The Book of Wonder Voyages/Notes


Wonder Voyages are found in the earliest of all literatures the Egyptian. In a papyrus at the Hermitage collection at Petrograd there is an account of a shipwrecked sailor who visited an isle which was inhabited by huge serpents big enough to carry the sailor in his mouth. This has been given by M. Maspero in his Contes populaires de l'Egypte ancienne, Paris, 1882; and by Prof. Flinders Petrie in the first series of his Egyptian Tales, pp. 81-96. The Odyssey itself may be regarded as the grandest specimen of this genre of literature, which is even represented among the books of the Bible by the story of Jonah. Among the Jatakas again there are one or two which would seem to show that the Indian imagination also took its flight among islands that never were on sea. The Wonder Voyage had become a convention of Greek Literature by the time that Lucian adopted it as the work of his satirical Vera Historia, which itself became the type of a whole series of philosophic Wonder Voyages which culminated in Cyrano de Bergerac's Histoire Comique de la Lune, and Swift's Gulliver. These in their turn were parodied by the redoubtable Baron Munchausen. Mr. Rider Haggard has practically revived the genre in the nineteenth-century form of novels of adventure.

At the root of the whole idea of a Wonder Voyage is the scepticism with regard to travelers' tales and sailors' yarns which is current among all peoples. Curiously enough, the book of Marco Polo, which was regarded by his contemporaries as mainly a Wonder Voyage, has proved to be quite a sane and critical account of Mid and Eastern Asia. Yet "Sir John Mandeville" was evidently poking fun at him in his own book which must also be affiliated to the family of Wonder Voyages. Altogether there is a huge mass of literature which may be included under this term, and in the middle of last century quite a whole series of dumpy duodecimos, running to thirty volumes, was published in Paris under the title of Voyages extraordinaires. The present collection can therefore claim to touch only upon the fringe of a great subject, and can profess to give only a few specimens from different quarters of the world.

In most of the Wonder Voyages represented in this volume there are traces of the influence of the last voyage of man. In the Greek, in the Celtic, and in the Norse voyages there is a clear reference, as will be seen from the Notes, to the other world as the bourne from which our travelers do return: in fact, we have here the free play of the Folk-mind on man's last home. The travelers cross the bar and sail out into the Unknown; their peculiarity is that they return and recross it. Careful study of these tales, therefore, has a somewhat higher interest than that of ordinary Folk tales, for they are connected with the hopes and fears which surround man's last moments.

Source.—From Kingsley's Heroes which in the main follows Apollonius Rhodius, whose floruit is 200 B.C., and whose Argonautica is one of the most readable of Greek poems. On the whole, Kingsley has condensed with great skill and given the main outlines of the action with clearness and grace.

Parallels.—In Roscher's Lexicon von griech. und rom. Mythologie, under the headings of "Argonauten," "Jason," "Medeia," Dr. Seeliger has summed up the results of German research on the Saga with full references to every passage in ancient literature where the Argonauts are referred to. Unfortunately he omits just those references which may be regarded as offering true parallels to the Argonaut Saga. These parallels are from a source which perhaps the dignity of Teutonic erudition shrank from utilizing. Lynceus and the other skilled companions of Jason recall to the folklorist that set of folk tales in which the hero is aided to obtain his bride by a set of comrades who can see through a stone wall, outpace the wind, or hit the enemy miles away, as in the Grimm story of the Six Companions or in the Mabinogi of Kilhwch, which contains a huge list of such miracles of skill. (See Lady Guest's Mabinogion, pp. 225-6.) Mr. Nutt, in his valuable notes on Mac Innes' Folk Hero Tales from Argyleshire, pp. 445-8, has given a number of parallels from the Celtic fringe, and gives reasons for holding that a story of six skilled companions probably occurred in the Irish Voyage of the Sons of O'Corra, which can be dated in the seventh century. Mr. Nutt confines himself to Celtic parallels, but the Grimms extend the parallelism in their notes, i., 435, and M. Cosquin considerably extends the list (Contes populates de Lorraine, i., 23-7; ii., 145). In most of these lists we find at least a parallel to Hercules the Strong Man, and Lynceus of the Far-Sight.

