Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

for many centuries before the compilation of the Vrihat-Kathâ and the Panchatantra, and it also discloses its origin. The cows of Phoebus are the cattle of Indra, and these are unmistakeably the raingiving clouds, which are driven along by the wind. But the wind can blow either softly or strongly, and therefore the wind is not only a thief, but a singer or harper. The powers of music and of theft are inherently his own; and though he may root up forests in his fury, in his gentler moods he can call forth sounds that fill all hearts with gladness. The covenant represented by the marriage of the thief with the daughter of the king, count, or squire, in the northern versions is here represented by the compact which, in return for the rod of wealth, secures to Phoebus from Hermes the divine power of song. The real nature of the material from which the story has grown up is laid bare in every line of the hymn. The wind can penetrate into tangled thickets and mysterious caves; the wind-god, therefore, thinks that he may fairly ask for the wisdom of the sungod, who sees and knows all things. In thorough accordance with the facts of the outward world, he is told that this request cannot be granted, but he may obtain a wisdom far surpassing that of man by holding converse with the hoary sisters who dwell in the clifts of Parnassus. To crown the proof, we have in hymns of the Rig Veda precisely the same conceptions of the wind which have shaped the western myth. In those hymns Rudra is the father of the Maruts, the wind whose shout makes all men reel forward over the whole space of the earth.' Like Hermes, Rudra is the bountiful,' the gracious,' and has his fertilising power; but like him and the Shifty Lad, he is also the lord of thieves, the robber, the cheater, the deceiver, the lord of pilferers and robbers.'

This evidence can lead us to but one conclusion. The story of the Master-Thief was not brought into Greece or into northern Europe by any communication of Greeks or Teutons with Aryan tribes after they had planted themselves in the Indian peninsula. It is useless to refer it to the intercourse between the East and West caused by the conquests of Alexander, or even by the wars with Darius and Xerxes, because the Hymn to Hermes is older, probably by many centuries, than the earliest of these events. It must belong therefore to that class of myths which the ancestors of Hindus, Greeks, Celts, Teutons, and Scandinavians carried away with them, in forms more or less developed, from their common primeval home.

The temptation to connect the story of Panch Phul Ranee in Miss Frere'sDeccan Tales' with that of the Snake Leaves in Grimm's collection, as an instance of direct borrowing, might be felt perhaps even more strongly. Neither of these two tales has found its way into written literature until quite lately; but in the former we read of a young prince killed in jumping the seventh hedge of spears, within which the Dawn-maiden was imprisoned. The rajah is tired of seeing so many men die in order to win her, and he orders that his daughter shall be taken away with the dead body and abandoned

in a jungle. There she hears two jackals talking, and learns that he might be brought to life again, if some of the leaves of a certain tree were crushed and a little of the juice put into the rajah's two ears and upon his upper lip, and some upon the spear-wounds in his side.' The German story is that of the husband of a princess, who makes a vow that she will marry no one who would not promise that, if she should die first, he would let himself be buried alive with her. Shut up with his wife's body he sees a snake creeping out of a corner of the vault and, thinking it was coming to feed on the corpse, he cut it into three pieces with his sword. Another snake, which now crawled out, retreated on seeing its companion dead, and returned with three green leaves in its mouth. Joining the three pieces of the dead snake together, it put a leaf on each wound, and the serpent thus restored to life crawled away with the other. The husband now places the leaf on the mouth and eyes of his wife's body, and her life also is restored. It is of course possible that the story may have been carried from Germany to India or from India to Germany within the last two or three centuries, although from the scant communication between the two countries, as well as from the wide differences in the setting and details of the legends, this is in a very high degree unlikely. But the speculation is superfluous. The tale was known in Europe at least two and twenty centuries ago, and it is recorded in the pages of Apollodorus, who tells us how Polyidos found the dead body of Glaukos, the son of Minos, and was by the King's order shut up with it until he should bring it to life. 'Being sorely perplexed,' says the mythographer, Polyidos saw a dragon approach the corpse. This he killed with a stone, and another dragon came, and, seeing the first one dead, went away and brought some grass which it placed on the body of the other, which immediately rose up. Polyidos, having beheld this with astonishment, put the same grass on the body of Glaukos, and restored him to life.' Here, then, we have another set of tales, for which any other supposition than that of lateral transmission becomes inadmissible. The Greek, the Hindu, and the German story form part of the folk-lore carried away from the common ancient home of the Aryan tribes.

