Laura Elizabeth Poor.

Sanskrit and its kindred literatures. Studies in comparative mythology online

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all pagan and m3'thological. Through it shine plainlj^
those old myths which wandered westward with this
oldest emigrant of the Aryan race." If it paints the
feeling of the times, it proves the brilliant civiliza-
tion of the Kymr}" in the sixth centur}' ; for these tales
were told to amuse and instruct the 3'oung chieftains.
The}' show si high morality, great generosit}' to friends,
and a strong love of literattire ; but all the marvels are
performed by supernatural power, and these fairy tales
of the Mabinogeon are the foundation of nine tenths
of tlie romances of the Middle Ages. It is amazing to
find here the familiar figures, and delightful to be able
to understand just how they came into Europe. Here
reappears the knight delivering distressed damsels from
monsters read}- to devour them. One character is pe-
culiarly Keltic : a hero kills a serpent which tormented
a lion, and the grateful lion follows him about like a
pet dog : this troul)lesome pet often comes into the
mediasval stories. We must be thankful to the Mabi-
nogeon for something more satisfactory still. We
owe to it Shakespeare's Cordelia, who is the lady
Creiddylad. King Lear is King Ludd. But we will
confine ourselves to one particular tale.

Peredur leaves his home to seek for a great basin or
caldron, which is called in Kymric a graal ; and the
exiled Welsh carried with them to Brittan\' the story of
the search for the gi-aal. Of course it lived and grew.


like the ballad C3'cle. Now it is evidentl}^ the same
round vessel which appears, in countless forms, in each
literature : the cup of Djemschid in Persian ; the en-
chanted cup from which 0d3'sseus drinks in Kirke's
l)alace ; the horn of plenty of the Greeks ; the purse of
Fortunatus, ahvays full ; the lamp of Aladdin, which
bestows treasures. It is the round table which Gwen-
nivar brought as her dowr}', the caldron of Keridwen.
It is an emblem of the fertilit}^ of the earth, and it
always yields exhaustless riches to its possessor ; so
that the search for the graal is that same Y03'age for
treasures which appears in the Greek voyage for the
golden fleece. In the poetical activity of the twelfth cen-
tur}', a Trouvere named Chretien de Troj'es, 1160 a. d.,
rewrote this pagan tale : he made it into a poem full of
the tone of chivalric Christianit3\ The San Greal could
cure all wounds, raise the dead to life, and suppl}^ its
possessors with food and drink forever, — meats more
delicate than mortals had ever tasted before ; but the
reason it could do all these miracles was because it
contained the blood of Christ, caught as. it dropped
from the cross. And then . another difference : the
magic graal of the pagans fed good and bad ahke ; but
the Hoh^ Grail yielded its delicious food onl}- to the
pure in heart. More, it even became a talismanic test.
The foul with sin could not even see it. A vision came
to a knight of Arthur's court. He saw a herd of black
bulls, — among them, two snowy white, and one white
spotted with black. And the interpretation was that
the black bulls were the knights black with sin, who
had not repented and confessed to a hol}^ priest ; the
snow-white were Sir Galahad and Sir Perceval, all pure


and good ; the spotted one, Sir Lancelot, with one sin
marring his snow}' purity. And the fair meadow where
the}' fed was humility and patience, which were to be the
starting-point of their search for the Holy Grail. So
all the knights go forth to seek this heavenly treasure.
It would be too long to tell you of their adventures.
Wagner's new opera, soon to be published, '' Parsifal,"
tells the story. The sinful knights seek in vain. Lan-
celot dimly sees it ; but it dashes him senseless to the
ground. Sir Galahad and Sir Perceval taste its deU-
cious food : then it is borne up into heaven. They
linger a little while in the cell of a holy hermit : then
they follow it to heaven. The lovely story is familiar
to us all : for that very reason we more enjoy watching
its development. M. de la Villemarque is my authority
for the meaning of the word graal.

The Keltic spirit has affected our literature indirectly
as well. Matthew Arnold says that it owes to the
Kelts its capacity for style, for poetic form, — for in
this the Teutons are extremely deficient, and the Welsh
bards pre-eminent, — its sensibility to beauty, and its
power of catching and rendering the charm of nature ;
— in a word, the dash of genius comes from the Kelt.
In the Mabinogeon, Math made a wife for his pupil out
of flowers, " and four white trefoils sprang up wherever
she trod." Is not this poetic? A twelfth-century bard
wrote : —

" See her the earth elastic tread ;
And where she walks with snow-white feet
Not even a trefoil bends its head."

