; thousands of years spent in slowly improving the weapons of stone, and passing on from them to the weapons of bronze. So, too, with language; simple as it seems at first sight to fit the word on to the idea, and early as we ourselves learn this art, a little thought about what language is will show us how much we owe to the ages which have gone before.

The two main
classes of words
and ‘insignificant.’

To understand fully the department of study called the science of language considerable linguistic knowledge is necessary. But to grasp many of the general principles of this science, and many of the most important facts which it teaches, we do not need any such wide knowledge. In fact, a little thoughtful examination of any single tongue (his own, whichever it may be) would teach a person many things which without thought he would be inclined to pass over as matters of course or matters of no consequence. In truth, in this science of language what we need, even before we need a very wide array of facts, is what is called the scientific method in dealing with the facts which we possess. But, again, this which we call the scientific method is really represented by two qualities which have less pretentious names—observation and common sense.

Let us begin then by, so to say, challenging our own language, our English as we find it to-day, and see what hints we can gain from it of the formation of language as a whole and of its origin. An ounce of information gained in this wise, by examination and the use of our own common sense, is worth a much greater bulk of knowledge gained{57} second-hand from books, and merely remembered as facts divorced from their causes.

Take any sentence, and place that, so to say, under a microscope, or under the dissecting-knife—take the opening sentence of this chapter, for example.

“We have looked upon man fashioning the first implements and weapons and houses that were ever made.”

Let us look at these few words alone.

The first thing we have to notice about this sentence, and any other sentence almost that we could anywhere find, is that the words which compose it fall into two distinct classes, the classes of what I will call meaning and meaningless, or significant and in-significant words. In the first class fall the words we, looked, man, fashioning, implements, weapons, houses, made. These I call ‘meaning’ or ‘significant’ words, because, if we isolate each one and utter it alone, it will call up some image to the mind—we, weapons, fashioning, houses, made, and so forth: the image may be pretty clear or it may be (in the case of the verbs it is) somewhat hazy. But in every case some image or some idea does rise before the mind when any of these words is pronounced. Have and were I exclude for the moment from either class. The words of the second class, then, from the sentence chosen are—upon, the, and, ever. Of the first three, at any rate, there can be no difficulty as to why they are classed as the meaningless or insignificant words of the sentence. Isolated from the words of the first class, upon, the, or and can by no means possibly call up any image or suggest any idea to the mind.

Now, if you take any implement whose manufacture the world has ever seen, unless it be of the most primitive description imaginable, you will find it really devisable into two parts, upon much the same principle that we have here{58} resolved our typical sentence into two primary divisions; it will consist of the essential part, the part which by itself would be useful, and the unessential adjunct which is designed to assist the usefulness of the other portion, but which is useless by itself—or if not useless by itself, it is useless for the purposes for which the implement we are concerned with is made. All handles meant to assist in the use of an implement, be it a stone axe or a most elaborate modern weapon, form such an adjunct to the essential part. Such useful and by comparison useless parts are the blade and the handle of a knife, the barrel and the stock of a gun, the carrying portion of the wheelbarrow and the wheel, the share—the shearing or cutting portion of a plough—and the wooden framework; and so forth. There is no need to multiply examples. Nor, I think, is there any need to insist further how strictly analogous the two classes of words here distinguished are to the two parts of any other implement invented by man. It goes almost of course that the essential portion of any implement is the portion which was invented first, that knife-blades were invented before knife-handles, barrows before barrow-wheels, etc. Wherefore it seems to follow of course that, of the two classes of words whereof language consists—whereof all languages consist—the meaning and the meaningless words, the first were the earliest invented or discovered. This is the same as saying that language once consisted altogether of words which had a definite meaning attaching to them even when uttered by themselves, and consequently that the words of the second class grew, so to say, out of the words of the first class.

These are the conclusions which a mere examination of a single language, our own, under the guidance of observation and common sense, would force upon us; always supposing{59} our language to be a representative one. And these conclusions are strengthened when we come to look a little into the history of words, so far as we can trace it.

So far back, therefore, we may go in the history of language to a time when all the words which men used were words which by themselves evoked distinct ideas. Relegating these words, as far as we can, into the classes which grammarians have invented for the different parts of speech, we see that the significant words are all, as a rule, either nouns (or pro-nouns), adjectives, or verbs; that the insignificant words are, as a rule, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions—what, in fact, are called particles, fragments of speech. I say, as a rule, for both divisions. The pronouns and the auxiliary verbs, for example, are very difficult to classify; and it depends rather on their use in each individual sentence, to which division they are to be relegated.

Origin of
speech undiscoverable.

But though we have now learnt to distinguish the words which by themselves convey definite ideas, and those others whose meaning depends upon the first class, we are as far as ever from understanding how words, whether of one kind or the other, come to have the significance which they have for us. Book—no sooner have we pronounced the word than an idea more or less distinct comes into our mind. The thought and the sound seem inseparable, and we cannot remember the time when they were not so. Yet the connection between the thought and the sound is not necessary. In fact, a sound which generally comes connected with one idea may—if we are engaged at the time upon a language not our own—enter our minds, bringing with it an idea quite unconnected with the first. Share and chère, plea and plie, feel and viel (German), are examples in point; and the same thing is shown by the{60} numerous sounds in our language which have two or more quite distinct meanings, as for example—ware and were, and (with most people) where too. Rite and right and wright are pronounced precisely alike; therefore there can be no reason why one sound should convey one idea more than another. In other words, the idea and the sound have an arbitrary, not a natural connection. We have been taught to make the sound ‘book’ for the idea book, but had we been brought up by French parents the sound ‘livre’ would have seemed the natural one to make.

So that this wondrous faculty of speech has, like those other faculties of which Carlyle speaks, been handed down on impalpable vehicles of sound through the ages. Never, perhaps, since the time of our first parents has one person from among the countless millions who have been born had to invent for himself a way of expressing his thoughts in words. This is alone a strange thing enough. Impossible as it is to imagine ourselves without speech, we may ask the question—What should we do if we were ever left in such a predicament? Should we have any guide in fitting the sound on to the idea? Share and chère, feel and viel—among these unconnected notions is there any reason why we should wed our speech to one rather than another? Clearly there is no reason. Yet in the case which we imagined of a number of rational beings who had to invent a language for the first time, if they are ever to come to an understanding at all there must be some common impulse which makes more than one choose the same sound for a particular idea. How, for instance, we may ask, was it with our first parents? They have passed on to all their descendants for ever the idea of conveying thought by sound, and all the great changes which have since come into the languages of the world have been gradual and, so{61} to say, natural. But this first invention of the idea of speech is of quite another character.

Here we are brought to the threshold of that impenetrable mystery ‘the beginning of things,’ and here we must pause. We recognize this faculty of speech as a thing mysterious, unaccountable, belonging to that supernatural being, man. There must, one would think, have been and must be in us a something which causes our mouth to echo the thought of the heart; and originally this echo must have been spontaneous and natural, the same for all alike. Now it is a mere matter of tradition and instruction, the sound we use for the idea; but at first the two must have had some subtle necessary connection, or how could one of our first parents have known or guessed what the other wished to say? Just as every metal has its peculiar ring, it is as though each impression on the mind rang out its peculiar word from the tongue.[17] Or was it like the faint tremulous sound which glasses give when music is played near? The outward object or the inward thought called out a sort of mimicry, a distant echo—not like, but yet born of the other—on the lips. These earliest sounds may perhaps still sometimes be detected. In the sound flo or flu, which in an immense number of languages stands connected with the idea of flowing and of rivers, do we not recognize some attempt to catch the smooth yet rushing sound of water? And again, in the sound gra or gri, which is largely associated with the notion of grinding, cutting, or scraping,[18] there is surely something of this in{62} the guttural harshness of the letters, which make the tongue grate, as it were, against the roof of the mouth.

It does not, however, seem probable that the earliest words were mere imitations of the sounds produced by the objects they designed to express, such as are some of the words of child-language whereby dogs are called bow-wows and lambs are called baas. Nor need we wonder at this, when we note the principles upon which other sorts of language—expressive actions, for instance—are conceived and used. If we intend to express the idea of motion by an expressive gesture, we do not make any copy of the mode of that motion. We say ‘Go,’ and we dart out our hand, half to show that the person we are addressing is to go in the direction which we point out, or that he is to keep away from us; half, again, to give the idea of his movement by the rapidity of our own. But if we wanted to convey this last idea by mere imitation we should move our legs rapidly and not our arms.

It might be thought that the study of the gesture-language which has been used by men, especially the gesture-language of deaf-mutes, who have no other, would give us the best insight into the origin of language among mankind. But in reality the results of such a study are not very satisfactory; and for this reason, that the deaf-mute has in every case been in contact with one or more persons who possessed speech, and whose ideas were therefore entirely formed by the possession and the inheritance of language. This inherited language they translate into signs for the benefit of the deaf-mute, while the latter is still a baby and incapable of inventing language; wherefore it, in its turn, inherits a language almost as much as its parent has done,{63} though it is a language of gesture and not of spoken words.[19] It is a fact, however, that deaf-mutes who cannot hear the sounds they make, do nevertheless articulate certain sounds which they constantly associate with the same ideas. These seem to bring us very near the language-making faculty of man. Lists of these sounds have been made, but they are not such that we can draw any conclusions touching the natural or universal association of sound and sense.

Growth of
the ‘insignificant’
words out
of the ‘significant.’

The origin of human speech and the mode of its first operation are therefore undiscoverable. We can place no measure to the rapidity with which the first created man may have obtained his stock of words of our first class; as Adam is described naming each one of the animals among whom he lived. All these beginnings lie beyond the ken of linguistic science. But even when he was furnished as fully as we choose to suppose with a class of words which had a meaning of their own, there was still the second class whose invention must have followed upon the invention of the first. The adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, particles,—the words which meant to, and, at, but, when,—these we have already seen must as a whole have come into use later than the other class of words.

This, then, we may fairly call the second stage in the growth of language, the making of these auxiliary words to enforce the meaning of the first class of words. And at the first moment it might seem impossible to imagine how these words could ever have come into existence. Given a certain word-making faculty, we can understand how mankind got sounds to express such ideas as man, head, hard, red. But how he could ever have acquired sounds to{64} express such vague notions as at, by, and, it is much less easy to conceive. A closer observation, however, even of our own language, and a wider knowledge of languages generally, lead to the conclusion that all the words of the second class, the auxiliary words, sprang from words of the first class; that every insignificant word has grown out of a word which had its own significance; that, for instance, with, by, and, have descended from roots (now lost) which, if placed alone, would have conveyed as much idea to the mind as pen, ink, or paper does to us.

This, I say, we should guess even from an examination of our own language alone. For the process is still going on. Take the word even, as used in the sentence which we have just written: ‘Even from an examination.’ Here even is an adverb, quite meaningless when used alone, at least as an adverb; but if we see it alone it becomes another word, an adjective, a meaning word, bringing before us the idea of two things hanging level. ‘Even from’ is nonsense as an idea with nothing to follow it, but ‘even weights’ is a perfectly clear and definite notion, and each of the separate words even and weights give us clear and definite notions too. It is the same with just, which is both adverb and adjective. ‘Just as’ brings no thought into the mind, but ‘just man’ and just and man, separately or together, do. While or whilst are meaningless; but, ‘a while,’ or ‘to while’—to loiter—are full of meaning. In each case the meaningless word came from the meaning word, and was first used as a sort of metaphor, and then the metaphorical part was lost sight of. Ago is a meaningless word by itself, but it is really only a changed form of the obsolete word agone, which was an old past participle of the verb ‘to go.’

And we might find many instances of words in the same process of transformation in other languages. The English{65} word not is meaningless, and just as much so are the French pas and point in the sense of not; but in the sense of footstep, or point, they have meaning enough. Originally Il ne veut pas meant, metaphorically, ‘He does not wish a step of your wishes,’ ‘He does not go a footstep with you in your wish;’ Il ne veut point, ‘He does not go a point with you in your wish.’ Nowadays all this metaphorical meaning is gone, except to the eye of the grammarian. People recognize that Il ne veut point is rather stronger than Il ne veut pas, but it never occurs to them to ask why.

There are so many of these curious examples that one is tempted to go on choosing instances; but we confine ourselves to one more. Our word yes is a word which by itself is quite incapable of calling up a picture in our minds, but the word is or ‘it is,’ though the idea it conveys is very abstract, and, so to say, intangible—as compared, for instance, with such verbs as move, beat—nevertheless belongs to the ‘significant’ class. Now, it happens that the Latin language used the word est ‘it is’ where we should now use the word ‘yes;’ and it still further happens that our yes[20] is probably the same as the German es, and was used in the same sense of it is as well. Instead of the meaningless word ‘yes’ the Romans used the word est ‘it is,’ and our own ancestors expressed the same idea by saying ‘it.’ Still more. It is well known that French is in the main a descendant from the Latin, not the Latin of Rome, but the corrupter Latin which was spoken in Gaul. Now these Latin-speaking Gauls did not, for some reason, say est, ‘it is,’ for yes, as the Romans did; but they used a pronoun, either ille, ‘he,’ or hoc, ‘this.’ When, therefore, a Gaul desired to say ‘yes,’ he nodded, and said he or else this,{66} meaning ‘He is so,’ or ‘This is so.’ As it happens the Gauls of the north said ille, and those of the south said hoc, and these words gradually got corrupted into two meaningless words, oui and oc. It is well known that the people in the south of France were especially distinguished by using the word oc instead of oui for ‘yes,’ so that their ‘dialect’ got to be called the langue d’oc, and this word Languedoc gave the name to a province of France. Long before that time, however, we may be sure, both the people of the langue d’oil, or langue d’oui, and those of the langue d’oc had forgotten that their words for ‘yes’ had originally meant ‘he’ and ‘this.’

We can, from the instances above given, form a pretty good guess at the way in which the auxiliary or meaningless class of sounds came into use in any language. Each of these must once have had a distinct significance by itself, then (getting meanwhile a little changed in form probably) it gradually lost the separate meaning and became only a particle of speech, only an adjunct to other words. In another way, we may say that before man spoke of ‘on the rock’ or ‘under the rock’ he must have used some expression like ‘head of rock,’ or more literally ‘head rock’ and ‘foot rock;’ and that as time went on, new words coming into use for head and foot, these earlier ones dropped down to be mere adjuncts, and men forgot that they had ever been anything else. Just so no ordinary Frenchman knows that his oui and il are both sprung from the same Latin ille; nor does the ordinary Englishman recognize that ago is a past participle of ‘go;’ nor again, to take a new instance, does, perhaps, the ordinary German recognize that his gewiss, ‘certainly,’ is merely an abbreviation of the past participle gewissen, ‘known.’


We have now followed the growth of language through{67}


two of its stages, first, the coining of the principal or essential parts of speech, the nouns, adjectives, and verbs; and secondly, the coining at a later date of the auxiliary parts of speech, the prepositions, adverbs, and conjunctions, and (where they exist) the enclitics the and a; these last, however, (as separate words,[21]) are wanting from a large number of languages. A third stage is the variation of certain words to form out of them other words which are nearly related in character to the first. We may speak of this process as a process of ringing the changes upon certain root-sounds to form a series of words allied in sound and allied in sense also. We have several instances of such groups of allied words in our own language. Fly, flee, flew, fled, are words allied in sound and in sense. In these cases the sound of the letters f-l constitutes what we may call the root-sound. And it may be said at once that those languages are said to be related in each of which a certain number of words can be traced back to root-sounds which are common to the two or more tongues.

In the case of the vast majority of words, before we can begin by comparing one word with another, or trying to discover the root-words of several different languages, we have first to trace the history of these words backwards, each in its own language, and find their most primitive forms. But in tongues which are pretty nearly related we have often no difficulty in seeing the similarity of corresponding words just as they stand to-day. We have no difficulty, for instance, in seeing the connection of the German Knecht and our knight,[22] the German Nacht and{68} our night, the German Raum and our room; or, again, the connection between the Italian padre and the French père, the Italian tavola and the French (and English) table, etc.

But where the connection between languages is more distant, we have more and more to go back to much simpler roots, in order to show the relationship between them; and by a vast majority the primitive root-sounds in any large family of languages are single syllables, whereof the most constant parts are (as a rule) the consonants. So far as our knowledge goes, we might think of man as beginning human speech with a certain number of these simple root-sounds, and then proceeding to ring the changes upon these root-sounds to express varieties in the root-idea. Sometimes it is easy enough to trace the connection of ideas between different words which have been formed out of the same root-word. But sometimes this is not at all easy. Nor can we say why this special sound has been adopted for any one notion more than for a number of others to which it would have applied equally well. From a root, which in Sanskrit appears in its most ancient form, as , ‘to measure,’ we get words in Greek and Latin which mean ‘to think;’ and from the same root comes our ‘man,’ the person who measures, who compares, i.e., who thinks, also our moon, which means ‘the measurer,’ because the moon helps to measure out the time, the months. But how arbitrary seems this connection between man and moon! So, too, our crab is from the word creep, and means the animal that creeps. But why this name should have been given to crab rather than to ant and beetle it is impossible to say. So that there appears as little trace of a reason governing the formation of words out of root-sounds as there appeared in the adoption of root-sounds to express certain fundamental ideas.{69}

Thus equipped with his fixed root and the various words formed out of it, man had the rough material out of which to build up all the elaborate languages which the world has known. And he continued his work something in this fashion. As generation followed generation the pronunciation of words was changed, as is constantly being done at the present day. Our grandmothers pronounced ‘Rome,’ ‘Room,’ and ‘brooch,’ as it was spelt, and not as we pronounce it—‘broach.’ And let it be remembered, before writing was invented, there was nothing but the pronunciation to fix the word, and a new pronunciation was really a new word. When there was no written form to petrify a word, these changes of pronunciation were very rapid and frequent, so that not only would each generation have a different set of words from their fathers, but probably each tribe would be partly unintelligible to its neighbouring tribes, just as a Somersetshire man is to a great extent unintelligible to a man from Yorkshire. The first result of these changes would be the springing up of that class of ‘meaningless’ words of which we spoke above. Out of some significant words, such as ‘head’ and ‘foot,’ would arise insignificant words similar to ‘over’ and ‘under.’ Such a change could only begin when of two names each for ‘head’ and ‘foot’ one became obsolete as a noun, and was only used adverbially. Then what had originally meant, metaphorically, ‘head of rock’ and ‘foot of rock’[23] might come to be used for ‘over’ and ‘under the rock,’ in exactly the same way that the word ago, having changed its form from agone, has become a ‘meaningless’ word to the Englishman of to-day.

And with the acquisition of the insignificant words a new and very important process began. To understand{70}

Growth of

what it was we will, as we did before, begin by examining the formation of some of the languages with which we are, probably, more or less familiar. Let us note how very many more variations on the same root are to be found in some languages than in others. On the root dic, which in Latin expresses the notion of speaking, we have the variations dico, dixi, dicere, dictum, dictio, dicto, dicor, dictor, dictator, dictatrix, etc.; and yet this does not nearly exhaust the list, for we have all the changes in the different tenses of dico, dicto, dicor, etc., in the different cases of dictio, dictator. dictatrix, etc. The languages which contain these numerous variations upon one root are what are called the inflected languages, and the greater number of the changes which they make come under the head of what grammarians call inflexions. These inflexions are of no meaning in themselves, they have no existence even in themselves as words. And yet what is curious is that they are the same for a great number of different words; and they express the same relative meaning in the places where they stand whatever the word may be. If the -nis of dictionis expresses a certain idea relative to dictio, so does the -nis of lectionis express the same idea relative to lectio, the -nis of actionis the same idea relative to actio, and so forth.

Or, to take an example from a modern inflected language, if the -es of Mannes, expresses a certain idea relative to Mann, so does the same inflexion (-es or -s) in Hauses, Baums, etc., relative to Haus and Baum.

Now, how are we to explain this fact? Our grammars, it is true, take it for granted, and give it us as a thing which requires no explanation—the genitive inflexion is -nis or -es, or whatever it may be. That is all they tell us. But we cannot be content to take anything of course. An{71} explanation, however, is not difficult, and follows, almost of course, on the exercise of a little common sense. If the -es of Mannes, Hauses, Baumes (Baums) expresses the idea ‘of,’ then, at one time or another, es, or some root from which it is derived, must have meant ‘of.’ This explains easily and naturally enough the inflexions in any inflected language. They have no meaning now, but at one time they (or their original forms—their ancestors, so to speak) had no doubt just as much meaning by themselves as our ‘of.’ And therefore the only difference between our use in England to-day, and the ancestral use in a primitive language, was that we say ‘of [the] man,’ and the ancestral language would have said ‘man-of,’ ‘house-of,’ etc. This accounts for the same genitive forms being used for so many different words.

And that the same genitive forms are not used throughout any language is no real objection to this theory. If we say dictionis, lectionis, but musæ, rosæ; if we say Mannes, Hauses, but Blume, Rose, the only reason of these varieties is that the languages from which these inflexions are derived possessed more than one word meaning ‘of,’ and that one of these words was attached to a certain series of nouns, another word to another series.

This is the explanation which mere common sense would give of the origin of inflexions in language, and further research, had we time to examine the history of language more elaborately, would show that it was fundamentally the right explanation. The only correction which we should have to make on this first and crude theory is explained a little further on. Thus we see in this third stage of language a process very closely analogous to the second. The second stage gave us the auxiliary words, which have decayed so to say, out of the class of significant words.{72} The third stage gives us the auxiliary words joined on to the significant ones, and in their turn decaying to become mere inflexions.

I have called this growth of inflexions the third stage. It is the third great stage in the formation of language, and is the only other stage distinguishable when we are examining what is called an inflected language. And all the languages the general reader is likely to know belong to this class. But when we turn to a wider study of the various tongues in use among mankind we find that this process of forming inflexions is a very slow one, that it, in its turn, has gone through many stages. And it is, in fact, the different stages through which a language has passed on its road to the formation of inflexions which settles the class in which it is to be placed among the various tongues spoken by mankind.

We shall soon understand what are these further stages in language-formation. As far as we have been able to see at present, the inflexion presents itself as something added on to the significant word to give it a varied meaning. It is evidently therefore part of a new process through which language has to go after it has completed its original stock of sounds, namely, the formation of fresh words by joining together two others which already exist. This is a process which, no doubt, in some shape or other, began in the very earliest ages, and which is to this day going on continually. The simpler form of it is the joining together two words which are significant when they stand alone to form a third word expressing a new idea; just as we have joined ‘ant’ to ‘hill’ and formed ant-hill, which is a different idea than either ant or hill taken alone. In the words playful, joyful, again, we have the same process carried rather further. The words mean simply play-full, ‘full of{73} play,’ joy-full, ‘full of joy.’ But we do not in reality quite think of this meaning when we use them. The termination ful has become half-meaningless by itself, and in doing so we observe it has slightly changed its original form.

But far more important in the history of language is the joining of the meaningless or auxiliary words on to other words of the first, the significant class, whereby in the course of time the inflexions of language have been formed. Although we always put the meaningless qualifying word before the chief word, and say ‘on the rock,’ or ‘under the rock,’ it is more natural to man, as is shown by all languages, to put the principal idea first, and say ‘rock on,’ ‘rock under,’ the idea rock being of course the chief idea, the part of the rock, or position in relation to the rock, coming after. So the first step towards forming grammar was the getting a number of meaningless words, and joining them on to the substantive, ‘rock,’ ‘rock-by,’ ‘rock-in,’ ‘rock-to,’ etc. So with the verb. The essential idea in the verb is the action itself, the next idea is the time or person in which the action takes place; and the natural thing for man to do is to make the words follow that order. The joining process would give us from love, the idea of loving, ‘love-I,’ ‘love-thou,’ ‘love-he,’ etc.; and for the imperfect ‘love-was-I,’ ‘love-was-thou,’ ‘love-was-he,’ ‘love-was-we,’ ‘love-was-ye,’ ‘love-was-they;’ for perfect ‘love-have-I,’ ‘love-have-thou,’ ‘love-have-he,’ etc. Of course, these are merely illustrations, but they make the mode of this early joining process clearer than if we had chosen a language where that process is actually found in its purity, and then translated the forms into their English equivalents.

We have now arrived at a stage in the formation of language where both meaning and meaningless words have been{74} introduced, and where words have been made up out of combinations of the two. We see at once that with regard to meaningless words the use of them would naturally be fixed very much by tradition and custom; and whereas there might be a great many words standing for ant and hill, and therefore a great many ways of saying ant-hill, for the meaningless words, such as under and on, there would probably be only a few words. The reason of this is very plain. While all the separate synonyms for hill expressed different ways in which it struck the mind, either as being high, or large, or steep, or what not, for under and on, being meaningless words not producing any picture in the mind, only one word apiece or one or two words could very well be in use. So long as under and on were significant words, meaning, perhaps, as we imagined, head of, or foot of, there would be plenty of synonyms for them; but only one or two out of all these would be handed down in their meaningless forms. And it is this very fact which, as we have seen, accounts for all the grammars of all languages, every one of those grammatical terminations which we know so well in Latin and Greek, and German, having been originally nothing else than meaningless words added on to modify the words which still retained their meaning. We saw before that it was much more natural for people to say ‘rock-on’ or ‘hand-in’ than ‘on the rock’ or ‘in the hand’—because rock and hand were the most important ideas and came first into the mind, while on, in, etc., were only subsidiary ideas depending upon the important ones. If we stop at rock or hand without adding on and in, we have still got something definite upon which our thoughts can rest, but we could not possibly stop at on and in alone, and have any idea in our minds at all. It is plain enough therefore that, though we say ‘on the rock,’ we must have the idea{75} of all the three words in our mind before we begin the phrase, and therefore that our words do not follow the natural order of our ideas; whereas rock-on, hand-in, show the ideas just in the way they come into the mind.

It is a fact, then, that all case-endings arose from adding on meaningless words to the end of the word, the noun or pronoun—Mann, des mann-es, dem Mann-e; hom-o, hom-inis, hom-ini: the addition to the root in every case was once a distinct word of the auxiliary kind, or derived from such a word. The meanings of case-endings such as these cannot, it is true, be discovered now, for they came into existence long before such languages as German or Latin were spoken, and their meanings were lost sight of in ages which passed before history. But that time when the terminations which are meaningless now had a meaning, and the period of transition between this state and the state of a language which is full of grammatical changes inexplicable to those who use them, form distinct epochs in the history of every language. And it is just the same with verb-endings as with the case endings—ich bin, du bist, really express the ‘I’ and ‘thou’ twice over, as the pronouns exist though hidden and lost sight of in the -n and -st of the verb. In the case of verbs, indeed, we may without going far give some idea of how these endings can be detected. We may say at once that Sanskrit, Persian, Armenian, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, German, English, Norse, Gaelic, Welsh, Lithuanian, Russian, and other Slavonic languages are all connected together in various degrees of relationship, all descended from one common ancestor, some being close cousins, and some very distant. Now in Sanskrit ‘I am’ is thus declined:—

as-miI am.’-smas we are.
a-sithou art.    ’s-tha ye are.
as-ti he is.’s-anti they are.


By separating the root from the ending in this way we may the more easily detect the additions to the root, and their meanings. As is the root expressing the idea of being, existing; mi is from a root meaning I (preserved in me, Greek and Lat. me, mi, m[ich], etc.); so we get as-mi, am-I, or I am. Then we may trace this form of word through a number of languages connected with the Sanskrit. The most important part of as-mi, the consonants, are preserved in the Latin sum, I am, from which, by some further changes come the French suis, the Italian sono: the same word appears in our a-m, and in the Greek eimi (Doric esmi), I am. Next, coming to the second word, we see one of the s’s cut out, and we get a-si, in which the a is the root, and the si the addition signifying thou. To this addition correspond the final s’s in the Latin es, French estu es, and the Greek eis (Doric essi). So, again, in as-ti, the ti expresses he, and this corresponds to the Latin est, French est, the Greek esti, the German ist; in the English the expressive t has been lost. We will not continue the comparison of each word; it will be sufficient if we place side by side the same tense in Sanskrit and in Latin,[24] and give those who do not know Latin an opportunity of recognizing for themselves the tense in its changed form in French or Italian:—

English Sanskrit Latin
I amas-misum.
thou arta-sies.
he isas-tiest.
we are’s-massumus.
ye are’s-thaestis.
they are’s-antisunt.

The plural of the added portion we see contains the letters m-s, and if we split these up again we get the separate roots{77} mi and si, so that mas means most literally ‘I,’ and ‘thou,’ and hence ‘we.’ In the second person the Latin has preserved an older form than the Sanskrit, s-t the proper root-consonants for the addition part of the second person plural, combining the ideas thou and he, from which, ye. The third person plural cannot be so easily explained.

It will be seen that in the English almost all likeness to the Sanskrit terminations has been lost. Our verb ‘to be’ is very irregular, being, in fact, a mixture of several distinct verbs. The Anglo-Saxon had the verb beó contracted from beom (here we have at least the m- ending for I), I am, byst, thou art, bydh, he is, and the same appear in the German bin, bist. It is, of course, very difficult to trace the remains of the meaningless additions in such advanced languages as ours, or even in such as Sanskrit, Latin, and Greek. Nevertheless, the reader may find it not uninteresting to trace in the Latin through most of the tenses of verbs these endings—m, for I, the first person; s, for thou, the second person; t, for he, the third person; m-s, for I and thou, we; st, for ye, thou and he, ye; nt, for they. And the same reader must be content to take on trust the fact that other additions corresponding to different tenses can also be shown or reasonably guessed to have been words expressive by themselves of the idea which belongs to the particular tense; so that where we have such a tense as—

amabam  I was loving,
amabas  thou wast loving,
amabat, etc.  he was loving,

we may recognize the meaning of the component parts thus:—

ama-ba-m  love-was-I.
ama-ba-s  love-was-thou.
ama-ba-t  love-was-he.


Of course, really to show the way in which these meaningless additions have been made and come to be amalgamated with the root, we should have to take examples from a great number of languages in different stages of development. But we have thought it easier, for mere explanation, to take only such languages as were likely to be familiar to the reader, and even to supplement these examples with imaginary ones—like ‘rock-on,’ ‘love-was-I,’ etc.—in English. For our object has been at first merely to give an intelligible account of how language has been formed, of the different stages it has passed through, and to leave to a future time the question as to which languages of the globe have passed through all these stages, and which have gone part of their way in the formation of a perfect language. Between the state of a language in which the meaning of all the separate parts of a word are recognized and that state where they are entirely lost, there is an immense gap, that indeed which separates the most from the least advanced languages of the world.


Every language that is now spoken on the globe has gone through the stage of forming meaningless words, and is therefore possessed of words of both classes. They no longer say ‘head-of-rock’ or ‘foot-of-rock,’ but ‘rock-on’ and ‘rock-under.’ But there are still known languages in which almost every syllable is a word, and where grammar properly speaking is scarcely needed. For grammar, if we come to consider it exactly, is the explanation of the meaning of those added syllables or letters which have lost all natural meaning of their own. If each part of the word were as clear and as intelligible as ‘rock-on’ we should have no need of a grammar at all. A language of this sort is called a monosyllabic or a radical language, not because the people only{79} speak in monosyllables, but because each word, however compound, can be split up into monosyllables or roots, which have a distinctly recognizable meaning. ‘Ant-hill-on’ or ‘love-was-I,’ are like the words of such a language.


The next stage of growth is where the meaning of the added parts has been lost sight of, except when it is connected with the word which it modifies; but where the essential word has a distinct idea by itself, and without the help of any addition. Suppose, for instance, through ages of change the ‘was I’ in our imaginary example got corrupted into ‘wasi,’ where wasi had no meaning by itself, but was used to express the first person of the past tense. The first person past of love would be ‘love-wasi,’ of move ‘move-wasi,’ and so on, ‘wasi’ no longer having a meaning by itself, but ‘love’ and ‘move’ by themselves being perfectly understandable. Or, to take an actual declension from a Turanian language,—

bakar-im  I regard,  bakar-iz  we regard,
bakar-sin  thou regardest,  bakar-siniz  you regard,
bakar  he regards,  bakar-lar  they regard,

where, as we see, the root remains entirely unaffected by the addition of the personal pronoun.

A language in this stage is said to be in the agglutinative stage,[25] because certain grammatical endings (like ‘wasi’) are merely as it were glued on to a root to change its meaning, while the root itself remains quite unaffected, and means neither less nor more than it did before.


But, as ages pass on, the root and the addition get so closely combined that neither of them alone has, as a rule, a distinct meaning, and the language arrives at its third stage of grammar-formation. It is not difficult to find examples of a language in this condition,{80} for such is the case with all the languages by which we are surrounded. All the tongues which the majority of us are likely to study, almost all those which have any literature at all, have arrived at this last stage, which is called the inflexional. For instance, though we might divide actionis into two parts actio and nis, and say that the former contains the essential idea, and the addition the idea implied by the genitive case, there are only a few Latin words with which such a process is possible, and even in the case of actio the separation is somewhat misleading. In homo the real root is hom, and the genitive is not homo-nis but hominis. So, again, though we were able to separate ‘asmi’ into two parts—‘as’ and ‘mi’—one expressing the idea of being, the other the person ‘I,’ this distinction is the refinement of the grammarian, and would never have been recognized by an ordinary speaker of Sanskrit, for whom ‘asmi’ simply meant ‘I am,’ without distinction of parts. In our ‘am’ the grammarian recognizes that the ‘a’ expresses existence, and the ‘m’ expresses I; but so completely have we lost sight of this, that we repeat the ‘I’ before the verb. Just the same in Latin. No Roman could have recognized in the ‘s’ of sum ‘am’ and in the ‘m’ ‘I;’ for him sum meant simply and purely ‘I am.’ It was no more separable in his eyes than the French êtes (Latin estis) in vous êtes is separable into a root ‘es,’ contracted in the French into ‘ê,’ meaning are, and an addition ‘tes’ signifying you. This, then, is the last stage upon which language enters. It is called the inflexional or inflected stage, because the different grammatical changes are not now denoted by a mere addition to an intelligible word, but by a change in the word itself. The root may in many cases remain and be recognizable in its purity, but very frequently it is unrecognizable, {81}so that the different case-or tense-endings can no longer be looked upon as additions, but as changes. Take almost any Latin substantive, and we see this: homo, a man, the genitive is formed by changing homo into hominis, or, if we please, adding something to the root hom—which has in itself no meaning; musa changes into musæ; and so forth.


The five stages
in the formation
of language.

And now to recapitulate. We have in tracing the growth of language discovered first of all two stages whereby the material of the language was formed: the class of what we have called the meaning or significant words came into being, and out of this was formed the second class of so-called meaningless or auxiliary words. These two stages were in the main passed through before any known language came into existence; for there is no known language which does not contain words of both these classes; albeit the second stage is likewise a process which is still going on, as in the examples chosen, where even and just pass from being adjectives into even and just the adverbs, and the French substantives pas and point take a like change of meaning.

These first two stages passed, there follow three other stages which go to the formation of the grammar of a language: first the stage of merely coupling words together, so as to form fresh words—the monosyllabic state; then the stage in which one part of the additional word has lost its meaning while the root-word remains unchanged—the stage called the agglutinative condition of language; and, finally the stage in which the added portion has become to some extent absorbed into the root-word—which last stage is the inflected condition of a language.

When we have come to this inflexional state, the history of the growth of language comes to an end. It happens indeed, sometimes, that a language which has arrived at{82} the inflected stage may in time come to drop nearly all its inflexions. This has been the case with English and French. Both are descended from languages which had elaborate grammars—the Saxon and the Latin; but both, through an admixture with foreign tongues and from other causes, have come to drop almost all their grammatical forms. We show our grammar only in a few changes in our ordinary verbs—the second and third persons singular, thou goest, he goes; the past tense and the past participle, use, used; buy, bought, etc.; in further variations in our auxiliary verb ‘to be;’ by changes in our pronouns, I, me, ye, you, who, whom, etc.; and by the ‘ ’s’ and ‘s’ of the possessive case and of the plural, and the comparison of adjectives. The French preserve their grammar to some extent in their pronouns, their adjectives, the plurals of their nouns, and in their verbs. Instances such as these are cases of decay, and do not find any place in the history of the growth of language.

We now pass on to examine where the growth of language has been fully achieved, where it has remained only stunted and imperfect.{83}



We have now traced the different stages through which language may pass in attaining to its most perfect form, the inflected stage. There were the two stages in which what we may call the bones of the language were formed, the acquisition of those words which, like pen, ink and paper, when standing alone bring a definite idea into the mind, and, next, the acquisition of those other words which, like to, for, and, produce no idea in the mind when taken alone. We saw that while the first class of words may have been acquired with any imaginable rapidity, the second class could only have gradually come into use as one by one they fell out of the rank of the ‘significant’ class.

Again, after this skeleton of language has been got together, there were, we saw, three other stages which went to make up the grammar of a language: the radical stage, in which all the words of the language can be cut up into roots which are generally monosyllables, each of which has a meaning as a separate word; the agglutinative stage, when the root, i.e. the part of the word which expresses the essential idea, remains always distinct from any added portion; and, thirdly, the inflected stage, when in many cases the{84} root and the addition to the root have become so interwoven as to be no longer distinguishable.

Of course, really to understand what these three conditions are like, the reader would have to be acquainted with some language in each of the three; but it is sufficient if we get clearly into our heads that there are these stages of language-growth, and that, further, each one of all the languages of the world may be said to be in one of the three. Our opportunities of tracing the history of languages being so limited, we have no recorded instance of a language passing out of one stage into another; but when we examine into these states they so clearly wear the appearance of stages that there seems every reason to believe that a monosyllabic language might in time develop into an agglutinative, and again from that stage into an inflexional, language, if nothing stopped its growth.

Arrest in the
growth of

But what, we may ask, are the causes which put a stop to the free growth and development of language? One of these causes is the invention of writing. Language itself is of course spoken language, speech, and as such is subject to no laws save those which belong to our organs of speaking and hearing. No sooner is the word spoken than it is gone, and lives only in the memory; and thus speech, though it may last for centuries, dies, as it were, and comes to life again every hour. It is with language as it is with those national songs and ballads which, among nations that have no writing, take the place of books and histories. The same poem or the same tale passes from mouth to mouth almost unchanged for hundreds of years, and yet at no moment is it visible and tangible, nor for the most part of the time audible even, but for these centuries lives on in men’s memories only. So Homer’s ballads must have passed for several{85} hundred years from mouth to mouth; and, stranger still, stories which were first told somewhere by the banks of the Oxus or the Jaxartes by distant ancestors of ours, are told to this very day, little altered, by peasants in remote districts of England and Scotland. But to return to language. It is very clear that so long as language remains speech and speech only, it is subject to just so many variations as, in the course of a generation or two, men may have introduced into their habits of speaking. Why these variations arise it is perhaps not quite easy to understand; but every one knows that they do arise, that from age to age, from generation to generation, not only are new words being continually introduced, and others which once served well enough dropped out of use, but constant changes are going on in the pronunciation of words. As we have already said, if left to itself a language would not remain quite the same in two different districts. We know, for instance, that the language of common people does differ very much in different counties, so that what with varieties of pronunciation, and what with the use of really peculiar words, the inhabitants of one county are scarcely intelligible to the inhabitants of another.

This constant change in language can be resolved, so to say, into two forces—one of decay, the other of renewal. The change which each word undergoes is of the nature of decay. It loses something from its original form. But then, out of this change, it passes into new forms; and very often out of one word, by this mere process of change in sound, two words spring. We have already seen instances of how this may come about. The Anglo-Saxon agân becomes in process of time agone, as we have seen. That word again, by a further process of decay, changes into ago. So far we have nothing but loss. But then the Old English{86} agân had only the same meaning as our past participle gone.[26] So now we have two words really in the place of one, and where formerly men would have said, ‘It is a long time agone,’ or ‘That man has lately agone,’ we now can say, ‘It is a long time ago,’ ‘The man has lately gone.’ And we may in any language watch this process of decay (phonetic decay, as it is called) and regeneration (dialectic regeneration, the philologists call it) ever going forward. We see, as it were,—

‘The hungry ocean gain
Advantage o’er the kingdom of the shore;
And the firm soil win of the watery main
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store.’

The influence which keeps a language together, and tends to make changes such as these as few as possible, is that of writing. When once writing has been invented it is clear that language no longer depends upon the memory only, no longer has such a seemingly precarious tenure of life as it had when it was no more than speech. The writing remains a strong bulwark against the changes of time. Although our written words are but the symbols of sound, they are symbols so clear that the recollection of the sound springs up in our minds the moment the written word comes before our eyes. So it is that there are hundreds of words in the English language which we should many of us not use once in a lifetime, which are yet perfectly familiar to us. All old-fashioned words which belong to the literary language, and are never used now in common life, would have been forgotten long ago except for writing. The fact, again, that those provincialisms which make the peasants of different counties almost mutually unintelligible do not affect the intercourse of educated people, is owing to the existence of a written language.{87}


It was at one time thought by philologists that in Chinese we had a genuine specimen of a language in the radical stage of formation. As such it is cited, for instance, in Professor Max Müller’s Lectures on the Science of Language. But the most trustworthy Chinese scholars are, I believe, now of opinion that the earliest Chinese of which we can find any trace had already passed through this stage and become an agglutinative language, and that it has since decayed somewhat from that condition to become once more almost a monosyllabic language.

However that may be, it is acknowledged that Chinese has never passed beyond a very primitive condition, and that its having rested so long in this state is due more than anything else to the early invention of writing in that country. We know how strange has been the whole history of civilization in China. How the Chinese, after they had made long ago an advance far beyond all their contemporaries at that date of the world’s history, seem to have suddenly stopped short there, and have remained ever since a stunted incomplete race, devoid of greatness in any form. Their character is reflected very accurately in their language. While it was still in a very primitive condition writing was introduced into the country, and from that time forward the tongue remained almost unchanged. Other languages which are closely allied to Chinese—Burmese, Siamese, and Thibetan—are so nearly monosyllabic that they can scarcely be considered to have yet got fairly into the agglutinative stage.

It is, then, writing which has preserved for us Chinese in the very primitive condition in which we find it. For people in a lower order of civilization there may be many other causes at work to prevent an agglutinative language{88}


becoming inflexional. It is not always easy to say what the hindering causes have been in any individual case; but perhaps, if we look at the difference between the last two classes of language, we can get some idea of what they might be for the class of agglutinative languages as a whole. An inflexional language has quite lost the memory of the real meaning of its inflexions—or at least the real reason of them. We could give no reason why we should not use bought in the place of buy, art in the place of am, whom in the place of who—no other reason save that we have always been taught to use the words in the position they take in our speech. But there was once a time when the changes only existed in the form of additions having a distinct meaning. Even in agglutinative languages these additions have a distinct meaning as additions, or, in other words, if we were using an agglutinative language we should be always able to distinguish the addition from the root, and so should understand the precise effect of the former in modifying the latter. To understand the use of words in an agglutinative language, therefore, a great deal less of tradition and memory would be required than are wanted to preserve an inflected language. This really is the same as saying that for the inflected language we must have a much more constant use; and this again implies a greater intellectual life, a closer bond of union among the people who speak it, than exists among those who speak agglutinative languages.

Or if we look at the change from another point of view, we can say that the cause of the mixing up of the root, and its addition came at first from a desire to shorten the word and to save time—a desire which was natural to people who spoke much and had much intercourse. We may then, from these various considerations, conclude{89} that the people who use the agglutinative languages are people who have not what is called a close and active national life. This is exactly what we find to be the case. If a primitive language, such as the Chinese, belongs to a people who have, as it were, developed too quickly, the agglutinative languages, as a class, distinguish a vast section of the human race whose natural condition is a very unformed one, who are for the most part nomadic races without fixed homes, or laws, or states. They live a tribal existence, each man having little intercourse save with those of his immediate neighbourhood. They are unused to public assemblies. Such assemblies take among early peoples almost the place of literature, in obliging men to have a common language and a united national life. Being without these controlling influences, it results that the different dialects and tongues belonging to the agglutinative class are almost endless. It is not our intention to weary the reader by even a bare list of them. But we may glance at the chief heads into which these multifarious languages may be grouped, and the geographical position of those who speak them.

The agglutinative tongues include the speech of all those peoples of Central Asia whom in common language we are wont to speak of as Tartars, but whom it would be more correct to describe as belonging to the Turkic or Mongol class, and of whom several different branches—the Huns, who emigrated from the borders of China to Europe; the Mongols or Moghuls, who conquered Persia and Hindustan; and lastly, the Osmanlîs, or Ottomans, who invaded Europe and founded the Turkish Empire—are the most famous, and most infamous, in history. Another large class of agglutinative languages belongs to the natives of the vast region of Siberia, from the Ural{90} mountains to the far east. Another great class, closely allied to these last, the Finnish tongues namely, once spread across all the northern half of what is now European Russia, and across North Scandinavia; but the people who spoke them have been gradually driven to the extreme north by the Russians and Scandinavians. Lastly, a third division is formed by those languages which belonged to the original inhabitants of Hindustan before the greater part of the country was occupied by the Hindus. These languages are spoken of as the Dravidian class. The natural condition of these various nations or peoples is, as we have said, a nomadic state, a state in which agriculture is scarcely known, though individual nations out of them have risen to considerable civilization. And as in very early times ancestors of ours who belonged to a race speaking an inflexional language bestowed upon some part of these nomadic people the appellation Tura, which means ‘the swiftness of a horse,’ from their constantly moving from place to place, the word Turanian has been applied to all these various peoples, and the agglutinative languages are spoken of generally as Turanian tongues.

Aryan and

And now we come to the last—the most important body of languages—the inflected; and we see that for it have been left all the more important nations and languages of the world. Almost all the ‘historic’ people, living or dead, almost all the more civilized among nations, come under this our last division: the ancient Egyptians, Chaldæans, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, as well as the modern Hindus and the native Persians, and almost all the inhabitants of Europe, with the countless colonies which these last have spread over the surface of the globe. The class of inflected languages is separated into two main divisions or{91} families, within each of which the languages are held by a tie of relationship. Just as people are of the same family when they recognize their descent from a common ancestor, so languages belong to one family when they can show clear signs that they have grown out of one parent tongue. We may be sure that we are all the children of the first pair, and we may know in the same way that all languages must have grown and changed out of the first speech. But the traces of parentage and relationship are in both cases buried in oblivion; it is only when we come much farther down in the history of the world that we can really see the marks of distinct kinship in the tongues of nations separated by thousands of miles, different in colour, in habits, in civilization, and quite unconscious of any common fatherhood.

Kinship in

Now as to the way in which this kinship among languages may be detected. Among some languages there is such a close relationship that even an unskilled eye can discover it. When we see, for instance, such likenesses as exist in English and German between the very commonest words of life—kann and can, soll and shall, muss and must, ist and is, gut and good, hart and hard, mann and man, für and for, together with an innumerable number of verbs, adjectives, substantives, prepositions, etc., which differ but slightly one from another—we may feel sure either that the English once spoke German, that the Germans once spoke English, or that English and German have both become a little altered from a lost language which was spoken by the ancestors of the present inhabitants of England and Deutsch-land. As a matter of fact the last is the case. English and German are brother languages, neither is the parent of the other. Now having our attention once called to this relationship, we might, any of us who know English and German, at{92} once set about making a long list of words which are common to the two languages; and it would not be a bad amusement for any reader just to turn over the leaves of a dictionary and note how many German words (especially of the common sort) they find that have a corresponding word in English. The first thing we begin to see is the fact that the consonants form, as it were, the bones of a word, and that changes of a vowel are, as a rule, comparatively unimportant provided these remain unaltered. The next thing we see is that even the consonants do not generally remain the same, but that in place of one such letter in one language, another of a sound very like it appears in the other language.

For instance, we soon begin to notice that ‘T’ in German is often represented by ‘D’ in English, as tag becomes day; tochter, daughter; breit, broad; traum, dream; reiten, ride; but sometimes by ‘TH’ in English, as vater becomes father; mutter, mother. Again, ‘D’ in German is often equal to ‘TH’ in English, as dorf, thorpe; feder, feather; dreschen, thrash (thresh); drängen, throng; der (die), the; das, that. Now there is a certain likeness common to these three sounds, ‘T,’ ‘D,’ and ‘TH,’ as any one’s ear will tell him if he say te, de, the. As a matter of fact they are all pronounced with the tongue pressed against the teeth, only in rather different places; and in the case of the last sound, the,[27] with a breath or aspirate sent between the teeth at the same time. So we see that, these letters being really so much alike in sound, there is nothing at all extraordinary in one sound becoming exchanged for another in the two languages. We learn, therefore, to look beyond the mere appearance of the{93} word, to weigh, so to speak, the sounds against each other, and to detect likenesses which might perhaps otherwise have escaped us. For instance, if we see that CH in German is often represented by GH in English—in such words as tochter, daughter; knecht, knight; möchte, might; lachen, laugh,—we have no difficulty in now seeing how exactly durch corresponds to our through. For we have at the beginning the d which naturally corresponds to our t, the r remains unchanged, and the ch naturally corresponds to our gh; only the vowel is different in position, and that is of comparatively small account. Nevertheless at first sight we should by no means have been inclined to allow the near relationship of durch and through. Thus our power of comparison continually increases, albeit a knowledge of several languages is necessary before we can establish satisfactory rules or proceed with at all sure steps.

When we have acquired this knowledge there are few things more interesting than noting the changes which words undergo in the different tongues, and learning how to detect the same words under various disguises. And when we have begun to do this, it is by comparing the words of our own language with corresponding words in the allied tongues German, Norse, or Dutch, whatever it may be, that we are most frequently reminded of the meaning of words which have half grown out of use with us. As, for instance, when the German Leiche (corpse) reminds us of the meaning of lich-gate (A.S. lica, a corpse) and Lichfield; or the Norse moos, a marshy or heathy region, explains our moss-troopers. I doubt if most people quite know what sea-mews are, still more if the word mewstone (which, for example, is the name of a rock near Plymouth) would at once call up the right idea into their mind. But the German Möwe, sea-gull, makes it all plain. How curious is the{94} relationship between earth and hearth, which is exactly reproduced in the German Erde and Herde! or the obsolete use of the word tide for ‘time’ (the original meaning of the tides—the ‘times,’) in the expression ‘Time and tide wait for no man’! But in the Norse we have the same expression Tid og Time, which signifies exactly Macbeth’s ‘time and the hour.’ And of course these words, our tide, Norse Tid, are the correspondants of the German zeit. When once we have detected how often the German z corresponds to the English t—as in Zahn, tooth; Zehe, toe; Zählen, to tell (i.e., to count); Zinn, tin—we have no difficulty in seeing that our town may correspond to the German Zaun, a hedge: and we guess, what is in fact the case, that the original meaning of town was only an enclosed or empaled place. The relationship of our fee to the German Vieh, cattle, and the proof that the earliest money with us was cattle-money, would, at first sight, be perhaps not so easily surmised by a mere comparison of German and English words. These are only one or two of the ten thousand points of interest which rise up before us almost immediately after we have, so to say, stepped outside the walls of our own language into the domains of its very nearest relations.

Nor is the interest of this kind of comparison less great very often in the case of proper names. The smaller family—or, as we have used the word family to express a large class of languages, let us say the branch to which English and German belong—is called the Teutonic branch. To that branch belonged nearly all those barbarian nations who, towards the fall of the Roman empire, began the invasion of her territories, and ended by carving out of them most of the various states and kingdoms of modern Europe. The best test we have of the nationalities of these peoples, the best proof that they were connected by{95} language with each other and with the modern Teutonic nations, is to be found in their proper names. We have, for instance, among the Vandals such names as Hilderic, Genseric, and the like; we compare them at once with Theodoric and Alaric, which were names of famous Goths. Then as the Gothic language has been preserved we recognize the termination rîk or rîks in Gothic, meaning a ‘king,’ and connected with the German reich, and also with the Latin rex—Alaric becomes al-rik, ‘all-king,’ universal king. In Theodoric we recognize the Gothic thiudarik, ‘king of the people.’ Again, this Gothic word thiuda is really the same as the German deutsch, or as ‘Dutch,’ and is the word of which ‘Teutonic’ is only a Latinized form. In the same way Hilda-rik in Gothic is ‘king of battles;’ and having got this word from the Vandals we have not much difficulty in recognizing Childeric, the usually written form of the name of a Frankish king, as the same word. This change teaches us to turn ‘CH’ of Frankish names in our history-books into ‘H,’ so that instead of Chlovis (which should be Chlodoveus) we first get Hlovis, which is only a softened form of Hlodovig, or Hludwig, the modern Ludwig, our Louis. Hlud is known to have meant ‘famous’[28] and wig a ‘warrior,’ so that Ludwig means famous warrior. The same word ‘wig’ seems to appear in the word Merovingian, a Latinized form of Meer-wig,[29] which would mean sea-warrior.

These instances show us the kind of results we obtain by a comparison of languages. In the case of these names, for instance, we have got enough to show a very close relationship amongst the Vandals, the Goths, and the Franks; and had we time many more instances might have been chosen{96} to support this conclusion. Here, of course, we have been confining ourselves to one small branch of a large family. The road, the farther we go, is beset with greater difficulties and dangers of mistake, and the student can do little unless he is guided by fixed rules, which we should have to follow, supposing we were able to carry on our inquiries into many and distant languages. We may, to some extent, judge for ourselves what some of these guiding rules must be.

Those words which we have instanced as being common to English and German, both we and the Germans have got by inheritance from an earlier language. Yet there are in English hundreds of words which are not acquired by inheritance from other languages, but merely by adoption; hundreds of words have been taken directly from the Latin, or from the Latin through the French, or from the Greek, and not derived from any early language which was the parent of the Latin, Greek, and English. How shall we distinguish between these classes of words? We answer, in the first place, that the simpler words are almost sure to be inherited, because people, in however rude a state they were, could never have done without words to express such everyday ideas as to have, to be, to laugh, to make, to killI, thou, to, for, and; whereas they might have done well enough without words such as government, literature, sensation, expression, words which express either things which were quite out of the way of these primitive people, or commonish ideas in a somewhat grand and abstract form.

One of our rules, therefore, must be to begin by choosing the commoner class of words, or, generally speaking, those words which are pretty sure never to have fallen out of use, and which therefore must have been handed down from father to son.{97}

There is another rule—that those languages must be classed together which have like grammatical forms. This is the rule of especial importance in distinguishing a complete family of languages. For when once a language has got into the inflected stage, though it may hereafter lose or greatly modify nearly all its inflexions, it never either sinks back into the agglutinative stage, or adopts the grammatical forms of another language which is also in the inflected condition.

These are the general rules, therefore, upon which we go. We look first for the grammatical forms and then for the simple roots, and according to the resemblance or want of resemblance between them we decide whether two tongues have any relationship, and whether that relationship is near or distant.


The Semitic

Now it has in this way been found out that all inflected languages belong to one of two families, called the Semitic and the Aryan. Let us begin with the Semitic. This word, which is only a Latinized way of saying Shemite, is given to the nations who are supposed to be descended from Shem, the second son of Noah. The nations who have spoken languages belonging to this Semitic family have been those who appear so much in Old Testament history, and who played a mighty part in the world while our own ancestors were still wandering tribes, and at an age when darkness still obscured the doings of the Greeks and Romans. Foremost among all in point of age and fame stand the Egyptians, who are believed to have migrated in far pre-historic ages to the land in which they rose to fame. They found there a people of a lower, a negro or half-negro race, and mingled with them, so that their language ceased to be a pure{98} Semitic tongue. In its foundation, however, it was Semitic. The earliest of the recorded kings of Egypt, Menes, is believed to date back as far as 5000 B.C. Next in antiquity come the Chaldæans, who have left behind them great monuments in the ancient cities Erech and Ur, and their successors the Assyrians and Babylonians. Abraham, himself, we know, was a Chaldæan, and from him descended the Hebrew nation, who were destined to shed the highest honour on the Semitic race. Yet, so great may be the degeneration of some races and the rise of others, so great may be the divisions which thus spring up between peoples who were once akin, it is also true that all those peoples whom the Children of Israel were specially commanded to fight against and even to exterminate—the Canaanites, the Moabites, and the Edomites—were likewise of Semitic family. The Phœnicians are another race from the same stock who have made their mark in the world. We know how, coming first from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, they led the way in the art of navigation, sent colonies to various parts of the world, and foremost among these founded Carthage, the rival and almost the destroyer of Rome. Our list of celebrated Semitic races must close with the Arabs, the founders of Mohammedanism, the conquerors at whose name all Europe used to tremble, whose kingdoms once extended in an unbroken line from Spain to the banks of the Indus.

The Aryan

Such a list gives no mean place to the Semitic family of nations; but those of the Aryan stock are perhaps even more conspicuous. This family (which is sometimes called Japhetic, or descendants of Japhet) includes the Hindus and Persians among Asiatic nations, and almost all the peoples of Europe. It may seem strange that we English should be related not only{99} to the Germans and Dutch and Scandinavians, but to the Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, French, Spanish, Italians, Romans, and Greeks as well; stranger still that we can claim kinship with such distant peoples as the Armenians, Persians, and Hindus. Yet such is the case, and the way in which all these different nations once formed a single people, speaking one language, and their subsequent dispersion over the different parts of the world in which we now find them, affords one of the most interesting inquiries within the range of pre-historic study. What seems actually to have been the case is this: In distant ages, somewhere about the rivers Oxus and Jaxartes, and on the north of that mountainous range called the Hindoo-Koosh, dwelt the ancestors of all the nations we have enumerated, forming at this time a single and united people, simple and primitive in their way of life, but yet having enough of a common national life to preserve a common language. They called themselves Aryas or Aryans, a word which, in its very earliest sense, seems to have meant those who move upwards, or straight; and hence, probably, came to stand for the noble race as compared with other races on whom, of course, they would look down.[30]

How long these Aryans had lived united in this their early home it is, of course, impossible to say; but as the tribes and families increased in numbers, a separation would naturally take place. Large associations of clans would move into more distant districts, the connection between the various bodies which made up the nation would be less close, their dialects would begin to vary, and thus the seeds of new nations and languages would{100} be sown. The beginning of such a separation was a distinction which arose between a part of the Aryan nation, who stayed at the foot of the Hindoo-Koosh Mountains, and in all the fertile valleys which lie there, and another part which advanced farther into the plain. This latter received the name Yavanas, which seems to have meant the protectors, and was probably given to them because they stood as a sort of foreguard between the Aryans, who still dwelt under the shadow of the mountains, and the foreign nations of the plains. And now, their area being enlarged, they began to separate more and more from one another; while at the same time, as their numbers increased, the space wherein they dwelt became too small for them who had, out of one, formed many different peoples. Then began a series of migrations, in which the collection of tribes who spoke one language and formed one people started off to seek their fortune in new lands, and thus for ever broke off association with their kindred and their old Aryan home. One by one the different nations among the Yavanas (the protectors) were infected with this new spirit of adventure, and though they took different routes, they all travelled westward, and arrived in Europe at last.[31]

A not improbable cause has been suggested of these migrations. It is known that, in spite of the immense volume of water which the Volga is daily pouring into it, the Caspian Sea is gradually drying up, and it has been conjectured as highly probable that hundreds of years ago the Caspian was not only joined to the Sea of Aral, but extended over a large district which is now sandy desert. The slow shrinking in its bed of this sea would, by decreasing the rainfall, turn what was once a fertile country{101} into a desert; and if we suppose this result taking place while the Aryan nations were gradually increasing in numbers, the effect would be to drive them, in despair of finding subsistence in the ever-narrowing fertile tract between the desert and the mountains, to seek for new homes elsewhere. This, at any rate, is what they did. First among them, in all probability, started the Kelts or Celts, who, travelling perhaps to the south of the Caspian and the north of the Black Sea, found their way to Europe, and spread far on to the extreme west. At one time it is most likely that the greater part of Europe was inhabited by Kelts, who partly exterminated and partly mingled with the stone-age men whom they found there. As far as we know of their actual extension in historic times we find this Keltic family living in the north of Italy, in Switzerland, over all the continent of Europe west of the Rhine, and in the British Isles; for the Gauls, who then inhabited the northern part of continental Europe west of the Rhine, the ancient Britons, and probably the Iberians, the ancient inhabitants of Spain, belonged to this family.[32] The Highland Scotch, who belong to the old blood, call themselves Gaels, and their language Gaelic, which is moreover so like the language of the old Irish (who called themselves by practically the same name—Gaedhill) that a Highlander could make himself understood in Ireland; perhaps he might do so in Wales, where the inhabitants are likewise Kelts. These words Gael and Gaedhill are of the same origin and meaning as Gaul. In the early days of the Roman republic the Gauls, as we know, inhabited all the north of Italy, and used often to make successful incursions{102} down to the very centre of the peninsula. Beyond the Alps they extended as far as into Belgium, which formed part of ancient Gaul. So much for the Kelts.

Another great family which left the Aryan home was that from which descended the Greeks and Romans.[33] The primitive ancestors of these two people have been called the Pelasgians (Pelasgi), the name which the Greeks gave to their own ancestors who lived in the days before the name Hellenes was used for the Greek nationality. There is evidence of a certain early civilization, which is believed to have been that of these primitive Pelasgi, in the centre of Asia Minor. And it seems probable that the line of migration of this nationality passed to the south of the Caspian Sea, then through Asia Minor, and finally, not all at once, but in successive streams, some across the Hellespont or Dardanelles to the north of Italy and the north of Greece, and some to the coast of Asia Minor, and across by the islands of the Ægean to the mainland of Greece. At every point upon the route there were left behind remains—offshoots, as it were, or cuttings from the great Pelasgic stem,—a primitive half-Greek stock in the centre of Asia Minor, a barbarous half-Greek stock in Thrace and Macedon; while all along the coasts of Asia Minor and the Greek Islands, and in the southern parts of European Greece (more especially those which looked eastward) there arose a much more cultivated race. For in these regions the Greeks came in contact with the Phœnicians, and gathered much from the civilizations of Egypt and Assyria. If there were remains of a primitive Italian race in the north of Italy these were (in subsequent, but still pre-historic{103} years) blotted out by the spread of the Gauls beyond the Alps.

How little did these rival nationalities, the Greeks and Romans, deem that their ancestors had once formed a single people! All such recollections had been lost to the Greeks and Romans, who, when we find them in historic times, had invented quite different stories to account for their origin.

Next we come to two other great families of nations who seem to have taken the same route at first, and perhaps began their travels together as the Greeks and Romans did. These are the Teutons and the Slavs. They seem to have travelled by the north of the Caspian and Black Sea, extending over all the south of Russia, and down to the borders of Greece; then gradually to have pushed on to Europe, ousting the Kelts from the eastern portion, until we find them in the historical period threatening the borders of the Roman empire on the Rhine and the Danube. Probably the Teutons pushed on most to the west, and left the Slavs behind.

The Teutonic family of nations first comes before us vaguely in the history of the invasion of Gaul and Italy by the Cimbri and the Teutones, which, as we know, was checked by Marius in the years 102 and 101 B.C. It is probable that both Cimbri and Teutones were of German origin, though some have connected the name Cimbri with Cymri, the native name of the Welsh (whence Cumberland, etc.). This attack by the Cimbri and Teutones was only an isolated attempt on behalf of the Teutons. The great invasion of the Roman empire by them did not begin till five centuries later, in 395 A.D. Of the nations who from this time forward were engaged in the dismemberment of the empire, and in laying the foundations of mediæval{104} history, almost all seem to have been of Teutonic origin. The chief among these nationalities were the Goths—divided into two great nationalities, the Visi-Goths (West Goths), and the Ostro-Goths (East Goths), who successively conquered Italy, and founded kingdoms in Italy, South Aquitaine, and Spain. Then there were the Vandals, the Burgundians, the Alani and the Suevi, who invaded Gaul at the beginning of the fifth century, and passed on, some of them, to found kingdoms in Spain and Africa. There were the Lombards who succeeded the Ostro-Goths as conquerors of Italy; the Franks who subdued the Burgundians and the Visi-Goths; the Bavarians who settled in the Roman provinces of Vindelicia and Noricum, the English (Saxons, Angles, and Jutes) who settled in the Roman province of Britain. All these nations carved for themselves new states out of the fragments of the Roman empire, and these states have for the most part remained unchanged till our day. And of all those other German states, many of which were acquired by driving back the Slavs (e.g. modern Saxony, Prussia), we need not speak here. For we have already said what are the modern nations which compose the Teutonic, or be it, for the words are the same, the Deutsch, or Dutch family. They are the Scandinavians—that is to say, the inhabitants of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, the English, the Dutch and Flemings (most of the old Keltic inhabitants of Belgium were subsequently driven out by Teutonic invaders), and the Germans.

Lastly, we come to the Slavonians (Slavs), about whom and the Panslavonic movement which is to weld all the Slavonic peoples into one great nationality we have heard so much in recent years. The word Slav comes from slowan, which in old Slavonian meant to ‘speak,’ and was given by the{105} Slavonians to themselves as the people who alone, in their view, spoke intelligibly. Just so the Greek word βάρβαροι (barbaroi), from which we get our word barbarians, arose, in obedience to a like prejudice, only from the imitation of people babbling or making unintelligible sounds—‘bar-bar-bar.’ But among the Germans who conquered and enslaved the people, Slav became synonymous with the Latin servus, and from them it passed on to express the idea of slave—esclave, schiavo, etc. The Slavonic people once extended much farther to the west in Northern Europe than they do at present—as far, for instance, as the Elbe in Northern Germany. We begin to hear of them in history about the age of Charlemagne—a little, that is, before the end of the eighth century, A.D. The Obotriti and the Wiltzi are the names of two Slavonic nations on the Baltic, of whom we hear much about this time. But they can no longer be identified as the ancestors of any existing race. In the reign of Charlemagne’s grandson, called Lewis the German, we hear much of other Slavonic peoples whose names have more meaning for us—the Sorabians, the Czechs (i.e. Bohemians), the Mähren or Moravians, and the Carinthians, who, if they have as separate peoples ceased to exist, have left behind them their names in the lands they inhabited.

The same has been the case with other Slavonic peoples who appear later in history—the Pomeranians and the Prussians (earlier Borussians) and the Silesians. The people who now bear these names and inhabit these countries are by origin almost exclusively Teutonic; but the names themselves and the earlier inhabitants were not Teutons, but Slavs.

The existing Slavonic nationalities are the Russians, Lithuanians (incorporated in Russia), the Poles, the Czechs{106} or Bohemians, the Bulgarians, Servians, Montenegrins, etc.,—most, in fact, of the nations of the Southern Danube.



This is the classification of nationalities by their language. No classification is perfect; and we know, as an historical fact, that many nations have abandoned their original tongue, and adopted that of some other people—their conquerors probably,—as the Gauls and Goths (or Iberians) of France and Spain have adopted the Latin of the Romans, as the Highland Scottish, the Irish, the Welsh and Cornishmen have adopted English.

But a classification by language is far more satisfactory than any other sort of classification of nations. For when we think of nations we do not think first of all of their physique. The most important thing to know about them is not their hair was dark or red, their eyes brown or blue. What we care most to learn are their national character, their thoughts, their beliefs, their forms of social life. And for the days when we have no national literature, no history, to guide us, almost the only means of gaining reliable information upon these points is by a study of the language of the people in question. Language holds within it far better than do tumuli or weapons, or articles of pottery or woven-stuffs or ornaments, the records of long-past times, records of material civilization and mental culture likewise. It holds these records, as a chemist would say, in solution in it; not visible perhaps to the mere passer-by; but if we know how to precipitate the solution it is wonderful what results we obtain.

No sooner has he finished his classification of languages than a mine of almost exhaustless wealth then opens before the philologist—a mine, too, which has at present been only{107} broached. He soon learns the laws governing the changes of sound from one tongue into another. We have noted experimentally some of these laws in the more simple relationships of language, as between English and German, where ‘tag’ becomes ‘day,’ ‘dorf’ ‘thorpe,’ and the like; and all relationships of language are answerable to similar rules. There are laws for the change of sound from Sanskrit into the primitive forms of Greek, Latin, German, English, etc., just as there are laws of change between the first two or the last two.[34] So we soon learn to recognize a word in one language which reappears in altered guise in another. And it may be well imagined how valuable such knowledge can be made. If we find a word common say to Greek and Latin, signifying some simple object, a weapon, a tool, an animal, a house, it is not over-likely that it will have changed from the time when it was first employed: the words of this kind which are now in use have, we know, little tendency to change. So that the time when this word was first used is in all probability the time when the thing was first known to primitive man; and if the word is common to the whole Aryan family, or if it is peculiar to a portion only, then it is argued that the thing was known or unknown before the separation of the Aryan folk. I do not, of course, say that rule is never at fault, only that this is a better criterion than any other sort of research would afford us, and that by this method of word-comparison we get no bad picture of the world of our earliest Aryan ancestors.

It might well have happened that when the migrations began our ancestors were still like the stone-age men of the shell-mounds, still in the hunter condition; that they knew{108} nothing of domesticated animals, or of pastures and husbandmen: or it might be, again, that they had left the pastoral state long behind, and that all their ideas associated themselves with agriculture, with the division of the land, and with the recurring seasons for planting. The evidence of language, dealt with after the fashion we have described, points to the belief that the ancient Aryans had only made some beginnings of agriculture, as a supplement to their natural means of livelihood, their flocks and herds: for among the words common to the whole Aryan race there are very few connected with farming, whereas their vocabulary is redolent of the herd, the cattle-fold, the herdsman, the milking-time. Even the word daughter, which corresponds to the Greek thugatêr and the Sanskrit duhitar, means in the last language ‘the milker,’ and that seems to throw back the practice of milking to a vastly remote antiquity.[35]

On the other hand, the various Indo-European branches have different names for the plough, one name for the German races, another for the Græco-Italic, and for the Sanskrit. And though aratrum has a clear connection with a Sanskrit root ar, it is not absolutely certain that it ever had in this language the sense of ploughing, and not merely of wounding, which is a still more primitive meaning of the same root, whence came the expression for ploughing as of wounding the earth.

Or say we wish to form some notion of the social life of the Aryans. Had they extended ideas of tribal government?{109} Had they kings, or were they held together only by the units of family life? Our answer would come from an examination of their common word for ‘king.’ If they have no common word, then we may guess that the title and office of kingship arose among the separate Aryan people and received a name from each. Or is it that their common word for king had first some simpler signification, ‘father,’ perhaps, showing that among the Aryan folk the social bond was still confined within the real or imaginary boundary of the family? In fact we do find a common word for king in several of the Aryan languages which has no subsidiary meaning less than that of directing, or keeping straight. This is the Latin rex, the Gothic rîks, Sanskrit rîg, etc., and its earliest ascertainable meaning was ‘the director.’ The Aryans then, even in those days, acknowledged as supreme[36] some director chosen (probably) from out of the tribe, a chief to lead their common warlike or migratory expeditions.

These are but illustrations of the method upon which are founded all conclusions touching these our ancestors, and the manner of our knowledge concerning them; far better obtained than merely by gazing upon the instruments which have fallen from their hands, or the monuments they might have raised to commemorate the dead. The difference, in truth, between relics such as these which lie enclosed in language, and the weapons and tombs of the Stone Ages, is exactly the difference between Shakespeare’s statue in Westminster Abbey or his bust at Stratford, and that ‘livelong monument’ whereof Milton spoke. By perfecting beyond the power of any other race the wonderfully complex faculty of speech the Aryans secured that their memory should be handed on the more certainly, and with far{110} greater completeness, than by records left palpable to men’s eyes and hands. Many of their secret thoughts might be unlocked by the same key. Already the same means are being used to give us glimpses of their religious ideas. For the names of the common Aryan gods can be arrived at by just the same comparative method: it may well happen that a name which is only a proper name in one language, can in another be traced to a root which unravels its original meaning. It was so, we saw, with the word daughter. Here the Sanskrit root seems to unravel the hidden—the lost, and so hidden—meaning in the Greek or English words. So with a god, the meaning of a name, concealed from the sight of those who used it in prayer or praise, becomes revealed to us by the divining rod of the science of language.

And it is true, nevertheless, that the mine of wealth thus opened has as yet been but cursorily explored.[37] There are far more and greater fish in this sea than ever came out of it. Some day, perhaps, a strictly scientific method may be found for classifying and tracing the changes which words undergo. Sometimes a word is found greatly modified; sometimes it survives almost intact between the different tongues. Is there any reason for this? At present we cannot say.

The question might be answered by means of an elaborate classification under the head of the alterations which words have undergone,[38] and such a comparative vocabulary would{111} lead to the solution of infinite questions concerning the growth of nations. We should be able to look almost into the minds of people long ago, better than we can examine the minds of contemporary races in a lower mental condition, and see what ideas took a strong hold upon them, what things they treated as realities, what metaphorically, and how large for them was the empire of imagination.

Next there is the boundless field of proper names, both those of persons and geographical names. These last in every country bear a certain witness to the races who have passed through that country, and show—roughly at least—the order of their appearance there. The older geographical names will be those of natural features, rivers, mountains, lakes, which have been never absent from the scene; the newer names will be those bestowed upon the works of man. In our own country this is the case. The names of our rivers (Thames, Ouse, Severn, Wye) are nearly all Keltic, i.e. British; those of our towns are Teutonic, Saxon or Norse. Some few Roman names linger on, as in the name and termination ‘Chester;’ but this, as meaning a place of strength, shows us clearly the reason of its survival. Every European country has changed hands, as ours has done; nay, every country in the world.[39] So here again we{112} have promise of plenty of work for the philologist in compiling a ‘Glossary of Proper Names’ with etymologies.

Lastly, let it not be forgotten that a great part of all that has been done for the Aryan can be done likewise for the Semitic languages—a field as yet little turned by the plough; and the reader will confess the debt the world is likely some day to owe to Comparative Philology.{113}




When we try and gather into one view the results of our inquiries upon the kindreds and nations of the old world, it must be confessed we are struck rather by the extent of our ignorance than of our knowledge. For all the light we are able to shed, the movements and the passage of the various races in this prehistoric time appear to the eye of the mind most like the movement of great hosts of men seen dimly through a mist. Or shall we say that we are in the position of persons living upon some one of many great military highways, while before their eyes pass continually bodies of troops in doubtful progress to and fro, affording to them, where they stand, no indication of the order of battle or the plan of the campaign? Still, to men in such a position there would be more or less of intelligence possible in the way in which they watched the steps of those who passed before them; and we, too, though we cannot attempt really to follow the track of mankind down from the earliest times, may yet gather some idea of the changing positions which from age to age have been occupied by the larger divisions of our race.

In the Bible narrative continuous history begins, at the earliest, not before the time of Abraham. In the earlier{114} chapters of Genesis we find only scattered notices of individuals who dwelt in one particular corner of the world, nothing to indicate the general distribution of races, or the continuous lapse of time. It is, moreover, a fact that, owing partly to the associations of childhood, we are apt, by a too literal interpretation, to rob the narrative of some part of its historical value. Here, proper names, which we might be inclined to take for the names of single individuals, often stand for whole races, and sometimes for the countries which gave their names to the people dwelling in them. ‘Son of,’ too, must not be taken in its most literal meaning, but in the wider, and in old languages the perfectly natural, sense of ‘descended from.’ When nations kept the idea of a common ancestor before their minds, in a way with which we of the present day are quite unfamiliar, it was very customary to describe any one person of that people as the ‘son of’ the common ancestor. Thus a Greek who wished to bring before his hearers the common nationality of the Greek people—the Hellenes—would speak of them as being the sons of Hellen, of the Æolians or Ionians as sons of Æolus or Ion. In another way, again, an Athenian or Theban might speak of his fellow-citizens as sons of Athens or of Thebes. Such language among any ancient people is not poetical or hyperbolical language, but the usual speech of every day. It is in a similar fashion that in the Bible narrative, centuries are passed rapidly over. And if the remains of the stone ages lift a little the veil which hides man’s earliest doings upon earth, it must be confessed that the light which these can shed is but slight and partial. We catch sight of a portion of the human race making their rude implements of stone and bone, living in caves as hunters and fishers, without domestic animals and without agriculture, but not without faculties which raise them far above the level{115} of the beasts by which they are surrounded. Yet of these early men we may say we know not whence they come or whither they go. We cannot tell whether the picture which we are able to form of man of the earliest time—of the first stone age—is a general or a partial picture; whether it represents the majority of his fellow-creatures, or only a particular race strayed from the first home of man.

yellow, red,
and white

We must therefore be content to resign the hope of anything like a review of man’s life since the beginning. Before we see him clearly, he had probably spread far and wide over the earth, and already separated into the three or four most important divisions of the race. It is usual to divide the human race into four divisions named after, but not entirely founded upon, the colour of their skins. These divisions are the black, yellow, red, and white races. I do not propose to go into any elaborate description either of the peculiarities or the habitat of these four sections of humanity. The greater part of mankind have no place in history properly so called. We know them only in the present, their past is lost for ever. And the present volume being designed to open the door to history is really not concerned with races such as these. It will be enough very briefly to indicate the main characteristics of the four races of mankind, and to refer the reader for more information to the chapter in Mr. Tylor’s Anthropology dealing with the subject.

The Black

The black or negro race, then, consists of two divisions the negroes of Africa, and the negroes of certain among the islands of the Pacific bordering upon Australia and called Melanesia. This Melanesia, or ‘the negro islands’ as we might call them, include Tasmania, New Guinea, and a great number of{116} smaller islands. But they do not include Australia and New Zealand, the inhabitants of both which countries have physical features differing from those of the genuine negro, though the Australian type approaches very near to his. The colour of the skin is not really the chief characteristic of this race, but far more so is the very crisp hair (what is called wool), the very flat and broadened nose, the broad lips, and the advanced under-jaw, or, as it is called, the prognathism of the face. This black race has never had anything that deserves to be called either a literature or a history.

The Red

The red race, which we will take next, is that which inhabits or, till the Europeans came, inhabited the whole of America, North and South, except the extreme North, the country of the Eskimo. We take these people next because they are almost as unknown to history as are the negroes. The peculiarities of the red races are their red skin, their high cheek-bones, the straight black hair which, exactly opposite to that of the negro, never curls.[40] This race has not been quite so stationary as the negro. Some of its members, the Aztecs of Mexico, the Incas of Peru, did attain to a considerable civilization. But they had advanced no way in the art of writing or keeping records of their past, which is thus wholly lost to us; and we have no means of connecting the civilization of the red races with the civilization of that part of the world which has had a history.

We are therefore left to deal with the two remaining classes, the yellow and the white. The oldest, that is to say apparently the least changed, of these is the yellow{117}

The Yellow

race, and perhaps their most typical representatives are the Chinese. The type is a sufficiently familiar one. ‘The skull of the yellow race is rounded in form. The oval of the head is larger than with Europeans. The cheek-bones are very projecting; the cheeks rise towards the temples, so that the outer corners of the eyes are elevated; the eyelids seem half closed. The forehead is flat above the eyes. The bridge of the nose is flat, the chin short, the ears disproportionately large and projecting from the head. The colour of the skin is generally yellow, and in some branches turns to brown. There is little hair on the body; beard is rare. The hair of the head is coarse, and, like the eyes, almost always black.’[41] In the present day the different families of the globe have gone through the changes which time and variety of climate slowly bring about in all; and the yellow race has not escaped these influences. While some of its members have by a mixture with white races or by gradual improvement, reached a type not easily distinguishable from the European, others have, through the effect of climate, approached more nearly to the characteristics of the black family. We may, however, still class these divergent types under the head of the yellow race, which we consequently find extending over a vast portion of our globe. Round the North Pole the Eskimo, the Lapps, and the Finns form a belt of people belonging to this division of mankind. Over all Northern and Central Asia the various tribes of Mongolian or Turanian race inhabiting the plains of Siberia and of Tartary, and again the Thibetans, the Chinese, Siamese, and other kindred peoples of Eastern Asia, are members of this yellow family. From the Malay peninsula the same race has spread southward, passing from land to land over the{118} countless isles which cover the South Pacific, until they have reached the islands which lie around the Australian continent, the islands of Polynesia in the South Pacific, and have mingled with the negro race that had preceded them there and that remains unmixed in the Melanesian islands. The Maoris, the inhabitants of New Zealand, belong to this yellow race; and the Australians, perhaps, represent a mixture of negro and yellow races. In all, this division of mankind covers an immense portion of the globe stretching from Greenland in a curved line, through North America and China, downwards to New Zealand, and again westward from China through Tartary or Siberia, up to Lapland in the north of Europe. And it must be added that many anthropologists consider the red races of America only a variety of this wide-spread yellow race.

The White

From the results of the previous chapter we see that to the yellow race must be attributed all those peoples of Europe and Asia which speak agglutinative languages, and therefore that for the white race are left the inflected tongues. These it will be remembered, we divided into two great families, the Semitic and the Aryan or Japhetic. We thus see that from the earliest times to which we are able to point we have living in Europe and Asia these three divisions of the human family, whom some have looked upon as the descendants of Ham, Shem, and Japhet. What relationship the other excluded races of mankind, the black and red, bear to the Hamites, Shemites, and Japhetites, has not been suggested. It seems more reasonable to consider Noah as merely the ancestor of the white races, and, therefore, so far as our linguistic knowledge goes, of the Semitic and Aryan families of speech only. But outside the pure{119} Semites there lived a race of a less pure nationality, springing, probably, from a mixture of Semites with earlier black and yellow races. These people we may distinguish as Hamites. A division of this race were the Cushites, the stock from which the Egyptian, the Chaldæan, and many of the Canaanite nations were mainly formed.

But though from the earliest times there were probably in Asia these three divisions of mankind, their relative position and importance was very different from what it is now. At the present time the Turanian races are everywhere shrinking and dwindling before the descendants of Japhet. At the moment at which I write it is the Aryan Slavs who are pushing the yellow-skinned Tartars farther and farther back in Siberia and Central Asia, and are endeavouring to push the Mongolian Turks from their last foothold in Europe.[42] The Tartar races have had their era of great conquest too, for to them belong those races—Huns, Avars, Magyars—who have spread such devastation in Europe, to them belong such conquerors as Attila, Genghis Khan, and Timûr Lenk (Tamerlane). In the first few centuries after Mohammedism was introduced among them, the Turanians of Central Asia rose into power. Several different Tartar races in succession—Seljûks, Ayyûbites, Mongols (Moghuls), etc.—rose upon the ruins of the Arab Chalifate, and invaded India, Persia, Africa, and Europe. The last of these is the race of the Osmanlîs, or, as we call them simply, the Turks. Their days of conquest are past, and therefore, great as is the space which the Turanian people now occupy over the face of the globe, there is reason to believe that in early prehistoric times they were still more widely extended. In all{120} probability the men of the polished-stone age in Europe and Asia were of this yellow-skinned Mongolian type. We know that the human remains of this period seem to have come from a short and round-skulled people; and this roundness of the skull is one of the chief marks of the Mongolians as distinguished from the white races of mankind.

We know, too, that the earliest inhabitants of India belonged to a Turanian, and therefore to a yellow, race; and that Turanians mingled with one of the oldest historical Semitic peoples, and helped to produce the civilization of the Chaldæans. And as, moreover, we find in various parts of Asia traces of a civilization similar to that of Europe during the latter part of the polished-stone age, it seems not unreasonable, in casting our eyes back upon the remotest antiquity on which research sheds any light, to suppose an early widespread Turanian or Mongolian family extending over the greater part of Europe and Asia. These Turanians were in various stages of civilization or barbarism, from the rude condition of the hunters and fishers of the Danish shell-mounds to a higher state reigning in Central and Southern Asia, and similar to that which was afterwards attained towards the end of the polished-stone age in Europe. The earliest home of these pure Turanians was probably a region lying somewhere to the east of Lake Aral. ‘There,’ says a writer from whom we have already quoted, ‘from very remote antiquity they had possessed a peculiar civilization, characterized by gross Sabeism, peculiarly materialistic tendencies, and complete want of moral elevation; but at the same time, by an extraordinary development in some branches of knowledge, great progress in material culture in some respects, while in others they remained in an entirely rudimentary state. This strange and incomplete civilization exercised over great part{121} of Asia an absolute preponderance, lasting, according to the historian Justin, 1500 years.’[43]

As regards its pre-historic remains, we know that this civilization, or half-civilization, was especially distinguished by the raising of enormous grave-mounds and altar-stones, and it must have been characterized by strong, if not by the most elevated, religious ideas, and by a peculiar reverence paid to the dead. Now, we have seen that it is by characteristics very similar to these that the civilization of Egypt is distinguished, and Egypt, of all nations which have possessed a history, is the oldest.


These are reasons, therefore, for considering the Egyptian civilization, which is in some sort the dawn of history in the world, as the continuation—the improvement, no doubt, but still the continuation—of the half-civilization of the age of stone, a culture handed on from the Turanian to the Cushite peoples. We may look upon this very primitive form of culture as spreading first through Asia, and later on outwards to the west. Four thousand and five thousand years before Christ are the dates disputed over as those of Menes, the first recorded King of Egypt.[44] And Egypt even at this early time seems to have emerged from the age of stone, and been possessed, at least, of bronze, possibly of iron. The later date, 4000 B.C., probably marks the beginning of the stone-age life corresponding to the more extensive remains in Europe. It was therefore with this early culture as it has been with subsequent fuller civilizations—{122}

‘Nosque ubi primus equis Oriens afflavit anhelis
Illic sera rubens accendit lumina Vesper.’

The Egyptian civilization which (for us) begins with Menes, say 5000 B.C., reaches its zenith under the third and fourth dynasty, under the builders of the pyramids some eight hundred or a thousand years afterwards. Then in its full strength the Egyptian life rises out of the past like a giant peak, or like its own pyramids out of the sandy plains. It is cold and rigid, like a mass of granite, but it is so great that it seems to defy all efforts of time. Even when the Egyptians first come before us everything seems to point them out as a people already old; whether it be their enormous tombs and temples, their elaborately ordered social life, or their complicated religious system, with its long mysterious ritual. For all this, the Egyptian life and thought present two elements of character which may well spring from the union of two distinct nationalities. Its enormous tombs and temples and its excessive care for the bodies of the dead—for what are the pyramids but exaggerations of the stone-age grave-mounds, and the temples but improvements upon the megalithic dolmens?—recall the era of stone-age culture. The evident remains of an early animal worship show a descent from a low form of religion, such a religion as we find among Turanian or African races. But with these co-existed some much grander features. The Egyptians were intellectual in the highest degree,—in the highest degree then known to the world; and, unlike the stone-age men, succeeded in other than merely mechanical arts. In astronomy they were rivalled by but one nation, the Chaldæans; in painting and sculpture they were at the head of the world, and were as nearly the inventors of history as of writing itself,—not quite of either, as will be seen hereafter. Mixed, too, with their animal worship were some lofty{123} religious conceptions stretching not only beyond it—the animal worship—but beyond that ‘natural’ polytheism which was the earliest creed of our own ancestors the Aryans, and a noble hope and ambition for the future of the soul. Were these higher features due to the influx of Semitic blood? It seems likely, when we remember how from the same race came a chosen people to whom the world is indebted for all that is greatest in religious thought.


During the fourth and fifth dynasties, or some three or four thousand years before Christ, Egypt and the Egyptians do, as we have said, rise up distinctly out of the region of mere conjecture. Three or four thousand years before Christ—five or six thousand years ago: this is no small distance through which to look back to the place where the first mountain-peak of history appears in view. What was doing in the other unseen regions round this mountain? Only probably in one other part of the globe could there have been found at this date a civilization in the smallest degree comparable to that of the Egyptians. This region is the valley of the Tigrus and Euphrates.

The Tigro-Euphrates valley, or Mesopotamia, was in early days as regards appearance and position very similar to the land of Egypt. These two territories are in fact two oases in an immense band of desert, which stretches from the western edge of the great Sahara (which is almost the edge of Africa itself) in a curved sweep, through part of Arabia, part of Persia, up to the great plains of central Asia; in other words, it stretches across more than one-third of the circumference of the globe. The Tigro-Euphrates oasis which the Greeks called Mesopotamia is in the Bible called Chaldæa or the country of the Chaldees. In days known to history, its inhabitants were a mixed people, of whom{124} the oldest element was undoubtedly Turanian; and this section of the nation had probably descended from the country afterwards called Iran to the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates. These people are called by modern scholars the Accadians, or the Shûmîro-Accadians.[45] They are the Accad of the Bible. Mixed with them were a people of Semitic, or half-Semitic origin, whose language is closely allied to the Hebrew and the Aramæan. If we take the Biblical name for them, we should call them Hamites or Cushites. But the best ethnological name would be that of Aramæans.

These two races mingled, and formed the nation of Chaldæans as known to history; and in time the Semitic element predominated over the Turanian. Nevertheless it was the Accadians who had brought to the common stock the earliest elements of civilization. Their earliest tombs show them in possession of both the metals bronze and iron, though of the latter in such small quantities that it took with them the position of a precious metal; ornaments were made from it as much as from gold. What is far more important, the Accadians possessed a hieroglyphic writing similar in character to that of the Egyptians, and, after their junction with the Semite people, that developed into a syllabic alphabet.[46] We may date the fusion of the Accadian and Aramæan peoples at about 4000 B.C.

It is in this country, be it remembered, in the Tigro-Euphrates basin, that the Bible places the earliest history of the human race. ‘And it came to pass that as they journeyed from the East they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.’[47] Here, too, is placed the building of Babel, and the subsequent dispersion of the human family.{125} Here ruled Nimrod, ‘the son of Cush,’ the first of the kings of this region of whom any authentic mention is made; though we have dynastic lists of supernatural beings who were supposed to have reigned in Chaldæa in far distant ages of the world, as we have in the case of Egypt. Even of Nimrod’s reign no monumental records have yet come to light. The cities which Nimrod built, says the Bible, were Erech [in Accadian, Ounoug, or Ûrûk] and Ur [Accad. Urû]—these two are the present Warkah and Mugheir,—Accad [Agadê] and Calneh. But the earliest human king of whom we have anything like an authentic date is either Sargon I., who may have reigned as early as 3800 B.C., or Ûrbagûs, who seems to have ruled over all Mesopotamia, contemporaneously with the fifth Egyptian dynasty (3900 or 2900 B.C.).

The Chaldean buildings of this period, like the contemporary Egyptian ones, are of gigantic proportions, and like them seem to recall bygone days, the grandiose conceptions of the later stone-age, those tumuli and cromlechs which, spread over the face of the world, most undoubtedly have suggested to subsequent nations of mankind the belief in a giant race which had preceded them on earth—

‘The far-famed hold,
Piled by the hands of giants
For god-like kings of old.’

And thus, as has already been often said, this earliest civilization in the world looks back to pre-historic days as much as forward to historic ones.

Close beside Chaldæa, in the more mountainous country to the east, but not far from the Persian Gulf, rose another civilization, that of the Elamites, which may possibly have been not much later than the Chaldæan. This, too, we may believe, was in its origin Turanian. The capital of{126} the country of Elam was Susa. Between 2300 and 2280 B.C., a king of Susa, Kurdur-Nankunty, conquered the reigning king of Chaldæa, and henceforward the two districts were incorporated into one country. The accession of strength thus gained to his crown induced one of the kings of the Elamitic line, Kudur-lagomer (Chedorlaomer) by name, to aspire towards a wider empire (c. 2200 B.C.). He sent his armies against the Semitic nations on his west, who were now beginning to settle down in cities, and to enjoy their share of the civilization of Egypt and Chaldæa. These he subdued, but after sixteen years they rebelled; and it was after a second expedition to punish their recalcitrancy, wherein he had conquered the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, and had among the prisoners taken Lot, the nephew of Abraham, that Chedorlaomer was pursued and defeated by the patriarch. ‘And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan. And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.’[48]

The conquest of a powerful Chaldæan king by a handful of wandering Semites seems extraordinary, and might have sounded a note of warning to the ear of the Chaldæans. Their kingdom was destined soon to be overthrown by another Semitic people. After a duration of about half a thousand years for the Elamite kingdom, and some seven hundred years since the time of Nimrod, the Chaldæan dynasty was overthrown and succeeded by an Arabian one,{127} that is, by a race of nomadic Shemites from the Arabian plains; and after two hundred and forty-five years they in their turn succumbed to another more powerful people of the same Semitic race, the Assyrians. The empire thus founded upon the ruins of the old Chaldæan was one of the greatest of the ancient world, as we well know from the records which meet us in the Bible. Politically it may be said to have balanced the power of Egypt. But the stability of this monarchy rested upon a basis much less firm than that of Egypt; the southern portion—the old Chaldæa—of which Babylon was the capital, was always ready for revolt, and after about seven hundred years the Babylonians and Medes succeeded in overthrowing their former conquerors. All this belongs to history—or at least to chronicle—and is therefore scarcely a part of our present inquiry.

To these primitive civilizations of Egypt, Chaldæa, and Susa we might, if we could put faith in native records, be inclined to add a fourth.


The Chinese profess to extend their lists of dynasties seven, eight, or even ten thousand years backward, but there is nothing on which to rest such extravagant pretensions. Their earliest known book is believed to date from the twelfth century before Christ. It is therefore not probable that they possessed the art of writing more than fifteen hundred years before our era, and before writing is invented there can be no reliable history. The best record of early times then is to be found in the popular songs of a country, and of these China possessed a considerable number, which were collected into a book—the Book of Odes—by their sage Confucius.[49] The picture which these odes present is of a society so very different from that of the time from which their earliest book—the Book of Changes—dates,{128} that we cannot refuse to credit it with a high antiquity. From the songs we learn that before China coalesced into the monarchy which has lasted so many years, its inhabitants lived in a sort of feudal state, governed by a number of petty princes and lords. The pastoral life which distinguished the surrounding Turanian nations had already been exchanged for a settled agricultural one, to which houses, and all the civilization which these imply, had long been familiar. For the rest, their life seems to have been then, as now, a simple, slow-moving life, not devoid of piety and domestic affection. But it should be mentioned here that recent researches seem to point to the conclusion, strange as it may appear, that the Chinese civilization is closely connected with that of the Accadians, and may have had an origin from some contact with the Accadian peoples in their earliest homes in Central Asia. In any case it hardly seems likely that this can be classed as the fourth civilization which may have existed in the world when the pyramids were being built. But it is without doubt after these three the next oldest of the civilizations which the world has known. It seems to be remote alike from the half-civilization of the other Mongolian people of the stone age, and from the mixed Turanian-Semitic civilizations of Egypt and Chaldæa.

To these early civilizations in the old world, may we add any from the new, and believe in a great antiquity of the highest civilization of the red race? The trace of an early civilization in Mexico and Peru, bearing many remarkable points of resemblance to the civilization of Chaldæa, is undoubted. This may have been passed on by the Chinese at a very early date. But there is nothing to show that the identity in some of the features of their culture extended to an identity in their respective epochs.{129}


A greater destiny, though a more tardy development, awaited the pure Semitic and Japhetic races. Among the former we might notice many nations which started into life during the thousand years following that date of 3000 B.C., which we have taken as our starting-point. Of the Assyrians we have already spoken. The next most conspicuous stand the Phœnicians, who, either in their early home upon the seacoast of Syria, or in their second home, the sea itself, or in one of their countless colonies, came into contact with almost every one of the great nations of antiquity, from the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Israelites, to the Greeks and Romans.

But it is upon the life and history of the nomadic Shemites, and among them of one chosen people, that our thoughts chiefly rest. Among the prouder citied nations which inhabited the plains of the Tigris and Euphrates, from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, dwelt a numerous people, more or less nomadic in their habits, under the patriarchal form of government which belonged to their mode of life. Among such a people the chief of one particular family or clan was summoned by a Divine call to escape from the influence of the idolatrous nations around, and to live that vagrant pastoral life which was in such an age most fitted for the needs of purity and religious contemplation. It is as something like a wandering Bedouin chieftain that we must picture Abraham, while we watch him, now joining with one small city king against another, now driven by famine to travel with his flocks and herds as far as Egypt. Then again he returns, and settles in the fertile valley of the Jordan, where Lot leaves him, and, seduced by the luxuries of a town life, quits his flocks and herds and settles in Sodom, till driven out again by the{130} destruction of that city. And we are not now reading dry dynastic lists, but the very life and thought of an early time.[50] To us—whose lives are so unsimple—the mere picture of this simple nomadic life of early days would have an interest and a charm; but it has a double charm and interest viewed by the light of the high destiny to which Abraham and his descendants were called. Plying the homely, slighted shepherd’s trade, these people lived poor and despised beside the rich monarchies of Egypt or Chaldæa; one more example, if one more were needed, how wide apart lie the empires of spiritual and of material things.

Up to very late times the Children of Israel bore many of the characteristics of a nomadic people. It was as a nation of shepherds that they were excluded from the national life of Egypt. For long years after their departure thence they led a wandering life; and though, when they entered Palestine, they found cities ready for their occupation—for the nations which they dispossessed were for the most part settled people, builders of cities—and inhabited them, and, growing corn and wine, settled partly into an agricultural life, yet the chief wealth of the nation still probably consisted in their flocks, and the greater portion of the people still dwelt in tents. This was, perhaps, especially the case with the people of the north, for even so late as the separation, when the ten tribes determined to free themselves from the tyranny of Rehoboam, we know how Jeroboam cried out, ‘To your tents, O Israel.’ ‘So{131} Israel departed unto their tents,’ the narrative continues. After the separation we are told that Jeroboam built several cities in his own dominions. The history of the Israelites generally may be summed up as the constant expression and the ultimate triumph of a wish to exchange their simple life and theocratic government for one which might place them more on a level with their neighbour states. At first it is their religion which they wish to change, whether for the gorgeous ritual of Egypt or for the vicious creeds of Asiatic nations; and after a while, madly forgetful of the tyrannies of a Ramses or a Tiglath-Pileser, they desire a king to reign over them in order that they may ‘take their place’ among the other Oriental monarchies. Still their first two kings have rather the character of military leaders, the monarchy not having become hereditary; the second, the warrior-poet, the greatest of Israel’s sons, was himself in the beginning no more than a shepherd. But under his son Solomon the monarchical government becomes assured, the country attains (like Rome under Augustus) the summit of its splendour and power, and then enters upon its career of slow and inevitable decline.

The Aryans.

Now let us turn to the Japhetic people—the Aryans. It is curious that the date of three thousand years before Christ, from which we started in our glance over the world, should also be considered about that of the separation of the Aryan people. Till that time they had continued to live—since when we know not—in their early home near the Oxus and Jaxartes, and we are able by the help of comparative philology to gain some little picture of their life at the time immediately preceding the separation. We have already seen how this picture is obtained; how, taking a word out of one of the Aryan languages and making allowance for the changed form{132} which it would wear in the other tongues, if we find the same word with the same meaning reappearing in all the languages of the family, we may fairly assume that the thing for which it stands was known to the old Aryans before the separation. If, again, we find a word which runs through all the European languages, but is not found in the Sanskrit and Persian, we guess that in this case the thing was known only to the Yavanas, the first separating body of younger Aryans, from whom it will be remembered all the European branches are descended. Thus we get a very interesting list of words, and the means of drawing a picture of the life of our primæval ancestors. The earliest appearance of the Aryans is as a pastoral people, for words derived from the pastoral life have left the deepest traces on their language. Daughter, we saw, meant originally ‘the milker;’ the name of money, and of booty, in many Aryan languages is derived from that of cattle;[51] words which have since come to mean lord or prince originally meant the guardian of the cattle;[52] and others which have expanded into words for district or country, or even for the whole earth, meant at first simply the pasturage. So not without reason did we say that the king had grown out of the head of the family, and the pens of sheepfolds expanded into walled cities.

But though a pastoral, the ancient Aryans do not seem to have been a nomadic race, and in this respect they differed from the Shemites of the same period, and from the Turanians, by whom they were surrounded. For the Turanian civilization had pretty well departed from Asia by that time,{133} and having taught its lessons to Egypt and Chaldæa, lived on, if at all, in Europe only. There it faded before the advance of the Celts and other Aryan people, who came bringing with them the use of bronze weapons and the civilization which belonged to the bronze age. The stone age lingered in the lake dwellings of Switzerland, as we thought, till about two thousand years before Christ or perhaps later, and it may be that this date, B.C. 2000, which is also nearly that of Abraham, represents within a few hundred years the entry of the Aryans into Europe. The Greeks are generally believed to have appeared in Greece, or at least in Asia Minor, about the nineteenth century before our era, and they were probably preceded by the Latin branch of the Aryan family, as well as by the Celts in the north of Europe. So that the period of one thousand years which intervened between our starting-point and the call of Abraham, the starting-point of the Hebrew history, and which saw the growth and change of many great Asiatic monarchies, must for the Aryans be only darkly filled up by the gradual separation of the different nations, and their unknown life between this separation and the time when they again become vaguely known to history.



The general result, then, of our inquiries into the grouping of nations of the world in pre-historic times may be sketched in rough outline. At a very early date, say 4000 or 5000 B.C., arose an extensive Turanian half-civilization, which, flourishing probably in Central and Southern Asia, spread in time and through devious routes to India and China upon one side, on the other side to Europe. This was, at first at any rate, a stone age, and was especially distinguished by the raising of great stones and grave-mounds. This civilization was communicated{134} to the Egyptians and Chaldæans, a mixed people—Semite, Turanian, Ethiopian—who were not strangers to the use of metals. As early as 3000 years before our era the civilization of Egypt had attained its full growth, and had probably even then a considerable past. Chaldæa, too, and the neighbouring Elam were both advanced out of their primitive state; possibly so also were China, Peru, and Mexico. But the pure Semite peoples, the ancestors of the Jews, and the Aryans, were still pastoral races, the one by the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, the other by the banks of the Jaxartes and the Oxus. The first of these continued pastoral and nomadic for hundreds of years, but about this time the Western Aryans separated from those of the East, and soon after added some use of agriculture to their shepherd life. Then between 3000 and 2000 B.C. came the separation of the various peoples of the Western Aryans and their migration towards Europe, where they began to appear at the latter date. After all the Western Aryans had left the East, the older Aryans seem to have lived on for some little time together, and at last to have separated into the nations of Iranians and Hindus, the first migrating southward, and the second crossing the Hindoo-Koosh and descending into the plains of the Indus and the Ganges. Thence they drove away or exterminated most of the older Turanian inhabitants, as their brethren had a short time before done to the Turanians whom they found in Europe. Such, so far as we can surmise, were in rough outline the doings of the different kindreds and nations and languages of the old world in times long before history.{135}



Formation of

We have seen, so far, that the early traces of man’s existence point to a gradual improvement in the state of his civilization, to the acquirement of fresh knowledge, and the practice of fresh arts. The rude stone implements of the early drift-period are replaced by the more carefully manufactured ones of the polished-stone age, and these again are succeeded by implements of bronze and of iron. By degrees also the arts of domesticating animals and of tilling the land are learnt; and by steps, which we shall hereafter describe, the art of writing is developed from the early pictorial rock-sculptures. Now, in order that each step in this process of civilization should be preserved for the benefit of the next generation, and that the people of each period should start from the vantage-ground obtained by their predecessors, there must have been frequent intercommunication between the different individuals who lived at the same time; so that the discovery or improvement of each one should be made known to others, and become part of the common stock of human knowledge. In the very earliest times, then, men probably lived collected together in societies of greater or less extent. We know that this is the case now with all savage tribes;{136} and as in many respects the early races of the drift-beds seem to have resembled some now existing savage tribes in their mode of life, employing, to a certain extent, the same implements, and living on the same sort of food, this adds to the probability of their gregariousness. The fact, too, that the stone implements of the first stone period have generally been found collected near together in particular places, indicates these places as the sites of early settlements. Beyond this, however, we can say very little of the social state of these early stone-age people. Small traces of any burial-ground or tomb of so great an antiquity have yet been found, and all that we can say of them with any certainty is, that their life must have been very rude and primitive. Although they were collected together in groups, these groups could not have been large, and each must have been generally situated at a considerable distance from the next, for the only means of support for the men of that time was derived from hunting and fishing. Now it requires a very large space of land to support a man who lives entirely by hunting; and this must have been more particularly the case in those times when the weapons used by the huntsman were so rude, that it is difficult for us now to understand how he could ever have succeeded in obtaining an adequate supply of food by such means. Supposing that the same extent of territory were required for the support of a man in those times as was required in Australia by the native population, the whole of Europe could only have supported about seventy-six thousand inhabitants, or about one person to every four thousand now in existence.

Next to the cave-dwellings the earliest traces of anything like fixed settlements which have been found are the ‘kitchen-middens.’ The extent of some of these clearly{137} shows that they mark the dwelling-place of considerable numbers of people collected together. But here only the rudest sort of civilization could have existed, and the bonds of society must have been as primitive and simple as they are among those savage tribes at the present time, who support existence in much the same way as the shell-mound people did. In order that social customs should attain any development, the means of existence must be sufficiently abundant and easily procurable to permit some time to be devoted to the accumulation of superfluities, or of supplies not immediately required for use. The life of the primitive hunter and fisher is so precarious and arduous, that he has rarely either the opportunity or the will for any other employment than the supply of his immediate wants. The very uncertainty of that supply seems rather to create recklessness than providence, and the successful chase is generally followed by a period of idleness and gluttony, till exhaustion of supplies once more compels men to activity. That the shell-mound people were subject to such fluctuations of supply we may gather from the fact that bones of foxes and other carnivorous animals are frequently found in those mounds; and as these animals are rarely eaten by human beings, except under the pressure of necessity, we may conclude that the shell-mound people were driven to support existence by this means, through their ill-success in fishing and hunting, and their want of any accumulation of stores to supply deficiencies.

The next token of social improvement that is observable is in the tumuli, or grave-mounds, which may be referred to a period somewhat later than that of the shell-mounds. These contain indications that the people who constructed them possessed some important elements necessary to their{138} social progress. They had a certain amount of time to spare after providing for their daily wants, and they did not spend that time exclusively in idleness. The erection of these mounds must have been a work of considerable labour, and they often contain highly finished implements and ornaments, which must have been put there for the use of the dead. They are evidences that no little honour was sometimes shown to the dead; so that some sort of religion must have existed amongst the people who constructed the ancient grave-mounds. The importance of this element in early society is evident if we inquire further for whom and by whom these mounds were erected. Now, they are not sufficiently numerous, and are far too laborious in their construction, to have been the ordinary tombs of the common people. They were probably tombs erected for chiefs or captains of tribes to whom the tribes were anxious to pay especial honour. We do not know at all how these separate tribes or clans came into existence, and what bonds united their members together; but so soon as we find a tribe erecting monuments in honour of its chiefs, we conclude that it has attained a certain amount of compactness and solidity in its internal relations. Amongst an uneducated people there is probably no stronger tie than that of a common faith, or a common subject of reverence. It is impossible not to believe, then, that the people who made these great, and in some cases elaborately constructed tombs, would continue ever after to regard them as in some sort consecrated to the great chiefs who were buried under them. Each tribe would have its own specially sacred tombs, and perhaps we may here see a germ of that ancestor-worship which may be traced in every variety of religious belief.

It has been supposed by some that a certain amount of{139}


commerce or barter existed in the later stone age. The reason for this opinion is that implements of stone are frequently found in localities where the stone of which they are made is not native. At Presigny le Grand, in France, there exists a great quantity of a particular kind of flint which seems to have been very convenient for the manufacture of implements; for the fields there are covered with flint-flakes and chips which have been evidently knocked off in the process of chipping out the knives, and arrow-heads, and hatchets which the stone-age men were so fond of. Now, implements made of this particular kind of flint are found in various localities, some of which are at a great distance from Presigny; and it has therefore been supposed that Presigny was a sort of manufactory for flint weapons which were bartered to neighbouring tribes, and by them again perhaps to others further off; and so these weapons gradually got dispersed. But it is also possible that the tribes of the interior, who would subsist almost exclusively by hunting, and would therefore be of a more wandering disposition than those on the sea-coast, may have paid occasional visits to this flint reservoir for the purpose of supplying themselves with weapons of a superior quality, just as the American Indians are said to go to the quarry of Coteau des Prairies on account of the particular kind of stone which is found there.

In any case, whatever system of barter was carried on at that time was of a very primitive kind, and not of frequent enough occurrence to produce any important effects on the social condition of the people. That that condition had already advanced to some extent beyond its original rudeness, shows us that there existed, at all events, some capacity for improvement among the tribes which then{140} inhabited Europe; but, when we compare them with modern tribes of savages, whose apparent condition is much the same as theirs was, and who do not seem to have made any advance for a long period, or, so far as we can judge, to be capable of making any advance by their own unassisted efforts, we cannot but conclude that the stone-age people, if left to themselves, would only have emerged out of barbarism by very slow degrees. Now we know that, about the time when bronze implements first began to be used, some very important changes also occurred in the manners and customs of the inhabitants of Europe. A custom of burning the dead superseded then the older one of burial; domestic animals of various sorts seem to have been introduced, and the bronze implements themselves show, both in the elaborateness of their workmanship and the variety of their designs, that a great change had come over European civilization. The greatness and completeness of this change, the fact that there are no traces of those intermediate steps which we should naturally expect to find in the development of the arts, denote that this change was due to some invading population which brought with it the arts that had been perfected in its earlier home; and other circumstances point to the East as the home from which this wave of civilization proceeded. Language has taught us that at various times there have been large influxes of Aryan populations into Europe. To the first of these Aryan invaders probably was due the introduction of bronze into Europe, together with the various social changes which appear to have accompanied its earliest use. To trace then the rise and progress of the social system which the Aryans had adopted previous to their appearance in Europe, we must go to their old Asiatic home, and see if any of the steps by which this system had{141} sprung up, or any indications of its nature, may be extracted from the records of antiquity.


The patriarchal

Hitherto scarcely any attempt has been made to discover or investigate pre-historic monuments in the East. We can no longer therefore appeal to the records of early tombs or temples, to indications taken from early seats of population; but though as yet this key to Aryan history has not been made available, we have another guide ready to take us by the hand, and show us what sort of lives our ancestors used to lead in their far-off Eastern home. That guide is the science of Language, which can teach us a great deal about this if we will listen to its lessons: a rich mine of knowledge which has as yet been only partially explored, but one from which every day new information is being obtained about the habits and customs of the men of pre-historic times.

All that we know at present of the Aryan race indicates that its social organization originated in a group which is usually called the Patriarchal Family, the members of which were all related to each other either by blood or marriage. At the head of the family was the patriarch, the eldest male descendant of its founder; its other members consisted of all the remaining males descended on the father’s side from the original ancestor, their wives, and such of the women, also descended on the father’s side from the same ancestor, as remained still unmarried. To show more exactly what people were members of the ancient patriarchal family, we will trace such a family for a couple of generations from the original founder. Suppose, then, the original founder married, and with several children, both sons and daughters. All the sons would continue members of this family. The daughters would only continue members until{142} they married, when they would cease to be members of the family of their birth, and become members of their respective husbands’ families. So when the sons of the founder married, their wives would become members of the family; and such of their children as were sons would be members, and such as were daughters would be members only until they married; and so on through succeeding generations. On the founder’s death he would be succeeded as patriarch by his eldest son. On the eldest son’s death, he would be succeeded by his eldest son, if he had a son; and if not, then by his next brother. The patriarchal family also included in its circle, in later times at all events, slaves and other people, who, although perhaps not really relations at all, were adopted into the household, assumed the family name, and were looked upon for all purposes as if its actual members. This little group of individuals seems originally to have existed entirely independent of any external authority. It supported itself by its own industry, and recognized no other law or authority than its own. The one source of authority within this little state was the patriarch, who was originally regarded, not only as the owner of all the property of which the family was possessed, but also as having unlimited power over the different individuals of which it was composed. All the members lived together under the same roof, or within the same enclosure. No member could say that any single thing was his own property. Everything belonged to the family, and every member was responsible to the patriarch for his actions.

and law.

Originally the power of the patriarch may have been almost absolute over the other members of the family, but it must very early have become modified and controlled by the growth of various customs. Indeed, in trying to picture to ourselves these{143} early times, when as yet no regular notions of law had arisen, it is important to remember how great a force is possessed by custom. Even now, when we distinguish pretty clearly between law and custom, we still feel the great coercive and restraining powers of the latter in all the affairs of life. But when no exact notions of law had been formed, it seemed an almost irresistible argument in favour of a particular action that it had always been performed before. There would thus spring up in a household certain rules of conduct for the different members, certain fixed limits to their respective family duties. Before any individual would be commanded by the patriarch to do any particular duty, it would come to be inquired whether it was customary for such a duty to be assigned to such an individual. Before the patriarch inflicted any punishment on a member of the family, it would come to be inquired whether and in what manner it had been customary to punish the particular act complained of. Many things would tend to increase this regard for custom. The obvious advantages resulting from regularity and certainty in the ordering of the family life would soon be felt, and thus a public opinion in favour of custom would be created. Ancestor-worship, too, which plays so conspicuous a part in early Aryan civilization, acted, no doubt, as a powerful strengthener of the force of custom, as is indicated by the fact that in many nations the traditionary originator of their laws is some powerful ancestor to whom the nation is accustomed to pay an especial reverence.

Resulting from this development of custom into law in the early family life of the Aryans, we find that special duties soon became assigned to persons occupying particular positions. To the young men of the household were assigned the more active outdoor employments; to the{144} maidens the milking of the cows; to the elder women other household duties. And the importance of knowing what the customs were also gave rise to the family council, or ‘sabhâ,’ as it is called in Sanskrit, which consisted of the elders of the family, the ‘sabhocita,’ presided over by the ‘sabhapati,’ or president of the assembly. The importance attached to the decisions of this council was so great, that the ‘sabyâ,’ or decrees of the ‘sabhâ,’ came to be used simply to express law or custom. It is probable therefore that this assembly regulated to a great extent the customs and laws of the family in its internal management, and also superintended any negotiations carried on with other families.


To complete our picture of the patriarchal family, we have the traditions of three distinct customs or rites affecting its internal economy. Two of these rites, the maintenance of the sacred house-fire, and the marriage ceremony, probably date back to a very remote period; and the third, the custom of adoption, though of later development, may be regarded, in its origin at least, as primitive. Fire is itself so wonderful in its appearance and effects, so good a servant, so terrible a master, that we cannot feel any surprise at its having attracted a great deal of attention in early times. The traces of fire-worship are so widely spread over the earth that there is scarcely a single race whose traditions are entirely devoid of them. But the sacred house-fire of the Aryans is interesting to us chiefly in its connection with other family rites in which it played an important part. This fire, which was perpetually kept burning on the family hearth, seems to have been regarded in some sort, as a living family deity, who watched over and assisted the particular family to which it belonged. It was by its aid that the food of the family was{145} cooked, and from it was ignited the sacrifice or the funeral pyre. It was the centre of the family life; the hearth on which it burned was in the midst of the dwelling, and no stranger was admitted into its presence. That hearth was to each member of the household as it were an umbilicus orbis, or navel of the earth—hearth, only another form of earth.[53] When the members of the family met together to partake of their meals, a part was always first offered to the fire by whose aid the meal was prepared; the patriarch acted as officiating priest in this as in every other family ceremony; and to the patriarch’s wife was confided the especial charge of keeping the fire supplied with fuel.


By marriage, as we have seen, a woman became a member of her husband’s family. She ceased to be any longer a member of the household in which she was born, for the life of each family was so isolated that it would have been impossible to belong to two different families at once. So we find that the marriage ceremony chiefly consisted in an expression of this change of family by the wife. In general it was preceded by a treaty between the two families, a formal offer of marriage made by the intending husband’s family on his behalf, together with a gift to the bride’s family, which was regarded as the price paid for the bride. If all preliminary matters went forward favourably, then, on the day fixed for the marriage, the different members of the bridegroom’s family went to the household of the bride and demanded her. After some orthodox delay, in which the bride was expected to express unwillingness to go, she was formally given up to those who demanded her, the patriarch of her household solemnly dismissing her from it and giving up all authority over her. She was then borne in triumph to the bridegroom’s{146} house; and, on entering it, was carried over the threshold, so as not to touch it with her feet; thus expressing that her entry within the house was not that of a mere guest or stranger. She was finally, before the house-fire, solemnly admitted into her husband’s family, and as a worshipper at the family altar.


This ceremony was subject to a great many variations amongst the different Aryan races; but in every one of them some trace of it is to be found, and this always apparently intended to express the same idea, the change of the bride’s family. Adoption, which in later times became extremely common among the Romans—the race which seems in Europe to have preserved most faithfully the old Aryan family type—originated in a sort of extension of the same theory that admitted of the wife’s entry into her husband’s family, as almost all the details of the ceremony of adoption are copied from that of marriage. Cases must have occurred pretty often where a man might be placed in such a position as to be without a family. He may have become alienated from his own kindred by the commission of some crime, or all his relatives may have died from natural causes or been killed in war. In the condition in which society was then, such a man would be in a peculiarly unenviable position. There would be no one in whom he could trust, no one who would be the least interested in him or bound to protect him. Thus wandering as an outlaw, without means of defence from enemies, and unable to protect his possessions if he chanced to have any, or to obtain means of subsistence if he had none, he would be very desirous of becoming a member of some other family, in order that he might find in it the assistance and support necessary for his own welfare. It might also sometimes happen, that owing to a want of male descendants{147} some house might be in danger of extinction. Now the extinction of a family was a matter of peculiar dread to its members. Connected with the worship of the hearth was the worship of the ancestors of the family. It was the duty of each patriarch to offer sacrifices on stated occasions to the departed spirits of his ancestors; and it was considered as a matter of the utmost importance that these sacrifices should be kept up, in order to insure the happiness of those departed spirits after death. So important indeed was this rite held to be, that it was reckoned as one of the chief duties which each patriarch had to perform, and the family property was regarded as dedicated to this object in priority to every other. It would therefore be the chief care of each head of a household to leave male descendants, in order that the offerings for his own and his ancestors’ benefit might be continued after his death. The only person, however, capable of performing these rites was a member of the same family, one who joined in the same worship by the same household fire: so if all the males of a family were to die out, these rights must of necessity cease.

The marriage ceremony had already supplied a precedent for introducing members into a house who were not born in it. It was very natural, then, that this principle should be extended to the introduction of males when there was any danger of the male line becoming extinct. This was done by the ceremony of adoption, which was in many respects similar to that of marriage, being a formal renunciation of the person adopted by the patriarch of his original family, in case he was a member of one, and a formal acceptance and admission into the new family of his adoption, of which he was thenceforward regarded as a regular member. This ceremony exhibits in a very marked manner the leading peculiarity of the patriarchal household. We{148} see how completely isolated, in theory, such a group was from the rest of the world; having its own distinct worship, in which no one but its own members were permitted to share, reverencing its own ancestors only, who might receive worship from none but their descendants. So jealously was this separation of families guarded, that it was impossible for a man or woman at the same time to worship at two family shrines. While displaying its isolation in the strongest light, adoption is nevertheless a mark of decay in the patriarchal family. It is an artificial grafting on the original simple stock; and however carefully men may have shut their eyes at first to its artificial nature, it must have had a gradual tendency to undermine the reverence paid to the principle of blood relationship.

Before we consider, however, the causes of decay of this form of society, which we shall do in the next chapter, there are some other indications of their manner of livelihood which will help us to understand the social condition of these Aryan patriarchal families. We have seen that, with the introduction of bronze into Europe, various changes took place in the manner of men’s lives. One of these is the regular domestication of animals. It is true that domestic animals were by no means unknown before the bronze age in Europe: but until that time this custom had not attained any great extension. In remains of settlements whose age is supposed to be before the introduction of bronze, by far the larger number of animals’ bones found are those belonging to wild species, while those belonging to tame species are comparatively rare. This shows that the principal part of the food of those people who lived before the bronze age was obtained by hunting. After the introduction of bronze, however, exactly the reverse is the case. In these later remains the bones of domestic animals become much more{149} common, while those of wild animals are comparatively rare, which shows what an important revolution had taken place in men’s habits.

of the
pastoral life.

It must also be remembered that many remains supposed to belong to the later stone age may, in fact, belong to societies that existed during the bronze age, but who had not yet adopted the use of bronze, or else from their situation were unable to obtain any. As yet so little is known of how this metal was obtained at that time, that it is impossible to say what situations would be least favourable for obtaining it; but considering that tin, of which bronze is partly composed, is only found in a very few places, the wonder is rather that bronze weapons are so frequent amongst the different remains scattered over Europe, than that they should be absent from some of them. Moreover, the races that inhabited Europe before the Aryans came there would afterwards remain collected together in settlements, surrounded by the invading population, for a considerable length of time before they had either been exterminated or absorbed by the more civilized race. These aborigines would adopt such of the arts and customs of the Aryans as were most within their reach. The increased population and the greater cultivation of the land which followed the Aryan invasion would make it more difficult to obtain food from hunting, and the aborigines would therefore be compelled to adopt domestication of animals as a means of support, which they would have little difficulty in doing, as they would be able to obtain a stock to start from, either by raids on their neighbours’ herds or, perhaps, by barter. But the manufacture of bronze weapons, being a much more complicated affair than the rearing of cattle, would take a much longer time to acquire. This perhaps may account for the{150} remains found in the lake-dwellings, some of which show a considerable degree of social advance, but an entire ignorance of the use of bronze, while in the later ones bronze weapons are also found. We may, then, regard the domestication of animals, to the extent that it was practised by the Aryans in their Asiatic home, as a new thing in Europe, and as introduced by the Aryans. It was on their flocks and herds that these races chiefly depended for subsistence, and the importance of the chase as a means of livelihood was very much less with them than it was with the old hunter-tribes that formed the earlier population of Europe. This in itself was a great advance in civilization. It implied a regular industry, and the possession of cattle was not only a guarantee against want, but an inducement to a more regular and orderly mode of living.

There are no lessons so important to uncivilized nations as those of providence and industry, and the pastoral life required and encouraged both these qualities. It was necessary to store up at one time of year food to support the cattle during another period; to preserve a sufficient number of animals to keep the stock replenished. The cows too had to be milked at regular times, and every night the flocks and herds had to be collected into pens to protect them from beasts of prey, and every morning to be led out again to the pasture. All this shows the existence of a more organized and methodical life than is possible to a hunter-tribe. The pastoral life, moreover, seems to be one particularly suited to the patriarchal type of society. Each little community is capable of supplying its own wants, and is also compelled to maintain a certain degree of isolation. The necessity of having a considerable extent of country for their pasturage would prevent different families from living very near each other. In its simplest{151} state, too, the pastoral life is a nomadic one; so that the only social connection which can exist among such a people is one of kinship, for having no fixed homes they can have no settled neighbours or fellow-countrymen. The importance attached to cattle in this stage of civilization is evidenced by the frequent use of words in their origin relating to cattle, in all the Aryan languages, to express many of the ordinary incidents of life. Not only do cattle occupy a prominent place in Aryan mythology, but titles of honour, the names for divisions of the day, for the divisions of land, for property, for money, and many other words, all attest by their derivation how prominent a position cattle occupied with the early Aryans. The patriarch is called in Sanskrit ‘lord of the cattle,’ the morning is ‘the calling of the cattle,’ the evening ‘the milking time.’ The Latin word for money, pecunia, and our English word ‘fee’ both come from the Aryan name for cattle. In Anglo-Saxon movable property is called ‘cwicfeoh,’ or living cattle, while immovable property, such as houses and land, is called ‘dead cattle.’ And so we find the same word constantly cropping up in all the Aryan languages, to remind us that in the pastoral life cattle are the great interest and source of wealth to the community, and the principal means of exchange employed in such commerce as is there carried on.


The commerce between different tribes or families seems to have been conducted at certain meeting-places agreed upon, and which were situated in the boundary-land or neutral territory between the different settlements. Very frequently at war with each other, or at best only preserving an armed and watchful quiet,—each side ready at a moment’s notice to seize on a favourable opportunity for the commencement of active hostilities,—{152}continual friendly intercourse was impossible. So that when they wished for their mutual advantage to enter into amicable relations, it was necessary to establish some sort of special agreement for that purpose. It is probable, then, that when they found the advantages which could be derived from commercial exchanges, certain places were agreed upon as neutral territory where these exchanges might take place. Such places of exchange would naturally be fixed upon as would be equally convenient to both parties; and their mutual jealousy would prevent one tribe from permitting the free entrance within its own limits of members of other tribes. Places, too, would be chosen so as to be within reach of three or four different tribes; and thus the place of exchange, the market-place, would be fixed in that border-land to which no tribe laid any special claim. So we see that to commerce was due the first amicable relations of one tribe with another; and perhaps our market crosses may owe their origin to some remains of the old ideas associated with assemblies where men first learnt to look upon men of different tribes as brothers in a common humanity.

It took a long time, however, to mitigate that feeling of hostility which seems to have existed in early times between different communities. Even when they condescended to barter with each other they did not forget the difference between the friend and the foe. In the Senchus Mor, a book compiled by the old Irish or ‘Brehon’ lawyers, this difference between dealing with a friend and a stranger is rather curiously indicated in considering the rent of land. ‘The three rents,’ says the Great Book of the Law, as it is called, ‘are rack rent (or the extreme rent) from a person of a strange tribe, a fair rent from one of the tribe (that is one’s own tribe), and the stipulated rent, which is paid{153} equally by the tribe and the strange tribe.’ Such a distinction is generally recognized in all early communities. In dealing with a man of his own tribe, the individual was held bound in honour not to take any unfair advantage, to take only such a price, to exact only such a value in exchange, as he was legitimately entitled to. It was quite otherwise, however, in dealings with members of other tribes. Then the highest value possible might justly be obtained for any article; so that dealings at markets which consisted of exchanges between different tribes, came to mean a particular sort of trading, where the highest price possible was obtained for anything sold. It is probable that this cast, to a certain extent, a slur upon those who habitually devoted themselves to this kind of trading. Though it was recognized as just to exact as high a price as possible from the stranger, still the person who did so was looked upon to a certain extent as guilty of a disreputable action; viewed, in fact, much in the same light as usurious money-lenders are viewed nowadays. They were people who did not offend against the laws of their times, but who sailed so near the wind as to be tainted, as it were, with fraud. Indeed, our word ‘monger,’ which simply means ‘dealer,’ comes from a root which, in Sanskrit, means ‘to deceive;’ so commerce and cheating seem to have been early united, and we must therefore not be surprised if they are not entirely divorced even in our own time.

Now ‘mark,’ which, as we know, means a boundary or border-land, comes from a root which means ‘the chase,’ or ‘wild animals.’ So ‘mark’ originally meant the place of the chase, or where wild animals lived. This gives us some sort of picture of these early settlements, whose in-dwellers carried on their commerce with each other in such primitive fashion. They were little spots of cleared or cultivated{154} land, surrounded by a sort of jungle or primeval forest inhabited only by wild beasts. It was in such wild places as these that the first markets used to be held. Here, under the spreading branches of the trees, at some spot agreed upon beforehand,—some open glade, perhaps, which would be chosen because a neighbouring stream afforded means of refreshment,—the fierce distrustful men would meet to take a passing glimpse at the blessings of peace. These wild border-lands which intervened also explain to us how it was that so great an isolation continued to be maintained between the different settlements. If their pasture-lands had abutted immediately on each other, if the herds of one tribe had grazed by the herds of another, there must have been much more intercommunion and mutual trust than appears to have existed.

The value of cattle does not consist only in the food and skins which they provide. Oxen have from a very early time been employed for purposes of agriculture; and we find among the names derived from cattle many suggesting that they must have been put to this use at the time when those names arose. Thus the Greeks spoke of the evening as βουλυτός (boulutos), or the time for the unyoking of oxen; and the same idea is expressed in the old German word for evening, ‘àbant’ (Abend), or the unyoking. This, then, is the next stage in social progress: when agriculture becomes the usual employment of man. With the advance of this stage begins the decay of the patriarchal life, which, as we shall see in the next chapter, gradually disappears and gives place to fresh social combinations. Though we have hitherto spoken only of the patriarchal life of the Aryans, it was a life even more characteristic of the Semitic race. They were essentially pastoral and nomadic in their habits, and they seem to have continued to lead a purely pastoral{155} life much longer than the Aryans did. In the Old Testament we learn how Abraham and Lot had to separate because their flocks were too extensive to feed together; and how Abraham wandered about with his flocks and herds, his family and servants, dwellers in tents, leading a simple patriarchal life, much as do the Arabs of the present day. Long after the neighbouring people had settled in towns, these Semitic tribes continued to wander over the intervening plains, depending for food and clothing only on their sheep and cattle and camels.{156}



The agricultural

So long as people continued to lead a wandering shepherd life, the institution of the patriarchal family afforded a sufficient and satisfactory basis for such cordial union as was possible. It was a condition of society in which the relations of the different members to each other were extremely simple and confined within very narrow boundaries; but these habits of life prevented the existence of any very complicated social order, and at the same time gave a peculiar force and endurance to those customs and ties which did exist. For while the different tribes had no settled dwelling-places, the only cohesion possible was that produced by the personal relations of the different members one to another. Those beyond the limits of the tribe or household could have no permanent connection with it. They were simply ‘strangers,’ friends or enemies, as circumstances might determine, but having no common interests, connected by no abiding link, with those who were not members of the same community. When a family became so numerous that it was necessary for its members to separate, the new family, formed under the influence of this pressure, would at first remember the parent stock with reverence, and perhaps regard the patriarch of the{157} elder branch as entitled to some sort of obedience from, and possessing some indefinite kind of power over, it after separation. It would, however, soon wander away and lose all connection with its relatives, forgetting perhaps in the course of time whence it had sprung, or inventing a pedigree more pleasing to the vanity of its members. But when men began to learn to till the soil, by degrees they had to abandon their nomadic life, and to have for a time fixed dwelling-places, in order that they might guard their crops, and gather, in the time of harvest, the fruits of their labour. Cattle were no longer the only means of subsistence, nor sufficiency of pasture the only limit to migration. A part of their wealth was, for a time, bound up in the land which they had tilled and sowed, and to obtain that wealth they must remain in the neighbourhood of the cultivated soil. Thus a new relationship arose between different families. They began to have neighbours—dwellers on and cultivators of the land bordering their own,—so that common interests sprang up between those who hitherto had nothing in common, new ties began to connect together those who had formerly no fixed relationship.

The adoption of agriculture changed likewise the relation of men to the land on which they dwelt. Hitherto the tracts of pasture over which the herdsman had driven his flocks and cattle had been as unappropriated as the open sea, as free as the air which he breathed. He neither claimed any property in the land himself, nor acknowledged any title thereto in another. He had spent no labour on it, had done nothing to improve its fertility; and his only right as against others to any locality was that of his temporary sojourn there. But when agriculture began to require the expenditure of labour on the land, and its enclosure, so as to protect the crops which had been sown,{158} a new distinct idea of the possession of these enclosed pieces of land began to arise, so that a man was no longer simply the member of a particular family. He had acquired new rights and attributes, for which the patriarchal economy had made no provision. He was the inhabitant of a particular locality, the owner and cultivator of a particular piece of land. The effect of this change was necessarily to weaken the household tie which bound men together, by introducing new relations between them. The great strength of that early bond had consisted in its being the only one which the state of society rendered possible; and its force was greatly augmented by the isolation in which the different nomadic groups habitually lived. The adoption of a more permanent settlement thus tended in two ways to facilitate the introduction of a new social organization. By increasing the intercourse, and rendering more permanent the connection between different families, it destroyed their isolation, and therefore weakened the autocratic power of their chiefs; and at the same time, by introducing new interests into the life of the members of a family, and new relations between different families, it compelled sometimes the adoption of regulations necessarily opposed to the principles of patriarchal rule. We must remember, however, that the change from a nomadic to a settled state took place very gradually, some peoples being influenced by it much more slowly than others. Agriculture may be practised to a certain extent by those who lead a more or less wandering life, as is the case with the Tartar tribes, who grow buckwheat, which only takes two or three months for its production; so that at the end of that time they are able to gather their harvest and once more wander in search of new pastures. And it is from its use by them that this grain has received in French the name of blé sarrasin (Saracen corn){159} or simply sarrasin. We may suppose that the earliest agriculture practised was something of this rude description; and even when tribes learnt the advantage of cultivating more slowly germinating crops, they would not readily abandon their nomadic habits, which long continuance had rendered dear to them; but would only become agriculturists under the pressure of circumstances. The hunter tribes of North American Indians, and the Gipsies of Europe, serve to show us how deeply rooted in a people may become the love of wandering and the dislike to settled industry.

The village

It was probably to the difficulty of supporting existence produced by the increase of population that the more continuous pursuit of agriculture was due; and it would therefore be first regularly followed by the less warlike tribes, whose territory had been curtailed by the incursions of their bolder neighbours. No longer able to seek pasture over so extended an area as formerly, and with perhaps an increasing population, they would find the necessity of obtaining from the land a greater proportionate supply of subsistence than they had obtained hitherto. Agriculture would therefore have to be pursued more regularly and laboriously, and thus the habit of settlement would gradually be acquired. Under this influence we may discern a change taking place in the social state of the Aryan tribes. Gradually they become less nomadic and more agricultural; and as this takes place, there arises also a change in the relations of peoples to each other. We should naturally expect considerable variety in the effects produced on different nations by the adoption of a settled life. The results depend upon climate and locality, upon the kind of civilization chosen, and the special idiosyncrasies of the people who adopt it. All these{160} elements had their share in moulding the life of the Aryans when they became an agricultural people. Yet we find, nevertheless, one special type of society to have been the prevailing type among them. This form of society is called the Village Community. It possesses some features apparently so peculiarly its own, that it would be difficult to decide on the cause of its adoption or growth. It will be safer with our present limited knowledge to be satisfied with noting the more marked characteristics of this form of society, and the localities in which it may be traced; and not attempt to determine whether it is to be regarded as a natural resultant of the settlement of patriarchal families, or as inherited or evolved by some particular groups of tribes.

The village community in its simplest state consisted of a group of families, or households, whose dwellings were generally collected together within an enclosure. To this group belonged a certain tract of land, the cultivation and proprietorship of which were the subject of minute regulations. The regulations varied in different localities to a certain extent, but they were based on the division of the land into three principal parts, viz. (1) the land immediately in the neighbourhood of the dwellings, (2) another part specially set aside for agricultural purposes, and (3) the remaining portion of the surrounding open country, which was used only for grazing. Each of these divisions was regarded as in some sort the common property of the village; but the rights of individuals in some of them were more extensive than in others. That part of the land which was annexed especially to the dwellings was more completely the property of the different inhabitants than any other. Each head of a house was entitled to the particular plot attached to his dwelling, and probably these plots, and the dwellings to which they were annexed, remained always{161} practically in the ownership of the same family. The area of this section, however, was very insignificant when compared with the remainder of the communal estate. In this the arable land was divided into a number of small plots, each or several of which were assigned to particular households. The mode of division was very various; but generally speaking, either each household had an equal share assigned to it, or else a share in proportion to the number of its males. Redistributions of the shares took place either at stated periods, or whenever circumstances had rendered the existing division inequitable. Each household cultivated the particular share assigned to it, and appropriated to its own use the crops produced; but individuals were never allowed themselves to settle the mode of cultivation that they might prefer. The crops to be sown, and the part of land on which they were to be sown, were all regulated by the common assembly of the whole village, as were also the times for sowing and for harvest, and every other agricultural operation; and these laws of the assembly had to be implicitly followed by all the villagers. The third portion, open or common land of the village, was not divided between the households at all; but every member of the community was at liberty to pasture his flocks and herds upon it.

In their relations to each other the villagers seem to have been on a footing of perfect equality. It is probable that there existed generally some sort of chief, but his power does not appear to have been very great, and for the most part he was merely a president of their assemblies, exercising only an influence in proportion to his personal qualifications. The real lawgivers and rulers of this society were the different individuals who constituted the assembly. These, however, did not comprise all the inhabitants of{162} the village. Only the heads of the different families were properly included in the village assembly. But the household had no longer the same extended circle as formerly, and, so far as we can gather, there seems to have been little check on the division of families and the formation of new households.

It must be borne in mind, however, that we have no existing institution exactly resembling the village community, such as we may suppose it to have originally been. As with the patriarchal family, we meet with it only after it has undergone considerable modification, and we have to reconstruct it from such modified forms and traditions as remain to us. Many minor details of its nature are therefore necessarily matters of speculation. The community, however, may still be found in a changed form in several localities; notably among the peasantry in Russia, where it bears the name of the mir, and among the native population of India. Its former existence among the Teuton tribes is attested by the clearest evidence. With each of these peoples, however, the form is somewhat varied from what we may conclude to have been its original nature; in each country it has been subject not only to the natural growth and development which every institution is liable to, but to special influences arising from the events connected with the nation’s history, and from the nature and extent of its territory. But before we inquire what these different influences may have been, let us notice first certain leading characteristics of this group, and consider how they probably arose.

The first thing that we notice is the change in the source of authority in the Village Community as compared with that which existed in the patriarchal family. The ruling power is no longer placed in the hands of an individual{163}

The assembly

chief, but is vested in an assembly of all the householders. The second marked peculiarity is the common possession of nearly all the land by the village, combined with the individual possession of goods of a movable nature by the different members. These may be said to be the two essentials of a true village community. Now the change from the patriarchal to this later social form may have taken place by either of two processes—the extension of an individual family into a community, or the amalgamation of various families. Probably both of these processes took place; but wherever anything like the formation of a village community has been actually observed, and the process has occasionally been discernible even in modern times in India, it is due to the former of the two causes indicated. This mode of formation also appears to have left the most distinct impress on society, and we will therefore notice first how it probably acted.

When a family had devoted itself to agricultural pursuits, and settled in a fixed locality, one of those divisions of its members might take place which probably were of frequent occurrence in the nomadic state. Although theoretically we speak of the patriarchal family as united and indivisible, yet as a matter of fact we know that it could not always have been so, and that families must frequently have either split up, or else sent off little colonies from their midst. Now, we have seen how marked an effect the settlement of the family must have had in preserving a permanent connection between that family and the households which sprang out of it. The separation between the older and the younger households would be by no means so complete as formerly. The subsidiary family would continue in close intercourse with the elder branch, and would enjoy with it{164} the use of the land which had been appropriated. In course of time it might happen that a whole group of families would thus become settled near each other, all united by a common origin and enjoying in common the land surrounding the settlement. The desire for mutual protection, which would often be felt, would alone be a strong inducement to preserve the neighbourhood between those who through kinship were allies by nature and tradition. Thus, though each separate family would continue in its internal relations the peculiarities of the patriarchal rule, the heads of the different families would be related to each other by quite a new tie. They would not be members of one great family all subservient to a common chief. They would be united simply by the bond of their common interests.

In this way, no doubt, sprang up a new relationship between the family chiefs, a relationship not provided for in the construction of the patriarchal family. We might expect perhaps that a special pre-eminence would be accorded to the original family from which the others had separated, and possibly some traces of this pre-eminence may here and there be discovered. Why we have not more traces of it may be difficult to explain. For upon the whole the relationship among the different heads of households seems generally to be one of equality. As we do not know exactly by what process families became divided, it is useless to speculate how this equality arose. Alongside of this new reign of equality among the different patriarchs or heads of households, went a decrease in the power of the patriarch within his own circle. The family had ceased to be the bond of union of the community at large, albeit the units composing the new combination were themselves groups constructed on the patriarchal type; so that the fact that they were now only parts of larger groups had the effect of{165} weakening the force of patriarchal customs. When the household was the only state of which an individual was a member, to leave it was to lose all share in its rights and property, to become an outlaw in every possible sense. But when the family became part of the village, the facilities for separating from it were necessarily increased. Households would more readily subdivide, now that after separation their component parts continued united in the community. Thus by degrees the old patriarchal life decayed, and gave place to this new and more elastic social formation. The importance of an individual’s relation to the family became less, that of the family to the community became greater; so that in time the community took to itself the regulation of many affairs originally within the exclusive power of the patriarch.

With these changes in social life came new theories of rights and obligations. A new lesson was learnt with regard to property. It is difficult to discern whether, in the older, the patriarchal society, the property was regarded as exclusively that of the chief, or as belonging to the family collectively. The truth seems to be that the two ideas were blended, and neither was conceived with any clearness or completeness. In the village community for the first time the two forms of property, personal and communal, became fully distinguished; each kind, by defining and limiting, producing a clearer idea of the other. The land, the bond of union, and the limit of the extent of the community, remained the common property of all; in part, no doubt, because the idea of possessing land was still so new that it had not been thoroughly grasped. The produce of the land, whether corn or pasture, was, on the other hand, rather regarded as a proper subject of private possession. At first, perhaps, in obedience to the habits of an earlier life, even this may{166} have been looked upon as common property. But it did not long continue so, as the separation of the households remained too complete to permit of any community with regard to the possessions of the individual homestead, or of the produce required for the support of each household; and this enforced separation of household goods soon extended to the live stock, and to the produce of the harvest.[54]


The effects produced by their new relation to each other upon the individual members of this group were very important. Hitherto such idea of law as existed was confined to the mandates or traditional regulations of the patriarchs. Law was at first inseparably connected with religion. It was looked upon as a series of regulations handed down by some ancestor who had received the regulations by Divine inspiration. This notion of the origin of law is so general, that it is to be met with in the traditions of almost every nation. Thus we find the Egyptians reputing their laws to the teachings of Hermes (Thoth); while the lawgivers of Greece, Minôs and Lycurgus, are inspired, the one by Zeus the other by Apollo. So too the Iranian lawgiver Zoroaster is taught by the Good Spirit; and Moses receives the commandments on Mount Sinai. Now, though this idea of law is favourable to the procuring obedience to it, it produces an injurious effect on the law itself, by rendering it too fixed and unalterable. Law, in order to satisfy the requirements and changes of life, should be elastic and capable of adaptation; otherwise, regulations which in their institution were beneficial will{167} survive to be obnoxious under an altered condition of society. But so long as laws are regarded as Divine commands they necessarily retain a great degree of rigidity. The village community, in disconnecting the source of law from the patriarchal power, tended to destroy this association. The authority of the patriarch was a part of the religion of the early Aryans; he was at once the ruler and the priest of his family; and though this union between the two characters long continued to have great influence on the conception of law, the first efforts at a distinction between Divine and human commands sprang from the regulations adopted by the assembly of the village. The complete equality and the joint authority exercised by its members was an education in self-government, which was needed to enable them to advance in the path of civilization, teaching them the importance of self-dependence and individual responsibility.

Those who learnt that lesson best displayed in their history the greatness of its influence, having gained from it a vigour and readiness to meet and adapt themselves to new requirements such as was never possessed by those absolute monarchies which sprang out of an enlarged form of the principle of patriarchal government. The history of the various states which arose in Asia, each in its turn to be overwhelmed in a destruction which scarcely left a trace of its social influence, exhibits in a very striking manner the defects which necessarily ensue when a people ignorant of social arts attempts to form an extensive scheme of government. The various races who have risen to temporary empire by the chances of war in the East, have been in very many instances nomadic tribes whose habits had produced a hardihood which enabled them to conquer with ease their effeminate neighbours of the more settled{168} districts, but whose social state was not sufficiently advanced to allow them to carry on any extended rule. Used only to their simple nomadic life, they were suddenly brought face to face with wants and possessions of which they had hitherto had no experience, and which lay beyond the bounds of their customs or ideas. They contented themselves with exacting from the conquered such tribute as they could extort, leaving their new subjects to manage their own affairs much as they had done before, till the conquerors, gradually corrupted by the luxuries which their position afforded, and having failed to make for themselves any firm footing in their new empire, were in their turn overwhelmed by fresh hordes of nomadic invaders.

Such, indeed, may be the fate of any nation. Such was the fate of Rome. Her mighty empire, too, fell; but how different a record has she left behind from that of the short-lived monarchies of the East! Having learnt in her earliest infancy, better perhaps than any other nation, how to reconcile the conflicting theories of the household and the community, she never flagged in her study of the arts of government. Early imbued with a love of law and order, her people discovered in due time how to accommodate their rule to the various conditions of those which came under their sway. Her laws penetrated to the remotest boundaries of her state, and the rights of a Roman citizen were as clearly defined in Britain as in Rome itself. Thus the Romans have left behind them a system of law the wonder and admiration of all mankind, one which has left indelible marks on the laws and customs, the arts and civilization, of every country which once formed part of their dominions.

Such were among the changes resulting from the adoption of the village community; but their influences only gradually{169} asserted themselves, and the extent of their development was very various among different peoples. In India, the religious element in the household had always a peculiar force, and its influence continued to affect to a great extent the formation of the community. There this organization never lost sight of the patriarchal power, and has exhibited a constant tendency to revert to that more primitive social form. Among the Slavonic tribes the community seems to have found its most favourable conditions, and some of the reasons for this are not difficult to discern. The Slavs in Russia have for a long time had open to them an immense tract of thinly inhabited country, their only rivals to the possession of which were the Finnish tribes of the north. Now, the village community is a form peculiarly adapted for colonization, and this process of colonizing fresh country by sending out detachments from over-grown villages seems to have gone on for a long time in Russia; so that the communities which still exist there present a complete network; all are bound by ties of nearer or more distant relationship to each other; every village having some ‘mother-village’ from which it has sprung.[55] Having a practically boundless territory awaiting their settlement, none of those difficulties in obtaining land which led to the decay of the village in western Europe affected the Russians in their earlier history.

With the Teutons the village had a somewhat different history. It is difficult to determine exactly to what extent it existed among them; but traces of its organization are still discoverable among the laws and customs of Germany and England. The warlike habits of the German tribes, however, soon produced a marked effect on this organization.{170} The chief of the village, whether hereditary or elective, was under normal conditions possessed of but little power. Among a warlike people, however, the necessity for a captain or dictator must have been much greater than with peaceful tribes; for war requires, more than any other pursuit, that it should be directed by an individual mind. Among the peaceful inhabitants of India or Russia the village head-man was generally some aged and venerable father exercising a sort of paternal influence over the others through the reverence paid to his age and wisdom. The habits of the Teutons gave an excessive importance to the strength and vigour of manhood, and they learnt to regard those who exhibited the greatest skill in battle as their natural chieftains.{171}



We have hitherto been occupied in tracing the growth of inventions which had for their end the supply of material wants, or the ordering of conditions which should enable men to live peaceably together in communities, and defend the products of their labour from the attacks of rival tribes and warlike neighbours. A very little research into the relics of antiquity, however, brings another side of human thought before us, and we discover, whether by following the revelations of language or by examining into the traces left in ancient sites, abundant proof to show that the material wants of life did not alone occupy the thoughts of our remote ancestors any more than our own, and that even while the struggle for life was fiercest, conjectures about the unseen world and the life beyond the grave, and aspirations towards the invisible source of life and light they felt to be around them, occupied a large space in their minds. God did not leave them without witness at any time, but caused the ‘invisible things to be shown by those that do appear.’ And even in the darkest ages and among the least-favoured races there were always to be found some minds that vibrated, however feebly, to the suggestions of this teaching,{172} and shaped out for themselves and their tribe some conception of a Divine Ruler and His government of the world from those works of His hands of which their senses told them. Before commerce, or writing, or law had advanced beyond their earliest beginnings, religious rites and funeral rites had no doubt been established in every tribe, and men’s thoughts about God and His relationship to His creatures had found some verbal expression, some sort of creed in which they could be handed down from father to son and form a new tie to bind men together. The task of tracing back these rites and creeds to their earliest shape is manifestly harder than that of tracing material inventions, or laws between man and man, to their first germs, for we are here trenching on some of the deepest questions which the human mind is capable of contemplating—nothing less, indeed, than the nature of conscience and the dealings of God Himself with the souls of His creatures. We must therefore tread cautiously, be content to leave a great deal uncertain, and, making up our minds only on such points as appear to be decided by revelation, accept on others the results of present researches as still imperfect, and liable to be modified as further light on the difficult problems in consideration is obtained.

Explanation of
mythology through
the study of

The study of language has perhaps done more than anything else to clear away the puzzles which mythologies formerly presented to students. It has helped in two ways: first, by tracing the names of objects of worship to their root-forms, and thus showing their meaning and revealing the thought which lay at the root of the worship; secondly, by proving the identity between the gods of different nations, whose names, apparently different, have been resolved into the same root-word, or to a root of the{173} same meaning, when the alchemy of philological research was applied to them.

The discovery of a closer relationship than had been formerly suspected between the mythologies of various nations is a very important one, as it enables us to trace the growth of the stories told of gods and heroes, from the mature form in which we first become acquainted with them in the religious systems of the Greeks, Romans, and Scandinavians, to the primitive shape in which the same creeds were held by the more metaphysical and less imaginative Eastern peoples among whom they originally sprang up. In some respects this task of tracing back the poetical myths of Greek and Northern poets to the simpler, if grander, beliefs of the ancient Egyptians or Chaldæans or Hindus is not unlike our search in a perfected language for its earliest roots. We lose shapeliness and beauty as we come back, but we find the form that explains the birth of the thought, and lets us see how it grew in the minds of men. One chief result arrived at by this comparison of creeds, and by unravelling the meaning of the names of ancient gods and heroes, is the discovery that a worship of different aspects and forces of nature lies at the bottom of nearly all mythologies, and that the cause of the resemblance between the stories told of the gods and heroes (a resemblance which strikes us as soon as we read two or three of them together) is that they are in reality only slightly different ways of describing natural appearances according to the effect produced on different minds, or to the variations of climate and season of the year. Having once got the key of the enigma in our hands, we soon become expert in hunting the parable through all the protean shapes in which it is presented to us. The heroes of the old stories we have long loved begin to lose their individuality and character for us. And instead of{174} thinking of Apollo, and Osiris, and Theseus, and Herakles, and Thor as separate idealizations of heroic or godlike character; of Ariadne, and Idun, and Isis as heroines of pathetic histories, our thoughts as we read are busied in tracing all that is said about them to the aspects of the sun in his march across the heavens, through the vicissitudes of a bright and thundery eastern, or a gusty northern, day, and the tenderly glowing and fading colours of the western sky into which he sinks when his course is run.

Our first feeling on receiving this simple explanation of the old stories of mythology is rather one of disappointment than of satisfaction; we feel that we are losing a great deal—not the interest of the stories only, but all those glimpses of deep moral meanings, of yearnings after Divine teachers and rulers, of acknowledgment of the possibility of communion between God and man, which we had hitherto found in them, and which we are sure that the original makers of them could not have been without. It seems to rob the old religions of the essence of religion—spirituality—and reduce them to mere observations of natural phenomena, due rather to the bodily senses than to any instincts or necessities of the soul. But here the science of language, with which we were about to quarrel as having robbed us, comes in to restore to the old beliefs those very elements of mystery, awe, and yearning towards the invisible, which we were fearing to see vanish away. As is usually the case on looking deeper, we shall find that the explanation which seemed at first to impoverish really enhances the beauty and worth of the subject brought into clearer light. It teaches us to see something more in what we have been used to call mere nature-worship than appears at first sight.

When we were considering the beginnings of language,{175} we learned that all root-words were expressions of sensations received from outward things, every name or word being a description of some bodily feeling, a gathering-up of impressions on the senses made by the universe outside us. With this stock of words—pictorial words, we may call them—it is easy to see that when people in early times wanted to express a mental feeling, they were driven to use the word which expressed the sensation in their bodies most nearly corresponding to it. We do something of the same kind now when we talk of warm love, chill fear, hungry avarice, and dark revenge—mixing up words for sensations of the body to heighten the expression of emotions of the mind. In using these expressions we are conscious of speaking allegorically, and we have, over and above our allegorical phrases, words set aside especially for describing mental actions, so that we can talk of the sensations of our bodies and of our minds without any danger of confounding them together. But in early times, before words had acquired these varied and enlarged meanings, when men had only one word by which to express the glow of the body when the sun shone and the glow of the mind when a friend was near, the difficulty of speaking, or even thinking, of mental and bodily emotions apart from each other must have been very great. Only gradually could the two things have become disentangled from one another, and during all the time while this change was going on an allegorical way of speaking of mental emotions and of the source of mental emotions must have prevailed. It is not difficult to see that while love and warmth, fear and cold, had only one word to express them, the sun, the source of warmth, and God, the source of love, were spoken of in much the same terms, and worshipped in songs that expressed the same adoration and gratitude. It follows, therefore, that while{176} we acknowledge the large proportion in which the nature element comes into all mythologies, we need not look upon the worshippers of nature as worshippers of visible things only. They felt, without being able to express, the Divine cause which lay behind the objects whose grandeur and beauty appealed to their wonder, and they loved and worshipped the Unseen while naming the seen only. As time passed on and language developed, losing much of its original significance, there was, especially among the Greeks and Romans, a gradual divergence between the popular beliefs about the gods and the spirit of true worship which originally lay behind them. People no longer felt the influence of nature in the double method in which it had come to them in the childhood of the race, and they began to distinguish clearly between their bodies and their minds, between the things that lay without and the emotions stirred within. Then the old nature-beliefs became degraded to foolish and gross superstitions, and yearning souls sought God in a more spiritual way.

The mythologies of the different Aryan nations are those which concern us most nearly, entering as they do into the very composition of our language, and colouring not only our literature and poetry, but our cradle-songs and the tales told in our nurseries. We shall find it interesting to compare together the various forms of the stories told by nations of the Aryan stock, and to trace them back to their earliest shape.


But before entering on this task, it may be well to turn our attention for a little while to a still earlier mythology, where the mingling of metaphysical conceptions with the worship of natural phenomena is perhaps more clearly shown than in any other, and which may therefore serve as a guide to help us in grasping this connection in the more highly coloured, picturesque{177} stories we shall be hereafter attempting to unravel. This earliest and least ornamented mythology is that of the ancient Egyptians, a people who were always disposed to retain primitive forms unchanged, even when, as in the case of their hieroglyphics, they had to use the primitive forms to express thoughts which these forms could not naturally convey. That they followed this course with their religious ceremonies and in their manner of representing their gods, is perhaps fortunate for us, as it enables us to trace with greater ease the particular aspect of nature, and the mental sensation or moral lesson identified with it, which each one of their gods and goddesses embodied. We have the rude primitive form embodying an aspect or force of nature, instead of a beautiful confusing story, merely for the most part titles, addresses, and prayers, whose purport more or less reveals the spiritual meaning which that aspect of nature conveyed to the worshipper.

The chief objects of nature-worship must obviously be the same, or nearly the same, in every part of the world, so that even among different races, living far apart, and having no connection with each other, a certain similarity in the stories told about gods and heroes, and in the names and titles given to them, is observable. The sun, the moon, the heavens and stars, the sea, the river, sunshine and darkness, night and day, summer and winter,—these objects and changes must always make the staple, the back-bone so to speak, round which all mythological stories founded on nature-worship are grouped. But climate and scenery, especially any striking peculiarity in the natural features of a country, have a strong influence in modifying the impressions made by these objects on the imaginations of the dwellers in the land, and so giving a special form or colour to the national creed, bringing perhaps some Divine{178} attribute or some more haunting impression of the condition of the soul after death, into a prominence unknown elsewhere. The religion of the ancient Egyptians was distinguished from that of other nations by several such characteristics, and in endeavouring to understand them we must first recall what there is distinctive in the climate and scenery of Egypt to our minds.

of nature in
Egyptian religion.

The land of Egypt is, let us remember, a wedge-shaped valley, broad at its northern extremity and gradually narrowing between two ranges of cliffs till it becomes through a great part of its length a mere strip of cultivatable land closely shut in on each side. Its sky overhead is always blue, and from morning till evening intensely bright, flecked only occasionally, and here and there, by thin gauzy clouds, so that the sun’s course, from the first upshooting of his keen arrowy rays over the low eastern hills to his last solemn sinking in a pomp of glorious colour behind the white cliffs in the west, can be traced unimpeded day after day through the entire course of the year. Beyond the cliffs which receive the sun’s first and last greeting stretches a boundless waste—the silent, dead, sunlit desert, which no one had ever traversed, which led no one knew where, from whose dread, devouring space the sun escaped triumphant each morning, and back into which it returned when the valley was left to darkness and night.

The neighbourhood of the desert, and the striking contrast between its lifeless wastes and the richly cultivated plains between the hills, had, as we can see, a great effect on the imaginations of the first inhabitants of the land of Egypt, and gave to many of their thoughts about death and the world beyond the grave an intensity unknown to the dwellers among less monotonous scenery. The contrast{179} was a perpetual parable to them, or rather perhaps a perpetual memento mori. The valley between the cliffs presented a vivid picture of active and intense life, every inch of fruitful ground teeming with the results of labour—budding corn, clustering vines, groups of palm-trees, busy sowers and reapers and builders; resounding, too, everywhere with brisk sounds of toil or pleasure. The clink of anvil and hammer, the creaking of water-wheels, the bleating and lowing of flocks and herds, the tramp of the oxen treading out the corn, the songs of women, and the laughter of children playing by the river. On the other side of the cliffs, what a change! There reigned an unbroken solitude and an intense silence, such as is only found in the desert, because it comes from the utter absence of all life, animal or vegetable: no rustle of leaf or bough, no hum of an insect or whirr of a wing, breaks the charmed stillness even for a minute. There is silence, broad, unbroken sunshine, bare cliffs, rivers of golden sand—nothing else. Amenti, the ancient Egyptians called the western desert into which, as it seemed to them, the sun went down to sleep after his day’s work was done; Amenti, the vast, the grand, the unknown; and it was there they built their most splendid places of worship, there that they carried their dead for burial, feeling that it spoke to them of rest, of unchangeableness, of eternity.

Another striking and peculiar feature of Egyptian scenery was the beautiful river—the one only river—on which the prosperity, the very existence, of the country depended. It, too, had a perpetual story to tell, a parable to unfold, as it flowed and swelled and contracted in its beneficent yearly course. They saw that all growth and life depended on its action; where its waters reached, there followed fruitfulness and beauty, and a thousand teeming forms of animal, vegetable,{180} and insect life; where its furthest wave stayed, there the reign of nothingness and death began again. The Nile, therefore, became to the ancient Egyptians the token and emblem of a life-giving principle in nature, of that perpetual renewal, that passing from one form of existence into another, which has ever had so much hopeful significance for all thinking minds. Its blue colour when it reflected the sky was the most sacred of their emblems, and was devoted to funeral decorations and to the adornments of the dead, because it spoke to them of the victory of life over death, of the permanence of the life-principle amid the evanescent and vanishing forms under which it appeared. Of these two distinctive features of nature in Egypt, the unexplored western desert and the unending river, we must, then, think as exercising a modifying or intensifying effect on the impressions produced on the minds of ancient Egyptians by those aspects of nature which they had in common with other Eastern peoples. Let us think what these are. First and most conspicuous we must put the sun, in all his changing aspects, rising in gentle radiance over the eastern hills, majestically climbing the cloudless sky, sending down fierce perpendicular rays through all the hot noon, withdrawing his overwhelming heat towards evening as he sloped to his rest, and painting the western sky with colour and glory, on which the eyes of men could rest without being dazzled, vanishing from sight at last behind the white rocks in the west. And then the moon—white, cold, changeable, ruling the night and measuring time. Besides these, the planets and countless hosts of stars; the green earth constantly pouring forth food for man from its bosom; the glowing blue sky at noon and the purple midnight heaven; the moving wind; the darkness that seemed to eat up and swallow the day.{181}


Now let us see how the ancient Egyptians personified these into gods, and what were the corresponding moral or spiritual ideas of which each nature-power spake to their souls. We shall find the mythology easier to remember and understand if we group the personifications round the natural objects whose aspects inspired them, instead of enumerating them in their proper order as first, second, and third class divinities. So for the present we will class them as Sun-gods, Sky-gods, Wind-gods, etc.; and we will begin with the sun, which among ancient Egyptians occupied the first place, given, as we shall see, to the sky among our Aryan ancestors. The sun, indeed, not only occupies the most conspicuous position in Egyptian mythology, but is presented to us in so many characters and under so many aspects that he may be said to be the chief inspiration, the central object of worship, nothing else, indeed, coming near to his grandeur and his mystery. It is to be remarked, however—and this is a distinctive feature in the Egyptian system of worship—that the mystery of the sun’s disappearance during the night and his reappearance every morning is the point in the parable of the sun’s course to which the Egyptians attached the deepest significance, and to the personification of which they gave the most dignified place in their hierarchy of gods. Atum, or Amun, ‘the concealed one,’ was the name and title given to the sun after he had sunk, as they believed, into the under-world; and by this name they worshipped the concealed Creator of all things, the ‘Dweller in Eternity,’ who was before all, and into whose bosom all things, gods and men, would, they thought, return in the lapse of ages. The figure under which they represented this their oldest and most venerable deity was that of a man, sometimes human-headed and sometimes with the{182} man’s face concealed under the head and horns of a ram—the word ‘ram’ meaning ‘concealment’ in the Egyptian language. The figure was coloured blue, the sacred colour of the Source of life. Two derivations are given for the name Amun. It means that which brings to light; but it also expresses the simple invitation ‘Come,’ and in this sense it appears to be connected with a sentence in the ritual, where Atum is represented as dwelling alone in the under-world in the ages before creation, and on ‘a day’ speaking the word ‘Come,’ when immediately Osiris and Horus (light and the physical sun) appeared before him in the under-world.


The aspect of the sun as it approached its mysterious setting exercised, perhaps, a still greater power over the thoughts of the Egyptians, and was personified by them in a deity, who, if not the most venerable, was the best loved of all their gods. Osiris was the name given from the earliest times to the kind declining sun, who appeared to men to veil his glory, and sheathe his dazzling beams in a lovely, many-coloured radiance, which soothed and gladdened the weary eyes and hearts of men, and enabled them to gaze fearlessly and lovingly on the dread orb from which during the day they had been obliged to turn their eyes. This was the god who loved men and dwelt among them, and for man’s sake permitted himself to be for a time quenched and defeated by the darkness—it was thus that the ancient people read the parable of the sun’s evening beauty and of his disappearance beneath the shades of night, amplifying it, as the needs of the human heart were more distinctly recognized, into a real foreshadowing of that glorious truth towards which the whole human race was yearning—the truth of which these shows of nature were, indeed, speaking continually to all who could understand.{183} The return of Osiris every evening into the under-world invested him also, for the ancient Egyptians, with the character of guardian and judge of souls who were supposed to accompany him on his mysterious journey, or at all events to be received and welcomed by him in Amenti (the realm of souls) when they arrived there. Osiris therefore filled a place both among the gods of the living and those of the dead. He was the link which connected the lives of the upper and the under worlds together, and made them one—the Lover and Dweller among men while yet in the body, and also the Judge and Ruler of the spirit-realm to which they were all bound. Two distinct personifications showed him in these characters. As the Dweller among men and the Sharer of the commonness and materiality of their earth-life, he was worshipped under the form of a bull—the Apis, in which shape his pure soul was believed constantly to haunt the earth, passing from one bull to that of another on the death of the animal, but never abandoning the land of his choice, or depriving his faithful worshippers of his visible presence among them. In his character of Judge of the dead, Osiris was represented as a mummied figure, of the sacred blue colour, carrying in one hand the rod of dominion, and in the other the emblem of life, and wearing on his head the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. In the judgment scenes he is seated on a throne at the end of the solemn hall of trial to which the soul has been arraigned, and in the centre of which stands the fateful balance where, in the presence of the evil accusing spirit and of the friendly funeral gods and genii who stand around, the heart of the man is weighed against a symbol of Divine Truth.

Next in interest to the setting sun is the personification under which the Egyptians worshipped the strong young sun, the victorious conqueror of the night, who each{184}


morning appeared to rise triumphant from the blank realm of darkness in which the rays of yesterday’s sun had been quenched. They figured him as the eldest son of Osiris, Horus, the vigorous bright youth who loved his father, and avenged him, piercing with his spear-like ray the monster who had swallowed him up. Horus is represented as sailing up the eastern sky from the under-world in a boat, and slaying the serpent Night with a spear as he advances. The ultimate victory of life over death, of truth and goodness over falsehood and wrong, were the moral lessons which this parable of the sun’s rising read to the ancient Egyptians. The midday sun, ruling the heavens in unclouded glory, symbolized to them majesty and kingly authority, and was worshipped as a great and powerful god under the name of Ra, who was often identified with Amun and worshipped as Amun-Ra. This was especially the case at Thebes.


Though these four appearances may well seem to exhaust all the aspects under which the sun can be considered, there are still several other attributes belonging to him which the ancient Egyptians noticed and personified into other sun-gods. These we will enumerate more briefly. Ptah, a god of the first order, worshipped with great magnificence at Memphis, personified the life-giving power of the sun’s beams, and in this character was sometimes mixed up with Osiris, and in the ritual is spoken of also as the creative principle, the ‘word’ or ‘power’ by which the essential deity revealed itself in the visible works of creation. Another deity, Mandoo, appears to personify the fierce power of the sun’s rays at midday in summer, and was looked upon as the god of vengeance and destruction, a leader in war, answering in some measure, though not entirely, to the war-gods of other mythologies.{185}


There were also Gom, Moui, and Kons, who are spoken of always as the sons of the sun-god, those who reveal him or carry his messages to mankind, and in them the rays, as distinguished from the disk of the sun, are apparently personified. The rays of the sun had also a feminine personification in Sekhet or Sekhet-Pasht, the goddess with the lioness’s head. To her several different and almost opposite qualities were attributed: as, indeed, an observer of the burning and enlightening rays of an Eastern sun might be doubtful whether to speak oftenest of the baleful fever-heat with which they infect the blood, or of their vivifying effects upon the germs of animal and vegetable life. Thus the lioness-goddess was at once feared and loved; dreaded at one moment as the instigator of fierce passions and unruly desires, invoked at another as the giver of joy, the source of all tender and elevating emotions. Her name, Pasht, means ‘the lioness,’ and was perhaps suggested by the fierceness of the sun’s rays, answering to the lion’s fierce strength or the angry light of his eyes. She was also called the ‘Lady of the Cave,’ suggesting something of mystery and concealment. Her chief worship was at Bubastis; but, judging from the frequency of her representations, must have been common throughout Egypt.


We will now take the second great light of the heavens, the moon, and consider the forms under which it was personified by the Egyptians. Rising and setting like the sun, and disappearing for regular periods, the moon was represented by a god, who, like the god of the setting sun, occupied a conspicuous position among the powers of the under-world, and was closely connected with thoughts of the existence of the soul after death, and the judgment pronounced on deeds done in the body. Thoth,{186} ‘the Word,’ the ‘Lord of Divine Words,’ was the title given to this deity; but though always making one in the great assemblage in the judgment-hall, his office towards the dead does not approach that of Osiris in dignity. He is not the judge, he is the recorder who stands before the balance with the dread account in his hand, while the trembling soul awaits the final sentence. His character is that of a just recorder, a speaker of true words; he wears the ostrich feather, the token of exact rigid evenness and impartiality, and yet he is represented as having uneven arms, as if to hint that the cold white light of justice, untempered by the warmth of love, cannot thoroughly apprehend what it seems to take exact account of, leaving, after all, one side unembraced, unenlightened, as the moonlight casts dense shadows around the spots where its beams fall. The silent, watching, peering moon! Who has not at times felt an inkling of the parable which the ancient Egyptians told of her cold eye and her unwarming rays which enlighten chilly, and point out while they distort?

In spite of his uneven arms, however, Thoth (the dark moon and the light moon) was a great god, bearing sway in both worlds in accordance with his double character of the revealed and the hidden orb. On earth he is the great teacher, the inventor of letters, of arithmetic, and chronology; the ‘Lord of Words,’ the ‘Lover of Truth,’ the ‘Great and Great.’ Thoth was sometimes represented under the form of an ape; but most frequently with a human figure ibis-headed; the ibis, on account of his mingled black and white feathers, symbolizing the dark and the illumined side of the moon. Occasionally, however, he is drawn with a man’s face, and bearing the crescent moon on his head, surmounted by an ostrich feather; in his hand he holds his tablets and his recording pencil.{187}

Maut and

The sky-divinities were all feminine among the Egyptians; representing the feminine principle of receptivity, the sky being regarded by them mainly as the abode, the home, of the sun and moon gods. The greatest of the sky-deities was Maut, or Mut, the mother, who represents the deep violet night sky, tenderly brooding over the hot exhausted earth when the day was over, and wooing all living things to rest, by stretching cool, protecting arms above and around them. The beginning of all things, abysmal calm, but above all, motherhood, were the metaphysical conceptions which the ancient Egyptians connected with the aspect of the brooding heavens at midnight, and which they worshipped as the oldest primeval goddess, Maut. The night sky, however, suggested another thought, and gave rise to yet another personification. Night does not bring only repose; animals and children sleep, but men wake and think; and, the strife of day being hushed, have leisure to look into their own minds, and listen to the still small voice that speaks within. Night was thus the parent of thought, the mother of wisdom, and a personification of the night sky was worshipped as the goddess of wisdom. She was named Neit, a word signifying ‘I came from myself,’ and she has some attributes in common with the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athene, whose warlike character she shared. Nu, another sky-goddess, who personifies the sunlit blue midday sky, may also on other accounts claim kinship with the patroness of Athens. She is the life-giver—the joy-inspirer. Clothed in the sacred colour which the life-giving river reflects, the midday sky was supposed to partake of the river’s vivifying qualities, and its goddess Nu is very frequently pictured as seated in the midst of the tree of life, giving of its fruits to faithful souls who have completed{188} their time of purification and travel in the under-world, and are waiting for admission to the Land of Aoura, the last stage of preparation before they are received into the immediate presence of the great gods.

Saté and

Two other aspects of the sky were considered worthy of personification and worship. The morning sky, or perhaps the eastern half of the morning sky, which awaited the sun’s earliest beams, and which was called Saté, and honoured as the goddess of vigilance and endeavour, and the beautiful western sky at even, more lovely in Egypt than anywhere else, to the exaltation of which the Egyptians applied their prettiest titles and symbols. Hathor, the ‘Queen of Love,’ was the name they gave to their personification of the evening sky, speaking of her at once as the loving and loyal wife of the sun, who received the weary traveller, the battered conqueror, to rest on her bosom after his work was done, and the gentle household lady whose influence called men to their homes when labour was finished, and collected scattered families to enjoy the loveliest spectacle of the day, the sunset, in company. Hathor is represented as a figure with horns, bearing the sun’s disk between them, or sometimes carrying a little house or shrine upon her head.


The sky, however, with the ancient Egyptians, did not include the air; that again was personified in a masculine form, and regarded as a very great god, some of whose attributes appear to trench on those of Osiris, and Ptah; Kneph was the name given to the god who embodied the air, the living breath or spirit; and he was one of the divinities to whom a share in the work of creation was attributed. He is represented in a boat, moving over the face of the waters, and breathing life into{189} the newly created world. He was no doubt connected in the minds of pious Egyptians with thoughts of that breath of God by whose inspiration man became a living soul; but in his nature-aspect he perhaps especially personified the wind blowing over the Nile valley after the inundation, and seeming to bring back life to the world by drying up the water under which the new vegetation was hidden.


The soil of the country thus breathed upon, which responded to the rays of Osiris and the breath of Kneph by pouring forth a continual supply of food for men, was naturally enough personified into a deity who claimed a large share of devotion, and was worshipped under many titles. Isis, the sister-wife of Osiris, was the name given to her, and so much was said of Isis, and so many stories told of her, that it appears at times as if, under that single name, the attributes of all the other goddesses were gathered up. Isis, was a personification, not of the receptive earth only, but of the feminine principle in nature wherever perceived, whether in the tender west that received the sun, or in the brooding midnight sky that invited to repose, or in the cherishing soil that drew in the sun’s warmth, and the breath of the wind, only to give them forth again changed into flowers and fruit and corn. Isis of ‘the ten thousand names’ the Greeks called her; and if we consider her as the embodiment of all that can be said of the feminine principle, we shall not be surprised at her many names, or at the difficulty of comprehending her nature. She was, above all else, however, the wife of Osiris and the mother of Horus, which certainly points to her being, or at all events to her having been originally, a sky-goddess; but then again she is spoken of as dressed in robes of many hues, which points to the changing and parti-coloured earth. Some of her attributes{190}


seem to connect her with the dark moon, especially the fact that her most important offices are towards the dead in the under-world, whose government she is spoken of as sharing with her husband Osiris. In pictures of the funeral procession she is drawn as standing at the head of the mummied body during its passage over the river that bounds the under-world, and in that position she represents the beginning; her younger sister, Nephthys, the end, stands at the foot of the still sleeping soul; the two goddesses thus summing up, with divinity at each end, the little span of mortal life. In the judgment-hall, Isis stands behind the throne of Osiris, drooping great protecting wings over him and it. This quality of protecting, of cherishing and defending, appears to be the spiritual conception worshipped under the form of the many-named goddess. Isis is constantly spoken of as the protector of her brother Osiris, and is drawn on the tomb with long drooping wings. She is also frequently represented as nursing Horus, the son who avenged his father, and in that character she wears the cow’s head, the cow being sacred to Isis, as was the bull to Osiris.

But when we have made this summary there is one thing which should also be borne in mind with regard to the religion of Egypt. Ancient Egypt, which appears at first sight such a single and united empire, was in reality (and in this respect it was something like the Chinese empire) deeply infected with a sort of feudalism, in virtue of which the different divisions (nomes) of the country did in reality constitute something like different states. And each state tried to preserve its sense of independence by having some special divinity or group of divinities which it held in peculiar honour. So that the Egyptian pantheon itself is infected by this republican spirit. Almost each single god{191} is supreme somewhere; elsewhere he may be almost overlooked.


The origin of the strangely intimate connection between these Egyptian gods, and certain animals held to be sacred to them, and in some cases to be incarnations of them, is a very difficult question to determine. Two explanations are given by different writers. One is that the animal-worship was a remnant of the religion of an inferior race who inhabited Egypt in times far back, and who were conquered but not exterminated by immigrants from Asia, who brought a higher civilization and a more spiritual religion with them, which, however, did not actually supersede the old, but incorporated some of its baser elements into itself. Other writers look upon the animal-worship as but another form of the unending parable from nature, which, as we have seen, pervades the whole Egyptian mythology. The animals, according to this view, being not less than the nature-gods worshipped as revelations of a divine order, manifesting itself through the many appearances of the outside world; their obedient following of the laws imposed on their natures through instinct making them better witnesses to the Divine Will than self-willed, disobedient man was found to be.

This is one of the problems which must be left to be determined by further researches into unwritten history, or perhaps by a fuller understanding of Egyptian symbols. That a great deal of symbolical teaching was wrapped up in the Egyptians’ worship of animals may be gathered by the lesson which they drew from the natural history of the sacred beetle, whose habit of burying in the sand of the desert a ball of clay, full of eggs, which in due course of time changed into chrysalises and then into winged beetles, furnished them with their favourite emblem of the{192} resurrection of the body and the continued life of the soul through the apparent death-sleep—an emblem which was wanting to no temple, and without which no body was ever buried. Thinking of this, we must allow that their eyes were not shut to the teaching of the ‘visible things’ which in the ages of darkness yet spoke a message from God.

We have now gone over the most important of the Egyptian gods, connecting them with the natural appearances which seem to have inspired them, so as to give the clue to a comparison with the nature-gods of the Aryans, of which we shall speak in the next chapter. There were, of course, other objects of worship, not so easily classed, among which we ought to mention Hapi, the personification of the river Nile; Sothis, the dog-star, connected with Isis; and two more of the funeral gods—Anubis, who in his nature-aspect may be possibly another personification of air and wind, and who is always spoken of as the friend and guardian of pure souls, and represented at the death-bed sometimes in the shape of a human-headed bird as helping the new-born soul to escape from the body; and Thmei, the goddess of Truth and Justice, who introduces the soul into the hall of judgment. The evil powers recognized among the ancient Egyptians were principally embodiments of darkness and of the waste of the desert, and do not appear to have had any distinct conception of moral evil associated with them. They are, however, spoken of in the book of the dead as enemies of the soul, who endeavour to delude it and lead it out of its way on its journey across the desert to the abode of the gods. Amenti was no doubt the desert, but not only the sunlit desert the Egyptians could overlook from their western hills—it included the unknown world beyond and underneath, to which they supposed the sun to go when he sank below the horizon,{193} and where, following in his track, the shades trooped when they had left their bodies. The story of the trials and combats of the soul on its journey through Amenti to the judgment-hall, and its reception by the gods, is written in the most ancient and sacred of Egyptian books, the Ritual, or Book of the Dead, which has been translated into French by M. de Rougé, and later by M. Pierret, and into English by Dr. Birch. The English translation is to be found in the Appendix to the fifth volume of Bunsen’s Egypt’s Place in History.


The mythologies of the other uninspired Semitic nations resemble the Egyptian in the main element of being personifications of the powers of nature. The Chaldæans directed their worship chiefly towards the heavenly bodies as did the ancient Egyptians, but not exclusively. Their principal deities were arranged in triads of greater and less dignity; nearly all the members of these were personifications of the heavens or the heavenly bodies. The first triad comprised Ana, the heavens or the hidden sun, Father of the gods, Lord of Darkness, Ruler of a far-off city, Lord of Spirits. By these titles, suggestive of some of the attributes and offices towards the dead, attributed by the Egyptians to Atum and Osiris, was the first member of their first order of gods addressed by the Chaldæans. Next in order came Bil, also a sun-god: the Ruler, the Lord, the Source of kingly power, and the patron and image of the earthly king. His name has the same signification as Baal, and he personifies the same aspect of nature, the sun ruling in the heavens, whose worship was so widely diffused among all the people with whom the Israelites came in contact. The third member of the first triad was Hoa or Ea, who personified apparently the earth: Lord of the abyss, Lord{194} of the great deep, the intelligent Guide, the intelligent Fish, the Lord of the Understanding, are some of his titles, and appear to reveal a conception somewhat answering to that of Thoth. His symbol was a serpent, and he was represented with a fish’s head, which connects him with the Philistine’s god Dagon. The second triad comprised Sin, or Urki, a moon-god, worshipped at Ur, Abraham’s city—his second name Urki, means ‘the watcher,’ and has the same root as the Hebrew name for ‘angel’—San, the disk of the sun; and Vul, the air. Beneath these deities in dignity, or rather perhaps in distance, came the five planets, each representing some attribute or aspect of the deity, or rather being itself a portion of deity endowed with a special characteristic, and regarded as likely to be propitious to men from being less perfect and less remote than the greater gods. These planetary gods were called—Nebo (Mercury), the lover of light; Ishtar (Venus), the mother of the gods; Nergal (Mars), the great hero; Bel Merodach (Jupiter), the ruler, the judge; Nin (Saturn), the god of strength. To these gods the chief worship of the Assyrians was paid, and it was their majesty and strength, typifying that of the earthly king, which Assyrian architects personified in the winged, man-headed bulls and lions with examples of which we are familiar. The gods of the Canaanite nations, Moloch, Baal, Chemosh, Baal-Zebub, and Thammuz, were all of them personifications of the sun or of the sun’s rays, considered under one aspect or another; the cruel gods, to whom human sacrifices were offered, representing the strong, fierce summer sun, and the gentle Thammuz being typical of the softer light of morning and of early spring, which is killed by the fierce heat of midday and midsummer, and mourned for by the earth till his return in the evening and in autumn. Ashtoreth, the{195} horned queen, symbolized by trees and worshipped in groves, is the moon and also the evening star; but, like Isis, she seems to gather up in herself the worship of the feminine principle in nature. The Canaanites represented their gods in the temples by symbols instead of by sculptured figures. An upright stone, either an aerolite or a precious stone (as in the case of the great emerald kept in the shrine of the Temple of Baal-Melcarth at Tyre), symbolized the sun and the masculine element in nature; while the feminine element was figured under the semblance of a grove of trees, the Ashara, sometimes apparently a grove outside the temple, and sometimes a mimic grove kept within.

There was, however, behind and beyond all these, another and perhaps a more ancient and more metaphysical conception of God worshipped by all the Semitic peoples of Asia. His name, Il or El, appears to have been for Chaldæans, Assyrians, Canaanites, and for the wandering tribes of the desert, including the progenitors of the chosen people, the generic name for God; and his worship was limited to a distant awful recognition, unprofaned by the rites and sacrifices wherein the nature-gods were approached. Il became a concealed, distant deity, too far off for worship, and too great to be touched by the concerns of men, among those nations with whom the outside aspects of nature grew to be concealers instead of revealers of the Divine; while to the chosen people the name acquired ever new significance, as the voice of inspiration unfolded the attributes of the Eternal Father to His children.

This sketch of the heathen mythology of the Shemites is, it must be owned, very barren in incident and character. It presents, indeed, no more than a shadowy hierarchy of gods and heroes, through whose thin personalities the shapes of{196} natural objects loom with obtrusive clearness. They may serve, however, as finger-posts to point the way through the mazes of more complex, full-grown myths, and it must also be remembered that we have not touched upon the later more ornamented stories of the Egyptian gods, such as that of the death and dismemberment of Osiris by his enemy Typhon, and the recovery of his body, and his return to life through the instrumentality of Isis and Horus.{197}




That morning speech of Belarius (in Cymbeline) might serve as an illustration of a primitive religion, a nature-religion in its simplest garb:

‘Stoop, boys: this gate
Instructs you how to adore the heavens, and bows you
To morning’s holy office: the gates of monarchs
Are arched so high, that giants may jet through
And keep their impious turbans on, without
Good-morrow to the sun. Hail, thou fair heaven!
We house i’ the rock, yet use thee not so hardly
As prouder livers do.’

Omit only that part which speaks the bitterness of disappointed hopes which once centred round the doing as prouder livers do, and the rest breathes the fresh air of mountain life, different altogether from our life, free alike from its cares and temptations and moral responsibilities. Belarius gazes up with an unawful eye into the heavenly depths, and fearlessly pays his morning orisons. ‘Hail, thou fair heaven!’ There is no sense here of sin, humility, self-reproach. And in this respect—taking this for the moment as the type of an Aryan religion—how strongly it contrasts with the utterances of Hebrew writers! Is this{198} the voice of natural as opposed to inspired religion? Not altogether; for the Semitic mind was throughout antiquity imbued with a deeper sense of awe or fear—awe in the higher religion, fear in the lower—than ever belonged to the Aryan character. We see this difference in the religions of Egypt and Assyria; and it will be remembered that, when speaking of the earliest records of the Semitic and Aryan races, we took occasion to say that it may very well have been to their admixture of Semitic blood that the Egyptians stood indebted for the mystic and allegorical part of their religious system; for among all the Semitic people, whether in ancient or modern times, we may observe a tendency—if no more—towards religious thought, and towards thoughts of that mystic character which characterized the Egyptian mythology.

But the Aryans grew up and formed themselves into nations, and developed the germs of their religion apart from external influence, and in a land which from the earliest times had belonged to them alone. Their character, their religion, their national life, were their own; and though in after-times these went through distinctive modifications, when the stems of nations that we know, Greeks, Latins, Germans, and the rest, grew out of the Aryan stock, they yet bore amid these changes the memory of a common ancestry. The land in which they dwelt was favourable to the growth of the imaginative faculties, and to that lightness and brightness of nature which afterwards so distinguished the many-minded Greeks, rather than to the slow, brooding character of the Eastern mind. There, down a hundred hillsides and along a hundred valleys trickled the rivulets whose waters were hurrying to swell the streams of the Oxus and the Jaxartes. And each hill and valley had its separate community, joined, indeed, by language and custom to the{199} common stock, but yet living a separate simple life in its own home, which had, one might almost say, its individual sun and sky as well as hill and river. No doubt in such a land innumerable local legends and beliefs sprang up, and these, though lost to us now, had their effects upon the changes which among the many branches of the race the Aryan mythology underwent—a mythology which before all others is remarkable for the endless diversity of its legends, for the infinite rainbow-tints into which its essential thoughts are broken.


Despite these divergences, the Aryans had a common chief deity—the sky, the ‘fair heaven.’ This, the most abstracted and intangible of natural appearances, at the same time the most exalted and unchanging, seemed to them to speak most plainly of an all-embracing deity. And though their minds were open to all the thousand voices of nature, and their imaginations equal to the task of giving a personality to each, yet none, not even the sun himself, imaged so well their ideal of a highest All-Father as did the over-arching heaven.

The traces of this primitive belief the Aryan people carried with them on their wanderings. This sky-god was the Dyâus (the sky) of Indian mythology, the Zeus of the Greeks, the Jupiter of the Romans, and the Zio, Tew, or Tyr of the Germans and Norsemen. For all these names are etymologically allied. Zeus (gen. Dios) and Dyâus are from the same root; so are Jupiter (anciently Diupiter) and the compound form Dyâus-pitar (father Dyâus); and Zio and Tew also bear traces of the same origin. Indeed, it is by the reappearance of this name as the name of a god among so many different nations that we argue his having once been the god of all the Atyan people. The case is{200} like that of our word daughter. As we find this reappearing in the Greek thugatêr, and the Sanskrit duhitar, we feel sure that the old Aryans had a name for daughter from which all these names are derived; and as we find the Sanskrit name alone has a secondary meaning, signifying ‘the milker,’ we conclude that this was the original meaning of the name for a daughter. Just so, Zeus and Jupiter and Zio and Dyâus show a common name for the chief Aryan god; but the last alone explains the meaning of that name, for Dyâus signifies the sky.

This sky-god, then, stood to the old Aryans for the notion of a supreme and common divinity. Whatever may have been the divinities reigning over local streams and woods, they acknowledged the idea of one overruling Providence whom they could only image to their minds as the over-spreading sky. This, we may say, was the essential feature in their religion, its chief characteristic; whereas to the Semitic nations, the sun, the visible orb, was in every case the supreme god. The reason of this contrast does not, it seems to me, lie only in the different parts which the sun played in the southern and more northern regions; or, if it arises in the difference of the climate, it not the less forms an important chapter in religious development. There are discernible in the human mind two diverse tendencies in dealing with religious ideas. Both are to be found in every religion, among every people; one might almost say in every heart. The first tendency is an impulse upwards—a desire to press the mind continually forward in an effort to idealize the deity, but, by exalting or seeming to exalt Him into the highest regions of abstraction, it runs the risk of robbing Him of all fellowship with man, and man of all claims upon His sympathy and love. Then comes the other tendency, which oftentimes at one stroke brings down the deity as{201} near as possible to the level of human beings, and leaves him at the end no more than a demi-god or exalted man. One may be called the metaphysical, the other the mythological tendency; and we shall never be able to understand the history of religions until we learn to see how these influences interpenetrate and work in every system. They show at once that a distinction must be drawn between mythology and religion. The supreme god will not be he of whom most tales are invented, because, as these tales must appeal to human interests and relate adventures of the human sort, they will cling more naturally round the name of some inferior divinity. The very age of mythology—so far as regards the beings to whom it relates[56]—is probably rather that of a decaying religion.

In any case, there will probably be a metaphysical and a mythological side to every system. Thus among the Egyptians, Amun, the concealed, was the metaphysical god; but their mythology centred round the names of Osiris and Horus. And just so with the Aryans, the sky was the original, most abstracted, and most metaphysical god; the sun rose into prominence in obedience to the wish of man for a more human divinity. If the Semitic people were more inclined toward sun-worship, the Aryans inclined rather toward heaven-worship; and the difference is consistent with the greater faculty for abstract thought which has always belonged to our race.

The two influences of which we have spoken are perfectly well marked in Aryan mythology. The history of it may almost be said to represent the rivalry between the sky-gods and the gods of the sun. It is on account of his daily{202} change that the last far less becomes the position of a supreme god. Born each day in the east, faint and weak he battles with the clouds of morning; radiant and strong he mounts into the midday sky; and then, having touched his highest point, he turns to quench his beams in the shadowy embrace of night. Even the Egyptians and Assyrians, in view of these vicissitudes, were driven to invent a sort of abstract sun, separated in thought from the mere visible orb. This daily course might stand as an allegory of the life of man. The luminary who underwent these changing fortunes, however great and godlike in appearance, must have some more than common relationship with the world below; he must be either a hero raised among the gods, or, better (for of this thought the Aryans too had their dim foreshadowing), he is an Avatar, an Incarnation of the Godhead, come down to take upon him for a while the painful life of men. This was the way the sun-gods were regarded by the Indo-European nations. Accordingly, while their deepest religious feelings belonged to the abstract god Zeus, Jupiter among the Greeks and Romans, Dyâus and later on Brahma (a pure abstraction) among the Indians, the stories of their mythology belonged to a more human divinity, who in most cases is the sun-god. He is the Indra[57] of the Hindus, who wrestles with the black serpent, the Night, as Horus did with Typhon; he is the Apollo of the Greeks, likewise the slayer of the serpent, the Pythôn; or else he is Heracles (Hercules), the god-man—sometimes worshipped as a god, sometimes as a demi-god only—the great and mighty hero, the performer of innumerable labours for his fellows; or he is Thor, the Hercules{203} of the Norsemen, the enemy of the giants and of the great earth-serpent, which represent the dark chaotic forces of nature; or Frey, the bearer of the sword, or the mild Balder, the fairest of all the gods, the best-beloved by gods and men.

It is clear that a different character of worship will belong to each order of divinity. The sacred grove or the wild mountain-summit would be naturally dedicated to the mysterious pervading presence; the temple would be the natural home of the human-featured god; and this all the more because men worshipped in forest glade or upon mountain-top before they dedicated to their gods houses made with hands. Dyâus is the old, the primevally old, divinity, the ‘son of time’ as the Greeks called him.[58] Whenever, therefore, we trace the meeting streams of thought, the cult of the sun-god and the cult of the sky, to the latter belongs the conservative part of the national creed, his rival is the reforming element. In the Vedic religion of India, Indra, as has been said, has vanquished the older deity; we feel in the Vedas that Dyâus, or even another sky-god, Varuna, though often mentioned, no longer occupy a commanding place. Not, however, without concessions on both sides. Indra could not have achieved this victory but that he partakes of both natures. He is the sky as well as the sun, more human than the unmoved watching heavens, he is a worker for man, the sender of the rain and the sunshine, the tamer of the stormwinds, and the enemy of darkness.

And if any one should examine in detail the different systems of the Aryan people, he would, I think, have no difficulty in tracing throughout them the two influences{204} which have been dwelt upon, and in each connecting these two influences with their sky-and sun-gods. Whatever theory may be used to account for it, the change of thought is noticeable. Man seems to awake into the world with the orison of Belarius upon his lips; he is content with the silent unchanging abstract god. But as he advances in the burden and heat of the day he wishes for a fellow-worker, or at least for some potency which watches his daily struggles with less of godlike sublime indifference. Hence arise his sun-gods—the gods who toil and suffer, and even succumb and die.


The sky-and the sun-gods, then, were, I think, the two chief male divinities among the Aryan folk taken as a whole. There corresponded to them in most Aryan creeds two female divinities, an older and a younger, a wife and a maiden, such as were on the one side among the Greeks Hera and Demeter, and on the other side Athene and Artemis,[59] or Persephone, the daughter of Demeter. In the Norse creed, again, there is Frigg, the wife of Odin, and Freyja, the sister of Frey. This last is indeed not a maiden in the Eddic mythology. But the husband of Freyja is a person of such very small importance that we may feel sure he is only a sort of addendum to her nature and surroundings, and that she is in character very much the counterpart of her brother, a maiden-goddess—goddess of spring-time and of love.

In respect to the elder, the married goddess, we may say, almost with certainty, that she is the earth—the natural wife of the heavens, and naturally thought of as the mother of all mankind—Terra Mater. We know that the ancient Germans worshipped a goddess whom Tacitus calls Nerthus{205} (possibly a mistake for Hertha, Earth), and, he adds, Nerthus id est Terra Mater. And in the Scandinavian offshoot of the ancient German creed there can be no doubt that the same idea of Mother Earth is embodied in the goddess Frigg, the wife of Odin.

The Romans had their native goddess Tellus, who was only obscured in later times by such Greek or half-Greek divinities as Demeter or Cybele. For this Demeter of the Greeks bears a name which most philologists are agreed had a signification precisely the same as Terra Mater—Gê-mêtêr. Demeter is but one of many wives of Zeus mentioned in the Theogony of Hesiod. All of these wives, including Hera (Juno), the highest in rank of them all, were probably at one time or another personifications of the earth.

The Vedas, too, have their mother-goddess, their Mother Earth. This is Prithvi, or Prithivi, the wide-stretching, generally called Prithivi-mátar, which is also Earth-Mother. And some think this word ‘Prithvi’ is connected with that of the Northern Frigg.[60] And the Vedas have their young maiden-goddess, who in the Vedas is called Ushas the Dawn.

of Spring
and Dawn.

What is the nature-significance of this maiden-goddess? It is less easy to determine than in the case of the other three divinities. One form of the maiden-goddess is the divinity of the seed, like Persephone, that is to say, a goddess of all vegetation, and hence of the spring. In the Vedas, again, Ushas is a goddess of the dawn, an idea nearly allied to that of Spring; and some people think that this is also the foundation of Athenê’s nature. There are other characteristics of the maiden-goddess which look as if she were an embodiment of the clouds; but then the clouds are so nearly connected{206} with the dawn that such an idea can scarcely be said to contradict the other notion. The maiden-goddess is in many cases born of the sea. Not only is Aphroditê, or Venus, born of the sea, but Athenê is so likewise; at any rate one of her names, Tritogeneia, implies this origin. The more common story of Athenê’s birth, that she sprang from the head of her father, Zeus—this, too, when we remember that Zeus is the sky, is not inconsistent with her being the cloud.

When all is said, it must be owned that the nature-origin of this maiden-goddess is not so obvious as in the case of the divinities of the sky, sun, or earth. That only means that, as a nature-goddess, she is not so necessary to the creed, but that on the other hand many objects of nature—the dawn, the clouds, streams, the wind, sunshine—have suggested the thought of this divinity, and that the suggestion found a natural echo in the heart of mankind.

There are, of course, behind the greater nature-gods a number of other natural forces—the sea, the wind, lightning, fire, streams, fountains, the dawn, the clouds. These all receive their place in the Aryan pantheon. But the characters of the lesser gods tend to echo those of the greater. Sometimes two different but nearly allied objects of nature are rolled into one to form a new god.

Thus the god of storms and thunder is often associated with the sky, as are Zeus and Jupiter among the Greeks and Romans. Dyâus, the most primitive form of sky-god, is the clear heaven. The name is connected with a root div, to shine. But Zeus and Jupiter are the cloudy or thundery skies. The Vedic Indra is often not unlike them. That is to say, the sky-god, in their persons, has taken upon him the nature of the god of storms. But despite these changes, we may still go back to the gods of earth, and sky, and sun,{207} and cloud as forming the backbone of the Aryan creed taken as a whole.


of India.

From this primitive stock different religious systems developed themselves just as different nationalities sprang from the original Aryan race. We can only form an adequate idea of what these religious systems were like by studying them in the books of religion, of poetry, and mythology which the various peoples have left behind them. And as a matter of fact, we have really only three or four literatures of ancient religion and mythology among the different branches of the Aryan people from which much information can be gained. These are the Vedas for the ancient Indians, Greek literature for the religion of the Greeks, and the Old Norse poetry—what we may call the Eddaic literature—for the religion of the Scandinavians. The Romans, before their literature began, had almost exchanged their early creed for that of the Greeks; the other German races (not Scandinavian) and the Slavs left no record of their beliefs before they were converted to Christianity. Of the Zend Avesta, the religious book of the Persians, we will speak hereafter.


Naturally enough, each separate creed has developed many peculiar features. In the religion of India, Indra, who had been the younger and more active divinity—whether a sun-god or no we cannot be quite sure—had, before the Vedas came to be written, almost completely ousted Dyâus from the supreme position which he once occupied. The worship of Indra is the central point of Vedic religion; and in many hymns of the Vedas Indra has taken the character of a god of storms; almost as much so as Zeus and Jupiter. It was the power of the{208} god which was especially worshipped. He was no doubt the god of battles par excellence to the ancient Indian. The Vedic hymnist calls upon him, as the Psalmist calls upon Jehovah, to show his might and confound those who dared to doubt his supremacy. For here in India, as in Palestine, ‘the wicked saith in his heart There is no God.’


Indra speaks. ‘I come with might before thee, stepping first,
And behind me move all the heavenly powers.
The Poet speaks. ‘If thou, O Indra, wilt my lot bestow,
A hero’s part dost thou perform for me.
‘To thee the holy drink I offer first;
Thy portion here is laid, thy soma[61] brewed.
Be, while I righteous am, to me a friend;
So shall we slay of foemen many a one.
‘Ye who desire blessings bring your hymn
To Indra, for the true is always true.
“There is no Indra,” many say. “Who ever
Hath seen him? Why should we his praise proclaim?”
Indra speaks. ‘I am here, singer; look on me, here stand I.
In might all other beings I surpass.
Thy holy service still my strength renews,
And thereby smiting, all things I smite down.
‘And as on heaven’s height I sat alone,
To me thy offering and thy prayer rose up.
Then spake my soul this word unto herself:
“My votaries and their children call upon me.” ’


The character of Indra, then, is, as we find it in the Vedas, more like that of a supreme Zeus than of any other divinity of the parallel Aryan religious systems. But his deeds, the mythology connected with his name, remind us of the deeds of Apollo. For he is the great serpent-or dragon-slayer, like the Greek Apollo and the Northern Thor. Heracles, too, as we remember, is a serpent-slayer. The ‘enemy’ whom Indra is most constantly implored to strike are two serpents, Ahi and Vritra. These are serpents of darkness, but they are also the concealers of the water, and this water Indra sets free. ‘Him (the serpent) the god struck with Indra-might, and set free the all-gleaming water for the use of man.’ Therefore these serpents must also typify the clouds.

In going forth to fight, Indra is accompanied by a band of supernatural heroes, who have no exact counterpart in any of the other Aryan mythologies, and who are certainly beings, children we might say, of the storm. Their name is the Maruts. And some of the many hymns dedicated to them have a fine martial ring, like the tramp of armed men—


‘Where is the fairassemblage of heroes,
  The men of Rudra,[62]with their bright horses?
  For of their birthknoweth no man the story,
  Only themselves,their wondrous descent.
‘The light they flashupon one another;
  The eagles fought,the winds were raging;
  But this secretknoweth the wise man,
  Once that Prishna[63]her udder gave them.{210}
‘Our race of heroes,through the Maruts be it
  Ever victoriousin reaping of men.
  On their way they hasten,  in brightness the brightest,
  Equal in beauty,unequalled in might.’

The god who is most peculiar to the Vedic pantheon is Agni, the Fire-god. The word Agni is allied to the Latin ignis. No doubt Agni has his representatives in the creeds of other Aryan peoples, in the Hephæstus of the Greeks, or in the Vulcan of the Romans; probably in the Loki of the Scandinavians. But these are all quite secondary beings: Loki cannot be called a god at all. Agni, on the other hand, is one of the very greatest of the Vedic deities. Only Indra has more hymns dedicated to him than Agni. This shows how great was the reverence which fire commanded among the Indians, and it is consistent with much that has been said in an earlier chapter of the importance which primitive people always attach, and which the native Indians to this day still attach, to the sacred house-fire in their midst. It reminds us too of the fire-worship of the Persians.[64]

Agni, however, is not only the house-fire. He has a double birth—one on earth, one in the clouds. He descends as the lightning descends from heaven. But, at the same time, he is born of the rubbing of two sticks, and in the flame of the sacrifice he is imagined to ascend again to heaven bringing with him the prayers of the worshipper. How well, therefore, Agni was adapted to take the place of the younger god, the friend of man, when Indra, once probably a sun-god, had (so to say) removed himself from familiar approach by taking his throne high in heaven!{211}


‘Agni is messenger of all the world.
  *   *   *   *   *
Skyward ascends his flame the merciful,
With our libations watered well;
And now the red smoke seeks the heavenly way,
And men enkindle Agni here.
‘We make of thee our Herald, Holy One;
Bring down the gods unto our feast.
O son of night, and all who nourish man,
Pardon us when on you we call.
‘Thou, Agni, art the ruler of the house;
Thou at the altar art our priest.
O purifier, wise and rich in good,
O sacrificer, bring us safely now.’

There are other genuine sun-gods in the Vedic creed, to whom hymns are addressed. One of these is Mitra.[65] Mitra too is a friend of man—

To man comes Mitra down in friendly converse.
Mitra it was who fixed the earth and heaven.
Unslumbering mankind he watches over.
To Mitra then your full libations pour.’

But there are not many hymns addressed to Mitra alone. And he stands far behind Indra or Agni in the Vedic creed as we actually find it. Another sun-god—the disk of the sun, so to say—is Surya, the shiner. He is sometimes called the eye of Mitra and Varuna. But in other places he is said to come through heaven dragging his wheel. Yet great as he is, the sun-god is compelled to follow his daily{212} round. ‘He travels upon changeless paths.’ Another sun-god is Savitar, whose name is almost identical in meaning with Surya.

Dawn and

The writers of the Vedic hymns were very largely taken up with observing and recording in their mythic fashion all the skyey phenomena from dawn to sunset. For each changed aspect of the heavens, bright or cloudy, calm or windy, they had a divinity. They sang to the fair young morning as she came out of the chambers of darkness and opened the stalls for the cattle to go forth to pasture; they sang the heavy labouring sun of midday; they sang the stormy sky or the hurrying clouds; and at evening they sang the evening sun sinking peacefully to rest and bringing ‘night and peace’ to all the world. Wherefore, to bring to a close this picture of the religion of the Vedas, we will give just two more hymns from that vast collection, the Rig-Veda—a hymn to the morning, and a hymn to the sun (Savitar) at sun-setting.


‘Dawn full of wisdom, rich in everything!
Fairest! attend the singers’ song of praise.
O thou rich goddess, old, yet ever young!
Thou, all-dispenser, in due order comest.
‘Shine forth, O goddess, thine eternal morning,
With thy bright cars our song of praise awakening.
Thee draw through heaven the well-yoked team of horses—
The horses golden-bright, that shine afar.
‘Enlightener of all being, breath of morning,
Thou holdest up aloft the light of gods.
Unto one goal ever thy course pursuing,
Oh, roll towards us now thy wheel again!
‘Opening at once her girdle, she appears,
The lovely Dawn, the ruler of the stalls.
She, light-producing, wonder-working, noble,
Up-mounted from the coast of earth and heaven.{213}
‘Up, up, and bring to meet the Dawn, the goddess
Bright beaming now, your humble song of praise.
To heaven climbed up her ray the sweet due bearing,
Joying to shine the airy space she filled.
‘With beams of heaven the Pure One was awakened,
The Rich One’s ray mounted through both the worlds.
To Ushas[66] goest thou, Agni, with a prayer
For goodly wealth, when she bright-shining comes.’


‘Savitar the god arose, in power arose,
His quick deeds and his journey to renew.
He ‘tis who to all gods dispenses treasure,
And blesses those that call him to the feast.
‘The god stands up and stretches forth his arm,
Raises his hand and all obedient wait;
For all the waters to his will incline,
And the winds even on his path are stilled.
‘Now he unyokes the horses that have borne him,
The wanderer from his travel now he frees,
The serpent-slayer’s fury now is stayed;
At Savitar’s command come night and peace.
And now rolls up the spinning wife her web,
The artificer now his cunning labour leaves,
  *   *   *   *   *
And to the household folk beneath the roof,
The household fire imparts their share of light.
  *   *   *   *   *
‘He who to work went forth is now returned,
The longing of all wand’rers turns toward home;
Leaving his toil, goes each man to his house:
The universal mover orders so.
‘In the water settest thou the water’s heir,[67]
On the firm earth badst the wild beast to roam;
The bird[68] makes for his nest, cattle for their stall,
To their own home all beasts the sun-god sends.’



In Greece it would seem that the chief religious influences came from Zeus (Jupiter[69]) and Apollo, and belonged, as appears, to two separate branches of the same race who came together to form the Hellenic people. The ancestors of the Greeks had, we know, travelled from the Aryan home by a road which took them south of the Black Sea, and on to the table-land of Asia Minor. So far a comparison of names and traditions shows them advancing in a compact body. Here they separated; and, after a stay of some centuries, during which a part had time to mingle with the Semitic people of the land, they pushed forward, some across the Hellespont and round that way by land through Thrace and Thessaly, spreading as they went down to the extremity of the peninsula; others to the western coast of Asia Minor, and then, when through the lapse of years they had learnt their art from the Phœnician navigators who frequented all that land, onward from island to island, as over stepping-stones, across the Ægean.


The Pelasgic Zeus, however, is not quite the same being as is the Zeus whom we are to fancy as the supreme god of the Hellenic race. This last, we know, is called the Olympic Zeus. The Pelasgic god is a being who loves solitary mountain heights or dark groves of trees. In this aspect of his character he is very like the chief divinity of the Northmen, Odin. And there can be no{215} doubt that in his nature he is a god of storms and wind. He is not the clear sky, as is the Vedic Dyâus (from the root div, shining), and as had once been the supreme god of the Aryan race. From that condition to the condition of a god of storms, Zeus had already passed before we catch any sight of him under this name Zeus—in other words, before we catch any sight of him at all.

These Pelasgi were before all things the worshippers of pure nature. Theirs were all those primitive elements in the Greek religion which were caught up into the more developed creed, and, though they were softened in the process of amalgamation with it, still showed above its surface as masses of rock show upon a hillside, albeit they are covered over by a thin covering of green. Those strange half-human beings like Pan, the Arcadian god, like the Thessalian centaurs,—these belong to the primitive creed of the Greeks. So long as they were confounded with the phenomena of nature in which they took their rise, they were, in every sense, natural enough. But when art took possession of them, and tried to body them forth in visible shapes, they became monsters, unformed, neither man nor beast.

The fact that the greatest shrines of Zeus were at Dodona in Epirus, and in Elis, both states on the western coast of Greece, would almost of itself show that the worship of Zeus belonged more especially to the first comers of the Greek race, who got pushed further westward as the more enlightened people came in from the east; and while these were worshipping their gods in temples, the Pelasgic Greeks still worshipped their Zeus in sacred groves like those of Dodona and of Elis.

The god, on the other hand, who is more especially the god of the newer Greek people, the Dorians and the Ionians,{216}


those who reformed the Greek race, and through whom the Pelasgic people grew into the Hellenes, this god is Apollo.

Apollo is, we have said, in origin a sun-god. We see some traces of his nature even in the statues which represent him, as in the abundant hair which streams from his head, the picture of the sun’s rays.[70] But, of course, long before historic days he had become much more than a mere god of nature to his worshippers. He had become what we know him, the ideal of youthful manhood as the Greeks admired it most, the ideal of suppleness and strength, the ideal, too, of what we call ‘culture,’ of poetry and music, and all that adds a grace to life.

Apollo’s chief shrines were rather on the eastern than on the western side of Greece—at Delphi, for example, in Phocis. (Is it not characteristic to find in this wise the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, the oracle of Zeus at Dodona?) But Delphi is the most westerly of Apollo’s favourite homes. Another, we know, was on the island of Delos, midway in the Ægean, that island which the Greeks fancied the umbilicus orbis—the navel of the world. Delphi and Delos are the shrines of Apollo belonging to one out of the two great nationalities of the new blood who reformed the nation of the Greeks. Delphi and Delos belong to the Dorians. But among the Ionians of Asia Minor, who were the other great reforming element in Greek life, Apollo had likewise many holy places. And we know how, in the Iliad, he is represented as the champion of the easterns, the Asiatic{217} Greeks, against the westerns, the Greeks of Greece proper. ‘Hear me,’ prays Glaucus, in the Iliad—‘hear me, O king, who art somewhere in the rich realm of Lycea or of Troy; for everywhere canst thou hear a man in sorrow, such as my sorrow is.’

Not but that these worshippers of Apollo were likewise worshippers of Zeus. It was from the Dorians, whose ancient home was in Thessaly, in the vale of Tempe, and under the shadow of Olympus, that sprang the worship of the Olympian Zeus. This Olympian Zeus was the same as the ancient god of the Pelasgians—the Pelasgian Zeus—the same, and yet different, for he was the ancient storm-god, softened and made more human by his contact with Apollo. In time this Olympian Zeus superseded the Pelasgic god even in his own favourite seats, and we have the phenomenon of the festival in his honour—the greatest festival of Greece—the Olympia, being held in the plains of Elis, near the ancient grove of the Pelasgian Zeus.



As before by a comparison of words, so now in mythology by a comparison of legends, we form our notion of the remoteness of the time at which these stories first passed current. Not only, for instance, do we see that Indra and Apollo resembled each other in character, but we have proof that nature-myths—stories really narrating some process of nature—were familiar alike to Greeks and Indians. The Vedas, the sacred books from which we gather our knowledge of ancient Hindu religion, do not relate their stories of the gods in the same way, or with the same clearness and elaboration, that the Greek poets do. They are collections of hymns, prayers in verse, addressed to the gods themselves, and what they relate is told more by reference and{218} implication than directly. But even with this difference, we have no difficulty in signalizing some of the adventures of Indra as almost identical with those of the son of Lêtô. Let one suffice. The pastoral life of the Aryans is reflected in their mythology, and thus it is that in the Vedas almost all the varied phenomena of nature are in their turn compared to cattle. Indra is often spoken of as a bull; still more commonly are the clouds the cows of Indra, and their milk the rain. More than one of the songs of the Rig-Veda allude to a time when the wicked Panis (beings of fog or mist[71]) stole the cows from the fields of Indra and hid them away in a cave. They obscured their footprints by tying up their feet or by making them drag brushwood behind them. Then Indra sent his dog Sarama (the dawn or breath of dawn), and she found out where the cattle were hidden. But (according to one story) the Panis overcame her honesty and gave her a cup of milk to drink, so that she came back to Indra and denied having seen the cows. But Indra discovered the deception, and came with his strong spear and conquered the Panis, and recovered what had been stolen.

Now turn to the Greek myth. The story here is cast in a different key.

‘Te boves olim nisi reddidisses
Per dolum amotas, puerum minaci
Voce dum terret, viduus pharetra
Risit Apollo.’

Hermes (Mercury) is here the thief. He steals the cattle of Apollo feeding upon the Pierian mountain, and conceals his theft much as the Panis had done. Apollo discovers what has been done, and complains to Zeus. But Hermes is a god, and no punishment befalls him like that which was{219} allotted to the Panis; he charms Apollo by the sound of his lyre, and is forgiven, and allowed to retain his booty. Still, all the essentials of the story are here; and the story in either case relates the same nature-myth. The clouds which in the Indian tale are stolen by the damp vapours of morning, are in the Greek legend filched away by the morning breeze; for this is the nature of Hermes. And that some such power as the wind had been known to the Indians as accomplice in the work, is shown by the complicity of Sarama in one version of the tale. For Sarama likewise means the morning breeze; and, in fact, Sarama and Hermes are derived from the same root, and are almost identical in character. Both mean in their general nature the wind; in their special appearances they stand now for the morning, now for the evening breeze, or even for the morning and evening themselves.


The next most important deity as regards the whole Greek race is Heracles (Hercules). It is a great mistake to regard him, as our mythology-books often lead us to do, as a demi-god or hero only. Originally, and among a portion of the Greek race, he was one of the mightiest gods; but at last, perhaps because his adventures became in later tradition rather preposterous and undignified, he sank to be a demi-god, or immortalized man. The story of Heracles’ life and labours is a pure but most elaborate sun-myth. From his birth, where he strangles the serpents in his cradle—the serpents of darkness, like the Pythôn which Apollo slew—through his Herculean labours to his death, we watch the labours of the sun through the mists and clouds of heaven to its ruddy setting; and these stories are so like to others which are told of the Northern Heracles, Thor, that we cannot refuse to believe that they were known in the main in days before{220} there were either Greek-speaking Greeks or Teutons. The closing scene of Heracles’ life speaks the most eloquently of his nature-origin. Returning home in victory—his last victory—to Trachis, Deianira sends to him there the fatal white robe steeped in the blood of Nessus. No sooner has he put it on than his death-agony begins. In the madness of his pain he dashes his companion, Lichas, against the rocks; he tears at the burning robe, and with it brings away the flesh from his limbs. Then, seeing that all is over, he becomes more calm. He gives his last commands to his son, Hyllus, and orders his funeral pile to be prepared upon mount Œta, as the sun, after its last fatal battle with the clouds of sunset, sinks down calmly into the sea. Then as, after it has gone, the sky lights up aglow with colour, so does the funeral pyre of Heracles send out its light over the Ægean, from its western shore.


I believe Ares to have been once likewise a sun-god. The special home of his worship was warlike Macedon and Thrace. There can be no question, however, that in pre-historic times his worship was much more widely extended than we should suppose from reading Homer or the poets subsequent to Homer. Traces of his worship are to be found in the Zeus Areios at Elis, and in the Athenian Areopagus. But his natural home was in the North. He was the national divinity of the Thracians. And I have no doubt, as I have said, that he was once the sun-god of these Northern people, and only in later times became an abstraction, a god of war and valour.


Another deity who was distinctly of Aryan origin was Dêmêtêr (Ceres), a name which is, as we have said, probably, none other than Gêmêtêr, ‘mother earth.’ She is the Greek equivalent of the Prithvi of the Vedas. But whereas Prithvi has sunk into obscurity,{221} Dêmêtêr was associated with some of the most important rites of Greek religion. The association of ideas which, face to face with the masculine godhead, the sun or sky, placed the fruitful all-nourishing earth, is so natural as to find a place in almost every system. We have seen how the two formed a part of the Egyptian and Chaldæan mythologies. And we have seen that each branch of the Aryan folk carried away along with their sky-and sun-worship this earth-worship also. But among none of the different branches was the great nature-myth which always gathers round the earth-goddess, woven into a more pathetic story than by the Greeks. The story is that of the winter death or sleep of earth, or of all that makes earth beautiful and glad. And it was thus the Greeks told that world-old legend. Persephone (Proserpina), or Corê, is the green earth, or the green verdure which may be thought the daughter of earth and sky. She is, indeed, almost the reduplication of Dêmêtêr herself; and in art it is not always easy to distinguish a representation as of one or of the other. At spring-time Persephone, a maiden, with her maidens, is wandering careless in the Nysian plain, plucking the flowers of spring, ‘crocuses and roses and fair violets,’[72] when in a moment all is changed. Hades, regent of Hell, rises in his black-horsed golden chariot; unheeding her cries, he carries her off to share his infernal throne and rule in the kingdoms of the dead. In other words, the awful shadow of death falls across the path of youth and spring, and Hades appears to proclaim the fateful truth that all spring-time, all youth and verdure, are alike with hoary age candidates for service in his Shadowy Kingdom. The sudden contrast between spring flowers and maidenhood and death gives a dramatic intensity to the scene and represents the quiet course of decay in one tremendous{222} moment.[73] To lengthen out the picture and show the slow sorrow of earth robbed of its spring and summer, Dêmêtêr is portrayed wandering from land to land in bootless search of her lost daughter. We know how deep a significance this story had in the religious thought of Greece; how the representation of it composed the chief feature of the Eleusinian mysteries, and how these and other mysteries probably enshrined the intenser, more hidden feelings of religion, and continued to do so when mythology had lost its hold upon the popular mind. It is, indeed, a new-antique story, patent to all and fraught for all with solemnest meaning. So that this myth of the death of Proserpine has lived on in a thousand forms through all the Aryan systems.

Athenê and
other goddesses.

Persephone is one of the most characteristic of the maiden-goddesses of whom we spoke above. The most literal and material interpretation of her myth would show her to be an embodiment of the grain, which sinks into the ground when it is sown and springs up again to live above the earth for half the year. But in a wider sense I have no doubt that Persephone is meant to typify the spring of which the grain might well be a sort of symbol, or to typify vegetation generally. And this is one of the natural characters belonging to the maiden-goddess. She is very frequently a goddess of spring in some aspect or other—of spring as the season of beauty and love. Such is the Freyja of the Norse mythology; such, to some extent, are Aphroditê (Venus) and Artemis (Diana).[74]

There is, however, one divinity among the Greeks who seems to have a somewhat different character, and who{223} is so much more important a maiden-goddess than any of these that she at once springs into our thoughts when we are speaking of divinities of this class. I mean, of course, Athenê (Minerva). But in the first place, the wide worship of Athenê is partly accidental and due to her being the patroness of Athens; in the second place, Athenê has taken so many ethical characteristics, she is so advanced a conception of a divine being, that she is not at all a good representative of a religion in its early state. It would be rather confusing than otherwise to have to trace the character of Athenê step by step out of the natural phenomenon from which she sprang. I will only say here that I believe her to have been originally born from the sea or from a river. She may once have actually been a goddess of water. Afterwards she became, I think, the goddess of the rivers of heaven or the clouds. And as the clouds hold the storm and the lightning, Athenê is sometimes a storm-goddess, sometimes a goddess of the lightning.[75] Or again, she may be the heaven which bears the storm-cloud, the thundering heaven. We remember that Zeus and Athenê each have the privilege of wearing the Ægis—the dreadful fringed Ægis, which is, I think, the lightning-bearing cloud.

Artemis (Diana) is the moon-goddess, at least she is so in her character as sister of Apollo. But there were really many different Artemises in Greece. And very often she is a river-goddess. In the same way, there were many different Aphroditês. The more sensuous the character in which Aphroditê (Venus) appears, the more does she show her Asiatic birth; and this was why the Greeks, when regarding her especially as the goddess of love, called her Cypris, or Cytheræa, after Cyprus and Cythera, which had been in{224} ancient days stations for the Phœnician traders, and where they had first made acquaintance with the Greeks. Aphroditê was the favourite goddess of these mariners, as, indeed, a moon-goddess well might be; and it was they who gave her her most corrupt and licentious aspect. For she has not always this character even among the Phœnicians; but oftentimes appears as a huntress, more like Artemis, or armed as a goddess of battle, like Athenê. Doubtless, however, goddesses closely allied to Aphroditê or Artemis, divinities of productive nature and divinities of the moon, belonged to the other branches of the Indo-European family. The idea of these divinities was a common property; the exact being in whom these ideas found expression varied with each race.



If we travel from India and from Hellas to the cold North, the same characteristic features reappear. In the Teutonic religions, as we know them,[76] Odin has taken the place of the old Aryan sky-god, Dyâus. The last did, indeed, linger on in the Zio or Tyr of these systems; but he had sunk from the position of a chief divinity. The change, however, is not great. The god chosen to fill his place resembles him as nearly as possible in character. Odin, or Wuotan,[77] whose name in its etymological meaning is probably the god who moves violently or rushes along,[78] was originally a god of the wind rather than of the atmosphere of heaven. Yet{225} along with this more confined part of his character, he bears almost all the attributes of the exalted sky-god, the Dyâus or Zeus; only he adds to these some parts peculiar to a god of wind; and we can easily understand how, as these Aryan people journeyed northwards, their wind-god grew in magnitude and power.


It was Odin who lashed into fury their stormy seas, and kept the impatient vikings (fjord-men) forced prisoners in their sheltered bays. He it was who rushed through their mountain forests, making the ancient pine-tops bend to him as he hurried on; and men sitting at home over their winter fires, and listening to his howl, told one another how he was hastening to some distant battle-field, there to direct the issue, and to choose from among the fallen such heroes as were worthy to accompany him to Valhalla, the Hall of Bliss.[79] Long after the worship of Christ had overturned that of the Æsir,[80] this, the most familiar and popular aspect of Odin’s nature, lived on in the thoughts of men. In the Middle Ages the wind reappears in the legend of the Phantom Army, a strange apparition of two hosts of men seen to join battle in midair. The peasant of the Jura or the Alps could tell how, when alone upon the mountain-side, he had beheld the awful vision. Sometimes all the details of the fight were visible, but as though the combatants were riding in the air; sometimes the sounds of battle only came from the empty space above, till at the end a shower of blood gave the fearful witness a proof that he was not the dupe of his imagination only.[81] In other places, especially, for example,{226} in the Harz mountains, the Phantom Army gave place to the Wild Huntsman. This phantom hunt has many different names in the different countries of Europe. With us it is known best under the name of Herne the Hunter or of Arthur’s Chase. In Brittany this last name is also used. In the Harz and in other places in Germany the huntsman was called Hackelbärend or Hackelberg; and the story went how he had been chief huntsman to the Duke of Brunswick, but for impiety or for some dreadful oath, like that which had brought vengeance on the famous Van der Decken, had been condemned to hunt for ever through the clouds—for ever, that is, until the Day of Judgment.[82] All{227} the year through he pursues his way alone, and the peasants hear his holloa, mingled with the baying of his two dogs.[83] But for twelve nights—between Christmas and the Twelfth-night—he hunts on the earth; and if any door is left open during the night, and one of the two hounds runs in, he will bring misfortune upon that house.

Besides this wilder aspect of his character, Odin appears as the heaven-god—all-embracing—the father of gods and men, like Zeus. ‘All-father Odin’ he is called, and his seat was on Air-throne; thither every day he ascended and looked over Glad-home, the home of the gods, and over the homes of men, and far out beyond the great earth-girding sea, to the dim frost-bound giant-land on earth’s border. And whatever he saw of wrong-doing and of wickedness upon the earth, that he set to rights; and he kept watch against the coming of the giants over seas to invade the abode of man and the citadel of the gods. Only these last—the race of giants—he could not utterly subdue and exterminate; for Fate, which was stronger than all, had decreed that they should remain until the end, and only be overthrown at the Twilight of the Gods themselves. But of this myth, which was half-Christian, we have not space to speak at length here.

In this picture of Odin we surely see a fellow-portrait to that of the ‘wide-seeing’ Zeus. ‘The eye of Zeus, which sees all things and knows all,’ says one poet; or again, as{228} another says, ‘Zeus is the earth, Zeus is the sky, Zeus is all, and that which is over all.’

Tyr, Thor,
and Balder.

Behind Odin stands Tyr—of whom we have already spoken—and Thor and Balder, who are, or originally were, two different embodiments of the sun; Thor being also a god of thunder. He is in character very closely allied to Heracles. He is the mighty champion, the strongest and most warlike of all the gods. But he is the friend of man and patron of agriculture,[84] and as such the enemy of the giant-race, which represents not only cold and darkness, but the barren, rugged, uncultivated regions of earth. Like Heracles, Thor is never idle, constantly with some work on hand, ‘faring eastward to fight Trolls (giants),’ as the Eddas often tell us. In one of these expeditions he performs three labours, which may be paralleled from the labours of Heracles. He nearly drains the sea dry by drinking from a horn; this is the sun ‘sucking up the clouds’ from the sea, as people still speak of him as doing. It corresponds to the turning the course of the Alpheus and Peneus, which Heracles performs. Then he tries to lift (as he thinks) a large cat from the ground, but in reality he has been lifting the great mid-earth serpent (notice the fact that we have the sun at war with a serpent once more) which encircles the whole earth, and he has by his strength shaken the very foundations of the world. This is the same as the feat of Heracles in bringing up Cerberus from the underworld. And lastly, he wrestles, as he thinks, with an old woman, and is worsted; but in reality he has been wrestling with Old Age or Death, from whom no one ever came off the victor. So we read in Homer that Heracles once wounded Hades himself, and ‘brought grief into the land{229} of shades,’ and in Euripides’ beautiful play, Alcestis, we see Heracles struggling, but this time victoriously, with Thanatos, Death himself. In these labours the Norse hero, though striving manfully, fails; but the Greek is always victorious. Herein lies a difference belonging to the character of the two creeds.

Balder the Beautiful—the fair, mild Balder—represents the sun more truly than Thor does: the sun in his gentle aspect, as he would naturally appear to a Norseman. His house is Breidablik, ‘Wide-glance,’ that is to say, the bright upper air, the sun’s home. He is like the son of Lêtô seen in his benignant aspect, the best beloved among gods, the brightener of their warlike life, beloved, too, by all things on earth, living and inanimate, and lamented as only the sun could be—the chief nourisher at life’s feast. For, when Balder died, everything in heaven and earth, ‘both all living things and trees and stones and all metals,’ wept to bring him back again, ‘as thou hast no doubt seen these things weep when they are brought from a cold place into a hot one.’ A modern poet has very happily expressed the character of Balder, the sun-god, the great quickener of life upon earth. Balder is supposed to leave heaven to tread the ways of men, and his coming is the signal for the new birth, as of spring-time, in the sleeping world.

‘There is some divine trouble
On earth and in air;
Trees tremble, brooks bubble,
Ants loosen the sod,
Warm footsteps awaken
Whatever is fair,
Sweet dewdrops are shaken
To quicken each clod.
The wild rainbows o’er him
Are melted and fade,
The light runs before him
Through meadow and glade.{230}
Green branches close round him,
Their leaves whisper clear—
He is ours, we have found him,
Bright Baldur is here.’[85]

The earth-mother of the Teutons was Frigg, the wife of Odin; but perhaps when Frigg’s natural character was forgotten, Hertha (Earth) became separated into another personage. ‘Odin and Frigg,’ says the Edda, ‘divide the slain;’ and this means that the sky-god received the breath, the earth-goddess the body. But on the whole Frigg plays an insignificant part in our late form of Teuton mythology. Closely related to her, as Persephone is related to Dêmêtêr, with a name formed out of hers, stands Freyja, the goddess of spring and beauty and love; for the Northern goddess of love might better accord with the innocence of spring than could the Phœnician Aphroditê. Freyja has a brother Freyr, who reduplicates her name and character, for he too is a sun-god or a god of spring.

Very beautiful is the myth which reverses the sad story of Persephone (and of Balder), and tells of the barren earth wooed by the returning spring. Freyr one day mounted the seat of Odin which was called air-throne, and whence a god might look over all the ways of earth. And looking out into giant-land far in the north, he saw a light flash forth as the aurora lights up the wintry sky.[86] And looking again, he saw that a maiden wondrously beautiful had just opened her father’s door, and that this was her beauty which shone out over the snow. Then Freyr left the air-throne and determined to send to the fair one and woo{231} her to be his wife. Her name was Gerda.[87] Freyr sent his messenger Skirnir to carry his suit to Gerda; and Skirnir told her how great Freyr was among the gods, how noble and happy a place was Asgard, the home of the gods. For all Skirnir’s pleading Gerda would give no ear to his suit. But Freyr had given his magic sword (the sun’s rays) to Skirnir; and at last the ambassador, tired of pleading, drew that and threatened to take the life of Gerda unless she granted Freyr his wish. So she consented to meet him nine nights hence in the wood of Barri. The nine nights typify, it is thought, the nine winter months of the Northern year; and the name of the wood, Barri, means ‘the green;’ the beginnings of spring in the wood being happily imaged as the meeting of the fresh and the barren earth.

All the elements of nature were personified by the spirit of Aryan poetry, and it would be a hopeless task—wearisome and useless to the reader—to give a mere category of the nature-gods in each system. Those which had most influence upon their religious thought were they who have been mentioned, the gods of the sky and sun and mother-earth. The other elemental divinities were (as a rule) more strictly bound within the circle of their own dominions. It is curious to trace the difference between these strictly polytheistic deities—coequal in their several spheres—and those others who arose in obedience to a wider ideal of a godhead. We have seen that the Indians had a strictly elemental heaven or sky, as well as their god Dyâus, and that they called him Varuna, a word which corresponds etymologically to the Greek Ouranos, the heaven. In the later Indian mythology Varuna came to{232} stand, not for the sky, but for the wide expanse of ocean, and so corresponds to the Greek Poseidon, the Latin Neptune, and the Norse Œgir. All these were the gods of the sea and of all waters. The wind, as we saw, combined in the person of Odin with the character of a highest god; but in the Greek the part was played by an inferior divinity, Hermes. In India there is a wind-god (called Vaja); but the character is likewise divided among a plurality of minor divinities, the Maruts. Of Agni, the god of fire, corresponding to Hephæstus and Vulcan, we have spoken; and in the North Fire is not a god at all, but an evil being called Loki. This is enough to show that the worship of Agni rose into fervour after the separation of the Aryan folk.

We postpone to the next chapter the mention of the gods of the under-world.


The Zend

The religions of which we have been giving this slight sketch have been what we may call ‘natural’ religions, that is to say, the thoughts about God and the Unseen world which without help of any special vision seem to spring up simultaneously in the minds of the different Aryan peoples. But one among the Aryan religions still in pre-historic times broke off abruptly from its relation with the others, and, under a teacher whom we may fairly call god-taught, in beauty and moral purity passed far beyond the rest.

This was the Zoroastrian, the faith of the Iranian (ancient Persian) branch, or, as it is perhaps better called, the Zend or Mazdean religion; a creed which holds a pre-eminence among all the religions of antiquity, excepting alone that of the Hebrews. And that there is no exaggeration in such a claim is sufficiently witnessed by the inspired writings themselves, in which the Persian kings are frequently spoken of{233} as if they as much as the Hebrews were worshippers of Jehovah. ‘Cyrus the servant of God,’ ‘The Lord said unto my lord (Cyrus),’ are constantly recurring expressions in Isaiah.

In some respects this Zoroastrianism seems to stand in violent opposition to the Aryan religion. Nevertheless, at the back of the religion of the Zend Avesta, which is the sacred book of the Iranian creed, we can (as was before hinted) trace the outline of an earlier natural religion essentially the same—so far as we can judge—with the religion of the Vedas. And upon the whole we should be disposed to say that Zoroastrianism appears to be not much else than a higher development of that earlier system. At any rate, we may feel sure that the older system was before the coming of the ‘gold bright’[88] reformer, essentially a polytheism with only some yearnings towards monotheism, and that Zoroaster settled it upon a firmly monotheistic basis. This very fact leaves us little to say about the Iranian system considered strictly as a religion. For when once nations have risen to the height of a monotheism there can be little essential difference in their beliefs; such difference as there is will be in the conception they have of the character of their gods, whether it be a high, a relatively high, or relatively low one; and this again is more perhaps a question of moral development than of religion. Their one god, since he made all things and rules all things, cannot partake of the exclusive nature of any natural phenomenon; he cannot be a god of wind or water, of{234} sun or sky. The Zoroastrian creed did afterwards introduce (then for the first time in the world’s history) a very important element of belief, namely, of the distinct origin, and almost if not quite equal powers, of the good and evil principles. But this was later than the time of Zarathustra.

The name which Zarathustra taught the people to give to the one god was unconnected with Aryan nature-names, Dyâus, or Varuna, or Indra. He simply called him the ‘Great Spirit,’ or, in the Zend, Ahura-mazda;[89] in later Persian, Hormuzd or Ormuzd. He is the all-perfect, all-wise, all-powerful, all-beautiful. He is the creator of all things. And—still nearer to the Christian belief—before the creation of the world, by means whereof the world itself was made, existed the Word. Some trace of this same doctrine of the pre-existing Word (Hanover, in the Zoroastrian religion) is to be found in the Vedas, where he is called Vach. It would be here impossible to enter into an examination of the question how far these early religions seem to shadow forth the mystical doctrine of the Logos. The evil principle opposed to Ormuzd is Angra-Mainyus (Ahrimanes), but in the true doctrine he is by no means the equal of God, no more so than is Satan. The successive corruption of pure Zoroastrianism after the time of its founder is marked by a constant exaggeration of the power of the evil principle (suggested, perhaps, by intercourse with devil-worshipping nations of a lower type) until Ahrimanes becomes the rival of Ormuzd, coequal and co-eternal with him.

Such is the simple creed of the Persians, accompanied of course by rites and ceremonies, part invented by the reformer, part inherited from the common Aryan parentage.{235} It is well known that the Persians built no temples, but worshipped Ormuzd chiefly upon the mountain-tops; that they paid great respect to all the elements—that is to air, water, and fire, the latter most of all—a belief which they shared with their Indian brethren, but stopped far short of worshipping any. That they held very strongly the separate idea of the soul, so that when once a body had lost its life, they considered it to be a thing wholly corrupt and evil; a doctrine which carried in the germ that of the inherent evil of matter, as the philosophical reader will discern.

It remains to say something of their religious books. The Zend Avesta was supposed to comprise the teaching of Zoroaster, and was believed to have been written by him. Only one complete book has been preserved—it is called the Vendidâd. The Zend language in which the Avesta is written is the oldest known form of Persian, older than that in use at the time of Darius the Great; but this is no proof that it dates back to the days of Zarathustra. Part of it is in prose and part in verse, and as in every literature we find that the fragments of verse are they which survive the longest, it has been conjectured that the songs of the Zend Avesta (Gâthâs they are called) may even have been written by the great reformer himself.{236}



The death
of the

If the sun-god was so natural a type of a man-like divinity, a god suffering some of the pains of humanity, a sort of type of man’s own ideal life here, it was natural that men should question this oracle concerning their future life and their hopes beyond the grave. We have seen that the Egyptians did so; seen how they watched the course of the day-star, and, beholding him sink behind the sandy desert, pictured a home of happiness beyond that waste, a place to be reached by the soul after many trials and long wandering in the dim Amenti-land which lay between. The Aryans dwelt, we believe, upon the slopes of the Hindoo-Koosh or in the level plain beneath; and, if the conjecture be reasonable that a great part of the land now a sandy desert was then filled by an inland sea,[90] many of them must have dwelt upon its borders and seen the sun plunge in its wave each evening. Then or afterwards they saw this, and interpreted what they saw in the very thought of Milton:—

‘Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor.
So sinks the day-star in the ocean-bed,{237}
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky.’

And thus a belief grew up among them that after death their souls would have to cross this ocean to some happy paradise which lay beyond in the ‘home of the sun.’

in the tomb.
The double.

But there is another idea, more simple and material than this, and therefore more natural to human nature in all its phases. This is the notion that the dead man abides in his tomb, that he comes to life in it after a certain fashion, and lives a new life there not greatly different from his life on earth, only calmer and more stately—

‘Calm pleasures there abide, majestic pains.’

First of all, perhaps, the survivors are content to think of the dead man as simply living in his underground house. To prevent him coming out thence, the stone-age men, we noticed, scattered shards, flints, and pebbles, before the mouth of the house. To that tomb they brought their offerings of meat and drink. The notion of the soul is not yet separated from that of the body. But that does not show that all the ideas of those who confounded the two were purely materialistic. In common parlance we often confound spiritual and material things quite as much; and yet in our thoughts we have the power of separating them. We talk of a good-hearted man, and yet we can distinguish between the purely imaginary or spiritual entity here meant by ‘heart,’ and the mere physical organ. I do not say that early man could have distinguished between the idea of the dead body and the surviving soul. Probably he could not. I only say that we are not to judge of his belief merely by his rites and ceremonies.{238}

So far as these ceremonies go, man began, we judge, by thinking first of securing for the dead an everlasting habitation. And so he covered his grave with an immense pile of earth.[91] The pile grew greater and greater, and at last, as we saw, it took the shape of the pyramid. Then came the entrance-chamber or porch to the tomb, in which the survivors offered sacrifices to the dead to keep him alive by the smell of the burnt offering.

The Egyptians had very little power of abstracting the idea of the immaterial soul from the material dead body. At any rate, they did not (for a long time) conceive the soul as a purely immaterial being. They thought of the immortal part of man as a sort of double of the mortal part. This double they called his ka. The ka could not exist without some material form, and therefore they took infinite pains to provide it with a body of some kind. They mummified the dead body so as to make it last as long as possible. But besides that, they made numerous images of the dead; sometimes (if his state could afford it) large statues of wood[92] or stone. And in addition to these they made a vast number of smaller images, generally of pottery—those little mummy figures in blue or green pottery,[93] of which we find such endless quantities buried in the tombs.{239} There was usually a secret chamber or passage practised in the tomb to contain these mummied figures, and it was so arranged that the scent of the sacrifice might come along it.[94]

All these ideas belong, we see, to the most stationary notion of the dead. If they were followed out logically, the soul would be considered as tied for ever to the mummy, which lies below in a dark chamber, or to the little images in their small passage within the wall of the tomb. But the Egyptians did not carry out this idea logically. For we find prayers upon the walls of their earliest tombs, that Osiris should give to the dead, sheep, oxen, and farm-labourers, and ‘sport,’ or corn, and wine, and dancers, and jesters—all the pleasures, in fact, which he had had in life. Therefore the dead must really have been thought to have the power of life and motion as he had enjoyed it upon earth, inconsistent as such an idea is with the constant enchainment of the ka to some material belonging, to the mummy or to the image of pottery.

journey of
the dead.

Wherefore it came about that the Egyptians began to have a sort of notion of two souls—one the half-material ka, which remained in the tomb; the other of an immaterial nature, which moved about.

But this notion of two souls arose because the Egyptians were more precise and logical than most peoples have been in their speculations as to the future state. Among other races we see a constant confusion between the idea of resting in the tomb, and the idea of journeying to another land generally in the wake of the sun. And the food and drink placed on the tomb, instead of being the{240} simple nourishment of the dead, were designed merely as a temporary provision for him on his way to the land of souls.

The expectation of a journey after death to reach the home of shades is all but universal; and the opinion that the home of the departed lies in the west is of an almost equally wide extension. The Egyptian religion, with its wonderful Book of the Dead, gives as much weight to this side of belief as to the other notion of resting in the tomb. To lengthen out the soul’s journey, which was fancied to last thousands of years, and give incident where all must have been really imaginary, the actual journey of the mummy to its resting-place was lengthened after life to portray the more ghostly wanderings of the spirit. As a rule, the cities of the living in Egypt lay upon the eastern bank of the Nile; the tombs, the cities of the dead, on the left or western bank, generally just within the borders of the desert. Wherefore, as the body was carried across the Nile to be buried in the desert, so the soul was believed to begin his journey in the dim twilight region of Apap, king of the desert, to cross a river more than once, to advance towards the sun, light gradually breaking upon him the while, until at last he enters the ‘Palace of the Two Truths,’ the judgment-hall of Osiris (the sun). Last of all, he walks into the sun itself, or is absorbed into the essence of the deity.

In these two notions we have, I think, the germ of almost all the most ancient belief touching the soul’s future. A confusion between the two notions would imagine the soul making a journey through the earth to an underground land of shades. So far as we know, this was the prevailing feeling among the Hebrews. Old Hebrew writers (with whom the hopes of immortality were not strong) speak{241} of going down into the grave,[95] a place thought of as a misty, dull, unfeeling, almost unreal abode.

Journey to
the sky.

Finally, a third element—if not universal, common certainly to the Aryan races—will be the conception of the soul separating from the body altogether and mounting upwards to some home in the sky. All these elements are found to exist and coexist in early creeds, and the force of the component parts determines the colour of man’s doctrine about the other world.


The other world of the Aryans.

Among all the Aryan peoples the Greeks seem to have turned their thoughts farthest away from the contemplation of the grave; and though the voice of wonder and imagination could not quite be silent upon so important a question, Hades and the kingdom of Hades filled a disproportionately small space in their creed. They shrank from images of Death, and adorned their tombs or cinerary urns with wreaths of flowers and figures of the dancing Hours: it is doubtful if the god Thanatos (Death) has ever been pictured by Greek art.[96] And from what they have left on record concerning Hades and the realms of death, it is evident that they regarded it{242} chiefly from its merely negative side, in that aspect which corresponds most exactly to the notion of a dark subterraneous kingdom, and not to that of a journey to some other distant land. The etymology of their mythical King of Souls corresponds, too, with the same notions. Hades means nothing else than A-eidês, the unseen. And when it was said that the dead had gone to Hades, all that was literally meant was that it had gone to the unseen place. But later on, the place became personified into the grim deity whom we know in Greek mythology, the brother of Zeus and Poseidon, he to whose share fell, in the partition of the world, the land of perpetual night. The underworld pictured by Homer is just of that voiceless, sightless character which accords with the name of Hades. Even the great heroes lose almost their identity, and all the joy and interest they had in life. To ‘wander mid shadows a shadow, and wail by impassable streams,’ is henceforward their occupation.

Not that the Greek had no idea of another world of the more heavenly sort; ideas obtained as a joint inheritance with their brother nations; only their thoughts and their poetry do not often centre round such pictures. Their Elysian fields are a western sun’s home, just after the pattern of the Egyptian; and so are their Islands of the Blest, where, according to one tradition, the just Rhadamanthus had been transported when he fled from the power of his brother Minôs.[97] Only, observe, there is this difference between these Paradises and the Egyptian house of Osiris—the latter was reached across the sandy desert, the former are{243} separated by the ocean from the abode of men. These are the Heavens of the Greek mythology; while the realm of Hades—or later on the realm Hades—might by contrast be called their Hell. Let us look a little nearer at this heaven-picture.

The River of Death.

The Caspian Sea—or by whatever name we call the great mediterranean sea which lay before them—would be naturally, almost inevitably, considered by the Aryans from their home in Bactria to bound the habitable world. The region beyond its borders would be a twilight-land like the land of Apap (the desert-king) of the Egyptians; and still farther away would lie the bright region of the sun’s proper home. And these ideas would be both literal—cosmological conceptions, as we should call them—and figurative, or at least mythical, referring to the future state of the soul. The beautiful expression of the Hebrew for that twilight western region, ‘the valley of the shadow of death,’ might be used for the Apap-land in its figurative significance, and not the less justly because there creeps in here the other notion of death as of a descending to the land of shades, for the two ideas of the western heaven and the subterraneous hell were never utterly separated, but, among the Aryans at any rate, constantly acted and reacted upon one another. So with the Greeks we have as a cosmological conception—or let us say, more simply, a part of their world-theory—the encircling river Oceanus, with the dim Cimmerian land beyond; and we have the Eylsian fields and the islands of the blest for the most happy dead. And then by a natural transfer of ideas the bounding river becomes the river of death—Styx and Lethê—and is placed below the earth in the region of death. Even the Elysian fields at last suffer the same change: they too pass below the earth.{244}

The Indian religion, too, has its river of death. ‘On the fearful road to Yama’s door,’ says a hymn, ‘is the terrible stream Vaitaranî, in order to cross which I sacrifice a black cow.’[98]

This river of death must be somehow crossed. The Greeks, we know, had their grim ferryman.

‘Portitor has horrendus aquas et flumina servat
Terribili squalore Charon: cui plurima mento
Canities inculta jacet; stant lumina flamma,’ etc.

The Indians crossed their river of death by a bridge, which was guarded by two dogs, not less terrible to evildoers than Charon and Cerberus.

‘A narrow path, an ancient one, stretches there, a path untrodden by men, a path I know of.

‘On it the wise, who had known Brahma, ascend to the dwellings of Svarga, when they have received their dismissal.’[99] So sings a poet.

Swarga is the Bright Land (svar, to shine), i.e. the Home of the Sun. The names of the two guardian dogs, too, are interesting. They are the sons of that Saramâ whom we have already seen sent by Indra to recover his lost cattle, whose name signifies the breeze of morning. Saramâ’s two sons, the dogs of Yama, being so closely connected with the god of the under-world—as Saramâ is with Indra the sun-god—might be guessed as the winds of evening or, more vaguely, the evening, as Saramâ is the morning. They are so; and by their name of Sârameyas, are even more closely related to Hermes than Saramâ was.[100] We now know why to Hermes was allotted the office of Psychopomp, or leader of the shades to the realm of Hades—or at least we partly{245} know; for we see that he is the same with the two dogs of Yama in the Indian myth. But they are also connected by name with another much more infernal being, Cerberus. Their individual names were Cerbura[101] the spotted, and Syama the black. Thus the identity of nature is confirmed by the identity of name.

Death and Sleep are twin-brothers, and we need not be surprised to find the Sârameyas, or rather a god Sârameyas, addressed as a sort of god of sleep, a divine hound, the protector of the sleeping household, as we do find in a very beautiful poem of the Rig-Vedas.[102]

‘Destroyer of sickness, guard of the house; oh, thou who takest all shapes, be to us a peace-bringing friend.
Bay at the robber, Sârameyas, bay at the thief; why bayest thou at the singer of Indra? why art thou angry with me? sleep, Sârameyas.
The mother sleeps, the father sleeps, the dog sleeps, the clan-father[103] sleeps, the whole clan sleeps; sleep thou, Sârameyas.
Those who sleep by the cattle, those who sleep by the wain, the women who lie on the couches, the sweet-scented ones, all these we bring to slumber.’

How these verses breathe of the fragrant air of early pastoral life! In their names, again, of ‘black’ and ‘spotted’ it is very probable that the dogs typified two appearances of night—black or starry.

The heavenward journey.

And yet we must remember that Hermes is not a god of night, or sleep, but strictly and properly of the wind, and that his name, as that of Sârameyas, bears this meaning in its construction. The god who bore away the souls to the other world, however connected with the night, ‘the proper time for dying,’ must have been originally the wind. And in this we see{246} an exquisite appropriateness. The soul is, in its original and literal meaning, the breath[104]—‘the spirit does but mean the breath.’ What more natural, therefore, than that the spirit should be carried away by the wind-god? This was peculiarly an Aryan idea. Yet let it not be laid to the Aryans’ charge, as though their theories of the soul and future life were less spiritual than those of other nations: quite the contrary was the case. So far as they abandoned the notion of the existence of the body in another state and transferred the future to the soul, their ideas became higher, and their pictures of the other world more amplified. But how, it may be asked, did the Aryans pass to their more spiritual conception of the soul? The more external causes of this progress it is worth while briefly to trace.

The sun, it has been said, acted powerfully upon men’s minds in pointing the hopes of futurity. And in sketching the sun-myth which lay concealed in the story of the life of Heracles, we noticed one feature which suggests thoughts about a not yet mentioned element in the funeral rites of the Aryans. The fiery setting of the sun would itself suggest a fiery funeral, and pre-eminently so to a race who seem to have been addicted more than any other to this form of interment. Balder, the Northern sun-god, likewise receives such a funeral, and this more even than the death of Heracles exemplifies the double significance of the sun’s westering course. For he sails away upon a burning ship. When, therefore, this fire-burial was thoroughly established in custom as the most heroic sort of end, it is not likely that men would longer rely upon their belief that the body continued in an after-life. The thought of the dead man living in his grave or travelling thence to regions below must, or should, by the consistent be definitely abandoned. In place{247} of it, a theory of the vital faculty residing in the breath, which almost amounts to a soul distinct from the body, is accepted. Or, if the doubting brethren still require some visible representation of this vital power, the smoke[105] of the funeral pyre may typify the ascending soul. Nay, it would appear as though inanimate things likewise had some such essence, which by the fire could be separated from their material form. For what would formerly have been placed with the dead in the grave is now placed upon the pyre. In the funeral of Patroclus (Il. xxiii.) we have a complete picture of these reformed rites, which seems to be applicable to all the Aryan folk; nor surely could we wish for anything more striking and impressive. The fat oxen and sheep are slain before the pyre, and with the fat from their bodies and with honey the corpse is liberally anointed. Then twelve captives are sacrificed to the manes of the hero; they and his twelve favourite dogs are burnt with him upon the pile. We soon see the reason for the anointing of the corpse with fat, and taking so much pains that it should be thoroughly consumed. It was necessary for the peace of the shade that his body should be thoroughly burned; for the funeral ceremony was looked upon as the inevitable portal to Hades; without it the ghost still lingered upon earth unable to cross the Stygian stream. So afterwards, when the pile will not burn, Achilles prays to the North and the West Winds and pours libations to them that they may come and consummate the funeral rite. All night as the flame springs up Achilles stands beside it, calling upon the name of his friend and{248} watering the ground with libations from a golden cup. Toward morning the flame sinks down; and then the two winds, according to the beautiful language of mythology, return homeward across the Thracian sea.

All the Aryan nationalities practised cremation in some form or other, or had practised it; most only gave it up upon the introduction of Christianity. The time is too remote, therefore, to say when this form of interment was in truth a novelty; and the fact that the bronze age in Europe is, as distinguished from that of stone, a corpse-burning age, is one of the reasons which urge us to the conclusion that the bronze-using invaders were of the Aryan family.[106] The Indians, owing to their excessive reverence for Agni the fire-god, adhered to the practice most faithfully; though the very same reason (namely, their regard for the purity of fire) made the reformed Iranian religion utterly repudiate it—a fact which might seem strange did we not know how Zoroastrianism was sometimes governed by a spirit of opposition to the older faith.[107] Among the Norsemen about the time of the introduction of Christianity into{249} Scandinavia, Burn? or Bury? became a test-question, and a constant cause of dispute between the rival creeds.

Other world of the Norsemen.

In the Northern religion, too, therefore, we have the same leading ideas which we have signalized in the Indian or Grecian systems. Especially does that notion of the breath of the body, or the smoke of the funeral pyre representing the soul of the hero and carried upward under care of the wind, come prominently forward. This might be expected because, it will be remembered, the wind in the Northern mythology is not, as with the Indians, a servant of Yama only, or as with the Greeks a lesser divinity, but is the first of all the gods. To Odin is assigned the task of collecting the souls of heroes who had fallen in battle; and there are few myths more poetical than that which pictures him riding to battle-fields to execute his mission. He is accompanied by his Valkyriur, ‘the choosers,’ a sort of Amazonian houris, half human, half-godlike, who ride through the air in the form of swans; wherefore they—who are originally, perhaps, the clouds—are often called in the Eddas, Odin’s swan-maidens. It has been said that this myth lived on in after-ages in the form of the Phantom Army and Herne the Hunter: and the essential part of it, the myth of the soul carried away by the wind, lived on more obscurely in a hundred other tales, some of which we may glance at in our next chapter upon Mythology. But while this idea of the mounting soul is often clearly expressed—as, for instance, where in Beowulf,[108] in the last scene, the hero is burnt by the seashore, it is{250} said of him that he wand to wolcum, ‘curled to the clouds,’ imaging well the curling smoke of the pyre—there still lingered on other ideas of the death-home, a subterraneous land (Helheim, Hel’s home) ruled over by the goddess Hel,[109] and an infernal Styx-like stream, with the bridge of Indian mythology transferred to the lower world. And so much were the three distinct ideas interwoven, that in the myth of Balder each one may be traced. For here the sun-god, who is the very origin and prototype of the two more exalted elements of the creed of the heavenward journey,[110] has himself to stoop downward to the gates of Hel. If this legend sanctified for the heathens the practice of fire-burial, they had certainly so much excuse for their obstinate adherence to the older custom, as one of the most beautiful myths ever told might plead for them. We may look upon the story of the death and burning of Balder in two aspects—first as an image of the setting sun, next as an expression of men’s thoughts concerning death, and the course of the soul to its future home. If in this latter respect the story seems to mix up two different myths concerning the other world, we need not be surprised at that.

Balder dies, as the sun dies each day, and as the summer dies into winter. He falls, struck by a dart from the hand of his blind brother Hödr (the darkness), and the shadow of death appears for the first time in the homes of Asgard. At first the gods knew not what to make of it, ‘they were struck dumb with horror,’ says the Edda;[111] but seeing that{251} he is really dead, they prepare his funeral pyre. They took his ship Hringhorni (Ringhorn, the disk of the sun), and on it set a pile of wood, with Balder’s horse and his armour, and all that he valued most, to which each god added some worthy gift. And when Nanna, the wife of Balder, saw the preparations, her heart broke with grief, and she too was laid upon the pile. Then they set fire to the ship, which sailed out burning into the sea.

But Balder himself had to go to Helheim, the dark abode beneath the earth, where reigns Hel,[112] the goddess of the dead. Then Odin sends his messenger, Hermödr, to the goddess, to pray her to let Balder return once more to earth. For nine days and nine nights Hermödr rode through dark glens, so dark that he could not discern anything until he came to the river Gjöll (‘the sounding’—notice that here the Greek Cocytus reappears), over which he rode by Gjöll’s bridge, which was pleasant with bright gold. A maiden sat there keeping the bridge; she inquired of him his name and lineage—for, said she, ‘Yestereve five bands of dead men rid over the bridge, yet they did not shake it so much as thou hast done. But thou hast not death’s hue upon thee; why, then, ridest thou here on the way to Hel?’

‘I ride to Hel,’ answered Hermödr, ‘to seek Balder. Hast thou perchance seen him pass this way?’

‘Balder,’ answered she, ‘hath ridden over Gjöll’s bridge. But yonder, northward, lies the road to Hel.’

Hermödr then rode into the palace, where he found his brother Balder filling the highest place in the hall, and in{252} his company he passed the night. The next morning he besought Hel, that she would let Balder ride home with him, assuring her how great the grief was among the gods.

Hel answered, ‘It shall now be proved whether Balder be so much loved as thou sayest. If, therefore, all things both living and lifeless weep for him, then shall he return. But if one thing speak against him or refuse to weep, he shall be kept in Helheim.’

And when Hermödr had delivered this answer, the gods sent off messengers throughout the whole world, to tell everything to weep, in order that Balder might be delivered out of Helheim. All things freely complied with this request, both man and every other living thing, and earths, and stones, and trees, and metals, just as thou hast no doubt seen these things weep when they are brought from a cold place into a hot one. As the messengers were returning, and deemed that their mission had been successful, they found an old hag, named Thokk,[113] sitting in a cavern, and her they begged to weep Balder out of Helheim. But she said:—

‘Thokk will wailNought quick or dead
  With dry eyesFor carl’s son care I.
  Balder’s bale-fire.    Let Hel hold her own.’

So Balder remained in Helheim.

Such was the sad conclusion of the myth of which the memory is kept up even in these days. For in Norway and Sweden—nay, in some parts of Scotland, the bale-fires celebrating the bale or death of the sun-god are lighted on{253} the day when the sun passes the highest point in the ecliptic. Balder will not, said tradition, remain for ever in Helheim. A day will come, the twilight of the gods, when the gods themselves will be destroyed in a final victorious contest with the evil powers. And then, when a new earth has arisen from the deluge which destroys the old, Balder, the god of Peace, will come from Death’s home to rule over this regenerate world. A sublime myth—if indeed it can be called a myth.{254}



Diversity of myths.

If we found it difficult to reduce to a consistent simplicity the religious ideas of the Aryan races, what hope have we to find any thread through the labyrinth of their unbridled imagination in dealing with more fanciful subjects? The world is all before them where to choose; nature, in her multitudinous works and ever-changing shows, is at hand to give breath to the faculty of myth-making, and lay the foundation of all the stories which have ever been told. The two elements concurrent to the manufacture of mythologies are the varying phenomena in nature, and that which is called the anthropomorphic (personifying) faculty in man. I do not mean by this that all myths represent natural appearances. Some simply relate events, real human experiences; all that is mythic about such stories is that they are misplaced. Some one has gone through the adventures, but not the person of whom they are told. Other tales transfer in a like fashion human experiences to beings who are not human, to animals, to trees and streams, maybe even to implements, to spades and ploughs, to hatchets, swords, or ships. All these may be subject of mere tale-telling.{255} But what I understand by mythology are the stories related of the gods—at all events, stories of supernatural beings who are almost gods. And among the Aryan folk, as the gods are in almost every instance the personifications of phenomena or powers of nature, the myths of widest extension were necessarily occupied with these.

Religion being the greatest concern of man, the myths which allied themselves most closely to his religious ideas would be those which maintained the longest life and most universal acceptance. In reviewing some of the Aryan myths—in a hasty and general review as it must needs be—the preceding chapter will serve to guide us to the myths most closely connected with religious notions, which have a chief claim upon our attention. Indeed, reading in a converse manner, it was the fact that so many myths clung around certain natural phenomena which allowed us, with proper reservation, to point these out as the phenomena which held the most intimate place in men’s minds and hearts. With proper reservations, because the highest, most abstracted god does not lend himself as a subject for the myth-making faculty. He stands apart from the polytheistic circle: below him stand the nature-gods who are also the heroes of the mythologies.

And now, with a backward glance to what has been already written, we may expect the chief myth systems to divide themselves into certain classes corresponding with the god—or natural phenomenon—that is their concern. We may expect to find myths relating especially to the labours of the sun, like those of Heracles and Thorr, or to the wind, like that of Hermes stealing the cattle of Apollo, or to the earth sleeping in the embrace of winter, or sorrowing for the loss of her greenery, or joying again in her recovered life. And again we may look to find myths more{256} intimately concerned with death, and with the looked-for future of the soul. These will mingle like mingling streams, but we shall often be able to trace their origin.

But, to begin with, do not suppose that, if I say that a natural phenomenon has given rise to a story, I mean to say that the story could not have arisen except through this natural phenomenon. Or, to put it in plainer language, do not suppose that if I say that this or that adventure is related of the sun or of the wind, I mean that the adventure was never heard of before the sun or wind was worshipped as a god or idealized as a hero. If Indra, or Apollo, is called the serpent-slayer, I do not mean that it is by the battle of the sun and the clouds that men got the idea of slaying serpents. If the wind is said to ride a-horseback over hill and dale, if the thunder-god is said to hurl his hammer at the mountain-tops, I do not mean that men never thought of horses or battle-hammers till they began to make stories about the wind and sun. What I do mean is that certain special forms of the myths related, as we now see them, were told of the Aryan god who was some phenomenon of nature—the sun or whatever he might be. It is necessary to give this word of caution, because the relationship of mythology to religion has sometimes, by recent writings upon the subject, been a good deal confused and obscured.

The diversity of the natural phenomena which give them rise will not in any way hinder the myths from reproducing the human elements which have, since the world began held their pre-eminence in romance and history. There will be love-stories, stories of battle and victory, of magic and strange disguises, of suddenly acquired treasure, and, most attractive of all to the popular mind, stories of princes and princesses whose princedom is hidden under a servile{257} station or beggar’s gaberdine, and of heroes who allow their heroism to rust for a while in strange inaction, that

‘Imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at.’

Not necessarily because such heroes were the sun, but rather that the tales, appealing so intimately to the common sympathies of human nature, attach themselves pre-eminently to the great natural hero, the sun-god.


To begin, then, with the sun-god. His love-stories relate most commonly the pursuit of the dawn, a woman, by the god of day. She flies at the approach of the sun; or, if the two are married in early morning, when the day advances, the dawn dies or the sun leaves her to pursue his allotted journey. We read how Apollo pursued Daphnê, while she still fled from him, and at last, praying to the gods, was changed into a laurel, which ever afterwards remained sacred to the son of Lêtô. There is nothing new in the story; it might be related of any hero. Yet, as we find Greek art so often busy with it, we might guess that it had obtained for some reason a hold more than commonly firm upon the popular imagination. And when we turn from the Greek to the Sanskrit we are able to unravel the myth and show it, so far as the names are concerned, peculiar to the sun-god. Daphnê (it is believed) is the Sanskrit Ahanâ, that is to say, the Dawn.

A tenderer love-story is that which speaks of the sun and the dawn as united at the opening of the day, but of the separation which follows when the sun reveals himself in his true splendour. The parting, however, will not be eternal, for the sun in the evening shall sink into the arms{258} of the west, as in the morning he left those of the east—all the physical appearances at sundown will correspond with those of the dawn—so in poetical language he will be said to return to his love again at the evening of life. In right accord with its natural origin and native attractiveness, we find this story repeated almost identically as regards its chief incidents by all the branches of the Aryan family. For an Indian version of it the reader may consult the story of Urvasi and Pururavas, told by Mr. Max Müller from one of the Vedas.[114] Urvasi is a fairy who falls in love with Pururavas, a mortal, and consents to become his wife, on condition that she should never see him without his royal garment on, ‘for this is the manner of women.’ For a while they lived together happily; but the Gandhavas, the fairy beings to whom Urvasi belonged, were jealous of her love for a mortal, and they laid a plot to separate them. ‘Now, there was a ewe with two lambs tied to the couch of Urvasi and Pururavas, and the fairies stole one of them, so that Urvasi upbraided her husband and said, “They steal my darlings as though I lived in a land where there is no hero, and no man.” And Pururavas said, “How can that be a land without heroes or men where I am?” and naked he sprang up. Then the Gandhavas sent a flash of lightning, and Urvasi saw her husband naked as by daylight. Then she vanished. “I come back,” she said; and went.’

Cupid loves Psyche as Pururavas Urvasi, but here the story is so far changed that the woman breaks the condition laid upon their union. Not this time by accident, but from the evil counselling of her two sisters, Psyche disobeys her husband. They have long been married, but she has never{259} seen his face; and doubts begin to arise lest some horrid monster, and not a god, may be the sharer of her couch. So she takes the lamp, and when she deems her husband is fast locked in sleep, gazes upon the face of the god of love.

‘But as she turned at last
To quench the lamp, there happed a little thing
That quenched her new delight, for flickering,
The treacherous flame cast on his shoulder fair
A burning drop; he woke, and seeing her there,
The meaning of that sad sight knew full well;
Nor was there need the piteous tale to tell.’[115]

Here, it is true, we have wandered away from the adventures of the sun. Cupid or Eros is in no sense a sun-god; nor has Psyche any proved connection with Ushas, the Dawn. Once a sun-myth does not mean always a sun-myth.[116] So much the contrary, that it is part of our business to show how stories, first appropriated to Olympus or Asgard, may descend to take their place among the commonest collection of nursery tales. It is the case with this myth of the Dawn. The reader’s acquaintance with nursery literature has probably already anticipated the kinship to be claimed by one of the most familiar childish legends. But as one more link to rivet the bond of union between Urvasi and Pururavas and Beauty and the Beast,{260} let us look at a story of Swedish origin called Prince Hatt under the Earth.

‘There was once, very very long ago, a king who had three daughters, all exquisitely fair, and much more amiable than other maidens, so that their like was not to be found far or near. But the youngest princess excelled her sisters, not only in beauty, but in goodness of heart and kindness of disposition. She was consequently greatly beloved by all, and the king himself was more fondly attached to her than to either of his other daughters.

‘It happened one autumn that there was a fair in a town not far from the king’s residence, and the king himself resolved on going to it with his attendants. When on the eve of departure, he asked his three daughters what they would like for fairings, it being his constant custom to make them some present on his return home. The two elder princesses began instantly to enumerate precious things of curious kinds; one would have this, the other that; but the youngest daughter asked for nothing. At this the king was surprised, and asked her whether she would not like some ornament or other; but she answered that she had plenty of gold and jewels. When the king, however, would not desist from urging her, she at length said, “There is one thing which I would gladly have, if only I might venture to ask it of my father.” “What may that be?” inquired the king; “say what it is, and if it be in my power you shall have it.” “It is this,” replied the princess, “I have heard talk of the three singing leaves, and them I wish to have before anything else in the world.” The king laughed at her for making so trifling a request, and at length exclaimed, “I cannot say that you are very covetous, and would rather by half that you had asked for some greater gift. You shall, however, have what you desire, though it should cost me{261} half my realm.” He then bade his daughters farewell and rode away.’

Of course he goes to the fair, and on his way home happens to hear the three singing leaves, ‘which moved to and fro, and as they swayed there came forth a sound such as it would be impossible to describe.’ The king was glad to have found what his daughter had wished for, and was about to pluck them, but the instant he stretched forth his hand towards them, they withdrew from his grasp, and a powerful voice was heard from under the earth saying, ‘Touch not my leaves.’ ‘At this the king was somewhat surprised, and asked who it was, and whether he could not purchase the leaves for gold or good words. The voice answered, “I am Prince Hatt under the Earth, and you will not get my leaves either with good or bad as you desire. Nevertheless I will propose to you one condition.” “What condition is that?” asked the king with eagerness. “It is,” answered the voice, “that you promise me the first living thing that you meet when you return to your palace.” ’ As we anticipate, the first thing which he meets is his youngest daughter, who therefore is left with lamentation under the hazel bush: and, as is its wont on such occasions, the ground opens, and she finds herself in a beautiful palace. Here she lives long and happily with Prince Hatt, upon condition that she shall never see him. But at last she is permitted to pay a visit to her father and sisters; and her stepmother succeeds in awakening her curiosity and her fears, lest she should really be married to some horrid monster. The princess thus allows herself to be persuaded to strike a light and gaze on her husband while he is asleep. Of course, just as her eyes have lighted upon a beautiful youth he awakes, and as a consequence of her disobedience—(here the story alters somewhat)—he is struck blind, and{262} the two are obliged to wander over the earth, and endure all manner of misfortunes before Prince Hatt’s sight is at last restored.

The sun is so apt to take the place of an almost super-human hero, that most of the stories of such when they are purely mythical relate some part of the sun’s daily course and labours. Thus in the Greek, Perseus, Theseus, Jason, are in the main sun-heroes, though they mingle with their histories tales of real human adventure. One of the most easily traceable sun-stories is that of Perseus and the Gorgon. The later representations of Medusa in Greek art give her a beautiful dead face shrouded by luxurious snaky tresses; but the earlier art presents us with a round face, distorted by a hideous grin from ear to ear, broad cheeks, low forehead, over which curl a few flattened locks. We at once see the likeness of this face to the full moon; a likeness which, without regard to mythology, forces itself upon us; and then the true story of Perseus flashes upon us as the extinction of the moon by the sun’s light. This is the baneful Gorgon’s head, the full moon, which so many nations superstitiously believed could exert a fatal power over the sleeper; and when slain by the son of Danaê, it is the pale ghostlike disc which we see by day. It is very interesting to see how the Greeks made a myth of the moon in its—one may say—literal unidealized aspect, in addition to the countless more poetical myths which spoke of the moon as a beautiful goddess, queen of the night, the virgin huntress surrounded by her pack of dogs—the stars. In the instance of Medusa these two aspects of one natural appearance are brought into close relationship, for Athênê—who is sometimes a moon-goddess—wears the Gorgon’s head upon her shield.

As we have passed on to speak of the moon, we may as{263}


well notice some of the other moon-myths: though in the case of these, as of the myths of the sun, our only object must be to show the characteristic forms which this order of tales assumes, so that the way may be partly cleared for their detection; nothing like a complete list of the infinitely varied shapes which the same nature-story can assume being possible. One of the most beautiful of moon-myths is surely the tale of Artemis (Diana) and Endymion. This last, the beautiful shepherd of Latmos,[117] by his name ‘He who enters,’ is in origin the sun just entering the cave of night.[118] The moon looking upon the setting sun is a signal for his long sleep, which in the myth becomes the sleep of death. The same myth reappears in the well-known German legend of Tannhäuser. He enters a mountain, the Venusberg, or Mount of Venus, and is not sent to sleep, but laid under an enchantment by the goddess within. In other versions of the legend the mountain is called not Venusberg but Horelberg, and from this name we trace the natural origin of the myth. For there was an old moon-goddess of the Teutons called Horel or Hursel. She therefore is the enchantress in this case; and the Christian knight falls a victim to the old German moon-goddess. It has been supposed that the story of the massacre of St. Ursula and her eleven thousand virgins—whose bones they show to this day at Cologne—arose out of the same nature-myth; and that this St. Ursula is also none other than Hursel, followed by her myriad troop of stars.[119]


The northern religion, or say the old German creed its{264}

Northern sun-myths, etc.

first cousin, has been fruitful in myths which were repeated all through the Middle Ages and out of which the greater part of our popular tales have sprung. Thor, originally the sun and now the god of thunder, the champion of men, and the enemy of the Jötuns (giants), becomes in later days Jack the Giant Killer; Odin, by a like descent, the Wandering Jew, or the Pied Piper of Hamelin. And thus through a hundred popular legends we can detect the natural appearance out of which they originally sprang. Let us look at them first in their old heathen forms. Thor, the hero and sun-god, the northern Heracles, distinguishes himself as the implacable enemy of the rime-giants and frost-giants, the powers of cold and darkness; and to carry on his hostilities, he makes constant expeditions, ‘farings’ into giant-land, or Jötunheim, as it is called; and these expeditions generally end in the thorough discomfiture of the strong but rude and foolish personifications of barren nature.

One of these, the adventure to the house of Thrym,[120] is to recover Thor’s hammer, which has been stolen by the giant and hidden many miles beneath the earth. A spy is sent from Asgard (the city of the gods) into Jötunheim, and brings back word that Thrym will not give up his prize unless Freyja—goddess of Spring and Beauty—be given to him as his bride; and at first Thor proposes this alternative to Freyja herself, little, as may be guessed, to her satisfaction.{265}

‘Wroth was Freyja and with fury fumed,
All the Æsir’s hall under her trembled;
Broken flew the famed Brisinga necklace.’[121]

But the wily Loki settles the difficulty. Thor shall to Jötunheim clad in Freyja’s weeds,

‘Let by his side, keys jingle, and a neat coif set on his head.’

So taking Loki with him clad as a serving-maid, the god fares to Thrym’s house, as though he were the looked-for bride. It must, one would suppose, have been an anxious time for Thor and Loki, while unarmed they sate in the hall of the giant; for the hero could not avoid raising some suspicions by his unwomanly appearance and demeanour. He alone devoured, we are told, an ox, eight salmon, ‘and all the sweetmeats women should have,’ and he drank eight ‘scalds’ of mead. Thrym naturally exclaimed that he never saw brides eat so greedily or drink so much mead. But the ‘all-crafty’ Loki sitting by, explained how this was owing to the hurry Freyja was in to behold her bridegroom, which left her no time to eat for the eight nights during which she had been journeying there. And so again when Thrym says—

‘Why are so piercing Freyja’s glances?
Methinks that fire burns from her eyes,’

Loki explains that for the same reason she had not slept upon her journey; and the foolish, vain giant is gulled once more. At last the coveted prize, the hammer, was brought in to consecrate the marriage, and ‘Thor’s soul laughed in his breast, when the fierce-hearted his hammer knew. He slew Thrym, the Thursar’s (giant’s) lord, and the Jötun’s race crushed he utterly.’

At another time Thor engages Alvîs, ‘of the race of the{266} Thursar,’[122] in conversation upon all manner of topics, concerning the names which different natural objects bear among men, among gods, among giants, and among dwarfs, until he guilefully keeps him above earth till after sunrise, which it is not possible for a dwarf or Jötun to do and live. So Alvîs bursts asunder.[123] This tale shows clearly enough how much Thor’s enemies are allied with darkness.

Thor is not always so successful. In another of his journeys[124] the giants play a series of tricks upon him, quite suitable to the Teutonic conception of the cold north, as a place of magic, glamour, and illusion. One giant induces the thunderer to mistake a mountain for him, and to hurl at it the death-dealing bolt—his hammer Mjölnir. Afterwards he is set to drain a horn which he supposes he can finish at a draught, but finds that after the third pull at it, scarcely more than the rim has been left bare; at the same time Loki engages in an eating match with one Logi, and is utterly worsted. But in reality Thor’s horn has reached to the sea, and he has been draining at that; while the antagonist of Loki is the devouring fire itself. Next Thor is unable to lift a cat from the ground, for it is in truth the great Midgard serpent which girds the whole earth. Finally he is overcome in a wrestling match with an old hag, whose name is Ella, that is Old Age or Death. Enough has been said in these stories to show how directly the cloak of Thor descends to the heroes of our nursery tales, Jack the Giant Killer and Jack of the Bean-Stalk.

Not unconnected with the sun-god are the mythical{267} heroes of northern poetry, the Perseus or Theseus of Germany and Scandinavia. The famous Sigurd the Volsung, the slayer of Fafnir, or his counterpart Siegfrid of the Nibelung song, or again the hero of our own English poem Beowulf,[125] are especially at war with dragons—which represent the powers of darkness—or with beings of a Jötun-like character. They are all discoverers of treasure; and this so far corresponds with the character of Thor that the thunderbolt is often spoken of as the revealer of the treasures of the earth, and that the sign of it was employed as a charm for that purpose. And when we read the account of these adventures we see how entirely unhuman in character most of them were, and how much the incidents in the drama bear a reminiscence of the natural phenomena from which they sprang.

This is especially the case with Beowulf. The poem is weird and imaginative in the highest degree: the atmosphere into which we are thrown seems to be the misty delusive air of Jötunheim, and the unearthly beings whom Beowulf encounters must have had birth within the shadows of night and in the mystery which attached to the wild unvisited tracts of country. Grendel, a horrid ghoul who feasts on human beings, whom Beowulf wrestles with (as Thor wrestles with Ella) and puts to death, is described as an ‘inhabiter of the moors,’ the ‘fen and fastnesses;’ he comes upon the scene ‘like a cloud from the misty hills, through the wan night a shadow-walker stalking;’ and of him and his mother it is said,{268}

‘They a father know not,
Whether any of them was
Born before
Of the dark ghosts.’

They inhabit, in a secret land, the wolves’ retreat, and in ‘windy ways—

Where the mountain stream
Under the ness’s mist
Downward flows.’

Of the myths which spring from the wind, and which may therefore be reckoned the children of Odin, by far the most interesting are those which attach to him in his part of Psycopomp, or soul-leader, and which form a part, therefore, of an immense series of tales connected with the Teutonic ideas of death as they were detailed in the last chapter. There were many reasons why these occupied a leading place in middle-age legend. The German race is naturally a gloomy or at least a thoughtful one: and upon this natural gloom and thoughtfulness the influence of their new faith acted with redoubled force, awaking men to thoughts not only of a new life but of a new death. Popular religion took as strong a hold of the darker as of the brighter aspects of Catholicism, and was busy grafting the older notions of the soul’s future state upon the fresh stock of revealed religion. Thus many of the popular notions both of heaven and hell may be discovered in the beliefs of heathen Germany. Let us, therefore, abandoning the series of myths which belong properly to the Aryan religious beliefs as given in Chapter IX. (though upon these, so numerous are they, we seem scarcely to have begun), turn to others which illustrate our last chapter. Upon one we have already touched; Odin, as chooser of the dead, hurrying through the air towards a battle-field with{269} his troop of shield-maidens, the Valkyriur;[126] or if we like to present the simpler nature-myth, the wind bearing away the departing breath of dying men, and the clouds which he carries on with him in his course. For there is no doubt that these Valkyriur, these shield-or swan-maidens, who have the power of transforming themselves at pleasure into birds, were originally none other than the clouds; perhaps like the cattle of Indra, they were at first the clouds of sunrise. We meet with such beings elsewhere than in northern mythology. The Urvasi, whose story we have been relating just now, after the separation from her mortal husband changes herself into a bird and is found by Pururavas in this disguise, sitting with her friends the Gandhavas upon the water of a lake. This means the clouds of evening resting upon the wide blue sky. The Valkyriur themselves, when they have been married to men, often leave them, as the Indian fairy left her husband; and lest they should do so it is not safe to restore them the swan’s plumage which they wore as Valkyriur; should they again obtain their old equipment they will be almost sure to don it and desert their home to return to their old life. The Valkyriur, then, are clouds; and in so far as they appear in the legends of other nations they have no intimate connection with Odin. But when they are the clouds of sunset, and when Odin in his character of soul-bearer becomes before all things the wind of the setting sun (that breeze which so often rises just as the sun goes down, and which itself might stand for the escaping soul of the dying day), then the Valkyriur make part of an ancient myth of death. And almost all the stories of swan-maidens, or transformations into swans, which are so familiar to the ears of childhood, are related to Odin’s warrior maidens. If we notice the plot of these stories, we shall see that in them{270} too the transformation usually takes place at sun-setting or sunrising. For instance, in the tale of the six swans in Grimm’s Household Stories,[127] the enchanted brothers of the princess can only reappear in their true shapes just one hour before sunset.

In Christian legends the gods of Asgard, subjected to the changes which inevitably follow a change of belief, became demoniacal powers; and Odin the chief god takes the place of the arch-fiend. For this part he is especially suited by his character of conductor of the souls; if he formerly led them to heaven, he now thrusts them down to hell. But so many elements came together to compose the mediæval idea of the devil that in this character the individuality of Odin is scarcely preserved. At times a wish to revive something of this personal character was felt, especially when the frequent sound of the wind awoke old memories; then Odin re-emerges as some particular fiend or damned human soul. He is the Wandering Jew, a being whose eternal restlessness well keeps up the character of the wind blowing where it listeth: or he is, as we have said, the Wild Huntsman of the Harz, and of many other places.

The name of this last being, Hackelberg, or Hackelbärend (cloak-bearer), sufficiently points him out as Odin, who in the heathen traditions had been wont to wander over the earth clad in a blue cloak,[128] and broad hat, and carrying a staff. Hackelberg, the huntsman to the Duke of Brunswick, had refused even on his death-bed the ministrations of a priest, and swore that the cry of his dogs was{271} pleasanter to him than holy rites, and that he would rather hunt for ever upon earth than go to heaven. ‘Then,’ said the man of God, ‘thou shalt hunt on until the Day of Judgment.’ Another legend relates that Hackelberg was a wicked noble who was wont to hunt on Sundays as on other days, and (here comes in the popular version) to impress the poor peasants to aid him. One day he was joined suddenly by two horsemen. One was mild of aspect, but the other was grim and fierce, and from his horse’s mouth and nostril breathed fire. Hackelberg turned then from his good angel, and went on with his wild chase, and now, in company of the fiend, he hunts and will hunt till the last day. He is called in Germany the hel-jäger, ‘hell-hunter.’ The peasants hear his ‘hoto’ ‘hutu,’ as the storm-wind rushes past their doors, and if they are alone upon the hillside they hide their faces while the hunt goes by. The white owl, Totosel, is a nun who broke her vows, and now mingles her ‘tutu’ (towhoo) with his ‘holoa.’ He hunts, accompanied by two dogs (the two dogs of Yama), in heaven, all the year round, save upon the twelve nights between Christmas and Twelfth-night.[129] If any door is left open upon the night when Hackelberg goes by, one of the dogs will run in and lie down in the ashes of the hearth, nor will any power be able to make him stir. During all the ensuing year there will be trouble in that household, but when the year has gone round and the hunt comes again, the unbidden guest will rise from his couch, and, wildly howling, rush forth to join his master. Strangely distorted, there{272} lurks in this part of the story a ray of the Vedic sleep-god Sârameyas.

‘Destroyer of sickness, guard of the house, oh, thou who takest all shapes, be to us a peace-bringing friend.’

The Valkyriur in their turn are changed by the mediæval spirit into witches. The Witches’ Sabbath, the old beldames on broomsticks riding through the air, to hold their revels on the Brocken, reproduce the swan-maidens hurrying to join the flight of Odin. And, again, changed once more, ‘Old Mother Goose’ is but a more modern form of a middle-age witch, when the thought of witches no longer strikes terror. And while we are upon the subject of witches it may be well to recall how the belief in witches has left its trace in our word ‘nightmare.’ Mara was throughout Europe believed to be the name of a very celebrated witch somewhere in the North, though the exact place of her dwelling was variously stated. It is highly probable that this name Mara was once a byname of the death-goddess Hel, and it may be etymologically connected with the name of the sea (Meer), the sea being, as we have seen, according to one set of beliefs, the home of the soul.

Odin, or a being closely analogous with him, reappears in the familiar tale of the Pied Piper of Hameln, he who, when the whole town of Hameln suffered from a plague of rats and knew not how to get rid of them, appeared suddenly—no one knew from whence—and professed himself able to charm the pest away by means of the secret magic of his pipe. But it is a profanation to tell the enchanted legend otherwise than in the enchanted language of Browning:—

‘Into the street the piper stept,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept
In his quiet pipe the while;
Then like a musical adept
To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled.’


Then the townsfolk, freed from their burden, refused the piper his promised reward, and scornfully chased him from the town. On the 26th of June he was seen again, but this time (Mr. Browning has not incorporated this little fact) fierce of aspect and dressed like a huntsman, yet still blowing upon the magic pipe.

Now it is not the rats who follow, but the children:—

‘All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.’

And so he leads them away to Koppelberg Hill, and

‘Lo, as they reached the mountain side,
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern were suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed.
And when all were in, to the very last,
The door in the mountain side shut fast.’
Myths of death and the other world.

This too is a myth of death. It is astonishing when we come to examine into the origin of popular tales how many we find that had at first a funeral character. This Piper hath indeed a magic music which none can disobey, for it is the whisper of death; he himself is the soul-leading Hermes (the wind, the piper), or at least Odin, in the same office. But the legend is, in part at any rate, Slavonic; for it is a Slavonic notion which likens the soul to a mouse.[130] When we have got this clue, which the modern folk-lore easily gives us, the Odinic character of the Piper becomes very apparent. Nay,{274} in this particular myth we can almost trace a history of the meeting of two peoples, Slavonic and German, and the junction of their legends. Let us suppose there had been some great and long-remembered epidemic which had proved peculiarly fatal to the children[131] of Hameln and the country round about. The Slavonic dwellers there—and in prehistoric times some Slavs were to be found as far west as the Weser—would speak of these deaths mythically as the departure of the mice (i.e. the souls), and perhaps, keeping the tradition, which we know to be universally Aryan, of a water-crossing, might tell of the mice as having gone to the water. Or further, they might feign that these souls were led there by a piping wind-god: he, too, is the common property of the Aryan folk. Then the Germans coming in, and wishing to express the legend in their mythological form, would tell how the same Piper had piped away all the children from the town. So a double story would spring up about the same event. The Weser represents one image of death, and might have served for the children as well as for the mice: to make the legend fuller, however, another image is selected for them, the dark, ‘concealed’ place, namely, Hel, or the cave of Night and Death.

The two images of death which occur in the last story rival each other through the field of middle-age legend and romance. When we hear of a man being borne along in a boat, or lying deep in slumber beneath a mountain, we may let our minds wander back to Balder sailing across the ocean in his burning ship Hringhorni, and to the same Balder{275} in the halls of Hel’s palace. The third image of death is the blazing pyre unaccompanied by any sea-voyage. One or other of these three allegories meets us at every turn. If the hero has been snatched away by fairy power to save him from dying, and the last thing seen of him was in a boat—as Arthur disappears upon the lake Avalon—the myth holds out the hope of his return, and sooner or later the story of this return will break off and become a separate legend. Hence the numerous half-unearthly heroes, such as Lohengrin, who come men know not whence, and are first seen sleeping in a boat upon a river. These are but broken halves of complete myths, which should have told of the former disappearance of the knight by the same route. Both portions really belong to the tale of Lohengrin; he went away first in a ship in search of the holy grail, and in the truest version[132] returns in like manner in a boat drawn by a swan. In some tales he is called the Knight of the Swan. He comes suddenly, in answer to a prayer to Heaven for help, uttered by the distressed Else of Brabant. But he does not return at once again to the Paradise which has sent him to earth. He remains upon earth, and becomes the husband of Else, and a famous warrior; and part of another myth entwines itself with his story. Else must not ask his name; but she disobeys his imperative command, and this fault parts them for ever. Here we have Cupid and Psyche, or Prince Hatt and his wife, over again. The boat appears once more drawn by the same swan; Lohengrin steps into it, and disappears from the haunts of men. We have already seen how, through the Valkyriur, the swan is connected with ideas of death. It remains to notice how they are naturally so connected by{276} the beautiful legend that the swan sings once only in his life, namely, when he is leaving it—that his first song is his own funeral melody. A much older form of the Lohengrin myth is referred to in the opening lines of Beowulf, where an ancestor of that hero is said to have been found, a little child, lying asleep in an open boat which had drifted, no one knows whence, to the shore of Gothland.

Death being thus so universally symbolized by the River of Death, it is easy to see the origin of the myth that ghosts will not cross living water. It meant nothing else than that a ghost cannot return again to life. Even witches cannot do so, as we know in the case of Tam O’Shanter, that when he reached the Brig’ o’ Doon the pursuit was baffled.

Many are the impressive stories connected with the myth of the soul’s transit over water—be it a River or a Sea of Death. In the dark days which followed the overthrow of the Western Empire, when all the civilization of its remoter territories had melted away, there grew up among the fishermen of Northern Gaul a wild belief that the Channel opposite them was the mortal river, and that the shores of this island were the asylum of dark ghosts. The myth went, that in the villages of the Gaulish coast the fishermen were summoned by rotation to perform the dreadful task of ferrying over the departed spirits. At night a knocking was heard on their doors, a signal of their duties, and when they approached the beach they saw boats lying deep in the water as though heavily freighted, but yet to their eyes empty. Each stepping in, took his rudder, and then by an unfelt wind the boat was wafted in one night across a distance which, rowing and sailing, they could ordinarily compass scarcely in eight. Arrived at the opposite shore (our coast), they heard names called over, and voices answering as if by rota, and they felt their boats becoming{277} light. Then when all the ghosts had landed they were wafted back to Gaul.[133]

The belief in the passage by the soul over a ‘Bridge’ which is the bridge over the River of Death is as universal almost as the notion of that River of Death itself. Many creeds see that bridge in the Milky Way. The Vedic hymns do so. They call the Milky Way by many names, of which the most common is the path of Yama, the way to the house of Yama, and Yama is the ruler of the Dead—‘a narrow path,’ as we have already quoted.

‘A narrow path, an ancient one, stretches thither,[134] a path untrodden by men, a path I know of.’

The Persians, too, knew the bridge under the name of Kinvad or Chinvad. And from the Persians the Mohammedans get the same notion, which is embodied in the Koran. There the Bridge of Death is called Es-Sirat. It is finer than a hair and sharper than the edge of a sword, along which, nevertheless, the soul of the good Moslem will be snatched across like lightning or like the wind; but the wicked man or the unbeliever will fall headlong thence into an abyss of fire beneath.

The Norsemen had their Bridge of Souls in the Gjallarbrû, ‘The Resounding Bridge,’ over which Balder had to ride.[135] And when we read the mediæval accounts of journeys to the other world, to Purgatory or Hell, in almost every one we find that the passage over a Bridge—the Brig’ o’ Dread of the ballad—is a part of the journey.

Among the sleepers underground whose legend reproduces{278} the image of death as simply a life within the tomb, the most celebrated are Kaiser Karl in the Unterberg—the under-hill, or hill leading to the under-world; or, as another legend goes, in the Nürnberg, which is really the Niederberg (im niedern Berg), the down-leading hill; and Frederick Red-Beard sleeping in like manner at Kaiserslautern, or under the Rabenspurg (raven’s hill). Deep below the earth the old Kaiser sits, his knights around him, their armour on, the horses harnessed in the stable ready to come forth at Germany’s hour of need. His long red beard has grown through the table on which his head is resting. Once, it is said, a shepherd chanced upon the cave which leads down to the under-ground palace, and awoke the Emperor from his slumber. ‘Are the ravens still flying round the hill?’ asked Frederick. ‘Yes.’ ‘Then must I sleep another hundred years.’

We cannot speak of all the images of Death which reappear in the popular tales. Very many of these are taken from the funeral fire. We constantly meet with stories of maidens who lie (asleep probably) surrounded by a circle of flame, a hedge of fire. Through this the knight or hero must ride to awaken his beloved. When Skirnir went down to woo the maiden Gerda—the winter earth[136]—he found her house all surrounded by such a hedge of fire. But oddly enough, there is another way of representing the funeral fire symbolically as a circle of thorns, because thorns were constantly used to form the funeral pyre of the Northmen. Thence a thorn hedge takes the place of a hedge of flame, and it, or even a single thorn, may become the symbol of the funeral fire, and so of death.

Here are two stories in which we see how one image may pass into the other.{279}

In the tale of Sigurd the Volsung both these symbols are used; when Sigurd first finds Brynhild she has been pricked by Odin with a sleep-thorn, in revenge, because she took part against his favourite Hialmgunnar; for she was a Valkyria. Sigurd awakes her. At another time he rides to her through a circle of fire which she has set round her house, and which no other man dared face. In the myth of Sigurd, twice as it were riding through death to Brynhild, we see first of all a nature-myth precisely of the same kind as the myth of Freyr and Gerda (p. 230),[137] precisely the reverse of the myth of Persephone. Brynhild is the dead earth restored by the kiss of the sun, or of summer. Afterwards the part of Brynhild is taken by the Sleeping Beauty, and Sigurd becomes the prince who breaks through the thorn-hedge. Observe one thing in the last story. The prick from the sleep-thorn becomes a prick from a spinning-wheel, and thus loses all its original meaning, while the circle of fire is transformed into a thorn-hedge—proof sufficient that they were convertible ideas.

Lastly, it remains to say that the stories of glass mountains ascended by knights are probably allegories of death—heaven being spoken of to this day by Russian and German peasants as a glass mountain.{280}



Lateness of the discovery of letters.

Though it is true, as we have said before, that every manufactured article involves a long chapter of unwritten history to account for its present form, and the perfection of the material from which it is wrought, there is no one of them, not the most artistic, that will so well repay an effort to hunt it through its metamorphoses in the ages to its first starting-point, as will the letters that rapidly drop from our pen when we proceed to write its name. Each one of these is a manufactured article at which a long, long series of unknown artists have wrought, expanding, contracting, shaping, pruning, till at length, the result of centuries of effort, our alphabet stands clear—a little army of mute, unpretending signs, that are at once the least considered of our inherited riches—mere jots and tittles—and the spells by which all our great feats of genius are called into being. Does unwritten history or tradition tell us anything of the people to whose invention we owe them? or, on the other hand, can we persuade the little shapes with which we are familiar to so animate themselves, and give such an account of the stages by which they grew into their present likeness, as will help us to understand better than we did before the mental{281} and social conditions of the times of their birth? One question, at least, they answer clearly—we know that while in their earliest forms they must have preceded the birth of History, they were the forerunners and heralds of his appearance, and if we are obliged to relegate their invention to the dark period of unrecorded events, we must place it at least in the last of the twilight hours, the one that preceded daybreak, for they come leading sunlight and certainty behind them. It will be hard if these revealers of other births should prove to be entirely silent about their own. Another point seems to grow clear as we think. As letters are the elements by which records come to us, it is not in records, or at least not in early records, that we must look for a history of their invention. Like all other tools, they will have lent themselves silently to the ends for which they were called into being. For a long, long time, they will have been too busy giving the history of their employers to tell us consciously anything about themselves. We must leave the substance of records, then, and look to their manner and form, if we would unravel the long story of the invention and growth of our alphabet; and as it is easiest to begin with the thing that is nearest to us, let us pause before one of our written words, and ask ourselves exactly what it is to us.

Writing the art of picturing sound.

In discussing the growth of language, we surmised that words were at first descriptive of the things they named, in fact, pictures to the ear. What, then, is a written word? Is it, too, a picture, and what does it picture, to the eye? When we have written the words cat, man, lion, what have we done? We have brought the images of certain things into our minds, and that by a form presented to the eye; but is it the form of the object we immediately think of? No, it is the form{282} of its name; it is, therefore, the picture of a sound. To picture sound is, surely, a very far-fetched notion, one that may have grown out of many previous efforts to convey thought from mind to mind; but certainly not likely to occur first to those who began the attempt to give permanent shape to the thoughts floating within them. So great and difficult a task must have baffled the powers of many enterprisers, and been approached in many ways before the first steps towards accomplishing it were securely taken. We shall find that the history of our alphabet is a record of slow stages of growth, through which the idea of sound-writing has been evolved; the first attempts to record events were made in a different direction. Since, as we have agreed, we are not likely to find a record of how events were first recorded, and as the earliest attempts are likely to have been imperfect and little durable, we must be content to form our notions of the earliest stage in our grand invention, by observing the methods used by savages now to aid their memories; and if we wish to determine the period in the history of the human race when such efforts are likely to have been first made, we must recall what we have already learned of the history of primitive man, and settle at what stage of his development the need for artificial aids to memory would first press upon him.

Stories and poetry are not likely to have been the first things written down. While communities were small and young, there was no need to write painfully what it was so delightful to repeat from mouth to mouth, and so easy for memories to retain; and when the stock of tradition and the treasure of song grew so large in any tribe as to exceed the capacity of ordinary memories (stronger, in some respects, before the invention of writing than now), men with unusual gifts would be chosen and set apart for the purpose{283} of remembering and reciting, and of handing down to disciples in the next generation, the precious literature of the tribe. Such an order of ‘remembrancers’ would soon come to be looked upon as sacred, or at least highly honourable, and would have privileges and immunities bestowed on them which would make them jealous of an invention that would lessen the worth of their special gift. The invention of writing, then, is hardly likely to have come from the story-tellers or bards. It was probably to aid the memory in recalling something less attractive and more secret than a story or a song that the first record was made.

So early as the time of the cave-dwellers, there was a beginning of commerce. Traces have been found of workshops belonging to that period, where flint weapons and tools were made in such quantities as evidently to have been designed for purposes of barter, and the presence of amber and shells in places far from the coast, speaks of trading journeys. With bargains and exchange of commodities, aids to memory must surely have come in; and when we think of the men of the Neolithic age as traders, we can hardly be wrong in also believing them to have taken the next step in civilization which trade seems to bring with it—the invention of some system of mnemonics.


No man or woman would be likely to trust their bargaining to another without giving him some little token or pledge by way of safeguard against mistake or forgetfulness. It would be a very trifling, transitory thing at first; something in the nature of a tally, or a succession of knots or woven threads in a garment, allied to the knot which we tie on our handkerchief overnight to make us remember something in the morning. It seems hardly worthy of notice, and yet the invention of that artificial aid to memory is the germ of writing, the{284} little seed from which such great things have come. Unfortunately, our discoveries of stone-age relics have not yet furnished us with any suggestion as to how the men of that epoch arranged and carried out the aids to memory they probably had; but we can trace the process of invention among still extant races.

Some tribes of Red Indians, for example, keep records on cords called wampum, by means of beads and knots. When an embassy is sent from one chieftain to another, the principal speaker carries one of these pieces of wampum, and from it reads off the articles of the proposed treaty, almost as easily as if it were from a note-book.

In the Eastern Archipelago, and in Polynesia proper, cord-records of the same kind were in use forty years ago, and by means of them the tax-gatherers in the island of Hawaii kept clear accounts of all articles collected from the inhabitants of the island. The revenue-book of Hawaii was a rope four hundred fathoms long, divided into portions corresponding to districts in the island, and each portion was under the care of a tax-gatherer, who by means of knots, loops, and tufts of different shapes, colours, and sizes, managed to keep an accurate account of the number of hogs, dogs, pieces of sandal-wood, etc., at which each inhabitant of his district was rated. The Chinese, again, have a legend that in very early times their people used little cords marked by knots of different sizes, instead of writing.

But the people who brought the cord system of mnemonics to the greatest perfection were the Peruvians. They were still following it at the time of their conquest by the Spaniards; but they had elaborated it with such care as to make it available for the preservation of even minute details of the statistics of the country. The ropes on which{285} they kept their records were called quipus, from quipu, a knot. They were often of great length and thickness, and from the main ropes depended smaller ones, distinguished by colours appropriate to subjects of which their knots treated—as, white for silver, yellow for gold, red for soldiers, green for corn, parti-coloured when a subject that required division was treated of. These dependent coloured strings had, again, other little strings hanging from them, and on these exceptions were noted. For instance, on the quipus devoted to population—the coloured strings on which the number of men in each town and village was recorded had depending from them little strings for the widowers, and no doubt the widows and the old maids had their little strings from the coloured cord that denoted women. One knot meant ten; a double knot, one hundred; two singles, side by side, twenty; two doubles, two hundred; and the position of the knots on their string and their form were also of immense importance, each subject having its proper place on the quipus and its proper form of knot. The art of learning to read quipus must have been difficult to acquire; it was practised by special functionaries, called quipucamayocuna, or knot-officers, who, however, seem only to have been able to expound their own records; for when a quipus was sent from a distant province to the capital, its own officer had to travel with it to explain it; a clumsy and cumbrous way of sending a letter, it must be confessed.

Knot-records were almost everywhere superseded by other methods of recording events as civilization advanced; but still they continued to be resorted to under special circumstances, and by people who had not the pens of ready writers. Darius made a quipus when he took a thong, and tying sixty knots on it, gave it to the Ionian{286} chiefs, that they might untie a knot every day, and go back to their own land if he had not returned when all the knots were undone. The Scythians, however, who, about the same time, sent a message to Darius, afford us an example of another way of attaching special meanings to certain objects, and thereby giving a peculiar use as aids to memory,—writing letters with objects instead of pen and ink, in fact. Here, however, symbolism comes in, and makes the mnemonics at once prettier and less trustworthy as capable of more than one interpretation. The Scythian ambassadors presented Darius (as Herodotus tells us) with a mouse, a bird, a frog, and an arrow, and the message with which they had been intrusted was that, unless he could hide in the earth like a mouse, or fly in the air like a bird, or swim in water like a frog, he would never escape the arrows of the Scythians.

Of this last kind of mnemonic was the bow, too heavy for an ordinary man to bend, which the long-lived Ethiopians sent to Cambyses; and the twelve memorial stones which Joshua was directed to place in the river Jordan, in order that the sons might ask the fathers, and the fathers tell the sons what had happened in that place; and, again, such were the yokes and bonds which Jeremiah put round his neck when he testified against the alliance with Egypt before Zedekiah, and the earthen pot that he broke in the presence of the elders of the people. Signs joined with words and actions to convey a fuller or more exact meaning than words alone could convey. Perhaps we ought hardly to call these last examples helps to memory; they partake more of the nature of pictures, and were used to heighten the effect of words. But we may regard them as a connecting link between the merely mechanical tally, wampum and quipus, and the effort to record ideas we must now consider{287}—picturing. It must, however, always be borne in mind that, though we shall speak of these various methods of making records as stages of progress and development, it is not to be supposed that the later ones immediately, or indeed ever wholly, superseded the first any more than the introduction of bronze and iron did away with the use of flint weapons. The one method subsisted side by side with the other, and survived to quite late times, as we see in such usages as the bearing forth of the fiery cross to summon clansmen to the banner of their chieftain, and the casting down of the knight’s glove as a gage of battle, or, to come down to homely modern instances, the tallies and knots on handkerchiefs that unready writers carry to help their memories even now.

Helps to memory of the kinds which we have been speaking of never get beyond being helps. They cannot carry thought from one to another without the intervention of an interpreter, in whose memory they keep fast the words that have to be said; they strengthen tradition, but they cannot change tradition into history, and are always liable to become useless by the death of the man, or order of men, to whom they have been intrusted.


A more independent and lasting method of recording events was sure to be aimed at sooner or later; and we may conjecture that it usually took its rise among a people at the period when their national pride was so developed as to make them anxious that the deeds of some conspicuous hero should be made known, not only to those interested in telling and hearing of them, but to strangers visiting their country, and to remote descendants. Their first effort to record an event, so as to make it widely known, would naturally be to draw a picture of it, such that all seeing the picture would understand it;{288} and accordingly we find that the earliest step beyond artificial helps to memory is the making of rude pictures which aim at showing a deed or event as it occurred without suggesting the words of a narrative; this is called ‘picturing’ as distinguished from picture-writing. That this, too, was a very early art we may guess from the fact that rude pictures of animals have been found among the relics of the earliest stone age. Whether or no we are justified in conjecturing that the pictures actually found are rough memorials of real hunting scenes, at least we learn from them that the thought of depicting objects had come, and the skill to produce a likeness been attained; and the idea of using this power to transmit events lies so near to its possession, that we can hardly believe one to have been long present without the other. To enable ourselves to imagine the sort of picture-records with which the stone-age men may have ornamented some of their knives, spears, and hammers, we must examine the doings of people who have continued in a primitive stage of civilization down to historic times.

Some curious pictures done by North American Indians have been found on rocks and stones, and on the stems of pine-trees in America, which furnish excellent examples of early picturing. Mr. Tylor, in his Early History of Mankind, gives engravings of several of these shadowy records of long-past events. One of these, which was found on the smoothed surface of a pine-tree, consists merely of a rude outline of two canoes, one surmounted by a bear with a peculiar tail and the other by a fish, and beyond these a quantity of shapes meant for a particular kind of fish. The entire picture records the successes of two chieftains named Copper-tail Bear and Cat-fish, in a fishing excursion. Another picture found on the surface of a rock near Lake Superior is more elaborate, and interests us by showing a{289} new element in picturing, through which it was destined to grow into the condition of picture-writing. This more elaborate picture shows an arch with three suns in it—a tortoise, a man about to mount a horse, and several canoes, one surmounted by the image of a bird. All this tells that the chief called King-fisher made an expedition of three days across a lake, and arriving safely on land, mounted his horse. The new element introduced into this picture is symbolism, the same that transformed the homely system of tallies into the Scythian’s graceful living message to Darius. It shows the excess of thought over the power of expression, which will soon necessitate a new form. The tortoise is used as a symbol of dry land. The arch is, of course, the sky, and the three suns in it mean three days. The artist who devised these ways of expressing his thought was on the verge of picture-writing, which is the next stage in the upward progress of the art of recording events, and the stage at which some nations have terminated their efforts.


Picture-writing differs from picturing in that it aims at conveying to the mind, not a representation of an event, but a narrative of the event in words, each word being represented by a picture. The distinction is of immense importance. The step from the former to the latter is one of the greatest which mankind has ever made in the course of its progress in civilization. When the step had been made the road toward the acquisition of a regular alphabet lay comparatively open. It was still beset with difficulties, but none so great as the difficulty of making this particular step. Let us try and fully understand this. We will take a sentence and see how it might be conveyed by the two methods. A man slew a lion with a bow and arrows while{290} the sun went down. Picturing would show the man with a drawn bow in his hand, the lion struck by the arrow, the sun on the horizon. Picture-writing would present a series of little pictures and symbols dealing separately with each word—a man, a symbol for ‘slew,’ say a hand smiting, a lion, a connecting symbol for ‘with,’ and so on. We see at once how much more elaborate and exact the second method is, and that it makes the telling of a continuous story possible. We also discover that these various stages of writing correspond to developments of language, and that as languages grow in capacity to express nobler thoughts, a greater stress will be put upon invention to render the more recondite words by pictures and symbols, till at last language will outgrow all possibility of being so rendered, and another method of showing words to the eye will have to be thought of—for all languages at least that attain their full development. That a great deal may be expressed by pictures and symbols, however, we learn from the picturing and picture-writing of past races that have come down to us, and from the present writing of the Chinese, who with their radical language have preserved the pictorial character that well accords with an early stage of language.

The Red Indians of North America have invented some very ingenious methods of picturing time and numbers. They have names for the thirteen moons or months into which they divide the year—Whirlwind moon, moon when the leaves fall off, moon when the fowls go to the south, etc., and when a hunter setting forth on a long expedition wished to leave a record of the time of his departure for a friend who should follow him on the same track, he carved on the bark of a tree a picture of the name of the moon, accompanied with such an exact representation of{291} the state of the moon in the heavens on the night when he set out, that his friends had no difficulty in reading the date correctly. The Indians of Virginia kept a record of events in the form of a series of wheels of sixty spokes, each wheel representing the life of a man, sixty years being the average life of a man among the Indians. The spokes meant years, and on each one a picture of the principal occurrences of the year was drawn.

A missionary who accompanied Penn to Pennsylvania says that he saw a wheel, on one spoke of which the first arrival of Europeans in America was recorded. The history of this disastrous event for the Indians was given by a picture of a white swan spitting fire from its mouth. The swan, being a water-bird, told that the strangers came over the sea, its white plumage recalled the colour of their faces, and fire issuing from its mouth represented fire-arms, the possession of which had made them conquerors. The North American Indians also use rude little pictures, rough writing we may call it, to help them to remember songs and charms. Each verse of a song is concentrated into a little picture, the sight of which recalls the words to one who has once learned it. A drawing of a little man, with four marks on his legs and two on his breast, recalls the adverse charm, ‘Two days must you fast, my friend, four days must you sit still.’ A picture of a circle with a figure in the middle represents a verse of a love-song, and says to the initiated, ‘Were she on a distant island I could make her swim over.’ This sort of picturing seems to be very near writing, for it serves to recall words—but still only to recall them—it would not suggest the words to those who had never heard the song before; it is only an aid to memory, and its employers have only as yet taken the first step in the great discovery we are speaking of. The Mexicans,{292} though they had attained to much greater skill than this in the drawing and colouring of pictures, had not progressed much further in the invention. Their picture-scrolls do not seem ever to have been more than an elaborate system of mnemonics, which, hardly less than the Peruvian quipus, required a race of interpreters to hand down their meaning from one generation to another. This fact makes us regret somewhat less keenly the decision of the first Spanish archbishop sent to Mexico, who, on being informed of the great store of vellum rolls, and folds on folds of cloth covered with paintings, that had been discovered at Anahuac, the chief seat of Mexican learning, ordered the entire collection to be burnt in a heap—a mountain heap, the chroniclers of the time call it—lest they should contain incantations or instructions for the practice of magical arts. As some excuse for this notion of the archbishop’s, we will mention the subjects treated of in the five books of picture-writing which Montezuma gave to Cortez:—the first book treated of years and seasons; the second of days and festivals; the third of dreams and omens; the fourth of the naming of children; the fifth of ceremonies and prognostications.

The few specimens of Mexican writing which have come down to us, show that, though the Aztecs had not used their picture-signs as skilfully as some other nations have done, they had taken the first step towards phonetic, or sound-writing; a step which, if pursued, would have led them through some such process as we shall afterwards see was followed by the Egyptians and Phœnicians, to the formation of a true alphabet. They had begun to write proper names of chiefs and towns by pictures of things that recalled the sound of their names, instead of by a symbol suggestive of the appearance or quality of the place or chieftain, or of the meaning of the names. It is difficult to{293} explain this without pictures; but as this change of method involves a most important step in the discovery of the art of writing, we had better pause upon it a little, and get it clear to our minds. There was a king whose name occurs in a chronicle now existing, called Itz-co-atle, Knife-snake; his name is generally written by a picture of a snake, with flint knives stuck in it; but in one place it is indicated in a different manner. The first syllable is still pictured by a knife; but for the second, instead of a snake, we find an earthen pot and a sign for water. Now the Mexican name for pot is ‘co-mitle,’ for water ‘atle;’ read literally the name thus pictured would read ‘Itz-comitle-atle,’ but it is clear, since the name intended was ‘Itz-co-atle,’ that the pot is drawn to suggest only the first syllable of its name, co, and by this change it has become no longer a picture, but a phonetic, syllabic sign, the next step but one before a true letter. What great results can be elaborated from this change we shall see when we begin to speak of Egyptian writing.

We must not leave picture-writing till we have said something about the Chinese character, in which we find the highest development of which direct representation of things appears capable. Though we should not think it, while looking at the characters on a Chinese tea-paper or box, every one of those groups of black strokes and dots which seem so shapeless to our eyes is a picture of an object; not a picture of the sound of its name, as our written words are, but a representation real or symbolic of the thing itself. Early specimens of Chinese writing show these groups of strokes in a stage when a greater degree of resemblance to the thing signified is preserved; but the exigencies of quick writing, among a people who write and read a great deal, have gradually reduced the pictures more and more to the{294} condition of arbitrary signs, whose connection with the things signified must be a matter of habit and memory. The task of learning a sign for every word of the language in place of conquering the art of spelling does seem, at first sight, to put Chinese children in a pitiable condition, as compared with ourselves. To lessen our compassion, we may recall that the Chinese language is still in a primitive condition, and therefore comprehends very much fewer distinct sounds than do the languages we know, the same sound being used to express meanings by a difference in intonation. This difference could not easily be given in writing; it is therefore, with the Chinese, almost a necessity to recall to the mind the thing itself instead of its name.


Beside the ordinary pictorial signs which convey a direct and simple idea to the mind, men must in pictorial writing need a great number of signs for ideas which cannot be pictured. All abstract ideas, for instance, come under this head. But even some things which could themselves be drawn are not always so portrayed. When a symbol, and not a direct picture, is used for the thing or idea represented we call the symbol an ideograph. We see, then, that pictorial signs may be used in several different ways, sometimes as real pictures, sometimes as ideographs, which again may be divided into groups as they are used—(1) metaphorically, as a bee for industry; (2) enigmatically, as, among the Egyptians, an ostrich feather is used as a symbol of justice, because all the plumes in the wing of this bird were supposed to be of equal length; (3) by syndoche—putting a part for the whole,—as two eyeballs for eyes; (4) by metonomy—putting cause for effect,—as a tree for shadow; the disk of the sun for a day, etc. This system of writing in pictures and symbols requires so much ingenuity,{295} such hosts of pretty poetic inventions, that perhaps there is less dulness than would at first appear in getting the Chinese alphabet of some six thousand signs or so by heart. We will mention a few Chinese ideographs in illustration. The sign for a man placed over the sign for a mountain peak signifies a hermit; the sign for a mouth and that for a bird placed side by side signify the act of singing; a hand holding a sweeping-brush is a woman; a man seated on the ground, a son (showing the respectful position assigned to children in China); an ear at the opening of a door means curiosity; two eyes squinting towards the nose mean to observe carefully; one eye squinting symbolises the colour white, because so much of the white of the eye is shown when the ball is in that position; a mouth at an open door is a note of interrogation, and also the verb to question.

Determinative signs.

Even Chinese writing, however, has not remained purely ideographic. Some of the signs are used phonetically to picture sound, and this use must necessarily grow now that intercourse with Western nations introduces new names, new inventions, and new ideas, which, somehow or other, must get themselves represented in the Chinese language and writing.

The invention of determinative signs—characters put beside the word to show what class of objects a word belongs to—helps the Chinese to overcome some of the difficulties which their radical language offers to the introduction of sound-writing. For example, the word ‘Pa’ has eight different meanings, and when it is written phonetically, a reader would have to choose between eight objects to which he might apply it, if there were not a determinative sign by its side which gives him a hint how to read it. This is as if when we wrote the word ‘vessel’ we were to add ‘navigation’ when we intended a ship; and ‘household’ when{296} we meant a jug or puncheon. The Chinese determinative signs are not, however, left to each writer’s fancy. Two hundred and fourteen signs (originally themselves pictures, remember) have been chosen out, and are always used in this way. The classes into which objects are divided by these numerous signs are minute, and do not appear to follow any scientific method or arrangement. There is a sign to show that a written word belongs to the class noses, another for rats, another for frogs, another for tortoises. One is inclined to think that the helpful signs must be as hard to remember as the words themselves, and that they can only be another element in the general confusion. Probably their frequent recurrence makes them soon become familiar to Chinese readers, and they act as finger-posts to guide the thoughts into the right direction. Determinative signs have always come in to help in the transitional stage between purely ideographic and purely phonetic writing, and were used by both Egyptians and Assyrians in their elaborate systems as soon as the phonetic principle began to be employed among their ideographs.

It is an interesting fact that the Japanese have dealt with the Chinese system of writing precisely as did the Phœnicians with the Egyptian hieroglyphics. They have chosen forty-seven signs from the many thousands employed by the Chinese, and they use them phonetically only; that is to say, as true sound-carrying letters.{297}



Transition to phonetic writing.

The step from picturing or picture-drawing to writing by pictures is, as we have said, an immense one. But now we have to record one more step, almost as great, which is the transition from the picturing of single things—or, if you wish, single ideas—to the picturing, not of ideas at all, but of sounds merely. This is the step we have now to follow out, to trace the process through which picture-writing passed into sound-writing, and to find out how signs (for we shall see they are the same signs) which were originally meant to recall objects to the eye, have ended in being used to suggest, or, shall we say, picture, sounds to the ear. This is what we mean by phonetic writing. A written word, let us remember, is the picture of a sound, and it is our business to hunt the letters of which it is formed through the changes they must have undergone while they were taking upon themselves the new office of suggesting sound. We said, too, that we must not expect to find any written account of this change, and that it is only by examining the forms of the records of other events that this greatest event of literature can be made out. What we want is to see the pictorial signs, while busy in telling us other{298} history, beginning to perform their new duties side by side with the old, so that we may be sure of their identity; and this opportunity is afforded us by the hieroglyphic writing of the ancient Egyptians, who, being people disposed to cling to everything that had once been done, never altogether left off employing their first methods, even after they had taken another and yet another step towards a more perfect system of writing; but carried on the old ways and the new improvements side by side. The nature of their language, which was in part radical and in part inflexional, was one cause of this intermixture of methods in their writing; it had partly but not entirely outgrown the stage in which picture-signs are most useful. Ideograph is the proper name for a picture-sign, which, as soon as picture-writing supersedes picturing, becomes the sign for a thought quite as often as it is the sign for an object. Very ancient as are the earliest Egyptian records, we have none which belong to the time when the invention of writing was in the stage of picturing; we only conjecture that it passed through this earliest stage by finding examples of picturing mixed with their other kinds of writing. Each chapter of the Ritual, the oldest of Egyptian books, has one or more designs at its head, in which the contents of the chapter are very carefully and ingeniously pictured; and the records of royal triumphs and progresses which are cut out on temple and palace walls in ideographic and phonetic signs, are always prefaced by a large picture which tells the same story in the primitive method of picturing without words.

Egyptian writing.

The next stage of the invention, ideographic writing, the ancient Egyptians carried to great perfection, and reduced to a careful system. The signs for ideas became fixed, and were not chosen according to each writer’s fancy. Every picture had its{299} settled value, and was always used in the same way. A sort of alphabet of ideographs was thus formed. A heart drawn in a certain way always meant ‘love,’ an eye with a tear on the lash meant ‘grief,’ two hands holding a shield and spear meant the verb ‘to fight,’ a tongue meant ‘to speak,’ a footprint ‘to travel,’ a man kneeling on the ground signified ‘a conquered enemy,’ etc. Conjunctions and prepositions had their fixed pictures, as well as verbs and nouns; ‘also’ was pictured by a coil of rope with a second band across it, ‘and’ by a coil of rope with an arm across it, ‘over’ by a circle surmounting a square, ‘at’ by the picture of a hart reposing near the sign for water—a significant picture for such a little word, which recalls to our minds the Psalm, ‘As the hart panteth after the water-brooks,’ and leads us to wonder whether the writer were familiar with the Egyptian hieroglyph.

So much was done in this way, that we almost wonder how the need for another method came to be felt; perhaps a peculiarity of the Egyptian language helped the splendid thought of picturing sound to flash one happy day into the mind of some priest, when he was laboriously cutting his sacred sentence into a temple wall. The language of ancient Egypt, like that of China, had a great many words alike in sound but different in meaning, and it could not fail to happen that some of these words with two meanings would indicate a thing easy to draw, and a thought difficult to symbolize; for example, the ancient Egyptian word neb means a basket and a ruler; and nefer means a lute and goodness. There would come a day when a clever priest, cutting a record on a wall, would bethink him of putting a lute instead of the more elaborate symbol that had hitherto been used for goodness. It was a simple change, and might not have struck any one at the time as involving more{300} than the saving of a little trouble to hieroglyphists, but it was the germ out of which our system of writing sprang. The priest who did that had taken the first step towards picturing sound, and cut a true phonetic sign—the true if remote parent, in fact, of one of the twenty-four letters of our own alphabet.

Let us consider how the thought would probably grow. The writers once started on the road of making signs stand for sounds would observe how much fewer sounds there are than objects and ideas, and that words even when unlike are composed of the same sounds pronounced in different succession. If we were employed in painting up a notice on a wall, and intended to use ideographs instead of letters, and moreover if the words manage, mansion, manly, mantles, came into our sentence, should we not begin each of these words by a figure of a man? and again, if we had to write treacle, treason, treaty, we should begin each with a picture of a tree; we should find it easier to use the same sign often for part of a word, than to invent a fresh symbol for each entire word as we wrote it. For the remaining syllables of the words we had so successfully begun we should have to invent other signs, and we should perhaps soon discover that in each syllable there were in fact several sounds, or movements of lips or tongue, and that the same sounds differently combined came over and over again in all our words. Then we might go on to discover exactly how many movements of the speaking organs occurred in ordinary speech, and the thought of choosing a particular picture to represent each movement might occur; we should then have invented an alphabet in its earliest form. That was the road along which the ancient Egyptians travelled, but they progressed very slowly, and never quite reached its end. They began by having syllabic signs for{301} proper names. Osiri was a name that occurred frequently in their sacred writings, and they happened to have two words in their language which made up its sound—Os a throne, iri an eye. Hence a small picture of a throne came to be the syllabic sign for the sound os, the oval of an eye for the sound iri; in like manner Totro, the name of an early king, was written by a hand Tot and a circle ro, and thus a system of spelling by syllables was established. Later they began to divide syllables into movements of the speaking organs, and to represent these movements by drawing objects whose name began with the movement intended. For example, a picture of a lion (labo) was drawn, not for the whole sound (labo), but for the liquid l; an owl (mulag) stood for the labial m; a water-jug (nem) for n. They had now, in fact, invented letters; but though they had made the great discovery they did not use it in the best way. They could not make up their minds to keep to phonetic writing, and throw away their pictures and ideographs. They continued to mix all these methods together, so that when they painted a lion—it might be a picture and mean lion, it might be a symbolic sign and mean pre-eminence, or it might be a true letter and stand for the liquid l. The Egyptians were obliged to invent a whole army of determinative signs, like those now employed by the Chinese, which they placed before their pictures to show when a group was to be read according to its sound, when it was used symbolically, and when it was a simple representation of the object intended.

We have already pointed out how among the Egyptian monuments, the sculptures on the tombs and temples, and in many of the more important papyri—as, for example, their Book of the Dead itself—we have specimens of all the three methods by which ideas may be conveyed to the{302} eye. We have first the picture of some event—the king, say, offering sacrifice to a god,—then we have each separate word of the sentence first recorded by ideographs, then spelled by ordinary letters.

Another source of difficulty in deciphering the writing of the ancient Egyptians, is that they were not content with a single sign for a single sound; they had a great many different pictures for each letter, and used them in fanciful ways. For example, if l occurred in the name of a king or god, they would use the lion-picture to express it, thinking it appropriate; but if the same sound occurred in the name of a queen, they would use a lotus-lily as more feminine and elegant. They had as many as twenty different pictures which could be used for the first letter of our alphabet a, and thirty for the letter h, one of which closely resembles our capital H in form, being two upright palm-branches held by two arms which make the cross of the H. No letter had fewer than five pictures to express its sound, from which the writer might choose according to his fancy; or perhaps, sometimes, according to the space he had to fill up on the wall, or obelisk, where he was writing, and the effect in form and colour he wished his sentence to produce. Then again, all their letters were not quite true letters (single breathings). The Egyptians never got quite clear about vowels and consonants, and generally spelt words (unless they began with a vowel sound) by consonants only, the consonants carrying a vowel breathing as well as their own sound, and thus being syllabic signs instead of true letters.

Since much of the writing of the ancient Egyptians was used ornamentally as decoration for the walls of their houses and temples, and took with them the place of the tapestry of later times, the space required to carry out their complex{303} system of writing was no objection to it in their eyes; neither did they care much about the difficulty of learning so elaborate an array of signs, as for many centuries the art of reading and writing was almost entirely confined to an order of priests whose occupation and glory it was. When writing became more common, and was used for ordinary as well as sacred purposes, the pictorial element disappeared from some of their styles of writing, and quick ways of making the pictures were invented, which reduced them to as completely arbitrary signs, with no resemblance to the objects intended, as the Chinese signs now are.

Hieratic and Demotic writing.

The ancient Egyptians had two ways of quick writing, the Hieratic (or priestly), which was employed for the sacred writings only, and the Demotic, used by the people, which was employed for law-papers, letters, and all writing that did not touch on religious matter or enter into the province of the priest. Yet, though literature increased and writing was much practised by people engaged in the ordinary business of life (we see pictures on the tombs of the great man’s upper servant seated before his desk and recording with reed-pen and ink-horn the numbers of the flocks and herds belonging to the farm), little was done to simplify the art of writing by the ancient Egyptians. Down to the latest times when Hieroglyphics were cut, and Demotic and Hieratic characters written, the same confusing variety of signs were employed—pictorial, ideographic, symbolic, phonetic—all mixed up together, with nothing to distinguish them but the determinative signs before spoken of, which themselves added a new element to the complexity.

It was left for a less conservative and more enterprising people than the ancient Egyptians to take the last and greatest step in perfecting the invention which the ancient{304}

The Phœnician alphabet.

Egyptians had brought so far on its road, and by throwing away all the first attempts, to allow the serviceable, successful parts of the system to stand out clear. The Phœnicians, to whom tradition points as the introducers of our alphabet into Europe, and who, during early ages, were in very close political and trading connection with the ancient Egyptians, are now believed to be the authors of the improvement by which we benefit. They did not invent the alphabet which the Greeks learned from them; they could have had no reason to invent signs, when they must have been well acquainted with the superabundance that had been in use for centuries before they began to build their cities by the sea-shore. What they probably did was to choose from the Egyptian characters, with which all the traders of the world must have been familiar, just so many phonemes or sound-carrying signs as represented the sounds of which their speech was made up; and rejecting all others, they kept strictly to these chosen ones in all their future writings. This was a great work to have accomplished, and we must not suppose that it was done by one man, or even in one generation; as probably it took a very long time to perfect the separation between vowels and consonants: a distinction which had already been made by the ancient Egyptians, for they had vowel signs, though, as before remarked, they constantly made their consonants carry the vowels, and spelt words with consonants alone. You will remember that consonants are the most important elements of language, and constitute, as we have said before, the bones of words; but also that distinctions of time, person, and case depend in an early stage of language very much on vowels; and you will therefore understand how important to clearness of expression it was to have clearly defined separate signs for the vowels and diphthongs{305} that had, so to speak, all the exactitude of meaning in their keeping. The Phœnicians, of all the people in the early world, were most in need of a clear and precise method of writing: for, being the great traders and settlers of ancient times, one of its principal uses would be to enable them to communicate with friends at a distance by means of writings which should convey the thoughts of the absent ones, or the private instructions of a trader to his partner without need of an interpreter.

The advantages of simplicity and clearness had been less felt by Egyptian priests while inscribing their stately records on walls of temples and palaces, and on the tapering sides of obelisks which were meant to lift sacred words up to the eye of Heaven rather than to expose them to those of men. They believed that a race of priests would continue, as long as the temples and obelisks continued, who could explain the writing to those worthy to enter into its mysteries; and they were not sorry, perhaps, to keep the distinction of understanding the art of letters to their own caste.

It was not till letters were needed by busy people, who had other things to do besides studying, that the necessity for making them easy to learn, and really effective as carriers of thought across distances, was sincerely felt. Two conjectures as to the method pursued by the Phœnicians in choosing their letters and adapting them to their own language have been made by the learned. One is, that while they took the forms of their letters from the Egyptian system of signs, and adopted the principle of making each picture of an object stand for the first sound of its name, as labo for l, they did not give to each letter the value it had in the Egyptian alphabet, but allowed it to mean for them the first sound of its name in their own language. For example, they took the sign for an ox’s head and made it{306} stand for the sound a, not because it was one of the Egyptian signs for ‘a’ but because Aleph was the name for an ox and ‘a’ was its first syllable. This, which seems a natural method enough, is, however, not the method which was followed by the Japanese in choosing their alphabet from signs; and more recent investigations prove such a close resemblance between the earliest forms of Phœnician letters, and early forms of signs for the same sounds in Hieratic character, that a complete descent in sound-bearing power, as well as in form, is now claimed for our letters from those hieroglyphics, which, in our ignorance of the relationship, we used to consider a synonymous term for something unintelligible. The Semitic language spoken by the Phœnicians was richer in sounds than the less developed language spoken by the ancient Egyptians; but as the Egyptians used several signs for each letter, the Phœnicians easily fell into the habit of giving a slightly different value to two forms originally identical, and thus provided for all the more delicate distinctions of their tongue. A close comparison of the forms of the letters of the earliest known Canaanite inscriptions with Hieratic writing of the time of the Old Empire reveals a resemblance so striking between fifteen of the Phœnician letters and Hieratic characters carrying the same sounds, that a conviction of the derivation of one from the other impresses itself on even a careless observer. The correspondence of the other five Canaanite letters with their Hieratic counterparts is less obvious to the uneducated eye, but experts in such investigations see sufficient likeness even there to confirm the theory.

The gradual divergence of the Phœnician characters from their Hieratic parents is easily accounted for by the difference of the material and the instrument employed by the Phœnicians and Egyptians in writing. The Hieratic charracter{307} was painted by Egyptian priests on smooth papyrus leaves with a brush or broad pointed reed pen. The Canaanite inscriptions are graven with a sharp instrument on hard stone, and as a natural consequence the round curves of the Hieratic character become sharp points, and there is a general simplification of form and a throwing aside of useless lines and dots, the last remnants of the picture from which each Hieratic character originally sprang. The names given later to the Phœnician letters, Aleph, an ‘ox;’ Beth, a ‘house;’ Gimel, a ‘camel;’ Daleth, a ‘door;’ are not the names of the objects from which the forms of these letters were originally taken. The Hieratic ‘A’ was taken from the picture of an eagle, which stood for ‘A’ in hieroglyphics; ‘B’ was originally a sort of heron; ‘D,’ a hand with the fingers spread out. New names were given by the Phœnicians to the forms they had borrowed, from fancied resemblances to objects which, in their language, began with the sound intended, when the original Egyptian names had been forgotten. It is hard for us to see a likeness between our letter ‘A’ and an ox’s horns with a yoke across; or between ‘B’ and the ground-plan of a house; ‘G’ and a camel’s head and neck; ‘M’ and water; ‘W’ and a set of teeth; ‘P’ and the back of a head set on the neck; but our letters have gone through a great deal of straightening and putting into order since they came into Europe and were sent out on their further westward travels. The reader who has an opportunity of examining early specimens of letters on Greek coins will find a freedom of treatment which makes them much more suggestive of resemblances, and the earlier Phœnician letters were, no doubt, more pictorial still. The interesting and important thing to be remembered concerning our letters is that each one of them was, without doubt, a picture once, and gets{308} its shape in no other way than by having once stood for an object, whose name in the ancient people’s language began with the sound it conveys to us.

These Phœnician letters, born on the walls of Egyptian tombs older than Abraham, and selected by Phœnician traders who took their boats up to Memphis at or before Joseph’s time, are the parents of all the alphabets now used in the world, with the exception of that one which the Japanese have taken from Chinese picture-writing. The Phœnicians carried their alphabet about with them to all the countries where they planted trading settlements, and it was adopted by Greeks, and by the Latins from the Greeks, and then gradually modified to suit the languages of all the civilized peoples of east and west.[138] The Hebrew square letters are a form of divergence from the original type, and even the Sanskrit character in all its various styles can be traced back to the same source by experts who have studied the transformations through which it has passed in the course of ages. It is, of course, easy to understand that these ubiquitous little shapes which through so many centuries have had the task laid on them of spelling words in so many different languages must have undergone some variations in their values to suit the tongues that interpreted them.

The original family of twenty letters have not always kept together, or avoided the intrusion of new comers. Some of the languages they have had to express, being in an early{309}


stage of development, have not wanted even so many as twenty letters, and have gradually allowed some of them to fall into disuse and be forgotten; an instance of this we find in the alphabet of the northern nations—the Gothic—which consisted only of sixteen runes—called by new names; they have been handed down either directly from the Greek, or from the Greek through the Roman alphabet, and furnished with mystic meanings and with names peculiar to themselves.

Additional letters.

In languages where nicer distinctions of sound were called for than the original twenty Phœnician signs carried, a few fresh letters were added, but in no case has any quite new form been invented. The added letters have always been a modification of one of the older forms—either a letter cut in half, or one modified by an additional stroke or dot. In this way the Romans made G out of C, by adding a stroke to one of its horns. V and U, I and J were originally slightly different ways of writing one letter, which have been taken advantage of to express a new sound when the necessity for a greater number of sound-signs arose; W, as its very name shows, is only a doubled form of V. At first sight it seems a simple thing enough to invent a letter, but let us remember that such a thing as an arbitrarily invented letter does not exist anywhere. To create one out of nothing is a feat of which human ingenuity does not seem capable. Every single letter in use anywhere (we can hardly dwell on this thought too long) has descended in regular steps from the pictured object in whose name the sound it represents originally dwelt. Shape and sound were wedded together in early days by the first beginners of writing, and all the labour bestowed on them since has only been in the way of modification and adaptation to changed circumstances.{310} No wonder that, when people believed a whole alphabet to have been invented straight off, they also thought that it took a god to do it. Thoth, the Great-and-great, with his emblems of justice and his recording pencil; Oannes, the Sea-monster, to whom all the wonders of the under-world lay open; Swift Hermes, with his cap of invisibility and his magic staff; One-eyed Odin, while his dearly purchased draught of wisdom-water was inspiring him still. No one indeed—as we see plainly enough now—but a hero like one of these, was equal to the task of inventing an alphabet.

Cuneiform writing.

Before we have quite done with alphabets, we ought to speak of another system of ancient writing, the cuneiform; which, though it has left no trace of itself on modern alphabets, is the vehicle which preserves some of the most interesting and ancient records in the world. The cuneiform or arrow-shaped character used by the ancient Chaldeans, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians, is supposed to owe its peculiar form to the material on which it was habitually graven by those who employed it. It arose in a country where the temples were built of unburned brick instead of stone, and the wedge-shaped form of the lines composing the letters is precisely what would be most easily produced on wet clay by the insertion and rapid withdrawal of a blunt-pointed stick or reed. Like all other systems, it began in rude pictures, which gradually came to have a phonetic value, in the same manner as did the Egyptian hieroglyphics. The earliest records in this character are graven on the unburned bricks of pyramidal-shaped temples, which a little before the time of Abraham began to be built by a nation composed of mixed Shemite, Cushite, and Scythian (i.e. Turanian) peoples round the shores of the{311} Persian Gulf. The invention of the character is ascribed in the records to the Turanian race, the Accadians, who are always designated by the sign of a wedge, which was equivalent to calling them the writers, or the literary people. The Accadians discovered this writing; but it was taken up and wrought to much greater perfection by their successors, the Shemites. In their hands it became the vehicle in which the history of the two great empires of Babylon and Nineveh, and the achievements of ancient Persian kings, have come down to us. For when Nineveh fell before the Persians, they adopted the cuneiform writing of the Assyrians.

We have all seen and wondered at the minute writing on the Assyrian marbles and tablets in the British Museum, and stood in awe before the human-headed monster gods—

‘Their flanks with dark runes fretted o’er,’

whose fate, in surviving the ruin of so many empires, and being brought from so far to enlighten us on the history of past ages, can never cease to astonish us. When we look at them again, let us spare a thought to the history of the character itself. Its mysteries have cost even greater labour to unravel than hieroglyphics themselves. To the latest times of the use of cuneiform by the Achæmenidæ, pictorial, symbolic, and phonetic groups continued to be mixed together, and a system of determinative signs was employed to show the reader in what sense each word was to be taken. But this system of writing never reached the perfection attained by the Egyptian hieroglyphs. It never advanced to the use of what may be called true letters, never beyond the use of syllabic signs. So that in time it was superseded by alphabets descended from the Egyptian. The symbolism, too, of the cuneiform writing is very{312} complex, and the difficulty of reading the signs used phonetically is greatly increased by the fact of the language from which they acquired their values (a Turanian one) being different from the Semitic tongue, in which the most important records are written.

Of other systems of writing, chiefly pictorial, known in the ancient world, such as the Hittite and the Cypriot—or, again, of the picture-writing of many other savage tribes beside the North American Indians, it is not necessary to speak. For we are not writing a history of alphabets, but of the acquisition of the art of writing by mankind.{313}



Vortices of national life.

At this point, where we are bringing our inquiries to a conclusion, we would fain look a little nearer into the mists which shroud the past, and descry, were it possible, the actual dawn of history for the individual nations; would see, not only how the larger bodies of men have travelled through the prehistoric stages of their journey, but how, having reached its settled home, each people begins to emerge from the obscurity that surrounds its early days. What were the exact means, we ask, whereby a collection of nomadic or half-nomadic tribes separated, reunited, separated again, and developed upon different soils the qualities which distinguish them from all others? What is, in fact, the beginning of real national life?

The worlds which circle round the sun, or rather, the multitudinous systems of orbs which fill space, might pose a like inquiry. There was a time when these which are now distinct worlds were confounded as a continuous nebula, a thin vapour of matter whirling round in one unchanging circle. In time, their motion became less uniform, vortices—as the word is—set in, smaller bodies of vaporous matter which, still obeying the universal movement, set up internal{314} motions among themselves, and cooling, separated into separate orbs. How like is all this process to the history of nations! These, confounded once together in one unstable mass of wandering tribes, have in like manner separated from their nebulous brethren, and, setting up their internal vortices, have coalesced into nations. And yet as a system of planets, albeit with their own distinctive motions, do all revolve in one direction round one central force, so the different families of nations, which we may call the planets of a system, seem in like manner compelled by a power external to themselves in one particular course to play a particular part in the world’s history. The early stone-age Turanians, the Cushite civilizers of Egypt and Chaldæa, the Semitic people, may all be looked upon as different systems of nations, each with its mission to the human race. Thus, too, the Aryan people, after they had once become so separated as to lose all family remembrance, are found working together to accomplish an assigned destiny, migrating in every direction, and carrying with them everywhere the seeds of a higher civilization.

The rays of history are seen gradually spreading from Egypt up through Mesopotamia to the nations of Palestine—not yet the land of the Hebrews—then to Asia Minor, and so to Greece. That is the land-root of civilization. We are speaking rather of succession in time than of actual succession by inheritance. We cannot tell, at any rate, that Chaldæa was in any way indebted to Egypt for its early civilization, or Egypt to Chaldæa. But with the exception of that blank, the rest of the progress of civilization by inheritance does follow pretty clearly. The Assyrian Empire inherited from the old Babylonian Empire. And the nations of Palestine inherited from Egypt and Assyria both. On the borders of Asia Minor were two peoples{315} who commanded—for a time, at any rate—the trade routes from Palestine and Mesopotamia into Asia Minor. These two peoples were the Hittites[139] and the Phœnicians. One commanded the trade route by land, the other commanded it by sea. Of the first we know at present very little—little more than that they had a capital at Karkemish; that they commanded the navigation of the Orontes and the Upper Euphrates; and that they were at one time strong enough to stand at the head of a confederation of peoples who made war upon Egypt when at the summit of her power. There can be little doubt that the Hittites passed on to the peoples of Asia Minor, who were in blood nearly allied to the Greeks, some of the civilization of the Semitic peoples farther south, and that these peoples passed the same on to the Greeks of Asia Minor.

But of course the Phœnicians must still be reckoned as the great transporters of civilization from Egypt and from Asia to the rest of the world. They could hardly be said to possess a country; but they possessed cities of vast importance and no small magnificence along the coast of Palestine—Lamyra, Aradus, Byblos, Sydon, Tyre. From these centres went out that boundless maritime enterprise which made the Phœnicians the trading people of the world. Very early—in pre-historic ages—the Phœnicians had possessed themselves of Cyprus. From that point to the Grecian coast of Asia Minor, or to the coasts and islands on either side of the Ægean, was an easy transition; then on to the Mediterranean, to Sicily and Italy, but more especially to the island of Sardinia; or again to Egypt and the farther coasts of Africa on to Spain, and finally, through the Pillars of Heracles, to the far-off ‘tin islands’ of the west, which were, it is likely enough, the British Isles. This is, in brief, the picture of{316} the doings of the Phœnicians long before the days of history had begun to dawn upon the Aryan nations of the Mediterranean.

If we desire to get any idea of the process by which the separation of the Aryan peoples became completed, we must put quite upon one side the idea of a nation as we see it now. Now, when we speak the word, we think of a political unit subject to one government, stationary, and confined within pretty exact limits of space. But very different were the nations during the process of their formation; there was scarcely any political unity among them, their homes were unfixed, their members constantly shifting and changing combinations, like those heaps of sand we see carried along in a cyclone. Let us, then, forget our political atlases, with their different colours and well-marked boundaries, and think not of the inanimate adjunct of a nation, the soil on which it happens to dwell, but of the nation as the men of whom it is made up. The earliest things we discern are those vortices set up in the midst of a homogeneous people, an attractive power somewhere in the midst of them which draws them into closer fellowship. It acts like the attractive power of a crystal in selecting from any of the surrounding matters the fragments most suited to its proper formation. Thus the earliest traditions of a people are generally the history of some individual tribe from which the whole nation feigns itself descended; either because of its actual pre-eminence from the beginning, the power it had of drawing other tribes to share its fortunes, or because, out of many tribes drawn together by some common interest or sentiment, the bards of later days selected this one tribe from among the others, and adopted its traditions for their own. If we remember this, much that would otherwise appear a hopeless mass of contradiction and ambiguity is capable of receiving a definite meaning.{317}

The Greeks.

The first rays of European history shine upon the island-dotted sea and bounding coasts of the Ægean. Here sprang into life the Greek people, who have left behind so splendid a legacy of art and philosophy. These, as has been already said, made their entry into Europe traversing the southern shores of the Euxine, along which passed, still as one people, the ancestors of the Greeks and the Italians. The former, at all events, seem to have delayed long upon their route, and it was upon these shores, or perhaps rather in the tableland of ancient Phrygia, that first began the separation of two races who reunited to form the Greek nation. Some, the older race, the Pelasgi, made their way to the Hellespont, and by that route into European Greece; the others, the Ionians as they subsequently became, passed onward to the sea-shore of Asia Minor, and, tempted no doubt by the facilities of the voyage, crossed from this mainland to the neighbouring islands, which lie so thickly scattered over the Ægean that the mariner passing from shore to shore of Asiatic and European Greece need never on his voyage lose sight of land. They did not, however, find these islands deserted, or occupied by savages only. The Phœnicians had been there beforehand, as they were beforehand upon almost every coast in Europe, and had made mercantile stations and established small colonies for the purposes of trading with the Pelasgi of Greece. The adventurous Ionians were thus brought early into contact with the advanced civilization of Asia, and from this source gained in all probability a knowledge of navigation, letters, and some of the Semitic mythical legends. Thus while the mainland Greeks had altered little of the primitive culture, the germs of a Hellenic civilization, of a Hellenic life, were being fostered in the islands of the Ægean. We see this reflected in many{318} Greek myths—in the legend, for example, of Minôs and his early Cretan kingdom; in the myth of Aphroditê springing from the sea by Cythera; and in the worship of Phœbus Apollo which sprang up in Delos. Legend spoke of two Minôses—one, the legislator of Crete, representative of all that was most ancient in national policy, and for that reason transferred to be the judge of souls in Hell; the second, he who made war against the Athenians, and compelled them to pay their dreadful yearly tribute of seven youths and seven maidens to be devoured of the Minotaur in the Cretan labyrinth. Until Theseus came. No doubt the two Minôses are but amplifications of one being, who, whether mythical or historical, is an echo in the memory of Greeks of the still older Cretan kingdom. In both tales Minôs has a dreadful aspect; perhaps because this ‘Lord of the Isles’ had been inimical to the early growing communities of the mainland.

The myths of Aphroditê and Apollo have been already commented upon as enfolding within them the history of their origin. Aphroditê is essentially an Asiatic divinity; she springs to life in a Phœnician colony. But Phœbus Apollo is before all things the god of the Ionian Greeks; and as their first national life begins in the islands, his birth too takes place in one of these, the central one of all, Delos. In Homer, Delos, or Ortygia, is feigned to be the central spot of the earth.

Thus the Greeks were from the beginning a commercial people. Before their history began, there is proof that they had established a colony in the Delta of the Nile; and the frequent use of the word Javan[140] in the Bible—which here stands for Ionians—shows how familiar was their name to{319} the dwellers in Asia. Wherever these mariners came in contact with their brethren of the continent, they excited in them the love of adventure, and planted the germs of a new life, so that it was under their paramount influence that these primitive Greeks began to coalesce from mutually hostile tribes into nations. In Northern Greece it was that the gathering together of tribes and cities first began. These confederations were always based primarily upon religious union, the protection of a common deity, a union to protect and support a common shrine. They were called Amphictyonies, confederations of neighbours, a name which lived long in the history of Greece. These amphictyonies seem first to have arisen in the north. Here too the words Hellenic, Hellenes, first spring up as national epithets. Hellas never extended farther north than the north of Thessaly, and was naturally marked off from foreign countries by Olympia and Pierus. But the term spread southwards till it embraced all Greek-speaking lands to the extremity of the peninsula, and over the islands of the Ægean, and the coast of Asia Minor, on to the countless colonies which issued from Greek shores; for Hellas was not a geographical term, it included all the peoples of true Hellenic speech, and distinguished them from the barbaroi, the ‘babblers,’ of other lands.

The two great nations of the Græco-Italic family kept up some knowledge of each other after they had forgotten the days of their common life, and, strange to say, in days before either of the two races had come to regard itself as a distinct people, each was so regarded by the other. The Italians classed the Greeks in the common name of Græci or Graii, and the Greeks bestowed the name of Ὀπικός upon the nation of the Italians. It is curious to reflect upon the different destinies which lay ahead of these two races, who{320} came under such similar conditions into their new homes. Whether it were through some peculiarity in their national character, or a too-rapid civilization, or the two great influences of a changeful character and adventurous life, the Greeks never cemented properly together the units of their race; the Italians, through a much slower process of integration, lived to weld their scattered fragments into the most powerful nation the world has ever seen.

The Romans.

This second half, then, of the Græco-Italic family, crossing the Hellespont like (or with) the first dwellers in Greece proper, proceeded onwards until, skirting the shores of the Adriatic, they found out a second peninsula, whose fertile plains tempted them to dispute the possession of the land with the older inhabitants. Who were these older inhabitants? In part they must have been those lake-dwellers of northern Italy to whom reference was made in our second chapter, and who were evidently closely allied to the stone-age men of Switzerland; but besides these we have almost no trace of the men who were dispossessed by the Italic tribes, and these last, who pushed to the farthest extremity of the peninsula, must have completely absorbed, or completely exterminated, the aborigines. The process by which the Italians spread over the land is altogether hidden from us. Doubtless their several seats were not assigned to the different branches at once, or without bloodshed. Though still no more than separate tribes, we are able to divide the primitive Italians into stocks of which the southern most resembled the ancient type of the Pelasgic family; those in the centre formed the Latin group; while north of these (assuming that they, too, were Aryans) lay the Etruscans, the most civilized of all the three. At this time the tribes seem to have acknowledged no common bond, nothing corresponding to the word Hellenic{321} had sprung up to unite their interests: existence was as yet to the strongest only. And while the land was in this chaotic state, one tribe, or small confederacy of tribes, among the Latin people began to assert its pre-eminence. We see them dimly looming through a cloud of fable, daring, warlike, unscrupulous in their dealings with their neighbours, firm in their allegiance to each other. This tribe gradually increased in strength and proportions till, from being a mere band of robbers defending themselves within their rude fortifications, they grew in the traditions of their descendants, and of the other tribes whom in course of time they either subdued or absorbed, to be regarded as the founders of Rome. They did not accomplish their high destiny without trials and reverses. More powerful neighbouring kingdoms looked on askance during the days of their rise, and found opportunity more than once to overthrow their city and all but subdue their state. Their former brethren, the Celts,[141] who had been beforehand of all the Aryan races in entering Europe, and now formed the most powerful people in this quarter of the globe, several times swept down upon them like a devastating storm. But after each reverse the infant colony arose with renewed Antæan vigour.

Thus in Italy, the development from the tribal to the national state was internal. No precocious maritime race awoke in many different centres the seeds of nationality; rather this nationality was a gradual growth from one root, the slow response to a central attractive force. The energy of Rome did not go out in sea adventure, or in the colonization of distant lands; but it was firmly bent to absorb the different people of her own peninsula, people of like blood with herself, but in every early stage of culture from an{322} almost nomadic condition to one of considerable advancement in the arts of peace.

The Celts.

When from the Greeks and Romans we turn to the Celts and Teutons, we must descend much lower in the records of history before we can get any clear glimpse at these. The Celts, who were probably the first Aryans in Europe, seem gradually to have been forced farther and farther west by the incursions of other peoples. At one time, however, we have evidence that they extended eastward, at least as far as the Rhine, and over all that northern portion of Italy—now Lombardy and part of Sardinia—which to the Romans went by the name of Cisalpine Gaul. The long period of subjection to the Roman rule which Gaul experienced, obliterated in that country all traces of its early Celtic manners, and we are reduced for our information concerning these to the pages of Roman historians, or to the remains of Celtic laws and customs preserved in the western homes of the race. The last have only lately received a proper attention. The most primitive Irish code—the Brehon laws—has been searched for traces of the primitive Celtic life. From both our sources we gather that the Celts were divided into tribes regarded as members of one family. These clans were ruled over by chiefs, whose offices were hereditary, or very early became so. They were thus but slightly advanced out of the most primitive conditions,—they cannot be described as a nation. Had they been so, extensive and warlike as they were, they would have been capable of subduing all the other infant nationalities of Aryan folk. As it was, as mere combinations of tribes under some powerful chieftain (Cæsar describes just such), they gave trouble to the Roman armies even under a Cæsar, and were in early days the most dreadful enemies of the Republic. Under Brennus, they besieged and took Rome,{323} sacked the city, and were only induced to retire on the payment of a heavy ransom. A hundred years later, under another Brennus, they made their way into Thrace, ravaged the whole country, and from Nicomedes, King of Bithynia, obtained a settlement in Asia Minor in the district which from them received the name of Galatia. The occurrence of those two chiefs named Brennus shows us that this could hardly have been a mere personal name. It is undoubtedly the Celtic Brain, a king or chieftain, the same from which we get the mythic Bran,[142] and in all probability the Irish O’Brien. The recognition of the Celtic fighting capacity in the ancient world is illustrated by another circumstance, and this is more especially interesting to us of the modern world, whose army is so largely made up of Celts from Ireland and Scotland (Highlanders). Hierôn I., the powerful tyrant of Syracuse, founded his despotism, as he afterwards confessed, chiefly upon his standing army of thirty thousand Gaulish mercenaries whom he kept always in his pay.

For the rest, we know little of the internal Celtic life and of the extent of its culture. Probably this differed considerably in different parts, in Gaul for instance, and in Ireland. The slight notices of Gaulish religion which Cæsar and Pliny give refer chiefly to its external belongings, to the hereditary sacerdotal class, who seem also to have been the bardic class; of its myths and of their real significance we know little more than what can be gathered by analogy of other nations. We may assert that their nature-worship approached most nearly to the Teutonic form among those of all the Aryan peoples.

Peculiarly interesting to us are such traces as can be{324}

The Teutons.

gleaned of the Teutonic race. The first time we have seen that they show themselves upon the stage of history is possibly in company with the Celts, supposing for a moment that the Cimbri, who in company with the Teutones, the Tigurini, and the Ambrones were defeated by Marius (B.C. 101), were Celts.[143] What branch of the German family (if any) the Teutones were, is quite uncertain. Again, in the pages of Cæsar we meet with several names of tribes evidently of German origin. The Treviri, the Marcomanni (Mark men, men of the march or boundary), Allemanni (all-men, or men of the great or the mixed[144] nation), the Suevi (Suabians), the Cherusci—men of the sword, perhaps the same as Saxons, whose name has the same meaning.

It is not till after the death of Theodosius at the end of the fourth century of our era that the Germans fill a conspicuous place on the historical canvas. By this time they had come to be divided into a number of different nations, similar in most of the elements of their civilization and barbarism, closely allied in languages, but politically unconnected, or even opposed. Most of these Teutonic peoples grew into mighty nations and deeply influenced the future of European history. It is therefore right that we pass them rapidly in review. 1. The Goths had been long settled in the region of the Lower Danube, chiefly in the country called Mœsia, where Ulfilas, a Gothic prince who had been converted to Christianity, returned to preach to his countrymen, became a bishop among them, and by his translation of the Bible into their tongue, the Mœso-Gothic, has left a perpetual memorial of the language. During the reign of{325} Honorius, the son of Theodosius, a portion of this nation, the West-or Visi-goths, quitted their home and undertook under Alaric (All-king) their march into Italy, thrice besieged and finally took Rome. Then turning aside, they founded a powerful kingdom in the south of Gaul and in Spain. A century later the East-Goths (Ostro-Goths), under the great Theodoric (People’s-king) again invaded Italy and founded an Ostrogothic kingdom upon the ruins of the Western Empire. 2, 3, 4, 5. The Suevi, Alani, Burgundians, and Vandals crossed the Rhine in 405, and entered Roman territory, never again to return to whence they came. The Burgundians (City-men) fixed their abode in East-Central Gaul (Burgundy and Switzerland), where their kingdom lasted till it was subdued by the Franks; but the other three passed on into Spain, and the Vandals (Wends[145]) from Spain into Africa, where they founded a kingdom. 6. The Franks (Free-men), having been for nearly a century settled between the Meuse and the Scheldt, began under Clovis (Chlodvig, Hludwig, Lewis) (A.D. 480) their career of victory, from which they did not rest until the whole of Gaul owned the sway of Merovingian kings. 7. The Longobardi (Long-beards, or men of the long borde, long stretch of alluvial land), who after the Ostrogoths had been driven out of Italy by the Emperor of the East, founded in defiance of his power a second Teutonic kingdom in that country—a kingdom which lasted till the days of Charlemagne. 8. And last, but we may safely say not least, the Saxons (Sword-men, from seaxa, a sword), who invaded Britain, and under the name of Angles (Engle) founded the nation to which we belong, the longest-lived of all those which rose upon the ruins of the Roman Empire.{326}

The condition of the German people, even so late as the time when they began their invasion of the Roman territory, was far behind that of the majority of their Aryan fellows. It is likely that they were little more civilized than the Greeks and Romans were, in days when they lived together as one collection of tribes. For the moment when we catch sight of these—the Greeks and Romans—in their new homes, we see them settled agriculturists, with no trace left of their wandering habits. It was not so with the Teutons: they knew agriculture certainly, they had known it before they separated from the other peoples of the European family (for the Greek and Latin words for plough reappear in Teutonic speech[146]); but they had not altogether bid adieu to their migratory life—we see them still flowing in a nebulous condition into the Roman lands. Even the Tartars of our day—the very picture of a nomadic people—practise some form of agriculture. They plant buckwheat, which, growing up in a few months, allows them to reap the fruits of their industry without tying them long to a particular spot. The Teutons were more stationary than the Tartars, but doubtless they too were constantly shifting their homes—choosing fresh homesteads, as Tacitus says they did, wherever any spot, or grove, or stream attracted them. The condition of society called the village community, which has been described in a former chapter, though long abandoned by the cultivated Greeks and Romans, was still suitable to the exigencies of their life; but these exigencies imposed upon it some fresh conditions. Their situation, the situation of those who made their way into the western countries of Europe, was essentially that of conquerors; for they must keep in subjection the original inhabitants, whether Romans or Celts; and so all their social{327} arrangements bent before the primary necessity of maintaining an effective war equipment. Age and wisdom were of less value to the community than youthful vigour. The patriarchal chief, chosen for his reputation for wisdom and swaying by his mature counsels the free assemblies of the states, gives place with them to the leader, famous for his valour and fortunes in the field, by virtue of which he exacts a more implicit obedience than would be accorded in unwarlike times, until by degrees his office becomes hereditary; the partition of the conquered soil among the victors, and the holding of it upon conditions of military service, conditions which led so easily to the assertion of a principle of primogeniture, and thence, by slow but natural stages, to the conditions of tenure known as feudal; these are the marks of the early Teutonic society.

Such germs of literary life as the Teutons possessed were enshrined in ballads, such as all nations possess in some form. The re-echoes of these have come down to us in the earliest known poems by men of Teutonic race, all of which are unfortunately of very recent date. All are distinguished by the principle of versifying which is essentially Teutonic; the trusting of the cadence, not to an exact measurement of syllables or quantities, but to the pauses or beats of the voice in repetition, the effect of these beats being heightened by the use of alliteration. Poems of this true Teutonic character, though many of them in their present shape are late in date, are the well-known old German lay of Hadubrand and Hildebrand, the old Scandinavian poems which we call Eddic poems, our old English poem Beowulf, and the Bard’s Tale and the Fight of Finnesburg, and finally that long German poem called the Nibelungen, or say the poem out of which this long one has been made. These poems repeat old mythic legends, many of which{328} have for centuries been handed down from father to son, and display the mythology and religion of our German ancestors, such as in a former chapter we endeavoured to sketch them out. Slight as they are, they are of inestimable value, in that they help us to read the mind of heathen Germany, and to weigh the significance of the last great revolution in Europe’s history—a revolution wherein we, through our ancestors, have taken and through ourselves are still taking part, and in which we have therefore so close an interest.

But having carried the reader down to this point, our task comes to an end. Even for Europe, the youngest born as it were in the world’s history, when we have passed the epoch of Teutonic invasion, the star of history sera rubens has definitely risen. Nations from this time forward emerge more and more into the light, and little or nothing falls to the part of pre-historic study.{329}





⁂ For the convenience of the reader, authorities are cited whenever it is possible in an English form, and if not in an English, in a French.


Christy and Lartet, Reliquiæ Aquitanicæ.
Davis and Thurnam, Crania Britannica.
Dawkins, Cave Hunting.
Dawkins, Early Man in Britain.
Evans, Stone Implements of Great Britain.
Evans, Bronze Implements of Great Britain.
Geikie, The Great Ice Age.
Greenwell, British Barrows.
Keller, The Lake-Dwellings of Switzerland (trs. Lee).
Lyell, Antiquity of Man.
Lubbock, Pre-historic Times.
Mortillet, Origine de la Navigation et de la Pêche.
Mortillet, Promenades Préhistoriques à l’Exposition.
Mortillet, Le Préhistorique, L’Antiquité de l’homme.
Montelius, La Suède Préhistorique.
Tylor, Anthropology.
Tylor, Early History of Mankind.
Tylor, Primitive Culture.
Troyon, Habitations Lacustres.
Worsaae, The Pre-history of the North (trs. Simpson).

And numerous articles in the Archæological and Anthropological journals of England, France, and Germany.

Pp. 8, and 14-15. Antiquity of Man.—The question concerning{332} the history of Palæolithic man which presses the most immediately for solution, is that which has been just touched upon here: whether the variety of animal remains with which the remains of men are found associated, do really point to an immensely lengthened period of his existence, in this primitive state. We have said that human bones are found associated with those of the mammoth (Elephas primigenius), those of the woolly rhinoceros, and with the remains of other animals whose existence seems to imply a cold-temperate, or almost frigid, climate; at another place, or a little lower in the same river bed (the higher gravel beds are the oldest), we may find the bones of the hippopotamus, an animal which in these days is never found far away from the tropics. The conclusion seems obvious: man must have lived through the epoch of change—enormously long though it was—from a cold to an almost tropical climate. Some writers have freely accepted this view, and even gone beyond it to argue the possibility of man having lived through one of the great climatic revolutions which produced an Ice Age. (See the arguments on this head in Mr. Geikie’s Ice Age.) And in a private letter, written from the West Indies, Kingsley says that he sees reason for thinking that man existed in the Miocene Era. (See Life of Kingsley.)

On the other hand, these rather startling theories have not yet received their imprimatur from the highest scientific authorities. There are many ways in which they clash with the story which the stone-age remains seem to tell of man’s primitive life. For instance, the civilization of the caves is to all appearance in advance of that of the drift-beds; and yet, as we have seen (p. 18), the cave men must have existed during the earlier part of the stone age, that of the mammoth. Here we see evidences of a decided improvement, an advance; whereas between the drift-remains associated with the mammoth and those associated with the hippopotamus are seen few or none.

P. 9. Cave-drawings or carvings.—The best representations of these are to be found in the work of Christy and Lartet given above.{333}

P. 19. The ideas which savages or primitive men associate with drawings or representations of things (as also with the names of things) are sometimes exceedingly complex and difficult of apprehension—for us. This the following example may show:—

In the earliest Egyptian tombs the beautiful and realistic drawings have long attracted the attention of archæologists, both on account of their intrinsic merit, and from the curious contrast which they present to the more conventional religious drawing and sculpture of a later date. Though the drawings of the first class are found exclusively upon the walls of tombs, they have apparently no connection either with ideas of death or with religious observances. They seem to represent merely the earthly and secular life of the entombed man: here he is superintending his labourers at their work, here he is hunting, here he is reclining at the banquet and watching the performances of fools or dancing-girls. This is what a mere study of the drawings suggests. A more complete study of the inscriptions which accompany them have, however, convinced Egyptian archæologists that the object of these wall-paintings is not merely decorative or representative, in the sense in which drawings are representative to us. Their essential use is what we may call magical. They are believed to contain (and this is a universal savage belief as touching drawings or sculptures of any kind) some elements of the things they represent. Thus the tomb-paintings would be a kind of doubles of the things which the deceased enjoyed in this life. And they would be placed in the tomb in order that the double of the deceased (what the Egyptians called his ka) might enjoy the usufruct of them in the new state.

This is the simplest magic use of the copies or representation of things in early Egyptian tombs. But the idea of the makers of these drawings seems often to be more complicated than this. The drawings by being placed in the tombs are supposed to give the ka of the deceased (not in the tomb, but far away in the land of shades) the enjoyment of the doubles of the things which he enjoyed in life. In this instance the drawings are not the actual possessions which the dead man has, but they correspond to, or influence, or in a certain sense create in the land of shades new possessions, the doubles of the old.{334}

These subtle and complex notions are by no means to be expressed by the conventional words magic, animism, etc., loosely thrown about by anthropologists.

Pp. 47 and 52. Weaving.—The art of platting, which carries in it the germ of the art of weaving, is of immemorial, undiscoverable antiquity. There can hardly have been a time when men did not weave together twigs or reeds to form a rude tent covering—a primitive house. And one proof of the immense antiquity of this practice is given by the numerous names for twigs, reeds, etc., in different languages which are derived from words signifying to twist or weave. The word weave itself (Ger. weben) is connected with a Sanskrit root , meaning much the same thing; and we find this same root appearing again in the Latin, vimen a twig, and vitis, a vine, the last so named from its tendrils, which we should judge were used for platting before they were used for producing grapes. From the same root, again, and for the same reason, are derived the Latin viburnum, briony; the Slavonic wetle, willow; the Sanskrit vetra, reed. The Latin scirpus, reed, and the Greek γρῖφος, a net, are allied; but these may not be instances quite in point.

Such rude platting as this is a very different thing from the elaborately woven cloths found among the remains of the lake-villages, whose construction involves also the art of spinning.

P. 54. The view put forward in this chapter concerning the race of the neolithic men in Europe, is that which seems to the writer most consistent with all the facts known, concerning the distribution of pre-historic man. As was said in the Preface, the students in different branches of pre-historic inquiry have not begun yet to collate sufficiently the results of their researches, and their opinions sometimes clash. We have to reconcile the pre-historic anthropologist and the ethnologist with the student of comparative philology. Most of the former are agreed that the earliest inhabitants of this quarter of the globe were most allied in character to the Lapps and Finns; and were consequently of what we have distinguished (Chapter V.) as the yellow-skinned family. But they are{335} far from agreed that the bronze-using men were not of the same race; and some (Keller for instance) are violently opposed to the notion that the substitution of metal for stone was a sudden transition, and due to foreign importation. In some instances there is evidence that the change was gradual.

But the evidence on the other side is stronger. The human remains found with the bronze weapons are generally clearly distinguishable (in formation of skull, etc.) from those associated with the implements of stone. The funeral rites of the bronze-age men were as a rule different from those of the stone-age men; for while the former generally buried their dead, the latter seem generally to have burnt theirs (see Grimm, Ueber das Verbrennen der Leichen). Now we have strong reason for believing that the Aryan races (see Chapters IV., V.) practised this sort of interment; and we have further reason for thinking that the use of metals was known to them before their entry into Europe (see Pictet, Les Origines Indo-Européennes and Grimm, Geschichte der deut. Sprache). Moreover, these Aryans unless their original home were in Europe (see p. 99, note), must have come in at some time, and when they did come, they must have produced an entire revolution in the life of its inhabitants. No time seems so appropriate for their appearance as that which closes the age of stone.

This theory does not preclude the possibility of, in many places, a side-by-side existence of stone users and bronze users, or even a gradual extension of the art of metallurgy; and these conditions would be especially likely to arise in such secluded spots as the lake-dwellings. Therefore, Dr. Keller’s arguments are not impeached by the theory that the Aryans were the introducers of bronze into Europe.


Bopp, Comparative Grammar of the Sanskrit Zend, etc. (trs.).
Bréal, Principes de Philologie Comparée.
Geiger, Contributions to the History of the Development of the Race (trs.).
Grimm, Geschichte der deutschen Sprache.
Grimm, Ueber den Ursprung der Sprache.{336}
Kuhn, Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung.
Müller, Max, Lectures on the Science of Language.
Müller, Max, Sanskrit Literature.
Peile, Introduction to Greek and Latin Etymology.
Pictet, Les Origines Indo-Européennes.
Sayce, Introduction to the Science of Language.
Wilson, Introduction to the Rig Veda Sanhita.

Agreeably to the plan enunciated in the first chapter (pp. 4-6) I have used up all the more generally admitted facts and theories to form what seemed to me a reasonable account of the growth of language; to form an account too which should subserve one great end of this volume, by stimulating the thoughts of the reader at the same time that it pointed out the nature of the evidence upon which conclusions are founded, thereby preparing the reader to pursue the enquiry upon his own account.

The science of Comparative Philology is, however, in too unripe a condition to allow us to speak with dogmatic assurance with regard to its inferences; even those which seem fundamental have been, and may again, be called in question. It is right here, therefore, to remind the reader that it is quite upon the cards that further research may end by upsetting the generally accepted theory of the growth of inflexions in language. Even now there is a school of philologists and anthropologists that denies the premise upon which this theory rests—the radical origin of all language. This school maintains that, instead of speech beginning in monosyllabic root-sounds, as is generally supposed, it begins in extremely elaborate and complicated sounds which are in fact nothing else than sentences; that it is only by the wear and tear of use that the sentence has got split up into its component sounds, which have then taken the character of monosyllabic roots.

This theory was first set on foot by a writer (Waitz) who is an anthropologist rather than a student of language, and it might be distinguished as the anthropological theory of the origin of speech. We have no space here for a full discussion of its merits. It will be enough to indicate some à priori arguments in its favour.{337}

1. It would make the language of primitive man analogous to a state of things which many people think they have discovered as typical of the most primitive savages—namely, a state of society which, in its customs, marriage laws, etc., differs from modern society in being not more simple, but infinitely more complex.

2. This supposed original expressive sentence and its subsequent analysis would have considerable analogy to what we ourselves have just seen is the history of writing, which begins with a more or less elaborate picture; then the parts of the picture are split up, and by the wear and tear of frequent use these parts are added together in separate items to form picture-writing, which is quite a different thing from picturing, and which is the immediate parent of writing as we know it. An analogy of this kind cannot be without weight.

On the other hand, it must be pointed out that the strongest arguments in favour of this view are the à priori arguments. True, we do not know enough of the languages of the world to speak with dogmatic assurance. But the history of all the languages which have been closely studied points away from the anthropological theory.

Again, the first argument in favour of Waitz’s theory is itself clearly founded upon a paradox. It can scarcely be seriously maintained that while we can trace the growth of implements, such as spears and knives, from the simplest possible form upwards, such implements as speech and social laws have been ready made in a highly complex form. Argument number two serves to expose the grossness of this paradox. It would be as reasonable to maintain that mankind had begun by drawing pictures before they learnt to draw the elements out of which the pictures were composed.

The whole theory, therefore, belongs to the category of theories which explain obscurum per obscurius. It may be, and no doubt is, practically impossible to explain in any natural way how speech arose. But at all events it is easier to understand how it may have arisen in a simple form and grown to one more complex, than to imagine it beginning in a complex state and by detrition resolving into simple elements.{338}

P. 68. Consonantal and vowel sounds.—The fact that even in Aryan roots the consonants have more weight than the vowel sounds will be evident merely from the instances given in the course of this and the following chapter—fly, flee, flew (w is here a vowel sound); night, Nacht; knight, Knecht; Raum, room; asmi, esmi (eimi), sum, etc. This general rule holds good for almost all languages, and seems necessarily to do so from the stronger character of the consonantal and the weaker character of the vowel sounds.

But the relative importance of vowels and consonants is very different in different classes of language. In the Aryan tongues the essential root is made up of vowels and consonants, and the variations upon the root idea are generally expressed by additions to the root and not by internal changes in it. In this way, as we saw, most grammatical inflexions are made: hom-o, hom-inis, am-o, am-abam, τύπτω, ἒτυτον, ἒτυψον, etc. But in Semitic languages the root consists of the consonants only, and the inflexions are produced by internal changes, changes of the vowels which belong to a consonant. For example, in Arabic the three consonants k-t-l (katl) represent the abstract notion of the act of killing. From them we get kátil, one who kills; kitl (pl. aktal), an enemy; katala, he slew; kutila, he was slain. From z-r-b (zarb), the act of striking; zarbun, a striking (in concrete sense); zarábun, a striker; zaraba, he struck; zuriba, he was struck. Compare these with occido, occidi, occisor, or with τύπτω, τέτυφα, etc., and we see that in the Aryan tongues the radical remains almost unchanged, and the inflexions are made ab extra; but in the Semitic language the inflexions are made by changes of vowel sound within the framework of the root consonants.

The usual grammatical root in Arabic is composed of three consonants, as in the examples given above. Most of the Semitic languages are in too fully formed a state to allow us to see whether or no these roots, which are of course at the least dissyllabic, grew up out of single sounds; but a comparison with some languages of the Semitic family (e.g. Egyptian) which are still near to their early radical state, show us that they have probably done so.

The Coptic language, which is the nearest we can get to the{339} tongue of the ancient Egyptians, is extremely interesting in that it displays the processes of grammar formation, as has just been said, in a more intelligible shape than we find in the higher Semitic tongues.

P. 98. We are here speaking, be it remembered, of families of language. The ethnology of a people is not necessarily the same as its language; so that when we speak of a family of language including the tongues of a certain number of races, we do not imply that they were wholly of the same ethnic family. This caution is especially necessary as regards the earliest great pre-historic nations who seem to have been what are called Cushites—anything but pure Semites (see Chapter V.)—but whose languages may properly be ranged in the Semitic family. The Egyptian, for instance, was more nearly monosyllabic than any other Semitic tongue (Chapter XIII.); yet such inflexions as it has show an evident relationship with Hebrew and other Semitic languages (see Appendix to Bunsen’s Egypt’s Place in Universal History).


Brugsch, Recueils de Monuments Égyptiens.
Brugsch, Histoire d’Égypt.
Brugsch, Matériaux pour servir, etc.
Bunsen, Egypt’s Place, etc. (ed. Dr. Birch).
Ebers, Egyptian History.
Flower, W. H., Races of Men.
Legge, Chinese Classics, with Introduction, etc.
Lenormant, Manual of the Ancient History of the East (trs.).
Lepsius, Chronologie der Egypten.
Mariette Pasha, Abrégé de l’Histoire d’Égypte.
Maspero, Histoire Ancienne des Peuples de l’Orient.
Maury, Le Livre et l’Homme.
Rawlinson, Herodotus, with Notes.
Rawlinson, Five Great Monarchies, etc.
Rougé (Vte. de), Examen de l’Ouvrage de M. Bunsen.{340}
Sayce, Ancient Empires of the East.
Tylor, Anthropology.

P. 119. The word Turanian is untenable as an ethnic term. It can be used—though with a somewhat loose signification—to distinguish those languages which are in the agglutinative stage. But the reader must be careful not to suppose that it comprises a class of nearly allied peoples, as the Aryan and Semitic families of language, upon the whole, do. The only race which includes the Turanian peoples of Europe and Asia includes also those who speak monosyllabic languages: this is the yellow race, and is of course a division of the widest possible kind.

P. 122. Touching the relationship of the Egyptians to the negroes a variety of opinions are held. There can be no question that their types of face forbid us to doubt that there was some relationship between them; while the representations of negroes upon the ancient monuments of Egypt show that from the remotest historical period there was a marked distinction between the peoples, and that from that early time till now the negroes have not changed in the smallest particular of ethnical character. On the other hand, many people consider the Egyptians and the Accadians to have been essentially the same people, the Cushites—or as some call them Hamites—a race which perhaps anciently spread from Susiana across Arabia and the Red Sea to Abyssinia and Egypt.

P. 123. The names Chaldæan and Assyrian are used with a variety of significations by Orientalists, and in a way likely to be confusing to the general reader. He will do well, therefore, to bear the following facts in mind:—

1. The Tigris and the Euphrates, after both taking their rise in the Caleshîn Dagh mountain in the Armenian highlands, soon separate by a wide sweep, the Euphrates flowing south-west and towards the Mediterranean, the Tigris flowing south-east towards the Persian Gulf. But instead of flowing into the Mediterranean, the Euphrates again turns first due south, then south-east, so that it thenceforward flows parallel with the Tigris. They approach nearer and nearer, until about Bagdad they are separated by some twenty miles only; but here{341} they once more begin to increase the distance between them, and do not again approach until just before they unite to fall into the Persian Gulf. In ancient days they never united, as the Persian Gulf spread more than a hundred miles farther inland than it does to-day.

The territory enclosed between these two great streams, with the addition of some territory to the east of the Tigris and west of the Euphrates, is that which the Greeks called Mesopotamia. Lower Mesopotamia begins about the point where the streams approach the nearest, and this Lower Mesopotamia is the territory distinguished by the name Chaldæa.

Territorially this Chaldæa was in ancient days divided into two districts—Shûmir in the south, and Accad in the north.

The earliest known inhabitants of these districts were a Turanian race, who from their territorial possessions should properly be called the Shûmir-Accadians or Shûmiro-Accadians. But it is common to call them simply Accadians (or Accad), and their language, an agglutinative or Turanian one, Accadian likewise.

Here therefore is the first element of confusion—between the smaller territorial division, Accadia, and the larger ethnic division, which includes all the primitive inhabitants of Chaldæa.

2. But there mingled with these primitive Accadians a Semitic race, and gradually transformed them, so that the speech of the country changed from being a Turanian or agglutinative, to being a Semitic and inflected language.

Now, these Semitic people are probably the Chaldæans of the Bible; at any rate the Bible seems to take no account of the primitive Turanian stock. Its Chaldæans are a people allied by nationality to the Shemites, though perhaps so far mixed with an earlier stock as to be what we may call proto-Semitic.

Here is the second element of confusion, a confusion between the unchanged land of Chaldæa and the two races who in succession inhabited it.

3. Finally, the language of the Semitic (or proto-Semitic) Chaldæans was practically the same as that of the people who rose into a nation in Upper Mesopotamia, viz. the Assyrians. The Assyrians, as is said in Chapter V., founded an empire which overthrew the ancient Chaldæan or Babylonian empire,{342}—for from its largest town the empire is also called the Babylonian—and was in its turn overthrown by an alliance between the revolted Babylon and the King of Media.

The third element of confusion then arises from applying to the language of the Semitic Chaldæans the name Assyrian, which involves no participation in the empire of the Assyrians.

It is probable that these elements of confusion have not always been avoided in the preceding chapters. But with the aid of this note they will no longer present difficulties to the reader.

It will be seen that both the Egyptians and Chaldæans of Genesis, chap. x., are a Semitic people so far as regards the character of their language, and belong in the main to the white race. So far as regards their ethnic character, they were probably more mixed than the peoples (Hebrews, Assyrians proper, etc.) who are called the children of Shem, and therefore we may call them proto-Semitic.

The term Hamitic is altogether misleading, and had better be unused in ethnical classifications. The real meaning, if we follow the intention of its use in the Bible, is to distinguish from the purer Semites (Hebrews, Moabites, etc.) what we may call the proto-Semites; that is, a number of races, such as the Egyptians and Chaldæans, as well as the Canaanites generally, who spoke Semitic languages, but were very probably of impure blood, very likely of Semitic and Turanian intermixture. If the word Hamitic be used to include the rest of the inhabitants of the world who were not Semitic or Aryan, then, though it will not be very useful, no objection can be taken to its employment. But in that case we shall be obliged, forming our classification by the known rather than by the unknown, to include the Canaanites (who spoke Semitic languages) in the Semitic family; and this will be in direct contradiction to the use of Hamitic in the Bible narrative.


Coulanges, La Cité Antique.
Grimm, Deutsche Rechts-Alterthümer.{343}
Lavalaye, La Propriété et ses Formes Primitives.
Maine, Ancient Law.
Maine, Village Communities.
Maine, Early Institutions.
Maurer, Geschichte der Dorf-Verfassung.
Nasse, Agricultural Communities of the Middle Ages (translated by Ouvry).
Pictet, Les Origines Indo-Européennes.

In the account here given of the two most important social forms, the patriarchal family and the village community, the endeavour has been rather to present such a picture of them as may exhibit their chief peculiarities in a sufficiently clear and striking manner, than to enter into a minute examination of the various remains from which the picture has been constructed. It must not be supposed, however, that the representations here given can be completely verified from existing information. They are rather to be looked upon as typical of what these forms may have been in their earliest stage and under favourable circumstances. We only meet with traces of them when undergoing decay. Although the writer fully recognizes the importance of the researches of McLellan and others concerning the earlier conditions of society, no attempt has been made to give an account of the results which have been arrived at in this field of inquiry. Two reasons may be assigned for this omission. Firstly, the intrinsic difficulties of treating the subject in a manner suitable to the ‘general reader’ are, it is conceived, a sufficient excuse for the omission. Secondly, the results at present attained are so vague that the mere statement of them would be valueless without entering into great detail. All that can as yet fairly be regarded as established is either that the Aryan and Semitic races have at one time possessed social customs and practices similar to those which are found in the most barbarous people; or that they have during some period of their history so far amalgamated with, or been influenced by, other races that had just emerged from this state, as to absorb into their traditions and customs traces of a social condition of a much lower and more primitive kind{344} than that in which we first find them. If we try to form any conception of what the earlier state may have been, we at once see that the results at present attained are almost purely negative. All that can be predicated is that at one time a large proportion of the human race did not possess the notions of the family and the marriage tie which were entertained by people in the patriarchal state; that they did not trace blood relationship in the same way. What particular customs immediately preceded or led to the patriarchal family, whether this latter is to be considered as the original social type, and the lower forms are to be regarded as derived from it, or vice versâ—to these questions no satisfactory answer can at present be given.

Each step indeed in social change is to be looked upon, to a great extent, as simply a phenomenon to be noted, the causes for which it is impossible to determine accurately. This is especially the case with the village community. The extent of its distribution would incline one to the belief that it is a natural or necessary result of a certain stage of social development; while the elaborate and artificial nature of its construction points to the probability of some common origin from which its developments might be traced. The greatest difficulty, however, lies in trying to assign to this institution its due effect on civilization: for it is frequently found in close combination with institutions to which its spirit seems most strongly opposed. Thus while we find it flourishing among the Germanic tribes, we also discover among them a tendency to the custom of primogeniture much more marked than is discoverable among other Aryan races. Yet this custom scarcely seems to find a place in the pure village community beyond the limits of each individual household. At the same time the patriarchal power was certainly less among the Germans than among the early Romans, and probably also less than among the Slavs.{345}


Bournouf, Commentaire sur le Yaçna.
Bugge, Sæmundar Edda.
Bunsen, God in History (trs.).
Bunsen, Egypt’s Place, etc.
Busching, Nibelungen Lied.
Cox, Mythology of the Aryan Nations.
Edda den ældra ok Snorra.
Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie.
Grimm, Ueber das Verbr. der Leichen.
Grimm, Heldenbuch.
Keary, Outlines of Primitive Belief.
Kuhn, Herabkunft des Feuers.
Kuhn, Sagen, Gebräuche u. Mährchen.
Kuhn, in Zeitsch f. v. Sp. and Z. f. deut. Alt.
Lang, Myth, Ritual, and Religion.
Lepsius, Todtenbuch.
Maspero, Histoire Ancienne, etc.
Müller, Op. cit.
Müller, Lectures on the Science of Religion.
Müller, Chips from a German Workshop.
Müller, Origin and Growth of Religion (Hibbert Lectures).
Müller, Sacred Books of the East, vol. iv. Zend Avesta (Darmesteter).
Preller, Griechische Mythologie.
Ralston, Songs of the Russian People.
Ralston, Russian Folk-tales.
Rawlinson, Op. cit.
Rougé (Vte. de), Études sur le Rituel des Égypt.
Sayce, Religion of the Ancient Babylonians.
Simrock, Handbuch der. d. Myth.
Tiele, Outlines of the History of Religion (trs.).
Vigfusson and Powell, Corpus Poeticum Boreale.
Welcker, Griechische Götterlehre.
Wuttke, Deutsche Volksaberglaube.


The origin and history of religion and mythology is (as we might expect) a matter of keen controversy; and I cannot anticipate that the reader would rise from the perusal of all the books given in the above list with his mind not confused upon many points on which they touch. To explain the position taken up in Chapters VIII.-XI., I will add the following notes, which may help the reader over some difficult and disputed questions.

1. In the first place, we have confined our attention altogether to the essential framework of the religious system or the myth-system with which we were concerned. The irrational element is omitted, and the mere process of omitting this relieves us from entering upon many points which are strongly controverted at this moment. For instance, the work of Mr. A. Lang cited above (and which I specially mention here, as it is a good deal upon the tapis at the present moment) is altogether occupied in combating a certain theory of Mr. Max Müller’s, that the irrational element in Aryan mythologies (Greek and Sanskrit especially) could be shown to have arisen in most instances from an abuse of language, or, more exactly, from an oblivion of the true meaning of some essential word or name contained in the myth, whereby a wholly mistaken and wholly irrational element has been incorporated into the history of the god or hero.

This theory Mr. A. Lang combats by adducing the evidence that these irrational parts in mythology may be survivals of thought from an earlier age in the history of the people, when what seemed irrational (and often disgusting) to their literary successors, and seems irrational and disgusting to us, seemed neither one nor the other.

Into this controversy we are not required to enter. But it is important to point out to the reader how completely this lies outside the sphere of study which we have chosen; the more so because, through some criticisms of Mr. Lang’s book, a notion has gained currency (among those presumably who have not read the book in question) that Mr. Lang has revolutionized the whole study of religion and mythology, whereas he only proposes to deal with one section, and that a small one, of it.

Nor can it fairly be said that we are bound in these chapters{347} to pay much attention to the irrational element in belief. If we were writing a complete treatise upon flint implements, we should be bound to include not only those flints which had been clearly chipped with a definite design, and which followed well-established forms, but with pieces of abnormal shape, and even with flakes and cores, the detritus, so to say, which had been left aside when the more available flints had been chosen. If, again, we were dealing completely with the history of village communities or systems of land tenure, we should be bound in like fashion to treat of abnormal as well as normal forms. But obviously that is not what is expected in the chapters of this book. We only profess to treat of early civilization under its more usual aspects and in its completest form. So with early beliefs; we only profess to concern ourselves with what is rational and normal in the creeds with which we are dealing.

There are always certain drawbacks, certain new liabilities to error, which follow the step of each fresh advance in science. The shadow of this kind which attends the comparative method which had been adopted with such splendid results, not only in many natural sciences, but in almost all branches of pre-historic study—the comparative study of laws, institutions, language, myths, and creeds—is a tendency to confound the condition of these things with which we are actually concerned with their condition at some previous time. As Mr. Tylor admirably says about language, that, interesting as it is to trace the history of words, our understanding of their actual meaning is not always facilitated by a misty sense that at some previous time they meant something else, so we may say of many other things—laws, for example, and customs, or, still more, myths and religions.

It will be obvious, for instance, that our appreciation of the place in history of certain personages will be very little affected by tracing some of the stories told about them to quite different countries and periods in the history of the world. Suppose (for example) that we should find in New Zealand legends a story closely analogous to the story of Harold’s oath to William the Bastard. It would be by no means safe to affirm that, if we sifted the multitudinous legends of the world, we should not be able to find some pretty close analogy to William’s celebrated{348} trick of concealing the venerated relics beneath the altar. How, it may be asked, would such a discovery affect our estimate of the parts which William and Harold played as the rival claimants for the English throne? If the reader can answer that question he can decide the influence which studies into the religion of the Maoris or Andaman Islanders are likely to have over his estimate of the rational parts of an historic creed. Such a discovery as we have imagined would suggest the possibility that some remote channel of tradition had fathered an old myth upon Harold and William. But it would give us no clue as to how well it fitted upon their characters, how far it gained general currency at the time. Upon these questions alone depends our estimate of the position which the two historic personages occupied in the world of their day. For a story which is generally believed is almost the same as a story which is true.

Or, if the reader prefers a story which is really a myth, take the history of Hasting at the siege of Luna, with which most readers will be acquainted, and how he gained an entry into the town by feigning death and obtaining that his body should be carried within the walls for Christian burial. That is undoubtedly a myth; it is found to be sporadic among the histories of the Vikings and of the Normans, their descendants. Should we discover that a very similar story has been current among the Incas of Peru, how far could that discovery affect our estimate of the supposed character of Hasting?

When the reader has made up his mind upon this subject he will be in a position, we have said, to estimate the weight which we ought to attach to discoveries of this kind in reference to historic creeds; because the heroes of these creeds are evidently in the position of historic personages for those who hold the belief. As long as the Norsemen think that they hear Odin rushing along at night upon his horse Sleipnir, Odin is for them an historic personage; as long as Greeks think that it is Zeus who is ‘thundering from Ida,’ Zeus is as real to them as William the Bastard was to the English nation—more real than Hasting was to Dudo. And I maintain that an understanding of what the Greeks thought about Zeus, or the Norsemen about Odin, is very little furthered by (in Mr. Tylor’s{349} words) a vague notion that at some other time they thought something quite different.

We may, however, legitimately go a little way behind the date of our documents. Our comprehension of the feudal system of land tenure is not much assisted by comparing it with systems in use among the Zulus; but it is useful to study the land tenure prevalent among the German nationalities before the feudal system properly so called was introduced. In the same way, behind the actual religious ideas shadowed forth in the Vedic hymns, in Homer, or in the Eddaic poems, we may, I maintain, legitimately go back to a time when the divine beings of these creeds were more nearly identified with natural phenomena out of which they sprang. It is just this condition of the Aryan creeds which I have sought to portray in the chapters devoted to the subject. In the actual documents before us the gods of Greece or Scandinavia do not take the guise of the heaven, or the sun, or the wind. But enough remains in their natures to show that it was out of these phenomena that they emerged to become the independent personalities which we know. This is what is meant by the nature or origins of Indra, Zeus, Odin, etc., as the expressions are used above.

P. 195. I take the liberty of transcribing a passage from Mr. Max Müller’s Lectures on the Science of Religion.

‘One of the oldest names of the deity, among the Semitic nations, was El. It meant strong. It occurs in the Babylonian inscriptures as Ilu, God, and in the very name of Bab-il, the gate or temple of Il. In Hebrew, it occurs both in its general sense, as strong, or hero, and as a name of God. We have it in Beth-el, the House of God, and in many other names. If used with the article as ha-El, the Strong One, or the God, it always is meant in the Old Testament for Jehovah, the true God. El, however, always retained its appellative power, and we find it applied therefore, in parts of the Old Testament, to the God of the Gentiles also.

‘The same El was worshipped at Byblus, by the Phœnicians, and he was called there the Son of Heaven and Earth. His father was the son of Eliun, the most high god, who had been{350} killed by wild animals. The son of Eliun who succeeded him was dethroned, and at last slain by his own son El, whom Philo identifies with the Greek Kronos, and represents as the presiding deity of the planet Saturn. In the Himyaritic inscriptions too the name of El has been discovered.

‘With the name of El, Philo connected the name of Elohim, the plural of Eloah. In the battle between El and his father, the allies of El, he says, were called Eloeim, as those who were with Kronos were called Kronioi. This is no doubt a very tempting etymology of Eloah; but as the best Semitic scholars, and particularly Professor Fleischer, have declared against it, we shall have, however reluctantly, to surrender it.

‘Eloah is the same word as the Arabic Ilâh, God. In the singular, Eloah is used synonymously with El; in the plural, it may mean gods in general, or false gods: but it becomes in the Old Testament the recognized name for the true God, plural in form but singular in meaning. In Arabic Ilâh without the article means a god in general; with the article Al-Ilâh, or Allâh, becomes the name of the God of Abraham and Moses.’

P. 197. Nature-Worship.—The part which the phenomena of nature play in training the thoughts of uncultivated men toward religion, and poetry, and hero-worship, and legendary lore, has been made the subject of warm controversy. And it may not be altogether amiss if we bestow a little thought upon the question, and upon the character of evidence by which this nature-worship is thought to be established.

That it is in no sense a degradation of our estimate of man to suppose that his thoughts were led upward from the contemplation of the objects of sense which lay around to the contemplation of a Higher Being beyond the region of sensible things, will become, it is to be hoped, clear upon a little reflection, and upon a candid examination of what has been said in pp. 173-176. But still it may fairly be asked, Did this process of deifying the powers of nature take place? Why should not the human mind have come independently by the direct revelation of God’s voice speaking in the hearts of men to a notion of a God ruler of the world, and then, by a natural process of decay, proceed thence to a polytheism, a pantheon of beings who were{351} supposed to rule over the different phenomena of nature, just as the different members of a cabinet hold sway over the various branches of national government?

This was, until comparatively recent years, the received opinion concerning mythology, and it is one which tacitly keeps its place in the writings of many scholars, especially of those who have been brought up almost exclusively upon the study of classical languages and classical religions: for it is only after a wide study, and a comparison of many different religions in many different stages, that the conviction of the opposite truth forces itself upon one. It is obvious that for the purpose of a scientific knowledge of the formation of religious systems, we must not observe them in their fullest development, but rather turn to such of their brother-religions as have remained in a more stunted condition. Nor, again, should we deal, except very cautiously, with an extremely imaginative people, like the Greeks; for with them changes from any primitive form will be much more rapid and more complete than the changes in some more meagre systems. The fragmentary Teutonic myths, and the relics of these in mediæval superstition, are for this purpose sometimes more trustworthy than those of Greece; and partly on this account, partly because they are less familiar to the reader, we have drawn largely upon them for illustration in our chapters upon Aryan religion and Folk-tales.

The most useful of all, however, is the religion of the Vedas, in so far as the Vedas give us an insight into the earliest faith of the people of India. Here we may often detect the etymology of a name which would be inexplicable if we only knew it in Greek or Latin and Norse. We have seen how this is the case in respect of the word Dyâus; and how the etymology of this word clearly shows, what from themselves we should never discover, that Zeus and Jupiter and Tyr are names which had originally the same meaning as a natural phenomenon. We say originally, because the Sanskrit is found by numberless examples (whereof we gave one, duhitar) to show an origin for many words whose origin is lost in other Aryan languages, and therefore to stand nearest to the primitive tongue of the Aryans. In this lies the whole force of the argument. If the old Aryans once used the same word for ‘heaven’ and for ‘god,’ it is impossible{352} to believe that they had the power of separating at will the two ideas which we receive from these two words: for an examination of formal logic shows us that notions do not become completely distinguishable until they receive individual names. The inference is obvious that a considerable number, at any rate, of the gods of our Aryan ancestors were nature-gods in the strictest sense.

It is equally true, however, that such divinities tend to fall into certain forms, and accommodate themselves to ideals which, or the germs of which, we may believe pre-existed in the human mind. It is thus that we have noticed the sun-gods and the heaven-gods fulfilling their separate functions, and answering to certain defined needs in the human heart.

P. 230. Persephonê and Balder.—The true tragedy of the death of summer is in the Norse religion portrayed in the myth of Balder, the sun-god, which in respect of its force and intention fully answers to the Persephonê myth. It has often been a subject of surprise that Balder’s-bale, Balder’s death, was not celebrated at a time of year appropriate to mourning for the loss of the sun-god, but at the summer solstice, when Balder attains his fullest might and brightest splendour. Why choose such a day as that to think of his mournful bedimming in the wintry months? It seems to show a strange, gloomy, and forecasting nature on the part of our Norse ancestors to be always reflecting that in the midst of life—in the midst of our brightest, fullest life—we are in death.

I imagine that the custom of celebrating Balder’s-bale in this way arose not entirely from the desire to preach this melancholy sermon; though in part no doubt this desire was the cause of it. It arose also from a dramatic instinct inducing men for the sake of a strong contrast to surround the sun-god with all the images of summer at the time when they were thinking of his death. It gives a dramatic intensity to the moment; and thus it corresponds exactly with the picture of Persephonê playing in the meadows in spring-time surrounded by all the attributes of spring, just as Hades rises from the earth to bear her for ever from the light of day.{353}

P. 241. Thanatos.—Thanatos and Hypnos belong to the region of allegory rather than pure mythology. For in pure mythology the place of the first is taken by Hades. In Vedic mythology their part is played by the two Sâramayas; one probably chiefly a divinity of Death, the other of Sleep, and the two being brothers, as of course Death and Sleep are.

It has been suggested that among a group of figures sculptured upon the drum of a column brought from the Artemesium (Temple of Diana) at Ephesus, one is a representation of Thanatos, Death. The figure is that of a boy, as young and comely as Love, but of a somewhat passive expression, and with a sword girt upon his thigh, which Eros never wears. His right hand is raised as though he were beckoning: and with him stand Dêmêtêr and Hermes, both divinities connected with the rites of the dead. Save in this instance—if it be an instance—Thanatos is unknown to early Greek art. Hypnos when he appears wears a fair womanish face with closed eyes, scarcely distinguishable from the artistic representation of the Gorgon. As the moon, this last is in some sense a being of sleep and death.

P. 255. Myths and the rules of their interpretation have been made of late years the subject of controversy almost as keen as that which has raged round that primary question concerning the existence of nature-worship which we have discussed above. In this (XI.) and the previous chapters the writers have endeavoured to keep before the reader only those features in a myth which are essential towards the information we are seeking. For instance, the number of myths which can in any system be traced to the phenomena of the sun is a matter of the highest importance, as showing the influence which a certain set of phenomena had upon the national mind: but of much less significance is the question of the exact origin of the different features in these legendary tales. If any given tale be found to originate solely in a confusion of language, a mistaken, misinterpreted epithet, then it has almost no interest for us as an interpreter of the popular thought and feeling: unless indeed the shape which the story takes should reproduce (as it probably will) some one of the universal forms which{354} seem to stand ready in the human mind for the moulding of its legends.

With regard to the particular question of sun (and other nature) myths and their occurrence, the question which stands between rival disputants is something of this sort: ‘All myths, that is, all primitive legends,’ says one party which may be regarded as the philological school, ‘are found, if we examine closely enough into the meaning of the proper names which occur in them, to represent originally some natural phenomenon, which is in nine cases out of ten (at least for southern nations) a story of some part of the sun’s daily course, some one of his innumerable aspects.’ ‘Is it conceivable,’ say their opponents (we may call these the anthropologists) ‘that man could ever have been in such a condition that all his attention was turned upon the workings of nature or upon the heavenly bodies? Far more probable is it, that these stories arose from a variety of natural causes, real traditions of some hero, reminiscences of historical events transformed in the mist of exaggeration, or the legacy of days when men had strange and almost inconceivable ideas about the world they live in, when they thought animals spoke and had histories like men, that men could and frequently did become trees, and trees men, etc., etc. Indeed, so strange and senseless are the notions of primitive men, that it is wasted labour to try and interpret them.’ This is a rough statement of the two heads of argument. The second, so far as merely negative, must fall before positive proof, as that the nature-myth hidden in an immense number of stories can be by philology satisfactorily unravelled. There is, however, also positive proof on the other side, when many stories, which as nature-myths interpreted on philological principles should only have existed among the people of a particular linguistic family, are found among other races who have no real relation whatever to the first.

Both these sets of facts can be adduced, and to reconcile them in every case would no doubt be hard. On the whole, however, it will perhaps be found that, as has just been said, certain moulds for the construction of stories seem to exist already in the human mind, obeying some natural craving, and into these, as into a Procrustean bed, the myth more or{355} less easily must fit. These primitive forms do not, however, preclude the undoubted existence—strange as such a phenomenon may appear—of an especial mythopæic age connected with man’s observations of the phenomena of nature—an age in which natural religions gained their foundation, and when the doings of the external world had a much deeper effect upon man’s imagination than in later times they have ever had.

P. 266. Thor’s journey to the house of giant Utgardloki (out-world fire—fire of the under-world of Chapter X., and Chapter XI., p. 278)—is not told in the elder Edda, but appears at some length in the Edda of Snorro (Daemisögur 44-48). There can be little question of the antiquity of the tale, closely connected as it is with the labours of Hercules as well as with all the most important elements in the Norse mythology. But it may very easily be that it has undergone some modifications before appearing in its present form; and we should be naturally inclined to signalise as modern additions those parts of the story which have an allegorical rather than a truly mythical character. Allegory is a thing altogether distinct from real myth, and when it springs up shows that the mythical character of the story is falling into oblivion. The former is a growth of self-conscious fancy, while the latter is the child of genuine belief. For instance—as an illustration of the difference between allegory and mythology—I should be inclined to signalise the appearance of the beings Logi (fire) and Elli (old age) as a fanciful, an invented element in the story. Logi and Elli are not important enough to be genuine deities of Fire and Age. In fact, the former element has already received its personification in the person of Loki. Yet the incidents with which they are associated may well have formed an integral character of the older legend; and in the case of Elli I feel pretty sure they must have done so.

What I imagine to have been the real case is this. Thor’s journey to Utgardloki is a story closely parallel to the myth of the Death of Balder, and tells once more the story of the sun-god descending to the under-world. This fact is clearly shown by the name of the giant, who is nothing else than a personification of the funeral fire, the fire which surrounds the abode of souls (pp. 275, 278). All the powers with whom Thor strives are personifications{356} in some way of death—all, or almost all. He tugs as he thinks at a cat and cannot lift it from the ground; but the cat is Jormundgandr, the great mid-earth serpent, in part the personification of the sea, but also (by reason of this) the personification of the devouring hell ‘rapax Orcus’ (compare Cerberus and the Sârameyas, and notice the middle age change of Orcus to Ogre). He (or, in the story as we now have it, Loki) contends with a personification of the death-fire, not with a mere allegorical representation of fire in its common aspect. And again he contends not with Elli, old age, but with Hel, the goddess of the under-world.

This is the original form into which I read back the mythical journey to Utgardloki. It is easy to see how the story got changed. Loki is made to accompany Thor instead of to fight against him; the later mythologists not being able to understand how Loki could sometimes be a god and dwell in Asgard, sometimes be a giant of Jotunheim. With this change the others would easily creep in. Logi is invented to fight with Loki, and Elli in place of Hel appears in obedience to a desire for allegory in the place of true myth.


Edkins, Introduction to Study of the Chinese Characters.
Lenormant, Essai sur la Propagation de l’Alphabet Phénicien.
Mahaffy, Prolegomena to History.
Rawlinson, Five Monarchies.
Rougé (Vte de), Origine Égyptienne de l’Alphabet Phénicien.
Taylor, The Alphabet.
Tylor, Early History of Mankind.

None of the Semitic alphabets can be considered as quite complete; as a complete alphabet requires a subdivision of sounds into their smallest divisions, and an appropriate sign for each of these. But none of the Semitic alphabets in their original forms seem to have possessed these qualifications. They never get nearer to the expression of vowel sounds than{357} by letters which may be considered half vowels. Each of their consonants (in Phœnician, Hebrew, Arabic) carried a vowel sound with it, and was therefore a syllabic sign and not a true letter.

No account is here given of the theory that the Chinese and the Babylonian writing are derived from the same source, as this new and startling theory is not sufficiently upon the tapis to be treated of in a book of this kind. The reader who is desirous of informing himself upon the subject may do so (as far as is yet possible) by obtaining the pamphlet by M. Terrien de la Couperie, Early History of Chinese Civilization, wherein this theory was first expounded, as also another and subsequent brochure, History of Archaic Chinese Writing.


Curtius, History of Greece (trs.).
Gibbon, with notes by Milman, etc.
Latham, Germania of Tacitus.
Latham, Nationalities of Europe.
Von Maurer, Op. cit.
Mommsen, Die unterital. Dialekten.
Mommsen, Roman History (trs.).

P. 320. Following Mommsen, the Etruscans are here spoken of as though belonging to the Italic family. This is liable to grave doubts; but the question is at present too unsettled to admit of satisfactory discussion in this place.






A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, Y, Z

Abant,” the word, 154.
Abraham, Bible history begins with, 113, 129;
and Lot, 126, 155.
Accad, 125.
Accadians, 124, 128;
the inventors of cuneiform writing, 311.
Adoption, ceremony of, among the Aryans, 146.
Agglutinative languages, 79, 81, 83, 88 et seq.;
spoken by the yellow race, 118.
Agni, 210; hymn to, 211;
the Indian fire-god, 248.
Agricultural life, the, gives rise to new relations, 156.
Ahanâ, 257.
Ahura-mazda, the god of Zoroastrianism, 234.
Air-god of the Egyptians, 188.
Alani, the, 104, 325.
Alaric, 325.
Alphabet, the Phœnician, 304 et seq.
Amenti, 179.
Amun, 181, 201.
Ana, 193.
Ancestor worship, 143;
of the Aryans, 147.
Angles, the, 325.
Animal gods of the Egyptians, 191.
Animal worship of the Egyptians, 123.
Anubis, 192.
Aphroditê, 206, 224;
an Asiatic divinity, 318.
Apollo, 202, 209, 214;
the god of the Dorians and Ionians, 216;
shrines of, 216;
the sun-god pursuing Daphne, 257;
found in the mythology of all branches of the Aryan family, 258.
Aral, lake, the region of, the home of the Turanians, 120.
Aramæans, 124.
Aratrum, the word, 108.
Ares, the national divinity of the Thracians, 220.
Armenians, 99.
Art, the earliest rudiments of, 17.
Artemis, 204, 223 et seq.;
and Endymion, the story of, a moon myth, 263.
“Arthur’s Chase,” 226.
Aryans, 98;
the origin of, 99;
evidence of language concerning, 108;
the early, a pastoral people, 132;
their entry into Europe, 133;
their social system, 140;
their faculty for abstract thought, 201;
the other world of, 241 et seq.;
possessed a spiritual conception of the soul, 246;
separation of, 316;
their languages, 90;
two main divisions of, 91;
their mythology, remarkable for diversity of its legends, 199;
their religion contrasted with Semitic, 197;
the sky-god in, 199.
Ashara, the, 195.
Ashtoreth, 194.
Assyrians, the, 98, 129;
their gods, 193 et seq.
Athene, 204 et seq., 222.
Attila, 119.
Australians, the, 118.
Avars, the, 119.
Aztec picture writing, 292.
Aztecs of Mexico, the, 116.

Baal, 193.
Baal Chemosh, 194.
Baal Zebub, 194.
Babel, 124.
Babylon, 127.
Babylonians, the, 98.
Bæda, quotation from, 1.
Balder, 203;
a sun-god, 229, 246;
the myth of his death, 250 et seq.
Barbarians, origin of word, 105.
Barbarossa, legend of, 278.
Barter in the stone age, 139.
Bavarians, the, 104.
“Beauty and the Beast,” 259.
Bel Merodoch, 194.
Beowulf, 327; the poem of, 267;
the Lohengrin myth in, 276.
Bible narrative, an aid to prehistoric study, 2;
itself corrected and enlarged by prehistoric inquiry, 5;
continuous history begins with Abraham, 113.
Bil, Assyrian sun-god, 193.
Black races, the, 115.
Bow, earliest use of the, 50.
Brahma, 202.
Brehon laws, the, 322.
Brennus, 322.
Bridge of death, the, 277.
Bronze age, the, 54;
domestication of animals in, 148.
Bronze introduced into Europe by the Aryans, 140.
Bronze weapons, found throughout Europe, 149.
Browning’s “Pied Piper of Hameln,” 272.
Bulgarians, the, 106.
Burgundians, the, 104, 325.
Burial customs, 40.
Burial mounds. See Tumuli.

Canaanites, the, 98; their gods, 195.
Carinthians, the, 105.
Case endings, origin of, 75.
Caspian Sea, the boundary of the Aryan home, 243.
Cattle, place of, in Aryan mythology, 151.
Cave-dwellers, 49;
implements of, 15;
drawings of, 18;
used fire, 20;
skeletons of, 21.
Celts, the, 101, 322;
their fighting capacity, 323.
Cerberus, 245.
Chaldæa, 123.
Chaldæans, 98;
a mixed people, 124;
their buildings, 125;
their civilization, traces of, found in that of Mexico and Peru, 128;
their religion, 193.
Cherdorlaomer, 126.
China, 127.
Chinese, 117;
kept in a primitive condition by the early invention of writing;
their characters, symbolic, 293 et seq.;
determinitive signs of, 295;
their civilization connected with that of the Accadians, 128.
Cimbri, the, 103.
Civilization, successive steps in the earliest, 135.
Clovis, 325.
Commerce of Cave-dwellers, 52;
among the Aryans, 152.
Confucius, 127.
Cord records, 284.
Crab, the word, 68.
Cromlechs, 42.
Cuneiform writing, 310.
Cupid and Psyche, the myth of, 258.
Cushites, the, 119.
Cybele, 205.
Czechs, the, 105.

Dagon, 194.
Daphne, the dawn, 257.
Daughter, signification of the word, 108, 110, 132, 200.
Dawn and evening in the Veda, 212.
Death, the region of, 236 et seq.;
Aryan idea of, 237;
Egyptian idea of, 238;
a journey to the sky, 241;
the Indian conception of, 244;
the river of, 243;
and sleep, 243; myths of, 273;
the various images of, in popular tales, 278.
Delphi, 216.
Demeter, 204, 205;
and Persephone, 220 et seq.
Determinitive signs, 295.
dic the Latin root, 70.
Domestication of animals in second stone age, 50;
in the bronze age, 148.
Drift implements, 10;
form a class apart, 11;
types of, 13.
Drift period, men of the, 49.
Druid circles, so-called, 42.
Dutch, 99, 104.
Dyâus, 199, 202, 207.

Eadwine, King, 1.
Earth-goddess of the Aryans, 204.
Eddic poems, 327.
Egypt, history begins in, 52, 121;
peculiar features of nature in, 178;
the land-root of civilization, 314.
Egyptians, 97.
Egyptian civilization, the continuation of that of the stone age, 121;
intellectual character of, 122.
—— idea of death and the soul, 238 et seq.
—— life and thought, two elements in the character of, 122.
—— religion, 176;
how distinguished from that of other nations, 178;
influence of nature on, 178;
nature gods of, 181;
distinctive feature of, 181;
divinities of, 181 et seq.
—— writing, 298 et seq.;
mixed character of, 301;
difficulty in deciphering, 302;
Hieratic and Demotic, 303.
El. See Il.
Elamites, 125.
Elysian Fields, 242.
English, the, 104.
Erde and Herde, 94.
Erech, 125.
Eskimo, the, 117.
Etruscans, the, 320.

Fee, the word, 151.
“Fight of Finnsburg,” 327.
Finnish tongues, 90.
Finns, the, 117.
Flemings, the, 104.
Flint weapons of Presigny, 139.
Franks, 104, 325.
French, the, 99.
Frey, 203, 204.
Freyja, 204;
the goddess of spring, beauty, and love, 230.
Freyr, 230.
Frigg, 204, 205, 230.

Gaedhill, 101.
Gaels, 101.
Gaulish myth of a sea of death, 276.
Gauls, the, 101.
Genghis Khan, 119.
Geological periods, length of, 7.
Gerda, 231.
German and English, kinship of, 92.
Germans, the, 99.
Gesture language gives no insight into the origin of language, 62.
Gewiss, the word, 66.
Gipsies, 159.
Glass mountains, the stories of, allegories of death, 279.
Goths, the, 324.
Government, an extensive scheme of, impossible to a people ignorant of social arts, 167.
Græco-Italic family, the, 319.
Grammatical terminations accounted for, 74.
Greek conception of the realms of death, 241 et seq.
Greeks, 99, 102;
appearance of in Europe, 133;
their religion, 214;
the first European nation, 317;
from the beginning a commercial people, 318.
Grimm’s laws, 107.

Hackelberg, the wild huntsman of the Harz, 270.
Hades, 241.
Hadubrand and Hildebrand, the lay of, 327.
Hamites, the, 119.
Hapi, 192.
Hathor, 188.
Hel, 250.
Hellenes, 102;
first use of the word as a national epithet, 319.
Hera, 204.
Heracles, 202, 209;
life and labors of, 218.
Hermes, 217 et seq.;
the wind god, 232, 244.
Herne the Hunter, 226, 249.
Hieratic and Demotic writing of the Egyptians, 303.
Hieroglyphic writing of the Egyptians, 298.
Hindoos, 98.
History, prerequisite conditions of, 3.
Hittites, the, 315.
Hoa, 193.
Hormuzd, 234.
Horus, 184, 196, 201.
House-fire, the sacred, among the Aryans, 144.
Householders, assembly of, in the village community, 163.
Human victims found in tumuli, 37.
Huns, the, 119.
Hunter, life of the primitive, 137.

Iberians, the, 101.
Ideographs, groups of, 294.
Il, the most ancient conception of God known to the Semites, 195.
Implements of later stone age, 39.
Incas of Peru, 116.
Indians, the North American, 159;
“picturing” of, 288, 290 et seq.
Indra, 202, 206;
hymn to, 208;
character of, 209;
resembles Apollo, 217.
Inflected language, 79, 81, 83;
spoken by the white race, 118;
divisions of, 118.
Inflections, growth of, 70;
the third stage in the formation of language, 72.
Ishtar, 194.
Isis, 189, 195, 196.
Israel, the children of a nomadic people, 130.
Italians, 99; the primitive, 320.

“Jack the Giant Killer,” 264.
Japanese use of Chinese characters, 296.
Javan” in the Bible for Ionians, 318.
Jupiter, 199, 202, 206, 207.

Kaiser Karl in the Unterberg, 278.
Karkemish, 315.
Kinship in languages, 91.
Kitchen-Middens. See Shell Mounds.
Kneph, 188.
Kurdur-Nankunty, a king of Susa, 126.

Lake dwellings, bronze weapons found in the later, 150.
Lake villages, the, 44;
construction of, 45;
object of 46;
civilization of, 47, 52.
Language, the growth of, 55;
five stages in, 81;
arrested by the invention of writing, 84;
change in, resolved into two forces, 85;
classification by, 106;
holds the records of past times, 106;
the key to the early Aryan civilization, 141.
Langue d’oil and langue d’oc, 66.
Lapps, the, 117.
Letters, invention and growth of, 280 et seq.;
invention of, by the Egyptians, 301.
Law first connected with religion, 166.
Leiche, the word, 93.
Lithuanians, the, 99, 105.
Lohengrin, myth, 275, 276.
Loki, 210.
Lombards, the, 104.
Longobardi, the, 325.
Lot, 126.

Mâ, the Sanskrit root, 68.
Magyars, the, 119.
Mammoth age, the, 10.
Mammoth, drawing of a, by a prehistoric man, 18.
Man, the earliest traces of, 6;
his first stages of life, 16.
“Man,” the one who measures, 68.
Mankind, progress of, in the stone ages, 48 et seq.
Maoris, the, 118.
Mara, the name, 272.
Mark, the word, 153.
Marriage ceremony among the Aryans, 145.
Maruts, the hymn to, 209.
Maut, an Egyptian divinity, 187
Melanesia, 115.
Menes, 121.
Mesopotamia, 123.
Milky Way, the, a river of death, 277.
Minôs, 318.
Mir, the Russian, 162.
Mitra, 211.
Mnemonics, different systems of, 284 et seq.
Moloch, 194.
Monger, the word, 153.
Mongolians, marks of the, 120.
Monosyllabic language, 78, 81, 83.
Montenegrins, the, 106.
Moon, “the measurer,” 68.
Moon-gods of the Egyptians, 185.
Moon myths, 262 et seq.
Moravians, the, 105.
Moses receives the law, 166.
Mound-builders, their religion, 40.
Mythologies, the relationship between different, 173;
of the different Aryan nations, 176.
Mythology explained through the study of language, 172, 173;
the earliest, 177;
of the Shemites barren in incident and character, 195;
the stories related of the gods, 255.
Myths, diversity of, 254;
of death and the other world, 273.

Nation, the beginnings of, 313, 316.
Nations of the prehistoric world, 133.
Nature worship at the bottom of most mythologies, 173;
this does not imply an absence of spirituality, 176;
the objects of, everywhere the same, 177;
in Aryan religions, 197.
Neanderthal, 15;
skeleton discovered in, 22.
Nebo, 194.
Negroes of Africa and Melanesia, 115.
Neit, 187.
Neolithic era, 13, 29.
Nephthys, 190.
Nergal, 194.
Nerthus, 204.
New Guinea, 115.
Nibelungen, the, 327.
Nile, the, significance of to the Egyptians, 180;
the personification of, 192.
Nimrod, 125.
Nin, 194.
Noah, 118.
Norsemen, the other world of the, 249.

Obotriti, the, 105.
O’Brien, origin of the name, 323.
Odin, 204, 224 et seq.;
the heaven god, 227;
collects the souls of heroes slain in battle, 249, 268;
as the Wandering Jew, etc., 264;
as the “Pied Piper” of Hameln, 264, 272;
as the arch fiend, 270.
“Old Mother Goose,” 272.
Osiri, the name, how written by the Egyptians, 301.
Osiris, 182, 193, 196, 201.
Ostro-Goths, the, 104.
Ouse, the, prolific in drift implements, 11.
Oxus, the, 99.

Palæolithic era, 13, 25.
Pan, 215.
Pastoral life, qualities involved in, 150;
a nomadic one, 151.
Patriarch, the authority of a, part of Aryan religion, 167.
Patriarchal family, the, 141.
Patriarchal customs, 142.
Patroclus, funeral of, a picture of Aryan rites, 247.
Pecunia, the word, 151.
Pelasgi, 102, 320;
the worshippers of pure nature, 215.
Persephone, 204, 221 et seq.
Perseus and the Gorgon, a sun story, 262.
Persians, 98.
Perthes, M. Boucher de, 11.
Peruvian system of mnemonics, 284.
Phantom army, the legend of, 225, 249.
Phœbus Apollo, the god of the younger Greeks, 318.
Phœnicians, 98, 129;
commercial needs gave rise to their alphabet, 305;
the transporters of civilization, 315;
in Europe, 317.
Phœnician alphabet, 304;
how formed, 305;
resemblance to Hieratic writing of Egyptians, 306;
the parent of all existing alphabets except Japanese, 308;
how modified, 309.
Phonetic signs, origin of, 299 et seq.
Phonetic writing, transition to, 297.
Picture records, 287.
Picture writing, 289 et seq.
Picturing, 287;
distinguished from picture-writing, 290.
“Pied Piper of Hameln,” the, 264, 272;
a Slavonic legend, 273.
Poles, the, 99, 105.
Polynesian islands, 118.
Pomeranians, the, 105.
Pottery, broken, strewed at the grave’s mouth, 40.
Prehistoric conditions, our knowledge of, uncertain, 4.
Prehistoric studies, aids to, 2;
of events, rather than chronological, 6.
Prince Hatt under the earth, the Swedish story of, 260.
Prithvi, 205, 220.
Proper names, researches into, 111;
in the Bible often stand for races, 114.
Prussians, the, 105.
Ptah, 184.
Pyramids, a sort of tumuli, 53.
Python, the, 202.

Quipus, the Peruvian cord records, 285.

Ra, 184.
Red races, 116;
considered by some a variety of the yellow race, 118.
Religion of the mound-builders, 40;
first signs of, 51.
Religious rites hard to trace back, 172.
Rents, the three, 152.
Rex, the, 95, 109.
Rivers, English, the names of, Keltic, 111.
Romans, the, 99, 102, 320;
development as a nation, internal, 321.
Rome, her proficiency in the arts
of government, 168.
Root sounds, 67.
Runes, Gothic, 309.
Russians, the, 99, 105.
Russian village communities, 169.

Sabhâ, the, 144.
St. Ursula, the myth of, 263.
San, 194.
Sarama, 218; the Sons of, 244.
Sargon I., 125.
Sarrasin, the word, 159.
Sati, 188.
Savitar, hymn to, 213.
Saxons, 325.
Scandinavians, 99, 104.
Sea coast, gradual protrusion of, 34.
Sea of death, the, mythical, 276.
Sekhet-Pasht, 185.
Semitic languages. See Aryan.
Semitic races, 97.
Semitic religion infused with awe, 198.
Servians, the, 106.
Shell mounds, 29, 34;
proofs of their antiquity, 35, 136.
Sheol, 241, note.
Siamese, the, 117.
Sigurd the Volsung, 267;
fire and thorn hedge used in the tale of, 278.
Silesians, 105.
Sin, 194.
Skirnir, 231.
Sky-divinities of the Egyptians, 187.
Sky-god of the Aryans, 200.
Slavonians, the, 103, 104;
pushing back the Tartars, 119.
Social life, early, 135.
Soil-deity of the Egyptians, 189.
Somme, the, drift implements first discovered in the bed of, 11.
“Son of,” how used in the Bible, 114.
Sorabians, the, 105.
Sothis, 192.
Sound and sense, connection of, 61.
Spanish, the, 99.
Speech, the origin of, indiscoverable, 59.
Stone age, the two periods of, 12.
Stone age, the old, man’s life in, 24;
animals of, 26.
Stone age, the later, 28;
theories to account for the transition to, 28;
continuous history begins with, 29;
man of, in Denmark, 30;
navigation of, 30;
domestic animals in, 32, 36;
men of, not cannibals, 32;
burial mounds of, 36;
human victims in, 37;
classes of implements of, 38;
pottery of, 39;
ornaments, 41;
burial customs of, 40;
tumuli, the truest existing representatives of, 43;
also called the polished stone age, 43;
duration of, in Europe, 44;
civilization of, 47 et seq.;
successive steps in, 49 et seq.;
first signs of religion in, 51;
civilization of, 52;
implements of, different materials of, 50;
people, little known of their social state, 136.
Stone ages, progress of mankind in, 48 et seq.
Stonehenge, 36, 42.
Suevi, the, 104, 325.
Sun, supreme god of the Semitic nations, 200;
hopes of futurity suggested by, 246.
Sun-god, the death of, 236.
Sun-gods of the Egyptians, 181 et seq.;
how regarded by the Indo-European nations, 202.
Sun-heroes, the different, 262.
Sun-myths, 257.
Surya, 211.
Susa, 126.
Swan, the, connected with ideas of death, 275.
Swarga, 244.
Symbolical teaching of the Egyptians, 191.

Tallies, the invention of, the germ of writing, 283.
Tannhäuser, the legend of, 263.
Tartar class of languages, 89.
Tartar races, invasion of the, 119.
Tasmania, 114.
Tellus, 205.
Teutonic family of nations, 103, 104.
Teutons, village history of the, 169;
divisions of, 324;
an agricultural people, 326;
conquerors, 326;
feudal, 327;
poems of, 327.
Tew, 199.
Thanatos, 241.
Thammuz, 194.
Thibetans, the, 117.
Thmei, 192.
Thor, 202;
labors of, 228;
as “Jack the Giant Killer,” 264;
the recovery of his hammer, 264.
Thoth, 185, 194.
“Time and Tide,” 94.
Timûr Link (Tamerlaine), 119.
Tomb-builders, the, 36.
Towns, English, the names of Teutonic, etc., 111.
Tumuli, 36; contents of, 37;
pottery found in, 52, 125;
civilization of the builders of the, 138.
Turanian languages, 88.
Turanians of Central Asia, 119;
the early inhabitants of India were, 120.
Turks, the, 119.
Typhon, 196, 202.
Tyr, 228.

Ulfilas, 324.
Ur of the Chaldees, 125.
Urki, 194.
Urvasi and Pururaras, the story of, 258.
Ushas, 205.

Van der Decken, 226.
Valkyriur, the, 249, 269;
changed into witches, 272, 275.
Varuna, 203; corresponds to Ouranos, 231.
Vedic religion of India, 207.
Verb endings, origin of, 75.
Village community, the, 159;
features and regulations of, 160;
relation of the members to each other, 161;
correspondence of the Russian Mir to, 162;
source of authority in, 162;
essentials of a true, 163;
assembly of householders, 163;
origin of, 163;
the ideas of personal and communal property arise in, 165;
origin of, distinction between
divine and human law, in, 167;
changes resulting from the adoption of, 68;
chief of the Teuton, possessed of but little power, 170.
Visi-Goths, 104.
Vortices of national life, 313.
Vritra, 209.
Vul, 194.

Wampum, 284.
“Wandering Jew,” the, 264, 270.
White races, 118.
Wiltzi, 105.
Wind-myths, 268.
Words, significant and in-significant, 57 et seq.;
formation of, by joining others, 72.
Writing, the art of picturing sound, 281;
the invention of, 282.

Yaranas, 100, 132.
Yellow races, 117.
Yes, origin of the word, 65.

Zend Avesta, 207, 233, 235.
Zend language, the, 235.
Zend religion, the, pre-eminence of, 232.
Zeus, 199, 202, 206;
the Olympic and Pelasgic, 214;
shrines of, at Dodona and in Elis, 215, 227.
Zio, 199.
Zoroaster, 166.
Zoroastrianism, 233.


[1] Bæda, ii. 13.

[2] See Appendix.

[3] Mr. Evans in his Stone Implements of Great Britain divides those of the River Drift into Flakes, Pointed Implements, and Sharp-rimmed Implements.

[4] Most of these carved implements were discovered by Mr. Christy and M. Lartet, and left by the former to the French Museum of Prehistoric Antiquities at St. Germains. Exact copies of these in plaster, as well as several carved bones, may however be seen at the British Museum; and during the last year the national collection has been greatly enriched by the acquisition of several beautiful specimens of cave carvings from the collection of M. Pecadeau de l’Isle.

[5] See Appendix.

[6] It is curious that there are no remains in Scandinavia which can with certainty be called palæolithic. It would seem as though during this era the countries remained too cold for habitation.

[7] Both in Switzerland and in the neighbourhood of the Pyrenees.

[8] In height, that is. The distance of coast-line which disappears owing to the mere volcanic depression, or the distance of coast-line which appears on the other shore from volcanic upheaval (independently of river deposits, etc.), depends of course upon the level of the coast. It would not, however, be generally more than a yard or two.

[9] Probably as altars or perhaps as gods themselves. I desire to speak with great caution of the rude stone monuments of Europe; for of all branches of prehistoric study this has been the least developed by modern research.

[10] It seems highly probable that the invention of some sort of malt liquor followed upon the growth of corn. Tacitus mentions such a liquor as having been drunk by the Germans of his day. He is doubtless describing a sort of beer.

[11] But not sheep apparently; at least not in Western Europe. In these islands the sheep did not appear before the time of Julius Cæsar.

[12] Hamlet, act v., sc. 1.

[13] M. Troyon has started the idea that the crouched attitude of the dead—repliée, as he describes it: he declares that it does not in the least resemble the crouched attitude which men of some races assume when sleeping—was imposed upon the dead with a symbolical meaning, viz. that it was meant to imitate the position of the child in the womb of its parent, and as such to enfold the hope of resurrection in the act of entombment. The idea is a poetical one, but I much doubt whether it has pre-existed in other minds before finding a place in that of M. Troyon. The author, however, should be heard in defence of his own theory, and may be so in the Revue Arch., ix. 289.

[14] Some of the varieties of grain found in these lake-dwellings are not otherwise known to botanists.

[15] The Phœnicians are said by tradition to have invented the manufacture of glass. But there is no proof of this.

[16] Of course the making of very rude huts of branches and leaves may have been practised by these—such huts as formed the only shelter of the Tasmanians down to our day. For an imaginative description of the most primitive house, see Violet de Duc, The Houses of Men in all Ages, ch. i.

[17] The simile is Mr. Max Müller’s.

[18] In English we have grind, grate, (s)cra(pe), grave (German graben, ‘to dig;’ Eng. ‘grub.’) All words for writing mean cutting, because all writing was originally graving on a stone: thus the Latin scribo (corrupted in the French to écris), in the Greek is grapho, in the German schreibe. These words, as well as the English write, are known to be all from the same root; it is not pretended that they are proofs of a natural selection of sound; but they may be instances of it.

[19] The reader, however, may be referred to Tylor’s Early History of Mankind, ch. iv., for much interesting information on the subject.

[20] Yes is probably not the same word as the German ja (whose significant form is lost), though our yea is.

[21] See below, pp. 70-80.

[22] These two words have, it is true, quite changed their meanings; but our knight rose to its honourable sense from having come to be used only for the servants or attendants of the king (in battle), while the German word retained its older sense of servant, groom, only.

[23] See above, p. 66.

[24] The reader who does not know Latin may easily recognize the kindred forms in French, Italian, Spanish, etc.

[25] Mr. Max Müller calls it the terminational stage.

[26] Agone is possibly from a stronger form âgan, ‘to pass away.’

[27] To get the full sound of the th, this should be said not as we pronounce our article the (which really has the sound dhe), but like the first part of Thebes, theme, etc.

[28] Cf. the Greek klutos.

[29] Stephen, Lectures on the History of France.

[30] This is the theory of Aryan origins still most generally accepted. It has, however, been maintained by several philologists that there is no evidence of an Asiatic origin of the European nations.

[31] See Chapter I.

[32] Among the Iberians, however, the Celtic blood was much diluted with an infusion of that of an earlier Turanian race allied to the modern Basques.

[33] Or say, rather, the people of Italy. Only the Etruscans must probably be excepted from the category, and the Gauls, who subsequently settled themselves in Cisalpine Gaul.

[34] The principal among these laws were elaborated by Jacob Grimm, and hence called ‘Grimm’s Laws.’ They may be seen in his Teutonic Grammar, and also in his History of the German Tongue.

[35] Because they would be hardly likely to give a fresh name to such an intimate relationship as the daughter. On the other hand, it seems necessary that the Aryan race must have been in the hunter state at some period, and equally necessary that they must then have had a word for daughter. Milking, it may be urged, might be practised before the domestication of animals. See also Chapter VI.

[36] Supreme, because his title became a supreme title among these different Aryan stocks.

[37] And this without any reproach to the industry of those at work. The volumes of Kühn’s Zeitschr. für vergleichende Sprachforschung, Lazarus and Steinthal’s Zeitsch. f. Völkerpsychologie, M. Pictet’s fascinating Origines indo-européennes, etc., are storehouses which display the treasures already obtained.

[38] Such a book as we have imagined would form a natural sequel to the principles of comparative grammar as laid down by Bopp, etc. It would differ from a mere comparative dictionary in the arrangement, showing the nature and extent of modification which each word had undergone—where, for instance, Grimm’s laws of change hold good, where not; the cases of the survival of archaic forms (agreeable to Grimm’s second law); and, if they could be discovered as the result of such a classification, the determining causes of such survival among any of the different races.

[39] I have been told that the late Lord Strangford, a great linguist, and a comparative philologist to boot, could always find amusement for an idle half-hour in a book which the reader would probably think of, if asked to name the most uninteresting of created things—I mean Bradshaw, English or foreign; and his interest lay in extracting the hidden meaning and history which lay concealed in these lists of geographical names.

[40] It is found that the peculiarity of curling or not curling in hair depends upon the form, the form in section, of the individual hairs. The woolly hairs are oval in section, the straight ones round.

[41] Lenormant, Manual of the Ancient History of the East, vol. i., p. 55.

[42] Not that this particular foothold has descended to the Turks from early times. See the next paragraph.

[43] Lenormant, Manual, i. 343. It should be remarked that the authority of Justin on such a point is not high.

[44] Mariette’s date is B.C. 5004, Lepsius’s 3892, Wilkinson’s only 2700. Wilkinson’s chronology, however, founded upon the theory of contemporaneous dynasties in the lists of Manetho, has now been generally rejected.

[45] Shûmîr was a portion of the country inhabited by the Accadians.

[46] See Chapter XIII.

[47] Gen. xi. 2.

[48] Gen. xiv.

[49] Kung-foo-tse was his real name.

[50] ‘Fool! why journeyest thou wearisomely in thy antiquarian fervour to gaze on the stone pyramids of Geeza, or the clay stones of Sacchara? These stand there, as I can tell thee, idle and inert, looking over the desert, foolishly enough, for the last three thousand years; but canst thou not open thy Hebrew Bible, or even Luther’s version thereof?’ Sartor Resartus.

[51] For example, the Hindee rupee, the Latin pecunia, and our fee.

[52] As the Sanskrit gôpa, ‘a prince,’ the Slavonic hospodar (from gôspada) contains the word , our ‘cow,’ and means the protector of the cattle; from the same root, Sanskrit gavya, ‘pasturage,’ Saxon , ‘county,’ Greek gaia, or , ‘earth.’

[53] See above, page 94.

[54] Cattle were probably originally communal property: and were appropriated to individuals at a later stage than other movable goods. In the Roman law we find that they could only be transferred by the same forms as were required for the conveyance of land: being classed amongst the ‘res mancipi.’

[55] The same connection between ‘mother’ and ‘daughter’ villages also once existed to a large extent in Germany.

[56] That is to say, the stories themselves may be old enough; the application of them to some special members of a pantheon marks the condition of the creed.

[57] The etymology of Indra’s name is uncertain. It cannot therefore be said whether or no he was originally a sun-god, though he has many of the attributes of one. In the Vedas he is also a god of storms.

[58] Welcker maintains (Griech. Götterlehre) that the title, Son of Time, belonged to Zeus before Kronos (Chronos) was invented as a personality to be the father of Zeus.

[59] I purposely leave out Aphrodite (Venus) from this category, as she partakes so much of the nature of an Oriental goddess.

[60] Not directly, however; see Grimm, D. M., vol. i., p. 252.

[61] Soma was the mystic (and no doubt intoxicating) drink used in the sacrifices, and poured as libation to the gods. It was personified as a divinity.

[62] The flash, the father of the Maruts (?).

[63] The dew? (=Prokris?) imaged here as a cow. She is the mother of the Maruts.

[64] Though the character of this has been a good deal exaggerated in the popular notions of the religion of the ancient Persians.

[65] Mitra is associated with the idea of the sun. But I incline to think that originally he was rather the wind of morning, or even the morning sky. He is almost always linked in the hymns with Varuna, who most certainly was at one time the sky (ούρανός), and once a supreme god. See what is said below of Surya.

[66] The Dawn. See p. 205.

[67] The fish.

[68] Literally, ‘the egg’s son.’

[69] It has been already said that the Latin mythology, as we know it, is almost all borrowed directly from the Greek. It is obviously right, therefore, to call the deities by their Greek, and not, as was till recently always done, by their Latin names. The Latin gods had no doubt much of the character of their Greek brethren; but it is to the Greek poets that we are really indebted for what we know about them. In this chapter, for the sake of clearness, the Latin name is generally given in parentheses after the Greek one.

[70] To appreciate this we must compare the representations of Apollo with those of Helios, who was simply and frankly a sun-god even to the later Greeks, and we see that they are essentially the same personality. Even in the very early statues of Apollo, where the artist had not the skill to make wide, flowing locks, the hair is always indicated with great care and some elaboration of detail.

[71] A word allied to our fen.

[72] Homeric hymn to Dêmêtêr.

[73] See Appendix. Persephone and Balder.

[74] Albeit that Aphroditê like Athenê is likewise a goddess sprung from water—from the sea.

[75] As she springs from the head of Zeus, the storm-cloud.

[76] Our knowledge of Teutonic mythology is chiefly gathered from the Norsemen, and in fact almost exclusively from Icelandic literature. The most valuable source of all is the collection of sacred songs which generally goes by the name of Edda den Ældra, the Elder Edda.

[77] Odhinn is the Norse, Wuotan the German, Wodan or Wodin the English name.

[78] Or else the god who inspires. (See Corp. Poet Bor., Introd., p. civ.)

[79] Literally, ‘The Hall of the Slain,’ i.e. the hall of heroes.

[80] Æsir, pl. of As or Ans, the general Norse name for a god.

[81] One of the last appearances of such a phantom army is graphically described by Mr. Motley in his History of the Dutch Republic. The occasion was a short time before the battle of Mookerhyde, in which the army of Prince Louis of Nassau was defeated, and himself slain:—‘Early in February five soldiers of the burgher guard at Utrecht, being on their midnight watch, beheld in the sky above them the representation of a furious battle. The sky was extremely dark except directly over their heads, where for a space equal in extent to the length of the city, and in breadth to that of an ordinary chamber, two armies in battle array were seen advancing upon each other. The one moved rapidly up from the north-west, with banners waving, spears flashing, trumpets sounding, accompanied by heavy artillery and by squadrons of cavalry. The other came slowly forward from the south-east, as if from an entrenched camp, to encounter their assailants. There was a fierce action for a few moments, the shouts of the combatants, the heavy discharge of cannon, the rattle of musketry, the tramp of heavy-armed foot-soldiers, and the rush of cavalry being distinctly heard. The firmament trembled with the shock of the contending hosts, and was lurid with the rapid discharges of their artillery.... The struggle seemed but short. The lances of the south-eastern army seemed to snap ‘like hempstalks,’ while their firm columns all went down together in mass beneath the onset of their enemies. The overthrow was complete—victors and vanquished had faded; the clear blue space, surrounded by black clouds, was empty, when suddenly its whole extent where the conflict had so lately raged was streaked with blood, flowing athwart the sky in broad crimson streaks; nor was it till the five witnesses had fully watched and pondered over these portents that the vision entirely vanished.’ (Vol. ii., p. 526.)

[82] The story of Van der Decken, the Flying Dutchman, is surely (more especially since its dramatization by Wagner) too well known to need relation. Van der Decken, or Dekken, seems to mean ‘the man with the cloak;’ he too is probably a changed form of Odin.

[83] It may be as well to say here that every detail of the legend is found upon a critical inquiry to be significant. His name Hackelbärend (cloak-bearer) connects him with Odin, the wind-god. His two dogs connect him with two dogs of Sanskrit mythology, also signifying the wind.

[84] See Uhland, Der Mythus von Thor.

[85] Baldur; a Song of Divine Death, by Robert Buchanan.

[86] This scarcely holds as a simile, for in fact the light is the aurora. It need hardly be said, therefore, that the comparison is not found in the original story.

[87] I.e. Garðr a general name for earth, expanded from the confined meaning of inclosure, yard (allied to οἶκος, hortus); just as γαῖα is connected with a cow-inclosure.

[88] The meaning of Zoroaster, or rather Zarathustra, his true name. The reader may usefully consult M. James Darmesteter’s Zend Avesta (Sacred Books of the East, vol. iv.), in which he will see how much of this religion is (in the opinion of M. Darmesteter) simply an early nature-religion parallel to that of the Vedas.

[89] Hence the name Mazdean applied to this creed.

[90] See Chapter IV., p. 100.

[91] Or the graves of those whom he desired specially to honour. We can guess at the process of his thought pretty well. First, the body is buried deep, or earth is thrown over it in a heap, to keep it from being torn up by wild beasts. Then as the covering of the body gets to be thought a special insurance of vitality to the soul, the practice is exaggerated more and more until we get the great grave-mounds and the pyramids.

[92] Wooden statues were very common in the earliest Egyptian dynasties. But they belong to these only.

[93] Blue or green is the colour of Osiris, who represents the soul. (See Chapter VII.)

[94] The Egyptian tombs having generally an upper chamber for the sacrifices or funeral feasts, and a chamber in the earth beneath for the mummy.

[95] Sheol is the Hebrew word generally translated ‘grave’ in our version. Very different from the teaching of modern religion is the following passage:—

Sheol shall not praise the Jehovah,
The dead shall not celebrate Thee:
They that go down into the pit shall not hope for Thy truth.
The living, the living, shall praise Thee as I do this day.’
(Isa. xxxviii. 18, 19.)

[96] Still, this effect of their art on us may arise from the disappearance of some monuments which had a very different character, e.g. the campo santo pictures, as we may call them, of Polygnotus at Delphi. (See Pausanias, x. 28.)

[97] The reason why the ‘blameless Ethiopians’ were honoured by name and by the company of the gods, is most likely to be found in the fact of their living, as Homer thought, so near the western border of the world.

[98] Weber, in Chamb. 1020.

[99] Vrhadâranyaka, Ed. Pol., iii. 4-7.

[100] According to the proper laws of change from Sanskrit to Greek, Sârameyas = Έρμείας, Έρμής

[101] Wilson, As. Res., iii. 409.

[102] vii. 6, 15.

[103] Father of the ‘family’ in its larger sense. (See the chapter on Early Social Life.)

[104] ψυχή, spiritus, Geist, ghost, all from the notion of breathing.


ψυχή δἐ κατἀ χθονὀς, ἠΰτε καπνός, ᾤχετο
(Il. xxiii, 100.)
‘And to its home beneath the earth like smoke
His soul went down.’

[106] The suggestion of Grimm (Ueber das Verb. der Leichen), that burying may have been used by an agricultural people, by those who were wont to watch the sown seed spring into new life, whereas burning is the custom of shepherd races, is not supported by a wide survey of the facts. The Aryans were not essentially pastoral, on the whole less so than the Turanian people who buried (see Herod., I. 4, for the Scythians), and less so again than the Semites, who did the same.

[107] The Vendidâd relates how after that Auramazda had created sixteen perfect localities upon earth, Ahrimanes came after (like the sower of tares), and did what in him lay to spoil the paradises, by introducing all sorts of noxious animals and other abominations, such as the practice of burning the dead body or giving it to the water. The Iranians, as is well known, suspended their dead upon a sort of grating, and left them to be devoured of wild birds.

[108] Beowulf, the oldest poem in our language (in Early English), is considered to have been written somewhere about A.D. 700. It relates the adventures of a prince of Jutland or of Southern Sweden. Though made and sung in a Christian country, it breathes the spirit of an earlier (heathen) time, as the instance of the burning of Beowulf alone would testify.

[109] Hel, from helja, ‘to conceal,’ answered identically to Hades.

[110] This heavenward journey may be described as at first a haven-ward one (i.e. across the sea); later as a really heavenward one through the air, with the wind-god.

[111] This is the Younger, or Prose Edda, of Snorro (Dæmisaga 49), not that called the Edda of Sæmund—the Elder Edda. Undoubtedly the myth of Balder is largely infused with Christian elements.

[112] Hel, in Norse mythology, is a person, the regent of Helheim. Just in the same way Hades is in Homer always a god, never a place. The idea concerning Helheim seems to have been that all who were not slain in battle went to its dark shore.

[113] i.e. Dokkr, dark. She sits in a cave, because both day and night are imagined as coming from a cave. So Shelley sings—

‘Swiftly walk over the western cave,
Spirit of Night,
Out of thy misty eastern cave.’

[114] Or, strictly speaking, the Brahmana of the Yagur Veda. The Brahmana is the scholiast (as it were) or targum of the original text. Urvasi is Ushas, the Dawn.

[115] Morris, Earthly Paradise: Cupid and Psyche.

[116] I have no doubt there is another element in all these stories, not inconsistent with but complementary to the first—namely, what I will call a mystery element connected with a descent to the world of shades, such as formed the staple of the Eleusinian mysteries. Thus I think Pururavas is the hidden sun (the dark Osiris as it were). He might call himself Pururavas under the earth as Prince Hatt is Prince Hatt under the earth. This would explain how the story got to be connected with Psyche (the Soul). It may be said, too, that there is often a mystery element connected with such notions as the concealment of names, etc.

[117] Connected with Lêthê, concealment or forgetfulness, as with Lêto, the mother of Apollo. All signify the darkness.

[118] See last chapter, p. 252. Endymion is found by Artemis sleeping in a cave of Latmos.

[119] See Baring-Gould, Curious Myths, etc.

[120] He is actually a reduplication of Thor; for his name means thunder, as does Thor’s. Thor is of course much more than a god of thunder only; but his hammer is undoubtedly the thunder-bolt. Thrym represents the same power associated with beings of frost and snow, the winter thunder, in fact. This stealing Thor’s hammer is merely a repetition of the idea implied by his name and character.

[121] Which Freyja wore.

[122] Giant does not really translate Thurs. Most of the Thursar were giants as opposed to the Dvargar, the dwarfs. But this Alvîs (all-wise) is spoken of as a dwarf.

[123] There is a clear recollection of this in the end of Rumpelstiltskin.

[124] This story, be it said, comes only from the younger Edda. No hint of it in the older.

[125] ‘Beowulf,’ we have said, is thought to have been first composed in English at the end of the seventh century. There was probably an earlier and more simple version of the poem which has come down to us. I do not mean to say that either Beowulf or Sigurd are simply personifications of the sun; only that some of their belongings and adventures have descended to them from sun-heroes.

[126] Valkyria, sing.; Valkyriur, pl.

[127] Kinder-u. Hausmärchen.

[128] I.e. the sky. See Grimm, Deutsche Myth., s.v. (Hackelberg); and also two very interesting articles by A. Kühn, Zeitsch. für deutsch. Alterth., v. 379, vi. 117, showing relationship of Hackelbärend and the Sârameyas.

[129] These twelve nights occupy in the middle-age legends the place of a sort of battle-ground between the powers of light and darkness. One obvious reason of this is that they lie in midwinter, when the infernal powers are the strongest. Another reason, perhaps, is that they lie between the great Christian feast and the great heathen one, the feast of Yule. Each party might be expected to put forth its full power.

[130] Perhaps for a reason like that which made the beetle a symbol of the soul or immortality among the Egyptians, namely, because the mouse hibernates like the sleeping earth. It is worth noticing that Anubis, the Egyptian psychopomp, is also a wind-god.—A. K.

[131] The appearance of children in the story need not, however, necessarily mean that the mortality had specially affected the children. It may only have been an expression like the Latin manes—the little ones—used for the souls of the departed. We know how constantly in mediæval art the soul is represented as drawn out of the body in the form of a child.

[132] There are at least six different versions of the same legend given in Grimm’s Deutsche Sagen.

[133] This myth is related by Procopius (B. G., iv.). There is little doubt that this island, which he calls Brittia (and of course distinguishes from Britannia), is really identical with it. The wall which he speaks of as dividing it is proof sufficient.

[134] To the house of Yama.

[135] See above, p. 251.

[136] See above, p. 231.

[137] The fortune which accompanies a myth is very curious. That of Freyr and Gerda is by no means conspicuous in the Edda, and I should not have been justified in comparing it in importance with the Persephone myth, but that precisely the same story forms a leading feature in the great Norse and Teuton epic, the Volsung and Nibelung songs.

[138] It is interesting to note that one of the proofs that the Greek alphabet is derived from the Phœnician is precisely similar to the proof that the Sanskrit Dyâus or duhitar are earlier forms than Zeus or daughter. Because in Greek alphabet means only alpha (α) beta (β), but in Phœnician alpha or aleph and beta or beth have distinct meanings—‘ox’ and ‘house’—the objects supposed to be symbolized by the first two Phœnician letters. See above.

[139] Or Khita.

[140] The word would be more correctly spelt Yawân. It is known that Iôn has been changed from Ivôn, or rather Iwôn, by the elision of the digamma.

[141] i.e. the Gauls.

[142] For the story of Bran’s head, which spoke after it was cut off, and which is in its natural interpretation probably the sun, see Mr. M. Arnold’s Celtic Literature.

[143] Or if the Teutones were really Germans. Some have denied this (see Latham’s Germania, Appendix). But, I think, without sufficient reason.

[144] Latham’s Germania.

[145] And therefore possibly Slaves, Wend being a name applied by Teutons to Slaves.

[146] e.g. Old German, aran, to plough = arare, etc.

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:
party exterminated=> partly exterminated {pg 101}
certain among the the islands=> certain among the islands {pg 115}
of the Semitic=> of the Semetic {pg 118}
the Ayran people=> the Aryan people {pg 199}
have the Elsyian fields=> have the Elysian fields {pg 243}
the Egyptian heiroglyphics=> the Egyptian hieroglyphics {pg 311}
closely alied to=> closely allied to {pg 320}
the ancient Egptian=> the ancient Egyptian {pg 339}
case in repect of=> case in respect of {pg 351}
in Phenician=> in Phœnician {pg 357}
to the Eyptians=> to the Egyptians {pg 364}