The question: How old is Greek mythology? may at first sight seem idle, for Greek mythology is obviously of many different ages. For example, many genealogies and eponymous heroes created for political purposes are late, such inventions having been made through the whole historical age of Greece; yet most of them are earlier than the very late myths like the campaigns of Dionysus, or the great mass of the metamorphoses, especially the catasterisms, which were invented in the Hellenistic age. The great tragic poets reshaped the myths and left their imprint upon them, so that the forms in which the myths are commonly known nowadays often have been given them by tragedy. Similarly, before the tragic poets, the choric lyric poets reshaped them. The cyclical epics also are thought to have exercised a profound influence upon the remodeling of the myths. In Homer we find many well-known myths, often in forms differing, however, from those in which they are related later. Finally, it cannot be doubted that myths existed before Homer.
Our question concerns, however, not the reshaping and remodeling of myths, which often consists only of an imitation of current patterns, but the real creation of myths, especially the creation of the great cycles of myths. From this standpoint, the Hellenistic and many earlier myths may be put to
one side. The tragic poets hardly invent new myths but do reshape old ones, often in a very thorough fashion, and the same is to be said of the choric lyric poets. For the glory and fame of ancient poets depended not, like that of modern poets, on their invention of something quite new and original, but rather on their presentation of the old traditional material in new and original fashion.
Consequently our question concerns the old stock of mythology after all secondary inventions have been discarded and is really not so idle as may appear at first glance. In fact various attempts have been made to give an answer, although the question has not been put so simply and straightforwardly as it is here, but has been enveloped in inquiries and reasonings having other purposes. The point, however, which I wish to emphasize is the importance of the principles which underlie our research and determine our procedure.
I pass over comparative mythology very lightly, because it began to lose favor in my youth, thirty years ago or more, and nowadays is very little reckoned with in scientific discussion. But I should like to draw attention to one point of some interest in this connection. Comparative mythology was so called because it compared Greek myths with those of other Aryan peoples and by this means tried to discover the original myths and religion of the Aryan people from whom the peoples of Europe and some peoples of Asia are descended, just as comparative philology discovered by similar means that the languages of these peoples were derived from the language once spoken by the old Aryans.
[paragraph continues] The underlying supposition was clearly that the Greek myths were pre-Greek in the sense that the Greeks had taken them over from the Aryans and brought them with them when they immigrated into Greece. Comparative mythology overlooked, however, the very important distinction between divine and heroic mythology and thought erroneously that the heroic myths were derived from the same source as the myths concerning the gods. This source it found in the phenomena of nature. If the view of comparative mythology were right, these lectures would really be pointless, for then it must needs be admitted that Greek mythology existed not only in the pre-Homeric age but also before the Greeks immigrated into Greece. But since the seventies of the last century the whole problem has been extraordinarily deepened and complicated. We have learned to distinguish between religion and mythology and we have learned to know a new epoch of Greece which cannot be considered as wholly prehistoric in the usual sense of the word--the Mycenaean age.
Max Müller and his followers condemned Euhemerism, but this theory has come to the fore again in recent years. In my opinion the reaction is just but goes too far. Certain English scholars take mythology as reproducing actual historical facts, just as the logographers did when they brought the myths into a historical system. They do not, of course, overlook the fabulous elements of the myths but think that the mythical persons and such exploits as are not of a fabulous character are good history, and they go so far as to accept without question the
mythical genealogies and the mythical chronology. I am unable to do this. I know and appreciate the tenacity of folk memory, but I know also how popular tradition is preserved--and confused and remodeled. The remodeling affects especially the chronological relations of the personages, which are changed freely. 1 In so far as epical tradition is concerned, the right analogy is not the traditions which have an historical aspect but the Nibelungenlied and the Beowulf and similar epical traditions which I shall characterize later. We know how badly historical connections fared in them, how history was confused and mixed up with fabulous elements. If good historical tradition is to be preserved, an undisturbed life both in regard to settling and to civilization is an absolute condition, but the downfall of the Mycenaean civilization was a most stormy and turbulent age, and its turmoils, which mixed up the Greek tribes and changed their places of settlement, mixed up and confused their traditions, too. The historical aspect of Greek mythology and especially the mythical chronology are products of the systematizing of the myths by the poets of cyclical epics and still more the product of rationalization and historification by the logographers. 2
A very different standpoint is taken by German scholars, whose preoccupation is a historical treatment of the myths; in opposition to the theories of comparative mythology, this school is called the historical school. The answer given by this school is not so simple as that proposed by nature mythology. I must therefore try to clear up the underlying principles to the best of my ability, although the numerous works of the school often are contradictory in details and it is very difficult to do full justice in a short analysis of principles.
The historical school acknowledges that elements of myths existed in an early period, before the development of epic poetry, but supposes that these rather simple elements were brought into connection with one another and composed so as to form more complex myths through the agency of poetry. From this process a very deep-going reshaping and even creation of myths resulted. The poetry to which this creative expanding of mythology is ascribed is the epic poetry; viz., the Homeric and post-Homeric epics, the cyclical epics, and many lost epics of which we have only a scanty and fragmentary knowledge. Further, it is reasonably inferred that epics existed also before Homer and were used in composing the extant Homeric poems.
The historical school assumes not only a remodeling and reshaping of myths but indeed a creation of cycles of myths--and that is what concerns us here--for it is supposed that the mythical cycles came into being through the union of various simple mythical elements. If this process were ascribed to the Mycenaean age, I should have little to say
against it; but as it is ascribed to the Homeric and the immediately preceding and following periods, I must disagree. I shall use a few examples to illustrate the methods of the historical school and the discrepancies to which they lead.
