Pegasus, being the horse of the Muses, has always been at the service of the poets. Schiller tells a pretty story of his having been sold by a needy poet, and put to the cart and the plough. He was not fit for such service, and his clownish master could make nothing of him. But a youth stepped forth and asked leave to try him. As soon as he was seated on his back, the horse, which had appeared at first vicious, and afterwards spirit-broken, rose kingly, a spirit, a god; unfolded the splendor of his wings and soared towards heaven. Our own poet Longfellow also records an adventure of this famous steed in his Pegasus in Pound.
Shakespeare alludes to Pegasus in Henry IV, where Vernon describes Prince Henry:
"I saw young Harry, with his beaver on, His cuishes on his thighs, gallantly armed, Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury, And vaulted with such ease into his seat, As if an angel dropped down from the clouds, To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus, And witch the world with noble horsemanship."
The Greeks loved to people their woods and hills with strange wild people, half man, half beast. Such were the Satyrs men with goats' legs. But nobler and better were the Centaurs, men to the waist, while the rest was the form of a horse. The ancients were too fond of a horse to consider the union of his nature with man's as forming any very degraded compound, and accordingly the Centaur is the only one of the fancied monsters of antiquity to which any good traits are assigned. The Centaurs were admitted to the companionship of man, and at the marriage of Pirithous with Hippodamia, they were among the guests. At the feast, Eurytion, one of the Centaurs, becoming intoxicated with the wine, attempted to offer violence to the bride; the other Centaurs followed his example, and a dreadful conflict arose in which several of them were slain. This is the celebrated battle of the Lapithae and Centaurs, a favorite subject with the sculptors and poets of antiquity.
But all the Centaurs were not like the rude guests of Pirithous. Chiron was instructed by Apollo and Diana, and was renowned for his skill in hunting, medicine, music, and the art of prophecy. The most distinguished heroes of Grecian story were his pupils. Among the rest the infant Aesculapius was intrusted to his charge, by Apollo, his father. When the sage returned to his home bearing the infant, his daughter Ocyroe came forth to meet him, and at sight of the child burst forth into a prophetic strain (for she was a prophetess), foretelling the glory that he was to achieve. Aesculapius, when grown up, became a renowned physician, and even in one instance succeeded in restoring the dead to life. Pluto resented this, and Jupiter, at his request, struck the bold physician with lightning and killed him, but after his death received him into the number of the gods.
Chiron was the wisest and justest of all the Centaurs, and at his death Jupiter placed him among the stars as the constellation Sagittarius.
The Pygmies were a nation of dwarfs, so called from a Greek word which means the cubit (a cubit was a measure of about thirteen inches), which was said to be the height of these people. They lived near the sources of the Nile, or according to others, in India. Homer tells us that the cranes used to migrate every winter to the Pygmies' country, and their appearance was the signal of bloody warfare to the puny inhabitants, who had to take up arms to defend their cornfields against the rapacious strangers. The Pygmies and their enemies the cranes form the subject of several works of art.
Later writers tell of an army of Pygmies which finding Hercules asleep made preparations to attack him, as if they were about to attack a city. But the hero awaking laughed at the little warriors, wrapped some of them up in his lion's-skin, and carried them to Eurystheus.
Milton used the Pygmies for a simile, Paradise Lost, Book I:
"—————like that Pygmaean race Beyond the Indian mount, or fairy elves Whose midnight revels by a forest side, Or fountain, some belated peasant sees, (Or dreams he sees), while overhead the moon Sits artibress, and nearer to the earth Wheels her pale course; they on their mirth and dance Intent, with jocund music charm his ear. At once with joy and fear his heart rebounds."
THE GRIFFIN, OR GRYPHON
THE Griffin is a monster with the body of a lion, the head and wings of an eagle, and back covered with feathers. Like birds it builds its nest, and instead of an egg lays an agate therein. It has long claws and talons of such a size that the people of that country make them into drinking-cups. India was assigned as the native country of the Griffins. They found gold in the mountains and built their nests of it, for which reason their nests were very tempting to the hunters, and they were forced to keep vigilant guard over them. Their instinct led them to know where buried treasures lay, and they did their best to keep plunderers at a distance. The Arimaspians, among whom the Griffins flourished, were a one-eyed people of Scythia.
Milton borrows a simile from the Griffins, Paradise Lost, Book II.:
"As when a Gryphon through the wilderness, With winged course, o'er hill and moory dale, Pursues the Arimaspian who by stealth Hath from his wakeful custody purloined His guarded gold."
