The Grateful Dead, by Gordon Hall Gerould, , at sacred-texts.com
To Karl Simrock is due the honour of discovering the importance of The Grateful Dead for the student of literature and legend. In his little book, Der gute Gerhard and die dankbaren Todten, 1 he called attention to the theme as a theme, and treated it with a breadth of knowledge and a clearness of insight remarkable in an attempt to unravel for the first time the mixed strands of so wide-spread a tale. Using the Middle High German exemplary romance, Der gute Gerhard, as his point of departure, he examined seventeen other stories, all but two of which have the motive well preserved. 2 Unhappily, the versions which he found came from a limited section of Europe, most of them from Germanic sources. Thus he was led to an interpretation of the tale on the basis of Germanic mythology. This, though ingenious enough and very erudite, need not detain us. It was done according to a fashion of the time, which has long since been discarded. Simrock took the essential traits of the theme to be the burial of the dead and the ransom from captivity. 3 "Wo nur noch eine von beiden das Thema zu bilden scheint," he said, "da hat die Ueberlieferung gelitten." Here again he was misled by the narrow
range of his material, as later studies have shown. Nearly all the versions he cited have the motive of a ransomed princess, though the majority of the stories now known to be members of the cycle do not contain it.
Three years after the publication of Simrock's monograph Benfey treated some features of the theme in a note appended to his discussion of The Thankful Beasts in the monumental Pantschatantra. 1 Though he named but a few variants, he found an Armenian tale which he compared with the European versions, coming to the conclusion not only that the motive proceeded from the Orient but also that the Armenian version had the original form of it. That is, he took the ransom and burial of the dead, the parting of a woman possessed by a serpent, and the saving of the hero on the bridal night as the essential features. This was a step in advance.
George Stephens in his edition of Sir Amadas 2 held much the same view. He added several important versions, and scored Simrock for admitting Der gute Gerhard, saying that he could not see that it had "any direct connection" with The Grateful Dead. 3 He was at least partly in the right, even though his statement was misleading. According to his opinion, 4 "the peculiar feature of the Princess (Maiden) being freed from demonic influence by celestial aid, is undoubtedly the original form of the tale."
In a series of notes beginning in the year 1858 Köhler 5 supplied a large number of variants, which have been invaluable for succeeding study of the theme. Nowhere,
however, did he give an ordered account of the versions at his command or discuss the relation of the elementsa regrettable omission. The contributions of Liebrecht, 1 though less extensive, were of the same sort. In his article published in 1868 he said that he thought The Grateful Dead to be of European origin, 2 but he added nothing to our knowledge of the essential form of the story. The following decade saw the publication by Sepp of a rather brief account of the motive, 3 which was chiefly remarkable for its summary of classical and pre-classical references concerning the duty of burial. Like Stephens he assumed that the release of a maiden from the possession of demons was an essential part of the tale. In 1886 Cosquin brought the discussion one step further by showing 4 that the theme is sometimes found in combination with The Golden Bird and The Water of Life. He did not, however, attempt to define the original form of the story nor to trace its development.
By all odds the most adequate treatment that The Grateful Dead has yet received is found in Hippe's monograph, Untersuchungen zu der mittelenglischen Romanze von Sir Amadas, which appeared in 1888. 5 Not only did he gather together practically all the variants mentioned previous to that time and add some few new ones, but he studied the theme with such interpretative insight that anyone going over the same field would be tempted to offer an apology for what may seem superfluous labour. Such a follower, and all followers, must gratefully acknowledge their indebtedness to his labours.
Yet one who follows imperfectly the counsels of perfection may discover certain defects in Hippe's work. He neglects altogether Cosquin's hint as to the combination of the theme with The Water of Life and allied tales, thus leaving out of account an important element, which is intimately connected with the chief motive in a large number of tales. Indeed, his effort to simplify, commendable and even necessary as it is, brings him to conclusions that in some respects, I believe, are not sound. Though he states the essential points of the primitive story in a form 1 which can hardly be bettered and which corresponds almost exactly to the one that I have been led to accept from independent consideration of the material, 2 he fails to see that he is dealing in almost every case, not with a simple theme with modified details but with compound themes. Thus he starts out with the "Sage vom dankbaren Toten und der Frau mit den Drachen im Leibe" 3 and explains all variations from this type either by the weakening of this feature and that or by the introduction of a single new motive, the story of The Ransomed Woman. He would thus make it appear 4 that we have a well-ordered progression from one combined type to various other combined and simplified types. Such a series is possible without doubt, but it can hardly be admitted till the interplay of all accessible themes, which have entered into combination with the chief theme, is investigated. Hippe passes these things
over silently and so gives the subject a specious air of simplicity to which it has no right.
