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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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An important aspect of mythology from 1700 to 1850
is the conscious sense that the true meaning and value
of myth is first being rediscovered or even revealed.


The achievement but also the dilemma of mythic
thought in this period is to move the problem of myth
into ever larger realms. Mythic thought gradually frees
itself from the biblical-Christian context, and frees the
idea of myth from confinement to the past. The subject
of myth broadens first to include non-Christian, non-
European religions and histories; but soon broadens still
further to include the origins of the “irrational,” of
civilization, and of art. By 1800, theorists of progress
can see myth as almost equivalent with the pre-
enlightened human past. Under romantic aegis, myth
begins to refer to what is “highest” in man, creatively,
and philosophically.

Rationalist Mythology. By 1700, three different
views of myth appear. First, the orthodox Christian
mythology which sees pagan religion as a corruption
or prefiguring of revealed truth; the methods include
etymology and comparison of rites and dogmas. Deism,
a new approach, explains myth as natural monotheism
corrupted into idolatry. Rationalism newly explains
myth in terms of secular progress. These new positions
emerge distinctly first with Charles Blount's deistic
Great is Diana of the Ephesians (1680), Bernard de
Fontenelle's Histoire des oracles (1686), and his
L'Origine des fables (written 1690-99, published 1724).

Why these approaches may be called new is in-
separable from the question why such changes in ideas
about myths occurred when they did. The answer lies
only partly in new non-Christian or non-European
sources of myths. This material had accumulated since
the sixteenth century; the early eighteenth century
adds little genuinely new—such an exception is W.
Bosman's report on African fetishism (1704). The Jesuit
Joseph François Lafitau's comparison of American
Indian and ancient Greek moeurs (1724) is the most
influential and detailed inventory of such “conformi-
ties” of the period; but it is the culmination of a cen-
tury of such comparisons of savage or enlightened
heathenism with the customs of ancient Israel and
Greece. What changes most significantly are the new
methods and purposes applied to this comparative
material. Confined to internal Christian disputes, myth
had been of importance primarily as negative evidence
for or against scriptural authority or various doctrines.
Philosophes and deists use mythic pluralism or analo-
gies to embarrass orthodox Christianity. But a major
innovation lies in their hope to reconstruct religious
and human history in radically rational terms.

The renewed study of ancient religions served two
broad, enduring eighteenth-century purposes: first, to
discern the rational principles underlying religion, mo-
rality, and history, as achieved earlier for physics; next,
to combat intolerance, l'infâme, and all irrationality
by diagnosing their origins and thus helping to foster
a cure. A leading conviction here is that religious and
historical origins can indeed be grasped and explained
outside revelation; and that with such secure starting-
points, the past can be rationally reconstituted. The
effect here is to approach ancient religion freshly;
recovery of the “true” origins means studying history
precisely to be able to criticize and reinterpret it.

In this spirit, Pierre Bayle rereads mythic history
via psychology. He corrosively dissolves the half-truths
of religious history to penetrate to what really hap-
pened there: myth springs from human ignorance or
gullibility. But his pyrrhonisme de l'histoire seemingly
has only negative aims. Bernard Le Bovier de
Fontenelle is the first who uses such destructive criti-
cism to seek “certain” knowledge of mythic origins,
in order then to reconstruct “true” laws of religious
beginnings. With similar assumptions about the right
method, deism begins to redefine Christianity in terms
of evidence sought outside revealed history. Myth be-
comes newly important as the main source of such
evidence. First, as the epitome of historical unrelia-
bility, pagan myth may be safely and boldly analyzed
where Christianity must still remain immune. More
important, mythic history begins—though only grad-
ually—to stand for earliest nonbiblical history itself.

