Part 4 out of 19
HERCULES--HEBE AND GANYMEDE
Hercules was the son of Jupiter and Alcmena. As Juno was always
hostile to the offspring of her husband by mortal mothers, she
declared war against Hercules from his birth. She sent two
serpents to destroy him as he lay in his cradle, but the
precocious infant strangled them with his own hands. He was,
however, by the arts of Juno rendered subject to Eurystheus and
compelled to perform all his commands. Eurystheus enjoined upon
him a succession of desperate adventures, which are called the
"Twelve Labors of Hercules." The first was the fight with the
Nemean lion. The valley of Nemea was infested by a terrible lion.
Eurystheus ordered Hercules to bring him the skin of this monster.
After using in vain his club and arrows against the lion, Hercules
strangled the animal with his hands. He returned carrying the dead
lion on his shoulders; but Eurystheus was so frightened at the
sight of it and at this proof of the prodigious strength of the
hero, that he ordered him to deliver the account of his exploits
in future outside the town.
His next labor was the slaughter of the Hydra. This monster
ravaged the country of Argos, and dwelt in a swamp near the well
of Amymone. This well had been discovered by Amymone when the
country was suffering from drought, and the story was that
Neptune, who loved her, had permitted her to touch the rock with
his trident, and a spring of three outlets burst forth. Here the
Hydra took up his position, and Hercules was sent to destroy him.
The Hydra had nine heads, of which the middle one was immortal.
Hercules struck off its heads with his club, but in the place of
the head knocked off, two new ones grew forth each time. At length
with the assistance of his faithful servant Iolaus, he burned away
the heads of the Hydra, and buried the ninth or immortal one under
a huge rock.
Another labor was the cleaning of the Augean stables. Augeas, king
of Elis, had a herd of three thousand oxen, whose stalls had not
been cleansed for thirty years. Hercules brought the rivers
Alpheus and Peneus through them, and cleansed them thoroughly in
His next labor was of a more delicate kind. Admeta, the daughter
of Eurystheus, longed to obtain the girdle of the queen of the
Amazons, and Eurystheus ordered Hercules to go and get it. The
Amazons were a nation of women. They were very warlike and held
several flourishing cities. It was their custom to bring up only
the female children; the boys were either sent away to the
neighboring nations or put to death. Hercules was accompanied by a
number of volunteers, and after various adventures at last reached
the country of the Amazons. Hippolyta, the queen, received him
kindly, and consented to yield him her girdle, but Juno, taking
the form of an Amazon, went and persuaded the rest that the
strangers were carrying off their queen. They instantly armed and
came in great numbers down to the ship. Hercules, thinking that
Hippolyta had acted treacherously, slew her, and taking her girdle
made sail homewards.
Another task enjoined him was to bring to Eurystheus the oxen of
Geryon, a monster with three bodies, who dwelt in the island
Erytheia (the red), so called because it lay at the west, under
the rays of the setting sun. This description is thought to apply
to Spain, of which Geryon was king. After traversing various
countries, Hercules reached at length the frontiers of Libya and
Europe, where he raised the two mountains of Calpe and Abyla, as
monuments of his progress, or, according to another account, rent
one mountain into two and left half on each side, forming the
straits of Gibraltar, the two mountains being called the Pillars
of Hercules. The oxen were guarded by the giant Eurytion and his
two-headed dog, but Hercules killed the giant and his dog and
brought away the oxen in safety to Eurystheus.
The most difficult labor of all was getting the golden apples of
the Hesperides, for Hercules did not know where to find them.
These were the apples which Juno had received at her wedding from
the goddess of the Earth, and which she had intrusted to the
keeping of the daughters of Hesperus, assisted by a watchful
dragon. After various adventures Hercules arrived at Mount Atlas
in Africa. Atlas was one of the Titans who had warred against the
gods, and after they were subdued, Atlas was condemned to bear on
his shoulders the weight of the heavens. He was the father of the
Hesperides, and Hercules thought might, if any one could, find the
apples and bring them to him. But how to send Atlas away from his
post, or bear up the heavens while he was gone? Hercules took the
burden on his own shoulders, and sent Atlas to seek the apples. He
returned with them, and though somewhat reluctantly, took his
burden upon his shoulders again, and let Hercules return with the
apples to Eurystheus.
Milton, in his "Comus," makes the Hesperides the daughters of
Hesperus and nieces of Atlas:
"... amidst the gardens fair
Of Hesperus and his daughters three,
That sing about the golden tree."
The poets, led by the analogy of the lovely appearance of the
western sky at sunset, viewed the west as a region of brightness
and glory. Hence they placed in it the Isles of the Blest, the
ruddy Isle Erythea, on which the bright oxen of Geryon were
pastured, and the Isle of the Hesperides. The apples are supposed
by some to be the oranges of Spain, of which the Greeks had heard
some obscure accounts.
A celebrated exploit of Hercules was his victory over Antaeus.
Antaeus, the son of Terra, the Earth, was a mighty giant and
wrestler, whose strength was invincible so long as he remained in
contact with his mother Earth. He compelled all strangers who came
to his country to wrestle with him, on condition that if conquered
(as they all were) they should be put to death. Hercules
encountered him, and finding that it was of no avail to throw him,
for he always rose with renewed strength from every fall, he
lifted him up from the earth and strangled him in the air.
Cacus was a huge giant, who inhabited a cave on Mount Aventine,
and plundered the surrounding country. When Hercules was driving
home the oxen of Geryon, Cacus stole part of the cattle, while the
hero slept. That their footprints might not serve to show where
they had been driven, he dragged them backward by their tails to
his cave; so their tracks all seemed to show that they had gone in
the opposite direction. Hercules was deceived by this stratagem,
and would have failed to find his oxen, if it had not happened
that in driving the remainder of the herd past the cave where the
stolen ones were concealed, those within began to low, and were
thus discovered. Cacus was slain by Hercules.
The last exploit we shall record was bringing Cerberus from the
lower world. Hercules descended into Hades, accompanied by Mercury
and Minerva. He obtained permission from Pluto to carry Cerberus
to the upper air, provided he could do it without the use of
weapons; and in spite of the monster's struggling, he seized him,
held him fast, and carried him to Eurystheus, and afterwards
brought him back again. When he was in Hades he obtained the
liberty of Theseus, his admirer and imitator, who had been
detained a prisoner there for an unsuccessful attempt to carry off
Hercules in a fit of madness killed his friend Iphitus, and was
condemned for this offence to become the slave of Queen Omphale
for three years. While in this service the hero's nature seemed
changed. He lived effeminately, wearing at times the dress of a
woman, and spinning wool with the hand-maidens of Omphale, while
the queen wore his lion's skin. When this service was ended he
married Dejanira and lived in peace with her three years. On one
occasion as he was travelling with his wife, they came to a river,
across which the Centaur Nessus carried travellers for a stated
fee. Hercules himself forded the river, but gave Dejanira to
Nessus to be carried across. Nessus attempted to run away with
her, but Hercules heard her cries and shot an arrow into the heart
of Nessus. The dying Centaur told Dejanira to take a portion of
his blood and keep it, as it might be used as a charm to preserve
the love of her husband.
Dejanira did so and before long fancied she had occasion to use
it. Hercules in one of his conquests had taken prisoner a fair
maiden, named Iole, of whom he seemed more fond than Dejanira
approved. When Hercules was about to offer sacrifices to the gods
in honor of his victory, he sent to his wife for a white robe to
use on the occasion. Dejanira, thinking it a good opportunity to
try her love-spell, steeped the garment in the blood of Nessus. We
are to suppose she took care to wash out all traces of it, but the
magic power remained, and as soon as the garment became warm on
the body of Hercules the poison penetrated into all his limbs and
caused him the most intense agony. In his frenzy he seized Lichas,
who had brought him the fatal robe, and hurled him into the sea.
He wrenched off the garment, but it stuck to his flesh, and with
it he tore away whole pieces of his body. In this state he
embarked on board a ship and was conveyed home. Dejanira, on
seeing what she had unwittingly done, hung herself. Hercules,
prepared to die, ascended Mount Oeta, where he built a funeral
pile of trees, gave his bow and arrows to Philoctetes, and laid
himself down on the pile, his head resting on his club, and his
lion's skin spread over him. With a countenance as serene as if he
were taking his place at a festal board he commanded Philoctetes
to apply the torch. The flames spread apace and soon invested the
Milton thus alludes to the frenzy of Hercules:
"As when Alcides, from Oechalia crowned
With conquest, felt the envenomed robe, and tore,
Through pain, up by the roots Thessalian pines
And Lichas from the top of Oeta threw
Into the Euboic Sea."
[Footnote: Alcides, a name of Hercules.]
The gods themselves felt troubled at seeing the champion of the
earth so brought to his end. But Jupiter with cheerful countenance
thus addressed them: "I am pleased to see your concern, my
princes, and am gratified to perceive that I am the ruler of a
loyal people, and that my son enjoys your favor. For although your
interest in him arises from his noble deeds, yet it is not the
less gratifying to me. But now I say to you, Fear not. He who
conquered all else is not to be conquered by those flames which
you see blazing on Mount Oeta. Only his mother's share in him can
perish; what he derived from me is immortal. I shall take him,
dead to earth, to the heavenly shores, and I require of you all to
receive him kindly. If any of you feel grieved at his attaining
this honor, yet no one can deny that he has deserved it." The gods
all gave their assent; Juno only heard the closing words with some
displeasure that she should be so particularly pointed at, yet not
enough to make her regret the determination of her husband. So
when the flames had consumed the mother's share of Hercules, the
diviner part, instead of being injured thereby, seemed to start
forth with new vigor, to assume a more lofty port and a more awful
dignity. Jupiter enveloped him in a cloud, and took him up in a
four-horse chariot to dwell among the stars. As he took his place
in heaven, Atlas felt the added weight.
Juno, now reconciled to him, gave him her daughter Hebe in
The poet Schiller, in one of his pieces called the "Ideal and
Life," illustrates the contrast between the practical and the
imaginative in some beautiful stanzas, of which the last two may
be thus translated:
"Deep degraded to a coward's slave,
Endless contests bore Alcides brave,
Through the thorny path of suffering led;
Slew the Hydra, crushed the lion's might,
Threw himself, to bring his friend to light,
Living, in the skiff that bears the dead.
All the torments, every toil of earth
Juno's hatred on him could impose,
Well he bore them, from his fated birth
To life's grandly mournful close.
"Till the god, the earthly part forsaken,
From the man in flames asunder taken,
Drank the heavenly ether's purer breath.
