Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Apis, the Bull of Memphis, was worshipped with the greatest reverence by the Egyptians. As soon as a bull marked with the marks which have been described, was found by those sent in search of him, he was placed in a building facing the east, and was fed with milk for four months. At the expiration of this term the priests repaired at new moon with great pomp, to his habitation, and saluted him Apis. He was placed in a vessel magnificently decorated and conveyed down the Nile to Memphis, where a temple, with two chapels and a court for exercise, was assigned to him. Sacrifices were made to him, and once every year, about the time when the Nile began to rise, a golden cup was thrown into the river, and a grand festival was held to celebrate his birthday. The people believed that during this festival the crocodiles forgot their natural ferocity and became harmless. There was however one drawback to his happy lot; he was not permitted to live beyond a certain period; and if when he had attained the age of twenty-five years, he still survived, the priests drowned him in the sacred cistern, and then buried him in the temple of Serapis. On the death of this bull, whether it occurred in the course of nature or by violence, the whole land was filled with sorrow and lamentations, which lasted until his successor was found.

A new Apis was found as late as the reign of Hadrian. A mummy made from one of the Sacred Bulls may be seen in the Egyptian collection of the Historical Society, New York.

Milton, in his Hymn of the Nativity, alludes to the Egyptian deities, not as imaginary beings, but as real demons put to flight by the coming of Christ:

"The brutish gods of Nile as fast, Isis and Horus and the dog Anubis haste. Nor is Osiris seen In Memphian grove or green Trampling the unshowered* grass with lowings loud; Nor can he be at rest Within his sacred chest; Nought but profoundest hell can be his shroud. In vain with timbrel'd anthems dark The sable-stoled sorcerers bear his worshipped ark."

*(There being no rain in Egypt, the grass is "unshowered," and the country depends for its fertility upon the overflowings of the Nile. The ark alluded to in the last line is shown by pictures still remaining on the walls of the Egyptian temples to have been borne by the priests in their religious processions. It probably represented the chest in which Osiris was placed.)

Isis was represented in statuary with the head veiled, a symbol of mystery. It is this which Tennyson alludes to in Maud, 0V.8

"For the drift of te Maker is dark, an Isis hid by the veil."


Oracle was the name used to denote the place where answers were supposed to be given by any of the divinities to those who consulted them respecting the future. The word was also used to signify the response which was given.

The most ancient Grecian oracle was that of Jupiter at Dodona. According to one account it was established in the following manner. Two black doves took their flight from Thebes in Egypt. One flew to Dodona in Epirus and alighting in a grove of oaks, it proclaimed in human language to the inhabitants of the district that they must establish there an oracle of Jupiter. The other dove flew to the temple of Jupiter Ammon in the Libyan oasis, and delivered a similar command there. Another account is, that they were not doves, but priestesses, who were carried off from Thebes in Egypt by the Phoenicians, and set up oracles at Oasis and Dodona. The responses of the oracle were given from the trees, by the branches rustling in the wind, the sounds being interpreted by the priests.

But the most celebrated of the Grecian oracles was that of Apollo at Delphi, a city built on the slopes of Parnassus in Phocis.

It had been observed at a very early period that the goats feeding on Parnassus were thrown into convulsions when they approached a certain long deep cleft in the side of the mountain. This was owing to a peculiar vapor arising out of the cavern, and one of the goatherds was induced to try its effects upon himself. Inhaling the intoxicating air he was affected in the same manner as the cattle had been, and the inhabitants of the surrounding country, unable to explain the circumstance, imputed the convulsive ravings to which he gave utterance while under the power of the exhalations, to a divine inspiration. The fact was speedily circulated widely, and a temple was erected on the spot. The prophetic influence was at first variously attributed to the goddess Earth, to Neptune, Themis, and others, but it was at length assigned to Apollo, and to him alone. A priestess was appointed whose office it was to inhale the hallowed air, and who was named the Pythia. She was prepared for this duty by previous ablution at the fountain of Castalia, and being crowned with laurel was seated upon a tripod similarly adorned, which was placed over the chasm whence the divine afflatus proceeded. Her inspired words while thus situated were interpreted by the priests.


Besides the oracles of Jupiter and Apollo, at Dodona and Delphi, that of Trophonius in Boeotia was held in high estimation. Trophonius and Agamedes were brothers. They were distinguished architechts, and built the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and a treasury for King Hyrieus. In the wall of the treasury they placed a stone, in such a manner that it could be taken out; and by this means from time to time purloined the treasure. This amazed Hyrieus, for his locks and seals were untouched, and yet his wealth, continually diminished. At length he set a trap for the thief and Agamedes was caught. Trophonius unable to extricate him, and fearing that when found he would be compelled by torture to discover his accomplice, cut off his head. Trophonius himself is said to have been shortly afterwards swallowed up by the earth.

The oracle of Trophonius was at Lebadea in Boeotia. During a great drought the Boeotians, it is said, were directed by the god at Delphi to seek aid of Trophonius at Lebadea. They came thither, but could find no oracle. One of them, however, happening to see a swarm of bees, followed them to a chasm in the earth, which proved to be the place sought.

Peculiar ceremonies were to be performed by the person who came to consult the oracle. After these preliminaries, he descended into the cave by a narrow passage. This place could be entered only in the night. The person returned from the cave by the same narrow passage, but walking backwards. He appeared melancholy and dejected; and hence the proverb which was applied to a person low-spirited and gloomy, "He has been consulting the oracle of Trophonius."


There were numerous oracles of Aesculapius, but the most celebrated one was at Epidaurus. Here the sick sought responses and the recovry of their health by sleeping in the temple. It has been inferred from the accounts that have come down to us, that the treatment of the sick resembled what is now called Animal Magnetism or Mesmerism.

Serpents were sacred to Aesculapius, probably because of a superstition that those animals have a faculty of renewing their youth by a change of skin. The worship of Aesculapius was introduced into Rome in a time of great sickness, and an embassy sent to the temple of Epidaurus to entreat the aid of the god. Aesculapius was propitious, and on the return of the ship accompanied it in the form of a serpent. Arriving in the river Tiber, the serpent glided from the vessel and took possession of an island in the river, and a temple was there erected to his honor.


At Memphis the sacred bull Apis gave answer to those who consulted him, by the manner in which he received or rejected what was presented to him. If the bull refused food from the hand of the inquirer it was considered an unfavorable sign, and the contrary when he received it.

It has been a question whether oracular responses ought to be ascribed to mere human contrivance or to the agency of evil spirits. The latter opinion has been most general in past ages. A third theory has been advanced since the phenomena of Mesmerism have attracted attention, that something like the mesmeric trance was induced in the Pythoness, and the faculty of clairvoyance really called into action.

Another question is as to the time when the Pagan oracles ceased to give responses. Ancient Christian writers assert that they became silent at the birth of Christ, and were heard no more after that date. Milton adopts this view in his Hymn of the Nativity, and in lines of solemn and elevated beauty pictures the consternation of the heathen idols at the advent of the Saviour.

"The oracles are dumb; No voice or hideous hum Rings through the arched roof in words deceiving. Apollo from his shrine Can no more divine, With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving. No nightly trance or breathed spell Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell."

In Cowper's poem of Yardley Oak there are some beautiful mythological allusions. The former of the two following is to the fable of Castor and Pollux; the latter is more appropriate to our present subject. Addressing the acorn he says,

"Thou fell'st mature; and in the loamy clod, Swelling with vegetative force instinct, Didst burst thine egg, as theirs the fabled Twins Now stars; two lobes protruding, paired exact; A leaf succeeded and another leaf, And, all the elements thy puny growth Fostering propitious, thou becam'st a twig. Who lived when thou was such? Oh, couldst thou speak As in Dodona once thy kindred trees Oracular, I would not curious ask The future, best unknown, but at thy mouth Inquisitive, the less ambiguous past."

Tennyson in his Talking Oak alludes to the oaks of Dodona in these lines:

"And I will work in prose and rhyme, And praise thee more in both Than bard has honored beech or lime, Or that Thessalian growth In which the swarthy ring-dove sat And mystic sentence spoke."

Byron alludes to the oracle of Delphi where, speaking of Rousseau, whose writings he conceives did much to bring on the French revolution, he says,

"For then he was inspired, and from him came, As from the Pythian's mystic cave of yore, Those oracles which set the world in flame, Nor ceased to burn till kingdoms were no more."

Chapter XXVIII Origin of Mythology Statues of Gods and Goddesses Poets of Mythology

Having reached the close of our series of stories of Pagan mythology, an inquiry suggests itself. "Whence came these stories? Have they a foundation in truth, or are they simply dreams of the imagination?" Philosophers have suggested various theories on the subject of which we shall give three or four.

