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Bulfinch's Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch

Part 3 out of 19

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Phoebus. The cow went on till she passed the shallow channel of
Cephisus and came out into the plain of Panope. There she stood
still, and raising her broad forehead to the sky, filled the air
with her lowings. Cadmus gave thanks, and stooping down kissed the
foreign soil, then lifting his eyes, greeted the surrounding
mountains. Wishing to offer a sacrifice to Jupiter, he sent his
servants to seek pure water for a libation. Near by there stood an
ancient grove which had never been profaned by the axe, in the
midst of which was a cave, thick covered with the growth of
bushes, its roof forming a low arch, from beneath which burst
forth a fountain of purest water. In the cave lurked a horrid
serpent with a crested head and scales glittering like gold. His
eyes shone like fire, his body was swollen with venom, he vibrated
a triple tongue, and showed a triple row of teeth. No sooner had
the Tyrians dipped their pitchers in the fountain, and the in-
gushing waters made a sound, than the glittering serpent raised
his head out of the cave and uttered a fearful hiss. The vessels
fell from their hands, the blood left their cheeks, they trembled
in every limb. The serpent, twisting his scaly body in a huge
coil, raised his head so as to overtop the tallest trees, and
while the Tyrians from terror could neither fight nor fly, slew
some with his fangs, others in his folds, and others with his
poisonous breath.

Cadmus, having waited for the return of his men till midday, went
in search of them. His covering was a lion's hide, and besides his
javelin he carried in his hand a lance, and in his breast a bold
heart, a surer reliance than either. When he entered the wood, and
saw the lifeless bodies of his men, and the monster with his
bloody jaws, he exclaimed, "O faithful friends, I will avenge you,
or share your death." So saying he lifted a huge stone and threw
it with all his force at the serpent. Such a block would have
shaken the wall of a fortress, but it made no impression on the
monster. Cadmus next threw his javelin, which met with better
success, for it penetrated the serpent's scales, and pierced
through to his entrails. Fierce with pain, the monster turned back
his head to view the wound, and attempted to draw out the weapon
with his mouth, but broke it off, leaving the iron point rankling
in his flesh. His neck swelled with rage, bloody foam covered his
jaws, and the breath of his nostrils poisoned the air around. Now
he twisted himself into a circle, then stretched himself out on
the ground like the trunk of a fallen tree. As he moved onward,
Cadmus retreated before him, holding his spear opposite to the
monster's opened jaws. The serpent snapped at the weapon and
attempted to bite its iron point. At last Cadmus, watching his
chance, thrust the spear at a moment when the animal's head thrown
back came against the trunk of a tree, and so succeeded in pinning
him to its side. His weight bent the tree as he struggled in the
agonies of death.

While Cadmus stood over his conquered foe, contemplating its vast
size, a voice was heard (from whence he knew not, but he heard it
distinctly) commanding him to take the dragon's teeth and sow them
in the earth. He obeyed. He made a furrow in the ground, and
planted the teeth, destined to produce a crop of men. Scarce had
he done so when the clods began to move, and the points of spears
to appear above the surface. Next helmets with their nodding
plumes came up, and next the shoulders and breasts and limbs of
men with weapons, and in time a harvest of armed warriors. Cadmus,
alarmed, prepared to encounter a new enemy, but one of them said
to him, "Meddle not with our civil war." With that he who had
spoken smote one of his earth-born brothers with a sword, and he
himself fell pierced with an arrow from another. The latter fell
victim to a fourth, and in like manner the whole crowd dealt with
each other till all fell, slain with mutual wounds, except five
survivors. One of these cast away his weapons and said, "Brothers,
let us live in peace!" These five joined with Cadmus in building
his city, to which they gave the name of Thebes.

Cadmus obtained in marriage Harmonia, the daughter of Venus. The
gods left Olympus to honor the occasion with their presence, and
Vulcan presented the bride with a necklace of surpassing
brilliancy, his own workmanship. But a fatality hung over the
family of Cadmus in consequence of his killing the serpent sacred
to Mars. Semele and Ino, his daughters, and Actaeon and Pentheus,
his grandchildren, all perished unhappily, and Cadmus and Harmonia
quitted Thebes, now grown odious to them, and emigrated to the
country of the Enchelians, who received them with honor and made
Cadmus their king. But the misfortunes of their children still
weighed upon their minds; and one day Cadmus exclaimed, "If a
serpent's life is so dear to the gods, I would I were myself a
serpent." No sooner had he uttered the words than he began to
change his form. Harmonia beheld it and prayed to the gods to let
her share his fate. Both became serpents. They live in the woods,
but mindful of their origin, they neither avoid the presence of
man nor do they ever injure any one.