Joyous in the new unwonted lightness,
Soared he upwards to celestial brightness,
Earth's dark heavy burden lost in death.
High Olympus gives harmonious greeting
To the hall where reigns his sire adored;
Youth's bright goddess, with a blush at meeting,
Gives the nectar to her lord."
--S. G. B.
HEBE AND GANYMEDE
Hebe, the daughter of Juno, and goddess of youth, was cup-bearer
to the gods. The usual story is that she resigned her office on
becoming the wife of Hercules. But there is another statement
which our countryman Crawford, the sculptor, has adopted in his
group of Hebe and Ganymede, now in the Athenaeum gallery.
According to this, Hebe was dismissed from her office in
consequence of a fall which she met with one day when in
attendance on the gods. Her successor was Ganymede, a Trojan boy,
whom Jupiter, in the disguise of an eagle, seized and carried off
from the midst of his playfellows on Mount Ida, bore up to heaven,
and installed in the vacant place.
Tennyson, in his "Palace of Art," describes among the decorations
on the walls a picture representing this legend:
"There, too, flushed Ganymede, his rosy thigh
Half buried in the eagle's down,
Sole as a flying star shot through the sky
Above the pillared town."
And in Shelley's "Prometheus" Jupiter calls to his cup-bearer
"Pour forth heaven's wine, Idaean Ganymede,
And let it fill the Daedal cups like fire."
The beautiful legend of the "Choice of Hercules" may be found in
the "Tatler," No. 97.
THESEUS--DAEDALUS--CASTOR AND POLLUX
Theseus was the son of Aegeus, king of Athens, and of Aethra,
daughter of the king of Troezen. He was brought up at Troezen, and
when arrived at manhood was to proceed to Athens and present
himself to his father. Aegeus on parting from Aethra, before the
birth of his son, placed his sword and shoes under a large stone
and directed her to send his son to him when he became strong
enough to roll away the stone and take them from under it. When
she thought the time had come, his mother led Theseus to the
stone, and he removed it with ease and took the sword and shoes.
As the roads were infested with robbers, his grandfather pressed
him earnestly to take the shorter and safer way to his father's
country--by sea; but the youth, feeling in himself the spirit and
the soul of a hero, and eager to signalize himself like Hercules,
with whose fame all Greece then rang, by destroying the evil-doers
and monsters that oppressed the country, determined on the more
perilous and adventurous journey by land.
His first day's journey brought him to Epidaurus, where dwelt a
man named Periphetes, a son of Vulcan. This ferocious savage
always went armed with a club of iron, and all travellers stood in
terror of his violence. When he saw Theseus approach he assailed
him, but speedily fell beneath the blows of the young hero, who
took possession of his club and bore it ever afterwards as a
memorial of his first victory.
Several similar contests with the petty tyrants and marauders of
the country followed, in all of which Theseus was victorious. One
of these evil-doers was called Procrustes, or the Stretcher. He
had an iron bedstead, on which he used to tie all travellers who
fell into his hands. If they were shorter than the bed, he
stretched their limbs to make them fit it; if they were longer
than the bed, he lopped off a portion. Theseus served him as he
had served others.
Having overcome all the perils of the road, Theseus at length
reached Athens, where new dangers awaited him. Medea, the
sorceress, who had fled from Corinth after her separation from
Jason, had become the wife of Aegeus, the father of Theseus.
Knowing by her arts who he was, and fearing the loss of her
influence with her husband if Theseus should be acknowledged as
his son, she filled the mind of Aegeus with suspicions of the
young stranger, and induced him to present him a cup of poison;
but at the moment when Theseus stepped forward to take it, the
sight of the sword which he wore discovered to his father who he
was, and prevented the fatal draught. Medea, detected in her arts,
fled once more from deserved punishment, and arrived in Asia,
where the country afterwards called Media received its name from
her, Theseus was acknowledged by his father, and declared his
The Athenians were at that time in deep affliction, on account of
the tribute which they were forced to pay to Minos, king of Crete.
This tribute consisted of seven youths and seven maidens, who were
sent every year to be devoured by the Minotaur, a monster with a
bull's body and a human head. It was exceedingly strong and
fierce, and was kept in a labyrinth constructed by Daedalus, so
artfully contrived that whoever was enclosed in it could by no
means, find his way out unassisted. Here the Minotaur roamed, and
was fed with human victims.
Theseus resolved to deliver his countrymen from this calamity, or
to die in the attempt. Accordingly, when the time of sending off
the tribute came, and the youths and maidens were, according to
custom, drawn by lot to be sent, he offered himself as one of the
victims, in spite of the entreaties of his father. The ship
departed under black sails, as usual, which Theseus promised his
father to change for white, in case of his returning victorious.
When they arrived in Crete, the youths and maidens were exhibited
before Minos; and Ariadne, the daughter of the king, being
present, became deeply enamored of Theseus, by whom her love was
readily returned. She furnished him with a sword, with which to
encounter the Minotaur, and with a clew of thread by which he
might find his way out of the labyrinth. He was successful, slew
the Minotaur, escaped from the labyrinth, and taking Ariadne as
the companion of his way, with his rescued companions sailed for
Athens. On their way they stopped at the island of Naxos, where
Theseus abandoned Ariadne, leaving her asleep. [Footnote: One of
the finest pieces of sculpture in Italy, the recumbent Ariadne of
the Vatican, represents this incident. A copy is owned by the
Athenaeum, Boston, and deposited, in the Museum of Fine Arts.] His
excuse for this ungrateful treatment of his benefactress was that
Minerva appeared to him in a dream and commanded him to do so.
On approaching the coast of Attica, Theseus forgot the signal
appointed by his father, and neglected to raise the white sails,
and the old king, thinking his son had perished, put an end to his
own life. Theseus thus became king of Athens.
One of the most celebrated of the adventures of Theseus is his
expedition against the Amazons. He assailed them before they had
recovered from the attack of Hercules, and carried off their queen
Antiope. The Amazons in their turn invaded the country of Athens
and penetrated into the city itself; and the final battle in which
Theseus overcame them was fought in the very midst of the city.
This battle was one of the favorite subjects of the ancient
sculptors, and is commemorated in several works of art that are
The friendship between Theseus and Pirithous was of a most
intimate nature, yet it originated in the midst of arms. Pirithous
had made an irruption into the plain of Marathon, and carried off
the herds of the king of Athens. Theseus went to repel the
plunderers. The moment Pirithous beheld him, he was seized with
admiration; he stretched out his hand as a token of peace, and
cried, "Be judge thyself--what satisfaction dost thou require?"
"Thy friendship," replied the Athenian, and they swore inviolable
fidelity. Their deeds corresponded to their professions, and they
ever continued true brothers in arms. Each of them aspired to
espouse a daughter of Jupiter. Theseus fixed his choice on Helen,
then but a child, afterwards so celebrated as the cause of the
Trojan war, and with the aid of his friend he carried her off.
Pirithous aspired to the wife of the monarch of Erebus; and
Theseus, though aware of the danger, accompanied the ambitious
lover in his descent to the under-world. But Pluto seized and set
them on an enchanted rock at his palace gate, where they remained
till Hercules arrived and liberated Theseus, leaving Pirithous to
After the death of Antiope, Theseus married Phaedra, daughter of
Minos, king of Crete. Phaedra saw in Hippolytus, the son of
Theseus, a youth endowed with all the graces and virtues of his
father, and of an age corresponding to her own. She loved him, but
he repulsed her advances, and her love was changed to hate. She
used her influence over her infatuated husband to cause him to be
jealous of his son, and he imprecated the vengeance of Neptune
upon him. As Hippolytus was one day driving his chariot along the
shore, a sea-monster raised himself above the waters, and
frightened the horses so that they ran away and dashed the chariot
to pieces. Hippolytus was killed, but by Diana's assistance
Aesculapius restored him to life. Diana removed Hippolytus from
the power of his deluded father and false stepmother, and placed
him in Italy under the protection of the nymph Egeria.
Theseus at length lost the favor of his people, and retired to the
court of Lycomedes, king of Scyros, who at first received him
kindly, but afterwards treacherously slew him. In a later age the
Athenian general Cimon discovered the place where his remains were
laid, and caused them to be removed to Athens, where they were
deposited in a temple called the Theseum, erected in honor of the
The queen of the Amazons whom Theseus espoused is by some called
Hippolyta. That is the name she bears in Shakspeare's "Midsummer
Night's Dream,"--the subject of which is the festivities attending
the nuptials of Theseus and Hippolyta.
Mrs. Hemans has a poem on the ancient Greek tradition that the
"Shade of Theseus" appeared strengthening his countrymen at the
battle of Marathon.
Theseus is a semi-historical personage. It is recorded of him that
he united the several tribes by whom the territory of Attica was
then possessed into one state, of which Athens was the capital. In
commemoration of this important event, he instituted the festival
of Panathenaea, in honor of Minerva, the patron deity of Athens.
This festival differed from the other Grecian games chiefly in two
particulars. It was peculiar to the Athenians, and its chief
feature was a solemn procession in which the Peplus, or sacred
robe of Minerva, was carried to the Parthenon, and suspended
before the statue of the goddess. The Peplus was covered with
embroidery, worked by select virgins of the noblest families in
Athens. The procession consisted of persons of all ages and both
sexes. The old men carried olive branches in their hands, and the
young men bore arms. The young women carried baskets on their
heads, containing the sacred utensils, cakes, and all things
necessary for the sacrifices. The procession formed the subject of
the bas-reliefs which embellished the outside of the temple of the
Parthenon. A considerable portion of these sculptures is now in
the British Museum among those known as the "Elgin marbles."
OLYMPIC AND OTHER GAMES
It seems not inappropriate to mention here the other celebrated
national games of the Greeks. The first and most distinguished
were the Olympic, founded, it was said, by Jupiter himself. They
were celebrated at Olympia in Elis. Vast numbers of spectators
flocked to them from every part of Greece, and from Asia, Africa,
and Sicily. They were repeated every fifth year in mid-summer,
and continued five days. They gave rise to the custom of reckoning
time and dating events by Olympiads. The first Olympiad is
generally considered as corresponding with the year 776 B.C. The
Pythian games were celebrated in the vicinity of Delphi, the
Isthmian on the Corinthian isthmus, the Nemean at Nemea, a city of
The exercises in these games were of five sorts: running, leaping,
wrestling, throwing the quoit, and hurling the javelin, or boxing.
Besides these exercises of bodily strength and agility, there were
contests in music, poetry, and eloquence. Thus these games
furnished poets, musicians, and authors the best opportunities to
present their productions to the public, and the fame of the
victors was diffused far and wide.
