Curious Myths of the Middle Ages/The Piper of Hameln

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HAMELN town was infested with rats, in the year 1284. In their houses the people had no peace from them; rats disturbed them by night and worried them by day

“They fought the dogs, and kill’d the cats,
   And bit the babies in the cradles,
 And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
   And lick’d the soup from the cook’s own ladles,
 Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
 Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,
 And even spoil’d the women’s chats,
   By drowning their speaking
   With shrieking and squeaking
 In fifty different sharps and flats.”

One day, there came a man into the town, most quaintly attired in parti-coloured suit. Bunting the man was called, after his dress. None knew whence he came, or who he was. He announced himself to be a rat-catcher, and offered for a certain sum of money to rid the place of the vermin. The townsmen agreed to his proposal, and promised him the sum demanded. Thereupon the man drew forth a pipe and piped.

“And ere three shrill notes the pipe utter’d,
 You heard as if an army mutter’d;
 And the muttering grew to a grumbling,
 And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling:
 And out of the town the rats came tumbling.
 Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
 Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats,
 Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
   Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
 Cocking tails and pricking whiskers;
   Families by tens and dozens,
 Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives,
 Follow’d the Piper for their lives.
 From street to street he piped advancing,
 Until they came to the river Weser,
 Wherein all plunged and perish’d.”

No sooner were the townsfolk released from their torment, than they repented of their bargain, and, on the plea that the rat-destroyer was a sorcerer, they refused to pay the stipulated remuneration. At this the piper waxed wrath, and vowed vengeance. On the 26th June, the feast of SS. John and Paul, the mysterious Piper reappeared in Hameln town—

“Once more he stept into the street,
   And to his lips again
 Laid his long pipe of smooth, straight cane;
   And, ere he blew three notes (such sweet,
 Soft notes as yet musician’s cunning
 Never gave to the enraptured air),
 There was a rustling, that seem’d like a bustling
 Of merry crowds justling, at pitching and hustling,
 Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
 Little hands clapping, and little tongues chattering \:
 And, like fowls in a farmyard where barley is scattering,
 Out came the children running.
 All the little boys and girls,
 With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
 And sparkling eyes, and teeth like pearls,
 Tripping, skipping, ran merrily after
 The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.”

The Piper led the way down the street, the children all following, whilst the Hameln people stood aghast, not knowing what step to take, or what would be the result of this weird piping. He led them from the town towards a hill rising above the Weser—

“When, lo! as they reach’d the mountain’s side,
 A wondrous portal open’d wide,
 As if a cavern were suddenly hollow’d;
 And the piper advanced, and the children follow’d;
 And when all were in, to the very last,
 The door in the mountain side shut fast.”

No! not all. Two remained: the one blind, and the other dumb. The dumb child pointed out the spot where the children had vanished, and the blind boy related his sensations when he heard the piper play. In other accounts, the lad was lame, and he alone was left; and in after years he was sad. And thus he accounted for his settled melancholy—


“It’s dull in our town since my playmates left;
 I can’t forget that I’m bereft
 Of all the pleasant sights they see,
 Which the piper also promised me;
 For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
 Joining the town, and just at hand,
 Where waters gush’d, and fruit-trees grew,
 And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
 And every thing was strange and new;
 And sparrows were brighter than peacocks here
 And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
 And honey bees had lost their stings,
 And horses were born with eagle’s wings;
 And just as I became assured
 My lame foot would be speedily cured,
 The music stopp’d, and I stood still,
 And found myself outside the hill,
 Left alone against my will,
 To go now limping as before,
 And never hear of that country more.”

The number of children that perished was one hundred and thirty. Fathers and mothers rushed to the east gate, but when they came to the mountain, called Koppenberg, into which the train had disappeared, nothing was observable except a small hollow, where the sorcerer and their little ones had entered.

