Mythical Monsters, by Charles Gould, , at sacred-texts.com
IT would have been a bold step indeed for anyone, some thirty years ago, to have thought of treating the public to a collection of stories ordinarily reputed fabulous, and of claiming for them the consideration due to genuine realities, or to have advocated tales, time-honoured as fictions, as actual facts; and those of the nursery as being, in many instances, legends, more or less distorted, descriptive of real beings or events.
Now-a-days it is a less hazardous proceeding. The great era of advanced opinion, initiated by Darwin, which has seen, in the course of a few years, a larger progress in knowledge in all departments of science than decades of centuries preceding it, has, among other changes, worked a complete revolution in the estimation of the value of folk-lore; and speculations on it, which in the days of our boyhood would have been considered as puerile, are now admitted to be not merely interesting but necessary to those who endeavour to gather up the skeins of unwritten history, and to trace the antecedents and early migrations from parent sources of nations long since alienated from each other by customs, speech, and space.
I have, therefore, but little hesitation in gravely proposing to submit that many of the so-called mythical animals, which throughout long ages and in all nations have been the fertile subjects of fiction and fable, come legitimately within the scope of plain matter-of-fact Natural History, and that they may be considered, not as the outcome of exuberant fancy, but as creatures which really once existed, and of which, unfortunately, only imperfect and inaccurate descriptions have filtered down to us, probably very much refracted, through the mists of time.
I propose to follow, for a certain distance only, the path which has been pursued in the treatment of myths by mythologists, so far only, in fact, as may be necessary to trace out the homes and origin of those stories which in their later dress are incredible; deviating from it to dwell upon the possibility of their having preserved to us, through the medium of unwritten Natural History, traditions of creatures once co-existing with man, some of which are so weird and terrible as to appear at first sight to be impossible. I propose stripping them of those supernatural characters with which a mysteriously implanted love of the wonderful has invested them, and to examine them, as at the present day we are fortunately able to do, by the lights of the modern sciences of Geology, Evolution, and Philology.
For me the major part of these creatures are not chimeras but objects of rational study. The dragon, in place of being a creature evolved out of the imagination of Aryan man by the contemplation of lightning flashing through the caverns which he tenanted, as is held by some mythologists, is an animal which once lived and dragged its ponderous coils, and perhaps flew; which devastated herds, and on occasions swallowed their shepherd; which, establishing its lair in some cavern overlooking the fertile plain, spread terror and destruction around, and, protected from assault by dread or superstitious feeling, may even have been subsidised by the
terror-stricken peasantry, who, failing the power to destroy it, may have preferred tethering offerings of cattle adjacent to its cavern to having it come down to seek supplies from amongst their midst. *
To me the specific existence of the unicorn seems not incredible, and, in fact, more probable than that theory which assigns its origin to a lunar myth.
Again, believing as I do in the existence of some great undescribed inhabitant of the ocean depths, the much-derided sea-serpent, whose home seems especially to be adjacent to Norway, I recognise this monster as originating the myths of the midgard serpent which the Norse Elder Eddas have collected, this being the contrary view to that taken by mythologists, who invert the derivation, and suppose the stories current among the Norwegian fishermen to be modified versions of this important element of Norse mythology.
I must admit that, for my part, I doubt the general derivation of myths from the contemplation of the visible workings of external nature." * It seems to me easier to suppose that the palsy of time has enfeebled the utterance of these oft-told tales until their original appearance is almost unrecognisable, than that uncultured savages should possess powers of imagination and poetical invention far beyond those enjoyed by the most instructed nations of the present day; less hard to believe that these wonderful stories of gods and demigods, of giants and dwarfs, of dragons and monsters of all descriptions, are transformations than to believe them to be inventions.
The author of Atlantis, indeed, claims that the gods and goddesses of the ancient Greeks, the Phnicians, the Hindoos, and the Scandinavians were simply the kings, queens, and heroes of Atlantis, and the acts attributed to them in mythology a confused recollection of real historical events. Without conceding the locus of the originals, which requires much greater examination than I am able to make at the
present time, I quite agree with him as to the principle. I believe that the mythological deities represent a confused chronology of far-distant times, and that the destruction of the Nemean lion, the Lernean hydra, and the Minotaur are simply the records of acts of unusual bravery in combating ferocious animals.
On the first landing of Pizarro the Mexicans entertained the opinion that man and horse were parts of one strange animal, * and we have thus a clue to the explanation of the origin of the belief in centaurs from a distant view of horsemen, a view possibly followed by the immediate flight of the observer, which rendered a solution of the extraordinary phenomenon impossible.
Ferdinand Mendez Pinto quaintly observes, in one of his earlier chapters, "I will not speak of the Palace Royal, because I saw it but on the outside, howbeit the Chinese tell such wonders of it as would amaze a man; for it is my intent to relate nothing save what we beheld here with our own eyes, and that was so much as that I am afraid to write it; not that it would seem strange to those who have seen and read the marvels of the kingdom of China, but because I doubt that they which would compare those wondrous things that are in the countries they have not seen, with that little they have seen in their own, will make some question
of it, or, it may be, give no credit at all to these truths, because they are not conformable to their understanding and small experience." *
Now as some of the creatures whose existence I shall have to contend for in these volumes are objects of derision to a large proportion of mankind, and of reasonable doubt to another, I cannot help fortifying myself with some such outwork of reasoning as the pith of Pinto's remarks affords, and supplementing it by adding that, while the balance between scepticism and credulity is undoubtedly always difficult to hold, yet, as Lord Bacon well remarks, "There is nothing makes a man suspect much more than to know little; and therefore men should remedy suspicion by procuring to know more."
