Myths and Myth-Makers: Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted by Comparative Mythology

By John Fiske | Go to book overview

VII. .
THE PRIMEVAL GHOST-WORLD

NO earnest student of human culture can as yet have forgotten or wholly outlived the feeling of delight awakened by the first perusal of Max Müller's brilliant "Essay on Comparative Mythology," -- a work in which the scientific principles of myth-interpretation, though not newly announced, were at least brought home to the reader with such an amount of fresh and striking concrete illustration as they had not before received. Yet it must have occurred to more than one reader that, while the analyses of myths contained in this noble essay are in the main sound in principle and correct in detail, nevertheless the author's theory of the genesis of myth is expressed, and most likely conceived, in a way that is very suggestive of carelessness and fallacy. There are obvious reasons for doubting whether the existence of mythology can be due to any "disease," abnormity, or hypertrophy of metaphor in language; and the criticism at once arises, that with the myth-makers it was not so much the character of the expression which originated the thought, as it was the thought which gave character to the expression. It is not that the early Aryans were myth- makers because their language abounded in metaphor; it is that the Aryan mother-tongue abounded in metaphor because the men and women who spoke it were myth makers. And they were myth-makers because they had nothing but the phenomena of human will and effort with which to compare objective phenomena. Therefore

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