Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/September 1882/Anthropoid Mythology

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SHAKESPEARE in one place calls sleep the "ape of death," and thereby gives living expression to an idea which men have at all times entertained of their "nearest relative." As sleep to death, so according to the vulgar view is the ape related to man. Sleep is not quite death, and is no longer conscious life, but is something between the two; and man learns to regard it as a counterfeit of death. We may say, in general, that wherever men have come into close contact with monkeys they have acquired the same impression of them, that they are a caricature of man, and the idea that they are a not-yet man or a no-longer man, a human likeness of a more primitive design or one that has suffered deformity. All of the more ancient conceptions of the relations between men and apes thus waver between variation and degeneration. The shape which the idea of a community of the two principal families of primates has taken, among the partisans of creation as well as of transformism, can be followed, from divination to empiricism, from superstition to scientific description, and it is not strange that among all the theories of the doctrine of development the so-called "monkey theory" has spread most rapidly and widely. Besides the myths and legends in which the face of an ape now and then appears—fables, the fundamental idea of which carried out by skillful and careful minds assumes a scientific value—we meet, among the more ancient peoples who made the anthropoid apes the subjects of scientific disputes or invested them with religious or ritual interest, far more important expressions of a supposed relationship of those creatures with man.

The most ancient literature of the Hebrews is eminently a rich and inexhaustible treasury of observations of nature and inquiries into it. We shall first concern ourselves with these, and then draw from Arabian, Egyptian, Indian, ancient Mexican, and other stores, their ape-lore so far as it is of scientific interest and approaches the present conceptions of the nature of apes. Of the joint triennial voyages of the Israelite and Phoenician fleets to Africa, 1 Kings x, 22, says: "For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram; once in three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold and silver, and ivory, and apes, and peacocks." This is repeated in 2 Chronicles ix, 21. The joint expeditions to Ophir referred to in 1 Kings ix, 27, 28, x and xi, and in 2 Chronicles ix, 10, were probably of the same kind. The name of Tarshish (Tartessus in Spain), the most important trading-point of the Phœnicians, had probably come into application to designate all large merchant-vessels designed for long sea-voyages, in whatever direction they might be accustomed to sail. The Hebrew names for apes, kofim (singular kof), and peacocks, tukijim, undoubtedly point to an Indian derivation. For kof, ape, is in Sanskrit kafi, "the nimble," and tukij corresponds with the Malabar tôgai. The apes which the sailors of those times brought back from their distant journeys were probably Asiatic, even if the possibility is not excluded that the Israelite-Phœnician ships occasionally touched the African coasts and brought monkeys thence. That different kinds of monkeys were kept by the ancient Hebrews as pets, and were also trained for employment in household tasks, appears in numerous places in the post-Biblical literature. Four kinds of monkeys were particularly mentioned: kof, the ape in general, where it alone is named; when it appears at the same time with others it perhaps refers to the Indian Hanuman (Semnopithecus entellus); kipud or kipuph (regarded by some commentators as an abbreviation of cercopithecus), a tailed ape or baboon; Adne-hasadeh, or Abne-hasadeh, or Adam-hasadeh (according to Bochart), or Bar-nash-ditur, corresponding with the orangoutang or the anthropoid apes; and Delphik. Everywhere is a relationship of the ape with man suggested, and in the ritual casuistics the ape is regarded as a kind of man, and so considered in view of the religious law. At the sight of an ape or a monkey, the benediction was uttered, "Praised be he who changes his creatures!"—an allusion to the belief which was found among many ancient people, especially among the Arabs, that the ape was a degenerated form of man, or that the latter took on the outward appearance of the ape in consequence of moral degeneration (Talmud, B. Berachoth, 58 b.). But since the ape to which the benediction applies is placed in the same category with a negro, albino, or dwarf, the idea appears to underlie it that the variation is an inborn one. The former acceptation is supported in Berachoth 57 b., "To see an ape or a monkey in a dream is a bad sign"; and in Bereschit Rabba C., 23, "In the time of Enoch men were changed into apes." Rabbi Jose taught that the corpse of an Adne-hasadeh was unclean in the tent the same as that of a man, while the laws in the case of the bodies of beasts were quite different. Immediately afterward the same Rabbi Jose expresses the opinion that the ape (kof) must be regarded as an undomesticable or hardly domesticable animal. According to him, the Adne-hasadeh stands much nearer to man than the common ape or than any other tailed species of ape. It appears from Joma 29 b and Menachot 100 b, that the ape was employed in household tasks: "If the show-bread is not arranged according to the directions upon the holy tables in the temple at Jerusalem, it is just as though an ape had done it." According to Idajim, 1, 5, the ape could be employed in connection with certain religious ablutions; but the Rabbi Jose, named above, denies him this property. Baba Kama speaks of apes being trained to keep the house clear of vermin; and it is well known that they will eat the smaller animals, such as young birds, mice, bugs, and caterpillars, as dainties.

