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I HAVE already remarked that the existence of that popular narrative talk, which the Germans express by the significant word Sage or Volks-Sage, in a greater or less degree of perfection or development, is a phenomenon common to almost all stages of society and to almost all quarters of the globe. It is the natural effusion of the unlettered, imaginative, and believing man, and its maximum of influence belongs to an early state of the human mind; for the multiplication of recorded facts, the diffusion of positive science, and the formation of a critical standard of belief, tend to discredit its dignity and to repress its easy and abundant flow. It supplies to the poet both materials to recombine and adorn, and a basis as well as a stimulus for further inventions of his own; and this at a time when the poet is religious teacher, historian, and philosopher, all in one,—not, as he becomes at a more advanced period, the mere purveyor of avowed, though interesting, fiction.

Such popular stories, and such historical songs (meaning by historical, simply that which is accepted as history) are found in most quarters of the globe, and especially among the Teutonic and Celtic populations of early Europe. The old Gothic songs were east into a continuous history by the historian Ablavius; and the poems of the Germans respecting Tuisto the earth-born god, his son Mannus, and his descendants the eponyms of the various German tribes, as they are briefly described by Tacitus, remind us of Hesiod, or Eumelus, or the Homeric Hymns. Jacob Grimm, in his learned and valuable Deutsche Mythologic, has exhibited copious evidence of the great fundamental analogy, along with many special differences, between the German, Scandinavian, and Grecian mythical world; and the Dissertation of Mr. Price (prefixed to his edition of Warton’s History of English Poetry) sustains and illustrates Grimm’s view. The same personifying imagination, the same ever-present conception of the will, sympathies, and antipathies of the gods as the producing causes of phenomena, and as distinguished from a course of nature with its invariable sequence, the same relations between gods, heroes, and men, with the like difficulty of discriminating the one from the other in many individual names, a similar wholesale transfer of human attributes to the gods, with the absence of human limits and liabilities, a like belief in Nymphs, Giants, and other beings, neither gods nor men, the same coalescence of the religious with the patriotic feeling and faith, these are positive features common to the early Greeks with the early Germans: and the negative conditions of the two are not less analogous, the absence of prose writing, positive records, and scientific culture. The preliminary basis and encouragements for the mythopoeia faculty were thus extremely similar.

But though the prolific forces were the same in kind, the results were very different in degree, and the developing circumstances were more different still.

First, the abundance, the beauty, and the long continuance of early Grecian poetry, in the purely poetical age, is a phenomenon which has no parallel elsewhere.

Secondly, the transition of the Greek mind from its poetical to its comparatively positive state was self-operated, accomplished by its own inherent and expansive force—aided indeed, but by no means either impressed or provoked, from without. From the poetry of Homer, to the history of Thucydides and the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, was a prodigious step, but it was the native growth of the Hellenic youth into an Hellenic man; and what is of still greater moment, it was brought about without breaking the thread either of religious or patriotic tradition—without any coercive innovation or violent change in the mental feelings. The legendary world, though the ethical judgments and rational criticisms of superior men had outgrown it, still retained its hold upon their feelings as an object of affectionate and reverential retrospect.


Far different from this was the development of the early Germans. We know little about their early poetry, but we shall run no risk of error in affirming that they had nothing to compare with either Iliad or Odyssey. Whether, if left to themselves, they would have possessed sufficient progressive power to make a step similar to that of the Greeks, is a question which we cannot answer. Their condition, mental as well as political, was violently changed by a foreign action from without.

The influence of the Roman empire introduced artificially among them new institutions, new opinions, habits, and luxuries, and, above all, a new religion; the Romanized Germans becoming themselves successively the instruments of this revolution with regard to such of their brethren as still remained heathen. It was a revolution often brought about by penal and coercive means: the old gods Thor and Woden were formally deposed and renounced, their images were crumbled into dust, and the sacred oaks of worship and prophecy hewn down. But even where conversion was the fruit of preaching and persuasion, it did not the less break up all the associations of a German with respect to that mythical world which he called his past, and of which the ancient gods constituted both the charm and the sanctity: he had now only the alternative of treating them either as men or as daemons.