The labyrinth from which Theseus escaped by means of the clew of
Ariadne was built by Daedalus, a most skilful artificer. It was an
edifice with numberless winding passages and turnings opening into
one another, and seeming to have neither beginning nor end, like
the river Maeander, which returns on itself, and flows now onward,
now backward, in its course to the sea. Daedalus built the
labyrinth for King Minos, but afterwards lost the favor of the
king, and was shut up in a tower. He contrived to make his escape
from his prison, but could not leave the island by sea, as the
king kept strict watch on all the vessels, and permitted none to
sail without being carefully searched. "Minos may control the land
and sea," said Daedalus, "but not the regions of the air. I will
try that way." So he set to work to fabricate wings for himself
and his young son Icarus. He wrought feathers together, beginning
with the smallest and adding larger, so as to form an increasing
surface. The larger ones he secured with thread and the smaller
with wax, and gave the whole a gentle curvature like the wings of
a bird. Icarus, the boy, stood and looked on, sometimes running to
gather up the feathers which the wind had blown away, and then
handling the wax and working it over with his fingers, by his play
impeding his father in his labors. When at last the work was done,
the artist, waving his wings, found himself buoyed upward, and
hung suspended, poising himself on the beaten air. He next
equipped his son in the same manner, and taught him how to fly, as
a bird tempts her young ones from the lofty nest into the air.
When all was prepared for flight he said, "Icarus, my son, I
charge you to keep at a moderate height, for if you fly too low
the damp will clog your wings, and if too high the heat will melt
them. Keep near me and you will be safe." While he gave him these
instructions and fitted the wings to his shoulders, the face of
the father was wet with tears, and his hands trembled. He kissed
the boy, not knowing that it was for the last time. Then rising on
his wings, he flew off, encouraging him to follow, and looked back
from his own flight to see how his son managed his wings. As they
flew the ploughman stopped his work to gaze, and the shepherd
leaned on his staff and watched them, astonished at the sight, and
thinking they were gods who could thus cleave the air.
They passed Samos and Delos on the left and Lebynthos on the
right, when the boy, exulting in his career, began to leave the
guidance of his companion and soar upward as if to reach heaven.
The nearness of the blazing sun softened the wax which held the
feathers together, and they came off. He fluttered with his arms,
but no feathers remained to hold the air. While his mouth uttered
cries to his father it was submerged in the blue waters of the
sea, which thenceforth was called by his name. His father cried,
"Icarus, Icarus, where are you?" At last he saw the feathers
floating on the water, and bitterly lamenting his own arts, he
buried the body and called the land Icaria in memory of his child.
Daedalus arrived safe in Sicily, where he built a temple to
Apollo, and hung up his wings, an offering to the god.
Daedalus was so proud of his achievements that he could not bear
the idea of a rival. His sister had placed her son Perdix under
his charge to be taught the mechanical arts. He was an apt scholar
and gave striking evidences of ingenuity. Walking on the seashore
he picked up the spine of a fish. Imitating it, he took a piece of
iron and notched it on the edge, and thus invented the SAW. He put
two pieces of iron together, connecting them at one end with a
rivet, and sharpening the other ends, and made a PAIR OF
COMPASSES. Daedalus was so envious of his nepnew's performances
that he took an opportunity, when they were together one day on
the top of a high tower, to push him off. But Minerva, who favors
ingenuity, saw him falling, and arrested his fate by changing him
into a bird called after his name, the Partridge. This bird does
not build his nest in the trees, nor take lofty flights, but
nestles in the hedges, and mindful of his fall, avoids high
The death of Icarus is told in the following lines by Darwin:
"... with melting wax and loosened strings
Sunk hapless Icarus on unfaithful wings;
Headlong he rushed through the affrighted air,
With limbs distorted and dishevelled hair;
His scattered plumage danced upon the wave,
And sorrowing Nereids decked his watery grave;
O'er his pale corse their pearly sea-flowers shed,
And strewed with crimson moss his marble bed;
Struck in their coral towers the passing bell,
And wide in ocean tolled his echoing knell."
CASTOR AND POLLUX
Castor and Pollux were the offspring of Leda and the Swan, under
which disguise Jupiter had concealed himself. Leda gave birth to
an egg from which sprang the twins. Helen, so famous afterwards as
the cause of the Trojan war, was their sister.
When Theseus and his friend Pirithous had carried off Helen from
Sparta, the youthful heroes Castor and Pollux, with their
followers, hastened to her rescue. Theseus was absent from Attica
and the brothers were successful in recovering their sister.
Castor was famous for taming and managing horses, and Pollux for
skill in boxing. They were united by the warmest affection and
inseparable in all their enterprises. They accompanied the
Argonautic expedition. During the voyage a storm arose, and
Orpheus prayed to the Samothracian gods, and played on his harp,
whereupon the storm ceased and stars appeared on the heads of the
brothers. From this incident, Castor and Pollux came afterwards to
be considered the patron deities of seamen and voyagers, and the
lambent flames, which in certain states of the atmosphere play
round the sails and masts of vessels, were called by their names.
After the Argonautic expedition, we find Castor and Pollux engaged
in a war with Idas and Lynceus. Castor was slain, and Pollux,
inconsolable for the loss of his brother, besought Jupiter to be
permitted to give his own life as a ransom for him. Jupiter so far
consented as to allow the two brothers to enjoy the boon of life
alternately, passing one day under the earth and the next in the
heavenly abodes. According to another form of the story, Jupiter
rewarded the attachment of the brothers by placing them among the
stars as Gemini the Twins.
They received divine honors under the name of Dioscuri (sons of
Jove). They were believed to have appeared occasionally in later
times, taking part with one side or the other, in hard-fought
fields, and were said on such occasions to be mounted on
magnificent white steeds. Thus in the early history of Rome they
are said to have assisted the Romans at the battle of Lake
Regillus, and after the victory a temple was erected in their
honor on the spot where they appeared.
Macaulay, in his "Lays of Ancient Rome," thus alludes to the
"So like they were, no mortal
Might one from other know;
White as snow their armor was,
Their steeds were white as snow.
Never on earthly anvil
Did such rare armor gleam,
And never did such gallant steeds
Drink of an earthly stream.
"Back comes the chief in triumph
Who in the hour of fight
Hath seen the great Twin Brethren
In harness on his right.
Safe comes the ship to haven,
Through billows and through gales.
If once the great Twin Brethren
Sit shining on the sails."
Bacchus was the son of Jupiter and Semele. Juno, to gratify her
resentment against Semele, contrived a plan for her destruction.
Assuming the form of Beroe, her aged nurse, she insinuated doubts
whether it was indeed Jove himself who came as a lover. Heaving a
sigh, she said, "I hope it will turn out so, but I can't help
being afraid. People are not always what they pretend to be. If he
is indeed Jove, make him give some proof of it. Ask him to come
arrayed in all his splendors, such as he wears in heaven. That
will put the matter beyond a doubt." Semele was persuaded to try
the experiment. She asks a favor, without naming what it is. Jove
gives his promise, and confirms it with the irrevocable oath,
attesting the river Styx, terrible to the gods themselves. Then
she made known her request. The god would have stopped her as she
spake, but she was too quick for him. The words escaped, and he
could neither unsay his promise nor her request. In deep distress
he left her and returned to the upper regions. There he clothed
himself in his splendors, not putting on all his terrors, as when
he overthrew the giants, but what is known among the gods as his
lesser panoply. Arrayed in this, he entered the chamber of Semele.
Her mortal frame could not endure the splendors of the immortal
radiance. She was consumed to ashes.
Jove took the infant Bacchus and gave him in charge to the Nysaean
nymphs, who nourished his infancy and childhood, and for their
care were rewarded by Jupiter by being placed, as the Hyades,
among the stars. When Bacchus grew up he discovered the culture of
the vine and the mode of extracting its precious juice; but Juno
struck him with madness, and drove him forth a wanderer through
various parts of the earth. In Phrygia the goddess Rhea cured him
and taught him her religious rites, and he set out on a progress
through Asia, teaching the people the cultivation of the vine. The
most famous part of his wanderings is his expedition to India,
which is said to have lasted several years. Returning in triumph,
he undertook to introduce his worship into Greece, but was opposed
by some princes, who dreaded its introduction on account of the
disorders and madness it brought with it.
As he approached his native city Thebes, Pentheus the king, who
had no respect for the new worship, forbade its rites to be
performed. But when it was known that Bacchus was advancing, men
and women, but chiefly the latter, young and old, poured forth to
meet him and to join his triumphal march.
Mr. Longfellow in his "Drinking Song" thus describes the march of
"Fauns with youthful Bacchus follow;
Ivy crowns that brow, supernal
As the forehead of Apollo,
And possessing youth eternal.
"Round about him fair Bacchantes,
Bearing cymbals, flutes and thyrses,
Wild from Naxian groves of Zante's
Vineyards, sing delirious verses,"
It was in vain Pentheus remonstrated, commanded, and threatened.
"Go," said he to his attendants, "seize this vagabond leader of
the rout and bring him to me. I will soon make him confess his
false claim of heavenly parentage and renounce his counterfeit
worship." It was in vain his nearest friends and wisest
counsellors remonstrated and begged him not to oppose the god.
Their remonstrances only made him more violent.
But now the attendants returned whom he had despatched to seize
Bacchus. They had been driven away by the Bacchanals, but had
succeeded in taking one of them prisoner, whom, with his hands
tied behind him, they brought before the king. Pentheus, beholding
him with wrathful countenance, said, "Fellow! you shall speedily
be put to death, that your fate may be a warning to others; but
though I grudge the delay of your punishment, speak, tell us who
you are, and what are these new rites you presume to celebrate."
The prisoner, unterrified, responded, "My name is Acetes; my
country is Maeonia; my parents were poor people, who had no fields
or flocks to leave me, but they left me their fishing rods and
nets and their fisherman's trade. This I followed for some time,
till growing weary of remaining in one place, I learned the
pilot's art and how to guide my course by the stars. It happened
as I was sailing for Delos we touched at the island of Dia and
went ashore. Next morning I sent the men for fresh water, and
myself mounted the hill to observe the wind; when my men returned
bringing with them a prize, as they thought, a boy of delicate
appearance, whom they had found asleep. They judged he was a noble
youth, perhaps a king's son, and they might get a liberal ransom
for him. I observed his dress, his walk, his face. There was
something in them which I felt sure was more than mortal. I said
to my men, 'What god there is concealed in that form I know not,
but some one there certainly is. Pardon us, gentle deity, for the
violence we have done you, and give success to our undertakings.'
