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A RECENT DISCOVERY IN ROME
IN CONNECTION WITH
MYTHOLOGY AND SYMBOLISM IN BRITAIN.
BY MISS RUSSELL.
(Read 20th April 1892.)
THE letter of Dr. Russell Forbes, printed in the "Proceedings", December 31st, 1890, seems to me to explain satisfactorily a subject about which I have had a theory for some time. The cup and ring cuttings, as they are called, of England and Scotland, the distribution of which does not seem to depend on nationality or religion so much as on the character of the rocks in the districts in which they occur, have been studied, more or less, since the beginning of this century, with the result of numerous engravings and other representations of them to be found in different publications; but the meaning has always been a puzzle, while, as the late Sir James Simpson says in his treatise on the subject, they probably mean something.
And it occurred to me, from finding that similar figures (of course on a level surface) occur in more than one case with the subject of Ulysses and Polyphemus on the Etruscan vases (the Cyclops being understood to be degraded sun-gods), that the cup and ring must be meant for the sun regarded as an eye, and that it was probably carved on the rocks as a charm against the evil eye, some sort of belief in which seems to be rather the rule than the exception, beyond the regions of John Knox and the School Boards. As to the East, Major Conder says, I think in Heth and Moab, that the fear of the evil eye is very much mixed up with that of sunstroke and moonstroke; which latter is a fact, whether or not it is, as has been supposed, the effect of the chill from radiation under a clear night sky. Mr. Villiers Stuart, in one of his Egyptian books, mentions a conversation with a man who complained of a headache, which he attributed to some
one having cast the evil eye on him the last market-day. In Italy, as is well known, the fear of it is very prevalent indeed. In France, during one of the bad seasons which prevailed about ten years ago, a farmer in some country district was almost torn in pieces by his neighbours, and buried under a heap of stones. The people entirely believed that he had cast the evil eye on their crops; but the authorities were obliged to take cognizance of this archaic proceeding.
A notable English case is mentioned in Macquoid's About Yorkshire, that of a man who so entirely believed in the fatal effect of his own regard, that he walked about with his eyes on the ground, and never looked any one in the face, and never looked in the direction of the children at all.
Mr. Rudyard Kipling, whose folk-lore is unexceptionable, bears strong testimony to the blind terror of Hindoos and Mohammedans alike, in India, of any commendation of their children; and this probably has to do with the terrible power of the sun there.
For the benefit of those who have not studied the circular rock-cuttings, it may be explained that they vary from about 6 in. to 2 or 3 ft. in diameter; that the simplest form is that which most nearly represents an eye, a central cup with a ring incised round it; but that as the size increases, the rings are multiplied, and five or six are common. A large specimen is very much like a moderate-sized archery-target. I have a rubbing of one, taken by myself, which is 40 in. across. This is on Chatton Law, near Wooler. In Simpson's engravings it is confounded with another large one on the Dod Law.
They occur more particularly on rock-surfaces near old inhabited sites. They appear to be studiously irregular. Many of the variations which are given in the engravings are natural cracks or breakages of the rock. Lines of holes, which may be rudimentary, or imitative, calendars or rosaries, occur along with the circles, and also on the harder rocks without them. Possible North American analogies have been pointed out for these,-a circle followed by four dots, meaning four days in Indian picturewriting.
The point which the discovery described by Dr. Russell
Forbes clears up is this. Most of the sets of concentric circles are traversed by what is described as a radial groove, from the centre to the outside. It is the exception when this is not the case. The mosaic which was found in Rome in 1890, on the Cælian Hill, shows an eye surrounded by beasts and birds emblematic of the gods and goddesses, the eye itself being pierced by a javelin ! This was recognised by the authorities as a charm against the evil eye. Two or three similar charms exist, but without the javelin, which seems to be intended by the graver of the British circles. Throwing the spear is not much practised in Europe at present, but I think neither the assegai nor any other javelin has anything corresponding to the feathers of an arrow. It may be added, one of the charms above mentioned has, in addition to the sacred animals, a human figure fencing at the eye with a trident.
The largest and longest known circles in Britain are those of the north-east of Northumberland (a limestone district), and those of the valley traversed by the Crinan Canal in Argyleshire. They have lately been found in considerable numbers, though not as yet of such large size, on rock-scalps near the coast of Kirkcudbrightshire, north of the Solway. One or more cases occur near Robin Hood's Bay, on the Yorkshire coast; and it is now known there are a great many cases of single rocks engraved with two or three or more circles in the north of Scotland, generally in the sea-coast districts.
