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Ch. 6: Conclusion

"What has all this farrago about savages to do with Dionysus?" I conceive some scholar, or literary critic asking, if such an one looks into this book. Certainly it would have been easier for me to abound in aesthetic criticism of the Hymns, and on the aspect of Greek literary art which they illustrate. But the Hymns, if read even through the pale medium of a translation, speak for themselves. Their beauties and defects as poetry are patent: patent, too, are the charm and geniality of the national character which they express. The glad Ionian gatherings; the archaic humour; the delight in life, and love, and nature; the pious domesticities of the sacred Hearth; the peopling of woods, hills, and streams with exquisite fairy forms; all these make the poetic delight of the Hymns. But all these need no pointing out to any reader. The poets can speak for themselves.

On the other hand the confusions of sacred and profane; the origins of the Mysteries; the beginnings of the Gods in a mental condition long left behind by Greece when the Hymns were composed; all these matters need elucidation. I have tried to elucidate them as results of evolution from the remote prehistoric past of Greece, which, as it seems, must in many points have been identical with the historic present of the lowest contemporary races. In the same way, if dealing with ornament, I would derive the spirals, volutes, and concentric circles of Mycenaean gold work, from the identical motives, on the oldest incised rocks and kists of our Islands, of North and South America, and of the tribes of Central Australia, recently described by Messrs. Spencer and Gillen, and Mr. Carnegie. The material of the Mycenaean artist may be gold, his work may be elegant and firm, but he traces the selfsame ornament as the naked Arunta, with feebler hand, paints on sacred rocks or on the bodies of his tribesmen. What is true of ornament is true of myth, rite, and belief. Greece only offers a gracious modification of the beliefs, rites, and myths of the races who now are "nearest the beginning," however remote from that unknown beginning they may be. To understand this is to come closer to a true conception of the evolution of Greek faith and art than we can reach by any other path. Yet to insist on this is not to ignore the unmeasured advance of the Greeks in development of society and art. On that head the Hymns, like all Greek poetry, bear their own free testimony. But, none the less, Greek religion and myth present features repellent to us, which derive their origin, not from savagery, but from the more crude horrors of the lower and higher barbarisms.

Greek religion, Greek myth, are vast conglomerates. We find a savage origin for Apollo, and savage origins for many of the Mysteries. But the cruelty of savage initiations has been purified away. On the other hand, we find a barbaric origin for departmental gods, such as Aphrodite, and for Greek human sacrifices, unknown to the lowest savagery. From savagery Zeus is probably derived; from savagery come the germs of the legends of divine amours in animal forms. But from barbarism arises the sympathetic magic of agriculture, which the lowest races do not practise. From the barbaric condition, not from savagery, comes Greek hero-worship, for the lowest races do not worship ancestral spirits. Such is the medley of prehistoric ideas in Greece, while the charm and poetry of the Hymns are due mainly to the unique genius of the fully developed Hellenic race. The combination of good and bad, of ancestral rites and ideas, of native taste, of philosophical refinement on inherited theology, could not last; the elements were too discordant. And yet it could not pass naturally away. The Greece of A.D. 300


   "Wandered between two worlds, one dead,
   The other powerless to be born,"


without external assistance. That help was brought by the Christian creed, and, officially, Gods, rites, and myths vanished, while, unofficially, they partially endure, even to this day, in Romaic folk- lore.


Andrew Lang