Dictys, one of my best hands for climbing the mast and coming down
by the ropes, and Melanthus, my steersman, and Epopeus, the leader
of the sailor's cry, one and all exclaimed, 'Spare your prayers
for us.' So blind is the lust of gain! When they proceeded to put
him on board I resisted them. 'This ship shall not be profaned by
such impiety,' said I. 'I have a greater share in her than any of
you.' But Lycabas, a turbulent fellow, seized me by the throat and
attempted to throw me overboard, and I scarcely saved myself by
clinging to the ropes. The rest approved the deed.
"Then Bacchus (for it was indeed he), as if shaking off his
drowsiness, exclaimed, 'What are you doing with me? What is this
fighting about? Who brought me here? Where are you going to carry
me?' One of them replied, 'Fear nothing; tell us where you wish to
go and we will take you there.' 'Naxos is my home,' said Bacchus;
'take me there and you shall be well rewarded.' They promised so
to do, and told me to pilot the ship to Naxos. Naxos lay to the
right, and I was trimming the sails to carry us there, when some
by signs and others by whispers signified to me their will that I
should sail in the opposite direction, and take the boy to Egypt
to sell him for a slave. I was confounded and said, 'Let some one
else pilot the ship;' withdrawing myself from any further agency
in their wickedness. They cursed me, and one of them, exclaiming,
'Don't flatter yourself that we depend on you for our safety;'
took any place as pilot, and bore away from Naxos.
"Then the god, pretending that he had just become aware of their
treachery, looked out over the sea and said in a voice of weeping,
'Sailors, these are not the shores you promised to take me to;
yonder island is not my home. What have I done that you should
treat me so? It is small glory you will gain by cheating a poor
boy.' I wept to hear him, but the crew laughed at both of us, and
sped the vessel fast over the sea. All at once--strange as it may
seem, it is true,--the vessel stopped, in the mid sea, as fast as
if it was fixed on the ground. The men, astonished, pulled at
their oars, and spread more sail, trying to make progress by the
aid of both, but all in vain. Ivy twined round the oars and
hindered their motion, and clung to the sails, with heavy clusters
of berries. A vine, laden with grapes, ran up the mast, and along
the sides of the vessel. The sound of flutes was heard and the
odor of fragrant wine spread all around. The god himself had a
chaplet of vine leaves, and bore in his hand a spear wreathed with
ivy. Tigers crouched at his feet, and forms of lynxes and spotted
panthers played around him. The men were seized with terror or
madness; some leaped overboard; others preparing to do the same
beheld their companions in the water undergoing a change, their
bodies becoming flattened and ending in a crooked tail. One
exclaimed, 'What miracle is this!' and as he spoke his mouth
widened, his nostrils expanded, and scales covered all his body.
Another, endeavoring to pull the oar, felt his hands shrink up and
presently to be no longer hands but fins; another, trying to raise
his arms to a rope, found he had no arms, and curving his
mutilated body, jumped into the sea. What had been his legs became
the two ends of a crescent-shaped tail. The whole crew became
dolphins and swam about the ship, now upon the surface, now under
it, scattering the spray, and spouting the water from their broad
nostrils. Of twenty men I alone was left. Trembling with fear, the
god cheered me. 'Fear not,' said he; 'steer towards Naxos.' I
obeyed, and when we arrived there, I kindled the altars and
celebrated the sacred rites of Bacchus."
Pentheus here exclaimed, "We have wasted time enough on this silly
story. Take him away and have him executed without delay." Acetes
was led away by the attendants and shut up fast in prison; but
while they were getting ready the instruments of execution the
prison doors came open of their own accord and the chains fell
from his limbs, and when they looked for him he was nowhere to be
Pentheus would take no warning, but instead of sending others,
determined to go himself to the scene of the solemnities. The
mountain Citheron was all alive with worshippers, and the cries of
the Bacchanals resounded on every side. The noise roused the anger
of Pentheus as the sound of a trumpet does the fire of a war-
horse. He penetrated through the wood and reached an open space
where the chief scene of the orgies met his eyes. At the same
moment the women saw him; and first among them his own mother,
Agave, blinded by the god, cried out, "See there the wild boar,
the hugest monster that prowls in these woods! Come on, sisters! I
will be the first to strike the wild boar." The whole band rushed
upon him, and while he now talks less arrogantly, now excuses
himself, and now confesses his crime and implores pardon, they
press upon him and wound him. In vain he cries to his aunts to
protect him from his mother. Autonoe seized one arm, Ino the
other, and between them he was torn to pieces, while his mother
shouted, "Victory! Victory! we have done it; the glory is ours!"
So the worship of Bacchus was established in Greece.
There is an allusion to the story of Bacchus and the mariners in
Milton's "Comus," at line 46, The story of Circe will be found in
"Bacchus that first from out the purple grapes
Crushed the sweet poison of misused wine,
After the Tuscan manners transformed,
Coasting the Tyrrhene shore as the winds listed
On Circe's island fell (who knows not Circe,
The daughter of the Sun? whose charmed cup
Whoever tasted lost his upright shape,
And downward fell into a grovelling swine)."
We have seen in the story of Theseus how Ariadne, the daughter of
King Minos, after helping Theseus to escape from the labyrinth,
was carried by him to the island of Naxos and was left there
asleep, while the ungrateful Theseus pursued his way home without
her. Ariadne, on waking and finding herself deserted, abandoned
herself to grief. But Venus took pity on her, and consoled her
with the promise that she should have an immortal lover, instead
of the mortal one she had lost.
The island where Ariadne was left was the favorite island of
Bacchus, the same that he wished the Tyrrhenian mariners to carry
him to, when they so treacherously attempted to make prize of him.
As Ariadne sat lamenting her fate, Bacchus found her, consoled
her, and made her his wife. As a marriage present he gave her a
golden crown, enriched with gems, and when she died, he took her
crown and threw it up into the sky. As it mounted the gems grew
brighter and were turned into stars, and preserving its form
Ariadne's crown remains fixed in the heavens as a constellation,
between the kneeling Hercules and the man who holds the serpent.
Spenser alludes to Ariadne's crown, though he has made some
mistakes in his mythology. It was at the wedding of Pirithous, and
not Theseus, that the Centaurs and Lapithae quarrelled.
"Look how the crown which Ariadne wore
Upon her ivory forehead that same day
That Theseus her unto his bridal bore,
Then the bold Centaurs made that bloody fray
With the fierce Lapiths which did them dismay;
Being now placed in the firmament,
Through the bright heaven doth her beams display,
And is unto the stars an ornament,
Which round about her move in order excellent."
THE RURAL DEITIES--ERISICHTHON--RHOECUS--THE WATER DEITIES--
THE RURAL DEITIES
Pan, the god of woods and fields, of flocks and shepherds, dwelt
in grottos, wandered on the mountains and in valleys, and amused
himself with the chase or in leading the dances of the nymphs. He
was fond of music, and as we have seen, the inventor of the
syrinx, or shepherd's pipe, which he himself played in a masterly
manner. Pan, like other gods who dwelt in forests, was dreaded by
those whose occupations caused them to pass through the woods by
night, for the gloom and loneliness of such scenes dispose the
mind to superstitious fears. Hence sudden fright without any
visible cause was ascribed to Pan, and called a Panic terror.
As the name of the god signifies ALL, Pan came to be considered a
symbol of the universe and personification of Nature; and later
still to be regarded as a representative of all the gods and of
Sylvanus and Faunus were Latin divinities, whose characteristics
are so nearly the same as those of Pan that we may safely consider
them as the same personage under different names.
The wood-nymphs, Pan's partners in the dance, were but one class
of nymphs. There were beside them the Naiads, who presided over
brooks and fountains, the Oreads, nymphs of mountains and grottos,
and the Nereids, sea-nymphs. The three last named were immortal,
but the wood-nymphs, called Dryads or Hamadryads, were believed to
perish with the trees which had been their abode and with which
they had come into existence. It was therefore an impious act
wantonly to destroy a tree, and in some aggravated cases were
severely punished, as in the instance of Erisichthon, which we are
about to record.
Milton in his glowing description of the early creation, thus
alludes to Pan as the personification of Nature:
"... Universal Pan,
Knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance,
Led on the eternal spring."
And describing Eve's abode:
"... In shadier bower,
More sacred or sequestered, though but feigned,
Pan or Sylvanus never slept, nor nymph
Nor Faunus haunted."
--Paradise Lost, B. IV.
It was a pleasing trait in the old Paganism that it loved to trace
in every operation of nature the agency of deity. The imagination
of the Greeks peopled all the regions of earth and sea with
divinities, to whose agency it attributed those phenomena which
our philosophy ascribes to the operation of the laws of nature.
Sometimes in our poetical moods we feel disposed to regret the
change, and to think that the heart has lost as much as the head
has gained by the substitution. The poet Wordsworth thus strongly
expresses this sentiment:
"... Great God, I'd rather be
A Pagan, suckled in a creed outworn,
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea,
And hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn."
Schiller, in his poem "Die Gotter Griechenlands," expresses his
regret for the overthrow of the beautiful mythology of ancient
times in a way which has called forth an answer from a Christian
poet, Mrs. E. Barrett Browning, in her poem called "The Dead Pan."
The two following verses are a specimen:
"By your beauty which confesses
Some chief Beauty conquering you,
By our grand heroic guesses
Through your falsehood at the True,
We will weep NOT! earth shall roll
Heir to each god's aureole,
And Pan is dead.
"Earth outgrows the mythic fancies
Sung beside her in her youth;
And those debonaire romances
Sound but dull beside the truth.
Phoebus' chariot course is run!
Look up, poets, to the sun!
Pan, Pan is dead."
These lines are founded on an early Christian tradition that when
the heavenly host told the shepherds at Bethlehem of the birth of
Christ, a deep groan, heard through all the isles of Greece, told
that the great Pan was dead, and that all the royalty of Olympus
was dethroned and the several deities were sent wandering in cold
and darkness. So Milton in his "Hymn on the Nativity":
"The lonely mountains o'er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
From haunted spring and dale,
Edged with poplar pale,
The parting Genius is with sighing sent;
With flower-enwoven tresses torn,
The nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn."