The street through which the piper went is called the Bungen-Strasse, because no music, no drum (Bunge), may be played in it. If a bridal procession passes through it, the music must cease until it is out of it. It is not long since two moss-grown crosses on the Koppenberg marked the spot where the little ones vanished. On the wall of a house in the town is written, in gold characters—

“Anno 1284 am dage Johannis et Pauli war der 26. Junii dorch einen piper mit allerlei farve bekledet gewesen 130 kinder verledet binnen Hameln gebon to Calvarie, bi den Koppen verloren.”

On the Rathhaus was sculptured, in memory of the event—

“Im Jahr 1284 na Christi gebert
 Tho Hamel worden uthgevert
 hundert und dreiszig kinder dasülvest geborn
 durch einen Piper under den Köppen verlorn.”

And on the new gate—

“Centum ter denos cum magus ab urbe puellos
 Duxerat ante annos CCLXXII condita porta fuit.”

For long, so profound was the impression produced by the event, the town dated its public documents from this calamity[1].

Similar stories are told of other places. A man with a violin came once to Brandenburg, and walked through the town fiddling. All the children followed him: he led them to the Marienberg, which opened and admitted him and the little ones, and, closing upon them, left none behind. At one time, the fields about Lorch were devastated with ants. The Bishop of Worms instituted a procession and litanies to obtain the deliverance of his people from the plague. As the procession approached the Lake of Lorch, a hermit came to meet it, and offered to rid the neighbourhood of the ants, if the farmers would erect a chapel on the site, at the cost of a hundred gulden. When they consented, he drew forth a pipe and piped so sweetly that all the insects came about him; and he led them to the water, into which he plunged with them. Then he asked for the money, but it was refused. Whereupon he piped again, and all the pigs followed him: he led them into the lake, and vanished with them.

Next year a swarm of crickets ate up the herbage; the people were in despair. Again they went in procession, and were met by a charcoal-burner, who promised to destroy the insects, if the people would expend five hundred gulden on a chapel. Then he piped, and the crickets followed him into the water. Again the people refused to pay the stipulated sum, thereupon the charcoal-burner piped all their sheep into the lake. The third year comes a plague of rats. A little old man of the mountain this time offers to free the land of the vermin for a thousand gulden. He pipes them into the Tannenberg; then the farmers again button up their pockets, whereupon the little man pipes all their children away[2].

In the Hartz mountains once passed a strange musician with a bagpipe. Each time that he played a tune a maiden died. In this manner he caused the death of fifty girls, and then he vanished with their souls[3].

It is singular that a similar story should exist in Abyssinia. It is related by Harrison, in his “Highlands of Æthiopia,” that the Hadjiuji Madjuji are dæmon pipers, who, riding on a goat, traverse a hamlet, and, by their music, irresistibly draw the children after them to destruction.

The soul, in German mythology, is supposed to bear some analogy to a mouse. In Thuringia, at Saalfeld, a servant-girl fell asleep whilst her companions were shelling nuts. They observed a little red mouse creep from her mouth and run out of the window. One of the fellows present shook the sleeper, but could not wake her, so he moved her to another place. Presently the mouse ran back to the former place, and dashed about seeking the girl: not finding her, it vanished; at the same moment, the girl died[4].

Akin to the story of the piper is that made familiar to us by Goethe’s poem, the Erlking.

A father is riding late at night with his child wrapped in a mantle. The little fellow hears the erlking chanting in his ear, and promising him the glories of Elf-land, where his daughters dance and sing, awaiting him, if he will follow. The father hushes the child, and bids him not to listen, for it is only the whistling of the wind among the trees. But the song has lured the little soul away, and when the father unfolds his mantle, the child is dead.

