Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/451

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
443
Mr. Newell and Mr. Jacobs.

these conceptions, manifestations of this common spirit, are furnished at the present day by races and classes wholly or partially unaffected by Christian civilisation. That the spirit was one, though the forms of its manifestation were diverse, explains the ease with which these acted and reacted upon each other. Grasp this point, and much discussion about the borrowed nature of Hellenic mythology, for instance, becomes meaningless. No psychological obstacle forbade the attribution to Zeus of that which elsewhere was attributed to Ammon Ra or to Bel; all three were resultants of man's fancy working from a common set of intellectual, moral, and artistic data. To assign mythology to any one race, to treat all other races as its debtors in this respect, is irrational. We can only note that each race puts its own impress upon the common hoard of mythic material.

The common spirit underlying and animating a number of closely related conceptions of the universe may be styled the antique, in contradistinction to the modern, which is partly the result of Christianity, partly the result of forces independent of Christianity. Prior to the establishment of Christianity the antique spirit had its strongest support in religious organisation. The State had already begun to discard it, to introduce new conceptions. For the antique theory of the world flourished best, as it still does, in small communities strongly individualised against other communities, but internally socialistic; whereas the tendency of the State is to fuse small communities into one, and, by freeing the individual from socialistic shackles, to increase his taxable value. This tendency, which in the ancient world culminated in the Roman Empire, received tremendous impetus from the establishment of Christianity. For the first time, so far as we know certainly, the might of religion was arrayed against the antique theory of things; the local sanctuary, the strongest bulwark of the small community against the centralising State, was menaced with destruction. The Church,