Page:Myth, Ritual, and Religion (Volume 1).djvu/30

This page has been validated.

or in the Homeric conception of Zeus as a god who "turns everywhere his shining eyes," and beholds all things, and protects the righteous, and deals good or evil fortune to men. But the Zeus whose grave was shown in Crete, or the Zeus who played Demeter an obscene trick by the aid of a ram, or the Zeus who, in the shape of a swan, became the father of Castor and Pollux, or the Zeus who deceived Hera by means of a feigned marriage with an inanimate object, or the Zeus who was afraid of Attes, or the Zeus who made love to women in the shape of an ant or a cuckoo, is a being whose myth is felt to be unnatural and bewildering.[1] It is this irrational and unnatural element, as Mr. Max Müller says, "the silly, senseless, and savage element," that makes mythology the puzzle which men have so long found it.

We have offered examples—Savage, Indian, and Greek—of that element in mythology which, as all civilised races have felt, demands explanation.

To be still more explicit, we may draw up a brief list of the chief problems in the legendary stories attached to the old religions of the world—the problems which it is our special purpose to notice. First we have, in the myths of all races, the most grotesque and inconsistent conceptions of the character of the gods. Beings who at one moment are spoken

  1. These are the features in myth which provoke, for example, the wonder of Éméric-David. "The lizard, the wolf, the dog, the ass, the frog, and all the other brutes so common on religious monuments everywhere, do they not all imply a thought which we must divine?" He concludes that these animals, plants, and monsters of myths are so many "enigmas" and "symbols" veiling some deep sacred idea, allegories of some esoteric religious creed. Jupiter, Paris, 1832, p. lxxvii.