It is curious that a trace of this myth should remain among the Wesleyans. From my experience of English dissenters, I am satisfied that their religion is, to a greater extent than any one has supposed, a revival of ancient paganism, which has long lain dormant among the English peasantry. A Wesleyan told me one day that he was sure his little servant-girl was going to die; for the night before, as he had lain awake, he had heard an angel piping to her in the adjoining room; the music was inexpressibly sweet, like the warbling of a flute. “And when t’aingels gang that road,” said the Yorkshire man, “they’re boun to tak bairns’ souls wi’ em.” I know several cases of Wesleyans declaring that they were going to die, because they had heard voices singing to them, which none but themselves had distinguished, telling them of the—

“—— happy land
Far, far away,”

precisely as the piper of Hameln’s notes seemed to the lame lad to speak of a land—

“Where flowers put forth a fairer hue,
 And every thing was strange and new.”

And I have heard of a death being accounted for by a band of music playing in the neighbourhood. “When t’music was agaite, her soul was forced to be off.”

A hymn by the late Dr. Faber, now very popular, is unquestionably founded on this ancient superstition, and is probably an unconscious revival of early dissenting reminiscences.

“Hark! hark, my soul! Angelic songs are swelling
 O’er earth’s green fields and ocean’s wave-beat shore:
 How sweet the truth those blessed strains are telling
 Of that new life when sin shall be no more!

“Onward we go, for still we hear them singing,
 Come, weary souls, for Jesus bids you come:
 And through the dark, its echoes sweetly ringing,
 The music of the Gospel leads us home.
     Angels of Jesus, Angels of Light,
     Singing to welcome the pilgrims of the night.”

An idea which I have myself consciously adopted in a hymn on the severing of Jordan (People’s Hymnal, 3), upon the principle which led the early Christians to adopt the figure of Orpheus as a symbol of Christ.

“Sweet angels are calling to me from yon shore,
 Come over, come over, and wander no more.”

The music which our English dissenters consider as that of angels’ singing, is attributed by the Germans to the Elves, and their song is called Alpleich or Elfenreigen. Children are cautioned not to listen to it, or believe in the promises made in the weird spirit-song. If they hearken, then Frau Holle, the ancient goddess Hulda, takes them to wander with her in the forests.

A young man heard the music, and was filled with an irresistible longing to be with Dame Holle. Three days after he died, and it was said of him, “He preferred the society of Frau Hulda to heaven, and now till the judgment he must wander with her in the forest[5].” In like manner, in Scandinavian ballads, we are told of youths who were allured away by the sweet strains of the Elf maidens[6]. Their music is called ellfr-lek, in Icelandic liuflíngslag, in Norwegian Huldreslát.

The reader will have already become conscious that these northern myths resemble the classic fable of the Sirens, with their magic lay; of Ulysses with his ears open, bound to the mast, longing to rush to their arms, and perish.

The root of the myth is this: the piper is no other than the wind, and ancients held that in the wind were the souls of the dead. All over England the peasants believe still that the spirits of unbaptized children wander in it, and that the wail at their doors and windows are the cries of the little souls condemned to journey till the last day. The ancient German goddess Hulda was ever accompanied by a crowd of children’s souls, and Odin in his wild hunt rushed over the tree-tops, accompanied by the scudding train of brave men’s spirits. It is because the soul is thought to travel on the wind, that we open the window to let a dying person breathe his last. Often have I had it repeated to me that the person in extremis could not die, that he struggled to die, but was unable till the casement was thrown open, and then at once his spirit escaped.

In one of the Icelandic sagas we have a strange story of a man standing at his house-door, and seeing the souls go by in the air, and among the souls was his own; he told the tale and died.

In Greek mythology, Hermes Psychopompos carries the spirits of the dead to Hades; and in Egyptian fable, Thoth performs the same office. I am satisfied that we have in Hermes two entirely distinct divinities run into one, through the confusion of similar names, that the Pelasgic, Ithyphallic Hermes is an entirely distinct god from the tricksy, thievish youth with winged feet and fluttering mantle. The Pelasgic Hermes (from ἔρμα) is the sun as generator of life, whilst the other Hermes (from ὁρμή) is the impetuous wind, whose representative Saramâ exists as the gale in Indian mythology. Hermes Psychopompos is therefore the wind bearing away the souls of the dead. He has other atmospheric characteristics: the flying cloak, a symbol of the drifting cloud,—as Odin, the rushing of storm, is also Hekluberandi, the mantle-bearer; the winged Talaria, emblems of the swiftness of his flight; and the lyre, wherewith he closes the thousand eyes of Argos, the starry firmament, signifying the music of the blast