1. The Scriptural theory; according to which all mythological legends are derived from the narratives of Scripture, though the real facts have been disguised and altered. Thus Deucalion is only another name for Noah, Hercules for Samson, Arion for Jonah, etc. Sir Walter Raleigh, in his History of the World, says, "Jubal, Tubal, and Tubal-Cain were Mercury, Vulcan, and Apollo, inventors of Pasturage, Smithing, and Music. The Dragon which kept the golden apples was the serpent that beguiled Eve. Nimrod's tower was the attempt of the Giants against Heaven. There are doubtless many curious coincidences like these, but the theory cannot without extravagance be pushed so far as to account for any great proportion of the stories.

2. The Historical theory; according to which all the persons mentioned in mythology were once real human beings, and the legends and fabulous traditions relating to them are merely the additions and embellishments of later times. Thus the story of AEolus, the king and god of the winds, is supposed to have risen from the fact that AEolus was the ruler of some islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, where he reigned as a just and pious king, and taught the natives the use of sails for ships, and how to tell from the signs of the atmosphere the changes of the weather and the winds. Cadmus, who, the legend says, sowed the earth with dragon's teeth, from which sprang a crop of armed men, was in fact an emigrant from Phoenicia, and brought with him into Greece the knowledge of the letters of the alphabet, which he taught to the natives. From these rudiments of learning sprung civilization, which the poets have always been prone to describe as a deterioration of man's first estate, the Golden Age of innocence and simplicity.

3. The Allegorical theory supposes that all the myths of the ancients were allegorical and symbolical, and contained some moral, religious, or philosophical truth or historical fact, under the form of an allegory, but came in process of time to be understood literally. Thus Saturn, who devours his own children, is the same power whom the Greeks called Kronos (Time), which may truly be said to destroy whatever it has brought into existence. The story of Io is interpreted in a similar manner. Io is the moon, and Argus the starry sky, which, as it were, keeps sleepless watch over her. The fabulous wanderings of Io represent the continual revolutions of the moon, which also suggested to Milton the same idea.

"To behold the wandering moon Riding near her highest noon, Like one that had been led astray In the heaven's wide, pathless way." Il Penseroso

4. The Astronomical theory supposes that the different stories are corrupted versions of astronomical statements, of which the true meaning was forgotten. This theory is pushed to its extreme by Dupuis, in his treatise "Sur tous les cultes."

5. The Physical theory, according to which the elements of air, fire, and water, were originally the objects of religious adoration, and the principal deities were personifications of the powers of nature. The transition was easy from a personification of the elements to the notion of supernatural beings presiding over and governing the different objects of nature. The Greeks, whose imagination was lively, peopled all nature with invisible beings, and supposed that every object, from the sun and sea to the smallest fountain and rivulet, was under the care of some particular divinity. Wordsworth, in his Excursion, has beautifully developed this view of Grecian mythology.

"In that fair clime the lonely herdsman, stretched On the soft grass through half a summer's day, With music lulled his indolent repose; And, in some fit of weariness, if he, When his own breath was silent, chanced to hear A distant strain far sweeter than the sounds Which his poor skill could make, his fancy fetched Even from the blazing chariot of the sun A beardless youth who touched a golden lute, And filled the illumined groves with ravishment. The mighty hunter, lifting up his eyes Toward the crescent Moon, with grateful heart Called on the lovely Wanderer who bestowed That timely light to share his joyous sport; And hence a beaming goddess with her nymphs Across the lawn and through the darksome grove (Not unaccompanied with tuneful notes By echo multiplied from rock or cave) Swept in the storm of chase, as moon and stars Glance rapidly along the clouded heaven When winds are blowing strong. The traveller slaked His thirst from rill or gushing fount, and thanked The Naiad. Sunbeams upon distant hills Gliding apace with shadows in their train, Might with small help from fancy, be transformed Into fleet Oreads sporting visibly. The Zephyrs, fanning, as they passed, their wings, Lacked not for love fair objects whom they wooed With gentle whisper. Withered boughs grotesque, Stripped of their leaves and twigs by hoary age, >From depth of shaggy covert peeping forth In the low vale, or on steep mountain side; And sometimes intermixed with stirring horns Of the live deer, or goat's depending beard; These were the lurking Satyrs, a wild brood Of gamesome deities; or Pan himself, The simple shepherd's awe-inspiring god."

All the theories which have bene mentioned are true to a certain extent. It would therefore be more correct to say that the mythology of a nation has sprung from all these sources combined than from any one in particular. We may add also that there are many myths which have risen from the desire of man to account for those natural phenomena which he cannot understand; and not a few have had their rise from a similar desire of giving a reason for the names of places and persons.


Adequately to represent to the eye the ideas intended to be conveyed to the mind under the several names of deities, was a task which called into exercise the highest powers of genius and art. Of the many attempts FOUR have been most celebrated, the first two known to us only by the descriptions of the ancients, and by copies on gems, which are still preserved; the other two still extant and the acknowledged masterpieces of the sculptor's art.


The statue of the Olympian Jupiter by Phidias was considered the highest achievement of this department of Grecian art. It was of colossal dimensions, and was what the ancients called "chryselephantine;" that is, composed of ivory and gold; the parts representing flesh being of ivory laid on a core of wood or stone, while the drapery and other ornaments were of gold. The height of the figure was forty feet, on a pedestal twelve feet high. The god was represented seated on this throne. His brows were crowned with a wreath of olive, and he held in his right hand a sceptre, and in his left a statue of Victory. The throne was of cedar, adorned with gold and precious stones.

The idea which the artist essayed to embody was that of the supreme deity of the Hellenic (Grecian) nation, enthroned as a conqueror, in perfect majesty and repose, and ruling with a nod the subject world. Phidias avowed that he took his idea from the representation which Homer gives in the first book of the Iliad, in the passage thus translated by Pope:

"He spoke and awful bends his sable brows, Shakes his ambrosial curls and gives the nod, The stamp of fate and sanction of the god. High heaven with reverence the dread signal took, And all Olympus to the centre shook."

(Cowper's version is less elegant, but truer to the original.

"He ceased, and under his dark brows the nod Vouchsafed of confirmation. All around The sovereign's everlasting head his curls Ambrosial shook, and the huge mountain reeled."

It may interest our readers to see how this passage appears in another famous version, that which was issued under the name of Tickell, contemporaneously with Pope's, and which, being by many attributed to Addison, led to the quarrel which ensued between Addison and Pope.

"This said, his kingly brow the sire inclined; The large black curls fell awful from behind, Thick shadowing the stern forehead of the god; Olympus trembled at the almighty nod.")


This was also the work of Phidias. It stood in the Parthenon, or temple of Minera at Athens. The goddess was represented standing. In one hand she held a spear, in the other a statue of Victory. Her helmet, highly decorated, was surmounted by a Sphinx. The statue was forty feet in height, and, like the Jupiter, composed of ivory and gold. The eyes were of marble, and probably painted to represent the iris and pupil. The Parthenon in which this statue stood was also constructed under the direction and superintendence of Phidias. Its exterior was enriched with sculptures, many of them from the hand of Phidias. The Elgin marbles now in the British Museum are a part of them.

Both the Jupiter and Minerva of Phidias are lost, but there is good ground to believe that we have, in several extant statues and busts, the artist's conceptions of the countenances of both. They are characterized by grave and dignified beauty, and freedom from any transient expression, which in the language of art is called REPOSE.


The Venus of the Medici is so called from its having been in the possession of the princes of that name in Rome when it first attracted attention, about two hundred years ago. An inscription on the base records it to be the work of Cleomenes, an Athenian sculptor of 200 B.C., but the authenticity of the inscription is doubtful. There is a story that the artist was employed by public authority to make a statue exhibiting the perfection of female beauty, and to aid him in his task, the most perfect forms the city could supply were furnished him for models. It is this which Thomson alludes to in his Summer.

"So stands the statue that enchants the world; So bending tries to veil the matchless boast, The mingled beauties of exulting Greece."

Byron also alludes to this statue. Speaking of the Florence Museum, he says:

"There too the goddess loves in stone, and fills The air around with beauty;"

And in the next stanza,

"Blood, pulse, and breast confirm the Dardan shepherd's prize."

This last allusion is explained in Chapter XX.


The most highly esteemed of all the remains of ancient sculpture is the statue of Apollo, called the Belvedere, from the name of the apartment of the Pope's palace at Rome, in which it is placed. The artist is unknown. It is supposed to be a work of Roman art, of about the first century of our era. It is a standing figure, in marble, more than seven feet high, naked except for the cloak which is fastened around the neck and hangs over the extended left arm. It is supposed to represent the god in the moment when he has shot the arrow to destroy the monster Python (See Chapter II). The victorious divinity is in the act of stepping forward. The left arm which seems to have held the bow is outstretched, and the head is turned in the same direction. In attitude and proportion the graceful majesty of the figure is unsurpassed. The effect is completed by the countenance, where, on the perfection of youthful godlike beauty there dwells the consciousness of triumphant power.


