‘Once upon a time there lived a king and a queen,’ says the old woman in Apuleius, beginning the tale of Cupid and Psyche with that ancient formula which has been dear to so many generations of children. In one shape or other the tale of Cupid and Psyche, of the woman who is forbidden to see or to name her husband, of the man with the vanished fairy bride, is known in most lands, ‘even among barbarians.’ According to the story the mystic prohibition is always broken: the hidden face is beheld; light is brought into the darkness; the forbidden name is uttered; the bride is touched with the tabooed metal, iron, and the union is ended. Sometimes the pair are re-united, after long searchings and wanderings; sometimes they are severed for ever. Such are the central situations in tales like that of Cupid and Psyche.
In the attempt to discover how the ideas on which this myth is based came into existence, we may choose one of two methods. We may confine our investigations to the Aryan peoples, among whom the story occurs both in the form of myth and of household tale. Again, we may look for the shapes of the legend which hide, like Peau d’Ane in disguise, among the rude kraals and wigwams, and in the strange and scanty garb of savages. If among savages we find both narratives like Cupid and Psyche, and also customs and laws out of which the myth might have arisen, we may provisionally conclude that similar customs once existed among the civilised races who possess the tale, and that from these sprang the early forms of the myth.
In accordance with the method hitherto adopted, we shall prefer the second plan, and pursue our quest beyond the limits of the Aryan peoples.
The oldest literary shape of the tale of Psyche and her lover is found in the Rig Veda (x. 95). The characters of a singular and cynical dialogue in that poem are named Urvasi and Pururavas. The former is an Apsaras, a kind of fairy or sylph, the mistress (and a folle maîtresse, too) of Pururavas, a mortal man.58 In the poem Urvasi remarks that when she dwelt among men she ‘ate once a day a small piece of butter, and therewith well satisfied went away.’ This slightly reminds one of the common idea that the living may not eat in the land of the dead, and of Persephone’s tasting the pomegranate in Hades.
Of the dialogue in the Rig Veda it may be said, in the words of Mr. Toots, that ‘the language is coarse and the meaning is obscure.’ We only gather that Urvasi, though she admits her sensual content in the society of Pururavas, is leaving him ‘like the first of the dawns’; that she ‘goes home again, hard to be caught, like the winds.’ She gives her lover some hope, however — that the gods promise immortality even to him, ‘the kinsman of Death’ as he is. ‘Let thine offspring worship the gods with an oblation; in Heaven shalt thou too have joy of the festival.’
In the Rig Veda, then, we dimly discern a parting between a mortal man and an immortal bride, and a promise of reconciliation.
The story, of which this Vedic poem is a partial dramatisation, is given in the Brahmana of the Yajur Veda. Mr. Max Müller has translated the passage.59 According to the Brahmana, ‘Urvasi, a kind of fairy, fell in love with Pururavas, and when she met him she said: Embrace me three times a day, but never against my will, and let me never see you without your royal garments, for this is the manner of women.’60 The Gandharvas, a spiritual race, kinsmen of Urvasi, thought she had lingered too long among men. They therefore plotted some way of parting her from Pururavas. Her covenant with her lord declared that she was never to see him naked. If that compact were broken she would be compelled to leave him. To make Pururavas break this compact the Gandharvas stole a lamb from beside Urvasi’s bed: Pururavas sprang up to rescue the lamb, and, in a flash of lightning, Urvasi saw him naked, contrary to the manner of women. She vanished. He sought her long, and at last came to a lake where she and her fairy friends were playing in the shape of birds. Urvasi saw Pururavas, revealed herself to him, and, according to the Brahmana, part of the strange Vedic dialogue was now spoken. Urvasi promised to meet him on the last night of the year: a son was to be the result of the interview. Next day, her kinsfolk, the Gandharvas, offered Pururavas the wish of his heart. He wished to be one of them. They then initiated him into the mode of kindling a certain sacred fire, after which he became immortal and dwelt among the Gandharvas.