Several years ago Professor Friedländer tried to trace the development of the Heracles cycle. 3 According to his theory, the fundamental fact is the belief of the Tirynthians in their helpful hero. From the Peloponnese, Heracles emigrated to the island of Rhodes and here new adventures were added to those which had been brought from the Peloponnese. Thus the cycle of the twelve adventures was developed and formed on Rhodes.
The most comprehensive and significant example, however, is Professor Bethe's attempt to explain the origin and development of the Trojan cycle. 4 He finds the old kernels of this cycle in the duels between heroes who, according to him, were originally localized on the mainland of Greece. These simple and unconnected myths were brought to Aeolia by the different tribes to which the heroes belonged when these tribes immigrated to northwest Asia Minor shortly before or in the seventh century B.C. The Aeolians brought their Achilles, the Locrians their Aias, the Arcadians Aeneas, and the Troes, who originally were a tribe living in the mother country, the name of the Troes (Trojans), etc. The various myths of the various immigrant tribes met and were fused in Aeolia and were attached to
the ruins of the city of Ilion. In this manner the Trojan cycle was created. The destruction of the sixth city of Troy is ascribed to barbarians immigrating from the north. If this view of the development of Homeric poetry were right, it would of course imply not a reshaping but an actual creation of myths, for the fundamental idea of the Trojan cycle would be due to the epic poets of the seventh century B.C. Although space forbids my entering upon a criticism, I cannot but point to the improbability involved in assuming three different waves of immigration into Aeolia about which tradition is absolutely silent. They are invented only in order to suit a hypothesis which is very artificial and has not succeeded in gaining approval.
Another great scholar, Professor Wilamowitz, differs from Professor Bethe in the analysis of the poems but takes the same point of view in regard to the development of the myths. In a recent paper 5 he states briefly that Phthiotians and Magnesians who emigrated from Thessaly to Aeolia brought Achilles with them; that the house of Agamemnon originated at Cyme and in Lesbos, whilst his appearing as king on the mainland of Greece is due to epic poetry; and that Ionians, in whose towns descendants of Glaucus and Sarpedon were rulers, introduced these heroes into the epos. But, and in this he differs essentially from Professor Bethe, who takes the Trojan war to be an invention of the seventh century B.C., he gives voice to the opinion that the historical fact underlying the
[paragraph continues] Homeric story of the Trojan war was an old one, a vain attempt of the Greeks to gain a foothold in the Scamander Valley.
The underlying presumption is an echo of the tribal mythology of K. O. Müller, the founder of the historical school. The leading idea is that the myths were transferred to other regions with the wanderings of the tribes and that, as the tribes met and mixed, their myths met and were fused. If this leading principle were applied to Teutonic epics, we must needs date the Scandinavian invasion of England two or three centuries earlier than it actually took place, for Beowulf tells only of Danes, Swedes, and Geatas, nothing of the English. And we must needs assume an immigration of Teutonic tribes from the Continent to Scandinavia before the ninth or tenth century A. D. in order to explain the fact that the myth of Sigurd appears in the Edda songs. I omit the Russian bylinas and their wanderings. I cannot but think that in regard to the wanderings of myths and songs, conditions in Greece were not altogether dissimilar to those in other countries. Consequently I cannot but suppose that even in Greece myths and songs wandered independently of the wanderings of the tribes. As soon as we know anything of the minstrels, we find that they are wandering people. The localizations of cults and heroes must be regarded with a critical eye and must not be used as arguments unless their reliability is tested, for they are often due to the influence of epics. The localizations of Agamemnon are illuminating examples to which I shall recur in another place. 6
All that we know of other epics tends to show that the fundamental principle, the doctrine that the wanderings and the amalgamating of the myths depend on the wanderings and the amalgamating of the tribes, is erroneous. With this presumption another is connected which, according to my view, is the fundamental error of the method; namely, that two things are identified which must be distinguished--the development of the myths and the development of epic poetry. Moreover, epic poetry is taken into account only to the extent to which it can be reached through an analysis of the extant poems and fragments. It has very often been said that a lost epos of Heracles created the cycle of Heracles, and this may seem not improbable in this case where we do not have the epos but are free to reconstruct it according to our fancy. The attempt to carry through the same idea in regard to the Trojan cycle proved to be a failure and showed the frailty of the principle, for in this case we have the epos and can use it as a control. To take another instance, Professor Wilamowitz contends that the bravery of Diomedes is the oldest song of the Iliad and an imitation of the Thebais. 7 If this is true, it is extremely remarkable that the Theban myths in Homer and Hesiod differ so markedly from the common version. 8 The unavoidable conclusion would be that the Thebais, supposed to be earlier than Homer, has not been able to impress its version either upon Homer or upon Hesiod. Wild shoots of the myth have lived in spite of epical cultivation.
The fundamental but hardly expressed principle underlying the work of the historical school is that a mythological cycle is created and developed through the agency of and contemporaneously with the development of epic poetry; and furthermore, only that epic poetry is taken into account of which we have some knowledge through literary sources. But this principle does not stand the test. The opposite alternative also must be considered; namely, that a cycle of myths existed in its chief outlines and was the store from which the Homeric poets drew, of course not without remodeling the material, in composing their chants. If this view is accepted, the epic poets followed the same line as the choric lyric and the tragic poets, who took over and utilized the old store of myths, remodeling them, sometimes profoundly. This is the case with epic poetry in countries where our knowledge of its development is fuller than is our knowledge of the development of the Greek epics. Neither of the two alternatives is strictly demonstrable, but it ought to be evident that both are to be taken into consideration.