Chapter XI The Golden Fleece. Medea. The Calydonian Hunt
In very ancient times there lived in Thessaly a king and queen named Athamas and Nephele. They had two children, a boy and a girl. After a time Athamas grew indifferent to his wife, put her away, and took another. Nephele suspected danger to her children from the influence of the step-mother, and took measures to send them out of her reach. Mercury assisted her, and gave her a ram, with a GOLDEN FLEECE, on which she set the two children, trusting that the ram would convey them to a place of safety. The ram sprung into the air with the children on his back, taking his course to the east, till when crossing the strait that divides Europe and Asia, the girl, whose name was Helle, fell from his back into the sea, which from her was called the Hellespont, now the Dardanelles. The ram continued his career till he reached the kingdom of Colchis, on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, where he safely landed the boy Phyrxus, who was hospitably received by AEetes, the king of the country. Phryxus sacrificed the ram to Jupiter, and gave the golden fleece to AEetes, who placed it in a consecrated grove, under the care of a sleepless dragon.
There was another kingdom in Thessaly near to that of Athamas, and ruled over by a relative of his. The king AEson, being tired of the cares of government, surrendered his crown to his brother Pelias, on condition that he should hold it only during the minority of Jason, the son of AEson. When Jason was grown up and came to demand the crown from his uncle, Pelias pretended to be willing to yield it, but at the same time suggested to the young man the glorious adventure of going in quest of the golden fleece, which it was well known was in the kingdom of Colchis, and was, as Pelias pretended, the rightful property of their family. Jason was pleased with the thought, and forthwith made preparations for the expedition. At that time the only species of navigation known to the Greeks consisted of small boats or canoes hollowed out from trunks of trees, so that when Jason employed Argus to build him a vessel capable of containing fifty men, it was considered a gigantic undertaking. It was accomplished, however, and the vessel was named the Argo, from the name of the builder. Jason sent his invitation to all the adventurous young men of Greece, and soon found himself at the head of a band of bold youths, many of whom afterwards were renowned among the heroes and demigods of Greece. Hercules, Theseus, Orpheus, and Nestor were among them. They are called the Argonauts, from the name of their vessel.
The Argo with her crew of heroes left the shores of Thessaly and having touched at the Island of Lemnos, thence crossed to Mysia and thence to Thrace. Here they found the sage Phineus, and from him received instruction as to their future course. It seems the entrance of the Euxine Sea was impeded by two small rocky islands, which floated on the surface, and in their tossings and heavings occasionally came together, crushing and grinding to atoms any object that might be caught between them. They were called the Symplegades, or Clashing Islands. Phineus instructed the Argonauts how to pass this dangerous strait. When they reached the islands they let go a dove, which took her way between the rocks, and passed in safety, only losing some feathers of her tail. Jason and his men seized the favorable moment of the rebound, plied their oars with vigor, and passed safe through, though the islands closed behind them, and actually grazed their stern. They now rowed along the shore till they arrived at the eastern end of the sea, and landed at the kingdom of Colchis.
Jason made known his message to the Colchian king, AEetes, who consented to give up the golden fleece if Jason would yoke to the plough two fire-breathing bulls with brazen feet, and sow the teeth of the dragon, which Cadmus had slain, and from which it was well known that a crop of armed men would spring up, who would turn their weapons against their producer. Jason accepted the conditions, and a time was set for making the experiment. Previously, however, he found means to plead his cause to Medea, daughter of the king. He promised her marriage, and as they stood before the altar of Hecate, called the goddess to witness his oath. Medea yielded and by her aid, for she was a potent sorceress, he was furnished with a charm, by which he could encounter safely the breath of the fire-breathing bulls and the weapons of the armed men.