It is highly characteristic of the Indian mind that the story should be thus worked into connection with ritual. In the same way the Bhagavata Purana has a long, silly, and rather obscene narrative about the sacrifice offered by Pururavas, and the new kind of sacred fire. Much the same ritual tale is found in the Vishnu Purana (iv. 6, 19).
Before attempting to offer our own theory of the legend, we must examine the explanations presented by scholars. The philological method of dealing with myths is well known. The hypothesis is that the names in a myth are ‘stubborn things,’ and that, as the whole narrative has probably arisen from forgetfulness of the meaning of language, the secret of a myth must be sought in analysis of the proper names of the persons. On this principle Mr. Max Müller interprets the myth of Urvasi and Pururavas, their loves, separation, and reunion. Mr. Müller says that the story ‘expresses the identity of the morning dawn and the evening twilight.’61 To prove this, the names are analysed. It is Mr. Müller’s object to show that though, even in the Veda, Urvasi and Pururavas are names of persons, they were originally ‘appellations’; and that Urvasi meant ‘dawn,’ and Pururavas ‘sun.’ Mr. Müller’s opinion as to the etymological sense of the name would be thought decisive, naturally, by lay readers, if an opposite opinion were not held by that other great philologist and comparative mythologist, Adalbert Kuhn. Admitting that ‘the etymology of Urvasi is difficult,’ Mr. Müller derives it from ‘uru, wide (εὐρύ), and a root as = to pervade.’ Now the dawn is ‘widely pervading,’ and has, in Sanskrit, the epithet urûkî, ‘far-going.’ Mr. Müller next assumes that ‘Eurykyde,’ ‘Eurynome,’ ‘Eurydike,’ and other heroic Greek female names, are ‘names of the dawn’; but this, it must be said, is merely an assumption of his school. The main point of the argument is that Urvasi means ‘far-going,’ and that ‘the far and wide splendour of dawn’ is often spoken of in the Veda. ‘However, the best proof that Urvasi was the dawn is the legend told of her and of her love to Pururavas, a story that is true only of the sun and the dawn’ (i. 407).
We shall presently see that a similar story is told of persons in whom the dawn can scarcely be recognised, so that ‘the best proof’ is not very good.
The name of Pururavas, again, is ‘an appropriate name for a solar hero.’ . . . Pururavas meant the same as Πολυδεύκης, ‘endowed with much light,’ for though rava is generally used of sound, yet the root ru, which means originally ‘to cry,’ is also applied to colour, in the sense of a loud or crying colour, that is, red.62 It is interesting to learn that our Aryan fathers spoke of ‘loud colours,’ and were so sensitive as to think violet ‘loud.’ Besides, Pururavas calls himself Vasistha, which, as we know, is a name of the sun; and if he is called Aido, the son of Ida, the same name is elsewhere given63 to Agni, the fire. ‘The conclusion of the argument is that antiquity spoke of the naked sun, and of the chaste dawn hiding her face when she had seen her husband. Yet she says she will come again. And after the sun has travelled through the world in search of his beloved, when he comes to the threshold of Death and is going to end his solitary life, she appears again, in the gloaming, the same as the dawn, as Eos in Homer, begins and ends the day, and she carries him away to the golden seats of the Immortals.’64
Kuhn objects to all this explanation, partly on what we think the inadequate ground that there is no necessary connection between the story of Urvasi (thus interpreted) and the ritual of sacred fire-lighting. Connections of that sort were easily invented at random by the compilers of the Brahmanas in their existing form. Coming to the analysis of names, Kuhn finds in Urvasi ‘a weakening of Urvankî (uru + anc), like yuvaça from yuvanka, Latin juvencus; . . . the accent is of no decisive weight.’ Kuhn will not be convinced that Pururavas is the sun, and is unmoved by the ingenious theory of ‘a crying colour,’ denoted by his name, and the inference, supported by such words as rufus, that crying colours are red, and therefore appropriate names of the red sun. The connection between Pururavas and Agni, fire, is what appeals to Kuhn — and, in short, where Mr. Müller sees a myth of sun and dawn, Kuhn recognises a fire-myth. Roth, again (whose own name means red), far from thinking that Urvasi is ‘the chaste dawn,’ interprets her name as die geile, that is, ‘lecherous, lascivious, lewd, wanton, obscene’; while Pururavas, as ‘the Roarer,’ suggests ‘the Bull in rut.’ In accordance with these views Roth explains the myth in a fashion of his own.65
