Mazes and Labyriths, by W. H. Matthews, , at sacred-texts.com
THE reader may be inclined to question the necessity for a whole chapter to be devoted to such a matter as this. "Surely anybody who has the curiosity to do so can look the words up in a dictionary!" Or he may object that the proper place to define and expound one's terms is in the opening chapter.
It will be found, however, that no clear-cut and simple definition of, for example, the word labyrinth itself is to be found in any dictionary, and that with regard to its derivation authorities are not even yet in complete agreement. With the facts recounted in the preceding chapters at his disposal the reader may possibly find a little informal discussion of these points more intelligible and interesting than the more rigid presentment afforded by even the best dictionaries. Moreover, most dictionaries have little Or nothing to say about Julian's bowers or Troytowns. On the other hand, of course, this chapter could not have been written without free recourse to Murray, Skeat, Webster, Wright, and other monuments of the lexicographer's toil.
We will consider such words as seem worth discussing in their alphabetical order, commencing with one which was prominent in our last chapter, viz., "bower." We have here a word of which the early connotation has been rather obscured by poetical insistence upon one
of its extensions. As a convenient rhyme for "flower" and "shower" it has become one of the mainstays of the vernal poetaster, a circumstance which evoked one of the gems of Calverley's gentle satire:
The word has thus come to be chiefly employed to signify a leafy or shady arbour or a recess in a garden, a use quite consistent with, but narrower than, the principal and much older meaning, which was that of a dwelling, with particular reference to the character of privacy.
The common modern usage seems to have been first adopted by the Elizabethan poets. Hero, in "Much Ado about Nothing" (Act III, Sc. i), sends by her attendant a message to her cousin Beatrice, bidding her
The Saxon form of the word was búr or bure, related to búan, meaning "to dwell," and it was always used to denote something of the nature of an inner chamber or sanctum.
In Chaucer's works (late fourteenth century) it has the same force, e.g., in the "Wife of Bath's Tale":
Somewhat later we find a poetical extension of the word to include not only the dwellings of human beings but also of animals and birds. Thus William Dunbar, a Scottish poet who lived about 1465-1530, speaking of birds hidden within thickets, used the phrase "within their bouris." This usage gave rise to the idea that the word was derived from "bough," a notion that seems to
have first found expression in the anonymous "Letters of Junius," and shortly afterwards received the weighty sanction of Dr. Johnson. In Southey's "Curse of Kehama" the word in this sense is made to do duty as a verb:
The metaphorical use of the word in its original sense is seen in Moore's "Evenings in Greece":
The suggestion that Rosamond's Bower was of the nature of a hedge maze seems to be of rather late origin, probably arising in the seventeenth century, like the application of the term to the little hedge-box garden at Menteith (Queen Mary's Bower), to which we referred in Chapter XIII. In the earlier writers it is almost invariably spoken of as a building. Robert Fabyan, for instance, a historian of the late sixteenth century, speaks of it as a "house named Labyrinthus or Daedalus worke, or howse wroughte like unto a knot in a garden called a maze," and in some anonymous verses of the mid-fifteenth century it is stated:
It would appear that the Bower which is commemorated in the place-name of Havering-at-Bower, Essex, was also of the nature of a building, probably of large dimensions, for, according to an "Appendix on Bowers" annexed to an "Essay on Design in Gardening," by George Mason, 1795, there was a long-standing tradition to the effect that it was the site of a king's residence, and an old man of the locality could remember "many chimnies of the old bower standing." This may or may not be evidence, but it is at all events quite in keeping
with the ancient use of the word. The royal residence in question would no doubt have been of the nature of a private retreat, not a court.
Writing in 1827, the Rev. H. J. Todd says, "In Cumberland, to this day, a back room or parlour is called a boor."
It will be seen from the remark of John Aubrey quoted on page 136 that he assumed "borough" to be identical in origin with "bower." The former is, however, derived from the Anglo-Saxon burg or burh, a city, allied to beorgan, to protect.
