The legend of Perseus PDF book : a study of tradition in story custom and belief by Edwin Hartland (1894)

The legend of Perseus

The legend of Perseus PDF book


The classical myth of Perseus belongs to a group of folktales ranking among the foremost in interest for the student of the evolution of human thought and human institutions. It is compounded, like other folktales, of incidents which have varied in their order and prominence, as well as in their mode of presentment, at different times and in different lands.

 What constitutes its importance is the fact that certain of these incidents are grounded upon ideas, universal in their range, and found fully developed in the depths of savagery, which, rising with mankind from plane to plane of civilization, have at last been embodied in the faith and symbolism of the loftiest and most spiritual of the great religions of the world — the religion of civilized Europe. The figure of Perseus, the god-begotten, the dragon-slayer, very early became a type of the Saviour of the World; while the conception underlying the Life-token (an incident not extant in classical sources) obtained its ultimate expression in the most sacred rite of Christian worship.

In these volumes, I have attempted an examination of the myth upon scientific principles. The first three chapters of the present volume are devoted to an account of the story, as given by the poets and historians of antiquity, and in modern folklore. Taking, then, the four chief incidents in order, the remaining chapters comprise an inquiry into analogous forms of the Supernatural Birth, alike in tale and custom, throughout the world.

They will be followed by similar inquiries into the incidents of the Life-token, the Rescue of Andromeda, and the Quest of the Gorgon's Head. Having thus analyzed the incidents, and determined, so far as the means at my command will permit, their foundation in belief and custom, and the large part played by some of the conceptions in savage life, I shall return to the story as a whole, and, treating it as an artistic work, I shall inquire whether it be possible to ascertain what was its primitive form, where it originated, and how it became diffused over the Eastern continent.

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