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Roman Antiquities, and Ancient Mythology - For Classical Schools (2nd ed)
by Charles K. Dillaway
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Authors are much divided on the manner of Achilles' death; some relate that he was slain by Apollo, or that this god enabled Paris to kill him, by directing the arrow to his heel, the only part in which he was vulnerable. Others again say, that Paris murdered him treacherously, in the temple of Apollo, whilst treating about his marriage with Polyx{)e}na, daughter to king Priam.

Though this tradition concerning his death be commonly received, yet Homer plainly enough insinuates that Achilles died fighting for his country, and represents the Greeks as maintaining a bloody battle about his body, which lasted a whole day. Achilles having been lamented by Thetis, the Nereids, and the Muses, was buried on the promontory of Sigaeum; and after Troy was captured, the Greeks endeavored to appease his manes by sacrificing Polyx{)e}na, on his tomb, as his ghost had requested.

The oracle at Dod{=o}na decreed him divine honors, and ordered annual victims to be offered at the place of his sepulture. In pursuance of this, the Thessalians brought hither yearly two bulls, one black, the other white, crowned with wreaths of flowers, and water from the river Sperchius. It is said that Alexander, seeing his tomb, honored it by placing a crown upon it, at the same time crying out "that Achilles was happy in having, during his life, such a friend as Patr{=o}clus, and after his death, a poet like Homer."

ATLAS was son of Jap{)e}tus and Clym{)e}ne, and brother of Prometheus, according to most authors; or, as others relate, son of Jap{)e}tus by Asia, daughter of Oce{)a}nus. He had many children. Of his sons, the most famous were Hesp{)e}rus (whom some call his brother) and Hyas. By his wife Pleione he had seven daughters, who went by the general names of Atlant{)i}des, or Plei{)a}des; and by his wife AEthra he had also seven other daughters, who bore the common appellation of the Hy{)a}des.

According to Hyg{=i}nus, Atlas having assisted the giants in their war against Jupiter, was doomed by the victorious god, as a punishment, to sustain the weight of the heavens. Ovid, however, represents him as a powerful and wealthy monarch, proprietor of the gardens of the Hesper{)i}des, which bore golden fruit; but that being warned by the oracle of Themis that he should suffer some great injury from a son of Jupiter, he strictly forbade all foreigners access to his presence. Perseus, however, having the courage to appear before him, was ordered to retire, with strong menaces in case of disobedience; but the hero presenting his shield, with the dreadful head of Med{=u}sa, turned him into the mountain which still bears his name.

The Abbe la Pluche has given a very clear and ingenious explication of this fable. Of all nations the Egyptians had, with the greatest assiduity, cultivated astronomy. To point out the difficulties attending the study of this science, they represented it by an image bearing a globe or sphere on its back, which they called Atlas, a word signifying great toil or labor; but the word also signifying support, the Phoenicians, led by the representation, took it in this sense, and in their voyages to Mauritania, seeing the high mountains of that country covered with snow, and losing their tops in the clouds, gave them the name of Atlas, and thus produced the fable by which the symbol of astronomy used among the Egyptians became a Mauritanian king, transformed into a mountain, whose head supports the heavens.

The rest of the fable is equally obvious to explanation. The annual inundations of the Nile obliged the Egyptians to be very exact in observing the motions of the heavenly bodies. The Hyades, or Huades, took their name from the figure V, which they form in the head of Taurus. The Pleiades were a remarkable constellation and of great use to the Egyptians in regulating the seasons: hence they became the daughters of Atlas; and Orion, who arose just as they set, was called their lover.

By the golden apples that grew in the gardens of the Hesperides, the Phoenicians expressed the rich and beneficial commerce they had in the Mediterranean, which being carried on during three months only of the year, gave rise to the fable of the Hesperian sisters. The most usual way of representing Atlas, among the ancient artists, was as supporting a globe; for the old poets commonly refer to this attitude in speaking of him.