Another set of parallels neglected by Dr. Seeliger is of even still greater interest and importance for the scientific study of the Argonaut Legend, since it is, practically, a parallel of the whole story. Technically speaking, the Legend is what we Folklorists call a "Bride Wager," in which the Hero gains a bride by performing certain Tasks. Then there comes the pursuit and the obstacles to pursuit which are familiar in this class of story, and, finally, the heroine, like Medeia, is neglected for a rival, originally through the operation of an Oblivion Kiss. The whole set of incidents forms one of the most familiar of Celtic fairy tales under the title of "The Battle of the Birds. " (See Celtic Fairy Tales, xxiv., and notes, ibid., p. 267 seq., where no less than sixteen Celtic versions are referred to.) The spread of the story among other nations is almost equally extensive. Mr. Newell gave an English version, "Lady Featherflight," in the Transactions of the International Folklore Congress of 1891, pp. 40-7, and adds a considerable number of variants from all parts of the world. The most interesting of these is one from Samoa, of all places in the world, given from Turner's Samoa a Hundred Years Ago, p. 102 seq. This has been commented upon by Mr. Lang in his paper on "A Far-Traveled Tale," in Custom and Myth, p. 87 seq. Its interest is the greater since many of the incidents, as, for instance, those of the flight, exactly almost totidem verbis as in some of the European versions. I wrote to Mr. Stevenson, pointing out the importance of the story for folklore purposes, and asking him to investigate it in situ, and he kindly promised to do so. But, unfortunately, death broke off that as well as many other promises.

The existence of these parallels in the Argonaut Legend in Folklore sufficiently indicates the direction in which research and inquiry should be made. Dr. Seeliger, like all Teutonic investigators, deals with the subject as part of Mythology, though in all the enormous mass of literature that he brings to bear upon the subject in the ancient world there is no sign that any of the heroes or heroines were treated with divine honors. (A casual reference of Pindar's to the "immortal" Medeia is almost the sole exception.) At best, the story is a Greek Saga or Hero Tale, and if any elucidation of the various incidents of the story is to be found we must not neglect the parallels afforded by folk tales. The Argonaut Legend is, therefore, an interesting instance in which we can contrast the German and the English method of dealing with hero tales.

Remarks.—In Dr. Seeliger's long article upon the Argonauts he first gives an abstract of the Legend according to Apollonius Rhodius: he then gives a list of the Argonauts, who were fifty in all, though sixty-seven names of them have been compiled by Dr. Seeliger's perseverance and erudition. He then gives the literary tradition of the Legend, starting with Homer, who mentions or refers to the ship Argo, Jason, Pelias, and Æson, and the Symplegades, all of course in the Odyssey, where such references would naturally be. The fragments of Hesiod also contain numerous references, while Pindar has a whole Pythian Ode devoted to it. Then comes an interesting section devoted to the local traditions dealing with the Voyage, in which comes out the interesting point that a chain of hills on the east of the Black Sea was called the Jasmonian Mountains in antiquity, and is still known as Iassan Burun. The supposed connection of the sorceress with the Kingdom of Media also comes up for discussion under this head. Then we have another section dealing with the monumental remains of the Myth, in which the dragon is always represented as a serpent pur et simple. Dr. Seeliger sums up his conclusion that the Legend is certainly a physical myth!—and therein all Teutons are at one, though they vary as usual as to what branch of Physics they affiliate the story. Forchhammer regards it as an Agrarian Year Myth, the agriculture being represented by the tale of Cadmus, and the Year being of course indicated by the Golden Fleece. Kuhn and Mannhardt—those names of weight in mythological investigation—agree for once in calling it a Day Myth. According to the former Gelehrter, the Oak with the Golden Fleece, is the Night Sun-Tree (Nachtsonnenbaum), whatever that precisely may mean. In other words, these scholars make the central point of the story out of what is only one of its imaginative trappings. Even if we regard the winning of the Golden Fleece as the central incident of the story it is difficult to see in what sense we can make the Fleece a representative either of the Year or of the Day. How can a Hero win a year, even though he gained the day? It is abundantly obvious that these interpretations have only been arrived at in the interests of a theory, and without the slightest attempt to reconstruct the state of mind of the original tale-teller. It is fair to add that Dr. Seeliger regards the original myth as being complicated, if not "contaminated," with the Legend of the eastern Voyage of the Greeks to the extremity of the Black Sea, with genealogical myths in honor of the Minuai and with the local traditions of the cultus of the Cabiri on the island of Lemnos. Add the sirens and Scylla from the Odyssey to this hotch-pot, and behold the Argonauts who are obliged to lengthen their voyage to suit local requirements. So far Dr. Seeliger upon the Argonauts in general.