The view of the development of mythology which I have tried to characterize here is, however, closely bound up with the methods of Homeric research prevailing among the scholars who have adopted it; namely, with the literary analysis of the poems. In England and America this method is now little heeded, and Homeric research follows different lines. I think in fact that full justice has hardly been done to this method and the many works produced by its adherents. In spite of the apparent discrepancies in their results, they have brought about a profounder
apprehension of Homer and Homeric problems and have obtained important results. But literary analysis is not the last word in the Homeric question. To shut our eyes to a further development than that which can be traced through literary analysis leads us astray, if the earlier development is regarded as irrelevant because it is hard to unravel. Such a standpoint is unjustifiable, but it is in fact taken up by those who ascribe the development of the mythical cycles to the Homeric and post-Homeric periods, neglecting what may have happened in an earlier age of which no literary records are preserved. The Homeric question must be widened so as to be the epic question. The proverb says: vixere etiam ante Agamemnona fortes viri; I think: vixere etiam ante Homerum poetae. Homeric poetry is an issue of countless generations. That is recognized, generally speaking, but we must try to work out in earnest the implications of this thesis.
The gap is apparent if the two following questions are put side by side: How far can literary analysis be carried back? and How old are the oldest elements in Homeric poetry which can be dated with certainty?
Literary analysis discovers earlier poems which the Homeric poets utilized and partly took over in composing their poems. Not even the most zealous unitarians deny that such poems may have existed. Nobody will of course believe that these earlier poems were written down, so that they could have been preserved for a long time. But if they were preserved by the memory of the minstrels and handed down by oral tradition, it is difficult to imagine that they survived more than two or at most
three generations. However, I have nothing against granting them a life of four or five generations, although that they survived so long seems extremely unlikely. The unavoidable conclusion is that the earliest poems incorporated in the Homeric poems and utilized in their composition cannot be more than a century or a little more older than the Homeric poems themselves. That is the limit which literary analysis cannot transgress.
Archaeology affords means of dating certain elements appearing in Homeric poetry. The latest of these elements belong to the Orientalizing period; here we are concerned with the oldest. These go back to the Mycenaean age and moreover, what is most remarkable, many of them to its earliest phase. 9 At this point a few hints concerning this important subject must suffice. Homeric arms have given rise to a vast literature, and Nestor's cup is often mentioned; yet the body shield was already superseded by the small shield in late Mycenaean times--the attempts to vindicate it for later periods are proved by archaeology to be futile. Nestor's cup was found in the fourth shaft-grave at Mycenae, one of the earlier group. To this another most remarkable observation is to be added; namely, that these Mycenaean elements appear not only in the earliest and earlier parts of the Homeric poems but in the latest and later parts also. For example, the boars' tusk helmet which we had been unable to understand until aided by the Mycenaean finds is described in one of the very latest parts, the lay of Dolon.
Archaeology is, however, not the sole means of dating some elements of Homeric poetry; there are also references to conditions of history and civilization which may serve the same end. When we meet the Phoenicians as masters of the sea and traders who bring the most appreciated and valuable articles to Greece, we recognize of course the end of the Geometric and the beginning of the Orientalizing period. On the other hand, Homer hardly mentions the Dorians although at his time they had already long inhabited the Peloponnese. The king of Mycenae is the overlord of the Greeks, and the other heroes are his vassals. Mycenae rich in gold is the foremost city of Greece and its king the mightiest monarch of Greece. The attempt to derogate these facts 10 is vain, for it is inconceivable that an Ionian minstrel of the seventh century B.C. should have happened on the idea of ascribing such a position to the town and the king of Mycenae, which at that time was in fact a rotten borough. Nor has Agamemnon any real existence except in the Trojan cycle, although the contrary often is asserted. 11 Attempts to deny these facts can only lead us into error and to the erection of frail hypotheses. Here we ought also to speak of the really kingly power of Agamemnon, but as this is not so evident I shall recur to it in a later place.
In regard to these elements in Homer, derived from widely differing times and civilizations, scholars have divided themselves into two parties engaging in a tug of war. One party tries to put as much as possible in a time as late as possible; namely, into
the developed Geometric and the Orientalizing periods, and to treat the elements which it is impossible to fit into this scheme as irrelevant survivals. The other party treats the elements which undoubtedly belong to a late age as irrelevant additions and takes Homer on the whole to be Mycenaean. It appears that neither of these two methods is the right one. We have to concede without circumlocutions that Homer contains elements from very differing periods and to try to comprehend and explain this state of things, not to obliterate it and get rid of it through artificial interpretations.
The gap between the earliest and the latest elements in Homer comes nearer to a whole millenium than to a half-millenium. Literary analysis of the extant poems can reach only the time immediately preceding the latest elements and so can cover only a very small part of this gap, say a century or at most a little more. Some scholars who think that we cannot attain a well founded opinion of the stages preceding the literary evidence have confined themselves to literary analysis. The unitarians by principle are still less interested in the preceding stages. But this voluntary restriction makes them shut their eyes to more far-reaching vistas and vitiates the fundamental problem. The epic question has been unduly limited to the Homeric question. The extant Homeric poems are, however, the final achievement of a lengthy development--fuere etiam ante Homerum poetae; the epic question, i.e., the problem of the origin and development of Greek epics from their beginnings, cannot be put on one side.
