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- The Interdependence of Literature - 2/15 -
Josephus, who first saw the light in A.D. 37; and Numenius, who lived in the second century, were Jews, who as such remained, while adopting Greek philosophy. The learned writings of the Rabbis became known as Rabbinical literature. It is written in a language that has its roots in the Hebrew and Chaldaic; though it has also borrowed largely from the Arabian, Greek and Latin. In the sixteenth century Christian scholars began to make an extensive study of Hebrew and Rabbinical literature, and they were not slow to discover the value of these Oriental works. These writings, however, are subject to change, and it is in the Bible alone that we find the fundamental teaching of Hebrew literature. Differing entirely from the Mythological and Oriental Nations, it taught, as its cardinal principle, the unity of God. Its historical worth has been recognized by the greatest scholars in all ages, and it has influenced not only the ancient world, but also the literature and poetry of the Middle Ages and of modern times. It forms a contrast to the philosophy of the Greeks, and to that of Europeans of a later age. When the latter have tried to explain the great mystery of God and man, they have invariably failed. In the beautiful writings of the Greeks, wherein we find the height of artistic expression and polish, there is a subsequent gradual decline; but such is not the case in the Old Testament. In every age fresh beauty and hidden treasure is found in its pages. Another phase of the Bible which has had a far reaching and lasting effect upon all language and literature, is its prevailing spirit of types and symbols. This is conspicuous both in the poetical books and in those that are didactic or historical. It has had the same influence on the thoughts and imagination of all Christian people and upon the poetry and imitative arts of the Middle Ages (and nearly the same upon later and more cultivated times) that Homer had upon the Ancients. For in it we find the standard of all our Christian images and figures, and it gives us a model of imitation that is far more beautiful in itself, and far more world-wide in its application than anything we can borrow from the Greeks. We see this in Dante and Tasso, and in other Christian poets. To the Hebrew, as the original custodians of the Old Testament, we are indebted for keeping the faith pure when all other nations either forgot or abandoned it, or else mixed it up with errors and idolatry. What Moses records of the creation of the world and the first ten Fathers, is embodied by the Persians, Indians and Chinese in whole volumes of mythology, and surrounded by a host of fanciful traditions. Thus we see in the Hebrew as the chosen people of God, a nation able to preserve its literature intact through captivity, dispersion and persecution, for a period of four thousand years.
Sanskrit has only recently become known to Europe through the researches of English and German Oriental scholars. It is now acknowledged to be the auxiliary and foundation of all civilized speech, and is important as being the language of an extensive literature which records the life of a wonderful people from a remote age nearly to the present time.
The ancient home of the Aryan, or Indo-European race, was in Central Asia, whence many of its people migrated to the West, and became the founders of the Persian, Greek and Roman Nations, besides settling in Spain and England. Other offshoots of the original Aryans took their lives in their hands and penetrated the passes of the Himalayas, spreading all over India. Wherever they went, they seem to have held themselves superior to the aboriginal people whom they found in possession of the soil.
"The history of civilization," says a well-known authority on literature, "is everywhere the history of the Aryan race. The forefathers of the Greek and Roman, of the Englishman and the Hindu, dwelt together in India, spoke the same language, and worshipped the same gods. The languages of Europe and India are merely different forms of the original Aryan speech. This is especially true of the words of common family life. Father, Mother, brother, sister and widow, are substantially the same in most of the Aryan languages whether spoken on the banks of the Ganges, the Tiber or the Thames. The word daughter, which occurs in nearly all of them, is derived from the Sanskrit word signifying to draw milk, and preserves the memory of the time when the daughter was the little milkmaid in the primitive Aryan household."
The Hindu language is founded on the Sanskrit, of which we may name the books of the Vedas, 1500 B.C.
All the poetical works of Asia, China and Japan are taken almost entirely from the Hindu, while in Southern Russia the meagre literature of the Kalmucks is borrowed entirely from the same source. The Ramayana, or great Hindu poem, must have had its origin in the history-to-be of Christ. It has been translated into Italian and published in Paris. The Hitopadesa, a collection of fables and apologues, has been translated into more languages than any book except the Bible. It has found its way all over the civilized world, and is the model of the fables of all countries.