Euhemerist, psychological, and political explanations
of myth are revived naturalistic theories. The three
views are connected: myth becomes one or another
kind of history. A constant motive here is to discredit
any claim by myth to higher meaning. Pagan or Chris-
tian allegorism of myth is dismissed or degraded as
wrongly dignifying myth or else ignoring history in
favor of mystery. The most widespread of these revived
views is euhemerism—the doctrine of Euhemerus that
the gods are simply idealizations of famous mortals—
and the most influential euhemerist treatise of the
period is A. Banier's La Mythologie et les fables ex-
pliquées par l'histoire
(1711; revised 1715, and exten-
sively, 1738-40). As an orthodox mythologist, Banier
finds euhemerism useful: as merely falsified or mistaken
history, myth can be corrected and fitted back into
biblical chronology and sacred history. Isaac Newton
(1728), Samuel Shuckford (1728), and Dom Calmet
(1735) pursue a severe euhemerism. But Banier more
typically is also the eclectic philosophe; he notes sixteen
possible origins for myth and is also interested in myth
for its literary value.

Euhemerism is usually blended with other views.
Deists primarily exploit the political-moral explana-
tion. Concerned to explain why natural monotheism
was succeeded by idolatry, they see myth as utilitarian
religion, rising from political and moral purposes. In
John Toland's Letters to Serena (1704)—an assertive,
reductive, typical deist mythology—idolatry begins
when men start to worship the dead. This error results
from the “Craft and Ambition” of priests and leaders


who profit by misleading the multitude; as much blame,
however, is due the vulgar multitude's demand for
superstitious ritual and dogma—described by Toland
with an eye to Catholic practice. Toland's mythology
is, in fact, an early, crude version of a thesis elaborated
endlessly through the century: that early societies had
one religion for the elite, one for the people. The Abbé
Noël-Antoine Pluche (1739), David Hume, C. G.
Heyne, and Charles François Dupuis repeat the ac-
cusation of “priestcraft,” while Thomas Blackwell
(1735) and Bishop Warburton (1738) defend the priests
as civilizers of brutish mankind.

The psychological interpretation of myth is at once
the subtlest and finally most important. It is carried
forward by Giambattista Vico, David Hume, Charles
de Brosses, and Paul-Henri, baron d'Holbach among
others; and then, is transmuted from religious enthusi-
asm to creative imagination and affirmed by romanti-
cism. Fontenelle's L'Origine des fables asks why such
a strange phenomenon as religion should occur at all
in the human mind. His answer is that earliest man
reasoned like modern man, explaining the unknown
in terms of the known and reacting strongly to nature.
But, ignorant of “true philosophy” and bon sens, prim-
itive man personified natural causes; myth thus mirrors
the weakness and poverty of the savage mind. But as
such, myth is crude philosophizing. Thus, too, the
natural final goal of mythic thought is not revelation
but reason. Myth yields the origins not of idolatry but
of civilization: if human nature is unchanging, the
American Indian will in time thus become like the
ancient Greek. Fontenelle is the first to place myth
clearly within a rational theory of progress.

But these early confident analyses and reconstruc-
tions of myth also show another and uneasy side. Deism
is always confronted by a disparity between Nature
and the savagely “natural.” This is reflected in the
disparity between the European exalting of the noble,
innocent savage and European self-justification for
conquering, exploiting, and converting these peoples.
As Frank Manuel's study (1959) of rationalist myth
shows, the inner problem that myth presents to the
philosophes is strikingly expressed in how their psy-
chology of religious origins turns obsessively on the
emotion of fear or even terror. As superstitious igno-
rance of a superseded past, myth may be dismissed.
But rationalist mythology begins to demonstrate the
depth of human irrationality in the past, and also in
the present.

