The legend of Perseus - PDF book by Edwin Hartland

The legend of Perseus: a study of tradition in story custom and belief

The legend of Perseus

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.

 I am deeply sensible of the difficulties of the task I have undertaken, and of the very imperfect way in which I have hitherto performed it. Unfortunately, I cannot hope to succeed better in that portion that has yet to be laid before the reader. All I can hope is that I may have exhibited, however inadequately (if the further exhibition were needful), the advantage for psychological purposes of re- search into the ideas and the usages of uncultured peoples and of the less cultured classes in civilised communities.

Some contents of volume 1


The Legend of Perseus as preserved in Classical Writers — Its three trains of the incident — The Danae type of the Story in Modern Folklore The classical story of Perseus — Its localisation in Greece, in Latium and at Joppa — References by Herodotus — The Assyrian hero, Gilgames — References by /Elian — The three leading trains of an incident — Modern folktales — The Danae type in Italy and 
Greece — The Irish saga of Balor and MacKineely — German, Swedish, and Russian stories.

The Story in Modern Folklore— The King of the Fishes type 24 The Breton tale of The King of the Fishes — Four trains of incident here developed — Variants in Lorraine, Tirol, Gascony — The Wonderful Pike and other Scandinavian variants — Greek story — The Argyll- shire tale of the Sea Maiden — A German variant — The Enchanted Hind in the Pentameron, and its variants in Italian folklore — Slavonic and Gipsy tales — Sanskrit tale.


The Remaining Types of the Story .... 47 The Mermaid type— Scottish, Lithuanian, and Sicilian tales— The Gold Children type— German, Flemish, Italian, and Breton tales— The Tower of Babylon type—The Enchanting Bird type— Variants in the Tirol, Normandy, and the Lowlands of Scotland — The Knife-grinder's Sons type— Found in the Tirol and Germany — A favourite type among Slavonic peoples — Kabyle and Italian variants — The Enchanted Twins type— Variant from East Africa — Abruzzian and Swabian variants— Saint George type — Stories from Portugal and Lorraine.

The Incident of the Supernatural Birth in Marchen 71 Stories of Supernatural Birth are worldwide— Only examples analogous to those in the variants of Perseus to be dealt with — Birth caused by something eaten or drunk— Fish — Fruit and cereals — Drugs — Portions of human corpses — Flowers and leaves — Water and other liquids— Birth caused by scent — By touching flowers, herbs, and other things — Zulu story of aid by pigeons— Conception by rays of the sun— By a wish.

The Supernatural Birth in Sagas... Stories of Supernatural Birth not only told for amusement but believed to be true— The eating of fish a rare cause— The eating of fruit and cereals frequently found in both hemispheres— Indian and Mongolian stories — Heathen and Christian elements in the fiftieth rune of the Kalevala—Y^IA, the Thlinkit hero— Heitsi-Eibib, the Hottentot ancestor-god— Birth of Vikramaditya— Siamese tradition— Other Mongolian traditions— Irish legends— Impregnation by drinking— By eating portions of human bodies— By smell— By touching stones and other magical substances— By saliva — Conception by the foot — Pictures of the Annunciation— Birth of Quetzalcoatl — Conception by bathing— Saoshyant — Anti- christ — Conception by wind, rain, and vapour— By the sun— Legend of Genghis Khan— Impregnation by a glance— Birth from a clot of blood.

The Supernatural Birth in Practical Superstitions 147 The supernatural means of conception in the stories actually believed to be still effectual— Practices to obtain children — Vedic ceremonies— The eating of the fruit, cereals, and leaves— The mandrake— Animal substances eaten— Salt— Drinking of water— Sacred wells— Drinking of blood— Eating of portions of human bodies— Bathing — Exposure to the rays of the sun— Striking of childless women— Amulets— PhalHc symbols and their use — Simulation as a magical practice — Fertilisation by wind— Imperfect recognition by savages of paternity.

The book is in 3 volumes as follows:

v. I. The supernatural birth--v. 2. The life-token.--v. 3. Andromeda. Medusa

the book details :
  • Author: Edwin Sidney Hartland was an author of works on folklore. His works include anthologies of tales and theories on anthropology and mythology with an ethnological perspective. He believed that the assembling and study of persistent and widespread folklore provided a scientific insight into custom and belief.
  • Publication date 1894-96
  • Company:London, D. Nutt

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