That mixed religious and patriotic retrospect, formed by the coalescence of piety with ancestral feeling, which constituted the appropriate sentiment both of Greeks and of Germans towards their unrecorded antiquity, was among the latter banished by Christianity: and while the root of the old myths was thus cankered, the commemorative ceremonies and customs with which they were connected, either lost their consecrated character or disappeared altogether. Moreover, new influences of great importance were at the same time brought to bear. The Latin language, together with some tinge of Latin literature—the habit of writing and of recording present events—the idea of a systematic law and pacific adjudication of disputes,—all these formed a part of the general working of Roman civilization, even after the decline of the Roman empire, upon the Teutonic and Celtic tribes. A class of specially-educated men was formed, upon a Latin basis and upon Christian principles, consisting too almost entirely of priests, who were opposed, as well by motives of rivalry as by religious feeling, to the ancient bards and storytellers of the community: the “lettered men” were constituted apart from “the men of story”, and Latin literature contributed along with religion to sink the myths of untaught heathenism. Charlemagne, indeed, at the same time that he employed aggressive and violent proceedings to introduce Christianity among the Saxons, also took special care to commit to writing and preserve the old heathen songs. But there can be little doubt that this step was the suggestion of a large and enlightened understanding peculiar to himself. The disposition general among lettered Christians of that age is more accurately represented by his son Louis le Debonnaire, who, having learned these songs as a boy, came to abhor them when he arrived at mature years, and could never be induced either to repeat or tolerate them.


According to the old heathen faith, the pedigree of the Saxon, Anglian, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish kings,—probably also those of the German and Scandinavian kings generally,—was traced to Odin, or to some of his immediate companions or heroic sons. I have already observed that the value of these genealogies consisted not so much in their length, as in the reverence attached to the name serving as primitive source. After the worship attached to Odin had been extinguished, the genealogical line was lengthened up to Japhet or Noah,—and Odin, no longer accounted worthy to stand at the top, was degraded into one of the simple human members of it. And we find this alteration of the original mythical genealogies to have taken place even among the Scandinavians, although the introduction of Christianity was in those parts both longer deferred, so as to leave time for a more ample development of the heathen poetical vein—and seems to have created a less decided feeling of antipathy (especially in Iceland) towards the extinct faith. The poems and tales composing the Edda, though first committed to writing after the period of Christianity, do not present the ancient gods in a point of view intentionally odious or degrading.

The transposition above alluded to, of the genealogical root from Odin to Noah, is the more worthy of notice, as it illustrates the genuine character of these genealogies, and shows that they sprung, not from any erroneous historical data, but from the turn of the religious feeling; also that their true value is derived from their being taken entire, as connecting the existing race of men with a divine original. If we could imagine that Grecian paganism had been superseded by Christianity in the year 500 BC, the great and venerated gentile genealogies of Greece would have undergone the like modification; the Herakleids, Pelopids, Eakids, Asklepiads, &c., would have been merged in some larger aggregate branching out from the archeology of the Old Testament. The old heroic legends connected with these ancestral names would either have been forgotten, or so transformed as to suit the new vein of thought; for the altered worship, ceremonies, and customs would have been altogether at variance with them, and the mythical feeling would have ceased to dwell upon those to whom prayers were no longer offered. If the oak of Dodona had been cut down, or the Theoric ship had ceased to be sent from Athens to Delos, the myths of Theseus and of the two black doves would have lost their pertinence, and died away. As it was, the change from Homer to Thucydides and Aristotle took place internally, gradually, and imperceptibly. Philosophy and history were superinduced in the minds of the superior few, but the feelings of the general public continued unshaken—the sacred objects remained the same both to the eye and to the heart—and the worship of the ancient gods was even adorned by new architects and sculptors who greatly strengthened its imposing effect.

