Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 9, 1898.djvu/403

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369
Correspondence.

is the weaving of a futile rope ; twisted and untwisted in festival custom in Egypt, in Greek and Roman art eaten by an ass, made of sand in Arabic story and in English legend.

Further, in more than one ancient monument the futile rope is associated with those futile water-carriers, the Danaides, whose condemnation it was to carry water in sieves ; and in Cornwall the spirit set to weave ropes of sand had also to empty a lake by the aid of a shell with a hole in it.

What do these coincidences mean ?

In the hope of gaining further facts I quote, but make no attempt to value, the following ropemakers, ass, and water-carriers.

"In the city of Acanthus, towards Libya beyond the Nile, about 120 furlongs from Memphis, there is a perforated pithos,[1] into which they say 360 of the priests carry water every day from the Nile. And the fable of Ocnus is represented near at hand, on the occasion of a certain public festival. One man is twisting a long rope, and many behind him keep untwisting what he has plaited."[2]

In the painting by Polygnotus at Delphi, Pausanias describes, among other dwellers in Hades,

"a man seated : an inscription sets forth that the man is Indolence (Oknos). He is represented plaiting a rope, and beside him stands a she-ass furtively eating the rope as fast as he plaits it. They say that this Indolence was an industrious man who had a spendthrift wife,and as fast as he earned money she spent it. Hence, people hold that in this picture Polygnotus alluded to the wife of Indolence. I know, too, that when the lonians see a man toiling at a fruitless task they say he is splicing the cord of Indolence." [3]

In the mediæval Arabic story, one of the tasks imposed by Pharaoh on Haykar the Sage is to make two ropes of sand ; Haykar says : "'Do thou prescribe that they bring me a cord from thy stores that I twist one like it.' So when they had done as he bade, Haykar fared forth arear of the palace and dug two

  1. Pithos, a vessel of large size, used for stores, sometimes sunk in the ground as a cellar.
  2. Diodorus Siculus, i. 97.
  3. Pausanias, x. 29, 2. See J. G. Frazer, Pausanias, vol. v. p. 376 ; Edinburgh Review, April, 1897, p. 458 ; Journal Hellenic Studies, vol. xiv. p. 81.