11 JANUARY 1873, Page 15

ZOOLOGICAL MYTHOLOGY.* THIS book, written by a Professor of Sanskrit

at Florence, though published in England and in English, is one of many symptoms of the new revival of letters in Italy. The Italian intellect, so long fettered by the policeman and the priest, has come back into freedom as subtle and versatile as ever, and era long we may have to look to Italian literature as our ancestors did, for its contribution to each current topic of the world's thought. Our students of Comparative Mythology will gain from Professor De Gubernatis a good deal of matter to their purpose. For instance, he is familiar with the unfamiliar popular literature of Russia, col- lected by Afanasieff and others, which is only now becoming accessible to English readers through the labours of Mr. Ralston. As in duty bound, our author is also one of the students who have begun to explore the folk-lore of his own Italy, where ancient religion is still, in spite of overlying Christianity, so ingrained in the peasant mind that the preface declares " the basis of Italian belief has till now remained pagan."

It were to be wished that Florentine learning and ingenuity had been guided by a more critical judgment. But sober criticism is the rarest quality among mythologists. They are apt to take the myth-producing disease themselves so badly, that their very arguments degenerate into myths. Only a few hard-headed students resist, and even they have occasional attacks of dizziness, like brewers' men among the fumes of the vats. So we cannot expect an imaginative Italian, with little check from home criticism, to keep his brain steady in the atmosphere of Nephe- locoocygia. But comparative mythology demands at least some misty semblance of reasoning. The laws even of cloudland do not allow a mythologist to lay hands on the merest household proverbs, with origins clear as daylight and meanings plain as pikestaves, and to wrench nature-myths out of them. Professor De Gubernatis makes a list, such as " To shut the stable after the cow is stolen ;" " The cow could reach the sky with her tail, if only it were long enough ;" " Not all who sound the horn hunt the hare ;" " A cow can't catch a hare." For these practical old saws he actually finds mythic origins in the Cow of Dawn shut up in the Stable of Darkness, or dragged by her tail by the Night- Monster, or passing over the Moon-Hare. It may be incidentally mentioned that he confesses himself unable to decide whether it is the bright Cow of Dawn or the black Cow of Night whose exploit is commemorated in the English rhyme, " Hey ! diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon."

Having thus showed the worst of Professor De Gubernatis's book, we gladly turn to its better points. Some of his versions of well-known folk-lore episodes are interesting and little known. Thus, when discussing the group of Romulus and Remus stories (vol. ii., p. 144), he introduces an Esthonian tale which connects them with the widely diffused belief in human beings who at times turn into wild beasts, such as the well-known werewolves. In this particular tale, the she wolf who hears the child's cries and comes to suckle it, is really its own mother. She has transformed herself into a wolf, but leaves her wolf-skin on a rock, and comes back to human shape to nurse her baby. Her husband hears of it, and orders the rock to be heated, so as to burn the wolf-skin the next time it is laid there, that he may get his werewolf-wife home again. It is possible that this Esthonian tale of the wolf-mother may be actually older than the legend. of Romulus and Remus, for it has a more consistent meaning in it. Another story here cited is not less curious. We have all heard in one or other of its many versions the nursery tale of the three brothers, of whom the youngest is the hero ill-treated by his wicked elders. Thus in the story of the "Golden Bird" in Grimm's Miirchen, the two elder brothers throw the third into a well, and carry off the reward of his prowess. Professor De Gubernatis (vol. i., p. 25) cites from a note of Professor Wilson's the follow- ing popular Hindu tradition :—" Three brothers, Elcatas (i.e., the

first), Dvitas (i.e., the second), Tritas (i.e., the third), were travelling in a desert, and distressed with thirst, came to a well, from which the youngest, Tritas, drew water and gave it to his seniors. In requital, they threw him into the well, in order to appropriate his property, and having covered the top with a cart- wheel, left him within it. In this extremity he prayed to the gods to extricate him, and by their favour he made his escape." Though we hesitate oftener than not in accepting our author's identifications of Vedic gods and heroes with personages of later mythology, we think he has ground for arguing that this third brother Tritas is the divine solar monster-slaying Tritas of the