The very names given to the soul, animus, ἄνεμος or spiritus, and athem, signify wind or breath, and point to the connexion which w r as supposed to exist between them. Our word Ghost, the German Geist, is from a root “gisan,” to gush and blow, as does the wind.

In the classic Sirens we cannot fail to detect the wailing of the rising storm in the cordage, which is J likely to end in shipwrecks. The very name of Siren is from συρίζω, to pipe or whistle[7], just as their representatives in Vedic mythology, the Ribhus, draw their name from rebh, to sound, to which the Greek ῥοιβδέω is akin. The Sirens are themselves winged beings[8], rushing over the earth, seeking every where the lost Persephone.

But the piping wind does not merely carry with it the souls of the dead, and give the mariner warning of approaching wreck: it does something besides. Let us lie on a hill-side, and watch the rising gale. All is still and motionless. Presently we hear the whistle in the grass, and then every herb and tree is set in agitation. The trees toss from side to side, and the flowers waver, and rock their bells. All are set dancing, and cannot stop till the piping has ceased. In this we have the rudiment of another myth, that of the musical instrument which, when played, sets every thing a-capering.

Grimm has a story to this effect: a lad obtains a bow which will bring down any thing he aims at, and a fiddle which, when scraped, will make all who hear it dance. He shoots a bird, and it falls into a bush of thorns; a Jew goes into the bush to get the bird, then the lad strikes up a tune on his instrument, and makes the Jew dance in the bush till he has paid him a large sum to obtain rest. In a Walachian story it is the Almighty who gives the lad a bagpipe. The tale runs thus: a boy runs away from his brother with a quern; on the approach of night he hides in a tree. Some robbers come beneath the tree, and spread out their spoils. The lad drops the mill-stone, which puts the robbers to flight, and he thus obtains the gold. Then the story runs on like that of Grimm, only the Jew is replaced by a priest (Schott, xxii).

The same story is found among the modern Greeks, and the hero has a pipe, and his name is Bakala[9].

We have a similar tale in England, published by Wynkyn de Worde, entitled “A merry Geste of the Frere and the Boye,” in which the lad receives—

“—— a bowe
Byrdes to shete”

and a pipe of marvellous power—

“All that may the pype here
 Shall not themselfe stere,
 But laugh and lepe about[10].”

In the Icelandic Herauds ok Bosa Saga, which rests on mythologic foundation, a harp occurs which belonged to a certain Sigurd. Bosi slays Sigurd, puts on his skin and clothes, and taking the harp, goes in this disguise to the banquet-hall of king Godmund, where his true-love is about to be wed to another man. He plays the harp, and the knives and plates, the tables and stools, then the guests, and lastly the monarch himself, are set dancing. He keeps them capering till they are too exhausted to move a limb; then he casts the bride over his shoulder and makes off[11].

In the mediæval romance of Huon de Bordeaux, Oberon’s horn has the same properties; and in a Spanish tale of the Fandango, at the strains of the tune, the Pope and cardinals are made to dance and jig about.

In that most charming collection of fairy tales, made in Southern Ireland by Mr. Crofton Croker, we meet with the same wonderful tune; but the fable relating to it has suffered in the telling, and the parts have been inverted. Maurice Connor, the blind piper, could play an air which could set every thing, alive or dead, capering. In what way he learned it is not known. At the very first note of that tune the brogues began shaking upon the feet of all who heard it, old or young; then the feet began going, going from under them, and a last up and away with them, dancing like mad, whisking here, there, and every where, like a straw in a storm: there was no halting while the music lasted. One day Maurice piped this tune on the sea-shore, and at once every inch of it was covered with all manner of fish, jumping and plunging about to the music; and every moment more and more would tumble out of the water, charmed by the wonderful tune. Crabs of monstrous size spun round and round on one claw with the nimbleness of a dancing-master, and twirled and tossed their other claws about like limbs that did not belong to them.