Whately extends Bacon's proposition by adding, "This is equally true of the suspicions that have reference to things as persons"; in other words, ignorance and suspicion go hand-in-hand, and so travellers tales, even when supported by good evidence, are mostly denied credence or accepted with repugnance, when they offend the experience of those who, remaining at home, are thus only partially educated. Hence it is, not to go too far back for examples, that we have seen Bruce, Mungo Park, Du Chaillu, Gordon Cumming, Schliemann, * and Stanley treated with the most ungenerous criticism and contemptuous disbelief by persons who, however well informed in many subjects, lacked the extended and appreciative views which can only be acquired by travel.
Nor is this incredulity limited to travellers tales about savage life. It is just as often displayed in reference to the
surroundings of uneventful life, provided they are different from those with which we are familiar.
Saladin rebuked the Knight of the Leopard for falsehood when the latter assured him that the waters of lakes in his own country became at times solidified, so that armed and mounted knights could cross them as if on dry land. And the wise Indian who was taken down to see the large American cities, with the expectation that, being convinced of the resources and irresistible power of civilization he would influence his tribe to submission on his return, to the surprise of the commissioners who had conveyed him, spoke in directly contrary terms to those expected of him, privately explaining in reply to their remonstrances, that had he told the truth to his tribe he would have been indelibly branded for the remainder of his life as an outrageous and contemptible liar. Chinese students, despatched for education in American or European capitals, are compelled on their return to make similar reservations, under pain of incurring a like penalty; and officials who, from contact with Europeans at the open ports, get their ideas expanded too quickly, are said to be liable to isolation in distant regions, where their advanced and fantastic opinions may do as little harm to right-thinking people as possible. *
Even scientific men are sometimes as crassly incredulous as the uncultured masses. On this point hear Mr. A. R. Wallace. "Many now living remember the time (for it is
little more than twenty years ago) when the antiquity of man, as now understood, was universally discredited. Not only theologians, but even geologists taught us that man belonged to the existing state of things; that the extinct animals of the tertiary period had finally disappeared, and that the earth's surface had assumed its present condition before the human race first came into existence. So prepossessed were scientific men with this idea, which yet rested on purely negative evidence, and could not be supported by any argument of scientific value, that numerous facts which had been presented at intervals for half a century, all tending to prove the existence of man at very remote epochs, were silently ignored, and, more than this, the detailed statements of three distinct and careful observers confirming each other were rejected by a great scientific society as too improbable for publication, only because they proved (if they were true) the co-existence of man with extinct animals." *
The travels of that faithful historian, Marco Polo, were for a long time considered as fables, and the graphic descriptions of the Abbé Huc even still find detractors continuing the rôle of those who maintained that he had never even visited the countries which he described.
Gordon Cumming was disbelieved when he asserted that he had killed an antelope, out of a herd, with a rifle-shot at a distance of eight hundred yards.
Madame Merian was accused of deliberate falsehood in reference to her description of a bird-eating spider nearly
two hundred years ago. But now-a-days Mr. Bates and other reliable observers have confirmed it in regard to South America, India, and elsewhere.
Audubon was similarly accused by botanists of having invented the yellow water-lily, which he figured in his Birds of the South under the name of Nymphæa lutea, and after having lain under the imputation for years, was confirmed at last by the discovery of the long-lost flower, in Florida, by Mrs. Mary Trent, in the summer of 1876; * and this encourages us to hope that some day or other a fortunate sportsman may rediscover the Haliætus Washingtonii, in regard to which Dr. Cover says: "That famous bird of Washington was a myth; either Audubon was mistaken, or else, as some do not hesitate to affirm, he lied about it."
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FIG. 1.FISHERMAN ATTACKED BY OCTOPUS.
(Facsimile from a drawing by Hokusai, a celebrated Japanese artist who lived about the beginning of the present century.)
Victor Hugo was ridiculed for having exceeded the bounds of poetic license when he produced his marvellous word-painting of the devil-fish, and described a man as becoming its helpless victim. The thing was derided as a monstrous
impossibility; yet within a few years were discovered, on the shores of Newfoundland, cuttle-fishes with arms extending to thirty feet in length, and capable of dragging a good-sized boat beneath the surface; and their action has been reproduced for centuries past, as the representation of a well-known fact, in net sukes (ivory carvings) and illustrations by Japanese artists. *
Before the days of Darwinism, what courage was requisite in a man who propounded any theory a little bit extravagant! Hark how, even less than twenty years ago, the ghost of the unfortunate Lord Monboddo had bricks of criticism pelted at it, half earnestly, half contemptuously, by one of our greatest thinkers, whose thought happened to run in grooves different from those travelled in by the mind of the unfortunate Scotchman.
"Lord Monboddo * had just finished his great work, by which he derives all mankind from a couple of apes, and all the dialects of the world from a language originally framed by some Egyptian gods, when the discovery of Sanskrit came on him like a thunderbolt. It must be said, however, to his credit, that he at once perceived the immense importance of the discovery. He could not be expected to sacrifice his primordial monkeys or his Egyptian idols, &c."
And again: "It may be of interest to give one other extract in order to show how well, apart from his men with, and his monkeys without, tails, Lord Monboddo could sift and handle the evidence that was placed before him."
Max Müller also furnishes us with an amazing example of scepticism on the part of Dugald Stewart. He says : " However, if the facts about Sanskrit were true, Dugald Stewart was too wise not to see that the conclusions drawn from them were inevitable. He therefore denied the reality of such a language as Sanskrit altogether, and wrote his famous essay to prove that Sanskrit had been put together, after the model of Greek and Latin, by those archforgers and liars, the Brahmans, and that the whole of Sanskrit literature was an imposition."