While then in Greece the mythopoeic stream continued in the same course, only with abated current and influence, in modern Europe its ancient bed was blocked up, and it was turned into new and divided channels. The old religion—though as an ascendant faith, unanimously and publicly manifested, it became extinct—still continued in detached scraps and fragments, and under various alterations of name and form. The heathen gods and goddesses, deprived as they were of divinity, did not pass out of the recollection and fears of their former worshippers, but were sometimes represented (on principles like those of Euemerus) as having been eminent and glorious men—sometimes degraded into daemons, magicians, elfs, fairies, and other supernatural agents, of an inferior grade and generally mischievous cast. Christian writers, such as Saxo Grammaticus and Snorro Sturleson, committed to writing the ancient oral songs of the Scandivian Scalds, and digested the events contained in them into continuous narrative—performing in this respect a task similar to that of the Grecian logographers Pherekydes and Hellanikus, in reference to Hesiod and the Cyclic poets. But while Pherekydes and Hellanikus compiled under the influence of feelings substantially the same as those of the poets on whom they bestowed their care, the Christian logographers felt it their duty to point out the Odin and Thor of the old Scalds as evil daemons, or cunning enchanters, who had fascinated the minds of men into a false belief in their divinity. In some cases, the heathen recitals and ideas were modified so as to suit Christian feeling. But when preserved without such a change, they exhibited themselves palpably, and were designated by their compilers, as at variance with the religious belief of the people, and as associated either with imposture or with evil spirits.


A new vein of sentiment had arisen in Europe, unsuitable indeed to the old myths, yet leaving still in force the demand for mythical narrative generally. And this demand was satisfied, speaking generally, by two classes of narratives,—the legends of the Catholic Saints and the Romances of Chivalry, corresponding to two types of character, both perfectly accommodated to the feelings of the time,—the saintly ideal and the chivalrous ideal.

Both these two classes of narrative correspond, in character as well as in general purpose, to the Grecian myths—being stories accepted as realities, from their full conformity with the predispositions and deep-seated faith of an uncritical audience, and prepared beforehand by their authors, not with any reference to the conditions of historical proof, but for the purpose of calling forth sympathy, emotion, or reverence. The type of the saintly character belongs to Christianity, being the history of Jesus Christ as described in the gospels, and that of the prophets in the Old Testament; whilst the lives of holy men, who acquired a religious reputation from the fourth to the fourteenth century of the Christian era, were invested with attributes, and illustrated with ample details, tending to assimilate them to this revered model. The numerous miracles, the cure of diseases, the expulsion of demons, the temptations and sufferings, the teachings and commands, with which the biography of Catholic saints abounds, grew chiefly out of this pious feeling, common to the writer and to his readers. Many of the other incidents, recounted in the same performances, take their rise from misinterpreted allegories, from ceremonies and customs of which it was pleasing to find a consecrated origin, or from the disposition to convert the etymology of a name into matter of history : many have also been suggested by local peculiarities, and by the desire of stimulating or justifying the devotional emotions of pilgrims who visited some consecrated chapel or image. The dove was connected, in the faith of the age, with the Holy Ghost, the serpent with Satan; lions, wolves, stags, unicorns, etc. were the subjects of other emblematic associations; and such modes of belief found expression for themselves in many narratives which brought the saints into conflict or conjoint action with these various animals. Legends of this kind, so indefinitely multiplied and so preeminently popular and affecting, in the Middle Ages, are not exaggerations of particular matters of fact, but emanations in detail of some current faith or feeling, which they served to satisfy, and by which they were in turn amply sustained and accredited.

