Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/95

This page has been validated.
87
Report on Folk-tale Research.

and framework of heroic legend, the vital plastic organic element is furnished by something quite different. Myth, like a hermit crab, may creep into the shell of history, none the less does it retain its own nature." He then goes on to point out that "it is an open question whether among the races which shaped the great heroic cycles it was not precisely the impossible elements which won credence, whether a hero could be considered such unless he was more than a man, whether the vitality of an heroic legend is not directly proportionate to the more or less of myth which it contains." Taking two of the many mythical, or impossible, incidents found alike in Celtic and Teutonic heroic legend, Mr. Nutt examines the Miraculous Birth and the Combat between Father and Son, ascertaining the dates of their appearance in literature, the character of the texts in which they are found, and the special forms assumed by the incidents themselves ; and he not only fails to find any evidence of borrowing, but he urges with much force a psychological difficulty in the way of the borrowing theory as applied to these hero-tales. "It seems certain", he argues, "that the Irishmen who told of Cuchulainn, the Germans who sang of Siegfried, the Persians who celebrated Rustem, not only believed in the existence and deeds of these heroes (as firmly in the mythical — the impossible — elements as in the purely human ones), but also looked upon them as the crowning glory and as the standing exemplar of the race. The traditions connected with them formed a heritage of an especially sacred character, a heritage which it was the pride of the clan chief, the duty of the clan wiseman and singer to foster. Is it likely that these traditions should to any great extent be a simple adaptation or echo of stories told by strangers to the clan-sentiment, this, too, at a time when strangers were almost invariably enemies ?" Putting the borrowing hypothesis, therefore, aside, he explains the similarity between certain incidents of the various Aryan races by reference to their divine legends. Himself inclined to