Erisichthon was a profane person and a despiser of the gods. On
one occasion he presumed to violate with the axe a grove sacred to
Ceres. There stood in this grove a venerable oak so large that it
seemed a wood in itself, its ancient trunk towering aloft, whereon
votive garlands were often hung and inscriptions carved expressing
the gratitude of suppliants to the nymph of the tree. Often had
the Dryads danced round it hand in hand. Its trunk measured
fifteen cubits round, and it overtopped the other trees as they
overtopped the shrubbery. But for all that, Erisichthon saw no
reason why he should spare it and he ordered his servants to cut
it down. When he saw them hesitate he snatched an axe from one,
and thus impiously exclaimed: "I care not whether it be a tree
beloved of the goddess or not; were it the goddess herself it
should come down if it stood in my way." So saying, he lifted the
axe and the oak seemed to shudder and utter a groan. When the
first blow fell upon the trunk blood flowed from the wound. All
the bystanders were horror-struck, and one of them ventured to
remonstrate and hold back the fatal axe. Erisichthon, with a
scornful look, said to him, "Receive the reward of your piety;"
and turned against him the weapon which he had held aside from the
tree, gashed his body with many wounds, and cut off his head. Then
from the midst of the oak came a voice, "I who dwell in this tree
am a nymph beloved of Ceres, and dying by your hands forewarn you
that punishment awaits you." He desisted not from his crime, and
at last the tree, sundered by repeated blows and drawn by ropes,
fell with a crash and prostrated a great part of the grove in its
The Dryads in dismay at the loss of their companion and at seeing
the pride of the forest laid low, went in a body to Ceres, all
clad in garments of mourning, and invoked punishment upon
Erisichthon. She nodded her assent, and as she bowed her head the
grain ripe for harvest in the laden fields bowed also. She planned
a punishment so dire that one would pity him, if such a culprit as
he could be pitied,--to deliver him over to Famine. As Ceres
herself could not approach Famine, for the Fates have ordained
that these two goddesses shall never come together, she called an
Oread from her mountain and spoke to her in these words: "There is
a place in the farthest part of ice-clad Scythia, a sad and
sterile region without trees and without crops. Cold dwells there,
and Fear and Shuddering, and Famine. Go and tell the last to take
possession of the bowels of Erisichthon. Let not abundance subdue
her, nor the power of my gifts drive her away. Be not alarmed at
the distance" (for Famine dwells very far from Ceres), "but take
my chariot. The dragons are fleet and obey the rein, and will take
you through the air in a short time." So she gave her the reins,
and she drove away and soon reached Scythia. On arriving at Mount
Caucasus she stopped the dragons and found Famine in a stony
field, pulling up with teeth and claws the scanty herbage. Her
hair was rough, her eyes sunk, her face pale, her lips blanched,
her jaws covered with dust, and her skin drawn tight, so as to
show all her bones. As the Oread saw her afar off (for she did not
dare to come near), she delivered the commands of Ceres; and,
though she stopped as short a time as possible, and kept her
distance as well as she could, yet she began to feel hungry, and
turned the dragons' heads and drove back to Thessaly.
Famine obeyed the commands of Ceres and sped through the air to
the dwelling of Erisichthon, entered the bedchamber of the guilty
man, and found him asleep. She enfolded him with her wings and
breathed herself into him, infusing her poison into his veins.
Having discharged her task, she hastened to leave the land of
plenty and returned to her accustomed haunts. Erisichthon still
slept, and in his dreams craved food, and moved his jaws as if
eating. When he awoke, his hunger was raging. Without a moment's
delay he would have food set before him, of whatever kind earth
sea, or air produces; and complained of hunger even while he ate.
What would have sufficed for a city or a nation, was not enough
for him. The more he ate the more he craved. His hunger was like
the sea, which receives all the rivers, yet is never filled; or
like fire, that burns all the fuel that is heaped upon it, yet is
still voracious for more.
His property rapidly diminished under the unceasing demands of his
appetite, but his hunger continued unabated. At length he had
spent all and had only his daughter left, a daughter worthy of a
better parent. Her too he sold. She scorned to be the slave of a
purchaser and as she stood by the seaside raised her hands in
prayer to Neptune. He heard her prayer, and though her new master
was not far off and had his eye upon her a moment before, Neptune
changed her form and made her assume that of a fisherman busy at
his occupation. Her master, looking for her and seeing her in her
altered form, addressed her and said, "Good fisherman, whither
went the maiden whom I saw just now, with hair dishevelled and in
humble garb, standing about where you stand? Tell me truly; so may
your luck be good and not a fish nibble at your hook and get
away." She perceived that her prayer was answered and rejoiced
inwardly at hearing herself inquired of about herself. She
replied, "Pardon me, stranger, but I have been so intent upon my
line that I have seen nothing else; but I wish I may never catch
another fish if I believe any woman or other person except myself
to have been hereabouts for some time." He was deceived and went
his way, thinking his slave had escaped. Then she resumed her own
form. Her father was well pleased to find her still with him, and
the money too that he got by the sale of her; so he sold her
again. But she was changed by the favor of Neptune as often as she
was sold, now into a horse, now a bird, now an ox, and now a
stag,--got away from her purchasers and came home. By this base
method the starving father procured food; but not enough for his
wants, and at last hunger compelled him to devour his limbs, and
he strove to nourish his body by eating his body, till death
relieved him from the vengeance of Ceres.
The Hamadryads could appreciate services as well as punish
injuries. The story of Rhoecus proves this. Rhoecus, happening to
see an oak just ready to fall, ordered his servants to prop it up.
The nymph, who had been on the point of perishing with the tree,
came and expressed her gratitude to him for having saved her life
and bade him ask what reward he would. Rhoecus boldly asked her
love and the nymph yielded to his desire. She at the same time
charged him to be constant and told him that a bee should be her
messenger and let him know when she would admit his society. One
time the bee came to Rhoecus when he was playing at draughts and
he carelessly brushed it away. This so incensed the nymph that she
deprived him of sight.
Our countryman, J. R. Lowell, has taken this story for the subject
of one of his shorter poems. He introduces it thus:
"Hear now this fairy legend of old Greece,
As full of freedom, youth and beauty still,
As the immortal freshness of that grace
Carved for all ages on some Attic frieze."
THE WATER DEITIES
Oceanus and Tethys were the Titans who ruled over the watery
element. When Jove and his brothers overthrew the Titans and
assumed their power, Neptune and Amphitrite succeeded to the
dominion of the waters in place of Oceanus and Tethys.
Neptune was the chief of the water deities. The symbol of his
power was the trident, or spear with three points, with which he
used to shatter rocks, to call forth or subdue storms, to shake
the shores and the like. He created the horse and was the patron
of horse races. His own horses had brazen hoofs and golden manes.
They drew his chariot over the sea, which became smooth before
him, while the monsters of the deep gambolled about his path.
Amphitrite was the wife of Neptune. She was the daughter of Nereus
and Doris, and the mother of Triton. Neptune, to pay his court to
Amphitrite, came riding on a dolphin. Having won her he rewarded
the dolphin by placing him among the stars.
NEREUS AND DORIS
Nereus and Doris were the parents of the Nereids, the most
celebrated of whom were Amphitrite, Thetis, the mother of
Achilles, and Galatea, who was loved by the Cyclops Polyphemus.
Nereus was distinguished for his knowledge and his love of truth
and justice, whence he was termed an elder; the gift of prophecy
was also assigned to him.
TRITON AND PROTEUS
Triton was the son of Neptune and Amphitrite, and the poets make
him his father's trumpeter. Proteus was also a son of Neptune. He,
like Nereus, is styled a sea-elder for his wisdom and knowledge of
future events. His peculiar power was that of changing his shape
Thetis, the daughter of Nereus and Doris, was so beautiful that
Jupiter himself sought her in marriage; but having learned from
Prometheus the Titan that Thetis should bear a son who should grow
greater than his father, Jupiter desisted from his suit and
decreed that Thetis should be the wife of a mortal. By the aid of
Chiron the Centaur, Peleus succeeded in winning the goddess for
his bride and their son was the renowned Achilles. In our chapter
on the Trojan war it will appear that Thetis was a faithful mother
to him, aiding him in all difficulties, and watching over his
interests from the first to the last.
LEUCOTHEA AND PALAEMON
Ino, the daughter of Cadmus and wife of Athamas, flying from her
frantic husband with her little son Melicertes in her arms, sprang
from a cliff into the sea. The gods, out of compassion, made her a
goddess of the sea, under the name of Leucothea, and him a god,
under that of Palaemon. Both were held powerful to save from
shipwreck and were invoked by sailors. Palaemon was usually
represented riding on a dolphin. The Isthmian games were
celebrated in his honor. He was called Portunus by the Romans, and
believed to have jurisdiction of the ports and shores.
Milton alludes to all these deities in the song at the conclusion
"... Sabrina fair,
Listen and appear to us,
In name of great Oceanus;
By the earth-shaking Neptune's mace,
And Tethys' grave, majestic pace,
By hoary Nereus' wrinkled look,
And the Carpathian wizard's hook, [Footnote: Proteus]
By scaly Triton's winding shell,
And old soothsaying Glaucus' spell,
By Leucothea's lovely hands,
And her son who rules the strands.
By Thetis' tinsel-slippered feet,
And the songs of Sirens sweet;" etc.
Armstrong, the poet of the "Art of preserving Health," under the
inspiration of Hygeia, the goddess of health, thus celebrates the
Naiads. Paeon is a name both of Apollo and Aesculapius.
"Come, ye Naiads! to the fountains lead!
Propitious maids! the task remains to sing
Your gifts (so Paeon, so the powers of Health
Command), to praise your crystal element.
O comfortable streams! with eager lips
And trembling hands the languid thirsty quaff
New life in you; fresh vigor fills their veins.
No warmer cups the rural ages knew,
None warmer sought the sires of humankind;
Happy in temperate peace their equal days
Felt not the alternate fits of feverish mirth
And sick dejection; still serene and pleased,
Blessed with divine immunity from ills,
Long centuries they lived; their only fate
Was ripe old age, and rather sleep than death."
By this name the Latins designated the Muses, but included under
it also some other deities, principally nymphs of fountains.
Egeria was one of them, whose fountain and grotto are still shown.
It was said that Numa, the second king of Rome, was favored by
this nymph with secret interviews, in which she taught him those
lessons of wisdom and of law which he imbodied in the institutions
of his rising nation. After the death of Numa the nymph pined away
and was changed into a fountain.
Byron, in "Childe Harold," Canto IV., thus alludes to Egeria and
"Here didst thou dwell, in this enchanted cover,
Egeria! all thy heavenly bosom beating
For the far footsteps of thy mortal lover;
The purple midnight veiled that mystic meeting
With her most starry canopy;" etc.
Tennyson, also, in his "Palace of Art," gives us a glimpse of the
royal lover expecting the interview:
"Holding one hand against his ear,
To list a footfall ere he saw
The wood-nymph, stayed the Tuscan king to hear
Of wisdom and of law."