So Ctesias attacked Herodotus. The very existence of
[paragraph continues] Homer has been denied, and even the authorship of Shakespeare's plays questioned. *
We are all familiar enough now with the black swan, but Ovid considered it as so utterly impossible that he clinched, as it were, an affirmation by saying, "If I doubted, O Maximus, of thy approval of these words, I could believe that there are swans of the colour of Memnon" [i.e. black]; and even so late as the days of Sir Thomas Browne, we find them classed by him with flying horses, hydras, centaurs, harpies, and satyrs, as monstrosities, rarities, or else poetical fancies.
Now that we have all seen the great hippopotamus disport himself in his tank in the gardens of the Zoological Society, we can smile at the grave arguments of the savant who, while admitting the existence of the animal, disputed the possibility of his walking about on the bed of a river, because his great bulk would prevent his rising again. § But I daresay
it passed muster in his days as a very sound and shrewd observation, just as, possibly, but for the inconvenient waggery of Peter Pindar, might have done the intelligent inquiry, which he records, after the seam in the apple-dumpling.
Poor Fray Gaspar de Jan Bernardine who, in 1611, undertook the journey by land from India to Portugal, was unfortunate enough to describe the mode in which the captain of the caravan communicated intelligence to Bagdad by carrier pigeon. "He had pigeons whose young and nests were at his house in that city, and every two days he let fly a pigeon with a letter tied to its foot containing the news of his journey. This account met with but little belief in Europe, and was treated there as a matter of merriment." *
The discredit under which this traveller fell is the more surprising because the same custom had already been noted by Sir John Mandeville, who, in speaking of Syria and adjacent countries, says: "In that contree, and other contrees beyond, thei have custom, whan thei schulle usen warre, and when men holden sege abouten Cytee or Castelle, and thei withinen dur not senden messagers with lettres frō Lord to Lord for to ask Sokour, thei maken here Lettres and bynden hem to the Nekke of a Colver and leten the Colver flee, and the Colveren ben so taughte, that thei flun with the Lettres to the very place that men wolde send hem to. For the Colveres
ben norrysscht in the Places Where thei been sent to, and thei senden them there, for to beren here Lettres, and the Colveres retournen agen, where as thei ben norrischt, and so thei dou commonly."
While, long before, Pliny had referred to it in his Natural History * as follows: "In addition to this, pigeons have acted as messengers in affairs of importance. During the siege of Mutina, Decimus Brutus, who was in the town, sent despatches to the camp of the Consuls, fastened to pigeons feet. Of what use to Antony, then, were his entrenchments? and all the vigilance of the besieging army? his nets, too, which he had spread in the river, while the messenger of the besieged was cleaving the air?"
The pace of railways; steam communication across the Atlantic; the Suez Canal ; were not all these considered in former days to be impossible? With these examples of failure of judgment before us, it may be fairly asked whether, in applying our minds to the investigation of the reality of creatures apparently monstrous, we duly reflect upon the extraordinary, almost miraculous, events which incessantly occur in the course of the short existence of all animated nature? Supposing the history of insects were unknown to us, could the wildest imagination conceive such a marvellous transformation as that which takes place continually around us in the passage from the larva through the chrysalis to the butterfly? or human ingenuity invent one so bizarre as that recorded by Steenstrup in his theory of the alternation of generation?
We accept as nothing marvellous, only because we see them daily, the organization and the polity of a community
of ants; their collaboration, their wars, and their slaveries have been so often stated that they cease to astonish. The same may be said of the marvellous architecture of birds, their construction of houses to live in, of bowers to play in, and even of gardens to gratify their sense of beauty. *
We admire the ingenious imagination of Swift, and essayists dwell upon his happy conceits and upon the ability with which, in his celebrated work, he has ordered all things to harmonise in dimensions with the enlarged and reduced scales on which he has conceived the men and animals of Brobdignag and Lilliput. So much even has this quaint idea been appreciated, that his story has achieved a small immortality, and proved one of the numerous springs from which new words have been imported into our language. Yet the peculiar and essential singularities of the story are quite equalled, or even surpassed, by creatures which are, or have been, found in nature. The imaginary diminutive cows which Gulliver brought back from Lilliput, and placed in the meadows at Dulwich, are not one bit more remarkable, in respect to relative size, than the pigmy elephant (E. Falconeri) whose remains have been found in the cave-deposits of Malta, associated with those of pigmy hippopotami, and which was only two feet six inches high; or the still existing Hippopotamus (Chropsis) liberiensis, which M. Milne Edwardes figures as little more than two feet in height.
The lilliputian forests from which the royal navy was constructed contained even large trees in comparison with the dwarf oaks of Mexico, or with the allied, even smaller
species, which crawls like heather about the hill-slopes of China and Japan, and still more so in comparison with that singular pine, the most diminutive known (Dacrydium taxifolium), fruiting specimens of which, according to Kirk, are sometimes only two inches high, while the average height is only six to ten inches; while even among the forests of Brobdignag, a very respectable position could be held by the mammoth trees of California (Sequoia gigantea), or by the loftier white gums of Australia (Eucalyptus amygdalina), which occasionally reach, according to Von Mueller, * the enormous height of 480 feet. Nor could more adequate tenants (in point of size) be found to occupy them than the gigantic reptilian forms lately discovered by Marsh among the deposits of Colorado and Texas.
Surely a profound acquaintance with the different branches of natural history should render a man credulous rather than incredulous, for there is hardly conceivable a creature so monstrous that it may not be paralleled by existing ones in every-day life.
Are the composite creatures of Chaldæan mythology so very much more wonderful than the marsupial kangaroo, the duck-billed platypus, and the flying lizard of Malaysia which
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FIG. 2.PTERODLCTYLUS. (After Figuier.)
are, or the pterodactylus, rhamphorynchus, and archæopteryx which have been? Does not geological science, day by day, trace one formation by easy gradation to another, bridge over
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FIG. 3.RHAMPHORYNCHUS. (From
the gaps which formerly separated them, carry the proofs of the existence of man constantly further and further back into remote time, and disclose the previous existence of intermediate
types (satisfying the requirements of the Darwinian theory) connecting the great divisions of the animal kingdom, of reptile-like birds and bird-like reptiles? Can we suppose that we have at all exhausted the great museum of nature? Have we, in fact, penetrated yet beyond its ante-chambers?