Readers of Pausanias will recognize the great general analogy between the stories recounted to him at the temples which he visited, and these legends of the Middle Ages. Though the type of character which the latter illustrate is indeed materially different, yet the source as well as the circulation, the generating as well as the sustaining forces, were in both cases the same. Such legends were the natural growth of a religious faith earnest, unexamining, and interwoven with the feelings at a time when the reason does not need to be cheated. The lives of the Saints bring us even back to the simple and ever-operative theology of the Homeric age; so constantly is the hand of God exhibited even in the minutest details, for the succor of a favored individual,—so completely is the scientific point of view, respecting the phenomena of nature, absorbed into the religious. During the intellectual vigor of Greece and Rome, a sense of the invariable course of nature and of the scientific explanation of phenomena had been created among the superior minds, and through them indirectly among the remaining community; thus limiting to a certain extent the ground open to be occupied by a religious legend. With the decline of the pagan literature and philosophy, before the sixth century of the Christian era, this scientific conception gradually passed out of sight, and left the mind free to a religious interpretation of nature not less simple and nay than that which had prevailed under the Homeric paganism. The great religious movement of the Reformation, and the gradual formation of critical and philosophical habits in the modern mind, have caused these legends of the Saints,—once the charm and cherished creed of a numerous public, to pass altogether out of credit, without even being regarded, among Protestants at least, as worthy of a formal scrutiny into the evidence,—a proof of the transitory value of public belief, however sincere and fervent, as a certificate of historical truth, if it be blended with religious predispositions.


The same mythopoeic vein, and the same susceptibility and facility of belief, which had created both supply and demand for the legends of the Saints, also provided the abundant stock of romantic narrative poetry, in amplification and illustration of the chivalrous ideal. What the legends of Troy, of Thebes, of the Kalydonian boar, of Edipus, Theseus, etc. were to an early Greek, the tales of Arthur, of Charlemagne, of the Niebelungen, were to an Englishman, or Frenchman, or German, of the twelfth or thirteenth century. They were neither recognized fiction nor authenticated history: they were history, as it is felt and welcomed by minds unaccustomed to investigate evidence, and unconscious of the necessity of doing so. That the Chronicle of Turpin, a mere compilation of poetical legends respecting Charlemagne, was accepted as genuine history, and even pronounced to be such by papal authority, is well known; and the authors of the Romances announce themselves, not less than those of the old Grecian epic, as being about to recount real matter of fact. It is certain that Charlemagne is a great historical name, and it is possible, though not certain, that the name of Arthur may be historical also. But the Charlemagne of history, and the Charlemagne of romance, have little except the name in common nor could we ever determine, except by independent evidence (which in this case we happen to possess), whether Charlemagne was a real or a fictitious person. That illustrious name, as well as the more problematical Arthur, is taken up by the romancers, not with a view to celebrate realities previously verified, but for the purpose of setting forth or amplifying an ideal of their own, in such manner as both to rouse the feelings and captivate the faith of their hearers.

To inquire which of the personages of the Carolingian epic were real and which were fictitious,—to examine whether the expedition ascribed to Charlemagne against Jerusalem had ever taken place or not,—to separate truth from exaggeration in the exploits of the Knights of the Round Table,—these were problems which an audience of that day had neither disposition to undertake nor means to resolve. They accepted the narrative as they heard it, without suspicion or reserve; the incidents related, as well as the connecting links between them, were in full harmony with their feelings, and gratifying as well to their sympathies as to their curiosity: nor was anything farther wanting to induce them to believe it, though the historical basis might be ever so slight or even non-existent.

The romances of chivalry represented, to those who heard them, real deeds of the foretime—“glories of the foregone men”, to use the Hesiodic expression—at the same time that they embodied and filled up the details of an heroic ideal, such as that age could conceive and admire—a fervent piety, combined with strength, bravery, and the love of adventurous aggression, directed sometimes against infidels, sometimes against enchanters or monsters, sometimes in defence of the fair sex. Such characteristics wore naturally popular, in a century of feudal struggles and universal insecurity, when the grand subjects of common respect and interest were the Church and the Crusades, and when the latter especially were embraced with an enthusiasm truly astonishing.


