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20.2 Primitive Aryan Life

What sort of life did these prehistoric Aryans lead, these Nordic Aryans who were the chief ancestors of most Europeans and most white Americans and European colonists of today, as well as of the Armenians,[1] Persians, and high-caste Hindus?

In answering that question in addition to the dug-up remains and vestiges upon which we have had to rely in the case of the predecessors of the Aryans, we have a new source of knowledge. We have language. By careful study of the Aryan languages it has been found possible to deduce a number of conclusions about the life of these Aryan peoples 5,000 or 4,000 years ago. All these languages have a common resemblance, as each, as we have already explained, rings the changes upon a number of common roots. When we find the same root word running through all or most of these tongues, it seems reasonable to conclude that the thing that root word signifies must have been known to the common ancestors. Of course, if they have exactly the same word in their languages, this may not be the case; it may be the new name of a new thing or of a new idea that has spread over the world quite recently. “Gas”, for instance, is a word that was made by Van Helmont, a Dutch chemist, about 1625, and has spread into most civilized tongues, and “tobacco” again is an American-Indian word which followed the introduction of smoking almost everywhere. But if the same word turns up in a number of languages, and if it follows the characteristic modifications of each language, we may feel sure that it has been in that language, and a part of that language, since the beginning, suffering the same changes with the rest of it. We know, for example, that the words for wagon and wheel run in this fashion through the Aryan tongues, and so we are able to conclude that the primitive Aryans, the more purely Nordic Aryans, had, wagons, though it would seem from the absence of any common roots for spokes, rim, or axle that their wheels were not wheelwright’s wheels with spokes, but made of the trunks of trees shaped out with an axe between the ends.

These primitive wagons were drawn by oxen. The early Aryans did not ride or drive horses; they had very little to do with horses. The Reindeer men were a horse-people, but the Neolithic Aryans were a cow-people. They ate beef, not horse; and after many ages they began this use of draught cattle. They reckoned wealth by cows. They wandered, following pasture, and “trekking” their goods, as the South African Boer’s do, in ox-wagons, though of course their wagons were much clumsier than any to be found in the world today. They probably ranged over very wide areas. They were migratory, but not in the strict sense of the word “nomadic”; they moved in a slower, clumsier fashion than did the later, more specialized nomadic peoples. They were forest and parkland people without horses. They were developing a migratory life out of the more settled “forest clearing” life of the earlier Neolithic period. Changes of climate which were replacing forest by pasture, and the accidental burning of forests by fire, may have assisted this development.

We have already described the sort of home the primitive Aryan occupied and his household life, so far as the remains of the Swiss pile dwellings enable us to describe these things. Mostly his houses were of too flimsy a sort, probably of wattle and mud, to have survived, and possibly he left them and trekked, on for very slight reasons. The Aryan peoples burnt their dead, a custom they still preserve in India, but their predecessors, the long-barrow people, the Iberians, buried their dead in a sitting position. In some ancient Aryan burial mounds (round barrows) the urns containing the ashes of the departed are shaped like houses, and these represent rounded huts with thatched roofs. (See Figure 86: Hut Urns.)

The grazing of the primitive Aryan was far more important to him than his agriculture. At, first he cultivated with a, rough wooden boo; then, after he had found out the use of cattle for draught purposes, he began real ploughing with oxen, using at first a suitably bent tree bough as his plough. His first cultivation before that came about must have been rather in the form of garden patches near the house buildings than of fields. Most of the land his tribe occupied was common land on which the cattle grazed together.

He never used stone for building house walls until upon the very verge of history. He used stone for hearths (e. g. at Glastonbury), and sometimes stone sub-structures. He did, however, make a sort of stone house in the centre of the great mounds in which he buried the ashes of his illustrious dead. He may have learnt this custom from his Iberian neighbours, and. predecessors. It was these dark whites of the heliolithic culture, and not the primitive Aryans, who were responsible, for such temples as Stonehenge or Carnac in Brittany.

These Aryans were congregated not in cities but in districts of pasturage, as clans and tribal communities. They formed loose leagues of mutual help under chosen leaders, they had centres where they could come together with their cattle in times of danger, and they made camps with walls-of earth and palisades, many of which are still to be traced in the history worn contours of the European scenery. The leaders under whom men fought in war were often the same men as the sacrificial purifiers who were their early priests.

The knowledge of bronze spread late in Europe. The Nordic European had been making his slow advances age by age for 7,000 or 8,000 years before the metals came. By that time his social life had developed so that there were men of various occupations and men and women of different ranks in the community. There were men who worked wood and leather, potters and carvers. The women span and wove and embroidered. There were chiefs and families that were, distinguished as leaderly and noble. The Aryan tribesman varied the monotony of his herding and wandering, he consecrated undertakings and celebrated triumphs, held funeral assemblies, and distinguished the traditional seasons of the year, by feasts. His meats we have already glanced at; he was an eager user of intoxicating drinks. He made these of honey of barley, and, as the Aryan speaking tribes spread southward, of the grape. And he got merry and drunken. Whether he, first used yeast to make his bread light or to ferment his drink we do not know.