At the time appointed, the people assembled at the grove of Mars, and the king assumed his royal seat, while the multitude covered the hill-sides. The brazen-footed bulls rushed in, breathing fire from their nostrils, that burned up the herbage as they passed. The sound was like the roar of a furnace, and the smoke like that of water upon quick-lime. Jason advanced boldly to meet them. His friends, the chosen heroes of Greece, trembled to behold him. Regardless of the burning breath, he soothed their rage with his voice, patted their necks with fearless hands, and adroitly slipped over them the yoke, and compelled them to drag the plough. The Colchians were amazed; the Greeks shouted for joy. Jason next proceeded to sow the dragon's teeth and plough them in. And soon the crop of armed men sprang up, and wonderful to relate! no sooner had they reached the surface than they began to brandish their weapons and rush upon Jason. The Greeks trembled for their hero, and even she who had provided him a way of safety and taught him how to use it, Medea herself, grew pale with fear. Jason for a time kept his assailants at bay with his sword and shield, till finding their numbers overwhelming, he resorted to the charm which Medea had taught him, seized a stone and threw it in the midst of his foes. They immediately turned their arms against one another, and soon there was not one of the dragon's brood left alive. The Greeks embraced their hero, and Medea, if she dared, would have embraced him too.
Then AEetes promised the next day to give them the fleece, and the Greeks went joyfully down to the Argo with the hero Jason in their midst. But that night Medea came down to Jason, and bade him make haste and follow her, for that her father proposed the next morning to attack the Argonauts and to destroy their ship. They went together to the grove of Mars, where the golden fleece hung guarded by the dreadful dragon, who glared at the hero and his conductor with his great round eyes that never slept. But Medea was prepared, and began her magic songs and spells, and sprinkled over him a sleeping potion which she had prepared by her art. At the smell he relaxed his rage, stood for a moment motionless, then shut those great round eyes, that had never been known to shut before, and turned over on his side, fast asleep. Jason seized the fleece, and with his friends and Medea accompanying, hastened to their vessel, before AEETES, the king, could arrest their departure, and made the best of their way back to Thessaly, where they arrived safe, and Jason delivered the fleece to Pelias, and dedicated the Argo to Neptune. What became of the fleece afterwards we do not know, but perhaps it was found, after all, like many other golden prizes, not worth the trouble it had cost to procure it.
This is one of those mythological tales, says a modern writer, in which there is reason to believe that a substratum of truth exists, though overlaid by a mass of fiction. It probably was the first important maritime expedition, and like the first attempts of the kind of all nations, as we know from history, was probably of a half-piratical character. If rich spoils were the result, it was enough to give rise to the idea of the golden fleece.
Another suggestion of a learned mythologist, Bryant, is that it is a corrupt tradition of the story of Noah and the ark. The name Argo seems to countenance this, and the incident of the dove is another confirmation.
Pope, in his Ode on St. Cecelia's Day, thus celebrates the launching of the ship Argo, and the power of the music of Orpheus, whom he calls the Thracian:
"So when the first bold vessel dared the seas, High on the stern the Thracian raised his strain, While Argo saw her kindred trees Descend from Pelion to the main. Transported demigods stood round, And men grew heroes at the sound."
In Dyer's poem of The Fleece there is an account of the ship Argo and her crew, which gives a good picture of this primitive maritime adventure:
"From every region of Aegea's shore The brave assembled; those illustrious twins, Castor and Pollux; Orpheus, tuneful bard; Zetes and Calais, as the wind in speed; Strong Hercules and many a chief renowned. On deep Iolcos' sandy shore they thronged, Gleaming in armor, ardent of exploits; And soon, the laurel cord and the huge stone Uplifting to the deck, unmoored the bark; Whose keel of wondrous length the skilful hand Of Argus fashioned for the proud attempt; And in the extended keel a lofty mast Upraised, and sails full swelling; to the chiefs Unwonted objects. Now first, now they learned Their bolder steerage over ocean wave, Led by the golden stars, as Chiron's art Had marked the sphere celestial."
Hercules left the expedition at Mysia, for Hylas, a youth beloved by him, having gone for water, was laid hold of and kept by the nymphs of the spring, who were fascinated by his beauty. Hercules went in quest of the lad, and while he was absent the Argo put to sea and left him. Moore, in one of his songs, makes a beautiful allusion to this incident:
"When Hylas was sent with his urn to the fount, Through fields full of light and with heart full of play, Light rambled the boy over meadow and mount, And neglected his task for the flowers in the way.
"Thus many like me, who in youth should have tasted The fountain that runs by Philosophy's shrine, Their time with the flowers on the margin have wasted, And left their light urns all as empty as mine."
But Hercules, as some say, went onward to Colchis by land, and there performed many mighty deeds, and wiped away the stain of cowardice which might have clung to him.