Our language owes to its Keltic element some popular
words : basket, kick, twaddle, fudge, hitch, and muggy.


The next Keltic literature arose in Brittany. The
earliest written document in Bas Breton is in the ninth
centmy ; but there were unwritten ballads before then.
The Bretons have a ballad literature which is positively
beautiful, not relatively so : for it will bear comparison
with any other. These ballads have been handed down
from father to son, by recitation among the peasants,
since the tenth century. They have kept alive the
national faiths and glories and manners in this nook
of France. Some of them are distinctly historical ;
more so than the English Chevy Chace and the Scotch
Border Minstrelsy. One ballad is now repeated which
actually was sung at the time of William the Conqueror,
1066 A. D. Here is one of the historical ballads, which
is quite unlike anything we are accustomed to.


[Nomenoe is the Alfred of the Bretons, their deliverer from
the Franks, — a strictly historical personage. 871 a. d.]


" Good merchant, farer to and fro,

Hast tidings of my son, Karo ? "

" Mayhap, old chieftain of Are :

What are his kind and calling? — say."

" He is a man of heart and brains,

To Roazon [Rennes] he drove the wains ;

The wains to Roazon drove he,

Horsed Avith good horses, three by three.

That drew, fair shared among them all,

The Breton's tribute to the Gaul."

" If thy son's wains the tribute bore,

He will return to thee no more.


When that the coin was brought to scale

Three pounds were lacking to the tale.

Then out spoke the Intendant straight,

' Vassal, thy head shall make the weight.'

With that his sword forth he abrade,

And straight smote off the young man's head ;

And by the hair the head he swung,

And in the scale for make-weight flung."

The old chief, at that cruel sound.

Him seemed as he would fall in swound.

Stark on the rocks he grovelled there,

His face hid with his hoary hair ;

And, head on hand, made heavy moan,

" Karo, my son, my darling son! "

Then forth he fares, that aged man.
Followed by all his kith and clan;
The aged chieftain fareth straight
To Nomenoe's castle gate.
" Now tell me, tell me, thou porter bold,
If that thy master be in hold.
But be he in, or be he out,
God guard from harm that chieftain stout."
Or ever he had prayed his prayer,
Behold, Nomenoe was there !
His quarry from the chase he bore,
His great hounds gambolling before ;
In his right hand his bow unbent,
A wild boar on his back uphent ;
On his white hand, all fresh and red
The blood dripped from the wild boar's head.
" Fair fall you, honest i»ountain clan.
Thee first, as chief, thou white-haired man.
Your news, your news, come tell to me,
What woidd you of Nomenoe ? "


" We come for right : to know in brief

Hath heaven a God, Bretayne a chief."

" Heaven hath a God, I trow, old man,

Bretayne a chief, if anght I can."

" He can that will, thereof no doubt ;

And he that can the Frank drive out

Drives out the Frank, defends the land,

To avenge and still avenge doth stand, —

To avenge the living and the dead,

Me and my fair son foully sped ;

My Karo, whose brave head did fall

By hand of the accursed Gaul.

They flung his head the weights to square :

Like ripe wheat shone the golden hair."

Herewith the old man wept outright,

That tears ran down his beard so white,

Like dew-drops on a lily flower

That glitter at the sunrise hour.

When of those tears the chief was ware,

A stern and bloody oath he sware :

" I swear it by this wild boar's head,

And by the shaft that laid him dead.

Till this plague 's washed from out the land.

This blood I wash not from my hand."

Nomenoe hath done, I trow.
What never chieftain did till now, —
Hath sought the sea-beach, sack in hand,
To gather pebbles from the strand, —
Pebbles as tribute-toll to bring
The Intendant of the bald-head king.
Nomenoe hath done, I trow,
What never chieftain did till now.
Prince as he is, hath ta'en his way,

The tribute-toll himself to pay



" Fling wide the gates of Koazon,

That I may enter in anon.

Noraenoe comes within your gate,

His wains all piled with silver freight."

*' Light down, my lord, into the hall,

And leave your laden wains in stall.

Leave your white horse to sc|uire and groom,

And come to sup in the dais room :

To sup, but first to wash, for lo !

E'en now the washing horn doth blow."

" Full soon, fair sir, shall my washing be made,

When that the tribute hath been weighed."