At his feasts there were individuals with a gift for “playing the fool”, who did so no doubt to win the laughter of their friends, but there was also another sort of men, of great importance in their time, and still more important to the historian, certain singers of songs and stories, the bards or rhapsodists. These bards existed among all the Aryan-speaking peoples; they were a consequence of and a further factor in that development of spoken language which was the chief of all the human advances made in Neolithic times. They chanted or recited stories of the past, or stories of the living chief and his people; they told other stories that they invented; they memorized jokes and catches. They found and seized upon and improved the rhythms, rhymes, alliterations, and such-like possibilities latent in language; they probably did much to elaborate and fix grammatical forms. They were the first great artists of the ear, as the later Aurignacian rock painters were the first great artists of the eye and hand. No doubt they used much gesture; probably they learnt appropriate gestures when they learnt their songs; but the order and sweetness and power of language was their primary concern.

And they mark a new step forward in the power and range of the human mind. They sustained and developed in men’s minds a sense of a greater something than themselves, the tribe, and of a life that extended back into the past. They not only recalled old hatreds and battles, they recalled old alliances and a common inheritance. The feats of dead heroes lived again. The Aryans began to live in thought before they were born and after they were dead.

Like most human things, this bardic tradition grew first slowly and then more rapidly. By the time bronze was coming into Europe there was not an Aryan people that had not a profession and training of bards. In their hands language became as beautiful as it is ever likely to be. These bards were living books, man-histories, guardians and makers of a new and more powerful tradition in human life. Every Aryan people had its long poetical records thus handed down, its sagas (Teutonic), its epics (Greek) its vedas (Old Sanskrit). The earliest Aryan people were essentially a people of the voice. The recitation seems to have predominated even in those ceremonial and dramatic dances and that ?dressing-up? which among most human races have also served for the transmission of tradition.

At that time there was no writing, and when first the art of writing crept into Europe, as we shall tell later, it must have seemed far too slow, clumsy, and lifeless a method of record for men to trouble very much about writing down these glowing and beautiful treasures of the memory. Writing was at first kept for accounts and matters of fact. The, bards and rhapsodists flourished for long after the introduction of writing. They survived, indeed, in Europe as the minstrels into the Middle Ages.

Unhappily their tradition had not the fixity of a written record. They amended and reconstructed, they had their fashions and their phases of negligence. Accordingly we have now only the very much altered and revised vestiges of that spoken literature of prehistoric times. One of the most interesting and informing of these prehistoric compositions of the Aryans survives in the Greek Iliad. An early form of Iliad was probably recited by 1,000 B.C., but it was not written down until perhaps 700 or 600 B.C. Many men must have bad to do with it as authors and improvers, but later Greek tradition attributed it to a blind bard named Homer, to whom also is ascribed the Odyssey, a composition of a very different spirit and outlook. It is possible that many of the Aryan bards were blind men. According to Professor J. L. Myres their bards were blinded to prevent their straying from the tribe. Mr. L. Lloyd has seen in Rhodesia the musician of a troupe of native dancers who had been blinded by his chief for this very reason. The Slavs called all bards sliepac, which was also their word for a blind man. The original recited version of the Iliad was older than that of the Odyssey. “The Iliad as a complete poem is older than the Odyssey, though the material of the Odyssey, being largely undatable folk-lore, is older than any of the historical material in the Iliad.” Both epics were probably written over and rewritten at a later date, in much the same manner that Lord Tennyson, the poet laureate of Queen Victoria, in his Idylls of the King, wrote over the Morte d’Arthur (which was itself a writing over by Sir Thomas Malory, circ. 1450, of pre-existing legends), making the speeches and sentiments and the characters more in accordance with those of his own time. But the events of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the way of living they describe, the spirit of the acts recorded, belong to the closing centuries of the prehistoric age. These sagas, epics, and vedas do supply, in addition to archaeology and philology, a third source of information about those vanished times.

Here, for example, is the concluding passage of the Iliad, describing very exactly the making of a prehistoric barrow. (We have taken here Chapman’s rhymed translation, correcting certain words with the help of the prose version of Lang, Leaf, and Myers.)

« . . . Thus oxen, mules, in wagons straight they put, Went forth, and an unmeasured pile of sylvan matter cut; Nine days employ’d in carriage, but when the tenth morn shin’d On wretched mortals, then they - brought the bravest of his, kind Forth to be burned. Troy swam in tears. Upon the pile’s most height They laid the body, and gave fire. All day it burn’d, all night. But when th’ elev’nth morn let on earth her rosy fingers shine, The people flock’d about the pile, and first, with gleaming wine Quench’d all the flames. His brothers then, and friends, the snowy bones Gather’d into an urn of gold, still pouring out their moans. Then wrapt they in soft purple veils the rich urn, digg’d a pit, Grav’d it, built up the grave with stones, and quickly piled on it A barrow. . . . . . . The barrow heap’d once, all the town In Jove-nurs’d Priam’s Court partook a sumptuous fun’ral feast, And so horse-taming Hector’s rites gave up his soul to rest.»

There remains also an old English saga, Beowulf, made long before the English had crossed from Germany into England, which winds up with a similar burial. The preparation of a pyre is first described. It is hung round with shields and coats of mail. The body is brought and the pyre fired, and then for ten days the warriors built a mighty mound to be seen afar by the traveller on sea or land. Beowulf, which is at least a thousand years later than the Iliad, is also interesting because one of the main adventures in it is the looting of the treasures of a barrow already ancient in those days.

[1]But these may have been an originally Semitic people who learnt an Aryan speech.

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