Marx. Conspectus of Lewis Morgan's Ancient Society

The beginnings of Mythology and Epos


From: Karl Marx, Conspectus of Lewis Morgan’s Ancient Society.
Written in German and English;
Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Moscow 1976;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden;
Image of Marx's Manuscript.

I. and II. Status of Savagery and Lower Status of Barbarism, these two ethnical Periods cover at least fourfifths of mankind’s entire existence on Earth.

In the Lower Status, the higher attributes of mankind begin to develop: personal dignity, eloquence, religious sensibility, rectitude, manliness and courage, now common traits of character; but there was also cruelty, treachery and fanaticism. Element worship in religion, with a dim conception of personal gods, and of a Great Spirit, rude verse-making, joint tenement houses, and bread from maize belong to this period. It produced also syndiasmian family and confederacy of tribes, organised into phratries and gentes. The imagination, that great faculty so largely contributing to the elevation of mankind, was now producing an unwritten literature of myths, legends and traditions, already become a powerful stimulus upon the race.


Greek Tragedy


The Turanian system of relations (Asia, Africa, Australia)* corresponding to the Ganovanian in America must have also prevailed among Greek and Latin tribes in the same development period. One characteristic of this: the children of brothers are themselves brothers and sisters, and as such not intermarriable; the children of sisters are similarly related and come under the same prohibition. If Bachofen finds these punaluan marriages lawless, then a man from that period would find most present marriages between near and distant cousins, be it on the father’s side or the mother’s side, incestuous, namely as marriages between consanguineous brothers and sisters. This explains the legend of the Danaides (on which Eschylus bases his Supplices).

Danaus and AEgyptus were brothers and descendants of the Argive Io. Danaus had fifty daughters by different wives and AEgyptus fifty sons; the latter sought the first in marriage; these, according to the Turanian system, were brothers and sisters, and so not intermarriable. If there had been descent in male line, they would also have belonged to the same gens, and this would have been another obstacle to marriage. The fifty daughters of Danaus — the Danaides fled from Egypt to Argos to escape unlawful and incestuous wedlock. This event was foretold to Io by Prometheus Aeschylus, 853).

In AEschylus’ play The Supplices the Danaides declare to the kindred Argives (in Argos) that they had not been exiled from Egypt

By popular decree on account of a bloody deed (murder)
But [had fled] out of fear of men,
Condemning consanguineous and unholy marriage
To the sons of AEgyptus.

(The passage seems spoiled, grammatically; see Schütz, “AEschylus” (Vol. 2, p. 378).

Further: After they heard the case of the suppliants, the Argives decided in council to grant them protection, which implies the existence of a ban on such marriages and the validity of their objection. At the time this tragedy was performed, in Athens, Athenian law itself facilitated and promoted marriage between children of brothers in the case of heiresses and orphans, although this rule seems to have been confined to such exceptional cases.