The Grateful Dead, by Gordon Hall Gerould, , at sacred-texts.com
IN considering the general development and relations of The Grateful Dead, to which we must now turn, it is proper to inquire first of all as to its origin. Hitherto the existence of the story-theme as such has been taken well nigh for granted, though the discussion of variants in simple form necessitated some reference 1 to the point of separation between the märchen and whatever beliefs or social customs lie beyond. Now that the tale has been followed through its various modifications and has been proved by a systematic study of its forms to be, if I may use the expression, a living organism, the debateable land outside can be entered with measurable security.
There can be no doubt that The Grateful Dead as a theme is based upon belief's about the sacred duty of burial and upon the customs incident to withholding burial for the sake of revenge or recompense. To study these phenomena in detail is not necessary to the scheme of this book, but belongs rather to the province of primitive religion and law. It is sufficient for our purpose to show the nature and extent of such observances and beliefs for the sake of the light which they may throw on the genesis of the tale itself.
The belief that no obligation is more binding on man than that he pay proper respect to the dead is as old as civilization itself. Indeed, it probably antedates what
we ordinarily call civilization, since otherwise it could not well be found so widely distributed over the earth in historical times. It evidently rests upon the notion that the soul, when separated from the body, could find no repose. 1 Herodotus tells 2 of the Egyptian law, which permitted a man to give his father's body in pledge, with the proviso that if he failed to repay the loan neither he nor any of his kin could be buried at all. The story, also related by Herodotus, 3 of Rampsinit and the thief, which turns on the latter's successful attempt to rescue his brother's body, illustrates again the value that the Egyptians set upon burial. Their notion seems to have been that the more honour paid the dead, the more bearable would be their lot, though it was regarded as unenviable at best. 4 Among the Magi of Persia, though both burial and burning were prohibited because of the sanctity of earth and fire, the bodies of the dead were cared for according to the strictest of codes, being left to the sun and air on elevated structures. 5 In India the Rig-Veda 6 bears witness to similar carefulness in the performance of this sacred duty.
In classical times belief in the necessity of proper burial was widespread. Patroclus, it will be remembered, appears to his friend Achilles, and admonishes him that he should not neglect the dead, at the same time giving a dire picture of the state of the unburied. 7 Pausanias speaks 8 of the conduct of Lysander as reprehensible in not burying the bodies of Philocles and the four thousand slain at Aegospotami, saying that the Athenians did as
much for the Medes after Marathon, and even Xerxes for the Lacedaemonians after Thermopylae. The story told by Cicero 1 of Simonides gives definite proof of the concrete nature of the reverential feeling among both Greeks and Romans. Suetonius in his life of Caligula relates that when the emperor's body was left half burned and unburied, ghosts filled the palace and garden.
An example of the mediaeval belief is found in the Middle High German Kudrun, written at the end of the twelfth century or the beginning of the thirteenth.
The Annamite tale cited in the third chapter 3 and Servian VI., likewise summarized in connection with variants having the story-theme in simple form, 4 bear witness to the effect that the widespread belief has had upon folk-tales now in circulation. The connection of these two tales with the märchen as such is so vague that they serve the end of illustrating its growth from popular belief rather than the relationship of one form to another. So also the story from Brittany, printed by Sébillot, 5 which tells how a ghost came to workmen in a mill demanding Christian interment for its body then buried under the foundations, serves the same end, though no reward is mentioned. Sometimes the neglect of burial by a person brings unpleasant results to him, as is witnessed by a tale from Guernsey. 6 A fisherman neglected
to bury a body which he encountered on the coast, and, when he reached his home, found the ghost awaiting him. An Indian tale illustrates the belief that the dead become vampires when funeral rites are not performed. 1
In most versions of The Grateful Dead a corpse is left unburied either because creditors remain unpaid or the surviving relatives cannot pay for Christian burial. From sixteenth century Scotland we have evidence that the latter trait is based on actual custom. Sir David Lyndesaye, in The Monarche, while describing the exactions of the clergy, says:
This evidence for the widespread belief in the pious duty of burial and for the custom of withholding burial in cases where the dead man was poor, though it might easily be increased in bulk, makes very clear at least two matters. The tale of The Grateful Dead might have arisen almost anywhere and in almost any age since the time of the Egyptians. Again, when once it had been formed, it was likely to be reinforced or changed by the beliefs and customs prevalent in the lands to which it came.
