of pursuing his love in the form of an ant, or a serpent, or a swan? Is he impious, lustful, cowardly, easily deceived, unjust, and cruel, as the temple legends declare, and illustrate in Mystery plays and pictures?" But all the old civilised races have had to live through that hour and to encounter these problems. "How individuals found religious consolation is," says C. O. Müller, "a very interesting inquiry."
In Greece, as early as the sixth century B.C., we are all familiar with Xenophanes' poem complaining that the gods were credited with the worst crimes of mortals—in fact, with abominations only known in the orgies of Nero and Elagabalus. We hear Pindar refusing to repeat the tale which told him the blessed were cannibals. In India we read the pious Brahmanic attempts to expound decently the myths which made Indra the slayer of a Brahman; the sinner, that is, of the unpardonable sin. In Egypt, too, we study the priestly or philosophic systems by which the clergy strove to strip the burden of absurdity and sacrilege from their own deities. From all these efforts of civilised and pious believers to explain away the stories about their own gods we may infer one fact—the most important to the student of mythology—the fact that myths were not evolved in times of clear civilised thought. It is when Greece is just
- Ritter and Preller, Hist. Philos., Gothæ, 1869, p. 82.
- Olympic Odes, i., Myers's translation: "To me it is impossible to call one of the blessed gods a cannibal.... Meet it is for a man that concerning the gods he speak honourably, for the reproach is less. Of thee, son of Tantalus, I will speak contrariwise to them who have gone before me." In avoiding the story of the cannibal god, however, Pindar tells a tale even more offensive to our morality.