“John-dories came tripping;
 Dull hake by their skipping
    To frisk it seem’d given;
 Bright mackrel came springing,
 Like small rainbows winging
   Their flight up to heaven;
 The whiting and haddock
 Left salt-water paddock
   This dance to be put in,
  Where skate with flat faces
  Edged out some odd plaices;
    But soles kept their footing.”

Then up came a mermaid, and whispered to Maurice of the charms of the land beneath the sea, and the blind piper danced after her into the salt sea, followed by the fish, and was never seen more.

In Sclavonic tales the magical instrument has a quite opposite effect—it sends to sleep. This signifies the whistling autumn wind, chilling the earth and checking all signs of life and vegetation. But another magical harp—that is, the spring breeze— restores all to vigour. The sorcerer enchants with the tones of his guzla, and all is hushed,—that is, the winter god sends the earth to sleep at the sound of his frozen gale; but, with the notes of the spring zephyr, the sun-god, golden-haired, revives creation, overcoming the charm[12].

It is this marvellous harp which was stolen by Jack when he climbed the bean-stalk to the upper world. In that story the ogre in the land above the skies, who was once the All-father, till Christianity made a monster of him, possessed three treasures: a harp which played of itself enchanting music, bags of gold and diamonds, and a hen which daily laid a golden egg. The harp is the wind, the bags are the clouds dropping the sparkling rain, and the golden egg, laid every morning by the red hen, is the dawn-produced sun. I have not space here to establish these two latter points, but they are repeated in so many cosmogonies, that there can be little doubt as to my interpretation being correct.

Among the Quiches of Guatemala, not a litt to our surprise, the magic pipe which causes dance is to be found. In their sacred book, the Popol-Vuh, the twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque turn their half-brothers into apes. Then they go to the mother, who asks where the lads are. The twins reply that she shall have them again, if she can behold them without laughing. Then they begin to play on their pipes; at the sound, the transformed brothers, Hunbatz and Hunchouen, are attracted from the forest to the house, they enter it and begin to dance. Their mother laughs at their comical gestures, and they vanish (Popol-Vuh, b. ii. c. 5).

I very much fear that I am leading my readers a sad dance, like one of these strange pipers; I only hope that I shall not, like the Sclavonic dæmon harper, send them to sleep. We must go a little further.

It is curious that the lyre-god Apollo should be called Smintheus, because he delivered Phrygia from a plague of rats. How he performed this feat we do not know; probably it was, after the manner of the Hameln piper, with his lyre, for we find that in Greek fable that instrument has powers attractive to the beasts attributed to it. The rats, as animals loving darkness, may have been regarded as symbols of night, and Apollo driving them from the land may have typified the sun scattering darkness.

Orpheus with his strains allured birds and beasts around him, and made the trees and herbs to grow. The name Orpheus has been supposed to be identical with the Vedic Ribhus, which, no doubt, in its original form, was Arbhus. This, however, is not certain. Preller supposes Orpheus to come froi the same root as ὄρΦνη, ἔρεβος, and to signify gloom (Griechische Myth. ii. p. 486); but this is most improbable. He was a son of Apollo, and therefore probably a solar god.

It was hardly to be expected that such a charming and innocent myth as that of Orpheus should have been allowed to drop by the early Christians. They made a legitimate and graceful use of it in the catacombs, when they presented it as an allegory of Christ, who, by the sweet strains of His gospel, overcame brutish natures, making the wolf to lie down with the lamb. But a less justifiable adaptation of the figure was that of the mediæval hagiologists, when they took from Orpheus his lyre and robbed him of his song, and split him into Francis and S. Anthony, the former with his preaching attracting the birds, the latter learnedly propounding scriptural types to the fishes.