In any large dictionary there will be found detailed several other meanings for the word "bower"—including the sense in which it is used in Bret Harte's "Heathen Chinee"—but with these we are not here concerned.
Strange to say, the use of the word in the combination "Julian-bower" or "Julian's-bower" is usually overlooked or ignored.
The English Dialed Dictionary (Wright) gives the local variants Gelyan-bower, Gillimber and Jilling-bo’or as occurring in Lincolnshire, and Jul-laber as another form of the "Julaber's Barrow" or "Juliberry's Grave" which we have already noticed in Kent. Is the "bower" here the same as "barrow," which is derived from the Anglo-Saxon beorg, meaning, like the German berg, a hill? Or is it only the same word that we have met with in "Rosamond's Bower"? The former suggestion receives some support from the fact that turf mazes are often, though not always, constructed on the top of a hill or mound, but to the writer there is something more attractive in conceiving these works to be associated with the idea of a retreat, particularly if we consider, as we have some reason for doing, that the Julian referred to is the benign and hospitable Saint Julian of the mediaeval legends.
From Brand's "Popular Antiquities" it appears that there were three or four saints of this name, but the most well-known of these was the knight whose deeds are
celebrated in the "Gesta Romanorum" and elsewhere, the reputed patron and protector of pilgrims and travellers. The chapel of Domus Dei at Southampton, now used as the French Protestant church, is dedicated to this St. Julian. The legend goes, that on returning home one day Julian discovered a man and woman asleep in his bed, jumped to the hasty conclusion that his wife had been untrue to him and slew the pair where they lay, only to find that they were his parents who had travelled from afar to visit him. In repentance and atonement he then founded a hospice for travellers and afterwards became known as Hospitator, or "the gude herbejour," in which capacity his renown is testified by many a reference in our early literature, e.g., in the works of Chaucer:
It seems to the writer just as likely that the name Julian's-bower commemorates this popular hero as that it has any connection, as some have maintained, with the invading Caesar or, as suggested by others (see Chapter XI), with his tribune, Quintus Laberius Durus. One can quite easily conjure up in imagination a game or ceremony in which the fatigues of the pilgrim treading the long course of the labyrinth's folds is rewarded by some form of refreshment on at length reaching the secluded retreat of the hospitable saint.
When we turn from our native bowers to the Aegean labyrinthos, transmitted practically intact from the ancient
[paragraph continues] Greek to most modern European languages, we are venturing on dangerous ground indeed, for the derivation of this word has been the subject of much disputation between rival schools of etymologists and philologists in recent years.
Down to a few decades ago we were content with the bald statement of most dictionaries that it was probably correlated with the word laura, meaning a passage, or mine, 1 though there was also a suggestion that it might be of Egyptian origin, viz., that it was derived from the name of Labaris (= Senusret III), erroneously conceived by the scribe Manetho to be the founder of the Hawara pile. Then Mr. Max Mayer put forward the suggestion that it might have some connection with labrys, a word which, in some of the early languages of Asia Minor, e.g., Lydia and Caria, denoted an axe, the axe being the symbol associated with the god known as Zeus Labrandeus or Zeus Stratios, the worship of whom was known to have taken place at Labranda, in Caria. Coins from Mylasa, a neighbouring town, show this god holding in his hand a double axe.
The stir created by the discovery of double axes in abundance, with every indication of their religious and symbolic use, during the course of Sir Arthur Evans's explorations in the traditional home of the Cretan labyrinth, can therefore be well understood. As a consequence thereof every self-respecting dictionary nowadays gives pre-eminence to the labrys derivation of "labyrinth." At the same time it is well to bear in mind that many learned scholars have seen great difficulty in accepting this theory, mainly on account of the metathesis, or change-over, of the r and the y (u in Greek), which was stated to be unexampled, and to the addition of the termination -inthos. With regard to the latter it now seems to be generally agreed among scholars that this termination occurs only in words which were assimilated from the pre-existing
peoples of the Aegean lands, whom the Greeks, as northern invading hordes, overcame and superseded. The suffix is preserved only, however, in extremely few common nouns (terebinthos = the turpentine tree, asaminthos = a bathing-place), and in a similarly small number of place-names, such as Tirynthos (Tiryns) and Corinthos (Corinth). It is the equivalent of the ending -nda in certain place-names in Asia Minor, e.g., Labranda.