The Diana of the hind, in the palace of the Louvre, may be considered the counterpart to the Apollo Belvedere. The attitude much resembles that of the Apollo, the sizes correspond and also the style of execution. It is a work of the highest order, though by no means equal to the Apollo. The attitude is that of hurried and eager motion, the face that of a huntress in the excitement of the chase. The left hand is extended over the forehead of the Hind which runs by her side, the right arm reaches backward over the shoulder to draw an arrow from the quiver.


Of the Venus of Melos, perhaps the most famous of our statues of mythology, very little is known. There are many indeed who believe that it is not a statue of Venus at all.

It was found in the year 1820 in the Island of Melos by a peasant, who sold it to the French consul at the place. The statue was standing in the theatre, which had been filled up with rubbish in the course of centuries, and when discovered was broken in several places, and some of the pieces were gone. These missing pieces, notably the two arms, have been restored in various ways by modern artists. As has been said above, there is a controversy as to whether the statue represents Venus or some other goddess. Much has been written on each side, but the question still remains unsettled. The general opinion of those who contend that it is not Venus is that it is a statue or Nike or Victory.


Homer, from whose poems of the Iliad and Odyssey we have taken the chief part of our chapters of the Trojan war and the return of the Grecians, is almost as mythical a personage as the heroes he celebrates. The traditionary story is that he was a wandering minstrel, blind and old, who travelled from place to place singing his lays to the music of his harp, in the courts of princes or the cottages of peasants, and dependent upon the voluntary offerings of his hearers for support. Byron calls him "The blind old man of Scio's rocky isle," and a well-known epigram, alluding to the uncertainty of the fact of his birthplace, says,

"Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead, Through which the living Homer begged his bread."

An older version is,

"Seven cities warred for Homer being dead, Who living had no roof to shroud his head."

These lines are by Thomas Heywood; the others are ascribed to Thomas Seward.

These seven cities were Smyrna, Scio, Rhodes, Colophon, Salamis, Argos, and Athens.

Modern scholars have doubted whether the Homeric poems are the work of any single mind. This arises from the difficulty of believing that poems of such length could have been committed to writing at so early an age as that usually assigned to these, an age earlier than the date of any remaining inscriptions or coins, and when no materials, capable of containing such long productions were yet introduced into use. On the other hand it is asked how poems of such length could have been handed down from age to age by means of the memory alone. This is answered by the statement that there was a professional body of men, called Rhapsodists, who recited the poems of others, and whose business it was to commit to memory and rehearse for pay the national and patriotic legends.

The prevailing opinion of the learned, at this time, seems to be that the framework and much of the structure of the poems belong to Homer, but that there are numerous interpolations and additions by other hands.

The date assigned to Homer, on the authority of Herodotus, is 850 B.C., but a range of two or three centuries must be given for the various conjectures of critics.


Virgil, called also by his surname, Maro, from whose poem of the AEneid we have taken the story of AEneas, was one of the great poets who made the reign of the Roman emperor, Augustus, so celebrated, under the name of the Augustan age. Virgil was born in Mantua in the year 70 B.C. His great poem is ranked next to those of Homer, in the highest class of poetical composition, the Epic. Virgil is far inferior to Homer in originality and invention, but superior to him in correctness and elegance. To critics of English lineage Milton alone of modern poets seems worthy to be classed with these illustrious ancients. His poem of Paradise Lost, from which we have borrowed so many illustrations, is in many respects equal, in some superior, to either of the great works of antiquity. The following epigram of Dryden characterizes the three poets with as much truth as it is usual to find in such pointed criticism:


"Three poets in three different ages born. Greece, Italy, and England did adorn. The first in loftiness of soul surpassed, The next in majesty, in both the last. The force of nature could no further go; To make a third she joined the other two."

>From Cowper's Table Talk:

"Ages elapsed ere Homer's lamp appeared, And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard. To carry nature lengths unknown before, To give a Milton birth, asked ages more. Thus genius rose and set at ordered times, And shot a dayspring into distant climes, Ennobling every region that he chose; He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose, And, tedious years of Gothic darkness past, Emerged all splendor in our isle at last. Thus lovely halcyons dive into the main, Then show far off their shining plumes again."


Often alluded to in poetry by his other name of Naso, was born in the year 43 B.C. He was educated for public life and held some offices of considerable dignity, but poetry was his delight, and he early resolved to devote himself to it. He accordingly sought the society of the contemporary poets, and was acquainted with Horace and saw Virgil, though the latter died when Ovid was yet too young and undistinguished to have formed his acquaintance. Ovid spent an easy life at Rome in the enjoyment of a competent income. He was intimate with the family of Augustus, the emperor, and it is supposed that some serious offence given to some member of that family was the cause of an event which reversed the poet's happy circumstances and clouded all the latter portion of his life. At the age of fifty he was banished from Rome, and ordered to betake himself to Tomi, on the borders of the Black Sea. Here, among the barbarous people and in a severe climate, the poet, who had been accustomed to all the pleasures of a luxurious capital and the society of his most distinguished contemporaries, spent the last ten years of his life, worn out with grief and anxiety. His only consolation in exile was to address his wife and absent friends, and his letters were all poetical. Though these poems (The Tristia and Letters from Pontus) have no other topic than the poet's sorrows, his exquisite taste and fruitful invention have redeemed them from the charge of being tedious, and they are read with pleasure and even with sympathy.

The two great works of Ovid are his Metamorphoses and his Fasti. They are both mythological poems, and from the former we have taken most of our stories of Grecian and Roman mythology. A late writer thus characterizes these poems:

"The rich mythology of Greece furnished Ovid, as it may still furnish the poet, the painter, and the sculptor, with materials for his art. With exquisite taste, simplicity, and pathos he has narrated the fabulous traditions of early ages, and given to them that appearance of reality which only a master-hand could impart. His pictures of nature are striking and true; he selects with care that which is appropriate; he rejects the superfluous; and when he has completed his work, it is neither defective nor redundant. The Metamorphoses are read with pleasure by youth, and are re-read in more advanced age with still greater delight. The poet ventured to predict that his poem would survive him, and be read wherever the Roman name was known."

The prediction above alluded to is contained in the closing lines of the Metamorphoses, of which we give a literal translation below:

"And now I close my work, which not the ire Of Jove, nor tooth of time, nor sword, nor fire Shall bring to nought. Come when it will that day Which o'er the body, not the mind, has sway, And snatch the remnant of my life away, My better part above the stars shall soar, And my renown endure for evermore. Where'er the Roman arms and arts shall spread, There by the people shall my book be read; And, if aught true in poet's visions be, My name and fame have immortality."

Chapter XXIX Modern Monsters: The Phoenix Basilisk Unicorn Salamander

There is a set of imaginary beings which seem to have been the successors of the "Gorgons, Hydras, and Chimeras dire" of the old superstitions, and, having no connection with the false gods of Paganism, to have continued to enjoy an existence in the popular belief after Paganism was superseded by Christianity. They are mentioned perhaps by the classical writers, but their chief popularity and currency seem to have been in more modern times. We seek our accounts of them not so much in the poetry of the ancients, as in the old natural history books and narrations of travellers. The accounts which we are about to give are taken chiefly from the Penny Cyclopedia.


Ovid tells the story of the Phoenix as follows: "Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm-tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent's sepulchre) and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun."

Such is the account given by a poet. Now let us see that of a philosophic historian. Tacitus says, "In the consulship of Paulus Fabius (A.D. 34), the miraculous bird known to the world by the name of Phoenix, after disappearing for a series of ages, revisited Egypt. It was attended in its flight by a group of various birds, all attracted by the novelty, and gazing with wonder at so beautiful an appearance." He then gives an account of the bird, not varying materially from the preceding, but adding some details. "The first care of the young bird as soon as fledged and able to trust to his wings is to perform the obsequies of his father. But this duty is not undertaken rashly. He collects a quantity of myrrh, and to try his strength makes frequent excursions with a load on his back. When he has gained sufficient confidence in his own vigor, he takes up the body of his father and flies with it to the altar of the Sun, where he leaves it to be consumed in flames of fragrance." Other writers add a few particulars. The myrrh is compacted in the form of an egg, in which the dead Phoenix is enclosed. From the mouldering flesh of the dead bird a worm springs, and this worm, when grown large, is transformed into a bird. Herodotus DESCRIBES the bird, though he says, "I have not seen it myself, except in a picture. Part of his plumage is gold-colored, and part crimson; and he is for the most part very much like an eagle in outline and bulk."

The first writer who disclaimed a belief in the existence of the Phoenix was Sir Thomas Browne, in his Vulgar Errors, published in 1646. He was replied to a few years later by Alexander Ross, who says, in answer to the objection of the Phoenix so seldom making his appearance, "His instinct teaches him to keep out of the way of the tyrant of the creation, MAN, for if he were to be got at some wealthy glutton would surely devour him, though there were no more in the world."

