Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

wine they drink themselves into insensibility. The thief, of course, takes away the body; and its disappearance more than ever perplexes the king, who now makes use of his daughter to discover the criminal. The effort is vain. The thief places in her hand the hand of a dead man, and so escapes from her grasp. The king feels that no other course is now before him than to win his friendship by offering him his daughter, and on the celebration of the marriage he is told by Rhampsinitos that the Egyptians are cleverer than all other men, but that he in his thievery is cleverer than all the Egyptians.

Unless the Egyptian people of the days of Herodotus are to be regarded as a portion of the Aryan race, the presence of this legend in the Nile Valley is a perplexing fact, which can be explained seemingly only on the hypothesis of not infrequent intercourse between Egypt and India. The flattering unction to Egyptian vanity with which the story is wound up, might easily be brought in by men who were well aware that the myth was not one of Egyptian growth. But it is not less clear that if it be not Egyptian, it must be borrowed. There is no doubt a class of myths which are common to all mythical systems alike, whether Aryan or non-Aryan; but these myths all belong to the primary or organic stage of development, and their general characteristics may be easily discovered. The phenomena of day and night or of the seasons must to a certain extent impress all mankind in the same way. There is, therefore, nothing which is of necessity distinctively Aryan in phrases which speak of the sun as the child of the darkness or of the dawn; of the night as the daughter of the sun or the twilight; of the sun itself as compelled to move in a fixed track, hence as under the doom of ceaseless toil, a bondman or a slave. From all these phrases a large crop of stories might spring up everywhere; but the character and sequence of their incidents would differ completely, except among tribes who had carried away at least the framework of the tales from the common home of their forefathers. The legend of the treasure-house of Rhampsinitos is not one of this class. The leading ideas or the framework of the tale being once given, we can imagine that the ingenuity of later generations might refine on the subtleties of the Master Thief; but we cannot suppose that a series of ideas so singular could suggest themselves to many minds, or even to two minds independently. If it be supposed, as some have been inclined to think, that the old inhabitants of the Nile Valley belonged to the Aryan stock, the difficulty is at once removed; but the substantial identity of the tale with stories found in India, Germany, Norway, and Scotland is beyond doubt. The Indian story, however, is not that of the Brahman and the Goat in the Hitopadesa, but the tale of Karpara and Gata related by Somadeva Bhatta of Cashmir in his Katha-sarit-sagara, or Ocean of the Stream of Narrative, a collection made early in the twelfth century, and itself professedly an abridgment of the older collection, known as the Vrihat-Kathâ. Here, as in the Egyptian tale, we have a king, a king's daughter, and a room in which he

[ocr errors]

places his child as well as his treasures; but the thieves are more clumsy. The elder brother enters, not by pushing aside a movable stone, but merely by making a hole through the wall. Staying too long, he is caught in the morning and hanged, having time only to warn his brother to carry away the princess. From this point the legend follows much the same course with that of Rhampsinitos. The body of Karpara is exposed, and the necessary amount of mourning must be gone through for it. This the surviving brother, Gata, accomplishes by dashing on the ground a karpara, or pot of rice, and exclaiming, Alas for my precious karpara !'-words which the guards regard as uttered for the loss of the broken pipkin. The trick of the wine follows, and the body is stolen away; but when the king puts forth a proclamation promising his daughter in marriage to a thief of such consummate skill, the princess bids Gata beware, and they make their escape together from the country. The substantial identity of this tale with the Egyptian tradition cannot be questioned; but the latter assuredly could not be derived from the Vrihat-Kathâ, which was probably not in existence for perhaps a thousand years after the time of Herodotus, and perhaps no one will maintain that the Egyptian version is the original of the myth as given by Somadeva Bhatta.