Of the tricks of apes, Baba Kama tells of one of the animals that stole dye-stuff and colored wool with it. Nedarim mentions one that ran away and was found in a cave along with the treasures that it had collected there. Duvaucel, Brehm, and others, say that Indian apes steal and conceal gold, precious stones, and other bright things.

The palatableness of the milk and blood of bipeds is spoken of by several Talmudic authors, and the question is suggested why, if only men are meant, the term biped should be exceptionally used. The glossater, A. ben David, adds the remark, "such as man"; while Jizchaki says, "Only man is meant here." The erect anthropoids may, however, also have been in the thought of the writers. In exposition of Leviticus xi, 27, "And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four," it is remarked in the Sifra, 51, "By these are meant the ape (kof), the Kipud, and Adne-hasadeh." A. ben David says in this connection: while the ape resembles man in form, and has fingers on his hands and toes on his feet like men, he is nevertheless ranked among the other animals as unclean." In Jebamot, it is said that a deformity of a man's foot by which the toes are bent under the sole so that he has to walk on the back of his foot, renders him unfit for the performance of certain ceremonies. In Moëd Katon is an allusion to a funeral orator, named Bar Kipuph (son of an ape or ape-man), who had a deformity of this kind, and probably received his nickname in consequence of it. Robert Hartmann says that the chimpanzee and orang-outang go on all-fours, bending their fingers into the hollow of their hands, and setting the calloused back of their hands on the ground; and this explains why the gait of crippled persons was called ape-like, and why the orator was called Bar Kipuph. Sometimes we meet the expression, "like the act of an ape," a bare imitation.

The fables of the Abne, Adne, or Adone-hasadeh, have assumed very strange forms. While the Talmudic and Midraist representations of this being distinctly point to an anthropoid ape, the name of which may appear in Job v, 23—"For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field; and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee"—where the word in the original translated stones is believed by some to refer more properly to this animal—the interpreters and glossaters, following the fashion of the grotesque fables of great apes, have made a formidable monster of it. Kilajim describes it as the Bar-nash-ditur (man of the mountain), which can live only through the umbilical cord, and dies if it is broken. Maimonides says the Adone-hasadeh are animals resembling men. Travelers wrote of the animal that it talked much and intelligently, even with a human articulation. In Arabic it is called alnanas, which Buxdorf translated νάνος, nanos, dwarf (in Talmudic nanos means shut). Clearness is lent to the supposition that these accounts referred to apes by the fact that E. Tison, in 1698, methodically dissected a female chimpanzee from Angola in Africa, and called it a pygmy, comparing it with the accounts of the ancients respecting alleged dwarf races in Ethiopia, which races, however, modern ethnologists recognize in several real living tribes of diminutive size. Simson asserts in a note to Kilajim, 8, 5, that he had heard that the Abne-hasadeh was the animal Jodua, through a bone of which, according to Talmud Synhedrin 65, a, b, the wizards mentioned in Leviticus xix, 31, and xx, 6, and in Deuteronomy xviii, 11, placing them' in their mouths, were able to prophesy; "and how a great cord rises out of a root in the ground on which the Jodua grows like a squash or melon; his face, body, and limbs are like those of a man, but the navel is joined to the cord that rises out of the earth-root. No being dare venture within reach of the cord, for fear of being destroyed,* and the animal devastates everything within the circle which the cord describes. No man can approach it with safety; and, if any one wishes to overcome it, he must endeavor to lay hold of the cord and break it, or shoot through it from a distance with an arrow, when the animal dies." We apparently have to deal here with a conglomeration of fables of different times and places. There are, first, exaggerations in the sketches of the great anthropoid apes, from Hanno in his periplus to the fanciful Du Chaillu, not to speak of the fabulous impossible accounts that appear in Pliny, Ælian, and other ancient writers. The Adne-hasadeh, or Jodua, except as to the navel cord, corresponds well with the authentic accounts of the gorilla as we find them in the works of Brehm, Dr. Franquet, R. Burton, Lenz, Gürsfeld, and Koppenfels. By means of the navel-cord we may recognize in the Adne-hasadeh a plant-animal, a kind of Boranetz, of the fable of which Lewysohn, in his "Biology," introduces the following account: "In this steppe or desert (Lesser and Great Tartary) is found the Boranetz, or Bornitch, as some call it, a fruit as large as a melon, having the form of a sheep (whence it gets the name of Boran, Russian for sheep), with a head, feet, and snout, and, what is remarkable, this fruit has on the outside a skin covered with white, bright, and very finely tinted hair, firm as silk. These skins are valued very highly by the Tartars and Russians. This Boranetz grows on a bush three feet high, which implants itself in the navel of the sheep. The fruit turns, like a summer flower, as if it would incline itself toward the plants near it. They tell of it, that if the grass and plants around it dry up, the fruit perishes for want of food and support; and the same happens if the surrounding vegetation is cut and taken away green. They say also that wolves are very fond of the Boranetz, and that it has within meat, blood, and bones." The Adne-hasadeh has, however, none of the Iamb-like character of the Boranetz, but, on the contrary, a spirit averse to restraint.