The first sack from the wains they pight,

(I trow 'twas corded fair and tight,) —

The first sack that they brought to scale,

'T was found full weight and honest tale :

The second sack that they came to,

The weight therein was just and true :

The third sack from the wains they pight,

" How now, I trow, this sack is light ! "

The Intendent saw, and from his stand

Unto the sack he reached his hand, —

He reached his hand the sack unto,

So that the knot he might undo.

" From off the sack thy hand refrain :

My sword shall cut the knot in twain ! "

The word had scantly passed his teeth,

When flashed his bright sword from the sheath.

Through the Frank's neck the falchion went,

Sheer by his shoulders as he bent ;

It cleft the flesh and bones in twain.

And eke the links o' one balance chain.

Into the scale the head plmnped straight,

And there, I trow, was honest weight !

Loud through the town, the cry did go :

" Hands on the slayer I Ho, Haro ! "


He gallops forth out through the night :
" Ha ! torches, torches ! — on his flight ! "
" Light up, light up, as best ye may !
The night is black, and frore the way.
But ere ye catch me, sore I fear
The shoes from off your feet you '11 wear, —
Your shoes of gilded blue cord wain : —
For your scales, — you 'U ne'er need them again !
Your scales of gold, you '11 need no more,
To weigh the stones of the Breton shore.

*ro war ! "

You will find evidence in this of that form of govern-
ment by clan which was once supposed to be peculiar
to the Highlands o*f Scotland ; but since the discovery
of Sanskrit hterature this clan government is found to
have existed among the undivided Aryans. So the
Kelts, who were the first to leave the common home,
are also those who have longest kept their original sim-
plicity of government. But there are other ballads,
spirited war-songs, tender love-songs, and touching fu-
neral dirges. These dirges are perhaps the most beau-
tiful, but it is difficult to decide when all are so lovel}^
One ballad tells of a phantom army sweeping by, like
Odin and his warriors. It is written in triads, the Keltic

Here is a mythological ballad of the sixth century%
It contains familiar characters. The wife is the dawn
and the twilight ; the Corrigaun is the same wicked
enchantress who beguiles Odysseus, the darkness, sis-
ter of Kirke and Kalypso.



[The Corrigaun is identical with the Scandinavian elf.]

The good Lord Nann and his fair bride

"Were young when wedlock's knot was tied,

Were young when death did them divide.

But yesterday, that lady fair

Two babes as white as snow did bear :

A man-child and a girl they were.

" Now say what is thy heart's desire

For making me a man-child's sire ?

'T is thine, whate'er thou mayst require.

What food soe'er thee lists to take,

Meat of the woodcock from the lake,

Meat of the wild deer from the brake."

" O the meat of the deer is dainty food !

To eat thereof would do me good,

But I grudge to send thee to the wood."

The Lord of Nann, when this he heard.

Hath gripped his oak spear with never a word :

His bonny black horse he hath leaped upon,

And forth to the greenwood he hath gone.

By the skirts of the wood as he did go,

He was 'ware of a hind as white as snow.

0, fast she ran, and fast he rode.

That the earth it shook where his horse hoofs trode.

O, fast he rode, and fast she ran.

That the sweat to drop from his brow began.

That the sweat on his horse's flank grew white :

So he rode, and he rode, till the fall of night,

When he came to a stream that fed a lawn

Hard by the grot of a Corrigaun.

The grass grew thick by the streamlet's brink,

And he lighted off his horse to drink.

The Corrigaun sat by the fountain fair,


A-combing lier long and yellow hair,

A-combing her hair with a comb of gold

(Not poor, I trow, are these maidens bold) :

" Now who 's the bold wight that dares come here,

To trouble my fairy fountain clear ?

Either thou shalt Aved with me,

Or pine for four long years and three.

Or dead in three days' space shalt be.'*

*' I will not wed with thee, I ween,

For wedded man a year I 've been ;

Nor yet for seven years will I pine,

Nor die in three days for spell of thine;

For spell of thine I will not die,

But when it pleaseth God on high,

But here, and now, I 'd leave my life,

Ere take a Corrigaun to wife."

" mother, mother ! for love of me

Now make my bed, and speedily,

For I am sick as a man may be.

O, never the tale to my lady tell !

Three days, and ye '11 hear the passing-bell :

The Corrigaun hath cast her spell."

Three days they passed, three days were sped,

To her mother-in-law the lady said :

*' Now tell me, madam, now tell me pray,

Wherefore the death-bells toll to-day.

Why chant the priests in the street below.

All clad in their vestments white as snow?"

" A strange poor man, who harbored here,

He died last night, my daughter dear."