Under the heading "Jason," Dr. Seeliger gives the conclusions of German mythologists as to the nature of the hero, who is regarded by some as a wind god, while Kuhn and Mannhardt are at one in regarding him as a sun god. Again, under "Medeia" her mythological character is emphasized by the Germans, though, as usual, they have a pretty quarrel as to the exact part of Nature which she represents. Altogether, I think it can scarcely be said that Germany leaves us at the end of all its erudition much information as to what the story of the Argonauts means, or whether it means anything.

Turn we, then, to England and English investigators—if I dare include Mr. Andrew Lang under that appellative. As already mentioned, in his Custom and Myth he has dealt with the tale mainly from the point of view of its far travels. The Germans and some English followers have concentrated their attention on the problem of what Jason and Medeia mean rather than on what they do; and Mr. Lang has his fun out of the varying interpretations given by Preller and Schwartz on the meaning of Medeia, who is the moon, according to one, and a lightning goddess, according to the other. Most people will agree with Mr. Lang, that these interpretations throw no light on the story, as a story, especially when it is considered that the same, or similar, interpretations are used by the Teutonic method to explain every mythological story.

Mr. Lang proceeds to point out that the main incidents of the Argonaut story—the coming of the wooer; the love of the hostile being's daughter; the tasks imposed on the wooer; the aid rendered by her daughter; the flight of the pair; the death, or destruction, of the hostile being—occur among the Greeks, the Lowland Scotch, the Kelts, the Russians, the Poles, the Algonquins, the Finns, the Malagasy and the Samoans. Besides these, some of the incidents, like the obstacles to pursuit, are found in Japan and Zululand, not to mention Norway. The most remarkable coincidence of all is that of the comb which is dropped by the pursued girl and forms an impenetrable thicket, which detains the pursuer. This is found so far away as Italy, Japan, and Samoa. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that this peculiar incident was invented independently. Its occurrence in Samoa is especially noteworthy as this was only discovered by Europeans in 1722, and the form of the story in which it was collected by Turner shows traces of the cannibal period, before any European influence had become predominant. Mr. Lang in his paper does not definitely state that he is of opinion that all these stories emanated from a single center; but I gather from later statements of his that this is now his opinion. He certainly makes no attempt to determine what was that original center, or the roads by which it reached the various termini where variants of the story have been collected.

I will not rush in where Mr. Lang has feared to tread, and must content myself with pointing out the various possibilities of diffusion. After recent controversies, I think most of the English investigators of the Folk tale would agree that the common incidents in their present order were put together by a single imaginative creator. On the old theory of the original unity of the Aryan peoples, it would have been natural to assume that this early artist was an Ur-Aryan, and that all the Aryan peoples took the story with them on their migrations through Europe; but this view is now somewhat discredited by the advance of philological science, which regards the identity of language among the Aryans as due to borrowing, and we are scarcely at liberty to make an assumption of so early a case of story barter, when later borrowing will equally well explain the resemblance. The Greek version of the tale as we have it can scarcely be the original from which all others have been derived, since one of the most marked of the common incidents, that of the obstacles to pursuit, is only represented in the Greek version by the dismemberment of Apsyrtos. This brutal device is clearly a primitive trait, but it has disappeared in all the other European versions. Mr. Nutt has ingeniously pointed out that the three obstacles which are common to the Norse and to the Celtic variants of the story have a distinct Teutonic appearance, since they recall the mountain, lake, and forest which among the Teutons separate the other world from this. A working hypothesis to account for the spread through Europe, at any rate, would be to assume that the Greek story in the early form, not in that derived from Apollonius, got among the outlying posts of the Roman Empire in Germany, and was there interpolated with the specific Teutonic conception of hell, but this will not account for its spread in extra-European regions.