Although the new mythic approaches rise in the
name of new historical evaluation and nontraditional
evidence, the practice does not measure up to the
program. A. Momigliano (1950) makes clear how
“antiquarian” history diverges from “philosophic” his-
tory from about 1700. Cartesian and Pyrrhonic attacks
on historical knowledge had a vivifying effect when
they were carried over into mythic study, a new bold
spirit of inquiry. But the larger result is a widening
gap or hostility between the érudit and philosophe. In
Fontenelle or Voltaire, an impatience with les érudits
is manifest. Mythologizing becomes speculative, even
deductive, seeking for principles more than for exact,
empirical detail. The antiquarian collections from
Ezechiel Spanheim (1671), Jean LeClerc (1697), or
Bernard de Montfaucon (1719) to Joseph Spence
(1747), A.-C. P. de Caylus (1752), or J. D. Michaelis
(1753) later, are much less influential than they might
have been. One reason is narrow antiquarianism. A
prime example is the general flaccidity of theorizing
shown by the prestigiously erudite Académie des In-
scriptions et Belles-Lettres. Though Fontenelle, Nicolas
Fréret, and de Brosses were members, they were ex-
ceptions; more typical is Étienne Fourmont, fluent in
several oriental languages, who placidly accepted the
biblical diffusion theory to account for Chinese religion
and civilization. The dominant rationalist mythic
method through the period may be described by
Dugald Stewart's phrase (1794) as “Conjectural His-
tory”: a search for the true causes of historical devel-
opment as against merely empirical history.

These a priori explanations of myth slide easily into
claiming themselves to be genuine historical recon-
structions. A further refinement of mythology emerges
as these rationalist historiographic difficulties come
under criticism. Fréret, from within the Académie,
begins as a euhemerist but by his death in 1749 is an
important voice against a priori mythicizing: he argues
against mere fact-finding, facile reductions, and pleads
instead for recognition of the enormous historical
problems involved in studying myth.

Both the historiographic and philosophic problems
are raised most profoundly by Vico, who remains the
greatest critic of rationalist mythology but also the
most original rationalist mythologist. One key to his
thought lies in his emphasis on Providence guiding
man's development through secondary causes. Myths
are poetic truths, poetic truth is metaphysical truth—
but only for those lacking Christian revelation. Hu-
manity begins in religious fear, not of men but of the
divine. The first religion is idolatry, but it is a “true”
idolatry, a providential step towards a “rational civil
theology.” In the first age, man sees all only in terms
of the gods; in the next, in mixed divine-human terms;
finally, in human terms wholly. “Homer” is thus not
one of the true ancients, but looks back to an age of
gods. Vico's exegesis anticipates the romantic affirma-
tion of the wisdom of the mythic origins; but Vico
himself remains decisively in the rationalist camp.

By about 1750, rationalist and deist mythology
reaches both a stabilization and crisis. On one side,


the earlier approaches become widespread and enjoy
a certain acceptance. The Encyclopédie in its article
on mythology simply reprints without acknowl-
edgment a text by Fréret to which the “author,” Louis
de Jaucourt, adds an introductory paragraph and con-
clusion, together with a fragment from Banier. The
young Edward Gibbon is absorbed in myth. But popu-
lar handbooks remain conventional. F. A. Pomey, in
Tooke's Pantheon (1698), Pierre Chompre (1727), or
Benjamin Hederich (1724) present myth as idolatry,
lean to euhemerism and nod mechanically toward
Christian allegorism. Deist mythology may be said to
reach its consummation—and impasse—in Voltaire's
Essai sur les moeurs (1756). This universal secular
history shows a daringly wide use of comparative reli-
gion as a deist weapon against Christianity and classical
paganism alike. Greece, Israel, and Rome shrink to
small, late moments in the world's historical-religious
development. But if Voltaire stresses man's religious
pluralism to confute orthodoxy, as a deist he praises
only those sides of Chinese, Indian, or Arabian religion
akin to natural religion.

Between 1750 and 1760, three works appear which
drastically revalue rationalist mythic thought: Hume's
Natural History of Religion (written 1749-51, pub-
lished 1757); Turgot's discourses on the theory of
progress (1750); and Charles de Brosses' Du culte des
dieux fétiches
(1760). By redefining the scope and goal
of reason, Hume and Turgot naturally redefine how
myth must be understood; and both thinkers make clear
the inner problem which myth poses to rationality.

