Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 1.djvu/24

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xiv
PREFACE TO THE

time, there were others which might have struck the minds of the listeners with great force under the peculiar circumstances that evoked them, but which, when these circumstances were forgotten, became trivial and almost unintelligible. A few verses sung by warriors on the eve of a great battle would, if that battle ended in victory, assume a charm quite independent of their poetic merit. They would be repeated in memory of the heroes who conquered, and of the gods who granted victory. But when the heroes, and the gods, and the victory were all forgotten, the song of victory and thanksgiving would often survive as a relic of the past, though almost unintelligible to later generations.

 Even a single ceremonial act, performed at the time of a famine or an inundation, and apparently attended with a sudden and almost miraculous success, might often be preserved in the liturgical code of a family or a tribe with a superstitious awe entirely beyond our understanding. It might be repeated for some time on similar emergencies, till when it had failed again and again it survived only as a superstitious custom in the memory of priests and poets.

 Further, it should be remembered that in ancient as in modern times, the utterances of men who had once gained a certain prestige, would often receive attention far beyond their merits, so that in many a family or tribe the sayings and teachings of one man, who had once in his youth or manhood uttered words of inspired wisdom, would all be handed down together, without any attempt to separate the grain from the chaff.