The first matter at once suggests the question as to whether, after all, the märchen has not been more than once discovered by the imagination of story-tellers,whether it has not sprung up again and again in different parts of the world like different botanical species,
instead of being a single plant which has propagated itself through many centuries. In spite of the evident possibility that such sporadic development might have taken place, I cannot believe that it happened so. If we had to do with some vaguely outlined myth in which only the underlying idea was the same in the several groups of variants, and if this vague tale were narrated among peoples of absolutely no kinship to one another, say by the Indians of North America and the Zulus, one could have no reasonable doubt that similar conditions had produced similar tales. Such stories exist in numbers sufficient to render untenable the old hypothesis of Oriental origins in anything like the form in which it was held by Benfey or even Cosquin.
In cases like that of The Grateful Dead, however, the matter is entirely different. The theme is comparatively a complicated one, and it is found only in lands whose inhabitants are connected either by blood or by social and political intercourse. 1 It has preserved its integrity for nearly a score of centuries, though suffering many changes of details, and a variety of combinations with other themes. To my mind such an involved relationship as that worked out in the preceding chapters proves conclusively that the story is one, that the connection between variants is more than fortuitous. Inductive logic makes the belief inevitable. Any other theory would involve us in a bewildering net of contradictions, from which escape could be found only in the avowal that nothing whatever can be known about narrative development.
If the seemingly inevitable conclusion be accepted that The Grateful Dead is an organism with a life history of its own, the question at once suggests itself as to when and where it came into being. As to its
ultimate origin, however, only a very imperfect answer can be given. Surmise and theory are all that can aid us here. Liebrecht was of the opinion that the story was of European rather than Oriental origin, 1 even though he did not accept Simrock's theory that it was Germanic. Notwithstanding the fact that most variants are European, this hypothesis seems to me very improbable. Tobit, the earliest variant which we possess, 2 is distinctly Semitic in origin and colouring. Other versions from Asia, like Jewish, Armenian, and Siberian, though modern folk-tales, add weight to the evidence of the apocryphal story, especially since the one last named comes from a somewhat remote region where European narratives could not without difficulty have much direct influence. Of course it is possible to suppose that the theme came to the Semites from the West, and was by them disseminated in Asia; 3 but the early date of Tobit renders it unlikely that such was the case. Certainly it is more reasonable from the evidence at hand to believe in the Oriental origin of the märchen. As to the particular region of Asia where it was probably first related, nothing can be said with security. Yet since there is no evidence that it has ever been known in India, Western Asia, and perhaps the region inhabited by the Semites, may be considered, at least tentatively, its first home.
The age of the theme cannot definitely be measured. It is possible, however, to say that it must have existed at least as early as the beginning of our era. Tobit is of assistance again here. As the book is believed to have been written during the reign of Hadrian (76-138 A.D.) and as it has the motive in a compound form, which is unlikely to have arisen immediately after the
simple story was first set afloat, there is little danger of over-statement in saying that the latter must have been known at least as early as the first part of first century A.D., or more probably before the birth of Christ. Any statement beyond this would rest on idle speculation.
After The Grateful Dead was once established as a narrative, its development can be traced with some degree of precision, though not without many gaps here and there. Its history is largely a matter of combinations with originally independent themes, with an occasional landmark in the form of a literary version. The most notable compounds into which it has entered are those with The Poison Maiden, The Ransomed Woman, and certain types connected with The Water of Life. That it entered into other minor compounds at various stages gives evidence that it retained its independence long after the first union took place, even though examples of the simple type are so hard to find and in some cases of such doubtful character.
Probably the first combination of the theme was with The Poison Maiden, which the valuable evidence of Tobit enables us to date as taking place as early as the middle of the first century and in western Asia. The Poison Maiden probably came originally from India by way of Persia, 1 and was certainly widely distributed. Among the Semites it would naturally first meet any tale which had other than Indian origin, so that the existence of Tobit at so early a date is only what one would expect, looking at the matter in this retrospective fashion. The amalgamation of these two themes, when once they had come into the same region, was natural. They had the necessary point of contact in the treatment of the hero's wife by a helpful friend, who played an important part in each. In The Poison Maiden she
received short shrift, being possessed of a poisonous glance or bite, or of snakes ready to destroy the man who married her. 1 In The Grateful Dead she was innocent, but had to be divided to satisfy the claims of a being who had helped her husband. 2 The part of the friend was less well motivated in The Poison Maiden than in The Grateful Dead, so that it was natural for the themes to unite at a common point and produce a compound at once more complete and more thrilling than were the simpler forms. This combination must have been made not by a conscious literary worker, for, had it been, Tobit would surely stand less independent of the later versions than is actually the case, but by the tellers of folk-tales, in a manner quite unconscious and altogether unstudied. The stories combined of themselves, so to say.