Hume has the scorn of a philosophe for mythic
barbarism and fear-founded religion. But his real chal-
lenge is in fact to earlier rationalist mythology. Reason
reveals itself unexpectedly as limited in its ability to
explain either faith or religious origins with any cer-
tainty. The original religion was not monotheistic, since
monotheism presupposes some developed degree of
reason; all primal religion must therefore have been
polytheistic. Hume frees myth from ultimate judgment
by reason. What myth then purports remains skep-
tically open, and problematic. Though Hume suggests
that human thought rises with civilization to higher
levels, he keeps this historical tendency apart from any
theory of progress which would make an upward
movement necessary. In this, he is partially seconded
by Holbach (1770) and N. A. Boulanger (1761) who
see the move from original awareness of nature into
a “higher” religion as hardly an advance. For Holbach,
once nature becomes intellectually hypostatized into
gods or God, a dangerous error is committed and per-
petuated; for Boulanger, religion is myth enduringly
infecting man's dignity.

In Hume, the suggestion is made clear that mythic
and rational thought differ radically; and he declares
that myth historically preceded reason. But Hume left
unexplained how the simple, concrete, and experien-
tially limited mind of the savage could rise to reason.
This now becomes a central problem. Turgot and later
theorists of progress suggest an answer. The progress
of reason is transferred to the historical process, char-
acterized now by invariable laws of development. With
Turgot, mythic thought shifts from emphasis on what
happened in the beginnings to what must happen at
the end of history. The savage mythic past is super-
seded by a Christian universality and charity moving
constantly into secular improvement. Myth exists only
as the barbaric first stage in this great movement. In
M. J. de Condorcet (1793-94), the stages of progress
occur in ten stages, with myth confined to the first.
As he is more optimistic than Turgot about the inevi-
tability of perfectibility, so Condorcet rejects myth
even more. And yet, in Condorcet too, myth retains
a modicum of dignity and importance: certain preju-
dices had to arise at each step of progress. In Auguste
Comte (1826-29), the periodization of rational progress
is elaborated and codified. The earliest stage of myth
is now identified with fetishism; the source for this is
in de Brosses. De Brosses' work had raised again the
enduring problem for eighteenth-century thought of
how to explain the discomforting evidence for Egyp-
tian animal-worship or worse, African fetish-worship.
De Brosses' explanation is uncompromisingly blunt and
simple: drawing on material from African religion, he
sees the savage worshipping the mere object utterly;
no higher meaning or thought can be intruded into
this plain idolatry. De Brosses locates this level of
fetishism as the first and universal stage of all religion.

A late, important rationalist mythology is Dupuis'
Origine de tous les cultes (1795), explaining all myth
as “allegories” celebrating the sun's diurnal passage.
Dupuis also stressed the primitive worship of natural
fertility, as did R. P. Knight (1781).

Romantic Mythology. Romantic mythic thought
may be fairly described first as breaking with all dero-
gation of myth as ignorance or idolatry. For romantics,
myth now appears as an inexhaustible mode of truth
or even power. This conviction is central to the re-
markable enthusiasm and vitality, but also to the inner
perplexities, of romantic myth. Myth seems irreducible
to familiar Christian or rationalist explanations. In-
stead, myth reflects or expresses a different, deeper
wisdom, sublime feeling, a primal unity and totality.
Myth thus implies, and romantic mythology generally
undertakes, an ambitious syncretic program: spiritual-
ity, knowledge, and creative energy are to be recon-
ciled and revitalized. Indeed, romantic mythic
theorizing stimulates a profoundly original artistic use
of myth, seemingly vindicating and demonstrating
myth's claim to speak vitally from all “wise and


beautiful” depths to the present. But while these
themes unify and animate, the inner history of romantic
mythology remains most complex. In part, there re-
mains the great problem of clarifying the nature of
the truth which myth offers. In part, also, while
German, English, and French romantics share in
developing this movement, they develop at different
times and with important national distinctions.