The long German poem of the Niebelungen Lied, as well as the Volsunga Saga and a portion of the songs of the Edda, relate to a common fund of mythical, superhuman personages, and of fabulous adventure, identified with the earliest antiquity of the Teutonic and Scandinavian race, and representing their primitive sentiment towards ancestors of divine origin. Sigurd, Brynhilde, Gudrun, and Atle, are mythical characters celebrated as well by the Scandinavian Scalds as by the German epic poets, but with many varieties and separate additions to distinguish the one from the other. The German epic, later and more elaborated, includes various persons not known to the songs in the Edda, in particular the prominent name of Dieterich of Bern—presenting, moreover, the principal characters and circumstances as Christian, while in the Edda there is no trace of anything but heathenism. There is, indeed, in this the old and heathen version, a remarkable analogy with many points of Grecian mythical narrative. As in the case of the short life of Achilles, and of the miserable Labdakids of Thebes—so in the family of the Volsungs, though sprung from and protected by the gods—a curse of destiny hangs upon them and brings on their ruin, in spite of preeminent personal qualities. The more thoroughly this old Teutonic story has been traced and compared, in its various transformations and accompaniments, the less can any well-established connection be made out for it with authentic historical names or events. We must acquiesce in its personages as distinct in original conception from common humanity, and as belonging to the subjective mythical world of the race by whom they were sung.

Such were the compositions which not only interested the emotions, but also satisfied the undistinguishing historical curiosity, of the ordinary public in the middle ages. The exploits of many of these romantic heroes resemble in several points those of the Grecian the adventures of Perseus, Achilles, Odysseus, Atalanta, Bellerophon, Jason, and the Trojan war, or Argonautic expedition generally, would have fitted in perfectly to the Carolingian or other epics of the period. That of the middle ages, like the Grecian, was eminently expansive in its nature: new stories were successively attached to the names and companions of Charlemagne and Arthur, just as the legend of Troy was enlarged by Arktinus, Lesches, and Stesichorus,—that of Thebes, by fresh miseries entailed on the fated head of Edipus,—and that of the Kalydonian boar, by the addition of Atalanta. Altogether, the state of mind of the hearers seems in both cases to have been much the same,—eager for emotion and sympathy, and receiving any narrative attuned to their feelings, not merely with hearty welcome, but also with unsuspecting belief.


Nevertheless, there were distinctions deserving of notice, which render the foregoing proposition more absolutely exact with regard to Greece than with regard to the middle ages. The tales of the epic, and the myths in their most popular and extended signification, were the only intellectual nourishment with which the Grecian public was supplied, until the sixth century before the Christian era: there was no prose writing, no history, no philosophy. But such was not exactly the case at the time when the epic of the middle ages appeared. At that time, a portion of society possessed the Latin language, the habit of writing, and some tinge both of history and philosophy : there were a series of chronicles, scanty, indeed, and imperfect, but referring to contemporary events and preventing the real history of the past from passing into oblivion: there were even individual scholars, in the twelfth century, whose acquaintance with Latin literature was sufficiently considerable to enlarge their minds and to improve their judgments. Moreover, the epic of the middle ages, though deeply imbued with religious ideas, was not directly amalgamated with the religion of the people, and did not always find favor with the clergy; while the heroes of the Grecian epic were not only linked in a thousand ways with existing worship, practices, and sacred localities, but Homer and Hesiod pass with Herodotus for the constructors of Grecian theology. We thus see that the ancient epic was both exempt from certain distracting influences by which that of the middle ages was surrounded, and more closely identified with the veins of thought and feeling prevalent in the Grecian public. Yet these counteracting influences did not prevent Pope Calixtus II from declaring the Chronicle of Turpin to be a genuine history.