India would assist us as a center of dispersion, if we could find the tale in all its incidents in the peninsula. Thence it could have spread to Madagascar and Zululand, on the one hand, and to Japan and Samoa on the other; but the only Indian form with which I am acquainted, that given in the thirty-ninth chapter of the Kathásarit Ságara does not contain the obstacles to flight in the form required to explain this spread. The Rakshasa's daughter, who is the Indian analogue of Medeia, does not throw out obstacles to her father's pursuit, but transforms herself and misleads him as to the path taken by the lovers; she even induces her father to believe he is dead, so that he has to go home to inquire whether this is a fact. But it is the comb we want to find in India to explain its diffusion elsewhere; and until we find this the problem of diffusion for this particular story must remain unsolved.

It will thus be seen that neither on the German nor the English lines of investigation can we at present arrive at any very definite conclusion, either as to the origin or the diffusion of the Argonaut story. Yet we need not despair. We are only at the beginning of our inquiries as to the lines of transmission of Folk tales in and out of Europe, and it is by no means unlikely that we shall find our comb in India, which would be an important stage towards solving the problem of diffusion. If we can ever get at any definite conclusion as to this, we shall then be in a better position to discuss origins. The very early date at which the Argonaut story appears among the Greeks gives them a primâ facie claim to the origination of the legend; but, as we know it among Folk tales, it is clear that the Teutons had something to do with the later incidents, which mainly follow the Teuton, rather than the Greek form. Twenty years ago we might have said that the Teutonic was the earlier and represented more closely the original Aryan form of the legend, but, as at present advised, we must regard the obstacles to pursuit as a later and Teutonic interpolation; for in either case we must assume a passage from one tribe to another and why not a later as well as an earlier case of borrowing?

Source.—The poem which Tennyson made from the most romantic episodes of the Maelduin has drawn general attention to this fine specimen of the Wonder Voyage. As it is a Celtic product I naturally relied on Mr. Nutt both for text and comments, which he gives as follows:

"The Voyage of Maelduin" is an Irish romance preserved in a number of MSS. of which the oldest was copied at the close of the twelfth century from earlier MSS. now lost. The state of the language justifies the attribution of parts of the tale to a much earlier period, probably to the second half of the eighth century. The Irish text has been printed, with a complete English version, by Dr. Whitley Stokes, in the ninth and tenth volumes of the Revue Celtique, and the present re-telling is based upon his version . I have abridged somewhat, mainly by omitting variant episodes which betray the late and interpolated character of the text as it has come down to us.

Parallels.—In the great list of nearly two hundred Irish romances, which is probably as old as the eighth century, "The Voyage of Maelduin" is mentioned as the first of the class of Imrama, or "Oversea Voyages." Six others are mentioned, of which one only, "The Voyage of the O'Corras," has come down to us. But we also possess two Imrama not mentioned in the story list, and probably of later date, "The Voyage of Snegdus and Mac Riagla," and "The Voyage of St. Brendan." These may be described as Christian adaptations of "The Voyage of Maelduin." "The Voyage of St. Brendan," originally written in Latin by an Irish monk and only translated back into Irish in the twelfth century or later, was immensely popular throughout the Middle Ages; and thanks to it, the Irish seamen's legends became part of the literature common to all Western Christendom. As late as the fifteenth century the Isles of the Blessed Brendan were being sought for by adventurous sailors, and Columbus himself was probably influenced by the tale.

Remarks.—Our romance has been most exhaustively studied by Professor Heinrich Zimmer (Zeitschrift für deutsches Alterthum, xxxiii., and Sitzungsberichte der Kgl. Preuss. Ak. d. Wissenschaften, 1891, xvi.). He shows that it is the oldest work of its class extant, and discusses the various themes and episodes which it contains. The Irish, as we know both from classical and native sources, began in the fourth century to sally out of Ireland and harry the lands to the East and Northeast. They even pushed as far as Iceland, where the first settlers found traces of previous occupation by Irish hermits. In this way they accumulated considerable knowledge of the surrounding seas and a still more considerable stock of sailors' yarns. Often, too, these voyages were made by the missionaries who swarmed out of Ireland in the seventh and eighth centuries, and who would naturally be disposed to put a miraculous gloss upon the marvels they encountered. "The Voyage of Maelduin" thus embodies a deal of real fact magnified and distorted. For instance, the glassy sea may well be a fantastic reminiscence of the ice-covered Polar seas. The island of the demon horse-racing may give us a picture of the first meeting of the Irish with the Norse dwellers on the Shetland or Faroe islands, and their love for horse-racing. The adventure of the color-changing sheep has also its probable origin in circumstances special to the Faroe islands. Another element in our romance is the Christian legendary one; the story of the great bird renewing its strength is obviously a variant of the Phoenix legend, which, though originally of pre-Christian origin, was developed and interpreted in a Christian sense. The annals of Irish sainthood have also furnished their quota; many of the saints—e.g., Columba—were seafarers, and marvels, such as that told of Brendan's seven years' sojourn on the back of a whale, are common in Irish hagiology.

