Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/423

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EPONYMIC MYTHS.

405

Phœnicians, by the side of Asshur ((Symbol missingHebrew characters)), Aram ((Symbol missingHebrew characters)), Eber ((Symbol missingHebrew characters)), and the other descendants of Shem, the result will be mainly to arrange the Semitic stock according to the ordinary classification of modern comparative philology.

Turning now from cases where mythologic phrase serves as a medium for expressing philosophic opinion, let us quickly cross the district where fancy assumes the semblance of explanatory legend. The mediæval schoolmen have been justly laughed at for their habit of translating plain facts into the terms of metaphysics, and then solemnly offering them in this scientific guise as explanations of themselves — accounting for opium making people sleep, by its possession of a dormitive virtue. The myth-maker's proceedings may in one respect be illustrated by comparing them with this. Half mythology is occupied, as many a legend cited in these chapters has shown, in shaping the familiar facts of daily life into imaginary histories of their own cause and origin, childlike answers to those world-old questions of whence and why, which the savage asks as readily as the sage. So familiar is the nature of such description in the dress of history, that its easier examples translate off-hand. When the Samoans say that ever since the great battle among the plantains and bananas, the vanquished have hung down their heads, while the victor stands proudly erect,[1] who can mistake the simple metaphor which compares the upright and the drooping plants to a conqueror standing among his beaten foes? In simile just as obvious lies the origin of another Polynesian legend, which relates the creation of the coco-nut from a man's head, the chestnuts from his kidneys, and the yams from his legs.[2] To draw one more example from the mythology of plants, how transparent is the Ojibwa fancy of that heavenly youth with green robe and waving feathers, whom for the good of men the Indian overcame and buried, and

  1. Seemann, 'Viti,' p. 311; Turner, 'Polynesia,' p. 252.
  2. Ellis, 'Polyn. Res.' vol. i. p. 69.