Myths of Crete and Pre-Hellenic Europe
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Pages (PDF): 324
Publication Date: 1917
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This is an informative, well researched and very readable book. From the Preface: 'This volume deals with the myths and legends connected with the ancient civilization of Crete, and also with the rise and growth of the civilization itself, while consideration is given to various fascinating and important problems that arise in the course of investigating pre-Hellenic habits of thought and habits of life, which are found to have exercised a marked influence in the early history of Europe.'
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THE system which obtains among modern scientists, of dividing the history of the earth into geological epochs and the pre-history of man into cultural periods, was anticipated by the priestly theorists of ancient civilizations, who established the doctrine of the mythical Ages of the World. These early teachers were:, no doubt, as greatly concerned about justifying their own pretensions and the tenets of their cults as in gratifying the growing thirst for knowledge among the educated classes. When they undertook to reveal the process of creation and throw light on the origin and purpose of mankind, they exalted local deities in opposition to those regarded supreme at rival centres of culture and political influence. Many rival systems of a national religion were thus perpetuated. But the various city priesthoods of a particular country found it necessary to deal also with problems of common concern. Among other things, they had to account for the various races of whom they had knowledge and to give divine sanction to existing social conditions; nor could they overlook the accidental discoveries which were occasionally made of the relics of elder and unknown peoples and the bones of extinct animals.
These mythology-makers, of course, possessed but meagre knowledge of their country's past, and were accordingly compelled to draw freely upon their imaginations; but they should not be regarded on that account as merely dreamers of dreams and inventors of miraculous stories. Indications are forthcoming which show that they were not wholly devoid of the scientific spirit. They were close observers of natural phenomena, and sometimes made deductions which, considering the narrowness of areas available to them for investigation, were not unworthy of thinking men. It seemed perfectly reasonable to the Babylonian and Egyptian scientists, who saw land growing from accumulations of river-borne silt, and desert wastes rendered cultivable by irrigation, to conclude, for instance, that water was the primary element and the source of all that existed.
This doctrine, which holds that the Universe is derived from one particular form of matter, has been called "Materialistic Monism". Ultimately, when mind was exalted above matter, the belief obtained that the inanimate forces of nature were subject to the control of the supreme Mind, which was the First Cause. This later doctrine is known as "Idealistic Monism". It was embraced by various cults in Babylonia, India, and Egypt. In the latter country, for instance, the great god of Memphis was addressed:
Ptah, the great, is the mind and tongue of the gods. . . .
It (the mind) is the one which bringeth forth every successful issue. . . .
It was the fashioner of all gods.
At a time when every divine word
Came into existence by the thought of the mind
And the command of the tongue.
In Egypt and Babylonia, where inundations of river valleys were of periodic occurrence, and where, at rare intervals, floods of excessive volume caused great destruction and loss of life, and even brought about political changes, it was concluded that the old Ages were ended and new Ages inaugurated by world-devastating deluges.
The deductions of the early scientists in northern Europe were similarly drawn from the evidence afforded by environment, and similarly influenced by persistent modes of thought. They saw shoals formed and beaches overlaid by sand washed up by the sea from, as it appeared, some sand-creating source, and conceived that on the floor of ocean there stood a great "World Mill" propelled by giantesses, which ground the bodies of primeval world-giants into earth meal. "'Tis said", a saga author set forth, "that far out, off yonder ness, the Nine Maids of the Island mill stir amain the host-cruel skerry-quern--they who in ages past ground Hamlet's meal. The good chieftain furrows the hull's lair with his ship's beaked prow."
In the Elder Edda the god of the mill, who appears to be identical with Frey and the original Hamlet, is called Mundlefore, "the handle-mover":
The Mover of the Handle is father of Moon
And the father eke of Sun.
This "World Mill" caused the heavens to revolve round a fixed point marked by the polar star, which was called veraldar nagli, the "world-spike".
Believing that sun and moon rose from the ocean, and that therefore light came from darkness, they concluded that winter preceded summer at the beginning.
Untold winters ere Earth was fashioned
Roaring Bergelm was born;
His father was Thrudgelm of Mighty Voice,
Loud-sounding Ymer his grandsire.
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