It is curious that this Orpheus myth should be found scattered among Aryan and Turanian peoples.

In Sanskrit, it is told of Gunâdhya, in connexion with the Sibylline books story. The poet Gunadhya, an incarnation of Mâljavân, writes with his own blood, in the forest, a mighty book of tales, in seven hundred thousand slokas. He then sends the book by his two pupils, Gunadeva and Nandideva, to king Sâtavâhana, but he rejects it as being composed in the Pisâcha dialect. Gunâdhya then ascends a mountain, and lights a great pile of firewood. He reads aloud his tales, and as he finishes each page, he casts it into the flames. Thus perish one hundred thousand slokas. Whilst the poet reads, stags, deer, bears, buffaloes, and roebucks, in short all the beasts of the forest, assemble and weep tears of delight at the beauty of the tales. In the mean time, the king falls ill, and the doctors order him game. But game is not to be found in the forest, for every living creature of the woods is listening to Gunâdhya. The huntsmen report this to the king, and the monarch hastens to the scene, and offers to buy the wondrous book. But, alas! by this time only one of the seven hundred thousand slokas remains[13].

But this is not the ancient form of the Indian myth. The poet Gunâdhya is the heavenly Mâljavân incarnate, and the fable properly belongs to some of the heavenly musicians, the Ribhus, Maruts, or Gandharvas.

In the mythology of the Rig Veda, the Ribhus are skilled artists, whose element is the summer’s gently stirring breeze. They are akin to the Maruts, the rough winds, with whom they unite in singing a magic song. The Arbhus became in Teutonic mythology the Alben, Elben or Elfen, our Elfs, and in Scandinavian the Alfar. The names are the same: Arbhus became altered into Albhu, by th( change of the r into l; the b in the old German Elbe is replaced in modern German and Norse by an f.

The spring and summer breezes were deified by the ancient Aryans. According to the Rig Veda, they slumber in winter for twelve days, and when they waken, the earth is decked with flowers, the trees with foliage, and the floodgates of the streams are unlocked. These Ribhus were the offspring of Sudhanvan, the skilful archer, just as the classic Orpheus was the son of the bow-bearing Apollo. They are probably identical with the Gandharvas, heavenly musicians attending on Indra (Mahâbh. i. 4806). The name Gandharva is derived from gandh, to harass, injure, and was applied to them as violent winds rending the clouds and scattering the leaves. They were represented as horses, and, according to some etymologists, are the originals of the Centaurs.

I remember one summer evening ascending a knoll in the district of the Landes in Southern France once a region of moving sand-hills, now a vast tract of pine-forest. The air was fragrant with the breath of the fir-woods and the luscious exhalations of the flowery acacias. On all sides stretched the pines, basking in the sun, and rolling, like a green sea, to the snowy range of the Pyrenees, which hung in vaporous blue on the horizon—

“Faintly-flush, phantom-fair—
   A thousand shadowy-pencill’d valleys
 And snowy dells in a golden air.”

Perfect stillness reigned: not a sound from bird or beast was audible. Suddenly a strange, at first inexplicable, music vibrated through the air. Tender and distant, as though a thousand harp-strings were set a-quivering by the most delicate fingers, it rose up the scale by fractions of tones, and then descended again. Weird harmonies broke in upon and overflowed the melody, then ebbed away into sobs of music, again to reunite into a continued undulating chant. Not a breath stirred in my immediate neighbourhood, but the music of the forest was unquestionably brought out by a partial breeze, at some little distance. Any thing more solemn and beautiful could hardly be conceived: it was not like earthly instrumental strains, nor like what we deem the music of the spheres—it was the voice of nature expressing its rapture. The Apostle tells us that Creation groans and travails in its pangs—it does so; but it at times exchanges these utterances of pain for an outburst of the joy of its vitality.