It can be understood why some scholars have done so, for they are of the opinion that all means are wanting for attacking a problem which goes so far back into an unknown age. That is not literally true; for there is a method which may be utilized. Since, however, it is neither strictly philological nor strictly historical but is comparative in a general sense, it is viewed with undue diffidence by many who know it only from the outside.
Many years ago Professor Steinthal tried to introduce a comparative study of epics, but his attempt had no decided success, chiefly because he was hampered by the romantic presumption of collective popular poetry. A comprehensive study of this vast subject has never been taken up, only hints and minor attempts have been made. Professor von Pöhlmann drew attention to living epic poetry and pointed to the failure of Homeric research in not taking this into account, 12 but in vain. Professor Drerup gave a survey of various popular epics 13 but seems to have been forgotten, perhaps because these materials were not utilized by him in their true bearing upon Greek epics. English works are one-sided, and that is true not only of Professor Andrew
[paragraph continues] Lang's more cursory comparison of Homeric epics with the chansons de geste 14 but also of Professor Chadwick's important book, in which he institutes a detailed comparison between Greek and Teutonic epics. 15 It is self-evident that a comparison ought to be instituted on the largest possible basis, and that everything which is accidental and not essential ought to be discarded. 16
It is impossible here to give an account of the numerous instances of popular epics. I simply enumerate them. We have, in the first place, Teutonic epics in their branches: old German, Anglo-Saxon, and Scandinavian epics. Their offshoots are, at least in part, Finnish-Esthonian, Russian, and even old French epics (bylinas and chansons de geste). In Serbia popular epics are still living; in Asia we find epics among several tribes, the Kara-Kirgizes and the Abakan Tartars in Siberia and the Atchinese on Sumatra. The historical incidents underlying Greek mediaeval epics (Digenis Akritas) are too little known. From a comparative study of these epics the following statements may be deduced. Epics do not originate in collective popular poetry but are the creation of a heroic age, a fact which Professor Wundt stated and Professor Chadwick developed at length. They originate in an aristocratic or even feudal society, praising the deeds of living men and describing contemporary events, but mythical traits and folk-tale elements
may be attributed even to living men. The exaggerated praise of heroes and the still undeveloped intellectualism of the age, from the very beginning, open the doors for the supernatural. Epic poetry is composed not by the people in general but by certain gifted individuals, who live as minstrels and often as court minstrels in the entourage of some great man. But there is no intellectual cleavage between persons of higher and of lower standing; the lower classes share the warlike spirit and the admiration of valorous deeds and take up epics enthusiastically.
This is the original stage, which usually is short-lived. It is impossible to confine the subsequent development within a scheme, as Professor Chadwick has attempted, but two alternatives are to be considered. The heroic age may continue; epics chant ever fresh materials which change according to circumstances. Or the heroic age may come to an end and the people settle down to a less eventful life. But the interest in great deeds and the zeal for epic poetry do not die out immediately. Epic poetry is preserved but it sings now of the deeds of a past age and shows a tendency to limit itself to one cycle or to very few cycles of adventures, from which the minstrels choose their subjects, although fresh songs are invented, additions made, and changes devised. Under such conditions epics may be still more popular than before and may spread among the common people but they are in a certain sense stagnant.
This state of things may be interrupted by a new heroic age and by new epics dealing with contemporary
men and events, but the stagnant conditions may also continue until epics are abandoned for other kinds of literature or obliterated by a higher culture. The epics may also wander far abroad and be received by people who lead a monotonous life on a low cultural plane but love poetry and preserve the epic chants. Of course epic poetry will undergo many and varied changes under such varying conditions.
Epic poetry is a floating mass confined within certain limits. This it is essential to know and to understand, and to this end the art and technique of composition must be considered; they seem to be similar everywhere. The art of singing is always exercised by certain gifted persons; but talents vary, and the most gifted become craftsmen, minstrels who chant in the courts or to the people according to circumstances. Everyone learns through hearing, consequently family tradition is important. Families, even schools, of minstrels appear.
The art of singing and of composing epic poetry is learned, and hence a question of fundamental importance is, how this art is learned. First, it is to be stated that every one learns through hearing; but that a poem is never learned and repeated word by word, even if a minstrel takes over and repeats a chant, as occurs frequently. In fact the forms of a poem are just as many as its recitals. The variability differs considerably, however, according to time, individuals, and other conditions.
For that which is learned is essentially not single poems, even though a successful chant may be learned and repeated by others, but is the epical
technique, the poetical art by which the material is formed; the subject may be taken from the usual store or a new one may be chosen. Every chant is in its form more or less an improvisation, so that the minstrels may claim divine inspiration as Phemius does in the Odyssey. Such an art of singing is possible because the minstrel through lengthy practice possesses a language which puts words and phrases on his lips.
In the epical language of all peoples occurs a store of stock expressions, constantly recurring phrases, half and whole verses and even verse complexes; and repetitions are characteristic of the epic style. E.g., when a message is delivered it is repeated word for word. Of the 27,853 verses in Homer, 2,118 verses occur two or more times making a total of 5,162 repeated verses, or one-fifth of Homer. Furthermore, typical descriptions are characteristic of all epics. Though they are not repeated in identical words, they are substantially identical. These are the elements which the epical technique delivers ready for use to the minstrel forming his chant. What is said of the Kara Kirgiz minstrels is applicable to all: The singer has a large store of poetical parts ready, and his art consists in coordinating these parts according to the course of events and connecting them by the aid of new-made verses. A skilled poet is able to improvise a poem on every subject. 17
gone days always archaize both in contents and in language. The stock expressions and typical descriptions preserve the old elements, even if they are no longer understood, and introduce them into even the latest chants. The old background of events is kept because the singer is conscious of chanting the past and not his own time, but with the naïveté characteristic of his cultural stage the minstrel mixes up the old elements with new taken from his own time.