MEDEA AND AESON
Amid the rejoicings for the recovery of the golden Fleece, Jason felt that one thing was wanting, the presence of AESON, his father, who was prevented by his age and infirmities from taking part in them. Jason said to Medea, "My wife, I would that your arts, whose power I have seen so mighty for my aid, could do me one further service, and take some years from my life to add them to my father's." Medea replied, "Not at such a cost shall it be done, but if my art avails me, his life shall be lengthened without abridging yours." The next full moon she issued forth alone, while all creatures slept; not a breath stirred the foliage, and all was still. To the stars she addressed her incantations, and to the moon; to Hecate (Hecate was a mysterious divinity sometimes identified with Diana and sometimes with Proserpine. As Diana represents the moonlight splendor of night, so Hecate represents its darkness and terrors. She was the goddess of sorcery and witchcraft, and was believed to wander by night along the earth, seen only by the dogs whose barking told her approach.), the goddess of the underworld, and to Tellus, the goddess of the earth, by whose power plants potent for enchantments are produced. She invoked the gods of the woods and caverns, of mountains and valleys, of lakes and rivers, of winds and vapors. While she spoke the stars shone brighter, and presently a chariot descended through the air, drawn by flying serpents. She ascended it, and, borne aloft, made her way to distant regions, where potent plants grew which she knew how to select for her purpose. Nine nights she employed in her search, and during that time came not within the doors of her palace nor under any roof, and shunned all intercourse with mortals.
She next erected two altars, the one to Hecate, the other to Hebe, the goddess of youth, and sacrificed a black sheep, pouring libations of milk and wine. She implored Pluto and his stolen bride that they would not hasten to take the old man's life. Then she directed that AESON should be led forth, and having thrown him into a deep sleep by a charm, had him laid on a bed of herbs, like one dead. Jason and all others were kept away from the place, that no profane eyes might look upon her mysteries. Then, with streaming hair, she thrice moved round the altars, dipped flaming twigs in the blood, and laid them thereon to burn. Meanwhile the caldron with its contents was got ready. In it she put magic herbs, with seeds and flowers of acrid juice, stones from the distant East, and sand from the shore of all-surrounding ocean; hoar frost, gathered by moonlight, a screech-owl's head and wings, and the entrails of a wolf. She added fragments of the shells of tortoises, and the liver of stags, animals tenacious of life, and the head and beak of a crow, that outlives nine generations of men. These, with many other things without a name, she boiled together for her purposed work, stirring them up with a dry olive branch; and behold, the branch when taken out instantly became green, and before long was covered with leaves and a plentiful growth of young olives; and as the liquor boiled and bubbled, and sometimes ran over, the grass, wherever the sprinklings fell, shot forth with a verdure like that of spring.
Seeing that all was ready, Medea cut the throat of the old man and let out all his blood, and poured into his mouth and into his wound the juices of her caldron. As soon as he had completely imbibed them, his hair and beard laid by their whiteness and assumed the blackness of youth; his paleness and emaciation were gone; his veins were full of blood, his limbs of vigor and robustness. AESON is amazed at himself, and remembers that such as he now is he was in his youthful days, forty years before.
Medea used her arts here for a good purpose, but not so in another instance, where she made them the instruments of revenge. Pelias, our readers will recollect, was the usurping uncle of Jason, and had kept him out of his kingdom. Yet he must have had some good qualities, for his daughters loved him, and when they saw what Medea had done for AESON, they wished her to do the same for their father. Medea pretended to consent, and prepared her caldron as before. At her request an old sheep was brought and plunged into the caldron. Very soon a bleating was heard in the kettle, and, when the cover was removed, a lamb jumped forth and ran frisking away into the meadow. The daughters of Pelias saw the experiment with delight, and appointed a time for their father to undergo the same operation. But Medea prepared her caldron for him in a very different way. She put in only water and a few simple herbs. In the night she with the sisters entered the bed-chamber of the old king, while he and his guards slept soundly under the influence of a spell cast upon them by Medea. The daughters stood by the bedside with their weapons drawn, but hesitated to strike, till Medea chid their irresolution. Then, turning away their faces and giving random blows, they smote him with their weapons. He, starting from his sleep, cried out, "My daughters, what are you doing? Will you kill your father?:" Their hearts failed them, and the weapons fell from their hands, but Medea struck him a fatal blow, and prevented his saying more.