Beyond the general romantic attack on rationalist
assumptions, new mythic views emerge more specifi-
cally as the origins of history and poetry are radically
reassessed; these are anciently intimate with myth, and
what is newly claimed of one transfers easily to the
other. A first such change is found in the new impor-
tance placed on historical “particulars” in forming
nations and art. One result is that the “oldest” mythic
sources are now seen as created under special historical
conditions: climate, laws, customs, and language. Thus,
Blackwell (1735) seats Homer necessarily in his semi-
savage Greek epoch; Robert Lowth (1753) analyzes the
Old Testament as poetry depending on special Hebrew
religious, linguistic conditions; J. J. Winckelmann
(1755) stresses the totality of the Greek spirit and age
for understanding Greek art. Poetry and art become
living entrances to history and religion. However
intended, such historicizing also undermines classical
or biblical claims to supreme universality, so that a new
dignity accrues to “modern” poetry but also to savage
or folk epics, songs, and national lore. Since similar
conditions occur in the history of every people, the
“barbarian” Homer may have his rivals or even supe-
riors among, say, the Iroquois or early Nordics. More-
over, as history modifies art, so art can seem an expres-
sion of a whole people or era. With Vico, Fréret,
Blackwell, and Montesquieu a sense of independent and
organic national genius emerges; with E. Young and
J. G. Hamann “original” genius is praised. Robert
Wood (1769) draws even more extreme conclusions that
Homer perfectly reflected only the oral traditions of
his naïve age; the way is open to F. A. Wolf's scholarly
dissolution (1795) of the “poet” Homer into earlier
folk-oral traditions.

Genuinely new nonclassic mythic documents cause
important changes with Paul Henri Mallet's texts of
the Eddas (1755-56); material from India arrives in
force only after 1780, with full impact on mythology
after 1800. Mallet saw European civilization deriving
from Scandinavian, not classical, sources. In Mallet's
time the Chanson de Roland, Nibelungenlied, Kalevala,
and Beowulf were unknown. The Eddas' myths thus
become decisively important to understanding the
origins of central and northern Europe. Mallet, also,
however, claimed the myths of Odin and apoca-
lyptic destruction to be a corruption of an earlier,
gentler natural religion—but he gave no evidence.
Confirmation seemed to arrive with James Macpher-
son's alleged Ossianic fragments (1760-62). This “an-
cient” Nordic epic breathes a spiritual refinement
different from or even purer than Homer's. Ossian,
“Homer of the North,” could fulfill Rousseauistic,
deistic, and preromantic visions of a pre-Christian
society unspoiled by institutions and filled with love,
melancholy, and nature.

The first and finally most powerful development of
these ideas for myth occurs in Germany by 1765 to
1770, with J. G. von Herder's early characteristic
formulations. His work absorbs and culminates the
swift maturing successively of preromanticism, Pi-
etism, romantic Hellenism, German nationalism, and
the Sturm und Drang movements. With Winckelmann
and the philologist C. G. Heyne, especially, the Ger-
man study of Greek art and myth aims consciously at
revivifying contemporaneous art and mythology.
Winckelmann's praise of Greek artistic superiority also
teaches that Greek art developed in historical stages.
Further, he sees that Greek myth imaged truth
sensuously, and his views point ahead to myth as an
autonomous symbol.

Heyne's is perhaps the first important scholarly effort
to separate myth from poetry on a rigorous philologic
basis. He argues that myth can be understood rightly
only by seeing things as the wondering, insecure,
frightened primitive did. But mythic thought comes
to us always indirectly, in recorded or poetic form.
Lowth had earlier shown how Hebrew poetic forms
necessarily sprang from and led back to revealed con-
tent. By philologically analyzing how poetry develops
progressively from simple to complex, Heyne seeks a
way back to the conditions surrounding myth before
poetry intervened. An end point of Heyne's method
is D. F. Strauss' Das Leben Jesu (1835-36), which uses
mythic analysis to analyze the Bible.