Here, then, as Kuhn says, ‘we have three essentially different modes of interpreting the myth,’66 all three founded on philological analysis of the names in the story. No better example could be given to illustrate the weakness of the philological method. In the first place, that method relies on names as the primitive relics and germs of the tale, although the tale may occur where the names have never been heard, and though the names are, presumably, late additions to a story in which the characters were originally anonymous. Again, the most illustrious etymologists differ absolutely about the true sense of the names. Kuhn is disposed to see fire everywhere, and fire-myths; Mr. Müller to see dawn and dawn-myths; Schwartz to see storm and storm-myths, and so on. As the orthodox teachers are thus at variance, so that there is no safety in orthodoxy, we may attempt to use our heterodox method.
None of the three scholars whose views we have glanced at — neither Roth, Kuhn, nor Mr. Müller — lays stress on the saying of Urvasi, ‘never let me see you without your royal garments, for this is the custom of women.’67 To our mind, these words contain the gist of the myth. There must have been, at some time, a custom which forbade women to see their husbands without their garments, or the words have no meaning. If any custom of this kind existed, a story might well be evolved to give a sanction to the law. ‘You must never see your husband naked: think what happened to Urvasi — she vanished clean away!’ This is the kind of warning which might be given. If the customary prohibition had grown obsolete, the punishment might well be assigned to a being of another, a spiritual race, in which old human ideas lingered, as the neolithic dread of iron lingers in the Welsh fairies.
Our method will be, to prove the existence of singular rules of etiquette, corresponding to the etiquette accidentally infringed by Pururavas. We shall then investigate stories of the same character as that of Urvasi and Pururavas, in which the infringement of the etiquette is chastised. It will be seen that, in most cases, the bride is of a peculiar and perhaps supernatural race. Finally, the tale of Urvasi will be taken up again, will be shown to conform in character to the other stories examined, and will be explained as a myth told to illustrate, or sanction, a nuptial etiquette.
The lives of savages are bound by the most closely-woven fetters of custom. The simplest acts are ‘tabooed,’ a strict code regulates all intercourse. Married life, especially, moves in the strangest fetters. There will be nothing remarkable in the wide distribution of the myth turning on nuptial etiquette, if this law of nuptial etiquette proves to be also widely distributed. That it is widely distributed we now propose to demonstrate by examples.
The custom of the African people of the kingdom of Futa is, or was, even stricter than the Vedic custom of women—‘wives never permit their husbands to see them unveiled for three years after their marriage.’68
In his Travels to Timbuctoo (i. 94), Caillié says that the bridegroom ‘is not allowed to see his intended during the day.’ He has a tabooed hut apart, and ‘if he is obliged to come out he covers his face.’ He ‘remains with his wife only till daybreak’— like Cupid — and flees, like Cupid, before the light. Among the Australians the chief deity, if deity such a being can be called, Pundjel, ‘has a wife whose face he has never seen,’ probably in compliance with some primæval etiquette or taboo.69
Among the Yorubas ‘conventional modesty forbids a woman to speak to her husband, or even to see him, if it can be avoided.’70 Of the Iroquois Lafitau says: ‘Ils n’oscent aller dans les cabanes particulières où habitent leurs épouses que durant l’obscurité de la nuit.’71 The Circassian women live on distant terms with their lords till they become mothers.72 Similar examples of reserve are reported to be customary among the Fijians.