PROMETHEUS was son of Jap{)e}tus, but it is doubtful whether his mother were Asia, or Themis. Having incurred the displeasure of Jupiter, either for stealing some of the celestial fire, or for forming a man of clay, Jupiter, in resentment, commanded Vulcan to make a woman of clay, which, when finished, was introduced into the assembly of the gods, each of whom bestowed on her some additional charm or perfection. Venus gave her beauty, Pallas wisdom, Juno riches, Mercury taught her eloquence, and Apollo music. From all these accomplishments she was styled Pand{=o}ra, that is, loaded with gifts and accomplishments, and was the first of her sex.

Jupiter, to complete his designs, presented her a box, in which he had enclosed age, disease, war, famine, pestilence, discord, envy, calumny, and, in short, all the evils and vices with which he intended to afflict the world. Thus equipped, Pand{=o}ra was sent to Prometheus, who, being on his guard against the mischief designed him, declined accepting the box; but Epimetheus, his brother, though forewarned of the danger, had less resolution; for, being enamored of the beauty of Pand{=o}ra, he married her, and opened the fatal treasure, when immediately flew abroad the contents, which soon overspread the world, hope only remaining at the bottom.

Prometheus escaping the evil which the god designed him, and Jupiter not being appeased, Mercury and Vulcan were despatched by him to seize Prometheus, and chain him on Mount Caucasus, where a vulture, the offspring of Typhon and Echidna, was commissioned to prey upon his liver, which, that his torment might be endless, was constantly renewed by night in proportion to its increase by day; but the vulture being soon destroyed by Hercules, Prometheus was released. Others say, that Jupiter restored Prometheus to freedom, for discovering the conspiracy of Saturn, his father, and dissuading his intended marriage with Thetis.

Nicander, to this fable, offers an additional one. He tells us, that when mankind had received the fire from Prometheus, some ungrateful men discovered the theft to Jupiter, who rewarded them with the gift of perpetual youth. This present they put on the back of an ass, which stopping at a fountain to quench his thirst, was prevented by a water-snake which would not suffer him to drink till he gave him his burden; hence the serpent renews his youth upon changing his skin.

Prometheus was esteemed the inventor of many useful arts. He made man of the mixture and temperament of all the elements, gave him strength of body, vigor of mind, and the peculiar qualities of all creatures, as the craft of the fox, the courage of the lion, &c. He had an altar in the academy of Athens in common with Vulcan and Pallas. In his statues he holds a sceptre in the right hand.

Several explanations have been given of this fable. Prometheus, whose name is derived from a Greek word, signifying foresight and providence, was conspicuous for that quality; and because he reduced mankind, before rude and savage, to a state of culture and improvement, he was feigned to have made them from clay: being a diligent observer of the motions of the heavenly bodies from Mount Caucasus, it was fabled that he was chained there: having discovered the method of striking fire from the flint, or perhaps, the nature of lightning, it was pretended that he stole fire from the gods: and, because he applied himself to study with intenseness, they imagined that a vulture preyed continually on his liver.

There is another solution of this fable, analogous to the preceding. According to Pliny, Prometheus was the first who instituted sacrifices. Being expelled his dominions by Jupiter, he fled to Scythia, where he retired to Mount Caucasus, either to make astronomical calculations or to indulge his melancholy for the loss of his dominions, which occasioned the fable of the vulture or eagle feeding on his liver. As he was the first inventor of forging metals by fire, he was said to have stolen that element from heaven; and, as the first introduction of agriculture and navigation had been ascribed to him, he was celebrated as forming a living man from an inanimate substance.

AMPHION, king of Thebes, son of Jupiter and Anti{)o}pe, was instructed in the use of the lyre by Mercury, and became so great a proficient, that he is reported to have built the walls of Thebes by the power of his harmony, which caused the listening stones to ascend voluntarily. He married Ni{)o}be, daughter of Tant{)a}lus, whose insult to Di{=a}na occasioned the loss of their children by the arrows of Apollo and Di{=a}na. The unhappy father, attempting to revenge himself by the destruction of the temple of Apollo, was punished with the loss of his sight and skill, and thrown into the infernal regions.