The conjectures that the word was connected with labros, meaning "great," or that it was derived from the old Egyptian la-pe-ro-hunt, "the temple at the mouth of the reservoir," are hardly worth repeating.
The present position, then, is that the Labyrinth is the House of the Double Axe, the implication being that the Cretan example was not, as formerly believed, a miniature reproduction of the temple of Hawara, but that the latter was actually given the title by analogy with the building at Knossos.
As regards the use of the word in our own language, it was probably well known to most of the churchmen of the early and middle ages, through the medium of the classic authors accessible to them, but it never passed into common speech. In Chaucer's works, i.e., in the fourteenth century, we find both maze and labyrinth employed; but whereas the latter evidently refers to the Cretan tradition, the English word seems to denote some figure familiar to the poet's readers—perhaps, we may conjecture, in the form of turf mazes.
Thus, in "The Hous of Fame" (line 826, etc.), he says:
and in his "Legend of Ariadne," one of his minor poems, we read (line 125, etc.):
Seeing that the "hous" here referred to is the Cretan labyrinth itself, the "mase" with which it is compared must be something sufficiently familiar to Chaucer's audience to furnish them with a ready illustration of the nature of the legendary structure which he is describing and which elsewhere he calls The Labyrinth or the House of Daedalus.
From very early times the classic authors used the word "labyrinth" metaphorically, and the mediaeval writers followed them. For instance Walter, a canon of St. Victor, towards the end of the twelfth century wrote a work which he called "A Treatise Against the Four Labyrinths of France," in reference to the great theological work in four books, known as the "Book of Sentences," a long and very metaphysical compendium of divinity, by Peter, Bishop of Paris.
In Renaissance times we find the word commonly used as a simile for the difficulties of life or the vagaries of love.
In Shakespeare's "King Henry VI" (Pt. I, V, Sc. 3) the Earl of Suffolk, after the exit of the gentle Margaret of Anjou, whose hand he has been soliciting on behalf of his royal master, exclaims:
We will notice further examples of this use of the word a little later, in connection with book-titles.
In "Troilus and Cressida" (Act II, Sc. 3) Thersites bursts into soliloquy before the tent of Achilles with:
Milton says that "Lethe, the river of oblivion, rolls her watery labyrinth," and Pope that "Love in these labyrinths his slaves detains"; but the occurrence of such expressions in writings of all periods is too common to need further quotation. We might perhaps point out that a slight shade of difference may be assumed to exist between "labyrinth" and "maze," even when these words are used in their metaphorical sense. We may take "labyrinth" to signify a complex problem involving merely time and perseverance for its solution, "maze," on the other hand, being reserved for situations fraught, in addition, with the elements of uncertainty and ambiguity, calling for the exercise of the higher mental faculties—in short, we may regard the two words as having reference respectively to the unicursal and multicursal types of plan (see Introduction). A distinction of this kind adds point to a sentence like that which occurs, for instance, in Mr. Lytton Strachey's "Queen Victoria," where he tells us (p. 178) that the Prince Consort "attempted to thread his way through the complicated labyrinth of European diplomacy, and was eventually lost in the maze."
As a means of expressing complexities of outline or of inner structure, natural or artificial, the word has been adopted by various branches of science or art. Every student of anatomy knows the "labyrinth" of the inner ear, every geological tyro has heard of those gigantic amphibians of Carboniferous to Triassic times whose peculiarly lamellated teeth have earned for them the title of "labyrinthodonts." Zoologists are acquainted with
those lowly protoplasmic forms of life which, on account of the mazy net-like appearance assumed at one stage in their life-history, are called "labyrinthulidea." Even the engineer finds it convenient to make use of the word, as, for instance, when he speaks of a "labyrinth-packing" for turbines, an arrangement which allows a certain amount of lateral motion while ensuring steam-tightness.