In backward parts of Europe a strange custom forbids the bride to speak to her lord, as if in memory of a time when husband and wife were always of alien tribes, and, as among the Caribs, spoke different languages.
In the Bulgarian ‘Volkslied,’ the Sun marries Grozdanka, a mortal girl. Her mother addresses her thus:—
Grozdanka, mother’s treasure mine,
For nine long years I nourished thee,
For nine months see thou do not speak
To thy first love that marries thee.
M. Dozon, who has collected the Bulgarian songs, says that this custom of prolonged silence on the part of the bride is very common in Bulgaria, though it is beginning to yield to a sense of the ludicrous.73 In Sparta and in Crete, as is well known, the bridegroom was long the victim of a somewhat similar taboo, and was only permitted to seek the company of his wife secretly, and in the dark, like the Iroquois described by Lafitau.
Herodotus tells us (i. 146) that some of the old Ionian colonists ‘brought no women with them, but took wives of the women of the Carians, whose fathers they had slain. Therefore the women made a law for themselves, and handed it down to their daughters, that they should never sit at meat with their husbands, and that none should ever call her husband by his name.’ In precisely the same way, in Zululand the wife may not mention her husband’s name, just as in the Welsh fairy tale the husband may not even know the name of his fairy bride, on pain of losing her for ever. These ideas about names, and freakish ways of avoiding the use of names, mark the childhood of languages, according to Mr. Max Müller,74 and, therefore, the childhood of Society. The Kaffirs call this etiquette ‘Hlonipa.’ It applies to women as well as men. A Kaffir bride is not called by her own name in her husband’s village, but is spoken of as ‘mother of so and so,’ even before she has born a child. The universal superstition about names is at the bottom of this custom. The Aleutian Islanders, according to Dall, are quite distressed when obliged to speak to their wives in the presence of others. The Fijians did not know where to look when missionaries hinted that a man might live under the same roof as his wife.75 Among the Turkomans, for six months, a year, or two years, a husband is only allowed to visit his wife by stealth.
The number of these instances could probably be increased by a little research. Our argument is that the widely distributed myths in which a husband or a wife transgresses some ‘custom’— sees the other’s face or body, or utters the forbidden name — might well have arisen as tales illustrating the punishment of breaking the rule. By a very curious coincidence, a Breton sailor’s tale of the ‘Cupid and Psyche’ class is confessedly founded on the existence of the rule of nuptial etiquette.76
In this story the son of a Boulogne pilot marries the daughter of the King of Naz — wherever that may be. In Naz a man is never allowed to see the face of his wife till she has born him a child — a modification of the Futa rule. The inquisitive French husband unveils his wife, and, like Psyche in Apuleius, drops wax from a candle on her cheek. When the pair return to Naz, the king of that country discovers the offence of the husband, and, by the aid of his magicians, transforms the Frenchman into a monster. Here we have the old formula — the infringement of a ‘taboo,’ and the magical punishment — adapted to the ideas of Breton peasantry. The essential point of the story, for our purpose, is that the veiling of the bride is ‘the custom of women,’ in the mysterious land of Naz. ‘C’est l’usage du pays: les maris ne voient leurs femmes sans voile que lorsqu’elles sont devenues mères.’ Now our theory of the myth of Urvasi is simply this: ‘the custom of women,’ which Pururavas transgresses, is probably a traditional Aryan law of nuptial etiquette, l’usage du pays, once prevalent among the people of India.
If our view be correct, then several rules of etiquette, and not one alone, will be illustrated in the stories which we suppose the rules to have suggested. In the case of Urvasi and Pururavas, the rule was, not to see the husband naked. In ‘Cupid and Psyche,’ the husband was not to be looked upon at all. In the well-known myth of Mélusine, the bride is not to be seen naked. Mélusine tells her lover that she will only abide with him dum ipsam nudam non viderit.77 The same taboo occurs in a Dutch Märchen.78
We have now to examine a singular form of the myth, in which the strange bride is not a fairy, or spiritual being, but an animal. In this class of story the husband is usually forbidden to perform some act which will recall to the bride the associations of her old animal existence. The converse of the tale is the well-known legend of the Forsaken Merman. The king of the sea permits his human wife to go to church. The ancient sacred associations are revived, and the woman returns no more.