This was the wandering harp of Orpheus seeking the lost Eurydice, the song of the Ribhus, the tale-chanting of Gunâdhya, the lay of the sons of Kalew, and the harping of Wainamoinen.

The Esthonian description of the charm of thi wood-music is very graphic, and may be set beside Ovid’s account of the springing of the trees at the playing of Orpheus.

“In the dusky pine-tree forest
 Sat the eldest son of Kalew,
   Singing ’neath a branching fir.
 As from swelling throat he chanted,
 Danced the fir-cones on the branches;
   Every leaflet was astir.
 All the larches thrill’d, and budding,
   Burst to tufts of silky green;
 Waved the pine-tops in the sunset,
   Steep’d in lustrous purple sheen.
 Catkins dangled on the hazels,
 On the oak the acorns sprouted,
   And the black-thorn blossom’d white,
 Sudden wreathed in snowy tresses,
 Fragrant in the evening glory,
   Scenting all the moonlit night.”

Then the second son of Kalew goes to a birchwood, and sings there. Then the corn begins to kern, the petals of the cherry to drop off, and the luscious fruit to swell and redden, the ripening apple to blush towards the sun, the cranberry and the whortle to speckle the moor with scarlet and purple.

Then the third son intones his lay in a forest of oaks, and the beasts assemble, the birds give voice, the lark sings shrill, the cuckoo calls, the doves coo, and the magpies chatter, the swans utter their trumpet-note, the sparrows twitter, and then as they weary, with sweet flute-like note sad Philomel begins his strain (Kalewpoeg. Rune iii.).

In the Finn mythology, these results follow the playing of Wainamoinen’s magic harp. The story of this instrument is singular enough.

Wainamoinen went to a waterfall, and killed a pike which swam below it. Of the bones of this fish he constructed a harp, just as Hermes made his lyre of the tortoise-shell. But he dropped this instrument into the sea, and thus it fell into the power of the sea-gods, which accounts for the music of the ocean on the beach. The hero then made another from the forest wood, and with it descended to Pohjola, the realm of darkness, in quest of the mystic Sampo; just as in the classic myth Orpheus went down to Hades, to bring thence Eurydice. When in the realm of gloom perpetual the Finn demi-god struck his kantele, and sent all the inhabitants of Pohjola to sleep; as Hermes, when about to steal Io, made the eyes of Argus close at the sound of his lyre. Then he ran off with the Sampo, and had nearly got it to the land of light, when the dwellers in Pohjola awoke, and pursued and fought him for the ravished treasure, which, in the struggle, fell into the sea and was lost; again reminding us of the classic tale of Orpheus

The effects of the harping of Wainamoine remind one of those accompanying the playing the Greek lyrist.

“The ancient Wainamoinen began to sing; he raised his clear and limpid voice, and his light fingers danced over the strings of the kantele, whilst joy answered to joy, and song to song. Every beast of the forest and fowl of the air came about him, to listen to the sweet voice, and to taste the music of his strains. The wolf deserted the swamp, the bear forsook his forest lair; they ascended the hedge, and the hedge gave way. Then they climbed the pine, and sat on the boughs, hearkening whilst Wainamoinen intoned his joy. The old black-bearded monarch of the forest, and all the host of Tapio, hastened to listen. His wife, the brave lady of Tapiola, put on her socks of blue, and her laces of red, and ascended a hollow trunk to listen to the god. The eagles came down from the cloud, the falcon dropped through the air, the mew flitted from the shore, the swan forsook the limpid waves, the swift lark, the light swallow, the graceful finches perched on the shoulders of the god. The fair virgins of the air, the rich and gorgeous sun, the gentle beaming moon, halted, the one on the luminous vault of heaven, the other leaning on the edge of a cloud. There they wove with the golden shuttle and the silver comb. They heard the unknown voice, the sweet song of the hero. And the silver comb fell, the golden shuttle dropped, and the threads of their tissue were broken. Then came the salmon and the trout, the pike and the porpoise, fish great and small, towards the shore, listening to the sweet strains of the charmer” (Kalewala, Rune xxii.).