Dryden, in one of his early poems, has this allusion to the Phoenix:

"So when the new-born Phoenix first is seen, Her feathered subjects all adore their queen, And while she makes her progress through the East, >From every grove her numerous train's increased; Each poet of the air her glory sings, And round him the pleased audience clap their wings."

Milton, in Paradise lost, Book V, compares the angel Raphael descending to earth to a Phoenix:

"Down thither, prone in flight He speeds, and through the vast ethereal sky Sails between worlds and worlds, with steady wing, Now on the polar winds, then with quick fan Winnows the buxom air; till within soar Of towering eagles, to all the fowls he seems A Phoenix, gazed by all; as that sole bird When, to enshrine his relics in the Sun's Bright temple, to Egyptian Thebes he flies."


This animal was called the king of the serpents. In confirmation of his royalty, he was said to be endowed with a crest or comb upon the head, constituting a crown. He was supposed to be produced from the egg of a cock hatched under toads or serpents. There were several species of this animal. One species burned up whatever they approached; a second were a kind of wandering Medusa's heads, and their look caused an instant horror, which was immediately followed by death. In Shakespeare's play of Richard the Third, Lady Anne, in answer to Richard's compliment on her eyes, says, "Would they were basilisk's, to strike thee dead!"

The basilisks were called kings of serpents because all other serpents and snakes, behaving like good subjects, and wisely not wishing to be burned up or struck dead, fled the moment they heard the distant hiss of their king, although they might be in full feed upon the most delicious prey, leaving the sole enjoyment of the banquet to the royal monster.

The Roman naturalist Pliny thus describes him: "He does not impel his body like other serpents, by a multiplied flexion, but advances lofty and upright. He kills the shrubs, not only by contact but by breathing on them, and splits the rocks, such power of evil is there in him. It was formally believed that if killed by a spear from on horseback the power of the poison conducted through the weapon killed not only the rider but the horse also. To this Lucan alludes in these lines:

"What though the Moor the basilisk hath slain, And pinned him lifeless to the sandy plain, Up through the spear the subtle venom flies, The hand imbibes it, and the victor dies."

Such a prodigy was not likely to be passed over in the legends of the saints. Accordingly we find it recorded that a certain holy man going to a fountain in the desert suddenly beheld a basilisk. He immediately raised his eyes to heaven, and with a pious appeal to the Deity, laid the monster dead at his feet.

These wonderful powers of the basilisk are attested by a host of learned persons, such as Galen, Avicenna, Scaliger, and others. Occasionally one would demur to some part of the tale while he admitted the rest. Jonston, a learned physician, sagely remarks, "I would scarcely believe that it kills with its look, for who could have seen it and lived to tell the story?" The worthy sage was not aware that those who went to hunt the basilisk of this sort, took with them a mirror, which reflected back the deadly glare upon its author, and by a kind of poetical justice slew the basilisk with his own weapon.

But what was to attack this terrible and unapproachable monster? There is an old saying that "everything has its enemy," and the cockatrice quailed before the weasel. The basilisk might look daggers, the weasel cared not, but advanced boldly to the conflict. When bitten, the weasel retired for a moment to eat some rue, which was the only plant the basilisks could not wither, returned with renewed strength and soundness to the charge, and never left the enemy till he was stretched dead on the plain. The monster, too, as if conscious of the irregular way in which he came into the world, was supposed to have a great antipathy to a cock; and well he might, for as soon as he heard the cock crow he expired.

The basilisk was of some use after death. Thus we read that its carcass was suspended in the temple of Apollo, and in private houses, as a sovereign remedy against spiders, and that it was also hung up in the temple of Diana, for which reason no swallow ever dared enter the sacred place.

The reader will, we apprehend, by this time have had enough of absurdities, but still he may be interested to know that these details come from the work of one who was considered in his time an able and valuable writer on Natural History. Ulysses Aldrovandus was a celebrated naturalist of the sixteenth century, and his work on natural history, in thirteen folio volumes, contains with much that is valuable a large proportion of fables and inutilities. In particular he is so ample on the subject of the cock and the bull, that from his practice all rambling, gossiping tales of doubtful credibility are called COCK AND BULL STORIES. Still he is to be remembered with respect as the founder of a botanic garden, and one of the leaders in the modern habit of making scientific collections for research and inquiry.

Shelley, in his Ode to Naples, full of the enthusiasm excited by the intelligence of the proclamation of a Constitutional Government at Naples, in 1820, thus uses an allusion to the basilisk:

"What though Cimmerian anarchs dare blaspheme Freedom and thee? A new Actaeon's error Shall theirs have been, devoured by their own bounds! Be thou like the imperial basilisk, Killing thy foe with unapparent wounds! Gaze on oppression, till at that dread risk, Aghast she pass from the earth's disk. Fear not, but gaze, for freemen mightier grow, And slaves more feeble, gazing on their foe."


Pliny, the Roman naturalist, out of whose account of the unicorn most of the modern unicorns have been described and figured, records it as "a very ferocious beast, similar in the rest of its body to a horse, with the head of a deer, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, a deep bellowing voice, and a single black horn, two cubits in length, standing out in the middle of its forehead." He adds that "it cannot be taken alive;" and some such excuse may have been necessary in those days for not producing the living animal upon the arena of the amphitheatre.

The unicorn seems to have been a sad puzzle to the hunters, who hardly knew how to come at so valuable a piece of game. Some described the horn as moveable at the will of the animal, a kind of small sword in short, with which ho hunter who was not exceedingly cunning in fence could have a chance. Others maintained that all the animal's strength lay in its horn, and that when hard pressed in pursuit, it would throw itself from the pinnacle of the highest rocks horn foremost, so as to pitch upon it, and then quietly march off not a whit the worse for its fall.

But it seems they found out how to circumvent the poor unicorn at last. They discovered that it was a great lover of purity and innocence, so they took the field with a young VIRGIN, who was placed in the unsuspecting admirer's way. When the unicorn spied her, he approached with all reverence, couched beside her, and laying his head in her lap, fell asleep. The treacherous virgin then gave a signal, and the hunters made in and captured the simple beast.

Modern zoologists, disgusted as they well may be with such fables as these, disbelieve generally the existence of the unicorn. Yet there are animals bearing on their heads a bony protuberance more or less like a horn, which may have given rise to the story. The rhinoceros horn, as it is called, is such a protuberance, though it does not exceed a few inches in height, and is far from agreeing with the descriptions of the horn of the unicorn. The nearest approach to a horn in the middle of the forehead is exhibited in the bony protuberance on the forehead of the giraffe; but this also is short and blunt, and is not the only horn of the animal, but a third horn standing in front of the two others. In fine, though it would be presumptuous to deny the existence of a one-horned quadruped other than the rhinoceros, it may be safely stated that the insertion of a long and solid horn in the living forehead of a horse-like or deer-like animal, is as near an impossibility as any thing can be.


The following is from the Life of Benvenuto Cellini, an Italian artist of the sixteenth century, written by himself, "When I was about five years of age, my father happening to be in a little room in which they had been washing, and where there was a good fire of oak burning, looked into the flames and saw a little animal resembling a lizard, which could live in the hottest part of that element. Instantly perceiving what it was he called for my sister and me, and after he had shown us the creature, he gave me a box on the ear. I fell a crying, while he, soothing me with caresses, spoke these words: 'My dear child, I do not give you that blow for any fault you have committed, but that you may recollect that the little creature you see in the fire is a salamander; such a one as never was beheld before to my knowledge.' So saying he embraced me, and gave me some money."

It seems unreasonable to doubt a story of which signor Cellini was both an eye and ear witness. Add to which the authority of numerous sage philosophers, at the head of whom are Aristotle and Pliny, affirms this power of the salamander. According to them, the animal not only resists fire, but extinguishes it, and when he sees the flame, charges it as an enemy which he well knows how to vanquish.

That the skin of an animal which could resist the action of fire should be considered proof against that element, is not to be wondered at. We accordingly find that a cloth made of the skins of salamanders (for there really is such an animal, a kind of lizard) was incombustible, and very valuable for wrapping up such articles as were too precious to be intrusted to any other envelopes. These fire-proof cloths were actually produced, said to be made of salamander's wool, though the knowing ones detected that the substance of which they were composed was Asbestos, a mineral, which is in fine filaments capable of being woven into a flexible cloth.

The foundation of the above fables is supposed to be the fact that the salamander really does secrete from the pores of his body a milky juice, which, when he is irritated, is produced in considerable quantity, and would doubtless, for a few moments, defend the body from fire. Then it is a hibernating animal, and in winter retires to some hollow tree or other cavity, where it coils itself up and remains in a torpid state till the spring again calls it forth. It may therefore sometimes be carried with the fuel to the fire, and wake up only time enough to put forth all its faculties for its defence. Its viscous juice would do good service, and all who profess to have seen it acknowledge that it got out of the fire as fast as its legs could carry it; indeed too fast for them ever to make prize of one, except in one instance, and in that one, the animal's feet and some parts of its body were badly burned.