Then they placed him in the caldron, and Medea hastened to depart in her serpent-drawn chariot before they discovered her treachery, for their vengeance would have been terrible. She escaped, however, but had little enjoyment of the fruits of her crime. Jason, for whom she had done so much, wishing to marry Creusa, princess of Corinth, put away Medea. She, enraged at his ingratitude, called on the gods for vengeance, sent a poisoned robe as a gift to the bride, and then killing her own children, and setting fire to the palace, mounted her serpent-drawn chariot and fled to Athens, where she married King AEgeus, the father of Theseus; and we shall meet her again when we come to the adventures of that hero.
The incantations of Medea will remind the reader of those of the witches in Macbeth. The following lines are those which seem most strikingly to recall the ancient model:
"Round about the caldron go; In the poisoned entrails throw. * * * * * * Fillet of a fenny snake In the caldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog. Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting, Lizard's leg and howlet's wing: * * * * * Maw of ravening salt-sea shark, Root of hemlock digged in the dark." Macbeth, Act IV., Scene 1
Macbeth. What is't you do? Witches. A deed without a name.
There is another story of Medea almost too revolting for record even of a sorceress, a class of persons to whom both ancient and modern poets have been accustomed to attribute every degree of atrocity. In her flight from Colchis she had taken her young brother Absyrtus with her. Finding the pursuing vessels of AEETES gaining upon the Argonauts, she caused the lad to be killed and his limbs to be strewn over the sea. AEETES on reaching the place found these sorrowful traces of his murdered son; but while he tarried to collect the scattered fragments and bestow upon them an honorable interment, the Argonauts escaped.
In the poems of Campbell will be found a translation of one of the choruses of the tragedy of Medea, where the poet Euripides has taken advantage of the occasion to pay a glowing tribute to Athens, his native city. It begins thus:
"Oh, haggard queen! To Athens dost thou guide Thy glowing chariot, steeped in kindred gore; Or seek to hide thy damned parricide Where Peace and Justice dwell for evermore?"
THE CALYDONIAN HUNT. MELEAGER AND ATALANTA
The search for the Golden Fleece was undertaken by Jason, aided by heroes from all Greece, or Hellas as it was then called. It was the first of their common undertakings which made the Greeks feel that they were in truth one nation, though split up into many small kingdoms. Another of their great gatherings was for the Calydonian Hunt, and another, the greatest and most famous of all, for the Trojan War.
The hero of the quest for the golden Fleece was Jason. With the other heroes of the Greeks, he was present at the Calydonian Hunt. But the chief hero was Meleager, the son of OEneus, king of Calydon, and Althea, his queen.
Althea, when her son was born, beheld the three Destinies, who, as they spun their fatal thread, foretold that the life of the child should last no longer than a brand then burning upon the hearth. Althea seized and quenched the brand, and carefully preserved it for years, while Meleager grew to boyhood, youth, and manhood. It chanced, then, that OEneus, as he offered sacrifices to the gods, omitted to pay due honors to Diana, and she, indignant at the neglect, sent a wild boar of enormous size to lay waste the files of Calydon. Its eyes shone with blood and fire, its bristles stood like threatening spears, its tusks were like those of Indian elephants. The growing corn was trampled, the vines and olive trees laid waste, the flocks and herds were driven in wild confusion by the slaughtering foe. All common aid seemed vain; but Meleager called on the heroes of Greece to join in a bold hunt for the ravenous monster. Theseus and his friend Pirithous, Jason, Peleus afterwards the father of Achilles, Telamon the father of Ajax, Nestor, then a youth, but who in his age bore arms with Achilles and Ajax in the Trojan war, these and many more joined in the enterprise. With them came Atalanta, the daughter of Iasius, king of Arcadia. A buckle of polished gold confined her vest, an ivory quiver hung on her left shoulder, and her left hand bore the bow. Her face blent feminine beauty with the best graces of martial youth. Meleager saw and loved.
But now already they were near the monster's lair. They stretched strong nets from tree to tree; they uncoupled their dogs, they tried to find the footprints of their quarry in the grass. From the wood was a descent to marshy ground. Here the boar, as he lay among the reeds, heard the shouts of his pursuers, and rushed forth against them. One and another is thrown down and slain. Jason throws his spear with a prayer to Diana for success; and the favoring goddess allows the weapon to touch, but not to wound, removing the steel point of the spear even in its flight. Nestor, assailed, seeks and finds safety in the branches of a tree. Telamon rushes on, but stumbling at a projecting root, falls prone. But an arrow from Atalanta at length for the first time tastes the monster's blood. It is a slight wound, but Meleager sees and joyfully proclaims it. Anceus, excited to envy by the praise given to a female, loudly proclaims his own valor, and defies alike the boar and the goddess who had sent it; but as he rushes on, the infuriated beast lays him low with a mortal wound. Theseus throws his lance, but it is turned aside by a projecting bough. The dart of Jason misses its object, and kills instead one of their own dogs. But Meleager, after one unsuccessful stroke, drives his spear into the monsters side, then rushes on and despatches him with repeated blows.