ORPHEUS, son of Apollo by the Muse Calli{)o}pe, was born in Thrace, and resided near Mount Rhod{)o}pe, where he married Eurydice, a princess of that country. Aristaeus, a neighboring prince, fell desperately in love with her, but she flying from his violence, was killed by the bite of a serpent. Her disconsolate husband was so affected at his loss, that he descended by the way of Taen{)a}rus to hell, in order to recover his beloved wife. As music and poetry were to Orpheus hereditary talents, he exerted them so powerfully in the infernal regions, that Pluto and Proserpine, touched with compassion, restored to him his consort on condition that he should not look back upon her till they came to the light of the world. His impatience, however, prevailing, he broke the condition, and lost Eurydice forever.

Whilst Orpheus was among the shades, he sang the praises of all the gods but Bacchus, whom he accidentally omitted; to revenge this affront, Bacchus inspired the Maen{)a}des, his priestesses, with such fury, that they tore Orpheus to pieces, and scattered his limbs about the fields. His head was cast into the river Hebrus, and (together with his harp) was carried by the tide to Lesbos, where it afterwards delivered oracles. The harp, with seven strings, representing the seven planets, which had been given him by Apollo, was taken up into heaven, and graced with nine stars by the nine Muses. Orpheus himself was changed into a swan. He left a son called Methon, who founded in Thrace a city of his own name.

It is certain that Orpheus may be placed as the earliest poet of Greece, where he first introduced astronomy, divinity, music and poetry; all which he had learned in Egypt. He introduced also the rites of Bacchus, which from him were called Orphica. He was a person of most consummate knowledge, and the wisest, as well as the most diligent scholar of Linus.

If we search for the origin of this fable, we must again have recourse to Egypt, the mother-country of fiction. In July, when the sun entered Leo, the Nile overflowed all the plains. To denote the public joy at seeing the inundation rise to its due height, the Egyptians exhibited a youth playing on the lyre, or the sistrum, and sitting by a tame lion. When the waters did not increase as they should, the Horus was represented stretched on the back of a lion, as dead. This symbol they called Oreph, or Orpheus, (from oreph, the back part of the head) to signify that agriculture was then quite unseasonable and dormant.

The songs with which the people amused themselves during this period of inactivity, for want of exercise, were called the hymns of Orpheus; and as husbandry revived immediately after, it gave rise to the fable of Orpheus's returning from hell. The Isis placed near this Horus, they called Eurydice, (from eri, a lion, and daca, tamed, is formed Eridica, Eurydice, or the lion tamed, i.e. the violence of the inundation overcome), and as the Greeks took all these figures in the literal, not in the emblematical sense, they made Eurydice the wife of Orpheus.

OSIRIS, son of Jupiter and Ni{)o}be, was king of the Argives many years; but, being instigated by the desire of glory, he left his kingdom to his brother AEgi{)a}lus, and went into Egypt, in search of a new name and kingdom there. The Egyptians were not so much overcome by the valor of Os{=i}ris, as obliged to him for his kindness towards them. Having conferred the greatest benefits on his subjects, by civilizing their manners, and instructing them in husbandry and other useful arts, he made the necessary disposition of his affairs, committed the regency to Isis, and set out with a body of forces in order to civilize the rest of mankind. This he performed more by the power of persuasion, and the soothing arts of music and poetry, than by the terror of his arms.

In his absence, Typhoeus, the giant, whom historians call the brother of Os{=i}ris, formed a conspiracy to dethrone him; for which end, at the return of Os{=i}ris into Egypt, he invited him to a feast, at the conclusion of which a chest of exquisite workmanship was brought in, and offered to him who, when laid down in it, should be found to fit it the best. Os{=i}ris, not suspecting a trick to be played him, got into the chest, and the cover being immediately shut upon him, this good but unfortunate prince was thus thrown into the Nile.

When the news of this transaction reached Coptus, where Isis his wife then was, she cut her hair, and in deep mourning went every where in search of the dead body. This was at length discovered, and concealed by her at Butus; but Typhoeus, while hunting by moonlight, having found it there, tore it into many pieces, which he scattered abroad. Isis then traversed the lakes and watery places in a boat made of the papyrus, seeking the mangled parts of Os{=i}ris, and where she found any, there she buried them; hence the many tombs ascribed to Os{=i}ris.