We may remark in passing that the names of the artificer Daedalus and of the winding river Meander have also done duty in scientific nomenclature in some cases where it was desired to commemorate labyrinthine characteristics; for example, a pretty little fungus allied to the Stereum so common on decaying wood has received the generic title of Daedalea, on account of the mazy pattern displayed by its spore-bearing surface, while the beautiful "brain-stone" coral is known to the naturalist under the name of Meandrina.
Compound words formed with "maze," on the other hand, are usually of an old-fashioned or local character, such as "Maze-Sunday," which in Devonshire dialect signifies a Sunday given up to feasting; such compounds are rarely formed for scientific or technical purposes. The sheet glass which is obscured by a system of wrinkles on its surface is, however, sometimes known as "maze-glass."
The word maze is probably of Scandinavian origin. Its oldest significance seems to be that of a state of bewilderment or confusion, or of being wrapped in thought—a use which we nowadays regard as metaphorical. In the Swedish and Norwegian languages are related words which mean on the one hand to dream, or lounge, or to move about in an idle or lazy manner, and on the other hand to chatter or indulge in aimless talk.
Some dictionaries formerly stated that it was derived from an Anglo-Saxon word mase, meaning "a whirlpool," but it has been shown that there was no such word.
In various dialects it is still used in its original sense.
[paragraph continues] One may often hear from the older type of country folk such expressions as "It fair mazed me to see it," giving one the feeling that the syllable "a-" has been dropped, whereas it was never there. In Shakespeare the expression frequently occurs. Titania, in "Midsummer Night's Dream" (Act II, Sc. 2), says:
[paragraph continues] Talbot of Shrewsbury, in his dire straits before the walls of Bordeaux ("King Henry VI," Pt. I, Act IV, Sc. 2), exclaims:
[paragraph continues] (See also "King Henry VIII," Act II, Sc. 4, line 18s.)
That the word as here quoted has no identity with the word "amazed" is clear from a comparison of its con-text with that of the latter in the numerous instances of its employment by Shakespeare. The verb "to maze" is found in Chaucer:
In the sense of crazy, wild, or thoughtless, we find it in the dialect expressions "Mazed-antic" and "Mazegerry."
As a metaphor it is employed in like manner to its Greek equivalent. In "The Taming of the Shrew" Petruchio declares: "I have thrust myself into this maze, Haply to wive and thrive as best I may." "Let us," says Pope, in the "Essay on Man,"
The term has no connection with the word which we see in, for instance, Mr. Hall Caine's novel "The Deemster":
This is a variant of the word mease and denotes a measure of 500 herrings!
Of the etymology of the term "Troy-town" some indications have already been given in Chapter XVIII. We might, perhaps, in addition, hazard the guess that the Sanskrit root dru (= run) has some bearing on the origin of the word so widely associated with the idea of a dance or ceremonial, but the connection is too obscure to be very helpful.
We might further recall the ancient legend, 1 recorded in Welsh chronicles going back many centuries before the Christian era, to the effect that a great-grandson of Aeneas named Prydain, or Brutus, came over to this country with the Trojan prisoners of war whom he had helped to liberate from Greece, and with their aid built a city on the banks of the Temus (Thames), which he called Caerdroi-Newydd (New City of Troy). This name became corrupted into Troinovant—hence the "Trinobantes" of Caesar's time—and was later discarded in favour of Caerludd, a name given in honour of Lludd, nephew of the Caswallon who fought against Caesar. The Saxons afterwards corrupted the name into Lun-dun.
As Spenser says ("Faerie Queene," iii, 9):
If any reliance could be placed on this old story the Corporation of London might do well to embody the Labyrinth, or Troy-town, in their armorial bearings, for what symbol could better typify the complexities of our metropolis?
175:1 "Coil-of-rope walk" according to Ruskin (Fors Clav.).
181:1 Accepted as a historic fact by Mr. E. O. Gordon in his "Prehistoric London."