THE RELATION OF MYTHOLOGY TO LANGUAGE.
Expansive power of sensuous words.If to these primæval sensuous words we are indebted for all the wealth of human language, these words must necessarily have possessed an almost boundless power of expansion. A single instance will amply suffice to prove this fact. The old root which expressed the idea of crushing, grinding, or pounding has given birth not only to its direct representatives the Greek μύλη, the Latin mola, the Irish meile, and the English mill and meal; but it may be traced through a vast number of words between the meaning of which there is no obvious connexion. In the Greek μάρναμαι, to fight, the root has acquired that metaphorical meaning which is brought out more clearly in its intransitive forms. In these it embodies naturally the ideas of decay, softening, or destruction; and so it furnished a name for man, as subject to disease and death, the morbus and mors of the Latins. If, again, man was βροτὸς or mortal, the gods were ἄμβροτοι, and drank of the amrita cup of immortality. The grinding away of time was expressed in the Latin mora, and in the French demeurer, while the idea of dead water is perhaps seen in mare, mer, the sea. The root was fruitful in proper names. The Greeks had their gigantic Moliones, or Pounders, while the Norseman spoke of the hammer
Origin of abstract words.The analysis of language has fully justified the anticipation of Locke, that "if we could trace them to their sources, we should find in all languages the names which stand for things that fall not under our senses to have had their first rise from sensible ideas." So thoroughly, indeed, has this conjecture been verified, that the assertion is fast passing into the number of trite and hackneyed sayings; and though the interest and vast importance of the fact remains, few are now tempted to question the conclusion that every word employed to express the highest theological and metaphysical conceptions at first denoted mere sensuous perception.
- Max Müller, Lectures on Language, second series, viii. 343.
- Southey, Curse of Kehama, xxiv. 10.