There is a tradition that Cadmus introduced into Greece the
letters of the alphabet which were invented by the Phoenicians.
This is alluded to by Byron, where, addressing the modern Greeks,
he says:

"You have the letters Cadmus gave,
Think you he meant them for a slave?"

Milton, describing the serpent which tempted Eve, is reminded of
the serpents of the classical stories and says:

... "--pleasing was his shape,
And lovely never since of serpent kind
Lovelier; not those that in Illyria changed
Hermione and Cadmus, nor the god
In Epidaurus"

For an explanation of the last allusion, see Oracle of
Aesculapius, p. 298.


The Myrmidons were the soldiers of Achilles, in the Trojan war.
From them all zealous and unscrupulous followers of a political
chief are called by that name, down to this day. But the origin of
the Myrmidons would not give one the idea of a fierce and bloody
race, but rather of a laborious and peaceful one.

Cephalus, king of Athens, arrived in the island of Aegina to seek
assistance of his old friend and ally Aeacus, the king, in his war
with Minos, king of Crete. Cephalus was most kindly received, and
the desired assistance readily promised. "I have people enough,"
said Aeacus, "to protect myself and spare you such a force as you
need." "I rejoice to see it," replied Cephalus, "and my wonder has
been raised, I confess, to find such a host of youths as I see
around me, all apparently of about the same age. Yet there are
many individuals whom I previously knew, that I look for now in
vain. What has become of them?" Aeacus groaned, and replied with a
voice of sadness, "I have been intending to tell you, and will now
do so, without more delay, that you may see how from the saddest
beginning a happy result sometimes flows. Those whom you formerly
knew are now dust and ashes! A plague sent by angry Juno
devastated the land. She hated it because it bore the name of one
of her husband's female favorites. While the disease appeared to
spring from natural causes we resisted it, as we best might, by
natural remedies; but it soon appeared that the pestilence was too
powerful for our efforts, and we yielded. At the beginning the sky
seemed to settle down upon the earth, and thick clouds shut in the
heated air. For four months together a deadly south wind
prevailed. The disorder affected the wells and springs; thousands
of snakes crept over the land and shed their poison in the
fountains. The force of the disease was first spent on the lower
animals--dogs, cattle, sheep, and birds The luckless ploughman
wondered to see his oxen fall in the midst of their work, and lie
helpless in the unfinished furrow. The wool fell from the bleating
sheep, and their bodies pined away. The horse, once foremost in
the race, contested the palm no more, but groaned at his stall and
died an inglorious death. The wild boar forgot his rage, the stag
his swiftness, the bears no longer attacked the herds. Everything
languished; dead bodies lay in the roads, the fields, and the
woods; the air was poisoned by them, I tell you what is hardly
credible, but neither dogs nor birds would touch them, nor
starving wolves. Their decay spread the infection. Next the
disease attacked the country people, and then the dwellers in the
city. At first the cheek was flushed, and the breath drawn with
difficulty. The tongue grew rough and swelled, and the dry mouth
stood open with its veins enlarged and gasped for the air. Men
could not bear the heat of their clothes or their beds, but
preferred to lie on the bare ground; and the ground did not cool
them, but, on the contrary, they heated the spot where they lay.
Nor could the physicians help, for the disease attacked them also,
and the contact of the sick gave them infection, so that the most
faithful were the first victims. At last all hope of relief
vanished, and men learned to look upon death as the only deliverer
from disease. Then they gave way to every inclination, and cared
not to ask what was expedient, for nothing was expedient. All
restraint laid aside, they crowded around the wells and fountains
and drank till they died, without quenching thirst. Many had not
strength to get away from the water, but died in the midst of the
stream, and others would drink of it notwithstanding. Such was
their weariness of their sick beds that some would creep forth,
and if not strong enough to stand, would die on the ground. They
seemed to hate their friends, and got away from their homes, as
if, not knowing the cause of their sickness, they charged it on
the place of their abode. Some were seen tottering along the road,
as long as they could stand, while others sank on the earth, and
turned their dying eyes around to take a last look, then closed
them in death.