" But tell me, madam, my lord, your son, —

My husband, whither is he gone ? "

" But to the town, my child, he 's gone,

And at your side he '11 be back anon."

" What gown for my churching were 't best to wear, —

My gown of red, or of watchet fair? "


*' The fashion of late, my child, hath grown,
That women for churching black should put on."
As through the church-yard porch she stept,
She saw the grave where her husband slept.
" Who of our blood is lately dead,
That our ground is newly raked and spread 1 "
" The truth I may no more forbear,
My son, your own poor lord, lies there ! "
She threw herself on her knees amain,
And from her knees ne'er rose again.
That night they laid her, stiff and cold,
Beside her lord, beneath the mould :
When lo, a marvel to behold !
Next morn from the grave two oak-trees fair
Shot lusty boughs high up in air ;
And in their boughs, wondrous sight !
Two happy doves, all snowy white,
» That sang, as ever the morn did rise,
And then flew up — into the skies !

This is certainl}" far the most beautiflil of all the
ballads which tell the story of trees and rose-bushes
rising from the graves of dead lovers, and Lord Nann
the very model of men.

There are also Breton folk-stories. One of them is
about a city drowned for its wickedness, — completel}'
submerged : this same stor}' comes into the INIaha
Bharata ; but there is no idea of punishment in that.
On Christmas night the stones of the cromlech go down
to the river to drink, leaving vast treasures uncovered.
Whoever can, ma}' seize them, but must take care to
get out before the stones come walking back. This is
like the cave of Aladdin, which opens for a moment


Dwarfs are the special t}' of Brittany, as giants are
of Ireland. Every faithful reader of folk-stories -will
recognize an Irish giant as a familiar friend ; and the
huo-e cliffs on the west coast of Ireland are called the
Giants' Causeway. There is an immense literature in
the Erse language in Ireland. There are ballads and
stories about voyages and battles and elopements and
cow-spoils, and other equally exciting themes. From
the mere title cow-spoil, can you not see the Irish
chieftain eager for a fight, starting out to steal the cows
of his neighbor, to feed his own hungry dependents ?
A collection of the Erse folk-stories would be the most
amusing of all, if the genuine Keltic wit of the Irish
peasant could be preserved. The ballads in Erse re-
late at length the doings of the Feane, — a body of
men and their chieftain, Fionn : of course, our word
Fenian is the same. They are perpetually fighting
against the Norsemen and Saxons ; here is the same
old struggle between Kelt and Teuton. Then the Erse
went over to Scotland, — Ireland and Scotland were
practically one, — and carried their heroes with them ;
and the Gaelic bards, the latest of all, wandered about
in kilts, and sang of Fionn and his chief knight, Diar-
maid : a witch from Norway was the foe whom they
dreaded most. We have no time to go into the contro-
versy as to whether Ossian's poems published b}' Mac-
pherson are the genuine remains of the Erse and
Gaelic bards, or not. The latest authority says that
the ballads are the germs of Macpherson's Ossian, but.
that he has entirely altered their character. ' ' Mac-
pherson's Ossian is distinguished b}' a peculiar vein of
sentimental grandeur and melancholy ; and the popular


manners of the time do not at all accord with such a
spirit. Short, wild, martial, stirring songs, political
ballads, or love-songs, would suit the taste of grim sol-
diers ; but a long melanchol}' epic would put them to
sleep." Here is a real Gaehc ballad. li, presents noth-
ing indistinct, but sharply drawn figures of a graceful
hero, and nj'mphs gazing at him (the word nymph
means water), and the cave of darkness read}' for him.


Hast left the blue distance of heaven,
Sorrowless son of the gold yellow hair ?
Night's doorways are ready for thee,
Thy pavilion of peace in the west.
• The billows come slowly around

To behold him of brightest hair :
Timidly raising their heads
To gaze on thee, beauteous, asleep,
They, witless, have fled from thy side.
Take thy sleep within thy cave, sun !