Another and the most interesting element remains to be noticed. The ancient Irish believed, as did the ancient Greeks, in an Elysium, a god's land to which mortals might be transported by the caprice of its immortal dwellers there to share with them the joys of endless life, love, and feasting. Two of the oldest Irish romances, the story of "Connla" (to be found in Celtic Fairy Tales), and "The Voyage of Bran, " handle the theme of the love of an immortal maiden for a mortal hero, and of his following her to the Pleasant Plain, the Land of Youth, the Land of the Living Heart, to quote a few of its many titles. Two of the episodes of Maelduin ("The Isle of Wailing," and "The Queen of the Magic Clew"), are also found in "The Voyage of Bran." In an essay accompanying Prof. Meyer's edition and translation of the latter work I have brought together all the Irish variants of the theme, including those found in Maelduin, and discussed their relation to each other and to the general body of Aryan mythical beliefs and imaginings.

Thus, "The Voyage of Maelduin" gives us an idea of the sources open to the Irish story-teller of the eighth century, and of the influences to which he was exposed. We must picture Aed the Fair, chief among the story-tellers of Ireland as the Tennyson or Morris of his day, a knower of men and things as well as of books. He took the old mythic tales of his race in which the gods and goddesses of the Tuatha de Danann wooed mortals to their fairy home, and he used them in his account of the islands of the Queen of the Magic Clew, or of the Musical Brazen Gate. He took Christian legends and worked them into the weft of his story. He was familiar with the marvels told of his saintly countrymen who evangelized the Northern seas. He picked up I many a yarn spun by seafarers to the distant Faroes or the more distant Iceland, that land of boiling springs, fiery mountains, and ice-clad plains. He handled all these elements with singular perception of their romantic quality and effect, little thinking that his fancies re-told in Latin by the author of Navigatie S. Brendani, would delight Western Europe for ages, and, translated into English more than a thousand years later, would inspire the chief English poet of his time to breathe fresh life and beauty into the old legend.

Source.—From the Arabian Nights though it does not occur in the ordinary editions from Galland. I have condensed from the versions of Lane and Burton. (See my edition of Lane, vol. v., pp. 132-287.) I suggested in my edition that it was inserted in the "Nights" by Mohammed al-Gahshijari, in whom I think I have discovered the author of the "Nights," so far as they have one.

Parallels.—Hasan resembles, on the one hand, Sindbad and, on the other, Aladdin. Sindbad was probably one of Gahshijari's contributions to the "Nights," while Aladdin, it is now known, was contributed to Galland by a Christian of Aleppo, named Hanna, and from certain indications is likely to be of Western, rather than of Eastern origin. (See my Introduction to Lane, p. xxiv.) But the chief motif of Hasan is what is known to Folklorists as the Swan-Maiden story, which forms the subject of two chapters (x and xi) of Mr. Hartland's "Science of Fairy Tales": these are filled with a number of parallels from nearly all quarters of the globe, including Guiana, the Esquimaux, Burmah, and the New Hebrides. Mr. Hartland connects with this wide-spread series of tales a whole corpus of archaic institutions. The bird costume of the maiden recalls totemism; her importance in the story is referred back to the matriarchate; the way she is won is, of course, a case of marriage by capture; while the forbidden door is equally, of course, a case of tabu. The Islands of Wak Wak are known to archaic geographers but their exact identity is "wropt in mystery"; they have been identified with the Seychelles, Madagascar, Malacca, Java, China, and Japan, while Mr. Kirby is certain that the Cora Islands near New Guinea are intended: "for the wonderful fruits which grow there are birds of paradise, which settle in flocks on the trees at sunset and sunrise uttering this very cry." The islands successively visited by Hasan recall the voyage of Maelduin.