When so many less active agencies were personified, it is not to
be supposed that the winds failed to be so. They were Boreas or
Aquilo, the north wind; Zephyrus or Favonius, the west; Notus or
Auster, the south; and Eurus, the east. The first two have been
chiefly celebrated by the poets, the former as the type of
rudeness, the latter of gentleness. Boreas loved the nymph
Orithyia, and tried to play the lover's part, but met with poor
success. It was hard for him to breathe gently, and sighing was
out of the question. Weary at last of fruitless endeavors, he
acted out his true character, seized the maiden and carried her
off. Their children were Zetes and Calais, winged warriors, who
accompanied the Argonautic expedition, and did good service in an
encounter with those monstrous birds the Harpies.
Zephyrus was the lover of Flora. Milton alludes to them in
"Paradise Lost," where he describes Adam waking and contemplating
Eve still asleep.
"... He on his side
Leaning half raised, with looks of cordial love,
Hung over her enamored, and beheld
Beauty which, whether waking or asleep,
Shot forth peculiar graces; then with voice,
Mild as when Zephyrus on Flora breathes,
Her hand soft touching, whispered thus: 'Awake!
My fairest, my espoused, my latest found,
Heaven's last, best gift, my ever-new delight.'"
Dr. Young, the poet of the "Night Thoughts," addressing the idle
and luxurious, says:
"Ye delicate! who nothing can support
(Yourselves most insupportable) for whom
The winter rose must blow, ...
... and silky soft
Favonius breathe still softer or be chid!"
ACHELOUS AND HERCULES--ADMETUS AND ALCESTIS--ANTIGONE--PENELOPE
ACHELOUS AND HERCULES
The river-god Achelous told the story of Erisichthon to Theseus
and his companions, whom he was entertaining at his hospitable
board, while they were delayed on their journey by the overflow of
his waters. Having finished his story, he added, "But why should I
tell of other persons' transformations when I myself am an
instance of the possession of this power? Sometimes I become a
serpent, and sometimes a bull, with horns on my head. Or I should
say I once could do so; but now I have but one horn, having lost
one." And here he groaned and was silent.
Theseus asked him the cause of his grief, and how he lost his
horn. To which question the river-god replied as follows: "Who
likes to tell of his defeats? Yet I will not hesitate to relate
mine, comforting myself with the thought of the greatness of my
conqueror, for it was Hercules. Perhaps you have heard of the fame
of Dejanira, the fairest of maidens, whom a host of suitors strove
to win. Hercules and myself were of the number, and the rest
yielded to us two. He urged in his behalf his descent from Jove
and his labors by which he had exceeded the exactions of Juno, his
stepmother. I, on the other hand, said to the father of the
maiden, 'Behold me, the king of the waters that flow through your
land. I am no stranger from a foreign shore, but belong to the
country, a part of your realm. Let it not stand in my way that
royal Juno owes me no enmity nor punishes me with heavy tasks. As
for this man, who boasts himself the son of Jove, it is either a
false pretence, or disgraceful to him if true, for it cannot be
true except by his mother's shame.' As I said this Hercules
scowled upon me, and with difficulty restrained his rage. 'My hand
will answer better than my tongue,' said he. 'I yield to you the
victory in words, but trust my cause to the strife of deeds.' With
that he advanced towards me, and I was ashamed, after what I had
said, to yield. I threw off my green vesture and presented myself
for the struggle. He tried to throw me, now attacking my head, now
my body. My bulk was my protection, and he assailed me in vain.
For a time we stopped, then returned to the conflict. We each kept
our position, determined not to yield, foot to foot, I bending
over him, clenching his hand in mine, with my forehead almost
touching his. Thrice Hercules tried to throw me off, and the
fourth time he succeeded, brought me to the ground, and himself
upon my back. I tell you the truth, it was as if a mountain had
fallen on me. I struggled to get my arms at liberty, panting and
reeking with perspiration. He gave me no chance to recover, but
seized my throat. My knees were on the earth and my mouth in the
"Finding that I was no match for him in the warrior's art, I
resorted to others and glided away in the form of a serpent. I
curled my body in a coil and hissed at him with my forked tongue.
He smiled scornfully at this, and said, 'It was the labor of my
infancy to conquer snakes.' So saying he clasped my neck with his
hands. I was almost choked, and struggled to get my neck out of
his grasp. Vanquished in this form, I tried what alone remained to
me and assumed the form of a bull. He grasped my neck with his
arm, and dragging my head down to the ground, overthrew me on the
sand. Nor was this enough. His ruthless hand rent my horn from my
head. The Naiades took it, consecrated it, and filled it with
fragrant flowers. Plenty adopted my horn and made it her own, and
called it 'Cornucopia.'"
The ancients were fond of finding a hidden meaning in their
mythological tales. They explain this fight of Achelous with
Hercules by saying Achelous was a river that in seasons of rain
overflowed its banks. When the fable says that Achelous loved
Dejanira, and sought a union with her, the meaning is that the
river in its windings flowed through part of Dejanira's kingdom.
It was said to take the form of a snake because of its winding,
and of a bull because it made a brawling or roaring in its course.
When the river swelled, it made itself another channel. Thus its
head was horned. Hercules prevented the return of these periodical
overflows by embankments and canals; and therefore he was said to
have vanquished the river-god and cut off his horn. Finally, the
lands formerly subject to overflow, but now redeemed, became very
fertile, and this is meant by the horn of plenty.
There is another account of the origin of the Cornucopia. Jupiter
at his birth was committed by his mother Rhea to the care of the
daughters of Melisseus, a Cretan king. They fed the infant deity
with the milk of the goat Amalthea. Jupiter broke off one of the
horns of the goat and gave it to his nurses, and endowed it with
the wonderful power of becoming filled with whatever the possessor
The name of Amalthea is also given by some writers to the mother
of Bacchus. It is thus used by Milton, "Paradise Lost," Book IV.:
"... That Nyseian isle,
Girt with the river Triton, where old Cham,
Whom Gentiles Ammon call, and Libyan Jove,
Hid Amalthea and her florid son,
Young Bacchus, from his stepdame Rhea's eye."
ADMETUS AND ALCESTIS
Aesculapius, the son of Apollo, was endowed by his father with
such skill in the healing art that he even restored the dead to
life. At this Pluto took alarm, and prevailed on Jupiter to launch
a thunderbolt at Aesculapius. Apollo was indignant at the
destruction of his son, and wreaked his vengeance on the innocent
workmen who had made the thunderbolt. These were the Cyclopes, who
have their workshop under Mount Aetna, from which the smoke and
flames of their furnaces are constantly issuing. Apollo shot his
arrows at the Cyclopes, which so incensed Jupiter that he
condemned him as a punishment to become the servant of a mortal
for the space of one year. Accordingly Apollo went into the
service of Admetus, king of Thessaly, and pastured his flocks for
him on the verdant banks of the river Amphrysos.
Admetus was a suitor, with others, for the hand of Alcestis, the
daughter of Pelias, who promised her to him who should come for
her in a chariot drawn by lions and boars. This task Admetus
performed by the assistance of his divine herdsman, and was made
happy in the possession of Alcestis. But Admetus fell ill, and
being near to death, Apollo prevailed on the Fates to spare him on
condition that some one would consent to die in his stead.
Admetus, in his joy at this reprieve, thought little of the
ransom, and perhaps remembering the declarations of attachment
which he had often heard from his courtiers and dependents fancied
that it would be easy to find a substitute. But it was not so.
Brave warriors, who would willingly have perilled their lives for
their prince, shrunk from the thought of dying for him on the bed
of sickness; and old servants who had experienced his bounty and
that of his house from their childhood up, were not willing to lay
down the scanty remnant of their days to show their gratitude. Men
asked, "Why does not one of his parents do it? They cannot in the
course of nature live much longer, and who can feel like them the
call to rescue the life they gave from an untimely end?" But the
parents, distressed though they were at the thought of losing him,
shrunk from the call. Then Alcestis, with a generous self-
devotion, proffered herself as the substitute. Admetus, fond as he
was of life, would not have submitted to receive it at such a
cost; but there was no remedy. The condition imposed by the Fates
had been met, and the decree was irrevocable. Alcestis sickened as
Admetus revived, and she was rapidly sinking to the grave.
Just at this time Hercules arrived at the palace of Admetus, and
found all the inmates in great distress for the impending loss of
the devoted wife and beloved mistress. Hercules, to whom no labor
was too arduous, resolved to attempt her rescue. He went and lay
in wait at the door of the chamber of the dying queen, and when
Death came for his prey, he seized him and forced him to resign
his victim. Alcestis recovered, and was restored to her husband.
Milton alludes to the story of Alcestis in his Sonnet "on his
"Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
Rescued from death by force, though pale and faint."
J. R. Lowell has chosen the "Shepherd of King Admetus" for the
subject of a short poem. He makes that event the first
introduction of poetry to men.
"Men called him but a shiftless youth,
In whom no good they saw,
And yet unwittingly, in truth,
They made his careless words their law.
"And day by day more holy grew
Each spot where he had trod,
Till after-poets only knew
Their first-born brother was a god."
A large proportion both of the interesting persons and of the
exalted acts of legendary Greece belongs to the female sex.
Antigone was as bright an example of filial and sisterly fidelity
as was Alcestis of connubial devotion. She was the daughter of
Oedipus and Jocasta, who with all their descendants were the
victims of an unrelenting fate, dooming them to destruction.
OEdipus in his madness had torn out his eyes, and was driven forth
from his kingdom Thebes, dreaded and abandoned by all men, as an
object of divine vengeance. Antigone, his daughter, alone shared
his wanderings and remained with him till he died, and then
returned to Thebes.
Her brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, had agreed to share the
kingdom between them, and reign alternately year by year. The
first year fell to the lot of Eteocles, who, when his time
expired, refused to surrender the kingdom to his brother.
Polynices fled to Adrastus, king of Argos, who gave him his
daughter in marriage, and aided him with an army to enforce his
claim to the kingdom. This led to the celebrated expedition of the
"Seven against Thebes," which furnished ample materials for the
epic and tragic poets of Greece.
Amphiaraus, the brother-in-law of Adrastus, opposed the
enterprise, for he was a soothsayer, and knew by his art that no
one of the leaders except Adrastus would live to return. But
Amphiaraus, on his marriage to Eriphyle, the king's sister, had
agreed that whenever he and Adrastus should differ in opinion, the
decision should be left to Eriphyle. Polynices, knowing this, gave
Eriphyle the collar of Harmonia, and thereby gained her to his
interest. This collar or necklace was a present which Vulcan had
given to Harmonia on her marriage with Cadmus, and Polynices had
taken it with him on his flight from Thebes. Eriphyle could not
resist so tempting a bribe, and by her decision the war was
resolved on, and Amphiaraus went to his certain fate. He bore his
part bravely in the contest, but could not avert his destiny.
