Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/339

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TRACES OF ORIGINAL SENSE.

him like Argus with his hundred eyes. The etymology of names, moreover, is at once the guide and safeguard of the mythologist. The obvious meaning of words did much to preserve vestiges of plain sense in classic legend, in spite of all the efforts of the commentators. There was no disputing the obvious facts that Hēlios was the Sun, and Selēnē the Moon; and as for Jove, all the nonsense of pseudo-history could not quite do away the idea that he was really Heaven, for language continued to declare this in such expressions as 'sub Jove frigido.' The explanation of the rape of Persephone, as a nature-myth of the seasons and the fruits of the earth, does not depend alone on analogy of incident, but has the very names to prove its reality, Zeus, Hēlios, Dēmētēr — Heaven, and Sun, and Mother Earth. Lastly, in stories of mythic beings who are the presiding genii of star or mountain, tree or river, or heroes and heroines actually metamorphosed into such objects, personification of nature is still plainly evident; the poet may still as of old see Atlas bear the heavens on his mighty shoulders, and Alpheus in impetuous course pursue the maiden Arethusa.

In a study of the nature-myths of the world, it is hardly practicable to start from the conceptions of the very lowest human tribes, and to work upwards from thence to fictions of higher growth; partly because our information is but meagre as to the beliefs of these shy and seldom quite intelligible folk, and partly because the legends they possess have not reached that artistic and systematic shape which they attain to among races next higher in the scale. It therefore answers better to take as a foundation the mythology of the North American Indians, the South Sea Islanders, and other low-cultured tribes who best represent in modern times the early mythologic period of human history. The survey may be fitly commenced by a singularly perfect and purposeful cosmic myth from New Zealand.

It seems long ago and often to have come into men's