Page:Journal of American Folklore vol. 12.djvu/367

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

Animal Myths and their Origin. 35

innumerable; and partly restored their former shapes, and partly gave birth to new monsters."

Coming down to more modern times, we find that Mons. Duret in 1609 published the conceit that many aquatic birds and insects are generated from rotten wood. Myths often lead to science and frequently science becomes mythic. The latter happened when such distinguished zoologists as Needham and Buffon advanced the theory that an organism may die as an individual, but its constituent molecules reappear as infusorial animalcules. Such organic mole- cules are on the authority of Buffon the indestructible elements which, now in one form, now in another, pass in endless transmigra- tion through the manifold forms of living things. Moved by such a spirit the natives of Tahiti planted iron nails given them by Captain Cook, in the hope of raising young nails. 1

Sir Thomas Browne 2 accepted the abiogenesis of animals from " the putrefying juices of bodies," and conceived a scale of more and more noxious generation ; " the putrefying materials producing ani- mals of higher mischiefs, according to the advance and higher strain of corruption." At the present time as reflected in Mrs. Bergen's 3 very complete collections of animal and plant lore, there are eleven items concerning the transformation of hairs into either worms or snakes.

So this fancy, which has come to us from ancient days, is still held in all parts of the United States as well as in other countries. Even within the last two or three years, people have asked the ed- itor of the " Scientific American " if the horsehair makes an eel, and the editor has solemnly assured them that it does not. It is an easy step from the conception of the origin of organisms by abio- genesis to their origin from one another by heterogenesis. This is shown in the primitive ideas concerning the gods as represented in the strange Metamorphoses of Ovid. How vivid the picture when Latona, going to drink from a pool, and finding that some rustics have muddied the water, in revenge transforms them into frogs. "Their voice too is now hoarse, and their bloated necks swell out ; and their very abuse dilates their extended jaws. Their backs are united to their heads ; their necks seem as though cut off ; their back-bone is green ; their belly, the greatest part of their body, is white ; and, as new-made frogs, they leap about in the muddy streams." 4 Equally striking are the lines when jealous Pallas changes her rival Arachne, victorious in the weaving contest, into

1 Clodd, Myths and Dreams.

2 Ed. Simon Wilkin, book ii. chapter vii. 1836.

3 Op. at., Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore Society, vol. vii. 1899.

  • Book vi. fable 3.

�� �