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Does the written history of man, comprising a few thousand years, embrace the whole course of his intelligent existence? or have we in the long mythical eras, extending over hundreds of thousands of years and recorded in the chronologies of Chaldæa and of China, shadowy mementoes of pre-historic man, handed down by tradition, and perhaps transported by a few survivors to existing lands from others which, like the fabled (?) Atlantis of Plato, may have been submerged, or the scene of some great catastrophe which destroyed them with all their civilization.
The six or eight thousand years which the various interpreters of the Biblical record assign for the creation of the world and the duration of man upon the earth, allow little enough space for the development of his civilizationa civilization which documental evidence carries almost to the verge of the limitfor the expansion and divergence of stocks, or the obliteration of the branches connecting them.
But, fortunately, we are no more compelled to fetter our belief within such limits as regards man than to suppose that his appearance on the globe was coeval with or immediately successive to its own creation at that late date. For while geological science, on the one hand, carries back the creation of the world and the appearance of life upon its surface to a period so remote that it is impossible to estimate it, and difficult even to faintly approximate to it, so, upon the other, the researches of paleontologists have successively traced back the existence of man to periods variously estimated at from thirty thousand to one million yearsto periods when he co-existed with animals which have long since become extinct, and which even excelled in magnitude and ferocity most of those which in savage countries dispute his empire at the present day. Is it not reasonable to suppose that his combats with these would form the most important topic of conversation, of tradition, and of primitive song, and that graphic accounts of such struggles, and of the terrible nature of the foes encountered, would be handed down from father to son, with a fidelity of description and an accuracy of memory unsuspected by us, who, being acquainted with reading and writing, are led to depend upon their artificial assistance, and thus in a measure fail to cultivate a faculty which, in common with those of keenness of vision and hearing, are essential to the existence of man in a savage or semi-savage condition? *
The illiterate backwoodsman or trapper (and hence by inference the savage or semi-civilized man), whose mind is
occupied merely by his surroundings, and whose range of thought, in place of being diffused over an illimitable horizon, is confined within very moderate limits, develops remarkable powers of observation and an accuracy of memory in regard to localities, and the details of his daily life, surprising to the scholar who has mentally to travel over so much more ground, and, receiving daily so many and so far more complex ideas, can naturally grasp each less firmly, and is apt to lose them entirely in the haze of a period of time which would still leave those of the uneducated man distinguishable or even prominent landmarks. * Variations in traditions must, of course, occur in time, and the same histories, radiating in all directions from centres, vary from the original ones by increments dependent on proportionately altered phases of temperament and character, induced by change of climate, associations and conditions of life; so that the early written history of every country reproduces under its own garb, and with a claim to originality, attenuated, enriched, or deformed versions of traditions common in their origin to many or all.
Stories of divine progenitors, demigods, heroes, mighty hunters, slayers of monsters, giants, dwarfs, gigantic serpents, dragons, frightful beasts of prey, supernatural beings, and myths of all kinds, appear to have been carried into all corners of the world with as much fidelity as the sacred Ark of the Israelites, acquiring a mouldinggraceful, weird or uncouthaccording to the genius of the people or their capacity for superstitious belief; and these would appear to have been materially affected by the varied nature of their respective countries. For example, the long-continuing dwellers in the open plains of a semi-tropical region, relieved to a great extent from the cares of watchfulness, and nurtured in the grateful rays of a genial but not oppressive sun, must have a more buoyant disposition and more open temperament than those inhabiting vast forests, the matted overgrowth of which rarely allows the passage of a single ray, bathes all in gloom, and leaves on every side undiscovered depths, filled with shapeless shadows, objects of vigilant dread, from which some ferocious monster may emerge at any moment. Again, on the one hand, the nomad roaming in isolation over vast solitudes, having much leisure for contemplative reflection, and on the other, the hardy dwellers on storm-beaten coasts, by turns fishermen, mariners, and pirates, must equally develop traits which affect their religion, polity, and customs, and stamp their influences on mythology and tradition.
The Greek, the Celt, and the Viking, descended from the same Aryan ancestors, though all drawing from the same sources their inspirations of religious belief and tradition, quickly diverged, and respectively settled into a generous martial racemartial in support of their independence rather than from any lust of conquestpolite, skilled, and learned; one brave but irritable, suspicious, haughty, impatient of control; and the last, the berserker, with a ruling passion for maritime adventure, piracy, and hand-to-hand heroic
struggles, to be terminated in due course by a hero's death and a welcome to the banqueting halls of Odin in Walhalla.