She will not come though you call all day
Come away, come away.
Now, in the tales of the animal bride, it is her associations with her former life among the beasts that are not to be revived, and when they are re-awakened by the commission of some act which she has forbidden, or the neglect of some precaution which she has enjoined, she, like Urvasi, disappears.
The best known example of this variant of the tale is the story of Bheki, in Sanskrit. Mr. Max Müller has interpreted the myth in accordance with his own method.79 His difficulty is to account for the belief that a king might marry a frog. Our ancestors, he remarks, ‘were not idiots,’ how then could they tell such a story? We might reply that our ancestors, if we go far enough back, were savages, and that such stories are the staple of savage myth. Mr. Müller, however, holds that an accidental corruption of language reduced Aryan fancy to the savage level. He explains the corruption thus: ‘We find, in Sanskrit, that Bheki, the frog, was a beautiful girl, and that one day, when sitting near a well, she was discovered by a king, who asked her to be his wife. She consented, on condition that he should never show her a drop of water. One day, being tired, she asked the king for water; the king forgot his promise, brought water, and Bheki disappeared.’ This myth, Mr. Müller holds, ‘began with a short saying, such as that “Bheki, the sun, will die at the sight of water,” as we should say that the sun will set, when it approaches the water from which it rose in the morning.’ But how did the sun come to be called Bheki, ‘the frog’? Mr. Müller supposes that this name was given to the sun by some poet or fisherman. He gives no evidence for the following statement: ‘It can be shown that “frog” was used as a name for the sun. Now at sunrise and sunset, when the sun was squatting on the water, it was called the “frog.”’ At what historical period the Sanskrit-speaking race was settled in seats where the sun rose and set in water, we do not know, and ‘chapter and verse’ are needed for the statement that ‘frog’ was actually a name of the sun. Mr. Müller’s argument, however, is that the sun was called ‘the frog,’ that people forgot that the frog and sun were identical, and that Frog, or Bheki, was mistaken for the name of a girl to whom was applied the old saw about dying at sight of water. ‘And so,’ says Mr. Müller, ‘the change from sun to frog, and from frog to man, which was at first due to the mere spell of language, would in our nursery tales be ascribed to miraculous charms more familiar to a later age.’ As a matter of fact, magical metamorphoses are infinitely more familiar to the lowest savages than to people in a ‘later age.’ Magic, as Castren observes, ‘belongs to the lowest known stages of civilisation.’ Mr. Müller’s theory, however, is this — that a Sanskrit-speaking people, living where the sun rose out of and set in some ocean, called the sun, as he touched the water, Bheki, the frog, and said he would die at the sight of water. They ceased to call the sun the frog, or Bheki, but kept the saying, ‘Bheki will die at sight of water.’ Not knowing who or what Bheki might be, they took her for a frog, who also was a pretty wench. Lastly, they made the story of Bheki’s distinguished wedding and mysterious disappearance. For this interpretation, historical and linguistic evidence is not offered. When did a Sanskrit-speaking race live beside a great sea? How do we know that ‘frog’ was used as a name for ‘sun’?
We have already given our explanation. To the savage intellect, man and beast are on a level, and all savage myth makes men descended from beasts; while stories of the loves of gods in bestial shape, or the unions of men and animals, incessantly occur. ‘Unnatural’ as these notions seem to us, no ideas are more familiar to savages, and none recur more frequently in Indo-Aryan, Scandinavian, and Greek mythology. An extant tribe in North-West America still claims descent from a frog. The wedding of Bheki and the king is a survival, in Sanskrit, of a tale of this kind. Lastly, Bheki disappears, when her associations with her old amphibious life are revived in the manner she had expressly forbidden.