Plutarch seems evidently to prove that the Egyptians worshipped the Sun under the name of Os{=i}ris. His reasons are: 1. Because the images of Os{=i}ris were always clothed in a shining garment, to represent the rays and light of the sun. 2. In their hymns, composed in honor of Os{=i}ris, they prayed to him who reposes himself in the bosom of the sun. 3. After the autumnal equinox, they celebrated a feast called, The disappearing of Os{=i}ris, by which is plainly meant the absence and distance of the sun. 4. In the month of November they led a cow seven times round the temple of Os{=i}ris, intimating thereby, that in seven months the sun would return to the summer solstice.

He is represented sitting upon a throne, crowned with a mitre full of small orbs, to intimate his superiority over all the globe. The gourd upon the mitre implies his action and influence upon moisture, which, and the Nile particularly, was termed by the Egyptians, the efflux of Os{=i}ris. The lower part of his habit is made up of descending rays, and his body is surrounded with orbs. His right hand is extended in a commanding attitude, and his left holds a thyrsus or staff of the papyrus, pointing out the principle of humidity, and the fertility thence flowing, under his direction.

AESCULAPIUS. The name of AEsculapius, whom the Greeks called {Asklepios}, appears to have been foreign, and derived from the oriental languages. Being honored as a god in Phoenicia and Egypt, his worship passed into Greece, and was established, first at Epidaurus, a city of Peloponnesus, bordering on the sea, where, probably, some colonies first settled; a circumstance sufficient for the Greeks to give out that this god was a native of Greece.

Not to mention all we are told of his parents, it will be enough to observe, that the opinion generally received in Greece, made him the son of Apollo by Cor{=o}nis, daughter of Phlegyas; and indeed the Messenians, who consulted the oracle of Delphi to know where AEsculapius was born, and of what parents, were told by the oracle, or more properly Apollo, that he himself was his father; that Cor{=o}nis was his mother, and that their son was born at Epidaurus.

Phlegyas, the most warlike man of his age, having gone into Peloponnesus under pretence of travelling, but, in truth, to spy into the condition of the country, carried his daughter Cor{=o}nis thither, who, to conceal her situation from her father, went to Epidaurus: there she was delivered of a son, whom she exposed upon a mountain, called to this day Mount Titthion, or of the breast; but before this adventure, Myrthion, from the myrtles that grew upon it.

The reason of this change of name was, that the child, having been here abandoned, was suckled by one of those goats of the mountain, which the dog of Aristh{)e}nes the goat-herd guarded. When Aristh{)e}nes came to review his flock, he found a she-goat and his dog missing, and going in search of them discovered the child. Upon approaching to lift him from the earth, he perceived his head encircled with fiery rays, which made him believe the child to be of divine origin.

As {Korone} in the Greek language signifies a crow, hence another fable arose importing, as we see in Lucian, that AEsculapius had sprung from an egg of a bird, under the figure of a serpent. Whatever these fictions may mean, AEsculapius being removed from the mount on which he was exposed, was nursed by Trigo or Trigone, who was probably the wife of the goat-herd that found him; and when he was capable of improving by Chiron, Phlegyas (to whom he had doubtless been returned) put him under the Centaur's tuition.

Being of a quick and lively genius, he made such progress as soon to become not only a great physician, but at length to be reckoned the god and inventor of medicine; though the Greeks, not very consistent in the history of those early ages, gave to Apis, son of Phoroneus, the glory of having discovered the healing art. AEsculapius accompanied Jason in his expedition to Colchis, and in his medical capacity was of great service to the Argonauts. Within a short time after his death he was deified, and received divine honors: some add, that he formed the celestial sign, Serpentarius.