Then rose a shout from those around; they congratulated the conqueror, crowding to touch his hand. He, placing his foot upon the slain boar, turned to Atalanta and bestowed on her the head and the rough hide which were the trophies of his success. But at this, envy excited the rest to strife. Phlexippus and Toxeus, the uncles of Meleager and Althea's brothers, beyond the rest opposed the gift, and snatched from the maiden the trophy she had received. Meleager, kindling with rage at the wrong done to himself, and still more at the insult offered to her whom he loved, forgot the claims of kindred, and plunged his sword into the offenders' hearts.
As Althea bore gifts of thankfulness to the temples for the victory of her son, the bodies of her murdered brothers met her sight. She shrieks, and beats her breast, and hastens to change the garments of rejoicing for those of mourning. But when the author of the deed is known, grief gives way to the stern desire of vengeance on her son. The fatal brand, which once she rescued from the flames, the brand which the Destinies had linked with Meleager's life, she brings forth, and commands a fire to be prepared. Then four times she essays to place the brand upon the pile; four times draws back, shuddering at the thought of bringing destruction on her son. The feelings of the mother and the sister contend within her. Now she is pale at the thought of the purposed deed, now flushed again with anger at the act of her son. As a vessel, driven in one direction by the wind, and in the opposite by the tide, the mind of Althea hangs suspended in uncertainty. But now the sister prevails above the mother, and she begins as she holds the fatal wood: "Turn, ye Furies, goddesses of punishment! Turn to behold the sacrifice I bring! Crime must atone for crime. Shall OEneus rejoice in his victor son, while the house of Thestius (Thestius was father of Toxeus, Phlexippus and Althea) is desolate? But, alas! To what deed am I borne along? Brothers, forgive a mother's weakness! My hand fails me. He deserves death, but not that I should destroy him. But shall he then live, and triumph, and reign over Calydon, while you, my brothers, wander unavenged among the shades? No! Thou has lived by my gift; die, now, for thine own crime. Return the life which twice I gave thee, first at thy birth, again when I snatched this brand from the flames. O that thou hadst then died! Alas! Evil is the conquest; but, brothers, ye have conquered." And, turning away her face, she threw the fatal wood upon the burning pile.
It gave, or seemed to give, a deadly groan. Meleager, absent and unknowing of the cause, felt a sudden pang. He burns and only by courageous pride conquers the pain which destroys him. He mourns only that he perishes by a bloodless and unhonored death. With his last breath he calls upon his aged father, his brother, and his fond sisters, upon his beloved Atalanta, and upon his mother, the unknown cause of his fate. The flames increase, and with them the pain of the hero. Now both subside; now both are quenched. The brand is ashes and the life of Meleager is breathed forth to the wandering winds.
Althea, when the deed was done, laid violent hands upon herself. The sisters of Meleager mourned their brother with uncontrollable grief; till Diana, pitying the sorrows of the house that once had aroused her anger, turned them into birds.
The innocent cause of so much sorrow was a maiden whose face you might truly say was boyish for a girl, yet too girlish for a boy. Her fortune had been told, and it was to this effect: "Atalanta, do not marry; marriage will be your ruin." Terrified by this oracle, she fled the society of men, and devoted herself to the sports of the chase. To all suitors (for she had many) she imposed a condition which was generally effectual in relieving her of their persecutions: "I will be the prize of him who shall conquer me in the race; but death must be the penalty of all who try and fail." In spite of this hard condition some would try. Hippomenes was to be judge of the race. "Can it be possible that any will be so rash as to risk so much for a wife?" said he. But when he saw her lay aside her robe for the race, he changed his mind, and said, "Pardon me, youths, I knew not the prize you were competing for." As he surveyed them he wished them all to be beaten, and swelled with envy of any one that seemed at all likely to win. While such were his thoughts, the virgin darted forward. As she ran, she looked more beautiful than ever. The breezes seemed to give wings to her feet; her hair flew over her shoulders, and the gay fringe of her garment fluttered behind her. A ruddy hue tinged the whiteness of her skin, such as a crimson curtain casts on a marble wall. All her competitors were distanced, and were put to death without mercy. Hippomenes, not daunted by this result, fixing his eyes on the virgin, said, "Why boast of beating those laggards? I offer myself for the contest." Atalanta looked at him with a pitying countenance, and hardly knew whether she would rather conquer him or not. "What god can tempt one so young and handsome to throw himself away? I pity him, not for his beauty (yet he is beautiful), but for his youth. I wish he would give up the race, or if he will be so mad, I hope he may outrun me." While she hesitates, revolving these thoughts, the spectators grow impatient for the race, and her father prompts her to prepare. Then Hippomenes addressed a prayer to Venus; "Help me, Venus, for you have led me on" Venus heard, and was propitious.