Herder is the greatest innovator and influence in
German romantic mythologizing. He is certainly the
first major figure since Vico to make myth central
to his whole position. He reargues the case for the
richness and primal unity of myth in new terms. Chris-
tians, deists, and philosophes saw myth as either failing
to attain the universal or else as falling from it to
limited or false beliefs and knowledge. Herder defends
mythic wisdom precisely by appealing to such differ-
entiation. The separate cultural values and growth of
peoples become proof of culturally relativistic original
harmony. He holds that such primal unity can nowhere
be found as such; no single absolute revelation or
timeless cultural ideal has been given to man. But the
innumerable languages, poetries, histories, and religions
all arise from and preserve such original human


totality. As he rejects any separation between reason
and imagination or between thought and action as
artificial, so Herder rejects allegorizing myth. All myth
is a sensuous symbolic truth, at once poetry, theology,
philosophy, and energy. Myth is creative: by projecting
himself into his surroundings, mythic man finds truth.
The natural goal towards which myth strives now is
Humanität. But all myth, like all language, is neces-
sarily national—an expression of each people's spirit
(Volksgeist). Each myth is the authentic single form
taken by a nation's genetische Kraft (“genetic power”)
as it shapes its culture out of cosmic-natural energy.
Mythopoesis remains communal, and as long as the
culture lives, goes on perpetually, as in folk poetry.
Comparative mythology is thus the way to study man-
kind, but only our own mythology can lead us to know

Herder's influence on mythology accompanies his
pervasive influence on poetry, criticism, philosophy of
history, social history, and nationalism. In his own
generation, his impact on Goethe is well-known.
Goethe early achieved a profound originality and free-
dom in using mythic themes. His poetic use of myth
is too great to be summarized here: it runs from 1770
with such lyrics as Prometheus through the mythic
panorama of Faust. Goethe also provides new emphasis
on myth as an aesthetic symbol springing from nature
rather than from any Volk. The statues of the gods “are
really what they represent.” “Jupiter” is the image of
divine majesty, but an image which such majesty itself
would assume could it become plastic. Karl Philipp
Moritz' Die Götterlehre (1790), perhaps with Goethe's
collaboration, develops these Plotinian-romantic ideas.

German mythic thought enters a new productive
period beginning about 1797, with younger romantics
like Novalis, Friedrich Hölderlin, and the Schlegels;
with F. W. J. Schelling, and with the symbolist my-
thology of F. Creuzer and Joseph von Görres. After
1810, the impetus here dissipates, although Schelling's
new, important, but isolated mythic theorizing con-
tinues to his death in 1854. In contrast to Herder's and
Goethe's emphasis on a perfected differentiated form,
the romantics seek to recover the undifferentiated
primordial mythic moment before human totality fell
and sundered. In contrast, too, the romantics have deep
Christian and philosophical idealist commitments.
Thus, they see myth less as organic growth or natural
type than as a reconciling of polarities between neces-
sity and freedom, infinite and finite, sensuous and spir-
itual. Related to this is the new conviction that modern
poets not only will use myth, but may perhaps create
new myths. Primal unity once occurred in spontaneity
and innocence, and can now be regained only by a
self-conscious effort at reconciliation. Such self-con
sciousness, however, fulfills rather than falsifies the
true meaning of myth. Especially important here is the
poet Schiller's teaching that the modern soul yearns
for the infinite, the undetermined; what was only partly
shadowed forth in “finite” pagan myth or even
Christianity must now be freely raised to a higher and
fully universal power. New importance is thus placed
on the all-embodying, endlessly expanding but self-
referring symbol. The true fulfillment of myth will
come only when all contradictions are synthesized, all
spiritual potentialities are realized, all religions and
philosophies merge in oneness. This hope pervades
romantic myth: in Novalis' “magic idealism,” trans-
forming the world into a waking dream and Totalwis-
(“total knowledge”); in Hölderlin's gods
whose return heralds the Golden Age again; in F.
Schlegel's call for a truly romantic “universal and
progressive poetry”; in Schelling's “Odyssey of the
Spirit” which seeks itself through nature, to return
self-possessed and fulfilled, to God.