As the Greeks always carried the encomiums of their great men beyond the truth, they feigned that AEsculapius was so expert in medicine, as not only to cure the sick, but even to raise the dead. Ovid says he did this by Hippol{)i}tus, and Julian says the same of Tynd{)a}rus: that Pluto cited him before the tribunal of Jupiter, and complained that his empire was considerably diminished and in danger of becoming desolate, from the cures AEsculapius performed; so that Jupiter in wrath slew AEsculapius with a thunder-bolt; to which they added that Apollo, enraged at the death of his son, killed the Cyclops who forged Jupiter's thunder-bolts: a fiction which obviously signifies only, that AEsculapius had carried his art very far, and that he cured diseases believed to be desperate.

AEsculapius is always represented under the figure of a grave old man wrapped up in a cloak, having sometimes upon his head the cal{)a}thus of Ser{=a}pis, with a staff in his hand, which is commonly wreathed about with a serpent; sometimes again with a serpent in one hand, and a pat{)e}ra in the other; sometimes leaning upon a pillar, round which a serpent also twines. The cock, a bird consecrated to this god, whose vigilance represents that quality which physicians ought to have, is sometimes at the feet of his statues. Socrates, we know, when dying, said to those who stood around him in his last moments, "We owe a cock to AEsculapius; give it without delay."

ULYSSES, king of Ith{)a}ca, was the son of Laertes, or Laertius and Anticl{=e}a. His wife Penel{)o}pe, daughter of Icarius brother of Tynd{)a}rus king of Sparta, was highly famed for her prudence and virtue; and being unwilling that the Trojan war should part them, Ulysses to avoid the expedition, pretended to be mad, and not only joined different beasts to the same plough, but sowed also the furrows with salt.

Palam{=e}des, however, suspecting the frenzy to be assumed, threw Telemachus, then an infant, in the way of the plough, to try if his father would alter its course. This stratagem succeeded; for when Ulysses came to the child he turned off from the spot, in consequence of which Palam{=e}des compelled him to take part in the war. He accordingly sailed with twelve ships, and was signally serviceable to the Greeks.

To him the capture of Troy is chiefly to be ascribed, since by him the obstacles were removed, which had so long prevented it. For as Ulysses himself was detected by Palam{=e}des, so he in his turn detected Achilles, who, to avoid engaging in the same war, had concealed himself in the habits of a woman, at the court of Lycom{=e}des, king of Scyros. Ulysses there discovered him, and as it had been foretold that without Achilles Troy could not be taken, thence drew him to the siege.

He also obtained the arrows of Hercules, from Philoct{=e}tes, and carried off that hero from the scene of his retreat. He brought away also the ashes of Laom{)e}don, which were preserved in Troy on the Scoean gate. By him the Palladium was stolen from the same city; Rhesus, king of Thrace, killed, and his horses taken before they had drank of the Xanthus. These exploits involved in them the destiny of Troy; for had the Trojans preserved them, their city could never have been conquered.

Ulysses contended afterwards with Telamonian Ajax, the stoutest of all the Grecians, except Achilles, for the arms of that hero, which were awarded to him by the judges, who were won by the charms of his eloquence. His other enterprises before Troy were numerous and brilliant, and are particularly related in the Iliad. When Ulysses departed for Greece, he sailed backwards and forwards for twenty years, contrary winds and severe weather opposing his return to Ith{)a}ca.

During this period, he extinguished, with a firebrand, the eye of Polyph{=e}mus; then sailing to AEolia, he obtained from AE{)o}lus all the winds which were contrary to him, and put them into leathern bags; his companions, however, believing these bags to be full of money, entered into a plot to rob him, and accordingly, when they came on the coast of Ith{)a}ca, untied the bags, upon which the wind rushing out, he was again blown back to AEolia.

When Circe had turned his companions into swine and other brutes, he first fortified himself against her charms with the herb Moly, an antidote Mercury had given him; and then rushing into her cave with his drawn sword, compelled her to restore his associates to their original shape.