Our interpretation may be supported by an Ojibway parallel. A hunter named Otter-heart, camping near a beaver lodge, found a pretty girl loitering round his fire. She keeps his wigwam in order, and ‘lays his blanket near the deerskin she had laid for herself. “Good,” he muttered, “this is my wife.”’ She refuses to eat the beavers he has shot, but at night he hears a noise, ‘krch, krch, as if beavers were gnawing wood.’ He sees, by the glimmer of the fire, his wife nibbling birch twigs. In fact, the good little wife is a beaver, as the pretty Indian girl was a frog. The pair lived happily till spring came and the snow melted and the streams ran full. Then his wife implored the hunter to build her a bridge over every stream and river, that she might cross dry-footed. ‘For,’ she said, ‘if my feet touch water, this would at once cause thee great sorrow.’ The hunter did as she bade him, but left unbridged one tidy runnel. The wife stumbled into the water, and, as soon as her foot was wet, she immediately resumed her old shape as a beaver, her son became a beaverling, and the brooklet, changing to a roaring river, bore them to the lake. Once the hunter saw his wife again among her beast kin. ‘To thee I sacrificed all,’ she said, ‘and I only asked thee to help me dry-footed over the waters. Thou didst cruelly neglect this. Now I must remain for ever with my people.’
This tale was told to Kohl by ‘an old insignificant squaw among the Ojibways.’80 Here we have a precise parallel to the tale of Bheki, the frog-bride, and here the reason of the prohibition to touch water is made perfectly unmistakable. The touch magically revived the bride’s old animal life with the beavers. Or was the Indian name for beaver (temaksé) once a name for the sun?
A curious variant of this widely distributed Märchen of the animal bride is found in the mythical genealogy of the Raja of Chutia Nagpur, a chief of the Naga, or snake race. It is said that Raja Janameja prepared a yajnya, or great malevolently magical incantation, to destroy all the people of the serpent race. To prevent this annihilation, the supernatural being, Pundarika Nag, took a human form, and became the husband of the beautiful Parvati, daughter of a Brahman. But Pundarika Nag, being a serpent by nature, could not divest himself, even in human shape, of his forked tongue and venomed breath. And, just as Urvasi could not abide with her mortal lover, after he transgressed the prohibition to appear before her naked, so Pundarika Nag was compelled by fate to leave his bride, if she asked him any questions about his disagreeable peculiarities. She did, at last, ask questions, in circumstances which made Pundarika believe that he was bound to answer her. Now the curse came upon him, he plunged into a pool, like the beaver, and vanished. His wife became the mother of the serpent Rajas of Chutia Nagpur. Pundarika Nag, in his proper form as a great hooded snake, guarded his first-born child. The crest of the house is a hooded snake with human face.81
Here, then, we have many examples of the disappearance of the bride or bridegroom in consequence of infringement of various mystic rules. Sometimes the beloved one is seen when he or she should not be seen. Sometimes, as in a Maori story, the bride vanishes merely because she is in a bad temper.82 Among the Red Men, as in Sanskrit, the taboo on water is broken, with the usual results. Now for an example in which the rule against using names is infringed.83
This formula constantly occurs in the Welsh fairy tales published by Professor Rhys.84 Thus the heir of Corwrion fell in love with a fairy: ‘They were married on the distinct understanding that the husband was not to know her name, . . . and was not to strike her with iron, on pain of her leaving him at once.’ Unluckily the man once tossed her a bridle, the iron bit touched the wife, and ‘she at once flew through the air, and plunged headlong into Corwrion Lake.’
A number of tales turning on the same incident are published in Cymmrodor, v. i. In these we have either the taboo on the name, or the taboo on the touch of iron. In a widely diffused superstition iron ‘drives away devils and ghosts,’ according to the Scholiast on the eleventh book of the Odyssey, and the Oriental Djinn also flee from iron.85 Just as water is fatal to the Aryan frog-bride and to the Red Indian beaver-wife, restoring them to their old animal forms, so the magic touch of iron breaks love between the Welshman and his fairy mistress, the representative of the stone age.