6

A strong presumption, to say the least, is thus raised against the hypothesis of conscious borrowing in the case of stories which, down almost to our own times, have belonged strictly to the unwritten folk-lore of Europe or Asia. It will be found probably that the influence of the great Hindu, Persian, and Arabian compilations which have been made known in Europe by means of translations, has lain chiefly amongst the educated and literary classes; and that they have not furnished materials for the genuine folk-lore stories which the country people tell to one another, or to their children. If, then, we find a story of a very complicated kind in Grimm's collection, which in all its essential features reappears in a Hindu tale picked up only the other day from one who had received it by oral tradition, we are scarcely justified in thinking that the one was borrowed from the

other, even if a story more or less resembling it had already been given to the world in printed books. When no such tale has been printed or written down, the likelihood of the borrowing becomes indefinitely fainter. This substantial identity between the story of the Dog and the Sparrow, in Grimm, and that of Champa Ranee in the Hindu legend of Vikram Maharajah, is very striking. Certainly we cannot trace these tales back to the age in which the Hymn to Hermes was composed; and probably the literary world never heard of either before the present century. In both a bird vows to ruin a human being for injuring a helpless and unoffending creature; and in both the offender is made to bring about the catastrophe by his own voluntary acts. In the German story the wrong is done by a carter to a dog, which he deliberately crushes beneath the wheels of his waggon. The dog's friend, a sparrow, warns him that his deed should cost him his horses and his cart. The bird contrives to force out the cork from the bunghole of one of the casks in the waggon, and the wine is wasted. She then perches on the head of one of the horses and picks out his eye. The carter, hurling his hatchet at the bird, slays the horse. The other casks and the remaining horses are disposed of in the same way. Hastening home the carter bewails his disasters to his wife, who tells him that a wicked bird had brought a vast army of birds which were eating every ear of corn in their wheat-fields. But when the carter mourns over the poverty which had come upon him, the bird says that he is not poor enough yet. His deed shall cost him his life. After desperate efforts he catches the sparrow, and when his wife asks if she shall kill it, he replies that that would be too merciful. He therefore swallows her alive; but the bird flutters about in his stomach, and coming into his throat, cries out again that she will have his life. In despair the carter bids his wife bring an axe and smite the bird in his mouth. Missing her aim, she kills her husband, and the predictions of the sparrow are fulfilled. In Miss Frere's Deccan tale the place of the sparrow is taken by a parrot, and that of the carter by a dancing-girl, while a wood-cutter, whom the girl tries to cheat, represents the dog of the German story. The case is brought before the rajah, who determines to abide by the sentence of a wise parrot belonging to a merchant in the city. The bird is enabled to prove the fabrications of the nautch girl, who declares that she will get the parrot into her power and bite off its head. The vow of the parrot is now made once for all, and the story runs to its issue with a cleverness and simplicity for which we look in vain in the German tale. Summoned to the merchant's house, the maiden dances so well that she is bidden to name her own reward. She asks only for the parrot, which she gives to her servant to be cooked, ordering that its head may be grilled and brought to her that she may eat it before tasting anything else. The parrot is plucked, having escaped the wringing of its neck by pretending to be dead, and during a momentary absence of the servant wriggles itself into the hole which carries off

the kitchen sewage. A chicken's head is placed before Champa Ranee, who exults over the success of her scheme of vengeance. But the nautch woman is one who fears death exceedingly, and her constant prayer to the god whose image stood in a neighbouring temple was that she might be translated to heaven without the process of dying. The parrot, placing itself behind this image, tells the girl when next she comes, that her prayer has been heard, and that, if she wishes to attain her desire, she must sell her goods and give them to the poor, and, having levelled her house to the ground, must return to the temple, whence she should be bodily taken up into heaven. Champa Ranee does as she is bidden; but when she hastens to the shrine with the friends whom she has brought to witness her glorification, the parrot flies up from behind the image and bids her farewell. You ate a chicken's head,' said the bird. Where is your house now? Where are your servants and all your possessions? Have my words come true, think you, or yours?' Cursing her folly, the nautch girl dashes herself down on the floor of the temple, and is killed.