"What heart had I left me, during all this, or what ought I to
have had, except to hate life and wish to be with my dead
subjects? On all sides lay my people strewn like over-ripened
apples beneath the tree, or acorns under the storm-shaken oak. You
see yonder a temple on the height. It is sacred to Jupiter. O how
many offered prayers there, husbands for wives, fathers for sons,
and died in the very act of supplication! How often, while the
priest made ready for sacrifice, the victim fell, struck down by
disease without waiting for the blow! At length all reverence for
sacred things was lost. Bodies were thrown out unburied, wood was
wanting for funeral piles, men fought with one another for the
possession of them. Finally there were none left to mourn; sons
and husbands, old men and youths, perished alike unlamented.

"Standing before the altar I raised my eyes to heaven. 'O
Jupiter,' I said, 'if thou art indeed my father, and art not
ashamed of thy offspring, give me back my people, or take me also
away!' At these words a clap of thunder was heard. 'I accept the
omen,' I cried; 'O may it be a sign of a favorable disposition
towards me!' By chance there grew by the place where I stood an
oak with wide-spreading branches, sacred to Jupiter. I observed a
troop of ants busy with their labor, carrying minute grains in
their mouths and following one another in a line up the trunk of
the tree. Observing their numbers with admiration, I said, 'Give
me, O father, citizens as numerous as these, and replenish my
empty city.' The tree shook and gave a rustling sound with its
branches, though no wind agitated them. I trembled in every limb,
yet I kissed the earth and the tree. I would not confess to myself
that I hoped, yet I did hope. Night came on and sleep took
possession of my frame oppressed with cares. The tree stood before
me in my dreams, with its numerous branches all covered with
living, moving creatures. It seemed to shake its limbs and throw
down over the ground a multitude of those industrious grain-
gathering animals, which appeared to gain in size, and grow larger
and larger, and by and by to stand erect, lay aside their
superfluous legs and their black color, and finally to assume the
human form. Then I awoke, and my first impulse was to chide the
gods who had robbed me of a sweet vision and given me no reality
in its place. Being still in the temple, my attention was caught
by the sound of many voices without; a sound of late unusual to my
ears. While I began to think I was yet dreaming, Telamon, my son,
throwing open the temple gates, exclaimed: 'Father, approach, and
behold things surpassing even your hopes!' I went forth; I saw a
multitude of men, such as I had seen in my dream, and they were
passing in procession in the same manner. While I gazed with
wonder and delight they approached and kneeling hailed me as their
king. I paid my vows to Jove, and proceeded to allot the vacant
city to the new-born race, and to parcel out the fields among them
I called them Myrmidons, from the ant (myrmex) from which they
sprang. You have seen these persons; their dispositions resemble
those which they had in their former shape. They are a diligent
and industrious race, eager to gain, and tenacious of their gains.
Among them you may recruit your forces. They will follow you to
the war, young in years and bold in heart." This description of
the plague is copied by Ovid from the account which Thucydides,
the Greek historian, gives of the plague of Athens. The historian
drew from life, and all the poets and writers of fiction since his
day, when they have had occasion to describe a similar scene, have
borrowed their details from him.