In many tales of fairy-brides, they are won by a kind of force. The lover in the familiar Welsh and German Märchen sees the swan-maidens throw off their swan plumage and dance naked. He steals the feather-garb of one of them, and so compels her to his love. Finally, she leaves him, in anger, or because he has broken some taboo. Far from being peculiar to Aryan mythology, this legend occurs, as Mr. Farrer has shown,86 in Algonquin and Bornoese tradition. The Red Indian story told by Schoolcraft in his Algic Researches is most like the Aryan version, but has some native peculiarities. Wampee was a great hunter, who, on the lonely prairie, once heard strains of music. Looking up he saw a speck in the sky: the speck drew nearer and nearer, and proved to be a basket containing twelve heavenly maidens. They reached the earth and began to dance, inflaming the heart of Wampee with love. But Wampee could not draw near the fairy girls in his proper form without alarming them. Like Zeus in his love adventures, Wampee exercised the medicine-man’s power of metamorphosing himself. He assumed the form of a mouse, approached unobserved, and caught one of the dancing maidens. After living with Wampee for some time she wearied of earth, and, by virtue of a ‘mystic chain of verse,’ she ascended again to her heavenly home.
Now is there any reason to believe that this incident was once part of the myth of Pururavas and Urvasi? Was the fairy-love, Urvasi, originally caught and held by Pururavas among her naked and struggling companions? Though this does not appear to have been much noticed, it seems to follow from a speech of Pururavas in the Vedic dialogue87 (x. 95, 8, 9). Mr. Max Müller translates thus: ‘When I, the mortal, threw my arms round those flighty immortals, they trembled away from me like a trembling doe, like horses that kick against the cart.’88 Ludwig’s rendering suits our view — that Pururavas is telling how he first caught Urvasi — still better: ‘When I, the mortal, held converse with the immortals who had laid aside their raiment, like slippery serpents they glided from me, like horses yoked to the car.’ These words would well express the adventure of a lover among the naked flying swan-maidens, an adventure familiar to the Red Men as to Persian legends of the Peris.
To end our comparison of myths like the tale of ‘Cupid and Psyche,’ we find an example among the Zulus. Here89 the mystic lover came in when all was dark, and felt the damsel’s face. After certain rites, ‘in the morning he went away, he speaking continually, the girl not seeing him. During all those days he would not allow the girl (sic), when she said she would light a fire. Finally, after a magical ceremony, he said, “Light the fire!” and stood before her revealed, a shining shape.’ This has a curious resemblance to the myth of Cupid and Psyche; but a more curious detail remains. In the Zulu story of Ukcombekcansini, the friends of a bride break a taboo and kill a tabooed animal. Instantly, like Urvasi and her companions in the Yajur Veda, the bride and her maidens disappear and are turned into birds!90 They are afterwards surprised in human shape, and the bride is restored to her lover.
Here we conclude, having traced parallels to Cupid and Psyche in many non-Aryan lands. Our theory of the myth does not rest on etymology. We have seen that the most renowned scholars, Max Müller, Kuhn, Roth, all analyse the names Urvasi and Pururavas in different ways, and extract different interpretations. We have found the story where these names were probably never heard of. We interpret it as a tale of the intercourse between mortal men and immortal maids, or between men and metamorphosed animals, as in India and North America. We explain the separation of the lovers as the result of breaking a taboo, or law of etiquette, binding among men and women, as well as between men and fairies.