In one of the heroic ballads of the Minussinchen Tartars, the wind, which is represented as a foal which courses round the world, finds that its master’s two children, Aidôlei Mirgan and Alten Kuruptju, which I take to be the morning and evening stars, are dead and buried and watched by seven warriors. The foal changes himself into a maiden, and comes singing to the tomb such bewitching strains that

“All the creatures of the forest,
 All the wing’d fowl of the air,
 Come and breathless to her listen;”

and the watchers are charmed into letting her steal away the children, as Hermes stole lo from Argus, and she revives them with the water of life, which is the dew[14].

In Scandinavian mythology, Odin was famous for his Rune chanting; and the power of bewitching creation with these Runes obtained for him the name of Galdner, from gala, to sing, a root retained in our nightingale, the night-songster; in gale, a name applied to the wind from its singing powers; and in the Latin gallus, the noisy chanticleer of the farmyard.

A trace of the myth appears in the ancient German heroic Gudrunlied, where the powers are ascribed to Horant, Norse Hjarrandi, who is described as singing a song which no one could learn. “These strains he sang, and they were wondrous. To none were they too long, who heard the strains. The time it would take one to ride a thousand miles passed, whilst listening to him, as a moment. The wild beast of the forest and the timid deer hearkened, the little worms crept forth in the green meadows, fishes swam up to listen, each forgetting its nature, so long as he chanted his song.” On reading this, we are reminded of that sweet German legend, so gracefully rendered by Longfellow, wherein the parts are changed, and it is no more the birds listening to the song of man, but proud man, with finger on lip and bated breath, listening to the matchless warble of the bird.

“A thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday!” mused Brother Felix; “how may that be?” and full of doubt over God’s word he went forth to meditate in the forest.

“And lo! he heard
 The sudden singing of a bird,
 A snow-white bird, that from a cloud
 Dropp’d down,
 And among the branches brown
 Sat singing
 So sweet, and clear, and loud,
 It seem’d a thousand harp-strings ringing.
 And the Monk Felix closed his book,
 And long, long
 With rapturous look
 He listen’d to the song,
 And hardly breathed or stirr’d.”

As he thus listened years rolled by, and on return to the convent he found all changed new faces in the refectory and in the choir.

Then the monastery roll was brought forth, wherein were written the names of all who had belonged to that house of prayer, and therein it was found—

“That on a certain day and date,
 One thousand years before,
 Had gone forth from the convent gate
 The Monk Felix, and never more
 Had enter’d that sacred door:
 He had been counted among the dead.
 And they knew at last,
 That, such had been the power
 Of that celestial and immortal song,
 A thousand years had pass’d,
 And had not seem’d so long
 As a single hour.”

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. Thorpe, Northern Mythology, iii. 119; and Grimm, Deutsche Sagen, Berlin, 1866, i. p. 245. Grimm has collected a list of authorities who speak of the event as an historical fact.
  2. Wolf, Beiträge zur Deutschen Mythologie. Göttingen, 1852, i. 171.
  3. Pröhle, Mährchen, No. 14.
  4. Prætorius, i. 40.
  5. Zeitschrift für Deutsche Myth. i. 27.
  6. Svenska fornsanger, 2. 308. Danske viser, i. 235—240
  7. Cognate words, Lat. susurrus, Sanskrit svri, to sound.
  8. Eurip. Hel. 167.
  9. Von Hahn, Griechische Mährchen, No. 34.
  10. Ritson, Pieces of Ancient Poetry.
  11. Fornmanna Sögur, iii. p. 221.
  12. Chodzko, Contes des Paysans Slaves, 1864.
  13. Katha Sarit Sagara, i., c. 8.
  14. Heldensagen der Minussischen Tataren, v. A. Schiefner. S. Petersburg, 1859, p. 60.