I should be the last to deny the necessity of treating narrative themes each for itself, and I have nothing but admiration for the general conduct of Hippe's investigation; but I wish to show that his methods, and therefore his results, are at fault in so far as he does not recognize the nature of the combinations into which The Grateful Dead enters. Traces of other stories, unless their presence is obviously artificial, must be carefully considered, since in dealing with cycles of such fluid stuff as folk-tales it is certainly wise to give each element due consideration. Certain minor errors in Hippe's article will be mentioned in due course, though my constant obligations to it must be emphasized here.
Since the appearance of Hippe's study no one has treated The Grateful Dead with such scope as to modify his conclusions. Perhaps the most interesting work in the field has been that of Dr. Dutz 1 on the relation of George Peele's Old Wives Tale to our theme. He follows Hippe's scheme, but gives some interesting new variants. Of less importance, but useful within its limits, is the section devoted to the saga by Dr. Heinrich Wilhelmi in his Studien über die Chanson de Lion de Bourges. 2 Though he added no new versions, the author studied in detail the relationship of some of the mediaeval forms to one another, basing his results for the most part on careful textual comparison. His gravest fault was the thoroughly artificial way in which he mapped out the field as a whole, a method which could lead only to erroneous conclusions, since he classified according to a couple of superficial traits. An English study by Mr. F. H. Groome on Tobit and Jack the
1:2 Guter Gerhard, as will be seen later, does not follow the theme at all.
1:3 P. 114.
2:1 1859, i. 219-221.
2:2 Ghost-Thanks or The Grateful Unburied, A Mythic Tale in its Oldest European Form, Sir Amadace, 1860.
2:3 P. 9.
2:4 P. 7.
2:5 Germania, iii. 199-210, xii. 55 ff.; Or. u. Occ. ii. 322-329, iii. 93-103; Arch. f. slav. Phil. ii. 631-634, v. 40 ff.; Gonzenbach, Sicilianische Märchen, 1870, ii. 248-250.
3:1 Heidelberger Jahrbücher der Lit. 1868, lxi. 449-452, 1872, lxv. 894 f.; Germania, xxiv. 132 f.
3:2 P. 449.
3:3 Altbayerischer Sagenschatz zur Bereicherung der indogermanischen Mythologie, 1876, pp. 678-689.
3:4 Contes populaires de Lorraine, i. 214, 215.
3:5 Archiv f. d. Stud. d. neueren Sprachen, lxxxi. 141-183.
4:1 P. 167. "Ein Jüngling zeigt sich menschenfreundlich gegen die Leiche eines Unbekannten (indem er dieselbe vor Schimf bewahrt, bestattet, etc.). Der Geist des Toten gesellt sich darauf zu ihm und erweist sich ihm dankbar, indem er ihm zu Reichtum und zum Besitze des von ihm zur Frau begehrten Mädchens verhilft, jedoch unter der Bedingung, dass er dereinst alles durch ihn Gewonnene mit ihm teile. Der Jüngling geht auf diesen Vertrag ein, und der Geist stellt sich nach einer gewissen Zeit wieder ein, um das Versprochene entgegenzunehmen, verlangt aber nicht die Hälfte des gewonnene Gutes, sondern die der Frau. (Schluss variabel.)"
4:2 See p. x. above.
4:3 P. 180.
4:4 See his scheme on p. 181.
5:1 Der Dank des Todten in der englischen Literatur, Jahresbericht der Staats-Oberrealschule in Troppau, 1894.
5:2 Marburg diss. 1894, pp. 43-63.
[paragraph continues] Giant-Killer 1 unhappily was written without regard to the previous literature of the subject, and simply rehearses a number of well-known variants.
In this brief review I have touched only on such studies of The Grateful Dead as have materially enlarged the knowledge of the subject or have attempted a discussion of the theme in a broad way. In the following chapter reference will be made to other works, in which particular versions have been printed or summarized.
6:1 Folk-Lore, ix. 226-244 (1898).