Dr. Young, in the Night Thoughts, with more quaintness than good taste, compares the sceptic who can remain unmoved in the contemplation of the starry heavens, to a salamander unwarmed in the fire:

"An undevout astronomer is mad! * * * * * * Oh, what a genius must inform the skies! And is Lorenzo's salamander-heart Cold and untouched amid these sacred fires?"

Chapter XXX Eastern Mythology Zoroaster Hindu Mythology Castes Buddha Grand Lama

During the last fifty years new attention has been paid to the systems of religion of the Eastern world, especially to that of Zoroaster among the Persians, and that which is called Brahmanism and the rival system known as Buddhism in the nations farther east. Especial interest belongs to these inquiries for us, because these religions are religions of the great Aryan race to which we belong. The people among whom they were introduced all used some dialect of the family of language to which our own belongs. Even young readers will take an interest in such books as Clarke's Great Religions and Johnson's Oriental Religions, which are devoted to careful studies of them.

Our knowledge of the religion of the ancient Persians is principally derived from the Zendavesta, or sacred books of that people. Zoroaster was the founder of their religion, or rather the reformer of the religion which preceded him. The time when he lived is doubtful, but it is certain that his system became the dominant religion of Western Asia from the time of Cyrus (550 B.C.) to the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great. Under the Macedonian monarchy the doctrines of Zoroaster appear to have been considerably corrupted by the introduction of foreign opinions, but they afterwards recovered their ascendancy.

Zoroaster taught the existence of a supreme being, who created two other mighty beings, and imparted to them so much of his own nature as seemed good to him. Of these, Ormuzd (called by the Greeks Oromasdes) remained faithful to his creator, and was regarded as the source of all good, while Ahriman (Arimanes) rebelled, and became the author of all evil upon the earth. Ormuzd created man, and supplied him with all the materials of happiness; but Ahriman marred this happiness by introducing evil into the world, and creating savage beasts and poisonous reptiles and plants. In consequence of this, evil and good are now mingled together in every part of the world, and the followers of good and evil the adherents of Ormuzd and Ahriman carry on incessant war. But this state of things will not last forever. The time will come when the adherents of Ormuzd shall everywhere be victorious, and Ahriman and his followers be consigned to darkness forever.

The religious rites of the ancient Persians were exceedingly simple. They used neither temples, altars, nor statues, and performed their sacrifices on the tops of mountains. They adored fire, light, and the sun, as emblems of Ormuzd, the source of all light and purity, but did not regard them as independent deities. The religious rites and ceremonies were regulated by the priests, who were called Magi. The learning of the Magi was connected with astrology and enchantment, in which they were so celebrated that their name was applied to all orders of magicians and enchanters.

"As to the age of the books of the Zendavesta, and the period at which Zoroaster lived, there is the greatest difference of opinion. He is mentioned by Plato, who speaks of 'the magic (or religious doctrines) of Zoroaster the Ormazdian.' As Plato speaks of his religion as something established in the form of Magism, or the system of the Medes in West Iran, which the Avesta appears to have originated in Bactria, or East Iran, this already carries the age of Zoroaster back to at least the sixth or seventh century before Christ. * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Professor Whitney of New Haven places the epoch of Zoroaster at 'least B.C. 1000,' and adds that all attempts to reconstruct Persian chronology or history prior to the reign of the first Sassanid have been relinquished as futile. Dollinger thinks he may have been 'somewhat later than Moses, perhaps about B.C. 1300,' but says 'it is impossible to fix precisely' when he lived. Rawlinson merely remarks that Berosus places him anterior to B.C. 2234. Haug is inclined to date the Gathas, the oldest songs of the Avesta, as early as the time of Moses. Rapp, after a thorough comparison of ancient writers, concludes that Zoroaster lived B.C. 1200 or 1300. In this he agrees with Duncker, who, as we have seen, decided upon the same date. It is not far from the period given by the oldest Greek writer who speaks of Zoroaster, Xanthus of Sardis, a contemporary of Darius. It is the period given by Cephalion, a writer of the second century, who takes it from three independent sources. We have no sources now open to us which enable us to come nearer than this to the time in which he lived.

"Nor is anything known with certainty of the place where he lived, or the events of his life. Most modern writers suppose that he resided in Bactria. Haug maintains that the language of the Zend books is Bactrian. A highly mythological and fabulous life of Zoroaster, translated by Anquetil du Perron, called the Zartrisht-Namah, describes him as going to Iran in his thirtieth year, spending twenty years in the desert, working miracles during ten years, and giving lessons of philosophy in Babylon, with Pythagoras as his pupil. All this is based on the theory (now proved to be false) of his living in the time of Darius. 'The language of the Avesta,' says Max Muller, 'is so much more primitive than the inscriptions of Darius, that many centuries must have passed between the two periods represented by these two strata of language. These inscriptions are in the Achaemenian dialect, which is the Zend in a later stage of linguistic growth.;" J. Freeman Clarke - Ten Great Religions

Wordsworth thus alludes to the worship of the Persians:

" the Persian, zealous to reject Altar and Image, and the inclusive walls And roofs of temples built by human hands, The loftiest heights ascending from their tops, With myrtle-wreathed Tiara on his brows, Presented sacrifice to Moon and Stars And to the Winds and mother Elements, And the whole circle of the Heavens, for him A sensitive existence and a God." Excursion, Book IV

In Childe Harold, Byron speaks thus of the Persian worship:

"Not gainly did the early Persian make His altar the high places and the peak Of earth o'ergazing mountains, and thus take A fit and unwalled temple, there to seek The Spirit, in whose honor shrines are weak, Upreared of human hands. Come and compare Columns and idol-dwellings, Goth or Greek, With Nature's realms of worship, earth and air, Nor fix on fond abodes to circumscribe thy prayer." III., 91.

The religion of Zoroaster continued to flourish even after the introduction of Christianity, and in the third century was the dominant faith of the East, till the rise of the Mahometan power and the conquest of Persia by the Arabs in the seventh century, who compelled the greater number of the Persians to renounce their ancient faith. Those who refused to abandon the religion of their ancestors fled to the deserts of Kerman and to Hindustan, where they still exist under the name of Parsees, a name derived from Pars, the ancient name of Persia. The Arabs call them Guebers, from an Arabic word signifying unbelievers. At Bombay the Parsees are at this day a very active, intelligent, and wealthy class. For purity of life, honesty, and conciliatory manners, they are favorably distinguished. They have numerous temples to Fire, which they adore as the symbol of the divinity.

The Persian religion makes the subject of the finest tale in Moore's Lalla Rookh, the Fire Worshippers. The Gueber chief says:

"Yes! I am of that impious race, Those slaves of Fire, that moan and even Hail their creator's dwelling place Among the living lights of heaven; Yes! I am of that outcast crew To lean and to vengeance true, Who curse the hour your Arabs came To desecrate our shrines of flame, And swear before God's burning eye, To break our country's chains or die."


The religion of the Hindus is professedly founded on the Vedas. To these books of their scripture they attach the greatest sanctity, and state that Brahma himself composed them at the creation. But the present arrangement of the Vedas is attributed to the sage Vyasa, about five thousand years ago.

The Vedas undoubtedly teach the belief of one supreme God. The name of this deity is Brahma. His attributes are represented by the three personified powers of CREATION, PRESERVATION, and DESTRUCTION, which, under the respective names of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, form the TRIMURTI or triad of principal Hindu gods. Of the inferior gods the most important are, 1. Indra, the god of heaven, of thunder, lightning, storm, and rain; 2. Agni, the god of fire; 3. Yana, the god of the infernal regions; 4. Surya, the god of the sun.

Brahma is the creator of the universe, and the source from which all the individual deities have sprung, and into which all will ultimately be absorbed. "As milk changes to curd, and water to ice, so is Brahma variously transformed and diversified, without aid of exterior means of any sort. The human soul, according to the Vedas, is a portion of the supreme ruler, as a spark is of the fire.

"BRAHMA, at first a word meaning prayer and devotion, becomes in the laws of Manu the primal God, first-born of the creation, from the self-existent being, in the form of a golden egg. He became the creator of all things by the power of prayer. In the struggle for ascendancy, which took place between the priests and the warriors, Brahma naturally became the deity of the former. But, meantime, as we have seen, the worship or Vishnu had been extending itself in one region, and that of Siva in another. Then took place those mysterious wars between the kings of the Solar and Lunar races, of which the great epics contain all that we know. And at the close of these wars a compromise was apparently accepted, by which Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva were united in one supreme God, as creator, preserver, and destroyer, all in one.