To achieve this redemptive mythic oneness, the ro-
mantics offer two main approaches. First, a hope to
create a radically modern myth from wholly modern
materials such as modern science or idealism. Romantic
mythopoesis is most powerfully and early proposed in
F. Schlegel's Rede über die Mythologie (1800). Without
a mythic center of its own, modern poetry and life
must remain inwardly fragmented; with it, the moderns
may surpass the ancients. A corollary here is F.
Schlegel's and other romantics' exaltation of the Asiatic
and ecstatic god Dionysus against Apollonian clas-

Another main romantic approach looks back to India
as having a mythic past entirely consonant with its own
aspirations. Here, for the first time, India decisively
supplants Greece as the prime mythic source and
image. The European image of India begins to form
after mid-century with historical reports by Joseph de
Guignes or J. Z. Holwell. Sanskrit philology revives
in a major way only around 1780, with translations
by Sir Charles Wilkins and especially Sir William
Jones. The early impact of this material is wide, stimu-
lating, but the mythic implications remain problematic.
In his On the Gods of Greece, Italy and India (1784),
the greatest early Sanskritist, Sir William Jones, sug-
gests the Indians as a new source for Egyptian religion;
but he is careful to set Genesis apart from the Vedas,
which he places as written after the time of the flood.
Beyond his translations, Jones's main contribution is
in suggesting a modern comparative philology based
on the common descent of Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin.
From Jones on, however, English and French Indology
remains conventional in its study of myth. But with
Herder, India becomes a catalyst for romanticism. As


A. L. Willson's study (1964) of German romantic
Indism shows, Herder is the chief contributor to the
enthusiasm for India as the homeland and cradle of
religion and civilization, of mythic innocence. The
Schlegels' Athenäum (1798) exalts and codifies India
as the very source and model of romantic yearning for
the infinite. Though he knew no Sanskrit, Friedrich
Majer becomes the encyclopedist for this literary in-
terest (1803-10).

From 1810, the philologic-historical approach begins
its rise to dominance, again first in Germany. Romanti-
cism contributes importantly to this change, first by
stimulating philologic research, and next by revealing
its own assumptions as vulnerable to philological criti-
cism. Both sides appear in F. Schlegel's effort to cor-
roborate romantic views of Indian sublimity by direct
study of Sanskrit from 1802, resulting in his Über
Sprache und Weisheit der Indier
(1808). But the work
shows him disillusioned by Hindu fatalism and dualism;
Hinduism remains higher than Greek myth but inferior
to Christianity. After Schlegel, the romantic mythic
image of India finally breaks. A major result in part
is to make all myth the preserve of special philologic
disciplines: the first Sanskrit chair is founded in 1814
in the Collège de France, Franz Bopp's comparative
grammar appears in 1833-52, and Eugène Burnouf
advances Persian (Avestan) and Buddhist study (1832;
1845). On the other side, “Orientalism” passes into
literary or speculative use—sometimes greatly as in
Goethe's Divan or Schopenhauer's Buddhist interest,
but mostly in merely modish pseudo-Oriental styles and

The further ascendancy of the philological school
is marked by F. Creuzer's romantic cause célèbre, his
Symbolik und Mythologie der Alten Völker (1810). This
work provokes damaging rebuttal from unsympathetic
historians. Christian August Lobeck's Aglaophamus
(1829) massively refutes Creuzer's attempt to derive
all Greek religion from migrating Indian priests who
lowered the high, pure Indian religion to popular
Greek mythic form, while concealing the true doctrines
in symbolic Mysteries. Lobeck's attack on Creuzer's
claim that these Mystery doctrines were essentially
Orphic and Neo-Platonic derogated as well similar
Mystery views held by Novalis, or Görres. K. O. Müller
(1825), perhaps the most influential classicist of his age,
accuses Creuzer of wrongly explaining Greek myth as
imported or invented, rather than as rising integrally
from within a slowly evolving Greek context. Müller's
work heralds a “scientific” return to Herder's stress on
local, national myth. The work of the Grimms in
Germanic folklore is similarly Herderian in spirit.

