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The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, by Otto Rank, [1914], at


A close relationship with the Sargon legend is also shown in certain features of the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata, in its account of the birth of the hero Karna. 3 The contents of the legend are briefly rendered by Lassen. 4

The princess Pritha, also known as Kunti, bore as a virgin the boy Karna, whose father was the sun-god Surya. The young Karna was born with the golden ear ornaments of his father and with an unbreakable coat of mail. The mother in her distress concealed and exposed the boy. In the adaptation of the myth by A. Holtzmann, verse 1458 reads: "Then my nurse and I made a large basket of rushes, placed a lid thereon, and lined it with wax; into this basket I laid the boy and carried him down to the river Acva." Floating on the waves, the basket reaches the river

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[paragraph continues] Ganges and travels as far as the city of Campa. "There was passing along the bank of the river, the charioteer, the noble friend of Dhritarashtra, and with him was Radha, his beautiful and pious spouse. She was wrapt in deep sorrow, because no son had been given to her. On the river she saw the basket, which the waves carried close to her on the shore; she showed it to Azirath, who went and drew it forth from the waves." The two take care of the boy and raise him as their own child.

Kunti later on marries King Pandu, who is forced to refrain from conjugal intercourse by the curse that he is to die in the arms of his spouse. But Kunti bears three sons, again through divine conception, one of the children being born in the cave of a wolf. One day Pandu dies in the embrace of his second wife. The sons grow up, and at a tournament which they arrange, Karna appears to measure his strength against the best fighter, Arjuna, the son of Kunti. Arjuna scoffingly refuses to fight the charioteer's son. In order to make him a worthy opponent, one of those present anoints him as king. Meanwhile Kunti has recognized Karna as her son, by the divine mark, and prays him to desist from the contest with his brother, revealing to him the secret of his birth. But he considers her revelation as a fantastic tale, and insists implacably upon satisfaction. He falls in the combat, struck by Arjuna's arrow. 1

A striking resemblance to the entire structure of the Karna legend is presented by the birth history of Ion, the ancestor of the Ionians. The following account is based on a relatively late tradition. 2

Apollo, in the grotto of the rock of the Athenian Acropolis, procreated a son with Creusa, the daughter of Erechtheus. In this grotto the boy was also born, and exposed; the mother leaves the child behind in a woven basket, in the hope that Apollo will not leave his son to

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perish. At Apollo's request, Hermes carries the child the same night to Delphi, where the priestess finds him on the threshold of the temple in the morning. She brings the boy up, and when he has grown into a youth makes him a servant of the temple. Erechtheus later gave his daughter Creusa in marriage to Xuthus. As the marriage long remained childless, they addressed the Delphian oracle, praying to be blessed with progeny. The god reveals to Xuthus that the first to meet him on leaving the sanctuary is his son. He hastens outside and meets the youth, whom he joyfully greets as his own son, giving him the name Ion, which means "walker." Creusa refuses to accept the youth as her son; her attempt to poison him fails, and the infuriated people turn against her. Ion is about to attack her, but Apollo, who does not wish the son to kill his own mother, enlightens the mind of the priestess so that she understands the connection. By means of the basket in which the newborn child had lain, Creusa recognizes him as her son, and reveals to him the secret of his birth.


18:1 Compare Beer: The Life of Abraham (Leipzig, 1859), according to the interpretation of Jewish traditions; also August Wünsche: From Israel's Temples of Learning (Leipzig, 1907).

18:2 See chapters 20 and 21 of Genesis, and also Bergel, op. cit.

18:3 The Hindu birth legend of the mythical king Vikramaditya must also be mentioned in this connection. Here again occur the barren marriage of the parents, the miraculous conception, ill-omened warnings, the exposure of the boy in the forest, his nourishment with honey, finally the acknowledgment by the father. See Jülg: Mongolische Märche (Innsbruck, 1868), PP. 73 ff.

18:4 Indische Alterumskunde (Karlsruhe, 1846).

19:1 Compare the detailed account in Lefmann: History of Ancient India (Berlin, 1890), pp. 181 ff.

19:2 See Röscher, concerning the Ion of Euripides. Where no other source is stated, all Greek and Roman myths are taken from the Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen and römischen Mythologie, edited by W. H. Röscher, which also contains a list of all sources.

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