From Semitic lands, if it was indeed there made, the compound seems to have travelled into Europe as well as into other parts of Asia. 3 It has spread during the intervening centuries throughout the length and breadth of Europe, always remaining a genuinely popular tale. As far as my knowledge goes, it did not appear in literature from the time when the Hebrew book of Tobit was written till Peele's Old Wives Tale was presented some fifteen centuries later on the English stage. In the nineteenth century it again appeared to the reading public in the version which the Dane Andersen made from a Norse folk-tale. Yet the story in all versions of the compound extant is unmistakably the same, though it has suffered more changes in detail than would be worth while to enumerate here,
since they have already been noted in the chapter dealing with the type. The most important modification which it sustained was due to its meeting The Lady and the Monster and absorbing elements of that tale. How early this took place it is impossible to say, since George Peele's play is the only literary monument that helps to fix any date. A considerable stretch of time must, however, be allowed for the passage of a folk-tale from the extreme east of Europe to England. That the secondary combination was indeed made in eastern Europe admits of definite proof. All the known variants of The Grateful Dead + The Poison Maiden from the west have The Lady and the Monster as well, while three Slavic east-European versions 1 are of this. type. It follows that the compound must have been formed in the east and carried to the west, since otherwise the distribution should be precisely the opposite of that which obtains. Moreover, had the compound been made in Asia, it is improbable that it would have left such a comparatively feeble trace in the eastern part of the continent of Europe and later have conquered all the west. Other combinations, primary and secondary, have also arisen; but, if the collection of variants hitherto made is at all adequate, they are of inconsiderable importance.
Meanwhile, the simple theme of The Grateful Dead passed into Europe by other paths. Once over the border, it met a tale with which it readily combined, producing a type not less influential than the one just mentioned. This new motive was The Ransomed Woman,. the origin of which is at present quite unknown. Though it is seemingly Oriental in character, all versions yet unearthed come from Europe, so that its provenance must be left in uncertainty. At all events, it was known in eastern Europe, and it was there in all probability that
it became amalgamated with The Grateful Dead. How early this took place cannot be stated, but long enough before the fourteenth century to allow the passage of the compound type to France by that time, when it was retold by Gobius with a good deal of mutilation in his Scala Celi. 1 The points of contact, which led to the combination, have already been discussed in the chapter dealing with the type. 2 Suffice it to say at this point that they were, in brief, the journey of the hero, his rescue, and the wife whom he gained at the end of the story. As in the case of The Poison Maiden, the compound seems to have arisen quite naturally by means of these correspondences, with the end of making a more romantic and satisfactory tale. That it took place quite unconsciously seems clear, but that the result was successful is proved by the solidarity of the type thus produced, though it has subsequently been carried into every part of Europe. The relationship of versions, between thirty and forty in number, is unmistakable.
That the simple motive of The Grateful Dead was not exhausted by the two remarkable combinations just treated, that it retained its individuality and independence, is shown by the various minor combinations discussed in the third chapter. It is altogether probable that other examples of such simple compounds as those containing The Swan-Maiden, Puss in Boots, and a story like that told of Pope Gregory 3 are in existence, and may be found by later study. One can speak only with reference to material at command. Very likely other combinations than those treated here are in existence and may also appear, either in sporadic cases or in groups. But, the reader may ask, if the motive is found in so many compounds, both with and without The Poison Maiden and The Ransomed Woman, why does it not occur
more frequently, at least in folk-literature, without combination? To this I should reply that the story is an ancient one, which has many points of correspondence with other themes. By reason of these traits it has absorbed, or has been absorbed by, these other tales, until now it is difficult to find examples of the simple form. A thousand years ago, or some such matter, they may, indeed, have been frequently retold by the firesides of Europe, though now they are practically unknown. The constant tendency of folk-tales to change from simplicity to complexity would in time cause the pure theme to be generally forgotten. Nevertheless, its existence could be proved, even though no example still remained, for the various independent compounds would be inexplicable on any other theory. In the case of The Grateful Dead, the tales, to which it has been joined, have been so interwoven with its substance that it is quite impossible to believe, for example, that the combination with The Ransomed Woman proceeded from that with The Poison Maiden.
