Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/274

This page has been validated.

inundations, succeed one another with lamentable regularity in Bengal. The cholera-plague has its home in the delta of the Ganges; and in the devastating Indian pestilence of Rajastan, characterized by gangrene of the lungs, Hirsch recognizes the black death of the middle ages, the Florentine pestilence described by Boccaccio, which, like cholera in our times, held its ghastly circuit through the world.

In the face of such aspects of Nature as these, asks Buckle, which are ever menacing him with annihilation, must not man feel himself small and powerless? He arrives at no conscious, reasoned conclusion, but stolidly fancies to himself certain dominant and unfriendly powers as the authors of these dire calamities. He deifies the objects of his fears, erects altars to them, and offers to them sacrifice.[1] Hence it is that Hindoo mythology teems with monstrosities. Men there live 100,000 years. The ages of the world are reckoned by units followed by sixty-three zeros. The god Siva, who constitutes with Brahma and Vishnu the Indian trinity, is a monster with three eyes, wearing a necklace of human bones and a girdle of serpents. In one hand he holds a skull; a tiger's skin is his mantle; and over his left shoulder the deadly cobra rears its head. His wife Doorga is represented as of a blue complexion, with gory hands, lolling tongue, four arms, a giant's skull in one hand, a necklace of human heads; round her waist are the hands of her victims. All Hindoo deities are in like manner characterized by some inhuman or monstrous aspect—for instance, an excess of limbs or an unnatural complexion.

Buckle thinks he finds in Central America evidences of a like influence upon man's religious ideas of the dangers of life in tropical regions. The traveler Kennan refers the Shamanism of the inhabitants of the Siberian steppe to the dismal aspects of Nature by which they are surrounded. Alone on the toondra with his herd of reindeer, watching in the glare of the northern lights the howling wolves round about, the Korak stands on guard through the polar night, and fancies himself to be beleaguered by evil spirits, whose wrath he seeks to conjure away by offering to them his dogs, or by the practice of magic arts.[2] It needs not to be told how fully the gloomy sublimity of the Eddas accords in the same sense with the aspects of Nature in Iceland, where volcanic forces are ever striving with ice for the upper hand.

As contrasting with these aspects of Nature and the religions which owe to them their origin, Buckle points to the tamer and more pleasing scenery of Greece, and thence would infer the humanly beautiful character of the Hellenic mythology. With its multitudinous promontories, forming landlocked harbors, and itself surrounded by a number of beauteous islands, Hellas rises out of the Mediterranean, bearing

    ber of victims is 20,000. (See also Sir James Paget apud Archibald Dickson, "The Vivisection Question," London, 1877, p. 38.)

  1. See Edmund Burke's lumen dicendi in the proceedings against Warren Hastings apud Macaulay, "Critical and Historical Essays," vol. iv.
  2. "Tent-Life in Siberia," New York, Putnams, 1870, p. 209.