Mr. Campbell thinks that the Ossianic heroes were the
ancient Keltic gods. Formerl}' the most ancient Scotch
ballad known was Sir Tristrem ; and he, like all the
others, slays a dragon and delivers a damsel. But Mr.
Campbell's researches have recently discovered another
character who joins the army of invulnerable heroes.
Diarmaid can be wounded onl}- in a mole which is on the
sole of his foot. He has bright golden hair. He car-
ries a sword, — the white sword of light, which tells its
own stor}'. His battle-flag was called the sunbeam. He
ran away with the beautiful wife of King Fionn, just as
Lancelot would have gone with Gwcnnivar, if the myth


had not been Christianized, — just as Helen goes with
Paris. He killed a wild boar, and the king, to revenge
himself for the abduction of his wife, forced Diarmaid
to step on the boar. A bristle entered his foot and
killed him. This is again Adonis killed b}' a boar, —
the onl}' time the boar reappears in this connection.
The darkness kills the sun, or winter kills the sum-
mer. Diarmaid can be set up as the Gaelic hero, and
the Clan Campbell in Scotland claim to be descended
from him. A boar's head is their crest. The Scotch
ballads would be interesting to examine ; but we will
devote our time to a subject less familiar, the Gaelic
folk-stories. Mr. Campbell went about among the
peasants of the Scotch Highlands, just as M. de la Ville-
marque had done in Brittan}^ and in 1859 took down
from the lips of living men and women these tales.
He sa3's, " After working for a jear and weighing all
the evidence that has come in m}- way, I have come to
agree with those who hold that popular tales are pure
traditions preserv^ed in all countries and all languages
alike ; woven together in a net-work which seems to
pervade the world, and to be fastened to everj'thing
in it. Tradition, books, histor}^, and mjtholog}' hang
together." In one of the tales, impossible tasks are
given ; one of them, the clearing out of a stable, comes
into Norse folk-stories, and was one of the labors of
Herakles, the Greek hero. In another, a maiden mar-
ries a monster, who becomes a prince b}' night, and
loses him b}' her own curiosit}^ ; just Ps3'che over again.
There are several resemblances to the adventures of
Od3'sseus. Conall is shut up in a cave b}^ the Glashan,
a giant, and gets out exactty as Od^^sseus did, by tjing


himself under the sheep. He induces the poor, stupid
Glashan to scald himself; and when his comrades re-
turn, and ask who did it, he sa3'S, "M3-self did it," — ■
just like Poh'phemos in the Odysse}'. Conall kills a
giant by putting a red-hot stick through his heart.

We must not overlook dear Cinderella ; she is the
dawn, dark and gra}', when away from her prince, the
bright sun, obscured bj' envious sisters, the dark clouds ;
for her story is found in Gaelic also, with some witty
additions. When the prince asks her where she comes
from, she says, first, from '* Towel land" ; she has been
a laundr}' maid : the second time she sa3's, " from the
kingdom of Broken Basins " ; she is a cook. We find
among the heroes one with a horse who talks like the
horses of Achilleus in Greek. He fights with a mon-
ster, and sets free a distressed damsel ; but the monster
swims about in a Highland loch,, and his Andromeda is
fastened to the lake shore.

The local coloring applies also to the talking birds
and animals. In all the Keltic stories, fish pla}^ the
most important part ; salmon and otter and trout do
the talking in the Gaelic tales. In all the Aryan
stories, no animal is ever mentioned which dwells out-
side of any Aryan country. Apples are the magical
possessions most valued. There is apparently no rea-
son why Paris should have given an apple to the god-
dess, rather than a pear or a peach ; but this magic
apple appears in Gaelic as well as in Greek, and even
gives the name to the Keltic paradise, Avalon, the
island of apples. It is because apple was the generic
name for all fruits.




OUR subject in this chapter is the Edcla, the sacred
book of the Scandinavian branches of the Teu-
tonic faniil}'. The name Teuton is the Latin form of
Deutsch, and the historj' of the Middle Ages of Europe
is little more than a record of the deeds of the Teutonic
family ; for it includes the Goths, of different names :
the Moeso-Goths near the Danube ; the Visigoths in
Spain ; the Ostro-Goths, who culminated under The-
odoric in Itah- ; the Franks, whose name means "free
men " ; the Lombards, who founded a second king-
dom in Ital}' after the Ostro-Goths were driven out by
the Eastern Emperor ; the Saxons, whose name means
'* swordmen" ; the Angles ; — all whose races and lan-
guages have gone into other forms. It includes also
the Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Icelanders, Germans,
Dutch, and Enghsh, whose languages are spoken to-
day. It Is only one hundred 3-ears ago, only since the
Sanskrit language was recovered, only since philology
has touched them with its revealing magic, that we have
learned how near all these nations are to us.

It is not known when the Teutonic family of the
Ai-yan race entered Europe. The Greeks and the
Latins sought the extreme South, the Kelts swarmed


over the centre of Europe • but the Teutons are sup-

Online LibraryLaura Elizabeth PoorSanskrit and its kindred literatures. Studies in comparative mythology → online text (page 19 of 34)