Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

of prey forget their savage instincts, in the panicstricken struggle to escape : and even the encampment fire suffices to keep off the prowling wolf by a kind of fascination.

It is difficult to realize what the world was without fire; or rather, without the utilization of fire ; for man must always have had some experience of fire as a physical fact; the lightning, the burning mountain, the sparks from the flints which the riverdrift man chipped for his weapons and tools, must have made the phenomena of fire familiar ; but until man had learnt how to use and perpetuate fire and artificial light, what a strange existence must his have been! No cooked food, no metals, no bricks ; nothing to scare away the midnight foe, to counteract miasmatic damps, or biting frosts : nothing to relieve the long dark nights of winter. Who could be surprised at man, under such circumstances, looking up to heaven, and saluting the sun as his best friend; and regarding the rest of the heavenly host as the sun's attendants; or at his mourning and desponding as the days grew shorter and shorter; and rejoicing at the birth of the new year, when the crisis of winter was passed and the dark dread nights became less and less wearisome and chill ?

We can well imagine that before the days of fire and artificial light, men “lived as infants, . who, seeing, saw in vain, hearing they heard not. But like to the form of dreams, for a long time they used to huddle together all things at random, and nought knew they about brick-built and sun-ward houses, nor carpentry; but they dwelt in the excavated earth, like tiny emmets in the sunless depths of caverns.'

In our own age we are just beginning to realize some of the benefits which can be derived by bringing under control one of the great forces of Nature, electricity, which for countless ages had only been recognized as the manifestation of a wrathful deity: now, like the spirit in Faust within the pentagram, confined within the narrow limits of a gutta-percha film, and a most obedient servant. How much greater must have been the stride which marked the transition from ignorance to knowledge of the art of creating and preserving fire, and its use for human wants; how arts of every kind became possible, and were developed one by one, each upon the foundation of its predecessor, until the dreaded demon, fire, once only known as the agent of destruction, became the slave of man.

How fire was first created and subdued for the use of man, cannot now be shown; many theories are equally possible; but one method of procuring it has received such marked honour, and has come down to

1 Æsch. Prom. 446.

us so wonderfully imbedded in the earliest stratum of history, as to demand especial notice.

“ Pramantha” is the Sanskrit name for the old fire-drill, which is the earliest known instrument for procuring fire. It consisted of a stick like an arrow shaft, cut to a blunt point, which was twirled between the hands, with such speed and pressure as to bore a hole in an under piece of wood, till the charred dust made by the boring took fire. “ Prometheus" is the Titan of the Aryan mythology, who stole fire from heaven, concealed in a fennel stick, and gave it to men, who have ever since procured fire by using a “pramantha,” a fire drill, often made with a fennel stick. The wrath of Zeus at“ creatures of a day possessing bright fire,” is difficult to understand, unless there be an explanation in the jealousy of some dominant race, at the acquisition of fire by a class of down-trodden slaves : it has been suggested that there may relation between this acquisition of fire, and that of the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden, which had been forbidden to mortals; but which, when seized and appropriated, made them as JehovahElohim in their power of knowledge: the mysterious association of Jehovah with fire lends some colour to this supposition.

In reference to this last suggestion, the oldest

be some

[blocks in formation]

myths in the world have references to the invention of fire, and to the waters of life, which are very remarkable. The idea that fire was forbidden fruit is found in the Vedas, and was passed on in modified forms to the Greeks, the Romans, and the Slavs ; it is also found amongst the Iranians and the Hindus. The basis of these myths,--which are not found complete except under their oldest forms,-represents the universe as an immense tree, of which the roots surround the earth, and the branches form the vault of heaven. The fruit of this tree is fire, indispensable to the existence of man, and material symbol of intelligence; its leaves distil the water of life. The gods have reserved to themselves the possession of fire, which descends at times

upon

the earth in lightning, but men ought not to produce it themselves. He who, like the Prometheus of the Greeks, discovers the method which enables him to light it artificially, and to communicate it to other men, is impious, and has stolen the forbidden fruit of the holy tree. He is cursed, and the wrath of the gods pursues him and his race.

Prometheus, the demi-god, who snatched the sacred fire and gave it over to men, was condemned to be chained alive to a rock in the remote Caucasus mountains, and to submit, while every day a vulture

Lenormant, "Origines d'Histoire," 96-7.

came to gnaw away his liver, which daily grew afresh. But Prometheus was proud; he had alone saved the human race from the destruction which all the other gods had planned ; and those that he had ransomed he took in hand to educate: having brought them fire and light, he proceeded to teach them numbers, memory, agriculture, sailing, medicine, divination, augury and metal-working; and in one brief sentence he could truly boast "All arts among the human race are from Prometheus.”ı

We must still bear in mind the animistic faith of primeval man, and that it was in the nature of such belief to realize the spirit as resembling the tangible appearance. As visible fire was in itself almost spiritual in its nature,—fitful and formless ;--so the spirits of fire were more ethereal than the spirits of inert and material bodies. All spirits, too, were hungry beings, and, as the offerings to fire were visibly consumed by the spirit under the very eye of the votary, so confidence in the propitiation of these powerful spirits was the more surely felt as the result. The sun in the heavens and the fire on the earth had points in common, light and warmth, which had had little existence away from the sun before the invention of fire. The light and warmth produced by art were therefore part of the solar

1 Æsch. Prom.

« ПредишнаНапред »