This page of the book is from "The New Student's Reference Work: Volume 3" by Chandler B. Beach, Frank Morton McMurry and others.
myths, in order to note their resemblances and differences; with the classification of myths; and with the study of the causes of myths. As regards the comparison of myths we have already noted the remarkable resemblance between myths taken from all parts of the world, even in those held by Australians and by Greeks. This is probably to be explained, not by supposing that these myths were formed when the ancestors of Australians, Negroes, Greeks and other races lived together, for it is doubtful whether they ever did; nor by supposing that the stories have spread from one nation to another, encircling the globe, foi there are too many difficulties in the way, and there is no evidence of exchange in other things more likely to be exchanged. Rather the cause of this fundamental resemblance is simply that men are fundamentally everywhere much alike, and the world that they face is the same. Hence they came to invent everywhere much the same stories to make the world seem comprehensible to themselves. This comparison of myths also shows many differences between the myths of different races. Those of savages are marked by their monstrous and ridiculous character. The Hindu myths preserve the characteristics of immensity and indefiniteness. The Egyptian stories seem to be full of hideous and senseless details, whose use apparently was to show the people why they must observe certain rites and ceremonies which the priests required of them and also to inspire them with a fear of the strange and horrible deities. The Scandinavian myths are stories of strength and savage war, relieved by a peculiar rough humor and by touches of pathos. The Greek myths are distinguished, not only by the charm of the stories told, but by the definiteness and beauty of the personalities of many of the gods and heroes. The Romans borrowed practically all their myths from the Greeks, except perhaps the story of Romulus. The myths of the middle ages were marked by the large place that romantic sentiment played in them and by the frequent insistence on the higher virtues of honor and justice, compassion and courtesy.
With regard to classification, myths may be grouped under the divisions of theriomor-phic and anthropomorphic myths. All myths give the forces of nature a personality: theriomorphic myths make the personality that of a beast, anthropomorphic ones that of a man. The former are the earlier myths, and are much more common still among savages; but, as pointed out above, remnants of such myths are found in the highest mythologies.
A better classification is according to the purpose they serve. Myths are explanatory, esthetic or allegorical. The first class explains the beginnings of nature and its wonders As subdivisions we may note myths that explain the beginning of the world, the
beginning of man, the discovery of the arts, as firemaking, corn-planting (compare Hiawatha) and music ; those that explain death, which to the savage seems unnatural", and those that explain the sun, moon and stars and other phenomena of the heavens. Finally there are myths that explain customs. For instance, the fact that an Indian tribe holds a certain animal or tree sacred is explained by saying that the tribe is descended from that animal or tree (compare Exodus xiii). The next class, the esthetic myth, deals with the great and beautiful. Of course many explanatory myths are esthetic also; for example, the myth of Hercules, wherein the hero turns Mount Atlas into stone, and thus "explains" it; and the myth of Theseus, whereby the name of the Ăgean Sea, as well as many Athenian customs and practices, was explained. The finest of the esthetic myths are those of Greece, as the stories of Ulysses, Achilles, Jason, Perseus, Theseus and Hercules and the many stories of the gods and of the lesser divinities. Hardly less beautiful are the myths of the middle ages. Some of these were silly and tiresome ; but in the myths of King Arthur and his knights we recognise the highest merit. The third type of myth, the allegorical, is represented by such stories as those of Baucis and Philemon and of Midas which convey a moral lesson. It is quite possible that these stories had some basis of truth; perhaps an old couple were preserved when some city sank into a lake. Then the story of the celestial warning slowly grew around the mem. ory of the disaster. So perhaps Midas was indeed an avaricious king. Many of the fairy stories are allegorical; for example, the Beauty and the Beast. Ruskin's King of the Golden River is allegorical; but it is not a myth, because no one is expected to believe that it really happened. Many explanatory myths and many esthetic myths have an allegorical character also. For example, the myth of Hercules not only is explanatory and esthetic, but has always been used as an allegory of the selection of duty in preference to pleasure and ease. In most myths it is easy to find an allegory, but they are not truly allegorical, because that is not the main purpose of their existence.
Now let us finally consider the cause of myths. We have already seen that one cause is the astonishment with which the ignorant man of any age views the actions and the forces of nature. Next to ignorance and to astonishment or wonder we must place the delight that man has always felt in imagination. He imagined cause after cause of nature's wonders until he thought of something great or terrible enough to satisfy him. Then he said that that was and must be the cause. The fourth cause is man's tendency to think that other things are like himself. We often see men attribute such thoughts to horses and dogs as only men can have. Now-