If we take the history of our own country (England) as it was conceived and written from the twelfth to the seventeenth century by Hardyng, Fabyan, Grafton, Hollinshed, and others, we shall find that it was supposed to begin with Brute the Trojan, and was carried down from thence, for many ages and through a long succession of kings, to the times of Julius Caesar. A similar belief of descent from Troy, arising seemingly from a reverential imitation of the Romans and of their Trojan origin, was cherished in the fancy of other European nations. With regard to the English, the chief circulator of it was Geoffrey of Monmouth, and it passed with little resistance or dispute into the national faith—the kings from Brute downward being enrolled in regular chronological series with their respective dates annexed. In a dispute which took place during the reign of Edward I (AD 1301) between England and Scotland, the descent of the kings of England from Brute the Trojan was solemnly embodied in a document put forth to sustain the rights of the crown of England, as an argument bearing on the case then in discussion: and it passed without attack from the opposing party,—an incident which reminds as of the appeal made by Aschines, in the contention between the Athenians and Philip of Macedon, respecting Amphipolis, to the primitive dotal rights of Akamas son of Theseus —and also of the defense urged by the Athenians to sustain their conquest of Sigeium, against the reclamations of the Mityleneans, wherein the former alleged that they had as much right to the place as any of the other Greeks who had formed part of the victorious armament of Agamemnon.

The tenacity with which this early series of British kings was defended, is no less remarkable than the facility with which it was admitted. The chroniclers at the beginning of the seventeenth century warmly protested against the intrusive skepticism which would cashier so many venerable sovereigns and efface so many noble deeds. They appealed to the patriotic feelings of their hearers, represented the enormity of thus setting up a presumptuous criticism against the belief of ages, and insisted on the danger of the precedent as regarded history generally. How this controversy stood, at the time and in the view of the illustrious author of Paradise Lost, I shall give in his own words, at they appear in the second page of his History of England. After having briefly touched upon the stories of Samothes son of Japhet, Albion son of Neptune, etc., he proceeds :

“But now of Brutus and his line, with the whole progeny of kings to the entrance of Julius Caesar, we cannot so easily be discharged : descents of ancestry long continued, laws and exploits not plainly seeming to be borrowed or devised, which on the common belief have wrought no small impression: defended by many, denied utterly by few. For what though Brutus and the whole Trojan pretense were yielded up, seeing they, who first devised to bring us some noble ancestor, were content at first with Brutus the Consul, till better invention, though not willing to forego the name, taught them to remove it higher into a more fabulous age, and by the same remove lighting on the Trojan tales, in affectation to make the Briton of one original with the Roman, pitched there: Yet those old and inborn kings, never any to have been real persons, or done in their lives at least some part of what so long had been remembered, cannot be thought without too strict incredulity. For these, and those causes above mentioned, that which had received approbation from so many, I have chosen not to omit. Certain or uncertain, be that upon the credit of those whom I must follow: so far as keeps aloof from impossible or absurd, attested by ancient writers from books more ancient, I refuse not, as the due and proper subject of story”.

Yet in spite of the general belief of so many centuries—in spite of the concurrent persuasion of historians and poets—in spite of the declaration of Milton, extorted from his feelings rather than from his reason, that this long line of quasi-historical kings and exploits could not be all unworthy of belief—in spite of so large a body of authority and precedent, the historians of the nineteenth century begin the history of England with Julius Caesar. They do not attempt either to settle the date of king Bladud’s accession, or to determine what may be the basis of truth in the affecting narrative of Lear. The standard of historical credibility, especially with regard to modern events, has Indeed been greatly and sensibly raised within the last hundred years.


But in regard to ancient Grecian history, the rules of evidence still continue relaxed. The dictum of Milton, regarding the ante-Caesarian history of England, still represents pretty exactly the feeling now prevalent respecting the mythical history of Greece: “Yet those old and inborn kings (Agamemnon, Achilles, Odysseus, Jason, Adrastus, Amphiaraus, Meleager, etc.), never any to have been real persons, or done in their lives at least some part of what so long hath been remembered, cannot be thought without too strict incredulity”. Amidst much fiction (we are still told), there must be some truth: but how is such truth to be singled out? Milton does not even attempt to make the severance: he contents himself with “keeping aloof from the impossible and the absurd”, and ends in a narrative which has indeed the merit of being sober-colored, but which he never for a moment thinks of recommending to his readers as true. So in regard to the legends of Greece,—Troy, Thebes, the Argonauts, the Boar of Kalydom, Heracles, Theseus, Oedipus,—the conviction still holds in men's minds, that there must be something true at the bottom; and many readers of this work may be displeased, I fear, not to see conjured up before them the Eidolon of an authentic history, even though the vital spark of evidence be altogether wanting.