These general statements agree completely with what Greek epics themselves, especially the Odyssey, say as to the art and manner of the recital of Greek minstrels, and we may surmise with certainty that it was not otherwise in the pre-Homeric age. The fact that the stock expressions often are philologically very old-fashioned and that their meaning was no longer understood by the minstrels themselves proves a great antiquity in the epical technique and in the epics themselves. If this high degree of antiquity of epical tradition is considered earnestly, a natural explanation ensues of the fact that Homer contains elements which differ in age by more than half a millenium, in fact by nearly a whole millenium. This long lapse of time is not amazing though it may seem so; Russian epics vegetated nearly a millenium, preserving reminiscences of the empire of Kieff and the age of the Vikings.
To this view that the origins of Greek epics must be carried back into the Mycenaean age a serious objection may be made. For the Mycenaean civilization is essentially Minoan, and it is an acknowledged fact that the Minoan civilization
sprang from a non-Greek and not Aryan people at all. Consequently Sir Arthur Evans himself and many scholars take the Mycenaeans to be Minoans who have established themselves on the mainland of Greece and subjugated the indigenous population. He admits the view that epics go back into the Mycenaean age and supposes consequently that they were at first chanted in the Minoan language and afterwards, in a bilingual society, transferred into Greek. 18 A similar process took place elsewhere, but the result was in reality new epics, and such a process would of course invalidate the above reasoning concerning the preservation of old elements through the epical technique.
Like epics, mythology, too, would consequently originate among the Minoan people. But this seems to be disproved through the fact that almost all mythical names are clearly Greek; those which are certainly Minoan are extremely few. One would of course expect a considerable number of Minoan mythical names if the epos descended from the Minoans. In spite of the great authority of the scholar I have mentioned, I am firmly convinced that the Mycenaeans were immigrated Greeks who took over the Minoan civilization. It would take too long to set forth my reasons and I refer the reader to previous writings in which I have dwelt upon this question. 19 This view is prevailing nowadays. Younger archaeologists are prone to throw back the commencement of the Greek immigration
to the end of the Early Helladic age or earlier, whilst I find it probable that it began at the end of the following Middle Helladic age. Thus I take it for granted that the Mycenaeans were Greeks, and I hope that the following exposition will corroborate this view.
Epics praise heroes and originate in a heroic age. They belong to a social milieu in which certain persons become prominent through power, wealth, or deeds, and desire to be praised and chanted. Such an age was the Mycenaean age; for although opinions differ, it was admittedly an age of great wanderings of tribes and peoples, and its wealth and power are proved by the treasures of the shaft-graves of Mycenae, and of the bee-hive tombs at Dendra, Vaphio, etc., not to mention the bee-hive tombs themselves, the palaces, and the mighty walls of the cities. To this age the oldest elements in Homer go back, and I hesitate not the least in stating that in this age Greek epics originated. The minstrels chanted their songs at first to the princes and their retainers, but the people, who shared this admiration for valorous deeds, took over the epics and preserved them.
The stormy Mycenaean age came to an end and the subsequent transitional period between the Mycenaean and the Geometric ages is the poorest and darkest in all Greek history and prehistory. Conditions were poor and straitened; people were attached to the soil; and Greece was split up into a great number of cantons without much intercommunication, as the marked local varieties of Geometric ceramics prove as contrasted with the uniformity of Mycenaean pottery. Moreover, the
[paragraph continues] Phoenicians became masters of the sea. It seems unthinkable that epics originated in such a time, but epics which already existed may very well have been preserved, stagnant and vegetating, just as they were, e.g., in Russia or Finland. The subjects were limited to one or two cycles, to the Trojan and perhaps even the Theban cycle. Why these were preferred to others is just as difficult to say as why the unimportant skirmish of Roncevaux was put into the foreground of French epics. How epics were transmitted we have already seen. The elements were at hand and they were repeatedly composed anew and mixed up with new elements.
In the ninth and the following centuries a fresh life cropped up in Greece; wealth commenced to increase; the Greeks began again to sail the sea and to make expeditions on a large scale; the period of colonization began, which in a certain sense is another heroic age; but aristocracy preserved still its social and political privileges. Thus the ground was prepared for a renascence of epics, but the old tradition was so vigorous that the old cycle was kept and the new elements incorporated with it. The really new creation is the Odyssey, which does not deny the stamp of the age of colonization which it glorifies. The salient point was, however, the appearance of a great poet, whom I should like to call Homer. He infused new life and vigor into epic poetry, putting the psychology of his heroes into the foreground and planning a comprehensive composition under this aspect.
I may seem to have given an only too dogmatic exposition of my opinions of the Homeric question
instead of entering upon the subject of the Mycenaean origin of Greek mythology. But this exposition could not be passed over, because some scholars neglect the previous stages of Homeric poetry, and others adhere to the opinion that before the time which on an average may be called the Homeric age only single and disconnected myths existed and that these myth elements were composed into cycles of myths by the poets whose chief representative is Homer. If this were right, my thesis that the cycles of myths go back into the Mycenaean age would evidently be wrong.
In opposition to this view I have tried to prove two things: The first is that the development of epics lasted much longer and that epics go back into an early period of the Mycenaean age, a fact which is proved by the Mycenaean elements imbedded in the epos. It is clear that this first point must be still more valid for mythology than for archaeological objects or for elements of civilization and social life, because both the latter are much more liable to be altered and changed through assimilation to the conditions prevailing at the time when the poems were composed. Thus we have a great general probability that the myths occurring in Homer go back into the Mycenaean age, though nothing is proved in detail for specific myths.
Secondly, it appears that the background of the Greek epos, i.e., the Trojan cycle in its chief features, the power of Mycenae, and the kingship of Mycenae, cannot possibly have come into existence through the joining together of minor chants and myths, but that it existed beforehand, being the cycle
from which the minstrels took their subjects. A cycle of events with certain chief personages invariably appears in all the epic poetry of which we have a more definite knowledge than we have of Greek epics as the background from which episodes are taken and to which episodes are joined; it is a premiss of epics, not their ultimate result. I refer to the tale of the Nibelungen in German epics, to that of Roland in old French epics, to the narratives of Vladimir the Great and his men in the bylinas, of Marko Kraljevitch and the battle on the Throstle Field in Servian epics, of the Islamic prince Manas and the heathen prince Joloi in the Kara Kirgiz epics, etc. In the same manner the background of the Homeric epos--the story of the war of Troy between the Trojans and the Greek heroes under Agamemnon's leadership, or, in other words, the chief features of the Trojan cycle--must be the primary fact and originate in the Mycenaean age. From this the minstrels chose and to this they added episodes. It is of course in detail uncertain and questionable what is of ancient origin and what is added later; here we are concerned with the fundamental idea, which we call the Trojan cycle, and we have tried to prove that this idea originated in the same age as the epos, the Mycenaean age.
I have drawn attention to the fact that the minstrels limited their choice to one or two cycles of myths. Other myths may have been chanted at an earlier age and have gone out of fashion. It may not be inferred that other cycles did not exist or were quite forgotten. We have to take account not only of epics but also of plain tales told in prose
and preserving a great number of myths which lyric and tragic poets made famous in a later age. Such prose epics are not unparalleled. The cycle of the Nartes, heroes of the Ossetes and other peoples of the Caucasus, is told in prose. 20
It can be demonstrated that numerous other myths and cycles of myths go back into the Mycenaean age. I begin by referring to an acute philological observation which proves that a number of mythical heroes must go back to an age much earlier than that of Homer. Professor Kretschmer drew attention to the fundamental difference between two series of heroic names. 21 The names of the older series have the ending -eus and are generally abbreviated forms; the names of the sons of these mythical personages are on the contrary chiefly common compound names; e.g., Peleus, Achilleus, as compared with Neoptolemus; Odysseus--Telemachus; Atreus--Agamemnon, Menelaus; Tydeus--Diomedes; Neleus--Nestor; Oeneus--Meleager, etc. The names of the older series are often difficult to explain etymologically; those of the younger series are clear and explicable. It is evident that the heroes whose names belong to the series ending in -eus go back to earlier times than the heroes with common names, and to this philological fact corresponds the mythological fact that the latter are said to be sons and descendants of the former. But the latter are quite current in Homeric poetry; their ancestors must consequently go back to much earlier, pre-Homeric times. That this time is the Mycenaean
age is of course not demonstrable through philology solely, but the span of time necessary for the development of this difference must be supposed so great that these heroes are thrown back some centuries and very probably into the Mycenaean age. And if the names are so old, the myths attached to them must also be so to a certain extent.
It may be rightly objected that hereby only the great antiquity of isolated myths is demonstrated, but it can also be proved that the great mythical cycles are very much older than Homer, that, in fact, they go back to the Mycenaean age. I have briefly given the proof of this in earlier writings 22 and a detailed discussion will be the chief content of my subsequent lectures; here I dwell only on the question of principles. We know that mythology was the guide which led to the discovery of the Mycenaean and Minoan sites; it conducted Mr. Schliemann to Troy and Mycenae and Sir Arthur Evans to Cnossus. In these cases myths served as a heuristic means and the success of the investigations thus induced proved a connection between mythological centers and Mycenaean centers. My proof is nothing but a consequent application of this principle, a thorough-going comparison of the cities to which mythological cycles are attached with the cities where finds from the Mycenaean age have been made. If the correlation is constant; i.e., if we find that the cities to which the mythological cycles are attached were the centers of the Mycenaean
civilization also, this constant correlation cannot be considered as accidental; it will prove the connection between the mythological cycles and the Mycenaean civilization; i.e., that the mythological cycles in their chief outlines go back into the Mycenaean age.
The proof however goes much further. For a close inspection shows that the mythical importance of a site closely corresponds to its importance in Mycenaean civilization. The mythical importance of a city is, to use a mathematical term, a function of its importance in Mycenaean civilization. This close and constant correspondence precludes any thought of casual coincidence. There are additional proofs also, elements inherent in certain myths which are of Mycenaean origin, but as these are less frequent and sometimes doubtful, they must be discussed separately.
To the application and elaboration of this principle of the close relationship between mythology and Mycenaean sites the following exposition will be devoted. But I am well aware of the difficulties and pitfalls of the detailed discussion and therefore it will be to the purpose to add some methodological remarks.