The beautiful mythology of the Greek nation, comprising a pantheon of gods and demigods, benign for the most part, and often interesting themselves directly in the welfare of individual men, was surely due to, or at least greatly induced by, the plastic influences of a delicious climate, a semi-insular position in a sea comparatively free from stormy weather, and an open mountainous country, moderately fertile. Again, the gloomy and sanguinary religion of the Druids was doubtless moulded by the depressing influences of the seclusion, twilight haze, and dangers of the dense forests in which they hid themselvesforests which, as we know from Cesar, spread over the greater part of Gaul, Britain, and Spain; while the Viking, having from the chance or choice of his ancestors, inherited a rugged seaboard, lashed by tempestuous waves and swept by howling winds, a seaboard with only a rugged country shrouded with unsubdued forests at its back, exposed during the major portion of the year to great severity of climate, and yielding at the best but a niggard and precarious harvest, became perforce a bold and skilful mariner, and, translating his belief into a language symbolic of his new surroundings, believed that he saw and heard Thor in the midst of the howling tempests, revealed majestic and terrible through rents in the storm-cloud. Pursuing our consideration of the effects produced by climatic conditions, may we not assume, for example, that some at least of the Chaldæans, inhabiting a pastoral country, and being descended from ancestors who had pursued, for hundreds or thousands of years, a nomadic existence in the vast open steppes in the highlands of Central Asia, were indebted to those circumstances for the advance which they are credited with having made in astronomy and kindred sciences. Is it not possible that their acquaintance with climatology was as exact or even more so than our own? The habit of solitude
would induce reflection, the subject of which would naturally be the causes influencing the vicissitudes of weather. The possibilities of rain or sunshine, wind or storm, would be with them a prominent object of solicitude; and the necessity, in an unfenced country, of extending their watch over their flocks and herds throughout the night, would perforce more or less rivet their attention upon the glorious constellations of the heavens above, and lead to habits of observation which, systematized and long continued by the priesthood, might have produced deductions accurate in the result even if faulty in the process.
The vast treasures of ancient knowledge tombed in the ruins of Babylon and Assyria, of which the recovery and deciphering is as yet only initiated, may, to our surprise, reveal that certain secrets of philosophy were known to the ancients equally with ourselves, but lost through intervening ages by the destruction of the empire, and the fact of their conservancy having been entrusted to a privileged and limited order, with which it perished. *
We hail as a new discovery the knowledge of the existence of the so-called spots upon the surface of the sun, and scientists, from long-continued observations, profess to distinguish a connection between the character of these and atmospheric phenomena; they even venture to predict floods and droughts, and that for some years in anticipation; while pestilences or some great disturbance are supposed to be likely to follow the period when three or four planets attain their apogee within one year, a supposition based on the observations extended over numerous years, that similar events had accompanied the occurrence of even one only of those positions at previous periods.
May we not speculate on the possibility of similar or parallel knowledge having been possessed by the old Chaldæan and Egyptian priesthood; and may not Joseph have been able, by superior ability in its exercise, to have anticipated the seven years' drought, or Noah, from an acquaintance with meteorological science, to have made an accurate forecast of the great disturbances which resulted in the Deluge and the destruction of a large portion of mankind? *
Without further digression in a path which opens the most pleasing speculations, and could be pursued into endless ramifications, I will merely, in conclusion, suggest that the same influences which, as I have shown above, affect so largely the very nature of a people, must similarly affect its traditions and myths, and that due consideration will have to be given to such influences, in the case of some at least of the remarkable animals which I propose to discuss in this and future volumes.
The Shan Hai KingAccording to the commentator Kwoh Poh (A.D. 276-324), this work was compiled three thousand years before this time, or at seven dynasties distance. Yang Sun of the Ming dynasty (commencing A.D. 1368), states that it was compiled by Kung Chia (and Chung Ku?) from engravings on nine urns made by the Emperor Yü, B.C. 2255. Chung Ku was an historiographer, and at the time of the last Emperor of the Hia dynasty (B.C. 1818), fearing that the Emperor might destroy the books treating of the ancient and present time, carried them in flight to Yin.
The Rh YaInitiated according to tradition, by Chow Kung; uncle of Wu Wang, the first Emperor of the Chow dynasty, B.C. 1122. Ascribed also to Tsze Hea, the disciple of Confucius.
The Bamboo BooksContaining the Ancient Annals of China, said to have been found A.D. 279, on opening the grave of King Seang of Wei [died B.C. 295]. Age prior to last date, undetermined. Authenticity disputed, favoured by Legge.
ConfuciusAuthor of Spring and Autumn Classics, &c., B.C. (551-479).
CtesiasHistorian, physician to Artaxerxes, B.C. 401. HerodotusB.C. 484.
MegasthenesAbout B.C. 300. In time of Seleucus Nicator. His work entitled Indica is only known by extracts in those of Strabo, Arrian, and Ælian.
EratosthenesBorn B.C. 276. Mathematician, Astronomer, and Geographer.
PosidoniusBorn about B.C. 140. Besides philosophical treatises, wrote works on geography, history, and astronomy, fragments of which are preserved in the works of Cicero, Strabo, and others.
NicanderAbout B.C. 135. Wrote the Theriaca, a poem of 1,000 lines, in hexameter, on the wounds caused by venomous animals, and the treatment. Is followed in many of his errors by Pliny. Plutarch says the Theriaca cannot be called a poem, because there is in it nothing of fable or falsehood.
StraboJust before the Christian era. Geographer.
CiceroBorn B.C. 106.
Propertius (Sextus Aurelius)Born probably about B.C. 56.
Diodorus SiculusWrote the Bibliotheca Historica (in Greek), after the death of Julius Cæsar (B.C. 44). Of the 40 books composing it only 15 remain, viz. Books 1 to 5 and 11 to 20.
JubaDied A.D. 17. Son of Juba I., King of Numidia. Wrote on Natural History.
PlinyBorn A.D. 23.
LucanA.D. 38. The only work of his extant is the Pharsalia, a poem on the civil war between Cæsar and Pompey.
IgnatiusEither an early Patriarch, A.D. 50, or Patriarch of Constantinople, 799.
IsidorusIsidorus of Charaux lived probably in the first century of our era. He wrote an account of the Parthian empire.
ArrianBorn about A.D. 100. His work on the Natural History, &c. of India is founded on the authority of Eratosthenes and Megasthenes.
PausaniasAuthor of the Description or Itinerary of Greece. In the 2nd century.
PhilostratusBorn about A.D. 182.
Solinus, Caius JuliusDid not write in the Augustan age, for his work entitled Polyhistor is merely a compilation from Pliny's Natural History. According to Salmasius, he lived about two hundred years after Pliny.