The idea that the story in Herodotus furnished the materials for the Teutonic, Norse, and Celtic versions of the Master Thief would be scarcely less absurd. In these versions the narrative exhibits great changes in detail; but the framework remains the same, and the general spirit of the myth is in no way altered. It is very necessary to note that the thief is described as a singularly slim and slender youth, whose modest and unpretending demeanour would never lead strangers to suspect his astonishing adroitness and power. In each of these versions the place of the king is taken by a wealthy nobleman, whose daughter in the Norse and Scottish stories becomes the wife of the thief. The German tale alone makes no mention of any daughter, and is, indeed, the most meagre of the three. In it we are told that the thief resolves to face the count in his castle, and is told that he can escape death only if he succeeds in stealing the count's favourite horse from his stable, then in taking away the counterpane from his bed, while he and his wife are asleep, and lastly in stealing the parson and clerk out of the church. The first of these tasks is performed by precisely the same means which the thief employs in the Hindu and Egyptian stories. The guards are stupified with drugged wine, and the thief rides up to the castle on the stolen horse. The second he accomplishes by means of a corpse which he pushes up to the window of the room in which the count slept. The latter, hearing the noise, points a pistol at the figure and fires; and the thief immediately lets the body fall to the ground. When the count comes down to bury the dead man, the thief hastens to the chamber and obtains the bed-covering from the countess on the plea of needing a shroud, and the ring on the plea that it was only fair to bury with him that for which he had

perilled his life. Although this incident is not found in the Herodotean story, it may be well to compare the use here made of the corpse with the way in which the dead man's hand is used in the Egyptian tale. The accomplishment of the third task is, like the other incidents of the legend, related with greater humour and vigour in the Norse version, in which the thief, climbing into a tree, tells the priest that he is an angel sent to announce to him that he should be taken up alive into heaven for his piety's sake, that at a given time he would come for him with a sack, and that all his worldly goods must be left in a heap in his dining-room. Completely taken in, the priest, who had laughed at the nobleman for allowing himself to be duped, preaches a farewell sermon, telling his parishioners of his approaching ascension. The result is that his goods are stolen, and he himself left bruised and battered in the sack.

Of this incident we have no trace in the Herodotean tale, nor does it appear in that of Karpara and Gata; but we find it in a totally different connection in the very remarkable story of Champa Ranee, related by Miss Frere in her volume entitled 'Old Deccan Days.' This story will call for some further notice. For the present, we have to mark that in Scotland the legend of the Shifty Lad presents a much closer likeness to the Egyptian myth than either the Norse or the German versions. We cannot, of course, fail to notice the still closer resemblance to the Herodotean tale exhibited in the tradition which Pausanias relates of the treasury of Hyrieus, built by Trophonios and Agamedes, who so leave one of the stones that it can be moved from the outside. Here, again, a snare is set; and Hyrieus is astounded to find the body of Agamedes, whose head had been carried away by Trophonios. In this instance it may, of course, be said that the localising of this tale in Hellas was the result of direct borrowing from the Herodotean narrative; but this explanation can scarcely be received without much misgiving. The details of the Celtic legend are certainly more noteworthy. The Shifty Lad here goes through his time of pupilage under the Black Rogue, whom he tricks to his death. He next engages himself to a carpenter, with whom he agrees to plunder the king's treasure-chamber. The snare set in this case is a hogshead of soft pitch, into which the wright sinks up to his neck. The youth stepping in on his shoulders, takes as much gold as he can carry, and then sweeping off the carpenter's head leaves his body in the cask. The king now consults a Seanagal, who advises that they should set the trunk aloft on the points of the spears of the soldiers, to be carried from town to town, to see if they could find anyone at all to take sorrow for it.' As they pass the carpenter's house, his wife cries out in her distress; but the thief cuts himself with an adze, and makes the captain believe that the cry was caused by sorrow at his hurt. This is followed by the hanging of the body on a tree, the soldiers receiving strict orders to seize anyone who should attempt to take it down; but they are, of course, tempted to drink themselves to sleep, and the thief carries off the corpse. The

sequel is perhaps, in still closer accordance with the Herodotean version; and Mr. Campbell, who gives us the Celtic tale, duly notices the theory that these incidents have been spread amongst the people by those members of their families who study the classics of the Scotch Universities.' This theory, he adds, involves the further supposition that these books have been read at some time so widely in Scotland, as to have become known to the labouring population who speak Gaelic, and so long ago as to have been forgotten by the instructed who speak English and study foreign languages.'