It is almost certain that this Hindoo Triad was the result of an ingenious and successful attempt, on the part of the Brahmans, to unite all classes of worshippers in India against the Buddhists. In this sense the Brahmans edited anew the Mahabharata, inserting in that epic passages extolling Vishnu in the form of Krishna. The Greek accounts of India which followed the invasion of Alexander speak of the worship of Hercules as prevalent in the East, and by Hercules they apparently mean the god Krishna. The struggle between the Brahmans and Buddhists lasted during nine centuries (from A.D. 500 to A.D. 1400), ending with the total expulsion of Buddhism and the triumphant establishment of the Triad as the worship of India.

"Before this Triad or Trimurti (of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva) there seems to have been another, consisting of Agni, Indra, and Surya. This may have given the hint of the second Triad, which distributed among the three gods the attributes or Creation, Destruction, and Renovation. Of these Brahma, the creator, ceased soon to be popular, and the worship of Siva and Vishnu as Krishna remain as the popular religion of India. . . ..

"But all the efforts of Brahmanism could not arrest the natural development of the system. It passed on into polytheism and idolatry. The worship of India for many centuries has been divided into a multitude of sects. While the majority of the Brahmans still profess to recognize the equal divinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, the mass of the people worship Krishna, Rama, the Singam, and many other gods and idols. There are Hindoo Atheists, who revile the Vedas; there are the Kabirs, who are a sort of Hindoo Quakers, and oppose all worship; the RAMANUJAS, an ancient sect of Vishnu worshippers; the RAMAVATS, living in monasteries; the PANTHIS, who oppose all austerities; the MAHARAJAS, whose religion consists with great licentiousness. Most of these are worshippers of Vishnu or of Siva, for Brahma- worship has wholly disappeared." J. Freeman Clarke. TEN GREAT RELIGIONS.


Vishnu occupies the second place in the triad of the Hindus, and is the personification of the preserving principle. To protect the world in various epochs of danger, Vishnu descended to the earth in different incarnations, or bodily forms, which descents are called Avatars. They are very numerous, but ten are more particularly specified. The first Avatar was as Matsya, the Fish, under which form Vishnu preserved Manu, the ancestor of the human race, during a universal deluge. The second Avatar was in the form of a Tortoise, which form he assumed to support the earth when the gods were churning the sea for the beverage of immortality, Amrita.

We may omit the other Avatars, which were of the same general character, that is, interpositions to protect the right or to punish wrong-doers, and come to the ninth, which is the most celebrated of the Avatars of Vishnu, in which he appeared in the human form of Krishna, an invincible warrior, who by his exploits relieved the earth from the tyrants who oppressed it.

Buddha is by the followers of the Brahmanical religion regarded as a delusive incarnation of Vishnu, assumed by him in order to induce the Asuras, opponents of the gods, to abandon the sacred ordinances of the Vedas, by which means they lost their strength and supremacy.

Kalki is the name of the TENTH Avatar, in which Vishnu will appear at the end of the present age of the world to destroy all vice and wickedness, and to restore mankind to virtue and purity.


Siva is the third person of the Hindu triad. He is the personification of the destroying principle. Though the third named, he is, in respect to the number of his worshippers and the extension of his worship, before either of the others. In the Puranas (the scriptures of the modern Hindu religion) no allusion is made to the original power of this god as a destroyer; as that power is not to be called into exercise till after the expiration of twelve millions of years, or when the universe will come to an end; and Mahadeva (another name for Siva) is rather the representative of regeneration than of destruction.

The worshippers of Vishnu and Siva form two sects, each of which proclaims the superiority of its favorite deity, denying the claims of the other, and Brahma, the creator, having finished his work, seems to be regarded as no longer active, and has now only one temple in India, while Mahadeva and Vishnu have many. The worshippers of Vishnu are generally distinguished by a greater tenderness for life and consequent abstinence from animal food, and a worship less cruel than that of the followers of Siva.


Whether the worshippers of Juggernaut are to be reckoned among the followers of Vishnu or Siva, our authorities differ. The temple stands near the shore, about three hundred miles southwest of Calcutta. The idol is a carved block of wood, with a hideous face, painted black, and a distended blood-red mouth. On festival days the throne of the image is placed on a tower sixty feet high, moving on wheels. Six long ropes are attached to the tower, by which the people draw it along. The priests and their attendants stand round the throne on the tower, and occasionally turn to the worshippers with songs and gestures. While the tower moves along numbers of the devout worshippers throw themselves on the ground, in order to be crushed by the wheels, and the multitude shout in approbation of the act, as a pleasing sacrifice to the idol. Every year, particularly at two great festivals in March and July, pilgrims flock in crowds to the temple. Not less than seventy or eighty thousand people are said to visit the place on these occasions, when all castes eat together.


The division of the Hindus into classes or castes, with fixed occupations, existed from the earliest times. It is supposed by some to have been founded upon conquest, the first three castes being composed of a foreign race, who subdued the natives of the country and reduced them to an inferior caste. Others trace it to the fondness of perpetuating, by descent from father to son, certain offices or occupations.

The Hindu tradition gives the following account of the origin of the various castes. At the creation Brahma resolved to give the earth inhabitants who should be direct emanations from his own body. Accordingly from his mouth came forth the eldest born, Brahma (the priest), to whom he confided the four Vedas; from his right arm issued Shatriya (the warrior), and from his left, the warrior's wife. His thighs produced Vaissyas, male and female (agriculturists and traders), and lastly from his feet sprang Sudras (mechanics and laborers).

The four sons of Brahma, so significantly brought into the world, became the fathers of the human race, and heads of their respective castes. They were commanded to regard the four Vedas as containing all the rules of their faith, and all that was necessary to guide them in their religious ceremonies. They were also commanded to take rank in the order of their birth, the Brahmans uppermost, as having sprung from the head of Brahma.

A strong line of demarcation is drawn between the first three castes and the Sudras. The former are allowed to receive instruction from the Vedas, which is not permitted to the Sudras. The Brahmans possess the privilege of teaching the Vedas, and were in former times in exclusive possession of all knowledge. Though the sovereign of the country was chosen from the Shatriya class, also called Rajputs, the Brahmans possessed the real power, and were the royal counsellors, the judges and magistrates of the country; their persons and property were inviolable; and though they committed the greatest crimes, they could only be banished from the kingdom. They were to be treated by sovereigns with the greatest respect, for "a Brahman, whether learned or ignorant, is a powerful divinity."

When the Brahman arrives at years of maturity it becomes his duty to marry. He ought to be supported by the contributions of the rich, and not to be obliged to gain his subsistence by any laborious or productive occupation. But as all the Brahmans could not he maintained by the working classes of the community, it was found necessary to allow them to engage in productive employments.

We need say little of the two intermediate classes, whose rank and privileges may be readily inferred from their occupations. The Sudras or fourth class are bound to servile attendance on the higher classes, especially the Brahmans, but they may follow mechanical occupations and practical arts, as painting and writing, or become traders or husbandmen. Consequently they sometimes grow rich, and it will also sometimes happen that Brahmans become poor. That fact works its usual consequence, and rich Sudras sometimes employ poor Brahmans in menial occupations.

There is another class lower even than the Sudras, for it is not one of the original pure classes, but springs from an unauthorized union of individuals of different castes. These are the Pariahs, who are employed in the lowest services and treated with the utmost severity. They are compelled to do what no one else can do without pollution. They are not only considered unclean themselves, but they render unclean every thing they touch. They are deprived of all civil rights, and stigmatized by particular laws, regulating their mode of life, their houses and their furniture. They are not allowed to visit the pagodas or temples of the other castes, but have their own pagodas and religious exercises. They are not suffered to enter the houses of the other castes; if it is done incautiously or from necessity, the place must be purified by religious ceremonies. They must not appear at public markets, and are confined to the use of particular wells, which they are obliged to surround with bones of animals, to warn others against using them. They dwell in miserable hovels, distant from cities and villages, and are under no restrictions in regard to food, which last is not a privilege, but a mark of ignominy, as if they were so degraded that nothing could pollute them. The three higher castes are prohibited entirely the use of flesh. The fourth is allowed to eat all kinds except beef, but only the lowest caste is allowed every kind of food without restrictions.


Buddha, whom the Vedas represent as a delusive incarnation of Vishnu, is said by his followers to have been a mortal sage, whose name was Gautama, called also by the complimentary epithets of Sakyasinha, the Lion, and Buddha, the Sage.

By a comparison of the various epochs assigned to his birth, it is inferred that he lived about one thousand years before Christ.

He was the son of a king; and when in conformity to the usage of the country he was, a few days after his birth, presented before the altar of a deity, the image is said to have inclined its head, as a presage of the future greatness of the new-born prophet. The child soon developed faculties of the first order, and became equally distinguished by the uncommon beauty of his person. No sooner had he grown to years of maturity than he began to reflect deeply on the depravity and misery of mankind, and he conceived the idea of retiring from society and devoting himself to meditation. His father in vain opposed this design. Buddha escaped the vigilance of his guards, and having found a secure retreat, lived for six years undisturbed in his devout contemplations. At the expiration of that period he came forward at Benares as a religious teacher. At first some who heard him doubted of the soundness of his mind; but his doctrines soon gained credit, and were propagated so rapidly that Buddha himself lived to see them spread all over India.