In the garden of her temple, in her own island of Cyprus, is a tree with yellow leaves and yellow branches, and golden fruit. Hence Venus gathered three golden apples, and, unseen by all else, gave them to Hippomenes, and told him how to use them. The signal is given; each starts from the goal, and skims over the sand. So light their tread, you would almost have thought they might run over the river surface or over the waving grain without sinking. The cries of the spectators cheered on Hippomenes: "Now, now do your best! Haste, haste! You gain on her! Relax not! One more effort!" It was doubtful whether the youth or the maiden heard these cries with the greater pleasure. But his breath began to fail him, his throat was dry, the goal yet far off. At that moment he threw down one of the golden apples. The virgin was all amazement. She stopped to pick it up. Hippomenes shot ahead. Shouts burst forth from all sides. She redoubled her efforts, and soon overtook him. Again he threw an apple. She stopped again, but again came up with him. The goal was near; one chance only remained. "Now, goddess," said he, "prosper your gift!" and threw the last apple off at one side. She looked at it, and hesitated; Venus impelled her to turn aside for it. She did so, and was vanquished. The youth carried off his prize.
But the lovers were so full of their own happiness that they forgot to pay due honor to Venus; and the goddess was provoked at their ingratitude. She caused them to give offence to Cybele. That powerful goddess was not to be insulted with impunity. She took from them their human form and turned them into animals of characters resembling their own: of the huntress-heroine, triumphing in the blood of her lovers, she made a lioness, and of her lord and master a lion, and yoked them to her ear, there they are still to be seen in all representations, in statuary or painting, of the goddess Cybele.
Cybele is the Latin name of the goddess called by the Greeks Rhea and Ops. She was the wife of Cronos and mother of Zeus. In works of art, she exhibits the matronly air which distinguishes Juno and Ceres. Sometimes she is veiled, and seated on a throne with lions at her side, at other times riding in a chariot drawn by lions. She sometimes wears a mural crown, that is, a crown whose rim is carved in the form of towers and battlements. Her priests were called Corybantes.
Byron in describing the city of Venice, which is built on a low island in the Adriatic Sea, borrows an illustration from Cybele:
"She looks a sea-Cybele fresh from ocean, Rising with her tiara of proud towers At airy distance, with majestic motion, A ruler of the waters and their powers." Childe Harold, IV
In Moore's Rhymes on the Road, the poet, speaking of Alpine scenery, alludes to the story of Atalanta and Hippomenes, thus:
"Even here, in this region of wonders, I find That light-footed Fancy leaves Truth far behind, Or at least, like Hippomenes, turns her astray By the golden illusions he flings in her way."
Chapter XII Hercules. Hebe and Ganymede
Hercules (in Greek, Heracles) was the son of Jupiter and Alemena. 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. (On this account the infant Hercules was made the type of infant America, by Dr. Franklin, and the French artists whom he employed in the American Revolution. Horatio Greenough has placed a bas- relief of the Infant Hercules on the pedestal of his statue of Washington, which stands in front of the Capitol.) He was however by the arts of Juno rendered subject to his cousin 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 to slaughter the Hydra. This monster ravaged the country of Argos, and dwelt in a swamp near the well of Amymone, of which the story is that when the country was suffering from drought, 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 head 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 one day.
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 among the other Amazons and persuaded them that the strangers were carrying off their queen. The Amazons 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 said to be 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 bringing 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 Hesperis, 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. (Hercules was a descendant of Perseus. Perseus changed Atlas to stone. How could Hercules take his place? This is only one of the many anachronisms found in ancient mythology.)
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 Erytheia, 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 (one of the seven hills of Rome), 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 foot-prints 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 Proserpine.
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 handmaidens 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 whole mass.
