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On The Mythus
by [?]

That which the tradition of the people is to the truth of facts–that is a mythus to the reasonable origin of things. [Transcriber’s Note: three dots in a vertical line above a tiny circle] These objects to an eye at [Transcriber’s Note: low tiny circle] might all melt into one another, as stars are confluent which modern astronomy has prismatically split. Says Rennell, as a reason for a Mahometan origin of a canal through Cairo, such is the tradition of the people. But we see amongst ourselves how great works are ascribed to the devil or to the Romans by antiquarians. In Rennell we see the effects of synthesis. He throws back his observations, like a woman threading a series of needles or a shuttle running through a series of rings, through a succession of Egyptian canals (p. 478), showing the real action of the case, that a tendency existed to this. And, by the way, here comes another strong illustration of the popular adulterations. They in our country confound the ‘Romans,’ a vulgar expression for the Roman Catholics, with the ancient national people of Rome. Here one element of a mythus B has melted into the mythus X, and in far-distant times might be very perplexing to antiquarians, when the popular tradition was too old for them to see the point of juncture where the alien stream had fallen in.

Then, again, not only ignorance, but love, combines to adulterate the tradition. Every man wishes to give his own country an interest in anything great. What an effort has been made to suck Sir T. R. back into Scotland!

Thus, it is too difficult without a motive to hold apart vast distances or intervals that lie in a field which has all gathered into a blue haze. Stars, divided by millions of miles, collapse into each other. So mythi: and then comes the perplexity–the entanglement. Then come also, from lacunae arising in these interwelded stories, temptations to falsehood. By the way, even the recent tale of Astyages seems to have been pieced: the difficulty was to find a motive for Cyrus, reputed a good man, to make war on his grandfather. Kill him he might by accident. But the dream required that he should dethrone his grandfather. Accordingly the dreadful story is devised; but why should Cyrus adopt the injuries of a nobleman who, if all were true, had only saved himself by accident?

Impossible as it would seem to transmute Socrates into a mythus, considering the broad daylight which then rested upon Athenian history, and the inextricable way in which Socrates is entangled in that history (although we have all seen many a Scriptural personage so transmuted under far less colourable pretenses or advantages), still it is evident that the mediaeval schoolmen did practically treat Socrates as something of that sort–as a mythical, symbolic, or representative man. Socrates is the eternal burthen of their quillets, quodlibets, problems, syllogisms; for them he is the Ulysses of the Odyssey, that much-suffering man; or, to speak more adequately, for them he is the John Doe and the Richard Roe of English law, whose feuds have tormented the earth and incensed the heavens through a cycle of uncounted centuries, and must have given a bad character of our planet on its English side. To such an extent was this pushed, that many of the scholastic writers became wearied of enunciating or writing his name, and, anticipating the occasional fashion of My lud and Your ludship at our English Bar, or of Hocus Pocus as an abbreviation of pure weariness for Hoc est Corpus, they called him not Socrates, but Sortes. Now, whence, let me ask, was this custom derived? As to Doe and Roe, who or what first set them by the ears together is now probably past all discovery. But as to Sortes, that he was a mere contraction for Socrates is proved in the same way that Mob is shown to have been a brief way of writing Mobile vulgus, viz., that by Bishop Stillingfleet in particular the two forms, Mob and Mobile vulgus are used interchangeably and indifferently through several pages consecutively–just as Canter and Canterbury gallop, of which the one was at first the mere shorthand expression of the other, were at one period interchanged, and for the same reason. The abbreviated form wore the air of plebeian slang at its first introduction, but its convenience favoured it: soon it became reconciled to the ear, then it ceased to be slang, and finally the original form, ceasing to have any apparent advantage of propriety or elegance, dropped into total disuse. Sortes, it is a clear case, inherited from Socrates his distressing post of target-general for the arrows of disputatious Christendom. But how came Socrates by that distinction? I cannot have a doubt that it was strength of tradition that imputed such a use of the Socratic name and character to Plato. The reader must remember that, although Socrates was no mythus, and least of all could be such, to his own leading disciple, that was no reason why he should not be treated as a mythus. In Wales, some nine or ten years ago, Rebecca, as the mysterious and masqued redresser of public wrongs, was rapidly passing into a mythical expression for that universal character of Rhadamanthian avenger or vindicator. So of Captain Rock, in Ireland. So of Elias amongst the Jews (when Elias shall come), as the sublime, mysterious, and in some degree pathetic expression for a great teacher lurking amongst the dreadful mists.