The young prince distinguished himself by his personal and intellectual qualities, but still more by his early piety. It appears from the laws of Manu that it was not unusual, in the earliest periods of Brahmanism, for those seeking a superior piety to turn hermits, and to live alone in the forest, engaged in acts of prayer, meditation, abstinence, and the study of the Vedas. This practice, however, seems to have been confined to the Brahmans. It was, therefore, a grief to the king, when his son, in the flower of his youth and highly accomplished in every kingly faculty of body and mind, began to turn his thoughts toward the life of an anchorite.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

He first visited the Brahmans, and listened to their doctrines, but found no satisfaction therein. The wisest among them could not teach him true peace, that profound inward rest, which was already called Nirvana. He was twenty-nine years old. Although disapproving of the Brahmanic austerities as an end, he practised them during six years, in order to subdue the senses. He then became satisfied that the path to perfection did not lie that way. He therefore resumed his former diet and a more comfortable mode of life, and so lost many disciples who had been attracted by his amazing austerity. Alone in his hermitage, he came at last to that solid conviction, that KNOWLEDGE never to be shaken, of the laws of things, which had seemed to him the only foundation of a truly free life. The spot where, after a week of constant meditation, he at last arrived at this beatific vision, became one of the most sacred places in India. He was seated under a tree, his face to the east, not having moved for a day and night, when he attained the triple science, which was to rescue mankind from its woes. Twelve hundred years after the death of the Buddha, a Chinese pilgrim was shown what then passed for the sacred tree.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Having attained this inward certainty of vision, he decided to teach the world his truth. He knew well what it would bring him, what opposition, insult, neglect, scorn. But he thought of three classes of men: those who were already on the way to the truth and did not need him; those who were fixed in error and whom he could not help; and the poor doubters, uncertain of their way. It was to help these last, the doubters, that the Buddha went forth to preach. On his way to the holy city of India, Benares, a serious difficulty arrested him at the Ganges, namely, his having no money to pay the boatman for his passage. At Benares he made his first converts, "turning the wheel of the law" for the first time. His discourses are contained in the sacred books of the Buddhists. He converted great numbers, his father among the rest, but met with fierce opposition from the Hindu Scribes and Pharisees, the leading Brahmans. So he lived and taught, and died at the age of eighty years.

The Buddhists reject entirely the authority of the Vedas, and the religious observances prescribed in them and kept by the Hindus. They also reject the distinction of castes, and prohibit all bloody sacrifices, and allow animal food. Their priests are chosen from all classes; they are expected to procure their maintenance by perambulation and begging, and, among other things, it is their duty to endeavor to turn to some use things thrown aside as useless by others, and to discover the medicinal power of plants. But in Ceylon three orders of priests are recognized; those of the highest order are usually men of high birth and learning, and are supported at the principal temples, most of which have been richly endowed by the former monarchs of the country.

For several centuries after the appearance of Buddha, his sect seems to have been tolerated by the Brahmans, and Buddhism appears to have penetrated the peninsula of Hindustan in every direction, and to have been carried to Ceylon, and to the eastern peninsula. But afterwards it had to endure in India a long continued persecution, which ultimately had the effect of entirely abolishing it in the country where it had originated, but to scatter it widely over adjacent countries. Buddhism appears to have been introduced into China about the year 65 of our era. From China it was subsequently extended to Corea, Japan, and Java.

The charming poem called the Light of Asia, by Mr. Edwin Arnold, has lately called general attention to Buddhism. The following is an extract from it:

"Fondly Siddatha drew the proud head down Patted the shining neck, and said 'Be still, White Kantaka! Be still, and bear me now The farthest journey ever rider rode; For this night take I horse to find the truth, And where my quest will end yet know I not. Save that it shall not end until I find. Therefore to-night, good steed, be fierce and bold! Let nothing stay thee, though a thousand blades Deny the road! Let neither wall nor moat Forbid our flight! Look! If I touch thy flank And cry, "On, Kantaka!" let whirlwinds lag Behind thy course! Be fire and air, my horse! To stead thy lord, so shalt thou share with him The greatness of this deed which helps the world; For therefore ride I, not for men alone, But for all things which, speechless, share our pain, And have no hope, nor wit to ask for hope. Now, therefore, hear thy master valorously!'"


It is a doctrine alike of the Brahminical Hindus and of the Buddhist sect that the confinement of the human soul, an emanation of the divine spirit, in a human body, is a state of misery, and the consequence of frailties and sins committed during former existences. But they hold that some few individuals have appeared on this earth from time to time, not under the necessity of terrestrial existence, but who voluntarily descend to the earth to promote the welfare of mankind. These individuals have gradually assumed the character of reappearances of Buddha himself, in which capacity the line is continued till the present day in the several Lamas of Thibet, China, and other countries where Buddhism prevails. In consequence of the victories of Gengis Khan and his successors, the Lama residing in Thibet was raised to the dignity of chief pontiff of the sect. A separate province was assigned to him as his own territory, and besides his spiritual dignity, he became to a limited extent a temporal monarch. He is styled the Dalai Lama.

The first Christian missionaries who proceeded to Thibet were surprised to find there in the heart of Asia a pontifical court and several other ecclesiastical institutions resembling those of the Roman Catholic church. They found convents for priests and nuns; also, processions and forms of religious worship, attended with much pomp and splendor; and many were induced by these similarities to consider Lamaism as a sort of degenerated Christianity. It is not improbable that the Lamas derived some of these practices from the Nestorial Christians, who were settled in Tartary when Buddhism was introduced into Thibet.


An early account, communicated probably by travelling merchants, of a Lama or spiritual chief among the Tartars, seems to have occasioned in Europe the report of a Presbyter or Prester John, a Christian pontiff, resident in Upper Asia. The Pope sent a mission in search of him, as did also Louis IX of France, some years later, but both missions were unsuccessful, though the small communities of Nestorial Christians, which they did find, served to keep up the belief in Europe that such a personage did exist somewhere in the East. At last in the fifteenth century, a Portuguese traveller, Pedro Covilham, happening to hear that there was a Christian prince in the country of the Abessines (Abyssinia), not far from the Red Sea, concluded that this must be the true Prester John. He accordingly went thither, and penetrated to the court of the king, whom he calls Negus. Milton alludes to him in Paradise Lost, Book XI, where, describing Adam's vision of his descendants in their various nations and cities, scattered over the face of the earth, he says,

"——- Nor did his eyes not ken The empire of Negus, to his utmost port Ercoco, and the less maritime kings, Mombaza and Quiloa and Melind."

Chapter XXXI Northern Mythology Valhalla The Valkyrior

The stories which have engaged our attention thus far relate to the mythology of southern regions. But there is another branch of ancient superstitions which ought not to be entirely overlooked, especially as it belongs to the nations from which we, through our English ancestors, derive our origin. It is that of the northern nations called Scandinavians, who inhabited the countries now known as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. These mythological records are contained in two collections called the Eddas, of which the oldest is in poetry and dates back to the year 1056, the more modern, or prose Edda, being of the date of 1640.

According to the Eddas there was once no heaven above nor earth beneath, but only a bottomless deep, and a world of mist in which flowed a fountain. Twelve rivers issued from this fountain, and when they had flowed far from their source, they froze into ice, and one layer accumulating above another, the great deep was filled up.

Southward from the world of mist was the world of light. From this flowed a warm wind upon the ice and melted it. The vapors rose in the air and formed clouds, from which sprang Ymir, the Frost giant and his progeny, and the cow Audhumbla, whose milk afforded nourishment and food to the giant. The cow got nourishment by licking the hoar frost and salt from the ice. While she was one day licking the salt stones there appeared at first the hair of a man, on the second day the whole head, and on the third the entire form endowed with beauty, agility, and power. This new being was a god, from whom and his wife, a daughter of the giant race, sprang the three brothers Odin, Vili, and Ve. They slew the giant Ymir, and out of his body formed the earth, of his blood the seas, of his bones the mountains, of his hair the trees, of his skull the heavens, and of his brain clouds, charged with hail and snow. Of Ymir's eyebrows the gods formed Midgard (mid earth), destined to become the abode of man.

Odin then regulated the periods of day and night and the seasons by placing in the heavens the sun and moon, and appointing to them their respective courses. As soon as the sun began to shed its rays upon the earth, it caused the vegetable world to bud and sprout. Shortly after the gods had created the world they walked by the side of the sea, pleased with their new work, but found that it was still incomplete, for it was without human beings. They therefore took an ash-tree and made a man out of it, and they made a woman out of an alder, and called the man Aske and the woman Embla. Odin then gave them life and soul, Vili reason and motion, and Ve bestowed upon them the senses, expressive features, and speech. Midgard was then given them as their residence, and they became the progenitors of the human race.