I believe a slight etymological rectification will give us a clew to the conception out of which this fable has grown. For tabur, navel, substitute tabaat, fundament, and from the cord connecting the navel with a root in the ground we are led to the tail, by which the animal hangs itself to a limb or a projecting root. The accounts of the ferocity of the Adne-hasadeh need not be rejected as silly and monstrous when we recollect how mischievous and destructive some apes are, as, for instance, the Cynocephalus sphynx, which may have stood for the original Adne-hasadeh, and which carries desolation into fields and gardens.

An important part is also assigned to apes in legends and parables. "When Noah was about to lay out his vineyard, Satan came up and asked him, 'Would you like to have me with you at the planting and the wine-making?' 'I am digging,' said Noah, evasively. What did Satan do? He brought up a lamb, a lion, a hog, and an ape, and killed them all in the vineyard till it was soaked with their blood. Thus it happens that man is soft and mild as a lamb after the first draughts; that he feels as brave and strong as a lion when he has drunken as much as agrees with him; then, when he has drunk more than enough, he becomes like a hog, disagreeable and boisterous; and, finally, when quite drunk, staggers and tumbles around, and makes faces, like a monkey." Perhaps the expression "to get as tipsy as a monkey" is derived from this. Synhedrin relates of the time of the confusion of tongues: "At the building of the tower of Babel men divided into three parties. One party said, 'We will go up to heaven and settle there'; the second party said, 'We will pray to our gods up there'; and the third party said, 'We will go up and make war.' The last were changed into apes and devils."

Seven vanities, says the "Kohelet," correspond with the seven phases of the life of man. When he comes into the world, everything kisses and embraces him; from two to three years old, he is like a pig, dirty, rooting everywhere, putting everything into his mouth; at ten years old he is jumping and capering about like a goat; at twenty, he is a horse, vain, enthusiastic, eager, looking around for a wife; when he takes a wife, he becomes an ass, bears burdens, and if he has children he is harassed like a dog to support them; and, when old, he becomes capricious and irritable, like an ape." A later writer, Salomon Ibn Verga, toward the end of the fifteenth century, describes the course of all things and beings as follows: "The coral forms the transition between the mineral and the vegetable kingdom, the sponge between the vegetable and the animal, and the ape is the intermediate member between the animal and the man." Jalkut Reubeni remarks, "The ape veils itself before man as man does in the presence of the Shekinah." We recognize in this view the law brought into vogue by Leibnitz, and extended by Bonnet, of the continuous graded ascent of created beings. Finally, it is proper to state here that, according to the agadistic view, the primitive man as well as the ape, for the most part, lived only on vegetable food. "Flesh-eating was forbidden to Adam as well as to all his posterity till the time of Noah," say Lekachtob, Synhedrin, Jalkut Chadash, and Sefer Chassidim.