Remarks.—Further reflection, since I wrote my Introduction to Lane, has convinced me that I have placed too early a date for Hasan in attributing it to Gahshijari, who was of the tenth century. The interspersed verses (which I have here omitted) show that at any rate in its present form Hasan is much later. Besides this, the accumulation of adventures, which are not very closely knit together, implies that the author of Hasan was acquainted with earlier tales of the same type. It is useless, therefore, in my opinion, to attempt to trace in Hasan any direct influence of those primitive conceptions which Mr. Hartland brings in for the illustration of the tale. They may be primitive in origin, but as used in Hasan they are simply conventions of Arabic story-telling, and by no means imply existence of the matriarchate, or the marriage of capture, among the Arabs. On the other hand, it is possible that some of the incidents may be, directly or indirectly, derived from sailors' yarns of countries where these primitive customs still prevail. Burton's notes give us very many curious parallels from the Arabic geographers, which could be increased from a source nearer home (Mandeville's Travels). It is simpler to account for the reference to these curious customs in Hasan by misunderstandings of travelers' accounts from savage lands than to assume that the story itself had lasted on among Arabic-speaking peoples from the time when they themselves were savages.

Source.—The frame-work has been derived from a translation of "Erek's Saga Vidforla," kindly translated by the Rev. J. Sephton from the third vol. of the Fornaldur Sögur, where it is printed from a vellum written about 1350. I have added the "Voyage of Thorkill," from Saxo Grammaticus (Mr. Elton's translation, pp. 344-256), but have had to re- write, owing to the excessive Latinity of Saxo.

Parallels.—There is a much more elaborate account of the voyage of Eric in Saxo's fifth book (Mr. Elton's translation, pp. 156-99), which as Professor York Powell points out in the introduction to Saxo (p. Ixxvii.), is to a large extent a variant of the "Voyage of Thorkill"; for that reason I have chosen the later version of the Eric Saga. Professor York Powell also points out that in the Thorkill voyage there are traces of a lost Swipdag story, which might be called the Icelandic Odyssey; it also contains traces, according to him, of the myth of Loki, while the plucking of the hair is a well-known Folktale incident, and the trick of the log in bed is familiar to us from our earliest days in "Jack the Giant-Killer." I would add that the incident in which the sailors seize the sacred animals is so close to the similar one in the Odyssey that we can scarcely avoid tracing it to some reminiscence of the Greek epic, which we know reached Ireland in an oral form as early as the tenth or eleventh century.

Remarks.—This trace of the influence of the Odyssey is, however, of little importance, as the whole scheme of Thorkill's voyage bears trace of its autochthonous character. As Professor York Powell remarks: "The dark, fuelless, starless, grassless land is evidently based upon some reminiscence of the Arctic islands." It is scarcely to be doubted, that Dr. Nansen was to some extent anticipated by Norse voyagers, and that Thor kill's story shows reminiscences of the Sutherland preacher who harrowed the souls of his congregation by his descriptions of hell, as being filled with ice and of an average temperature minus 100 degrees. To a Southron friend, who pointed out the hetorodoxy of this description, he replied: "Whist! mon, if they thought it hot, they'd all want to go there." The preacher was more orthodox than he knew, for in the doctrines of the Church there are cold cells in the Inferno, as we know from Dante and from Shakespeare. Or perhaps he was influenced by the Icelandic tradition of the other world, of which a faint echo is to be found in the story of Thorkill. The late Dr. Rydberg was as ingenious as usual in his treatment of this myth. (See his Teutonic Mythology, pp. 208-304, where he deals with both our voyages.) He points out the influence of Christian, or rather of Jewish mythology in the voyage of Eric, but he also indicates the purely Norse character of much that occurs, even in this late Saga. He gives on p. 307 an interesting map of Earth, Heaven, and Hell according to the Norseman. In Dr. Rydberg's account of the Swipdag story, he points out that one of the voyages he was evidently destined to go through was a voyage to the nether world; so it is possible that both our stories may ultimately be traced back to the Swipdag legend, of which only traces occur in Icelandic literature. Indeed, Dr. Rydberg claims our Eric as a synonym of Swipdag (p. 555 seq.). From all this it is clear that our stories are practically two variants of the Icelandic "harrowing of Hell."