Pursued by the enemy, he fled along the river, when a thunderbolt
launched by Jupiter opened the ground, and he, his chariot, and
his charioteer were swallowed up.
It would not be in place here to detail all the acts of heroism or
atrocity which marked the contest; but we must not omit to record
the fidelity of Evadne as an offset to the weakness of Eriphyle.
Capaneus, the husband of Evadne, in the ardor of the fight
declared that he would force his way into the city in spite of
Jove himself. Placing a ladder against the wall he mounted, but
Jupiter, offended at his impious language, struck him with a
thunderbolt. When his obsequies were celebrated, Evadne cast
herself on his funeral pile and perished.
Early in the contest Eteocles consulted the soothsayer Tiresias as
to the issue. Tiresias in his youth had by chance seen Minerva
bathing. The goddess in her wrath deprived him of his sight, but
afterwards relenting gave him in compensation the knowledge of
future events. When consulted by Eteocles, he declared that
victory should fall to Thebes if Menoeceus, the son of Creon, gave
himself a voluntary victim. The heroic youth, learning the
response, threw away his life in the first encounter.
The siege continued long, with various success. At length both
hosts agreed that the brothers should decide their quarrel by
single combat. They fought and fell by each other's hands. The
armies then renewed the fight, and at last the invaders were
forced to yield, and fled, leaving their dead unburied. Creon, the
uncle of the fallen princes, now become king, caused Eteocles to
be buried with distinguished honor, but suffered the body of
Polynices to lie where it fell, forbidding every one on pain of
death to give it burial.
Antigone, the sister of Polynices, heard with indignation the
revolting edict which consigned her brother's body to the dogs and
vultures, depriving it of those rites which were considered
essential to the repose of the dead. Unmoved by the dissuading
counsel of an affectionate but timid sister, and unable to procure
assistance, she determined to brave the hazard, and to bury the
body with her own hands. She was detected in the act, and Creon
gave orders that she should be buried alive, as having
deliberately set at naught the solemn edict of the city. Her
lover, Haemon, the son of Creon, unable to avert her fate, would
not survive her, and fell by his own hand.
Antigone forms the subject of two fine tragedies of the Grecian
poet Sophocles. Mrs. Jameson, in her "Characteristics of Women,"
has compared her character with that of Cordelia, in Shakspeare's
"King Lear." The perusal of her remarks cannot fail to gratify our
The following is the lamentation of Antigone over OEdipus, when
death has at last relieved him from his sufferings:
"Alas! I only wished I might have died
With my poor father; wherefore should I ask
For longer life?
O, I was fond of misery with him;
E'en what was most unlovely grew beloved
When he was with me. O my dearest father,
Beneath the earth now in deep darkness hid,
Worn as thou wert with age, to me thou still
Wast dear, and shalt be ever."
Penelope is another of those mythic heroines whose beauties were
rather those of character and conduct than of person. She was the
daughter of Icarius, a Spartan prince. Ulysses, king of Ithaca,
sought her in marriage, and won her, over all competitors. When
the moment came for the bride to leave her father's house,
Icarius, unable to bear the thoughts of parting with his daughter,
tried to persuade her to remain with him, and not accompany her
husband to Ithaca. Ulysses gave Penelope her choice, to stay or go
with him. Penelope made no reply, but dropped her veil over her
face. Icarius urged her no further, but when she was gone erected
a statue to Modesty on the spot where they parted.
Ulysses and Penelope had not enjoyed their union more than a year
when it was interrupted by the events which called Ulysses to the
Trojan war. During his long absence, and when it was doubtful
whether he still lived, and highly improbable that he would ever
return, Penelope was importuned by numerous suitors, from whom
there seemed no refuge but in choosing one of them for her
husband. Penelope, however, employed every art to gain time, still
hoping for Ulysses' return. One of her arts of delay was engaging
in the preparation of a robe for the funeral canopy of Laertes,
her husband's father. She pledged herself to make her choice among
the suitors when the robe was finished. During the day she worked
at the robe, but in the night she undid the work of the day. This
is the famous Penelope's web, which is used as a proverbial
expression for anything which is perpetually doing but never done.
The rest of Penelope's history will be told when we give an
account of her husband's adventures.
ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE--ARISTAEUS--AMPHION--LINUS--THAMYRIS--
ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE
Orpheus was the son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope. He was
presented by his father with a Lyre and taught to play upon it,
which he did to such perfection that nothing could withstand the
charm of his music. Not only his fellow-mortals but wild beasts
were softened by his strains, and gathering round him laid by
their fierceness, and stood entranced with his lay. Nay, the very
trees and rocks were sensible to the charm. The former crowded
round him and the latter relaxed somewhat of their hardness,
softened by his notes.
Hymen had been called to bless with his presence the nuptials of
Orpheus with Eurydice; but though he attended, he brought no happy
omens with him. His very torch smoked and brought tears into their
eyes. In coincidence with such prognostics, Eurydice, shortly
after her marriage, while wandering with the nymphs, her
companions, was seen by the shepherd Aristaeus, who was struck
with her beauty and made advances to her. She fled, and in flying
trod upon a snake in the grass, was bitten in the foot, and died.
Orpheus sang his grief to all who breathed the upper air, both
gods and men, and finding it all unavailing resolved to seek his
wife in the regions of the dead. He descended by a cave situated
on the side of the promontory of Taenarus and arrived at the
Stygian realm. He passed through crowds of ghosts and presented
himself before the throne of Pluto and Proserpine. Accompanying
the words with the lyre, he sung, "O deities of the underworld, to
whom all we who live must come, hear my words, for they are true.
I come not to spy out the secrets of Tartarus, nor to try my
strength against the three-headed dog with snaky hair who guards
the entrance. I come to seek my wife, whose opening years the
poisonous viper's fang has brought to an untimely end. Love has
led me here, Love, a god all powerful with us who dwell on the
earth, and, if old traditions say true, not less so here. I
implore you by these abodes full of terror, these realms of
silence and uncreated things, unite again the thread of Eurydice's
life. We all are destined to you and sooner or later must pass to
your domain. She too, when she shall have filled her term of life,
will rightly be yours. But till then grant her to me, I beseech
you. If you deny me I cannot return alone; you shall triumph in
the death of us both."
As he sang these tender strains, the very ghosts shed tears.
Tantalus, in spite of his thirst, stopped for a moment his efforts
for water, Ixion's wheel stood still, the vulture ceased to tear
the giant's liver, the daughters of Danaus rested from their task
of drawing water in a sieve, and Sisyphus sat on his rock to
listen. Then for the first time, it is said, the cheeks of the
Furies were wet with tears. Proserpine could not resist, and Pluto
himself gave way. Eurydice was called. She came from among the
new-arrived ghosts, limping with her wounded foot. Orpheus was
permitted to take her away with him on one condition, that he
should not turn around to look at her till they should have
reached the upper air. Under this condition they proceeded on
their way, he leading, she following, through passages dark and
steep, in total silence, till they had nearly reached the outlet
into the cheerful upper world, when Orpheus, in a moment of
forgetfulness, to assure himself that she was still following,
cast a glance behind him, when instantly she was borne away.
Stretching out their arms to embrace each other, they grasped only
the air! Dying now a second time, she yet cannot reproach her
husband, for how can she blame his impatience to behold her?
"Farewell," she said, "a last farewell,"--and was hurried away, so
fast that the sound hardly reached his ears.
Orpheus endeavored to follow her, and besought permission to
return and try once more for her release; but the stern ferryman
repulsed him and refused passage. Seven days he lingered about the
brink, without food or sleep; then bitterly accusing of cruelty
the powers of Erebus, he sang his complaints to the rocks and
mountains, melting the hearts of tigers and moving the oaks from
their stations. He held himself aloof from womankind, dwelling
constantly on the recollection of his sad mischance. The Thracian
maidens tried their best to captivate him, but he repulsed their
advances. They bore with him as long as they could; but finding
him insensible one day, excited by the rites of Bacchus, one of
them exclaimed, "See yonder our despiser!" and threw at him her
javelin. The weapon, as soon as it came within the sound of his
lyre, fell harmless at his feet. So did also the stones that they
threw at him. But the women raised a scream and drowned the voice
of the music, and then the missiles reached him and soon were
stained with his blood. The maniacs tore him limb from limb, and
threw his head and his lyre into the river Hebrus, down which they
floated, murmuring sad music, to which the shores responded a
plaintive symphony. The Muses gathered up the fragments of his
body and buried them at Libethra, where the nightingale is said to
sing over his grave more sweetly than in any other part of Greece.
His lyre was placed by Jupiter among the stars. His shade passed a
second time to Tartarus, where he sought out his Eurydice and
embraced her with eager arms. They roam the happy fields together
now, sometimes he leading, sometimes she; and Orpheus gazes as
much as he will upon her, no longer incurring a penalty for a
The story of Orpheus has furnished Pope with an illustration of
the power of music, for his "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day" The
following stanza relates the conclusion of the story:
"But soon, too soon the lover turns his eyes;
Again she falls, again she dies, she dies!
How wilt thou now the fatal sisters move?
No crime was thine, if't is no crime to love.
Now under hanging mountains,
Beside the falls of fountains,
Or where Hebrus wanders,
Rolling in meanders,
He makes his moan,
And calls her ghost,
Forever, ever, ever lost!
Now with furies surrounded,
He trembles, he glows,
Amidst Rhodope's snows
See, wild as the winds o'er the desert he flies;
Hark! Haemus resounds with the Bacchanals' cries;
Ah, see, he dies!
Yet even in death Eurydice he sung,
Eurydice still trembled on his tongue:
Eurydice the woods
Eurydice the floods
Eurydice the rocks and hollow mountains rung"
The superior melody of the nightingale's song over the grave of
Orpheus is alluded to by Southey in his "Thalaba":
"Then on his ear what sounds
Of harmony arose'
Far music and the distance-mellowed song
From bowers of merriment,
The waterfall remote,
The murmuring of the leafy groves;
The single nightingale
Perched in the rosier by, so richly toned,
That never from that most melodious bird
Singing a love song to his brooding mate,
Did Thracian shepherd by the grave
Of Orpheus hear a sweeter melody,
Though there the spirit of the sepulchre
All his own power infuse, to swell
The incense that he loves"
ARISTAEUS, THE BEE-KEEPER
Man avails himself of the instincts of the inferior animals for
his own advantage. Hence sprang the art of keeping bees. Honey
must first have been known as a wild product, the bees building
their structures in hollow trees or holes in the rocks, or any
similar cavity that chance offered. Thus occasionally the carcass
of a dead animal would be occupied by the bees for that purpose.