He is said to have gone down into hell, to know his future fortune, from the prophet Tiresias. When he sailed to the islands of the Sirens, he stopped the ears of his companions, and bound himself with strong ropes to the ship's mast, that he might secure himself against the snares into which, by their charming voices, passengers were habitually allured. Lastly, after his ship was wrecked, he escaped by swimming, and came naked and alone, to the port of Phaeacia, in the island of Corcyra, where Nausic{)a}a, daughter of king Alcin{)o}us, found him in a profound sleep, into which he was thrown by the indulgence of Minerva.

When his companions were found, and his ship refitted, he bent his course toward Ith{)a}ca, where arriving, and having put on the habit of a beggar, he went to his neatherds, with whom he found his son Telemachus, and with them went home in disguise. After having received several affronts from the suitors of Penel{)o}pe, with the assistance of his son Telemachus and the neatherds, to whom he had discovered himself, he killed Antin{)o}us, and the other princes who were competitors for her favor. After reigning some time, he resigned the government of his kingdom to Telemachus.

CASTOR and POLLUX were the twin sons of Jupiter and Leda. These brothers entered into an inviolable friendship, and when they grew up, cleared the Archipelago of pirates, on which account they were esteemed deities of the sea, and accordingly were invoked by mariners in tempests. They went with the other noble youths of Greece in the expedition to Colchis, in search of the golden fleece, and on all occasions signalized themselves by their courage.

In this expedition Pollux slew Amycus, son of Neptune, and king of Bebrycia, who had challenged all the Argonauts to box with him. This victory, and that which he gained afterwards at the Olympic games which Hercules celebrated in Elis, caused him to be considered the hero and patron of wrestlers, while his brother Castor distinguished himself in the race, and in the management of horses.

Cicero relates a wonderful judgment which happened to one Scopas, who had spoken disrespectfully of these divinities: he was crushed to death by the fall of a chamber, whilst Simon{)i}des, who was in the same room, was rescued from the danger, being called out a little before, by two persons unknown, supposed to be Castor and Pollux.

The Greek and Roman histories are full of the miraculous appearance of these brethren; particularly we are told they were seen fighting upon two white horses, at the head of the Roman army, in the battle between the Romans and Latins, near the lake Regillus, and brought the news of the decisive victory of Paulus AEmilius to Rome, the very day it was obtained.

Frequent representations of these deities occur on ancient monuments, and particularly on consular medals. They are exhibited together, each having a helmet, out of which issues a flame, and each a pike in one hand, and in the other a horse held by the bridle: sometimes they are represented as two beautiful youths, completely armed, and riding on white horses, with stars over their helmets.

AJAX, son of Tel{)a}mon, king of Sal{)a}mis, by Beriboea, was, next to Achilles, the most valiant among the Greeks at the seige of Troy. He commanded the troops of Sal{)a}mis in that expedition, and performed the various heroic actions mentioned by Homer, and Ovid, in the speech of Ajax contending for the armor of Achilles. This armor, however, being adjudged to his competitor Ulysses, his disappointment so enraged him, that he immediately became mad, and rushed furiously upon a flock of sheep, imagining he was killing those who had offended him: but at length perceiving his mistake, he became still more furious, and stabbed himself with the fatal sword he had received from Hector, with whom he had fought. Ajax resembled Achilles in several respects; like him he was violent, and impatient of contradiction; and, like him, invulnerable in every part of the body except one.

He has been charged with impiety; not that he denied the gods a very extensive power, but he imagined that, as the greatest cowards might conquer through their assistance, there was no glory in conquering by such aids; and scorned to owe his victory to aught but his own prowess. Accordingly, we are told that when he was setting out for Troy, his father recommended him always to join the assistance of the gods to his own valor; to which Ajax replied, that cowards themselves were often victorious by such helps, but for his own part he would make no reliance of the kind, being assured he should be able to conquer without.

It is further added, upon the head of his irreligion, that to Minerva, who once offered him her advice, he replied with indignation: "Trouble not yourself about my conduct; of that I shall give a good account; you have nothing to do but reserve your favor and assistance for the other Greeks." Another time she offered to guide his chariot in the battle, but he would not suffer her. Nay, he even defaced the owl, her favorite bird, which was engraven on his shield, lest that figure should be considered as an act of reverence to Minerva, and hence as indicating distrust in himself.