But these simple compounds with a single foreign theme do not complete the tale. When once they were formed, they in turn had each a history of its own, with infinite possibilities of absorbing traits from other stories or even entire themes. In the case of the latter, a reason could always be found in such points of contact as I have already mentioned, or so I believe, if the material were sufficient for proper comparison. In this way arose the complicated types treated in chapter six, where the manner of combination is readily seen. 1 Sometimes, it is probable, subtraction has taken place as well as addition, but apparently only when it has not involved the disentangling of various traits. For example, many variants have been noted where one of the two most striking features of our central theme, the burial
of the dead debtor, has disappeared; yet in every case the rest of the plot has remained unimpaired. The more complicated the variant, the better able is the investigator to place its kinship to other variants, provided that he has the requisite material and the patience to follow up the clues that every such labyrinth affords.
The most striking facts of general import to the study of folk-narrative that have developed in the course of this prolonged consideration of The Grateful Dead may be briefly summarized in conclusion. It has been shown once again that the story has an organic life of its own, whether it comes from the East or the West, whether it be founded upon some fact of social custom or belief, or on the imaginings of a moralist of antiquity. 1 Once started, it will go its way through divers lands and ages, yet retain unaltered the essential features of its plot. Call it story-skeleton, or better, living organism, it always keeps its structural integrity, no matter whether told as a pious legend or a conte à rire. Of no less importance than this is the fact that whatever serious changes take place in its form are not fortuitous, mere whimsical alterations due to the fancy of story-tellers, but are due to capabilities of expansion or combination in the plot itself. Whenever two themes with points of resemblance or contact come into the same region, they are in the long run pretty certain to unite, each retaining its individuality, but merging in the other. This principle is well illustrated in the history of The Grateful Dead. The marriages of stories seem never to be merely for convenience, except in the hands of conscious writers, but to be the result of attraction and real compatibility. That, I take it, is why and how narratives develop.
Were it necessary to justify such studies as the present,
one might add that, apart from helping to the settlement of such more general questions as those just mentioned, they throw light on the sources of particular literary works. better than does the haphazard search for parallels, and they often enable the student to see the relations between. the literatures of neighbouring countries more clearly than he would be able to do without the perspective gained'. by a comparative consideration of a single theme in many lands. In ways like these the author hopes that this history of The Grateful Dead may be serviceable.
162:1 See pp. 28 f.
163:1 See the comment of von der Leyen, Arch. f. d. St. d. n. Spr. cxiv. 12.
163:2 11. 136.
163:3 iii. 121. The story, however, belongs to the domain of general literature.
163:4 See A. Wiedemann, Die Toten and ihre Reiche im Glauben der alten Aegypter, p. 21 (Der alte Orient, ii, 1900).
163:5 Zend-Avesta, Vendîdâd, chaps. v.-xii.
163:6 x. 18. 1.
163:7 Iliad, xxiii. 71 ff.
163:8 ix. 32.
164:1 See pp. 26 f.
164:2 Ed. Bartsch, xviii. st. 910 and 911.
164:3 P. 27.
164:4 P. 28.
164:5 Traditions et superstitions de la Haute-Bretagne, 1882, i. 238 f.
164:6 MacCulloch, Guernsey Folk Lore, 1903, pp. 283 f.
165:1 See W. Crooke in Folk-Lore, xiii. 280-283.
165:2 Book iii. vv. 4726 ff. of the whole poem (2nd ed. J. Small, 1883, E. E. T. S. orig. ser. 11, p. 153).
166:1 Annamite is an exception, but it cannot be regarded as having any organic connection with the cycle.
167:1 See Heidelberger Jahrbücher, 1868, p. 449.
167:2 Ruling out Simonides, of course, as not clearly belonging to the cycle
167:3 Siberian, it will be remembered, is of the same type as Tobit.
168:1 See Hertz, pp. 151-155.
169:1 For examples, see Hertz, pp. 106-115.
169:2 It is not clear whether she was actually divided in the primitive forms, or merely threatened. In either case the union would take place as stated.
169:3 Armenian and Siberian give adequate evidence as to the truth of the latter statement, though more Asiatic variants of this type are to be desired.
170:1 Servian III., Esthonian II., and Rumanian I.
171:1 See p. 82.
171:2 See pp. 116 f.
171:3 See pp. 40 f.
172:1 See pp. 125-127, 151 f.
173:1 See the author's study, "Forerunners, Congeners, and Derivatives of the Eustace Legend" in Publ. Mod. Lang. Ass. xix. 335-448.