The dramas of Kalidasa, the Hindu Shakespeare, contain many episodes borrowed from the great Epic poems. The Messenger Cloud of this poet is not surpassed by any European writer of verse. The Ramayon and the Mahabharata are the two great Epic poems of India, and they exceed in conception and magnitude any of the Epic poems in the world, surpassing the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Jerusalem Delivered. The Ramayon, of seven Cantos, has twenty-five thousand verses, and the hero, Rama, in his wanderings and misfortunes, is not unlike Ulysses. The Mahabharata records the doings of gods, giants, and heroes, who are all fighting against each other. It contains two hundred thousand verses, embodied in eighteen Cantos, and is thought to be not the work of one man; but different songs sung from the earliest ages by the people, and gradually blended into one poem. In it we find the ancient traditions which nearly all people possess, of a more free, active and primitive state of nature, whose world of greatness and heroism has been suppressed in later ages. Among the Hindustans there exists a religion resembling in part that of Greece, with traces of the Egyptian; and yet containing in itself many ideas, both moral and philosophical, which in spite of dissimilarity in detail, is evidently akin to our doctrines of the Christian religion. In fact, the resemblance between the Hindu and Christian religion is so remarkable that some scholars think the Hindu was taken from the Christian. It is more probable that it was of greater antiquity, and that the similarity between them springs from the seed of all truth and all Nature implanted in man by God. Indian and Christian both teach regeneration. In the Indian creed, as soon as the soul is touched with the love of divine things it is supposed to drop its life of sin and become "new born."
In a higher region all these truths in the lower world which have to do with divine things, are mysteriously akin to each other. It needs only the first spark of light from above to make them instinct with life.
The Recluses or Gymnosophists of India are not unlike the first Recluses of Egypt, and the first hermits of the desert in the Christian era.
The doctrines of India first obtained a foothold in Europe through the dogma of Metempsychosis. It was introduced into the Hellenes by Pythagoras; but never became popular among the Greeks. This Metempsychosis (or the transmigration of souls) was believed by the Indians from the earliest period, and their whole history is built upon it. A very ancient connection can be traced between India and Egypt, manifested by Castes, which are found equally in both countries, and by similiar Mythologies. When Alexander the Great invaded Northern India from Persia, the Greeks found an Indian Mythology far more like their own than the Persian or Hebrew. They thought they had met with the same gods they had been accustomed to worship, though clothed in a different form and color. They showed their faith in this discovery by the names of the Indian Hercules and the Indian Bacchus, later so common among them.
The worship of Vishnoo and Krishnoo in Hindostan differs very little from the religion of Buddha and Fo which was established in China and Thibet during the first century of Christianity. The former retained caste, while the latter, following the teaching of Buddha, have repudiated any class distinctions.
Decimal cyphers originated in Hindostan.
In everything appertaining to their religious belief the Persians bear a close resemblance to the Hebrew, but the poetical part of their mythology is more similiar to the Northern theology, while their manners bear a strong resemblance to the Germans. The spiritual worship of nature, light, fire, and of other pure elements, is embodied in both the Zend Avesta (Persian) and the Edda (Scandinavian). The two nations have the same opinion concerning spirits which rule and fill nature, and this has given rise to poetical fancies about giants, dwarfs and other beings, found equally in Persian and Northern Sagas.
The work of Lokman, existing now only in Arabic, has caused some people to think that it is of Arabian origin; but it is really Persian, and of the tenth century B.C. His Apologues are considered the foundation on which Greek fable was reared. The Code of Zoroaster, in which the two great principles of the world are represented by Ormuzd (goodness and light), and Ahriman (darkness and sin) are as old as the creation.
Ormuzd is worshiped in the sun, the stars, and in fire. Zoroaster explained the history of man as being one long contest between these two powers until a time to come when Ormuzd would be victorious over Ahriman. Ormuzd, as the ruler of the universe, seeks to draw men to the light, to dispel the darkness of ignorance, and to extend the triumph of virtue over the material and spiritual world. It may be said of the Persians, as Tertullian said of the Roman Pagans, "that in their highest moods and beliefs they were naturally Christian." Among a Persian sect called the Sufis' there is a belief that nothing exists absolutely but God; that the human soul is an emanation from His essence, and will ultimately be restored to Him, and that the supreme object of life should be a daily approach to the eternal spirit, so as to form as perfect a union with the divine nature as possible. How nearly this belief approaches the Christian doctrine, will be easily seen.
Persian poetry is nearly all in the form of love stories, of which the "Misfortunes of Mejnoun and Leila" represent the Eastern Romeo and Juliet, and may have been known to Shakespeare
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