The taboos are, to see the beloved unveiled, to utter his or her name, to touch her with a metal ‘terrible to ghosts and spirits,’ or to do some action which will revive the associations of a former life. We have shown that rules of nuptial etiquette resembling these in character do exist, and have existed, even among Greeks — as where the Milesian, like the Zulu, women made a law not to utter their husbands’ names. Finally, we think it a reasonable hypothesis that tales on the pattern of ‘Cupid and Psyche’ might have been evolved wherever a curious nuptial taboo required to be sanctioned, or explained, by a myth. On this hypothesis, the stories may have been separately invented in different lands; but there is also a chance that they have been transmitted from people to people in the unknown past of our scattered and wandering race. This theory seems at least as probable as the hypothesis that the meaning of an Aryan proverbial statement about sun and dawn was forgotten, and was altered unconsciously into a tale which is found among various non-Aryan tribes. That hypothesis again, learned and ingenious as it is, has the misfortune to be opposed by other scholarly hypotheses not less ingenious and learned.
As for the sun-frog, we may hope that he has sunk for ever beneath the western wave.
58 That Pururavas is regarded as a mortal man, in relations with some sort of spiritual mistress, appears from the poem itself (v. 8, 9, 18). The human character of Pururavas also appears in R. V., i. 31, 4.
59 Selected Essays, i. 408.
60 The Apsaras is an ideally beautiful fairy woman, something ‘between the high gods and the lower grotesque beings,’ with ‘lotus eyes’ and other agreeable characteristics. A list of Apsaras known by name is given in Meyer’s Gandharven-Kentauren, p. 28. They are often regarded as cloud-maidens by mythologists.
61 Selected Essays, i. 405.
62 Cf. ruber, rufus, O.H.G. rôt, rudhira, ἐρυθρός; also Sanskrit, ravi, sun.
63 R. V., iii. 29, 3.
64 The passage alluded to in Homer does not mean that dawn ‘ends’ the day, but ‘when the fair-tressed Dawn brought the full light of the third day’ (Od., v. 390).
65 Liebrecht (Zur Volkskunde, 241) is reminded by Pururavas (in Roth’s sense of der Brüller) of loud-thundering Zeus, ἐρίγδουπος.
66 Herabkunft des Feuers, pp. 86-89.
67 Liebrecht (Zur Volkskunde, p. 241) notices the reference to the ‘custom of women.’ But he thinks the clause a mere makeshift, introduced late to account for a prohibition of which the real meaning had been forgotten. The improbability of this view is indicated by the frequency of similar prohibitions in actual custom.
68 Astley, Collection of Voyages, ii. 24. This is given by Bluet and Moore on the evidence of one Job Ben Solomon, a native of Bunda in Futa. ‘Though Job had a daughter by his last wife, yet he never saw her without her veil, as having been married to her only two years.’ Excellently as this prohibition suits my theory, yet I confess I do not like Job’s security.
69 Brough Smyth, i. 423.
70 Bowen, Central Africa, p. 303.
71 Lafitau, i. 576.
72 Lubbock, Origin of Civilisation (1875), p. 75.
73 Chansons Pop. Bulg., p. 172.
74 Lectures on Language, Second Series, p. 41.
75 J. A. Farrer, Primitive Manners, p. 202, quoting Seeman.
76 Sébillot, Contes Pop. de la Haute-Bretagne, p. 183.
77 Gervase of Tilbury.
78 Kuhn, Herabkunft, p. 92. See also South African Journal of Folklore, May, 1879, p. 46: ‘As a rule, the bridegroom never sees his bride.’
79 Chips, ii. 251.
80 Kitchi Gami, p. 105.
81 Dalton’s Ethnol. of Bengal, pp. 165, 166.
82 Taylor, New Zealand, p. 143.
83 Liebrecht gives a Hindoo example, Zur Volkskunde, p. 239.
84 Cymmrodor, iv. pt. ii.
85 Prim. Cult., i. 140.
86 Primitive Manners, p. 256.
87 See Meyer, Gandharven-Kentauren, Benfey, Pantsch., i. 263.
88 Selected Essays, i. 411.
89 Callaway, p. 63.
90 Ibid., p. 119.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52