That the five stories thus far noticed are simply variations of one myth, we may now very safely maintain; and it is also proved that the legend in Herodotus could not possibly be derived from either the Katha-sarit-sagara or Panchatantra. But inasmuch as the Egyptian tradition is in substance the same as those of northern Europe, Professor Max Müller's conclusion that the story of the Master Thief could not be known to Herodotus, because the translations from the Hitopadesa had not yet found their way westwards, and indeed were not yet in existence, falls to the ground. There remains one more fact connected with these legends, which is more astonishing than any which we have yet marked. The so-called Homeric Hymn to Hermes is undoubtedly older than the history of Herodotus -how much older it might be rash to affirm. But for Thucydides these hymns were certainly the work of Homer, and he speaks of them as having been composed in times which even in his day were ancient. The one addressed to Hermes dwells on the exploits of a child so slender and weak that none who see him in this form can credit him with the possession of gigantic power and superhuman subtlety. He is, in short, the slim and lithe youth whom the count or the squire of northern stories cannot bring themselves to regard with any fear. Yet there are no secret places into which he cannot penetrate; there are no treasures which he cannot filch away; and when his thievish work is done, he reassumes his old appearance of innocence and weakness. The hymn speaks of him as born in the early morning, when he sings sweetly to himself in his cradle, playing gently with the cradle-clothes. But in an hour or two he rises up and fashions for himself a lyre with the shell of a tortoise which he finds in front of the cradle, and after bringing forth from it for a little while some beautiful stirring melodies, he hurries with gigantic paces over hill and valley to the mountains where the cattle of Phoebus are feeding. These he drives away by tortuous paths which make the task of tracking him hopeless; and when Apollo at last finds him, he has passed through the bolt-hole of the cave, and is again whispering to himself in his cradle. What can a child a few hours old know of cattle or of thieving? Still there is roguery in his eye, and when he has made his defence, he utters a soft whistling sound, to show, perhaps, how entirely it should be believed. In spite of his anger a smile is forced to the face of Phoebus; and in the suppressed amusement which the whole adventure gives him we have the counterpart

of a very striking feature in the Norse version of the story. The squire may be vexed at finding himself in every case outwitted; but he cannot help laughing at his own discomfiture, and still more at the troubles of the parson. In this version one of the trials which he imposes on the thief is that of stealing from him his own horse while he is riding it; and an incident closely in accordance with this, but not mentioned in the Hymn to Hermes, is given in the well-known stanza of Horace

Te, boves olim nisi reddidisses
Per dolum amotas, puerum minaci
Voce dum terret viduus pharetra
Risit Apollo.

In all the forms of the myth, except in the Teutonic version in Grimm's collection, the thief marries the daughter of the king, nobleman, or squire, whose treasures and property he has stolen. In other words, the old wrong is atoned, and a league of amity set up between them. This is the special point of the tale related in the Homeric hymn, in which Phoebus Apollo is the king, count, or squire. It is impossible to resist the plunderer; it is, therefore, better to make him the guardian of the cattle, which otherwise he will steal without leave or licence, and the proffer is accompanied by the solemn promise that the child or youth shall be honoured for ever by the title of the Master Thief.

τοῦτο γὰρ οὖν καὶ ἔπειτα μετ ̓ ἀθανάτοις γέρας ἕξεις,
ΑΡΧΟΣ ΦΗΛΗΤΕΩΝ κεκλήσεαι ἤματα πάντα.

Here, then, we have demonstrative evidence, not merely that the story of the Arch Thief or Master Thief was known in Europe, for many centuries probably, before the time of Herodotus, but that the Greeks were perfectly familiar with the title, and that this title, in fact, lay at the very root of the myth. On the Rhampsinitos story we need lay no stress. It is valuable chiefly as proving that the legend was not first brought into the West by translations from the Hitopadesa; but although Herodotus speaks of it as an Egyptian tradition, it by no means follows that he was rightly informed. Egyptians might easily localise a tale which they had received originally from Greeks or any others; and the story of Hyrieus, Trophonios, and Agamedes is conclusive evidence that the myth existed in Hellas in a distinctively Greek form. We can scarcely suppose that the tale related by Pausanias is of post-Herodotean growth; and the fact that Herodotus does not notice it goes for nothing. Few Greeks, probably, were familiar with the whole mass of Hellenic mythology, and it is only on the hypothesis of this partial knowledge that we can account for the silence of many writers on myths closely resembling those of which they were themselves speaking. The value of the Homeric hymn is immeasurably greater. It places beyond doubt the fact that the myth formed part of the folk-lore of Hellenic tribes

« AnteriorContinuar »