The desire to celebrate the lives of famous men has no doubt been a fundamental characteristic of human nature since the beginning of time. The picture of ‘primitive’ man, squatting at night by a fire in the smoky cave, which served him for a home, relating his brief, rude, ancestral tales to an appreciative audience of two or three, rapt and forgetful (for a moment) of the harsh life outside, is neither unplausible nor improbable.
It is perhaps possible (on the principle of ex pede Herculem) to disentangle some of the elements which contributed to the experience afforded by the relation of such stories. In an uncivilized community the dead exact a tyrannical homage from the living in order that the consequences of their imagined wrath may be averted. Hence they are to be placated by all means, and their memory is to be revered by the enumeration of the glorious exploits which they performed whilfe living. For, in the ‘next world’, whither they have been translated—call it the Elysian Fields, or what you will—they are conceived of as taking joy in the celebration of their valour and the recital of their achievements.
Again, the tribe or race must be preserved, and there is no more suitable medium for the crystallization of tribal or racial virtues than oral tradition. The young men, as they listen to the deeds of their forefathers, are stirred by ‘this constant renewal of the good report of brave men’ and are themselves fired with the desire for an immortal name.
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