Milton thus alludes to the frenzy of Hercules:
"As when Alcides (Alcides, a name of Hercules; the word means "descendant of Alcaeus"), 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."
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 marriage.
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. Bulfinch
HEBE AND GANYMEDE
Hebe, the daughter of Juno, and goddess of youth, was cupbearer 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 gallery of the Boston Athenaeum. 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 thus:
"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. The same story is told in the Memorabilia of Xenophon.
Chapter XIII Theseus. Daedalus. Castor and Pollux
Theseus was the son of AEgeus, king of Athens, and of Aethra, daughter of the king of Troezene. He was brought up at Troezene, 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 successor.
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. For Minerva had appeared to Theseus in a dream, and warned him that Ariadne was destined to be the wife of Bacchus, the wine-god. (One of the finest pieces of sculpture in Italy, the recumbent Ariadne of the Vatican, represents this incident. A copy is in the Athenaeum gallery, Boston. The celebrated statue of Ariadne, by Danneker, represents her as riding on the tiger of Bacchus, at a somewhat later period of her story.)
On approaching the coast of Attica, Theseus, intent on Ariadne, 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 still extant.
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 underworld. 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 his fate.
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 hero.
The queen of the Amazons whom Theseus espoused is by some called Hippolyta. That is the name she bears in Shakespeare'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.
Mr. Lewis Morris has a beautiful poem on Helen, in the Epic of Hades. In these lines Helen describes how she was seized by Theseus and his friend:
—————"There came a night When I lay longing for my love, and knew Sudden the clang of hoofs, the broken doors, The clash of swords, the shouts, the groans, the stain Of red upon the marble, the fixed gaze Of dead and dying eyes, that was the time When first I looked on death, and when I woke >From my deep swoon, I felt the night air cool Upon my brow, and the cold stars look down, As swift we galloped o'er the darkling plain And saw the chill sea-glimpses slowly wake, With arms unknown around me. When the dawn Broke swift, we panted on the pathless steeps, And so by plain and mountain till we came to Athens, —————."
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 by Phidias 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
We may 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 midsummer, 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 Argolis.
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 Maender, 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 learned 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 nephew'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 next in the trees, nor take lofty flights, but nestles in the hedges, and mindful of his fall, avoids high places.
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, hasted 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 (One of the ships in which St. Paul sailed was named the Castor and Pollux. See Acts xxviii.II.), and the lambent flames, which in certain sates 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 legend:
"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."
In the poem of Atalanta in Calydon Mr. Swinburne thus describes the little Helen and Clytemnestra, the sisters of Castor and Pollux:
"Even such I saw their sisters, one swan white, The little Helen, and less fair than she, Fair Clytemnestra, grave as pasturing fawns, Who feed and fear the arrow; but at whiles, As one smitten with love or wrung with joy, She laughs and lightens with her eyes, and then Weeps; whereat Helen, having laughed, weeps too, And the other chides her, and she being chid speaks naught, But cheeks and lips and eyelids kisses her, Laughing; so fare they, as in their blameless bud, And full of unblown life, the blood of gods."
"Sweet days before them, and good loves and lords, And tender and temperate honors of the hearth; Peace, and a perfect life and blameless bed"
Chapter XIV Bacchus. Ariadne
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 know 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 Bacchus:
"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 or 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 counselors 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 sailors' 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 my 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 with its heavy clusters of berries to the sails. 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 lynxes and spotted panthers played around him. The sailors 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. The god cheered me, as I trembled with fear. 'Fear not,' said he; 'steer toward 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 opened of their own accord and the chains fell from his limbs, and when the guards looked for him he was no where to be found.
Pentheus would take no warning, but instead of sending others, determined to go himself to the scene of the solemnities. The mountain Cithaeron 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 the wood and reached an open space where the wildest 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 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 Chapter XXII.
"Bacchus that first from out the purple grape Crushed the sweet poison of misused wine, After the Tuscan mariners 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 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 Minerva had prophesied to Theseus. 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, When 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."
Chapter XV The Rural Deities. Erisichthon. Rhoecus. The Water Deities. Camenae. Winds.
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 in Greek, 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 heathenism itself.
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 of several classes 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 was severely punished, as in the instance of Erisichthon, which we shall soon 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 th4e sea, And hear old Tritou blow his wreathed horn."
Schiller, in his poem The Gods of Greece, 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 poetess, Mrs. 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 to 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 fall.