Page:Myth, Ritual, and Religion (Volume 1).djvu/361

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
339
GODS OF PHILOSOPHY

Finally came the philosophers and cultivated poets in Greece, and (in an age very remote indeed) the mystic, reflective, and pantheistic priests in Egypt. The priests did not venture to reform out of existence the animal gods, nor to let the old savage rites and legends and mysteries drop into oblivion. They retained them, supplying allegorical, historical, or physical explanations, and, in fact, they could all sign their own "Articles" "in a non-natural sense." We have already examined, in our first chapter, some of the many devices by which Greek philosophers, who had attained a pure conception of divinity, explained away the myths which they inherited from a past infinitely remote and extremely barbarous.

Such is a summary sketch of the evolution of the mythical ideas of gods. The theory thus briefly stated reposes throughout on facts. It starts from the lowest extant myths of the least developed contemporary races, and shows that these myths are derived from the intellectual and material conditions of the peoples among whom they exist. We then trace among nations of gradually advancing culture the effects produced on the original stuff of myths by clearer conceptions of the nature of man and of the world. We find, last, that the spirit of civilisation, especially among the educated classes of Greece, purged away as fire almost all that was material, bestial, savage, in the conception of Deity, while ritual, art, myth, local priestly tradition, and popular superstition still retained much of the ancient fable not different in kind from that which yet survives among Kamilaroi,