While the references to apes in the ancient writings of the Hebrews are generally of a matter-of-fact character, the stories and delineations by the ancient Arabians have, as a rule, a romantic stamp. The ape-men Nesnâs, which Maimonides believes to mean the Adne-hasadeh, play a conspicuous part in the Arabian travelers' stories, their romances, and their theology. I may state here that the ape is called in modern Arabic Nesnâs or Nasnas. A Mohammedan tradition runs: Ibn Abbas said: "Men (Nâs) have perished and the Nesnâs are left." He was asked, "What are Nesnâs?" and he replied, "Creatures which are like men and are still not men." Al-Gauharî defines the Nesnâs as "creatures that hop on one leg." The Nesnâs are very fully described by Al-Kazrwini as animals of a half-human figure which serve the people as food. They have half a body, half a head, a hand, and a leg, as if they were men split in two. This idea is, I believe, only the too literal and hyperbolical carrying out of the description of an ape as half a man. Wüstenfeld translates Nesnâs by "one-legged creature," and deduces from citations which he makes, that God changed men into Nesnâs as a punishment. The Koran, Surah ii, says: "You know what happened to those among you who profaned the Sabbath. We said to them, be apes and be excluded from human society, in order that they might be an example for the present and the future, and a warning to the pious." The Nesnâs were said to be Shemites, and descended from Shem's son Hasim; to speak Arabic, and to have Arabic personal names Ibn Ajjas, in his cosmography, describes the Nesnâs as creatures with one eye, one ear, and one leg. Macudi gives a similar description and adds, that they rise out of the sea. The Nesnâs killed such men as they could catch.

According to another view, the Nesnâs were identical with Gog and Magog. Arabian historians speak of an invasion by a pygmy people called Nesnâs into Southern Arabia—a tradition which is referred by Fresnel to the irruption of the Roman legions. The question is raised in the casuistics of Mohammedan ritual, whether it is right to eat the flesh of the Nesnâs. As a rule such food is absolutely forbidden. Al Tabbarîi permits it, because aquatic animals are generally not forbidden. Wahrmund defines the Nesnâs as a "large ape, an orang-outang, a chimpanzee; a one-armed and one-legged satyr that hops fast." Muhîs-ai-Muhîs of Albustâni says: "It is related in tradition that a branch of the tribe of Ad rebelled against its prophets, and God changed them into Nesnâs, that is, into creatures with one hand and one leg, which hop like the birds and eat grass like the cattle. They say that this race has died out, and that such creatures of the kind as are found now are of a different creation (are not changed men). Common people call apes Nesnâs."

The ancient Egyptians did not represent the ape as a caricature of man, but idealized it and paid it religious honors, as they did to many other animals. A cynocephalus was kept and worshiped in the temple at Hermopolis, while a cercopithecus was honored at Thebes. Mummies of apes have been found in both of these cities. The ape also has its place in the hieroglyphics as the representative of the sound "en," and is called ein in Coptic. The god Anubis, who, at the judgment of the dead in Amenti (or the land of death), put the heart of the deceased in the balance of justice in order to report the result to Thoth, is figured with the head of a cynocephalus, or dog-faced baboon. Thoth himself generally appears associated with the attribute of the cynocephalus, the emblem of the dog-star. The temple of Queen Hatasu, at Der-el-bahri, is adorned with inscriptions relating to a grand expedition into the balsam-bearing land of Punt, the Egyptian Ophir, in which the offerings sent by the king of that country are described: "The transports were loaded to the full with the wonderful products of the land of Punt, and the various building-woods of the godly land, with heaps of balsams of incense, with green incense-trees, with ebony, with ivory, adorned with sold from the land of Amu, with liquorice-wood, chefit-wood, with frankincense, holy balsams, and eye-paints, with cynocephaluses and baboons and greyhounds, and with leopard-skins. Never was the like brought to any king of Egypt since the world has stood." According to Brugsch. the incense-trees stood on the decks of the vessels, and the apes, let loose, gamboled in the rigging, to the threat delight of the sailors.

In the Indian Râmayana, where the animals are praised as allies of Rama, apes are depicted in groups, under the direction of a king who obeys the nods of Rama. They are not, however, introduced as idealized apes, changed men or incarnate demons, but as veritable apes with all their less pleasant peculiarities realistically portrayed. A favorite figure of the poem is Hanuman, the fool of the serious drama, around whom a fabulous atmosphere has already gathered. In him may be recognized the Hulman of the Hindoos, the Mandi of the Maiabars, the sacred ape, Semnopithecus entellus. He is an Atlas, who bears mountains on his shoulders. A child of the wind and the air. he affords the most agreeable symbolism of the simian character. Like a rash child, he tried to go up to the sun, and still carries a remembrancer of his mishap in the deformity of his lower jaw, which is longer than the upper one. With his foolhardy, comic ways, he cheered and comforted Rama's beloved wife Sita, and helped deliver her from the terrible Lanka, the city of the demon-king Râvana. In gratitude for this, Rama crowned him and embraced him in the sight of both hosts, of men and of gods.