Homer, however, does not represent him in this light, for though he does not pray to Jupiter himself when he prepares to engage the valiant Hector, yet he desires others to pray for him, either in a low voice, lest the Trojans should hear, or louder if they pleased; for, says he, I fear no person in the world.

The poets give to Ajax the same commendation that the holy scripture gives to king Saul, with regard to his stature. He has been the subject of several tragedies, as well in Greek as Latin; and it is related that the famous comedian, AEsop, refused to act that part. The Greeks paid great honor to him after his death, and erected to him a noble monument upon the promontory of Rhoeteum, which was one of those Alexander desired to see and honor.

JASON was son of AEson, king of Thessaly, and Alcim{)e}de. He was an infant when Pelias, his uncle, who was left his guardian, sought to destroy him; but being, to avoid the danger, conveyed by his relations to a cave, he was there instructed by Chiron in the art of physic; whence he took the name of Jason, or the healer, his former name being Diom{=e}des. Arriving at years of maturity, he returned to his uncle, who, probably with no favorable intention to Jason, inspired him with the notion of the Colchian expedition and agreeably flattered his ambition with the hopes of acquiring the golden fleece.

Jason having resolved on the voyage, built a vessel at Iolchos in Thessaly, for the expedition, under the inspection, of Argos, a famous workman, which, from him, was called Argo: it was said to have been executed by the advice of Pallas, who pointed out a tree in the Dodonaean forest for a mast, which was vocal, and had the gift of prophecy.

The fame of the vessel, the largest that had ever been heard of, but particularly the design itself, soon induced the bravest and most distinguished youths of Greece to become adventurers in it, and brought together about fifty of the most accomplished young persons of the age to accompany Jason in this expedition; authors, however, are not agreed on the precise names or numbers of the Argonauts; some state them to have been forty-nine; others more, and amongst them several were of divine origin.

On his arrival at Colchis he repaired to the court of AE{=e}tes, from whom he demanded the golden fleece. The monarch acceded to his request, provided he could overcome the difficulties which lay in his way, and which appeared not easily surmountable; these were bulls with brazen feet, whose nostrils breathed fire, and a dragon which guarded the fleece. The teeth of the latter, when killed, Jason was enjoined to sow, and, after they had sprung up into armed men, to destroy them.

Though success attended the enterprise, it was less owing to valor, than to the assistance of Med{=e}a, daughter of AE{=e}tes, who, by her enchantments, laid asleep the dragon, taught Jason to subdue the bulls, and when he had obtained the prize, accompanied him in the night time, unknown to her brother.

The return of the Argonauts is variously related; some contend it was by the track in which they came, and say that the brother of Med{=e}a pursued them as far as the Adriatic, and was overcome by Jason; which occasioned the story that his sister had cut him in pieces, and strewed his limbs in the way, that her father, from solicitude to collect them, might be delayed in the pursuit.



CHAPTER XII.

Other fabulous personages.

GRACES or CHARITES. Among the multitude of ancient divinities, none had more votaries that the Graces. Particular nations and countries had appropriate and local deities, but their empire was universal. To their influence was ascribed all that could please in nature and in art; and to them every rank and profession concurred in offering their vows.

Their number was generally limited, by the ancient poets, to three: Euphrosyne, Thal{=i}a, and Aglaia; but they differed concerning their origin. Some suppose them to have been the offspring of Jupiter and Eunomia, daughter of Oce{)a}nus; but the most prevalent opinion is, that they were descended from Bacchus and Venus. According to Homer, Aglaia, the youngest, was married to Vulcan, and another of them to the god of Sleep. The Graces were companions of Mercury, Venus, and the Muses.

Festivals were celebrated in honor of them throughout the whole year. They were esteemed the dispensers of liberality, eloquence, and wisdom; and from them were derived simplicity of manners, a graceful deportment, and gaiety of disposition. From their inspiring acts of gratitude and mutual kindness they were described as uniting hand in hand with each other. The ancients partook of but few repasts without invoking them, as well as the Muses.