I presume to think that our great poet has proceeded upon mistaken views with respect to the old British fables, not less in that which he leaves out than in that which he retains. To omit the miraculous and the fantastic, (it is that which he really means by “the impossible and the absurd”), is to suck the lifeblood out of these once popular narratives,—to divest them at once both of their genuine distinguishing mark, and the charm by which they acted on the feelings of believers. Still less ought we to consent to break up and disenchant in a similar manner the myth of ancient Greece,—partly because they possess the mythical beauties and characteristics in far higher perfection, partly because they sank deeper into the mind of a Greek, and pervaded both the public and private sentiment of the country to a much greater degree than the British fables in England.

Two courses, and two only, are open; either to pass over the myths altogether, which is the way in which modern historians treat the old British fables, or else to give an account of them as myths; to recognize and respect their specific nature, and to abstain from confounding them with ordinary and certifiable history. There are good reasons for pursuing this second method in reference to the Grecian myths; and when so considered, they constitute an important chapter in the history of the Grecian mind, and indeed in that of the human race generally. The historical faith of the Greeks, as well as that of other people, in reference to early and unrecorded times, is as much subjective and peculiar to themselves as their religious faith: among the Greeks, especially, the two are confounded with an intimacy which nothing less than great violence can disjoin. Gods, heroes, and men—religion and patriotism—matters divine, heroic, and human—were all woven together by the Greeks into one indivisible web, in which the threads of truth and reality, whatever they might originally have been, were neither intended to be nor were actually, distinguishable. Composed of such materials, and animated by the electric spark of genius, the mythical antiquities of Greece formed a whole at once trustworthy and captivating to the faith and feelings of the people; but neither trustworthy nor captivating, when we sever it from these subjective conditions, and expose its naked elements to the scrutiny of an objective criticism. Moreover the separate portions of Grecian mythical foretime ought to be considered with reference to that aggregate of which they form a part : to detach the divine from the heroic legends, or some one of the heroic legends from the remainder, as if there were an essential and generic difference between them, is to present the whole under an erroneous point of view. The myths of Troy and Thebes are no more to be handled objectively, with a view to detect an historical base, than those of Zeus in Crete, of Apollo and Artemis in Delos, of Hermes, or of Prometheus. To single out the siege of Troy from the other myths, as if it were entitled to pre-eminence as an ascertained historical and chronological event, is a proceeding which destroys the true character and coherence of the mythical world: we only transfer the story (as has been remarked in the preceding chapter) from a class with which it is connected by every tie both of common origin and fraternal affinity, to another with which it has no relationship, except such as violent and gratuitous criticism may enforce.

By drawing this marked distinction between the mythical and the historical world, between matter appropriate only for subjective history, and matter in which objective evidence is attainable, we shall only carry out to its proper length the just and well-known position long ago laid down by Varro. That learned man recognized three distinguishable periods preceding his own age: “First, the time from the beginning of mankind down to the first deluge; a time wholly unknown. Secondly, the period from the first deluge down to the first Olympiad, which is called the mythical period, because many fabulous things are recounted in it. Thirdly, the time from the first Olympiad down to ourselves, which is called the historical period, because the things done in it are comprised in true histories”.

Taking the commencement of true or objective history at the point indicated by Varro, I still consider the mythical and historical periods to be separated by a wider gap than he would have admitted. To select any one year as an absolute point of commencement, is of course not to be understood literally: but in point of fact, this is of every little importance in reference to the present question, seeing that the great mythical events the sieges of Thebes and Troy, the Argonautic expedition, the Kalydonian boar-hunt, the return of the Herakleids, &c. are all placed long anterior to the first Olympiad, by those who have applied chronological boundaries to the mythical narratives. The period immediately preceding the first Olympiad is one exceedingly barren of events; the received chronology recognizes 400 years, and Herodotus admitted 500 years, from that date back to the Trojan war.