ÆlianProbably middle of the 3rd century A.D. De Naturâ Animalium. In Greek.
Ammianus MarcellinusLived in 4th century.
Cardan, Jerome A.About the end of 4th century A.D.
Printing invented in China, according to Du Halde, A.D. 924. Block-printing used in A.D. 593.
Marco PoloReached the Court of Kublai Khan in A.D. 1275.
Mandeville, Sir John deTravelled for thirty-three years in Asia dating from A.D. 1327. As he resided for three years in Peking, it is probable that many of his fables are derived from Chinese sources.
Printing invented in Europe by John Koster of Haarlem, A.D. 1438.
Scaliger, Julius CæsarBorn April 23rd, 1484. Wrote Aristotelis Hist. Anim. liber decimus cum vers. et comment. 8vo. Lyon, 1584, &c.
GesnerBorn 1516. Historiæ Animalium, &c.
Ambrose ParéBorn 1517. Surgeon.
Belon, Pierre.Born 1518. Zoologist, Geographer, &c.
AldrovandusBorn 1552. Naturalist.
Tavernier, J. B.Born 1605.
Păn Tsao Kong Muh.By Li Shê-chin of the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1628).
Yuen Kien Léi Han. A.D. 1718.
3:* This tributary offering is a common feature in dragon legends. A good example is that given by El Edrisi in his history of the dragon destroyed by Alexander the Great in the island of Mostachin (one of the Canaries?).
3: The latest writer on this point summarizes his views, in his opening remarks, as follows:"The science of heraldry has faithfully preserved to modern times various phases of some of those remarkable legends which, based upon a study of natural phenomena, exhibit the process whereby the greater part of mythology has come into existence. Thus we find the solar gryphon, the solar phnix, a demi-eagle displayed issuing from flames of fire; the solar lion and the lunar unicorn, which two latter noble creatures now harmoniously support the royal arms. I propose in the following pages to examine the myth of the unicorn, the wild, white, fierce, chaste, moon, whose two horns, unlike those of mortal creatures, are indissolubly twisted into one; the creature that endlessly fights with the lion to gain the crown or summit of heaven, which neither may retain, and whose brilliant horn drives away the darkness and evil of the night even as we find in the myth, that Venym is defended by the horn of the unicorn."The Unicorn; a Mythological Investigation. Robert Brown, jun., F.S.A. London, 1881.
3: "The midgard or world-serpent we have already become tolerably well acquainted with, and recognise in him the wild tumultuous sea. Thor contended with him; he got him on his hook, but did not succeed p. 4 in killing him. We also remember how Thor tried to lift him in the form of a cat. The North abounds in stories about the sea-serpent, which are nothing but variations of the original myths of the Eddas. Odin cast him into the sea, where he shall remain until he is conquered by Thor in Ragnarok."Norse Mythology, p. 387. R. B. Anderson, Chicago, 1879.
4:* Vide Anderson.
4: Just as even the greatest masters of fiction adapt but do not originate. Harold Skimpole and Wilkins Micawber sat unconsciously for their portraits in real life, and the most charming characters and fertile plots produced by that most prolific of all writers, A. Dumas, are mere elaborations of people and incidents with which historical memoirs provided him.
4: Atlantis; the Antediluvian World. J. Donelly, New York, 1882. The author has amassed, with untiring labour, a large amount of evidence to prove that the island of Atlantis, in place of being a myth or fable of Plato, really once existed; wag the source of all modern arts and civilization; and was destroyed in a catastrophe which he identifies with the Biblical Deluge.
5:* So also, Father Stanislaus Arlet, of the Society of Jesus, writing to the General of the Society in 1698 respecting a new Mission in Peru, and speaking of a Peruvian tribe calling themselves Canisian, says: "Having never before seen horses, or men resembling us in colour and dress, the astonishment they showed at our first appearance among them was a very pleasing spectacle to us, the sight of us terrifying them to such a degree that the bows and arrows fell from their hand; imagining, as they afterwards owned, that the man, his hat, his clothes, and the horse he rode upon, composed but one animal."
6:* The Voyages and Adventures of Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, done into English by H. C. Gent, London, 1653, p. 109. The vindication of Pinto's reputation for veracity will doubtless one day be, to a great extent, effected, for although his interesting narrative is undoubtedly embroidered with a rich tissue of falsity, due apparently to an exaggerated credulity upon his part, and systematic deception upon that of his Chinese informants, he certainly is undeserving of the wholesale condemnation of which Congreve was the reflex when he made Foresight, addressing Sir Sampson Legend, say: "Thou modern Mandeville, Ferdinand Mendez Pinto was but a type of thee, thou liar of the first magnitude."Love for Love, Act. 2, Scene 1. There are many points in his narrative which are corroborated by history and the accounts of other voyages; and it must be remembered that, although the major part of the names of places and persons which he gives are now unrecognisable, yet this may be due to alterations from the lapse of time, and from the difficulty of recognising the true original Chinese or Japanese word under those produced by the foreign mode of transliteration in vogue in those days. Thus the Port Liampoo of Pinto is now and has been for many years past only known as Ningpo, the first name being a term of convenience, used by the early Portuguese voyagers, and long since abandoned. Just as the wonderful Quinsay of Marco Polo (still known by that name in Pinto's time) has been only successfully identified (with Hangchow-fu) through the antiquarian research of Colonel Yule. So also the titles of Chaems, Tutons, Chumbins, Aytons, Anchacy's, which Pinto refers to (p. 108), are only with difficulty recognisable in those respectively of Tsiang (a Manchu governor), Tu-tung (Lieutenant-General), Tsung-ping (Brigadier-General), Tao-tai [??] (Intendant of Circuit) and Ngan-cha She-sze (Provincial Judge), as rendered by the modern sinologue Mayers in his Essay on the Chinese Government, Shanghai, 1878. The incidental references to the country, people, habits, and products, contained in the chapter describing his passage in captivity from Nanquin to Pequin are true to nature, and the apparently obviously untruthful statement which he makes of the employment by the King of Tartary of thousands of rhinoceri both as beasts of burthen and articles of food (p. 158) is explicable, I think, on the supposition that some confusion has arisen, either in translation or transcription, between rhinoceros and camel. Anyone who has seen the long strings of camels wending their way to Pekin from the various northern roads through the passes into Mongolia, would readily believe p. 7 that a large transport corps of them could easily be amassed by a despotic monarch; while the vast numbers of troops to which Pinto makes reference are confirmed by more or less authentic histories.