The most human thing I know about these circles is their probable identity with the saucer, which seems to have been, in the seventeenth century, one of the official marks on the boundary-stones of the burgh of Aberdeen. I have not myself verified this from the Burgh Records, as published by the Spalding Club; but I believe the stones are described as being "crossit", "sausseryt", and for St. Peter's parish marked with the key: the cross and key being, no doubt, disused for political and polemical reasons, fresh stones are ordered to be saucered if required. These marks would be all originally religious symbols; and it is to be remembered the eye is not necessarily pagan.
On the other hand, I have little doubt that the repre
sentation of a set of circles with a tolerably well depicted boar, on a stone not far from Inverness, stands for summer and winter. Though I have so little belief in the existence of Celtic mythology that I am inclined to think Diarmed, killed by the boar (if he is mythological at all; and the Irish form of the story, with the three hundred and sixty stopping-places, supposed to be indicated by the numerous dolmens of the country, does look rather solar), must be Adonis himself imported from the Continent.
The symbols of the sculptured stones of the north-east of Scotland, though they are almost peculiar to that district (Orkney to Fife), and seem there to belong to Christian times, are so entirely explained by the statement that the pagan Irish carved the symbols of the elements which they adored upon their altars (this occurs, I believe, in an addition to Cormac's Glossary), that the question of why they are found on the side of Scotland which had least to do with Ireland must be regarded rather as a question of art than of symbolism. This interpretation was started, like many other things, by Mr. Campbell, who suggests that the spectacle-ornament is the sun and moon joined by two crescents. It struck me, when looking through Dr. Stuart's engravings, that the Z is the lightning, weighted by a stone axe-head or thunderbolt, while the fish and serpent obviously stand for water and earth. One of the spectacle-ornaments, of which there is a cast in the Edinburgh Antiquarian Museum, seems intended to represent the moon as partly eclipsed. It may be added, the circles represented with the boar, above mentioned, rest on a sort of stand, which occurs in other cases, and seems to have been originally intended for the crescents. The cocked hat I take to be the half-moon.
The only things I know very like the Scotch symbols are those of some of the coins of the south and east of England, older than the Roman invasion. They abound in the cup and ring figure (in relief of course) and in crescents. There are some very pretty small silver coins of this type in the British Museum. One, which is engraved in Gibson's Camden, has the reverse blank, whether repre
1 See Hawkins, second ed., for the certainty of this.
senting the disk of the sun or not. The devices are, a crooked streak (apparently standing for the lightning), an arrow-head of metal form (probably meant for the bolt), a crescent, and an object which may be meant for the horns of Aries the Ram (the first sign of the Zodiac), or, perhaps, more likely, those of Alexander as Jupiter Ammon. A coin of this kind, in the possession of Sir John Evans, has the interesting variation that, instead of the arrow-head, a stone axe seems to be represented,-a bluntly triangular object in high relief.
It should be added, I would connect these elemental symbols with Gaelic Celts, even in the south of England. Two races of Britons are very distinctly indicated in Essex, and they were probably Gael and Cymri. I have little doubt that Bunduica is the Woman-Leader, the half Latin Ban-diuc (=Woman-Duke), which is now used for Duchess in the Highlands. Prasutagus has been recognised as containing a native title.
One of the strongest cases against a Celtic mythology occurs in Essex. I have long thought that the Mars Camulus, whose altar has been found on the Roman Wall in Stirlingshire, was only the Cambrian Mars; but I have only lately been aware that John Malalus of Antioch (no high authority, but one who, I think, wrote as early as the sixth century) has preserved the statement that the Emperor Claudius founded the Urbs Brettaniam near the ocean; i.e., Camulodunum, which is what the Gaelic Celts would call it. Pictsbury Rampart, near Colchester, is probably now called after Roger Pictavensis of Domesday; but I see other indications of the Picts, or tartan-wearers, in Essex. It has been long settled that tattooing was too general to account for the distinctive name.
A case which looks more like a personal divinity is that of the goddess Coventina, in whose spring, under the ruins of her little temple with its statues, between three and four thousand votive coins were found, coming down to Saxon times; but Mr. Rome Hall has pointed out that she is the nymph of the spring on the Cefn Tian (the Ridge of the Tyne), the hill below which the North and South Tyne meet.
Apollo Grannona, whose altar, found at the Roman station of Inveresk, near Edinburgh, Queen Mary did her