In regard to the Mycenaean remains, it may be objected that they are known only incompletely and that they have not been methodically explored all over Greece. 23 That is true, for every year new
discoveries are made. In time their distribution will certainly be much better known than now, but on the other hand it seems not likely that the picture will be changed essentially. The primacy of Argolis and next to it of Boeotia will remain. And so much is already known concerning other provinces that it is hardly to be expected that new discoveries will greatly change their relative importance. The map of Mycenaean sites and civilization will be completed, not turned upside down nor even substantially altered. Certain irregularities exist which will be treated in due course. 24
In regard to mythology, certain points ought to be emphasized. We have noted that myths were remodeled in late and even in very late times. The science of mythography sets forth the development of the myths as far as it can be traced with the aid of literary and monumental evidence. As mythographic research is concerned with the historical period of the development of the myths, we have here only to accept its results, when it proves that certain forms of myths are developed or added in historical times. Far-reaching deductions concerning the development of the myths have often been connected with the reconstructions of lost epics or of those preserved only in fragments, but these reconstructions are very hypothetical and conflicting and must be regarded with a certain diffidence. The
form in which a myth appears in Homer is often treated with a certain disesteem; nevertheless it must be considered thoroughly because it is the oldest recorded form, although of course not always the oldest form which has existed.
Further, a distinction is to be made between myths of different kinds and especially between divine and heroic mythology. The divine mythology consists of myths concerning the gods, and cult myths. I cannot dwell here upon this important distinction; we are little concerned with divine mythology and only casually with cult myths. Nor are we concerned with the many minor and isolated myths which crop up everywhere. For every town had its heroes or made them, and eponymous heroes were created freely. We are chiefly concerned with the cycles of heroic mythology and our aim is to test to what extent their distribution and varying importance correspond to the Mycenaean remains.
Well marked differences appear even in heroic mythology, since it incorporated very different elements, beginning with folk-tales and ending with incidents having a rather historical appearance. Motifs of the folk-tale are, e.g., prominent in the myths of Perseus and of Achilles, whilst on the contrary the Pylian myths seem very little mythical, but rather almost historical. This is intelligible in view of the lengthy development of myths and of epics. The Pylian cycle is a late creation referring to the deeds of princes who were very little mythologized, whilst Perseus and Achilles are older and more popular heroes. The Oedipus myth is in its kernel a folk-tale, but the War of the Seven is an historical
myth and the same seems to be true of the Minyans of Orchomenus.
I am quite aware of the difficulty of the subject and I am prepared to be met with objections. It will perhaps be said that I resuscitate the old and justly condemned method of eliciting history from myths. There are certainly historical facts underlying heroic myths to a certain extent, but mythology can never be converted into history, and we can never attain a knowledge of these historical facts if there is not an independent historical tradition as there is, e.g., in the case of the Nibelungenlied. For myths are always myths and largely fiction; the underlying facts have been reshaped and confused by fiction. For Greek myths no historical tradition exists which can serve as a control. There is only archaeology, and control by archaeology does not suffice for proving historical events but serves at most to present the cultural milieu. This cultural background, however, carries weight. If details in my reasoning may be contradicted or proved to be erroneous, this does not ruin the whole. The historical background of Greek heroic mythology is amply proved by its close correspondence to the geographical distribution of Mycenaean civilization.
That the thesis of the Mycenaean origin of Greek mythology has not been set forth and recognized earlier is due to some peculiar circumstances. Although numerous works of art and various sculptural or pictorial representations from the Mycenaean age have been discovered, mythical scenes seemed to be wanting in these works. They have been eagerly sought for, but those representations which
until lately were claimed to have mythical contents are very doubtful. One is the so-called Scylla of a Cretan seal impression depicting a man in a boat who seems to fight with a marine monster rising up from the sea. The monster is not like Scylla and it is very doubtful whether a mythical incident is here represented. 25 The second instance is a gold ring from a find near Tiryns, the engravings on which represent a ship and two couples, each consisting of a man and a woman. The scene is called the abduction of Helen, but this interpretation has never been taken in earnest; it is quite arbitrary; the scene may as well be a scene of salutation or of congée. It belongs probably to the scenes of daily life which sometimes occur in Mycenaean art. 26 I prefer to pass over the famous treasure from Thisbe in silence. 27
In the light of these facts one must needs reason as follows: the Minoan art, which had no mythical but only cultual representations, was taken over wholly and without change by the Mycenaeans. It is practically certain that Minoan artists worked for the Mycenaean sires; as mythical representations were absent from their art, Mycenaean myths were not depicted although they were related. Even elsewhere Mycenaean characteristics were ousted by Minoan art and appear only rarely and hesitatingly. It seems, however, somewhat astonishing that the
[paragraph continues] Mycenaeans had a rich supply of myths but did not depict them in spite of their high standard of art, although such a fact would not be inconceivable. The same thing occurs in Geometric art, which loves to depict men, women, horses, and ships but does not represent mythical scenes--though there are one or two exceptions belonging to its late phase. But the Geometric period is the Homeric age, which had plenty of myths.
Quite recently, however, a new discovery has put it beyond doubt that myths were represented occasionally even in Mycenaean art. Among the very rich and beautiful contents of the bee-hive tomb at Dendra, near old Mideia, which was excavated in 1926 by Professor Persson, were eight plaques of blue glass, evidently made in a mold, for they are identical. They show a woman sitting on the back of a big bull. 28 The representation is very similar to that of the well-known metope from Selinus, and if it had belonged to classical times everybody would have immediately recognized Europa on the back of the bull. I am unable to see why we should not accept this identification, even if the object is Mycenaean.