The mighty ash-tree Ygdrasil was supposed to support the whole universe. It sprang from the body of Ymir, and had three immense roots, extending one into Asgard (the dwelling of the gods), the other into Jotunheim (the abode of the giants), and the third to Niffleheim (the regions of darkness and cold). By the side of each of these roots is a spring, from which it is watered. The root that extends into Asgard is carefully tended by the three Norns, goddesses who are regarded as the dispensers of fate. They are Urdur (the past), Verdandi (the present), Skuld (the future). The spring at the Jotunheim side is Ymir's well, in which wisdom and wit lie hidden, but that of Niffleheim feeds the adder, Nidhogge (darkness), which perpetually gnaws at the root. Four harts run across the branches of the tree and bite the buds; they represent the four winds. Under the tree lies Ymir, and when he tries to shake off its weight the earth quakes.

Asgard is the name of the abode of the gods, access to which is only gained by crossing the bridge, Bifrost (the rainbow). Asgard consists of golden and silver palaces, the dwellings of the gods, but the most beautiful of these is Valhalla, the residence of Odin. When seated on his throne he overlooks all heaven and earth. Upon his shoulders are the ravens Hugin and Munin, who fly every day over the whole world, and on their return report to him all they have seen and heard. At his feet lie his two wolves, Geri, and Freki, to whom Odin gives all the meat that is set before him, for he himself stands in no need of food. Mead is for him both food and drink. He invented the Runic characters, and it is the business of the Norns to engrave the runes of fate upon a metal shield. From Odin's name, spelt Wodin, as it sometimes is, came Wednesday, the name of the fourth day of the week.

Odin is frequently called Alfadur (All-father), but this name is sometimes used in a way that shows that the Scandinavians had an idea of a deity superior to Odin, uncreated and eternal.


Valhalla is the great hall of Odin, wherein he feasts with his chosen heroes, all those who have fallen bravely in battle, for all who die a peaceful death are excluded. The flesh of the boar Schrimnir is served up to them, and is abundant for all. For although this boar is cooked every morning, he becomes whole again every night. For drink the heroes are supplied abundantly with mead from the she-goat Heidrun. When the heroes are not feasting they amuse themselves with fighting. Every day they ride out into the court or field and fight until they cut each other in pieces. This is their pastime; but when meal-time comes, they recover from their wounds and return to feast in Valhalla.


The Valkyrior are warlike virgins, mounted upon horses and armed with helmets, shields, and spears. Odin, who is desirous to collect a great many heroes in Valhalla, to be able to meet the giants in a day when the final contest must come, sends down to every battle-field to make choice of those who shall be slain. The Valkyrior are his messengers, and their name means "Choosers of the slain." When they ride forth on their errand their armor shed a strange flickering light, which flashes up over the northern skies, making what men call the "Aurora Borealis," or "Northern Lights." (Gray's ode, The Fatal Sisters, is founded on this superstition.)

The following is by Matthew Arnold:

"——-He crew at dawn a cheerful note, To wake the gods and heroes to their tasks And all the gods and all the heroes woke. And from their beds the heroes rose and donned Their arms, and led their horses from the stall, And mounted them, and in Valhalla's court Were ranged; and then the daily fray began, And all day long they there are hacked and hewn 'Mid dust and groans, and limbs lopped off, and blood; But all at night return to Odin's hall Woundless and fresh; such lot is theirs in heaven. And the Valkyries on their steeds went forth Toward earth and fights of men; and at their side Skulda, the youngest of the Nornies, rode; And over Bifrost, where is Heimdall's watch, Past Midgard Fortress, down to Earth they came; There through some battle-field, where men fall fast, Their horses fetlock-deep in blood, they ride, And pick the bravest warriors out for death, Whom they bring back with them at night to heaven, To glad the gods, and feast in Odin's hall." BALDER DEAD

This description of The Funeral of Balder is by William Morris:

"—————Guest Gazed through the cool dusk, till his eyes did rest Upon the noble stories, painted fair On the high panelling and roof-boards there; For over the high sea, in his ship, there lay The gold-haired Balder, god of the dead day, The spring-flowers round his high pile, waiting there Until the gods there to the torch should bear; And they were wrought on this side and on that, Drawing on towards him. There was Frey, and sat On the gold-bristled boar, who first they say Ploughed the brown earth, and made it green for Frey; Then came dark-bearded Niod; and after him Freyia, thin-robed, about her ankles slim The grey cats playing. In another place Thor's hammer gleamed o'er Thor's red-bearded face; And Heimdal, with the old horn slung behind, That in the god's dusk he shall surely wind, Sickening all hearts with fear; and last of all, Was Odin's sorrow wrought upon the wall. As slow-paced, weary faced, he went along, Anxious with all the tales of woe and wrong His ravens, Thought and Memory, bring to him." THE EARTHLY PARADISE: THE LOVERS OF GODRUN


Thor, the thunderer, Odin's eldest son, is the strongest of gods and men, and possesses three very precious things. The first is his hammer, Miolnir, which both the Frost and the Mountain giants know to their cost, when they see it hurled against them in the air, for it has split many a skull of their fathers and kindred. When thrown, it returns to his hand of its own accord. The second rare thing he possesses is called the belt of strength. When he girds it about him his divine might is doubled. The third, also very precious, is his iron gloves, which he puts on whenever he would use his mallet efficiently. From Thor's name is derived our word Thursday.

This description of Thor is by Longfellow:

"I am the God Thor, I am the War God, I am the Thunderer! Here in my Northland, My fastness and fortress, Reign I forever!

"Here amid icebergs Rule I the nations; This is my hammer, Miolner the mighty; Giants and sorcerers Cannot withstand it!

"These are the gauntlets Wherewith I wield it, And hurl it afar off; This is my girdle; Whenever I brace it Strength is redoubled!

"The light thou beholdest Stream through the heavens, In flashes of crimson, Is but my red beard Blown by the night wind, Affrighting the nations!

"Jove is my brother; Mine eyes are the lightning; The wheels of my chariot Roll in the thunder, The blows of my hammer ring in the thunder." TALES OF A WAYSIDE INN

Frey is one of the most celebrated of the gods. He presides over rain and sunshine and all the fruits of the earth. His sister Freya is the most propitious of the goddesses. She loves music, spring, and flowers, and is particularly fond of the Elves (fairies). She is very fond of love-ditties, and all lovers would do well to invoke her.

Bragi is the god of poetry, and his song records the deeds of warriors. His wife, Iduna, keeps in a box the apples which the gods, when they feel old age approaching, have only to taste of to become young again.

Heimdall is the watchman of the gods, and is therefore placed on the borders of heaven to prevent the giants from forcing their way over the bridge Bifrost (the rainbow.) He requires less sleep than a bird, and sees by night as well as by day a hundred miles all around him. So acute is his ear that no sound escapes him, for he can even hear the grass grow and the wool on a sheep's back.


There is another deity who is described as the calumniator of the gods and the contriver of all fraud and mischief. His name is Loki. He is handsome and well made, but of a very fickle mood and most evil disposition. He is of the giant race, but forced himself into the company of the gods, and seems to take pleasure in bringing them into difficulties, and in extricating them out of the danger by his cunning, wit, and skill. Loki has three children. The first is the wolf Fenris, the second the Midgard serpent, the third Hela (Death). The gods were not ignorant that these monsters were growing up, and that they would one day bring much evil upon gods and men. So Odin deemed it advisable to send one to bring them to him. When they came he threw the serpent into that deep ocean by which the earth is surrounded. But the monster has grown to such an enormous size that holding his tail in his mouth he encircles the whole earth. Hela he cast into Niffleheim, and gave her power over nine worlds or regions, into which she distributes those who are sent to her; that is, all who die of sickness or old age. Her hall is called Elvidnia. Hunger is her table, Starvation her knife, Delay her man, Slowness her maid, Precipice her threshold, Care her bed, and Burning-anguish forms the hangings of her apartments. She may easily be recognized for her body is half flesh-color and half blue, and she has a dreadfully stern and forbidding countenance.

The wolf Fenris gave the gods a great deal of trouble before they succeeded in chaining him. He broke the strongest fetters as if they were made of cobwebs. Finally the gods sent a messenger to the mountain spirits, who made for them the chain called Gleipnir. It is fashioned of six things, viz., th noise made by the footfall of a cat, the beards of women, the roots of stones, the breath of fishes, the nerves (sensibilities) of bears, and the spittle of birds. When finished it was as smooth and soft as a silken string. But when the gods asked the wolf to suffer himself to be bound with this apparently slight ribbon, he suspected their design, fearing that it was made by enchantment. But Tyr (the sword god), to quiet his suspicions, placed his hand in Fenris' mouth. Then the other gods bound the wolf with Gleipnir. But when the wolf found that he could not break his fetters, and that the gods would not release him, he bit off Tyr's hand, and he has ever since remained one-handed.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse