This page of the book is from "The New Student's Reference Work: Volume 3" by Chandler B. Beach, Frank Morton McMurry and others.
MYTHOLOGY 129S MYTHOLOG¤
with the belief in stories about them. The lowest myths are those of such savages as the Hottentots, the native Australians and the Indian tribes in the northwest of this continent. These myths are explanatory; they "explain" some of the wonderful things which happen. Most wonderful is the beginning of the world. It was created, say the Australians, by Bun-jel or Pund-jel, apparently a monstrous eagle-hawk, who also taught men the use of the spear. The foe of the eagle and the source of mischief is the crow, another monstrous bird-god. The bear and other animals also enter the circle of divinities; and among them appear sorcerers, sometimes human in form. All the lowest tribes have myths that tell of wonderful beast-gods,— insects, ravens and even the coyote. It is remarkable that in the mythologies of India and Egypt there are many myths told of gods that were more or less beastlike, and even in the mythology of Greece Pan had goats' legs and Zeus often took the form of some beast. There are to be found in most savage mythologies many striking resemblances, not only to each other but to the disgusting features present in the higher mythologies.
A slightly higher form of mythology is found among the Zulus. Their myths center around ancestors, especially the great Unkulunkulu. It seems that he not only is ancestor of all true Zulus, but is maker of the world. The sky, however, he did not make, and the thunder is caused by the thunder-bird, which may often be seen and even shot. Its fat has magical powers. The Zulus delight in tales which are very like some of the myths of the Greeks and also like many of our own nursery-tales. The myths of the Maoris of New Zealand are still higher in character. At first there were two great gods, man and wife, who had many children, whom they kept in darkness. Then one child led the others in revolt, and separated their parents, earth and heaven, keeping them apart forever. Then these children divided the earth and sea between them, each taking some department, one the fishes, another the reptiles and so on. Man was created by Tiki out of clay. Among them arose the hero Maui, who made the sun and the moon keep strictly to their course in the sky, by giving them a beating! He invented many arts for the good of man, as fire and fishing. At last he died in an attempt to pass down into the body of Great Mother Night, and safely through her and up to light again, even as the sun does every evening and morning. But a little bird awoke Night as Maui went down, and she closed on him and crushed him.
The Mexican mythologies were as absurd and monstrous as those of less civilized people; but the stories were more numerous and systematic. Our own barbaric ancestors belie ved many remarkable and ridiculous
stories, besides thocre that are described in the mythologies of the Norsemen and Teutons. Some of these stories are still preserved in our nursery-tales. For example, it seems that Little Red Riding Hood is none other than the sun itself, according to the old German tale, and the wolf is the black night which swallows her. But in the old story, which is still told in Germany, the wolf is torn open, and out of it steps the little redcloaked girl, as bright as ever, being indeed the morning sun.
Later in history we hear of another class of myths, which we do not always think of as constituting a mythology, perhaps. These are the wonderful stories told of Arthur, king of Britain and defender of the Christian faith against the heathen Saxons; and the stories told of Charlemagne and of Alexander the Great. It is not certain that Arthur ever lived at all; if he did he was only a British chieftain, and his success against the Saxons was not great. But the defeated Britons clung to his memory, and with each passing generation magnified the wonder of his exploits. Then the minstrels of the dark and the middle ages converted him into a king with all the characteristics of a perfect knight, although of such knighthood he could have known nothing. They gave him a Round Table of knights, and these knights had names. They found him a city, and described what it was like in its glory. They gave him a wife and told how she betrayed him. Though all this was mere imagination, much of it came to be accepted as truth. In like manner the exploits of Charlemagne and of Alexander were exaggerated and modified. Among these myths should be mentioned those of the Nibelungenlied (Siegfried, Gunther, Brunhild), which have been made the theme of many great operas. They were confused with the Arthurian myths,— Tristram, Parsifal and others appearing in both series. But,, whereas the Arthurian myths sprang from a small kernel of historic fact, it seems that the Nibelungenlied owed its origin to stories that should explain natural events.
We must not suppose that the age of myths and mythmaking has altogether passed. Besides the beliefs still held by savages and by the less educated classes in such countries as Russia, Japan, India and China, and beside the nursery stories, — the myths of Jack the Giant Killer etc., — there is a constant tendency for stories to spring up in connection with such men as Washington and Lincoln, which appeal to our love of the great and marvellous. But the spread of science and the records preserved by our newspapers, with the love of accuracy fostered by our historians, tend to prevent the formation of fresh myths and to break down the belief in old ones.
If, now, we consider the science of myths, we find that it deals with the comparison of