It was no doubt from some such incident that the superstition
arose that the bees were engendered by the decaying flesh of the
animal; and Virgil, in the following story, shows how this
supposed fact may be turned to account for renewing the swarm when
it has been lost by disease or accident:
Aristaeus, who first taught the management of bees, was the son of
the water-nymph Cyrene. His bees had perished, and he resorted for
aid to his mother. He stood at the river side and thus addressed
her: "O mother, the pride of my life is taken from me! I have lost
my precious bees. My care and skill have availed me nothing, and
you my mother have not warded off from me the blow of misfortune."
His mother heard these complaints as she sat in her palace at the
bottom of the river, with her attendant nymphs around her. They
were engaged in female occupations, spinning and weaving, while
one told stories to amuse the rest. The sad voice of Aristaeus
interrupting their occupation, one of them put her head above the
water and seeing him, returned and gave information to his mother,
who ordered that he should be brought into her presence. The river
at her command opened itself and let him pass in, while it stood
curled like a mountain on either side. He descended to the region
where the fountains of the great rivers lie; he saw the enormous
receptacles of waters and was almost deafened with the roar, while
he surveyed them hurrying off in various directions to water the
face of the earth. Arriving at his mother's apartment, he was
hospitably received by Cyrene and her nymphs, who spread their
table with the richest dainties. They first poured out libations
to Neptune, then regaled themselves with the feast, and after that
Cyrene thus addressed him: "There is an old prophet named Proteus,
who dwells in the sea and is a favorite of Neptune, whose herd of
sea-calves he pastures. We nymphs hold him in great respect, for
he is a learned sage and knows all things, past, present, and to
come. He can tell you, my son, the cause of the mortality among
your bees, and how you may remedy it. But he will not do it
voluntarily, however you may entreat him. You must compel him by
force. If you seize him and chain him, he will answer your
questions in order to get released, for he cannot by all his arts
get away if you hold fast the chains. I will carry you to his
cave, where he comes at noon to take his midday repose. Then you
may easily secure him. But when he finds himself captured, his
resort is to a power he possesses of changing himself into various
forms. He will become a wild boar or a fierce tiger, a scaly
dragon or lion with yellow mane. Or he will make a noise like the
crackling of flames or the rush of water, so as to tempt you to
let go the chain, when he will make his escape. But you have only
to keep him fast bound, and at last when he finds all his arts
unavailing, he will return to his own figure and obey your
commands." So saying she sprinkled her son with fragrant nectar,
the beverage of the gods, and immediately an unusual vigor filled
his frame, and courage his heart, while perfume breathed all
The nymph led her son to the prophet's cave and concealed him
among the recesses of the rocks, while she herself took her place
behind the clouds. When noon came and the hour when men and herds
retreat from the glaring sun to indulge in quiet slumber, Proteus
issued from the water, followed by his herd of sea-calves which
spread themselves along the shore. He sat on the rock and counted
his herd; then stretched himself on the floor of the cave and went
to sleep. Aristaeus hardly allowed him to get fairly asleep before
he fixed the fetters on him and shouted aloud. Proteus, waking and
finding himself captured, immediately resorted to his arts,
becoming first a fire, then a flood, then a horrible wild beast,
in rapid succession. But finding all would not do, he at last
resumed his own form and addressed the youth in angry accents:
"Who are you, bold youth, who thus invade my abode, and what do
yot want of me?" Aristaeus replied, "Proteus, you know already,
for it is needless for any one to attempt to deceive you. And do
you also cease your efforts to elude me. I am led hither by divine
assistance, to know from you the cause of my misfortune and how to
remedy it." At these words the prophet, fixing on him his gray
eyes with a piercing look, thus spoke: "You receive the merited
reward of your deeds, by which Eurydice met her death, for in
flying from you she trod upon a serpent, of whose bite she died.
To avenge her death, the nymphs, her companions, have sent this
destruction to your bees. You have to appease their anger, and
thus it must be done: Select four bulls, of perfect form and size,
and four cows of equal beauty, build four altars to the nymphs,
and sacrifice the animals, leaving their carcasses in the leafy
grove. To Orpheus and Eurydice you shall pay such funeral honors
as may allay their resentment. Returning after nine days, you will
examine the bodies of the cattle slain and see what will befall."
Aristaeus faithfully obeyed these directions. He sacrificed the
cattle, he left their bodies in the grove, he offered funeral
honors to the shades of Orpheus and Eurydice; then returning on
the ninth day he examined the bodies of the animals, and,
wonderful to relate! a swarm of bees had taken possession of one
of the carcasses and were pursuing their labors there as in a
In "The Task," Cowper alludes to the story of Aristaeus, when
speaking of the ice-palace built by the Empress Anne of Russia. He
has been describing the fantastic forms which ice assumes in
connection with waterfalls, etc.:
"Less worthy of applause though more admired
Because a novelty, the work of man,
Imperial mistress of the fur-clad Russ,
Thy most magnificent and mighty freak,
The wonder of the north. No forest fell
When thou wouldst build, no quarry sent its stores
T' enrich thy walls; but thou didst hew the floods
And make thy marble of the glassy wave.
In such a palace Aristaeus found
Cyrene, when he bore the plaintive tale
Of his lost bees to her maternal ear."
Milton also appears to have had Cyrene and her domestic scene in
his mind when he describes to us Sabrina, the nymph of the river
Severn, in the Guardian-spirit's Song in "Comus":
Listen where thou art sitting
Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave
In twisted braids of lilies knitting
The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair;
Listen for dear honor's sake,
Goddess of the silver lake!
Listen and save."
The following are other celebrated mythical poets and musicians,
some of whom were hardly inferior to Orpheus himself:
Amphion was the son of Jupiter and Antiope, queen of Thebes. With
his twin brother Zethus he was exposed at birth on Mount
Cithaeron, where they grew up among the shepherds, not knowing
their parentage. Mercury gave Amphion a lyre and taught him to
play upon it, and his brother occupied himself in hunting and
tending the flocks. Meanwhile Antiope, their mother, who had been
treated with great cruelty by Lycus, the usurping king of Thebes,
and by Dirce, his wife, found means to inform her children of
their rights and to summon them to her assistance. With a band of
their fellow-herdsmen they attacked and slew Lycus, and tying
Dirce by the hair of her head to a bull, let him drag her till she
was dead. Amphion, having become king of Thebes, fortified the
city with a wall. It is said that when he played on his lyre the
stones moved of their own accord and took their places in the
See Tennyson's poem of "Amphion" for an amusing use made of this
Linus was the instructor of Hercules in music, but having one day
reproved his pupil rather harshly, he roused the anger of
Hercules, who struck him with his lyre and killed him.
An ancient Thracian bard, who in his presumption challenged the
Muses to a trial of skill, and being overcome in the contest, was
deprived by them of his sight. Milton alludes to him with other
blind bards, when speaking of his own blindness, "Paradise Lost,"
Book III., 35.
Minerva invented the flute, and played upon it to the delight of
all the celestial auditors; but the mischievous urchin Cupid
having dared to laugh at the queer face which the goddess made
while playing, Minerva threw the instrument indignantly away, and
it fell down to earth, and was found by Marsyas. He blew upon it,
and drew from it such ravishing sounds that he was tempted to
challenge Apollo himself to a musical contest. The god of course
triumphed, and punished Marsyas by flaying him alive.
Melampus was the first mortal endowed with prophetic powers.
Before his house there stood an oak tree containing a serpent's
nest. The old serpents were killed by the servants, but Melampus
took care of the young ones and fed them carefully. One day when
he was asleep under the oak the serpents licked his ears with
their tongues. On awaking he was astonished to find that he now
understood the language of birds and creeping things. This
knowledge enabled him to foretell future events, and he became a
renowned soothsayer. At one time his enemies took him captive and
kept him strictly imprisoned. Melampus in the silence of the night
heard the woodworms in the timbers talking together, and found out
by what they said that the timbers were nearly eaten through and
the roof would soon fall in. He told his captors and demanded to
be let out, warning them also. They took his warning, and thus
escaped destruction, and rewarded Melampus and held him in high
MUSAEUS A semi-mythological personage who was represented by one
tradition to be the son of Orpheus. He is said to have written
sacred poems and oracles. Milton couples his name with that of
Orpheus in his "Il Penseroso":
"But O, sad virgin, that thy power
Might raise Musaeus from his bower,
Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing
Such notes as warbled to the string,
Drew iron tears down Pluto's cheek,
And made Hell grant what love did seek."
The poets whose adventures compose this chapter were real persons
some of whose works yet remain, and their influence on poets who
succeeded them is yet more important than their poetical remains.
The adventures recorded of them in the following stories rest on
the same authority as other narratives of the "Age of Fable," that
is, of the poets who have told them. In their present form, the
first two are translated from the German, Arion from Schlegel, and
Ibycus from Schiller.
Arion was a famous musician, and dwelt in the court of Periander,
king of Corinth, with whom he was a great favorite. There was to
be a musical contest in Sicily, and Arion longed to compete for
the prize. He told his wish to Periander, who besought him like a
brother to give up the thought. "Pray stay with me," he said, "and
be contented. He who strives to win may lose." Arion answered, "A
wandering life best suits the free heart of a poet. The talent
which a god bestowed on me, I would fain make a source of pleasure
to others. And if I win the prize, how will the enjoyment of it be
increased by the consciousness of my widespread fame!" He went,
won the prize, and embarked with his wealth in a Corinthian ship
for home. On the second morning after setting sail, the wind
breathed mild and fair. "O Periander," he exclaimed, "dismiss your
fears! Soon shall you forget them in my embrace. With what lavish
offerings will we display our gratitude to the gods, and how merry
will we be at the festal board!" The wind and sea continued
propitious. Not a cloud dimmed the firmament. He had not trusted
too much to the ocean--but he had to man. He overheard the seamen
exchanging hints with one another, and found they were plotting to
possess themselves of his treasure. Presently they surrounded him
loud and mutinous, and said, "Arion, you must die! If you would
have a grave on shore, yield yourself to die on this spot; but if
otherwise, cast yourself into the sea." "Will nothing satisfy you
but my life?" said he. "Take my gold, and welcome. I willingly buy
my life at that price." "No, no; we cannot spare you. Your life
would be too dangerous to us. Where could we go to escape from
Periander, if he should know that you had been robbed by us? Your
gold would be of little use to us, if on returning home, we could
Back to Full Books