SIRENS were a kind of fabulous beings represented by some as sea-monsters, with the faces of women and the tails of fishes, answering the description of mermaids; and by others said to have the upper parts of a woman, and the under parts of a bird. Their number is not determined; Homer reckons only two; others five, namely, Leucosia, Ligeia, Parthen{)o}pe, Agla{)o}phon, and Molpe; others admit only the three first.

The poets represent them as beautiful women inhabiting the rocks on the sea-shore, whither having allured passengers by the sweetness of their voices, they put them to death. Virgil places them on rocks where vessels are in danger of shipwreck; Pliny makes them inhabit the promontory of Minerva, near the island Capreae; others fix them in Sicily, near cape Pel{=o}rus.

Claudian says they inhabited harmonious rocks, that they were charming monsters, and that sailors were wrecked on their coasts without regret, and even expired in rapture. This description is doubtless founded on a literal explication of the fable, that the Sirens were women who inhabited the shores of Sicily, and who, by the allurements of pleasure, stopped passengers, and made them forget their course.

Ovid says they accompanied Proserpine when she was carried off, and that the gods granted them wings to go in quest of that goddess. Homer places the Sirens in the midst of a meadow drenched in blood, and tells us that fate had permitted them to reign till some person should over-reach them; that the wise Ulysses accomplished their destiny, having escaped their snares, by stopping the ears of his companions with wax, and causing himself to be fastened to the mast of his ship, which, he adds, plunged them into so deep despair, that they drowned themselves in the sea, where they were transformed into fishes from the waist downwards.

Others, who do not look for so much mystery in this fable, maintain that the Sirens were nothing but certain straits in the sea, where the waves whirling furiously around seized and swallowed up vessels that approached them. Lastly, some hold the Sirens to have been certain shores and promontories, where the winds, by various reverberations and echoes, cause a kind of harmony that surprises and stops passengers. This probably might be the origin of the Sirens' song, and the occasion of giving the name of Sirens to those rocks.

Some interpreters of the ancient fables contend, that the number and names of the three Sirens were taken from the triple pleasure of the senses, wine, love, and music, which are the three most powerful means of seducing mankind; and hence so many exhortations to avoid the Sirens' fatal song; and probably it was hence that the Greeks obtained their etymology of Siren from a Greek word signifying a chain, as if there were no getting free from their enticement.

But if in tracing this fable to its source, we take Servius as our guide, he tells us that it derived its origin from certain princesses who reigned of old upon the coasts of the Tuscan sea, near Pel{=o}rus and Caprea, or in three small islands of Sicily which Aristotle calls the isles of the Sirens. These women were very debauched, and by their charms allured strangers, who were ruined in their court, by pleasure and prodigality.

This seems evidently the foundation of all that Homer says of the Sirens, in the twelfth book of the Odyssey; that they bewitched those who unfortunately listened to their songs; that they detained them in capacious meadows, where nothing was to be seen but bones and carcasses withering in the sun; that none who visit them ever again enjoy the embraces and congratulations of their wives and children; and that all who dote upon their charms are doomed to perish. What Solomon says in the ninth chapter of Proverbs, of the miseries to which those are exposed who abandon themselves to sensual pleasures, well justifies the idea given us of the Sirens by the Greek poets, and by Virgil's commentator.



[Transcriber's Note:

Certain non-ASCII characters have been marked per the following. The HTML and UTF-8 text files properly display these characters.

{)a} a breve {)e} e breve {)i} i breve {)o} o breve {=a} a macron {=e} e macron {=i} i macron {=o} o macron {=u} u macron {=y} y macron

oe OE are recorded as oe in the Latin-1 and ASCII texts. ae AE ligatures have been unpacked as ae for and ASCII. Greek words have been transliterated and are marked with {word} form.

Corrected typographical errors. The typographic error and its corresponding line are listed.

honoraable The office of the legati was very dignified and honorable

desposited collected and deposited in an urn, to be kept in the mausoleum

feats Trimalchio, in his ridiculous feasts described by Petronius,

End of Notes.]

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