7:* "I was myself an eye-witness of two such discoveries and helped to gather the articles together. The slanderers have long since been silenced, who were not ashamed to charge the discoverer with an imposture."Prof. Virchow, in Appendix I. to Schliemann's Ilios. Murray, 1880.
8:* "But ask them to credit an electric telegram, to understand a steam-engine, to acknowledge the microscopic revelations spread out before their eyes, to put faith in the Atlantic cable or the East India House, and they will tell you that you are a barbarian with blue eyes, a fan kwai, and a sayer of that which is not. The dragon and the phnix are true, but the rotifer and the message, the sixty miles an hour, the cable, and the captive kings are false."Household Words, October 30th, 1855.
8: Address delivered to the Biological Section of the British Association. Glasgow, 1876.
9:* In 1854 a communication from the Torquay Natural History Society, confirming previous accounts by Mr. Goodwin Austen, Mr. Vivian, and the Rev. Mr. McEnery, "that worked flints occurred in Kents Hole with remains of extinct species," was rejected as too improbable for publication.
9: "She is set down a thorough heretic, not at all to be believed, a manufacturer of unsound natural history, an inventor of false facts in science."Gosse, Romance of Nat. Hist., 2nd Series, p. 227.
10:* Pop. Sci. Monthly, No. 60, April 1877.
11:* "By the kindness of my friend, Mr. Bartlett, I have been enabled to examine a most beautiful Japanese carving in ivory, said to be one hundred and fifty years old, and called by the Japanese net suke or togle. These togles are handed down from one generation to the next, and they record any remarkable event that happens to any member of a family. This carving is an inch and a half long, and about as big as a walnut. It represents a lady in a quasi-leaning attitude, and at first sight it is difficult to perceive what she is doing; but after a while the details come out magnificently. The unfortunate lady has been seized by an octopus when bathingfor the lady wears a bathing-dress. One extended arm of the octopus is in the act of coiling round the lady's neck, and she is endeavouring to pull it off with her right hand; another arm of the sea-monster is entwined round the left wrist, while the hand is fiercely tearing at the mouth of the brute. The other arms of the octopus are twined round, grasping the lady's body and waistin fact, her position reminds one very much of Laocoon in the celebrated statue of the snakes seizing him and his two sons. The sucking discs of the octopus are carved exactly as they are in nature, and the colour of the body of the creature, together with the formidable aspect of the eye, are wonderfully represented. The face of this Japanese lady is most admirably done; it expresses the utmost terror and alarm, and possibly may be a portrait. So carefully is the carving executed that the lady's white teeth can be seen between her lips. The hair is a perfect gem of work; it is jet black, extended down the back, and tied at the end in a knot; in fact, it is so well done that I can hardly bring myself to think that it is not real hair, fastened on in some most ingenious manner; but by examining it under a powerful magnifying glass I find it is not soit is the result of extraordinary cleverness in carving. The back of the little white comb fixed into the thick of the black hair adds to the effect of this magnificent carving of the hair. I congratulate Mr. Bartlett on the acquisition of this most beautiful curiosity. There is an inscription in Japanese characters on the underneath part of the carving, and Mr. Bartlett and myself would, of course, only be too glad to get this translated."Frank Buckland, in Land and Water.
12:* Max Müller, Science of Language, 4th edition, p. 163-165. London, 1864.
12: Science of Language, p. 168.
13:* "When a naturalist, either by visiting such spots of earth as are still out of the way, or by his good fortune, finds a very queer plant or animal, he is forthwith accused of inventing his game, the word not being used in its old sense of discovery but in its modern of creation. As soon as the creature is found to sin against preconception, the great (mis?) guiding spirit, à priori by name, who furnishes philosophers with their omniscience pro re natâ, whispers that no such thing can be, and forthwith there is a charge of hoax. The heavens themselves have been charged with hoaxes. When Leverrier and Adams predicted a planet by calculation, it was gravely asserted in some quarters that the planet which had been calculated was not the planet but another which had clandestinely and improperly got into the neighbourhood of the true body. The disposition to suspect hoax is stronger than the disposition to hoax. Who was it that first announced that the classical writings of Greece and Rome were one huge hoax perpetrated by the monks in what the announcer would be as little or less inclined than Dr. Maitland to call the dark ages?"Macmillan, 1860.
13: Poetic Epistles, Bk. iii., Ep. 3.
13: Rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cygno.
13:§ "Having showed the foregoing description of the mountain cow, called by the Spaniards ante [manatee?], to a person of honour, he was pleased to send it to a learned person in Holland." This learned person p. 19discusses it and compares it with the hippopotamus, and winds up by saying, in reference to a description of the habits of the hippopotamus, as noticed at Loango by Captain Rogers, to the effect that when they are in the water they will sink to the bottom, and then walk as on dry ground, "but what he says of her sinking to the bottom in deep rivers, and walking there, if he adds, what I think he supposes, that it rises again, and comes on the land, I much question; for that such a huge body should raise itself up again (though I know whales and great fish can do) transcends the faith of J. H."F. J. Knapton, Collection of Voyages, vol. ii., part ii. p. 13. 4 vols., London, 1729.