The most expansive philosophizing on myth in the
period is in Schelling's “last” phase. His Philosophie
Der Mythologie (1857) subsumes history under a meta-
physical system proving myth “objective.” Creuzer had
separated the primal symbol from later, vulgarized
myth. Schelling rejoins symbol and myth, now calling
myth “tautegory” to avoid reducing mythic unity to
allegory. Myth is a “history of the gods.” But contra-
dicting euhemerist apotheosis, myth represents how the
gods become human, i.e., incarnate. Each theogony is
a “moment” in both the self-unfolding of the Divine
and the human religious consciousness. Time and his-
tory occur as myth appears, for myth is nothing but
a first revelation, though still unfree when compared
to the fuller, wholly free Christian revelation.

In the nineteenth century, the German joining of
mythology, literary criticism, philosophy, and mytho-
poesis is not duplicated elsewhere—an example
is Richard Wagner's ambitious synthesis of myth, liter-
ature, theater, music, and mythic theory in his operas
and essays toward the middle of the century. In
England, there is no comparable body of theoretic
innovation or speculative depth: Jacob Bryant
(1774-76) mixes fanciful etymologizing with the
theories of French philosophes; Captain Wilford (1804)
or H. T. Colebrooke (1824-27) are antiquarian Indic
enthusiasts; the Druidic mythologists—from William
Stukeley (1740) through Edward Davies (1809)—fur-
nish mystically patriotic speculation. But English po-
etry produces an incomparable body of work using
myth. From 1790, William Blake's remarkable series
of mythic poems culminates in the “Prophetic” books,
Milton and Jerusalem. Wordsworth and Keats look back
to John Milton and English poetic tradition more than
to mythic theory of their age or before. In France,
mythic theory emerges partly under positivist influ-
ence, with much interest in Charles François Dupuis'
solar views; but also partly under the impact of
German ideas, as Edgar Quinet's interest in Herder
shows, or indirectly, Jules Michelet's interest in Vico.
But this French mythic theorizing, from about 1820,
remains somewhat apart from the creative use of myth
in Gérard de Nerval, Victor Hugo, or Eugène Dela-
croix. The last great literary achievement in myth in
our period occurs around mid-century in America, with
Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt
Whitman; these writers look back to English literature,
but are also surprisingly versed in German romantic


B. Feldman and R. Richardson, The Rise of Modern
Mythology 1700-1850
(Bloomington, Ind., 1971) provides
texts and a comprehensive bibliography. Otto Gruppe,
Geschichte der Klassischen Mythologie und Religions-
(Leipzig, 1921) surveys mythic theory, as does


Jan de Vries, Forschungsgeschichte der Mythologie (Munich,
1961) with useful texts. See also: Frank Manuel, The Eight-
eenth Century Confronts the Gods
(Cambridge, Mass., 1959;
reprint, 1967), which illuminatingly analyzes Enlightenment
mythology; Fritz Strich, Die Mythologie in der deutschen
Literatur von Klopstock bis Wagner
(Halle, 1910); A. L.
Willson, A Mythical Image: The Ideal of India in German
(Durham, N.C., 1964); Raymond Schwab, La
Renaissance orientale
(Paris, 1950); A. Momigliano, “An-
cient History and the Antiquarian,” in Studies in Histori-
(London, 1966).


[See also Christianity in History; Deism; Dualism; Enlight-
Historiography; Irrationalism; Perfectibility; Prim-
itivism; Romanticism; Volksgeist.]