cannibalism. The Satapatha Brahmana invents a new story about the slaying of Visvarupa. Not Indra, but Trita, says the Brahmana apologetically, slew the three-headed son of Tvashtri. "Indra assuredly was free from that sin, for he is a god," says the Indian apologist. Yet sins which to us appear far more monstrous than the peccadillo of killing a three-headed Brahman are attributed freely to Indra.
While poets could but omit a blasphemous tale or sketch an apology in passing, it became the business of philosophers and of antiquarian writers deliberately to "whitewash" the gods of popular religion. Systematic explanations of the sacred stories, whether as preserved in poetry or as told by priests, had to be provided. India had her etymological and her legendary school of mythology. Thus, while the hymn seemed to tell how the Maruts were gods, "born together with the spotted deer," the etymological interpreters explained that the word for deer only meant the many-coloured lines of clouds. In the armoury of apologetics etymology has been the most serviceable weapon. It is easy to see that by aid of etymology the most repulsive legend may be compelled to yield a pure or harmless sense, and may be explained as an innocent blunder, caused by mere verbal misunderstanding. Brahmans, Greeks, and Germans have equally found comfort in this hypothesis. In the Cratylus of Plato, Socrates speaks of the notion of explaining myths by etymological guesses at the meaning of divine names
- Satapatha Brahmana, Oxford, 1882, vol. i. p. 47.
- Rig-Veda Sanhita, Max Müller, p. 59.
- Postea, "Indian Divine Myths."