In no land in the world has honor to apes struck as deep root as in India. Formerly temples were consecrated to them, and now, as Tavernier relates, asylums, special gardens, and hospitals are erected for them; and the Hulman is particularly regarded as sacred. Captain Johnson states that the natives of Baka leave a tithe of the harvest on the field for the Bhunder (Macacus Rhesus); and the penalty of killing this ape was death. The mild, human-like face of the orang-outang when quiet, and his deliberate, gentle, docile manner, contrasting with the nervous, convulsive restlessness of other monkeys, were well adapted to win for him the favor and reverence of the Indians; and this was apparently not affected by the knowledge of the ferocious appearance and manner he exhibits when enraged. The Javanese, remarking upon these features, say, "Monkeys could speak if they would, but they do not, because they are afraid that if they did they would be put to work." Indian princely families boast of their descent from apes, and bear the title of "tailed Rana." In the Indian metempsychosis the souls of the pious after death pass into the Hulman.

The apes of the New World received a similar treatment from its aborigines to that which was given to their relatives in the Old World. A remarkable correspondence is observable between the Aztec hieroglyphics for the days and the animal symbols which the Eastern Asiatics apply to the designation of the course of their year. The symbols in the Mongolian calendar are derived from animals, and among them four of the twelve coincide precisely with those of the Aztec calendar, and three are as nearly the same as the difference in the genera of the two hemispheres permits them to be. This will appear more plainly as an enumeration of the animal signs used by the Eastern Asiatics in describing their years. Among the Mongols, Mantchoo Tartars, Japanese, and Thibetans, they are the mouse, the ox, the leopard (or tiger), the hare, the crocodile (or dragon), the serpent, the horse, the sheep (or goat), the ape, the hen, the dog, and the hog. Among the Mexican names for the days we also find the hare, the serpent, the ape, and the dog; and instead of the leopard, crocodile, and hen, which were unknown in Mexico at the time of the conquest, the panther, lizard, and eagle. Thus, the Mexicans made the ape a symbol in the division of time and in chronological reckoning. Aztec traditions make mention, like those of the Hindoos, Thibetans, Persians, and Greeks, of four or five cataclysms, of cycles, after the fulfillment of each of which the world was destroyed, to be recreated anew. The belief in the recurrence at appointed times of these revolutions of nature through the operation of one or another of the elements was peculiar to many lands of the Eastern hemisphere, and has often been advanced as an argument in favor of the doctrine of a common origin. The third age of the Mexicans, that of air, in which the Mayas conquered the giants of the former age, lasted 4,010 years, and ended in a hurricane by which all men except one pair were turned into apes. In the four ages of the Mexicans, which were called the ages of earth, fire, air, and water, we have to deal with a backward development, from giants to men, then to apes. This shows a curious agreement with the story of the Talmud, already referred to, that a part of the race at the confusion of tongues were turned into apes. It also curiously corresponds with the ancient Indian myth that made the ape a child of the wind and the air.

While the folk-lore on one side degrades the ape to a degenerate species of man, it on another side in compensation, as in Indian and among many negro tribes, derives the pedigree of distinguished families from apes, and consigns the souls of the honorable and pious to their bodily integuments. According to Brehm, the hair-tuft of the baboon serves the negroes of West Africa as the model for their coiffures. That lowly race also tries to exalt its similarity with the ape which the satirists of every zone make striking enough, and a humorous writer was not so far wrong when he described an ugly man as "a baboon, with hairs projecting from around his eyes." Not only bodily deformities and imperfections have been ascribed to apes, but moral transgressions also have been regarded and spoken of in the same view.

That the faculty of articulate speech is dependent on an upright position is suggested in the Hebrew book "Sohar Chadash," which says: "The animals can not look straight up to heaven, and therefore can not speak; and we learn of King Nebuchadnezzar that, when he was reduced to the condition of an animal, he could not help himself until he was able to rise and look up. Therefore he said to Daniel (Daniel iv, 34), 'I raised my eyes to heaven, and then my understanding returned to me.' If the animals, walking erect, could look up to the sky, they would be able to speak."