Abbildungen der Seite

Thrown from his nervous grasp the lightnings flew
Reiterated, swift; the whirling flash
Cast sacred splendour, and the thunderbolt

And the Titans fell. They were enchained in Tartarus, "so far beneath this earth as earth is distant from the sky.”

[ocr errors][merged small]

Jove now reigned secure and the great Olympian household was formed. Its chief members were:

The Great Deities

JUPITER (or Zeus), the Thunderer, the supreme god, whose altars on earth surpassed all others. He is represented as throned, with a thunderbolt in his hand, and wearing a breastplate whose name, “ægis,” is an English word to-day. His emblem, the eagle, was always represented in his statues. Hence, in Cymbeline the soothsayer says:

Last night the very gods show'd me a vision:

I saw Jove's bird, the Roman eagle, wing'd
From the spungy south to this part of the west,
There vanish'd in the sunbeams: which portends,


sins abuse my divination, Success to the Roman host.

JUNO (or Hera), his wife, who bore Mars (or Ares), Vulcan (or Haephestos), and Hebe. She was queen of heaven. Among her emblems were the peacock and the cuckoo. She distrusted her husband, and loved Greece.

Mars, the god of war.

VULCAN (or Haephestos), the god of fire, and the armourer of the gods.

HEBE, the blooming daughter of Jupiter and Juno, who was

the cupbearer to the gods in the Olympian halls and was so beautiful that she was regarded, also, as the goddess of youth. Thus it is that her name is often lightly used to-day as a synonym for “barmaid”; but thus, also, is it one of the names with which poets gem their most beautiful lines. What does Keats say?

[ocr errors][merged small]

APOLLO (or Phoebus), the god of the Sun, and patron of music and poetry, of whom Shelley sings:

I am the eye with which the Universe
Beholds itself and knows itself divine;
All harmony of instrument or verse,
All prophecy, all medicine are mine,
All light of art or nature; to my song,
Victory and praise in their own right belong.

The glorious statue of Apollo Belvedere, in the Vatican, represents him shooting his arrow at the terrible serpent Python, which he slew. Byron describes his pose in “Childe Harold”:

[blocks in formation]

DIANA (or Artemis), the goddess of hunting, daughter of Latona, by Jupiter, and twin sister of Apollo—therefore associated with the moon. She is often identified with Silene. Although she was the patroness of Chastity, she descended to woo Endymion, the youthful shepherd, on Mount Latmos, whose name gives the title to Keats's earliest long poem and to the last of Disraeli's novels. Few names are more frequent in poetry than those of Diana and Endymion.

VENUS (or Aphrodite), goddess of love and beauty, daughter of Jupiter and Dione, but more beautifully fabled to have risen from the foam of the sea. Her name and attributes have passed into all literature.

[ocr errors]

MERCURY (or Hermes), the young and graceful messenger of the gods, was the son of Jupiter and Maia, the most beautiful of the seven Pleiades. The name Hermes is interpreted as the “hastener.” One of Mercury's chief tasks was to conduct the souls of the dead to the banks of the dreadful river Styx, which flowed nine times round Hades. As a swift messenger he wore a petasus, a winged hat, and bore in his hand the caduceus, a wand of gold twined with serpents and also winged. He was the god of eloquence, and the patron of commerce, even of gambling and thieving, and of all occupations which required craft or cunning. He is said to have made the first lyre out of a tortoise-shell, and to have presented it to Apollo in exchange for the caduceus. His manly beauty is referred to in Hamlet's impassioned speech to his mother as he bade her look at his father's portrait:

A station like the herald Mercury,
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill.

VESTA (or Hestia), daughter of Cronus and Rhea, was the goddess of all public and private hearths. She remained single. The Romans especially honoured her, and in her temple her sacred fire was tended by six virgin priestesses, who were severely punished if they allowed it to expire. In that event it was rekindled from the heat of the sun.

MINERVA (Athene, or Pallas Athene), goddess of wisdom, was in some respects the greatest of the goddesses. She was the daughter of Jupiter and Metis. When Metis predicted to Jupiter that one of his children would supplant him, he endeavoured to make this impossible, so the myth tells us, by devouring his wife. Then, being tortured by pains in his head, he ordered Vulcan to cleave it open with an axe. From his exposed brain Minerva leaped forth fully grown and armed with spear and shield. The event shook Olympus, and Apollo stayed his chariot to contemplate the wonder. The goddess immediately took her place in the Olympian assembly. She remained a virgin, and was the most loved child of Jupiter as having proceeded from himself. She had many powers and functions, but was worshipped in Athens as the goddess of wisdom. Her colossal statue in ivory and gold, by Phidias, surmounted the Parthenon and looked down on the city of which she was protectress. She had won the city as a prize in a competition with Neptune to determine which of them could make the most valuable gift to men. Neptune smote the ground with his trident and from the ground a horse issued; but Minerva produced the olive, which the gods judged to be the more useful, and her reward was Athens, “the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquenc.” The olive-tree was deemed sacred to her.

Minerva is represented with the shield given her by Jupiter, in whose centre was Medusa, upon whose face all who dared to look were turned into stone. Milton puts into the mouth of the Elder Brother in “Comus” the question:

What was that snaky-headed Gorgon-shield
That wise Minerva wore, unconquered virgin,
Wherewith she freezed her foes to congealed stone,
But rigid looks of chaste austerity,
And noble grace that dashed brute violence
With sudden adoration and blank awe!

These were pre-eminently the deities of heaven.

NEPTUNE (or Poseidon) ruled the sea and all the waters of earth. He wielded the trident, the symbol of naval power to-day. He ruled all the lesser divinities of the waters—Triton, his son by Amphitrite, Proteus, the Sirens, and the Sea-nymphs—Oceanides and Nereids. Shakespeare has many references to Neptune.

§ 9


Pluto reigned in Hades, the infernal world whose dread rivers of Styx, Acheron, Lethe, Cocytus, and Phlegethon traversed the realm of darkness in the midst of which he sat on his sulphur throne. No temples were raised to the Lord of Death. No goddess could be induced to be his spouse. Hence arose one of the most beautiful and significant stories in all Greek myth. Demeter (or Ceres), goddess of corn and harvests, from whose Roman name we have our word “cereal,” wandered with her daughter Persephone, whose name is also Proserpine, in the flowery plain of Enna, in Sicily. The mother, goddess of the Earth, was a daughter of Saturn and Rhea; their marriage had united Earth to Heaven. Her child, to whom Zeus himself was father, was to unite Earth to Hades.

Proserpine, as the Romans called her, was gathering flowers with her young companions near Enna, when suddenly Pluto appeared in his chariot, loved her at sight, and instantly seized her to be his consort in his silent realm. Proserpine dropped the flowers from her apron and cried aloud to her attendant nymphs, but the ravishing god urged forward his steeds until they were checked by the River Cyane. There Pluto, in a frenzy of passion, smote the ground with his sceptre; it opened, and gave him passage down to Erebus. The young girl-goddess, torn from the sunlight and the happy earth, had become the bride of the god of death.

Ceres sought her child in a frenzy of grief. She lit two

« ZurückWeiter »