Max Müller as a Solar Myth.

R.F. Littledale, an Anglo-Irish clergyman, was a staunch supporter of Anglicanism who, like many at the time, didn’t care for Max Müller’s scientific studies of religion, but he didn’t attack his scholarship; in the words of Scott Alexander (Are You a Solar Deity?) he “took a completely different route. He claimed that there was, in fact, no such person as Professor Max Muller, holder of the Taylorian Chair in Modern European Languages. All these stories about ‘Max Muller’ were nothing but a thinly disguised solar myth.” You can read his essay “The Oxford Solar Myth: A Contribution to Comparative Mythology” (from Echoes from Kottabos, ed. R. Y. Tyrrell and Sir Edward Sullivan, London, 1906: 279-290) here, though there’s a better version (where the apostrophes and quote marks aren’t screwed up) here if you have JSTOR access; an excerpt:

The symbolical name by which the hero was deified, even in our own days, is Max Müller. The purely imaginative and typical character of this title appears at the first glance of a philologist. Max is, of course, Maximus, μέγιστος, identical with the Sanskrit maha. Müller, applied in the late High German dialects to the mere grinder of corn, denotes in its root-form a pounder or crusher. It comes from the radical mar, ‘grinding,’ or ‘crushing.’ At once, then, we see that the hero’s name means simply ‘Chief of Grinders.’ There are two explanations of this given. The more popular, but less correct one, identifies grinder and teacher (1)— a metaphor borrowed from the monotonous routine whereby an instructor of the young has to pulverize, as it were, the solid grains of knowledge, that they may be able to assimilate it. The more scientific aspect of the question recognizes here the Sun-God, armed with his hammer or battle-axe of light, pounding and crushing frost and clouds alike into impalpability. We are not left to conjecture in such a matter, for the weapon of Thor or Donar, wherewith he crushes the Frost-giants, in Norse mythology is named Mjölnir, from at mala, ‘to crush’ or ‘mill.’

John Cowan, who sent it to me, says “I think it’s funny as hell”; thanks, JC!


  1. Dan Milton says:

    Clever maybe, but not original. In 1827 Jean-Baptiste Peres demonstrated that Napoleon was a solar myth. See Wikipedia.

  2. Nihil novi sub sole!

  3. John Cowan says:

    “When archetypal criticism revived in the nineteenth century with a vogue for sun myths, an attempt was made to ridicule it by proving with equal plausibility that Napoleon was a sun myth. The ridicule is effective only against the historical distortion of the method. Archetypally, we turn Napoleon into a sun myth whenever we speak of the rise of his career, the zenith of his fame, or the eclipse of his fortunes.” —Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism

  4. I feel like there should be a specific word for this kind of parody as a form of sophistry.

  5. Solmythistry.

  6. Stu Clayton says:


  7. solfoggio

  8. I can prove that Language Hat doesn’t exist, because he is a solar myth.

    First part of the name clearly refers to speech and we know that in some Semitic languages (for example in Geez) the verb “to speak” developed from Proto-Semitic root with original meaning “to beseech, beg, pray to deity”.

    So first part of the name is actually a reference to a prayer.

    But to which deity?

    The answer is clear if we recall that main function of a hat is protection from sun.

    Hence, “Language Hat” can be deconstructed as an ancient prayer which originally meant something like “I pray, protect us from your rays, o Sun God”.

    Definitely solar myth.

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think this whole discussion is offensive to those of us who actually belong to the Solar Myth community. Don’t we have enough to put up with in the way of hurtful stereotyping already? Solar myths are not all the same, you know. Napoleon was a definite outlier, for example, and most of us have no world domination schemes at all.

  10. Stu Clayton says:

    Some pacifists scheme to dominate the world by insistent denial of having world domination schemes. Absolute pacifism is apt to instil absolute suspicion.

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    FWIW I can’t say Littledale’s name rang a bell, but upon perusal of his wiki bio it turns out I own copies (don’t ask me to find them quickly, they’re probably in that spare room where there’s so much spare junk piled up in it that it’s hard to get from the door to the bookshelves) of at least one and possibly both of the volumes he is said to have co-authored with J.M. Neale. 19th-century Britain was a rather small world in terms of degrees of separation amongst literary-intellectual types even if it was simultaneously acquiring sovereignty over some rather high percentage of the world’s total landmass.

  12. Stu Clayton says:

    They were out to conquer hearts and minds, and indeed subdued a large number of people. The mindmass was considerable, then Continental barbarians grabbed it.

  13. I’m reminded of the article I once read (in JAFL?) maintaining that Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were parallel variants of the same hero myth. It ended, in substance: “In order for these two men to have actually existed, they would have had to be greater than their myths. And that, as we know, is impossible.”

  14. As they said in the Civil War, “A myth is as good as a mule.”

  15. John Cowan says:

    most of us have no world domination schemes at all.

    However, the self-styled “David Eddyshaw” is known not to belong to that subset.

  16. David Eddyshaw says:

    It doesn’t count if you only want to dominate the world for its own good.

  17. A similarly amusing paper is Douglas Young’s “Miltonic Light on Professor Page’s Homeric Theory” (Greece & Rome 6.1 (March 1959) 96-108 – not available outside of JStor, so far as I can tell.
    Sir Denys Page, Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, had published a book on Homer, one chapter of which argued that the Iliad and Odyssey must have been written by different authors living in different regions of Greece, because so many words are found many times in one and never in the other. He even (I think – it’s been a long time, and I’m too lazy to reread it) argues that (e.g.) a common animal unmentioned in 12,000+ lines of verse must have been unknown to the author of those lines, and tells us about differences in the cultures of the two ‘Homers’.
    Young tests his theory by seeing how it applies to the Proto-Milton who wrote Paradise Lost (‘Plo’) and the Deutero-Milton who wrote all the other (English only, of course!) poems that have come down under the same name (‘Min’ for Minora). Here’s a bit from page 102:
    “Concerning the anatomy of the Plo folk, we know that they were possessed of bowels, knees, legs, livers, nostrils, palates, skins, throats, and waists, none of which is attested for the Min people, who, however, had the monopoly of brains, and were further characterized by chins, complexions, eyesight, fingers, fists, foreheads, navels, spleens, toes, and wrists – all of which, to borrow a formulaic expression beloved of Professor Page, the Plo folk must have lacked, if we may rely on the type of argumentum ex silentio so long in vogue among the anatomizers of Homer.”

  18. J.W. Brewer says:

    Speaking of Napoleon, as we were, it has come to my attention that back in the decades before 1871 there was a whole genre of speculative religious writing at least among certain flavors of Anglophone Protestants that interpreted Biblical prophecies to show not only that the End Times were imminent but that the then-reigning Napoleon III appeared to fit all the prophesied criteria to be the Antichrist. Here’s a book-length exploration of the subject by a clergyman who is of separate interest to me because several decades previously he had presided at the wedding of one set of my great-great-great-grandparents. But as I said it was a whole genre.

  19. Yes, Dostoevsky was into that kind of thing as well.

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