This incident of the promised ascent into heaven, and of the disappointment which follows it, is found, as we have seen, in the Norse and Teutonic versions of the story of the Master Thief. The correspondence extends even to minute touches; but the setting in the two cases is entirely unlike, and the fact would seem to prove that of the innumerable mythical incidents handed down by the forefathers of the Aryan nations some might be applied to different purposes, the change of collocation establishing their great age still more conclusively. But, apart from this, what opportunity have German peasants had of borrowing from the peasants of India, or the latter from the former, since the days when Hermann crushed the legions of Varus, or for centuries before his time? Clearly none: and it would probably be true to say that no borrowed story ever differed so widely from its original as that of Champa Ranee differs from the German tale of the Dog and the Sparrow. If there is absolutely no evidence of borrowing, the notion must be given up, and it should be given up with good-will. Professor Max Müller has rightly set aside, as sneaking, the argument which ascribes to conscious borrowing even those fables which are common to all the branches of the Aryan family. It seems to afford an explanation, when it is really a mere surmise which furnishes none. But it is not the less impossible that the Hindu and the German should each for himself have hit on the idea which makes a bird the avenger of wanton wrong, and brings about the ruin of the wrongdoer through his own acts, while in each case the criminal swallows, or thinks that he has swallowed, his persecutor. Whatever, then, be the origin of the story (and with this it is unnecessary for the present to concern ourselves), its framework belongs, we must conclude, to that distant time when the forefathers of the Hindu, the German, and the Englishman had still a common home in Central Asia.

There are, of course, a vast number of tales, of which it would be very rash to speak positively, but which raise nevertheless some curious and interesting questions. The readers of 'Fraser' will remember Mrs. Oliphant's singularly beautiful story of Earthbound,' which appeared in the number for January last. This tale tells us of a girl who had died in early youth, and whose short life was marked by the clinging tenderness which, after death, would not suffer her to leave the scenes which she had loved. More than others about her she had delighted in her home; and when her happy springtime was cut short, her spirit could not tear itself away from her old haunts. She lingers especially round one spot as the slow years roll away; and at length a young man, with a deeper insight than his companions, is enabled to see her and confess his love. She answers him gratefully and tenderly, but without any trace of earthly passion. After his departure no one else, so far as we have heard, has been again accosted by the gentle little lady who was earthbound. Perhaps her time of willing punishment is over, and she is earthbound no more.'

[ocr errors]

This, it may be said, is a very simple framework for a story; but it is as striking as it is simple, and it awakens a keen curiosity to learn how the idea originated. Arguing for another purpose, Mr. Gladstone had said long ago in his Homeric Studies' that invention cannot absolutely create; it can only work on what it finds. already provided to hand;' and the Eastern and Western versions of myths already noticed have shown convincingly how extremely simple may be the framework of very complicated stories, which in spite of all differences in local features and colouring come undoubtedly from the same source. 6 Now in Washington Irving's delightful Tales of the Alhambra '1 we have in the Legend of the Three Beautiful Princesses' a character which is precisely that of the gentle lady in 'Earthbound.' Zorayhayda, like her, is bound to her home, even to those objects in it which we might fancy would not be likely to call forth any warm affection. But to every object in it she clings; and when, like her sisters, she wins the love of a Spanish captive, she cannot make up her mind to follow their example, and elope with her lover. She remained in her home and she died young, and the

Due allowance must be made, in examining these tales, for the degree in which the imagination of the narrator may have modified or embellished them. But it must be remembered that Irving disclaims complete originality for any of them, while he declares that he has given some as nearly as he can recollect in the words of his informant. To the latter belongs the noteworthy story entitled the ' Adventure of the Mason,' one of the many tales of plundered treasure-houses which have already come before us in the stories of Rhampsinitos, of Karpara and Gata, of Hyrieus, and of the Master Thief. It is probably not too much to say that those who have given any attention to the subject of comparative mythology will have po difficulty in distinguishing those portions of Irving's Alhambra stories which belong to the local tradition from his additions or embellishments. There can be no question of the substantial genuineness of the story of 'Prince Ahmed-al-Kamel, or the Pilgrim of Love; and with scarcely less confidence we may speak of the passage relating to Zorayhayda in the legend of the Rose of the Alhambra as obtained by Irving from the story-tellers of the place.

« AnteriorContinuar »