Among the same finds there are also another glass plaque and fragments of two others which represent a big standing lion and before it a man. 29 From the back of the lion a head seems to grow up; the lion's tail is very long. The plaques are in a bad state of preservation so that details are uncertain, but it
cannot reasonably be doubted that this is another mythical representation, the Chimaera and Bellerophon. It may seem astonishing that of the two myths illustrated the scenes of both are laid in foreign countries--I shall recur to this topic later. 30 A third representation referring to a Greek myth is that of two centaurs, each with a dagger in his hand, on a steatite gem found by Dr. Blegen in a Late Mycenaean tomb during his excavations at the Argive Heraeum. 31 Here I wish only to stress the fact that Mycenaean representations of Greek myths actually have come to light. If it is proved that the myths of Europa, of Bellerophon, and of the Centaurs go back into the Mycenaean age, the view will be still more justified that the great mythical cycles also which are attached to the Mycenaean centers go back into the Mycenaean age.
4:1 See my article "Ueber die Glaubwürdigkeit der Volksüberlieferung bes. in Bezug auf die alte Geschichte" in the Italian periodical Scientia, 1930, pp. 319 et seq.
4:2 The lectures of one of my predecessors in the Sather professorship, Professor Myres, came into my hands through the kindness of the author after my lectures had already been written down. Professor Myres thinks that heroic genealogy makes up a fairly reliable chronological scheme. My different standpoint I hope to justify in the following pages. I have tried to take justly into account the circumstances of time, of popular tradition, and of the transmission of epic poetry.
6:3 P. Friedländer, "Herakles," Philologische Untersuchungen, H. XIX (1907).
6:4 E. Bethe, Homer, I-III (1914-27; Vol. II, ed. 2, with only slight additions, 1929).
7:5 U. v. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, "Die griechische Heldensage, II," Sitzungsberichte der preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1925, p. 241.
8:6 Below pp. 148 et seq.
9:7 U. v. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Die Ilias and Homer (1916), p. 339.
9:8 Il. xxiii, v. 676 et seq.; Hesiod, Erga, v. 161 et seq.
12:9 H. L. Lorimer, "Defensive Armour in Homer," Liverpool Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology, XV (1928), pp. 89 et seq.; and "Homer's Use of the Past," Journal of Hellenic Studies, XLIX (1929), pp. 145 et seq.
13:10 Bethe, loc. cit.; cp. below p. 45.
13:11 Vide below, pp. 46 et seq.
15:12 R. v. Pöhlmann, "Zur geschichtlichen Beurteilung Homers," Sybel's historische Zeitschrift, LXXIII (1894), pp. 385 et seq.; reprinted in his "Gesammelte Abhandlungen," Aus Altertum und Gegenwart, I., pp. 56 et seq. What he says, p. 59, is true to this day: "Es ist ein wesentlicher Mangel der modernen Homer-Forschung, dass sie dieses gerade für die geschichtliche Seite der homerischen Frage so überaus wichtige Material bei weitem noch nicht in dem Umfang herangezogen und verwertet hat, in welchem es uns jetzt vorliegt."
15:13 E. Drerup, "Homerische Poetik," I., Das Homerproblem in der Gegenwart (1921), pp. 27 et seq. Cp. the brief survey by John Meier, Werden und Leben des Volksepos (1909).
16:14 A. Lang, Homer and his Age (1906), pp. 297 et seq.
16:15 H. M. Chadwick, The Heroic Age (1912).
16:16 I hope to be able to give a fuller exposition of this subject in a forthcoming book with the title Homer and Mycenae, the basis of which is a series of lectures delivered in the University of London in 1929.
19:17 W. Radloff, "Die Sprachen der nördlichen Türkstämme," V, Der Dialekt der Kara-Kirgizen (1885), p. xvi.
21:18 A. J. Evans, Journal of Hellenic Studies, XXXII (1912), pp. 387 et seq.
21:19 In my Minoan-Mycenaean Religion, pp. 11 et seq.
26:20 G. Dumézil, Légendes sur les Nartes (1930).
26:21 P. Kretschmer, in the periodical Glotta, X (1920), pp. 305 et seq.
27:22 See my article, "Der mykenische Ursprung der griechischen Mythologie," Ἀντίδωρον, Festschrift für J. Wackernagel (1924), pp. 137, et seq. and my History of Greek Religion, pp. 38 et seq.
28:23 A good but very summary review of the prehistoric sites and find-places is given by Dr. Fimmen in his book, Die kretisch-mykenische Kultur (1921). The second edition (1924) is merely a reprint with very slight additions. In particular, a better map is needed than the rather poor one which has been added; moreover, the Mycenaean sites ought p. 29 to be sharply distinguished from the pre-Mycenaean sites. A summary of the reports on excavations and finds with very rich illustrative material is given by the late Professor O. Montelius in his work, La Grèce préclassique, I, II:2 (1924-28). It is to be regretted that this posthumous work has not been brought up to date.
29:24 Cp. below pp. 128 and 182.
32:25 British School at Athens, Annual, IX, p. 58, fig. 36; the latest treatment by S. Marinatos, Μινωικὴ καὶ Ὁμηρικὴ Σκύλλα in Δελτίον ἀρχαιολογικόν, X, pp. 51 et seq.
32:26 See e.g. my Minoan-Mycenaean Religion, p. 44, n. 3.
32:27 A. J. Evans, "The Ring of Nestor, etc.", Journal of Hellenic Studies, XL (1925), pp. 1 et seq. The genuineness of this most amazing find is vigorously contested; I have given some objections in my Minoan-Mycenaean Religion, pp. 304 et seq.
33:28 A. W. Persson, Kungagraven i Dendra (1928), p. 123; cp. below p. 38, n. 6.
33:29 Loc. cit., p. 125.
34:30 Below pp. 53 et seq.
34:31 Dr. Blegen has kindly shown me a design of this gem, which will be published in his forthcoming work, Prosymna, and has given me his permission to mention it.