14:* Historical Account of Discoveries and Travels in Asia. Hugh Murray, F.R.S.E., 3 vols. 8vo. Edinburgh, 1820.
15:* Bk. x., chap. 53.
15: A writer in Macmillan's Magazine in 1860 concludes a series of objections to the canal as follows: "And the Emperor must hesitate to identify himself with an operation which might not impossibly come to be designated by posterity as 'Napoleon's Folly.'
16:* The Bower Bird, Ptilonorhyncus holosericeus, and the Garden-building Bird of New Guinea, Amblyornis inornara.
16: Recherches, &c. des Mammiferes, plate 1. Paris, 1868 to 1874.
16: "This obstacle was a forest of oaks, not giant oaks, but the very reverse, a forest of dwarf oaks (Quercus nana). Far as the eye could reach extended the singular wood, in which no tree rose above thirty p. 17 inches in height. Yet was it no thicket, no undergrowth of shrubs, but a true forest of oaks, each tree having its separate stem, its boughs, its lobed leaves, and its bunches of brown acorns."Capt. Mayne Reid, The War Trail, chap. lxiv.
17:* Respecting the timber trees of this tract, Dr. Ferdinand von Mueller, the Government botanist, thus writes:"At the desire of the writer of these pages, Mr. D. Bogle measured a fallen tree of Eucalyptus amygdalina, in the deep recesses of Dandenong, and obtained for it a length of 420 feet, with proportions of width, indicated in a design of a monumental structure placed in the exhibition; while Mr. G. Klein took the measurement of a Eucalyptus on the Black Spur, ten miles distant from Healesville, 480 feet high! In the State forest of Dandenong, it was found by actual measurement that an acre of ground contained twenty large trees of an apparent average height of about 350 feet."R. Brough Smyth, The Gold Fields of Victoria. Melbourne, 1869.
17: "In the next place, we must remember how impossible it is for the mind to invent an entirely new fact. There is nothing in the mind of p. 18 man that has not pre-existed in nature. Can we imagine a person, who never saw or heard of an elephant, drawing a picture of such a two-tailed creature?"J. Donelly, Rangarok, p. 119. New York, 1883.
20:* "I conceive that quite a large proportion of the most profound thinkers are satisfied to exert their memory very moderately. It is, in fact, a distraction from close thought to exert the memory overmuch, and a man engaged in the study of an abstruse subject will commonly rather turn to his book-shelves for the information he requires than tax his memory to supply it."R. A. Proctor, Pop. Sci. Monthly, Jan. 1874.
21:* "It was through one of these happy chances (so the Brothers Grimm wrote in 1819) that we came to make the acquaintance of a peasant woman of the village of Nieder-Zwehrn, near Cassel, who told us the greater part of the Märchen of the second volume, and the most beautiful of it too. She held the old tales firmly in her memory, and would sometimes say that this gift was not granted to everyone, and that many a one could not keep anything in its proper connection. Anyone inclined to believe that tradition is easily corrupted or carelessly kept, and that therefore it could not possibly last long, should have heard how steadily she always abided by her record, and how she stuck to its accuracy. She never altered anything in repeating it, and if she made a slip, at once righted herself as soon as she became aware of it, in the very midst of her tale. The attachment to tradition among people living on in the same kind of life with unbroken regularity, is stronger than we, who are fond of change, can understand."Odinic Songs in Shetland. Karl Blind, Nineteenth Century, June 1879.
21: See quotation from Gladstone, Nineteenth Century, Oct. 1879.
24:* Mr. C. P. Daly, President of the American Geographical Society, informs us, in his Annual Address [for 1880], that in one book found in the royal library at Nineveh, of the date 2000 B.C., there is
1. A catalogue of stars.
2. Enumeration of twelve constellations forming our present zodiac.
3. The intimation of a Sabbath.
4. A connection indicated (according to Mr. Perville) between the weather and the changes of the moon.
5. A notice of the spots on the sun: a fact they could only have known by the aid of telescopes, which it is supposed they possessed from observations that they have noted down of the rising of Venus, and the fact that Layard found a crystal lens in the ruins of Nineveh. (N.B.As to the above, I must say that telescopes are not always necessary to see the spots on the sun: these were distinctly visible with the naked eye, in the early mornings, to myself and the officers of the S.S. Scotia, in the Red Sea, in the month of August of 1883, after the great volcanic disturbances near Batavia. The resulting atmospheric effects were very marked in the Red Sea, as elsewhere, the sun, when near the horizon, appearing of a pale green colour, and exhibiting the spots distinctly.)
25:* Ammianus Marcellinus (bk. xxii., ch. xv., s. 20), in speaking of the Pyramids, says: "There are also subterranean passages and winding retreats, which, it is said, men skilful in the ancient mysteries, by means of which they divined the coming of a flood, constructed in different places lest the memory of all their sacred ceremonies should be lost."
As affording a minor example of prophesy, I quote a correspondent's communication, relating to Siam, to the North China Daily News of July 28th, 1881:"Singularly enough the prevalence of cholera in Siam this season has been predicted for some months. The blossoming of the bamboo (which in India is considered the invariable forerunner of an epidemic) was looked upon as ominous, while the enormous quantity and high quality of the fruit produced was cited as pointing out the overcharge of the earth with matter which, though tending to the development of vegetable life, is deleterious to human. From these and other sources of knowledge open to those accustomed to read the book of nature, the prevalence of cholera, which, since 1873, has been almost unknown in Siam, was predicted and looked for; and, unlike most modern predictions, p. 26 it has been certainly fulfilled. So common was the belief, that when, some months since, a foreign official in Siamese employ applied for leave of absence, it was opposed by some of the native officials on the ground that he ought to stay and take his chance of the cholera with the rest of them."