• Zoological Mythology ; or, the Legends of Animals. By Angelo de Gabernatis, Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Literature in the Istituto di Stndli Superiori c di Perfezionamento, at Florence. 2 vols. London : Triihner and Co. ancient Aryan mythology, whose deliverance from the well is commemorated in Hymn 105 of the first book of the Rig-Veda. If there is anything in this attempt to trace a popular tale back so far as the Vedic Hymns, it is of some importance. In another place (vol. i., p. 31), Professor De Gubernatis seems to assert that there exists an Indian story of Mitres, the Sun, following a beautiful young girl, and finding a slipper which shows the measure of her foot, so small that no other woman has the like. Could we be sure that such a genuine ancient Indian story exists, we would willingly admit the existence of Cinderella in the poetic sun-myths of our Aryan forefathers, and would discuss the probability of her being originally a personified Dawn. But no authority is cited, and we conjecture that our author's fertile imagination may have itself developed the episode, perhaps by unconscious cerebration.

The Hindu Deluge-myth is briefly summarised, if propos of the divine fish which warned Mann of the coming flood, commanded him to build a ship, and towed it over the waters, with him on board, till it rested on the top of the mountain (vol. ii., p. 334). But this myth is one of the most interesting of the numerous deluge- legends of the world, and if we are ever to discuss it, this should be when some mythologist prints in order all the documents relat- ing to it, from the brief, bare version belonging to ancient Vedic literature, to the later legends which are brought closer to the Noachic tradition by the preservation of the plants and animals in the ship, and by the seven days' notice of the impending cataclysm.

Lastly, Professor De Gubernatis contributes something to a topic which has long interested scholars, the resemblance of the exploits of King Rama and the monkey Hanuman, in the Hindu poem of the Ramayana, to those of the Biblical Samson. One of these is the tying of greased rags to Hanuman's tail and setting it alight, whereupon the monkey leaps about till all Lanka is burnt to ashes. This episode is often mentioned, but another point here brought forward (vol. ii., page 103) has hardly been noticed hitherto. It is that Hanuman is one of the personages who per- form that frequent feat of the mythic Sun, to enter the body of a monster and come out at the other side, as the sun does at night and morning, or when eclipsed. A sea-monster through whose body Hanuman thus passes, entering and bursting forth again, is actually Sinhika, the mother of the famous monster Rahn, whose special function it is, as every Hindoo knows, to swallow the Sun and Moon at eclipses. This proves that the legend of Rama con- tains at least an element of solar myth. Of course Professor De Gubernatis, in his search for mythic personifications of the Sun, claims Samson for one, as do several other comparative mythologists. The Sun, when he loses his rays (" shorn of his beams "), loses all his strength (vol. ii., p. 154). It is a woman that is the solar hero's destruction, and Delilah is set down as a solar counterpart of Deianira, Medea, Krimhilt, and the rest (vol. i., p. 212). But we wonder that no mention should be made of the etymology of the name "Samson," which has been adduced byothers as bearing on such an interpretation of his nature. Samson (Shimshon) is derived from Shemesh, the Sun, thus signifying the Sunlike or Solar one. Such a name is sugges- tive of solar myth, and mythic episodes would be apt to gather round it if borne by a real man. To modern students Samson's most wondrous feats look more like the prodigies of a solar hero interpolated into a historical book, than the recorded acts of a judge of Israel. Uncertain though it be, the theory of a solar Samson demands attentive consideration.

On the whole, we must not be too quick either to accept or condemn the interpretations of the new mythological school, who find transformed nature-myths so plentifully in ancient literature. Some of their arguments are as real as any history, and some as unreal as any poetry, while of the rest it is still doubtful whether they are sense or nonsense. With more experience critics will become better able to separate the wheat from the chaff. The present book is a heavy task for the winnowing-machine, but after all, there is some grain in it.