Minos, king of Crete, made war upon Megara. Nisus was king of
Megara, and Scylla was his daughter. The siege had now lasted six
months and the city still held out, for it was decreed by fate
that it should not be taken so long as a certain purple lock,
which glittered among the hair of King Nisus, remained on his
head. There was a tower on the city walls, which overlooked the
plain where Minos and his army were encamped. To this tower Scylla
used to repair, and look abroad over the tents of the hostile
army. The siege had lasted so long that she had learned to
distinguish the persons of the leaders. Minos, in particular,
excited her admiration. Arrayed in his helmet, and bearing his
shield, she admired his graceful deportment; if he threw his
javelin skill seemed combined with force in the discharge; if he
drew his bow Apollo himself could not have done it more
gracefully. But when he laid aside his helmet, and in his purple
robes bestrode his white horse with its gay caparisons, and reined
in its foaming mouth, the daughter of Nisus was hardly mistress of
herself; she was almost frantic with admiration. She envied the
weapon that he grasped, the reins that he held. She felt as if she
could, if it were possible, go to him through the hostile ranks;
she felt an impulse to cast herself down from the tower into the
midst of his camp, or to open the gates to him, or to do anything
else, so only it might gratify Minos. As she sat in the tower, she
talked thus with herself: "I know not whether to rejoice or grieve
at this sad war. I grieve that Minos is our enemy; but I rejoice
at any cause that brings him to my sight. Perhaps he would be
willing to grant us peace, and receive me as a hostage. I would
fly down, if I could, and alight in his camp, and tell him that we
yield ourselves to his mercy. But then, to betray my father! No!
rather would I never see Minos again. And yet no doubt it is
sometimes the best thing for a city to be conquered, when the
conqueror is clement and generous. Minos certainly has right on
his side. I think we shall be conquered; and if that must be the
end of it, why should not love unbar the gates to him, instead of
leaving it to be done by war? Better spare delay and slaughter if
we can. And O if any one should wound or kill Minos! No one surely
would have the heart to do it; yet ignorantly, not knowing him,
one might. I will, I will surrender myself to him, with my country
as a dowry, and so put an end to the war. But how? The gates are
guarded, and my father keeps the keys; he only stands in my way. O
that it might please the gods to take him away! But why ask the
gods to do it? Another woman, loving as I do, would remove with
her own hands whatever stood in the way of her love. And can any
other woman dare more than I? I would encounter fire and sword to
gain my object; but here there is no need of fire and sword. I
only need my father's purple lock. More precious than gold to me,
that will give me all I wish."

While she thus reasoned night came on, and soon the whole palace
was buried in sleep. She entered her father's bedchamber and cut
off the fatal lock; then passed out of the city and entered the
enemy's camp. She demanded to be led to the king, and thus
addressed him: "I am Scylla, the daughter of Nisus. I surrender to
you my country and my father's house. I ask no reward but
yourself; for love of you I have done it. See here the purple
lock! With this I give you my father and his kingdom." She held
out her hand with the fatal spoil. Minos shrunk back and refused
to touch it. "The gods destroy thee, infamous woman," he
exclaimed; "disgrace of our time! May neither earth nor sea yield
thee a resting-place! Surely, my Crete, where Jove himself was
cradled, shall not be polluted with such a monster!" Thus he said,
and gave orders that equitable terms should be allowed to the
conquered city, and that the fleet should immediately sail from
the island.

Scylla was frantic. "Ungrateful man," she exclaimed, "is it thus
you leave me?--me who have given you victory,--who have sacrificed
for you parent and country! I am guilty, I confess, and deserve to
die, but not by your hand." As the ships left the shore, she
leaped into the water, and seizing the rudder of the one which
carried Minos, she was borne along an unwelcome companion of their
course. A sea-eagle ing aloft,--it was her father who had been
changed into that form,--seeing her, pounced down upon her, and
struck her with his beak and claws. In terror she let go the ship
and would have fallen into the water, but some pitying deity
changed her into a bird. The sea-eagle still cherishes the old
animosity; and whenever he espies her in his lofty flight you may
see him dart down upon her, with beak and claws, to take vengeance
for the ancient crime.


Echo was a beautiful nymph, fond of the woods and hills, where she
devoted herself to woodland sports. She was a favorite of Diana,
and attended her in the chase. But Echo had one failing; she was
fond of talking, and whether in chat or argument, would have the
last word. One day Juno was seeking her husband, who, she had
reason to fear, was amusing himself among the nymphs. Echo by her
talk contrived to detain the goddess till the nymphs made their
escape. When Juno discovered it, she passed sentence upon Echo in
these words: "You shall forfeit the use of that tongue with which
you have cheated me, except for that one purpose you are so fond
of--reply. You shall still have the last word, but no power to
speak first."

This nymph saw Narcissus, a beautiful youth, as he pursued the
chase upon the mountains. She loved him, and followed his
footsteps. O how she longed to address him in the softest accents,
and win him to converse! but it was not in her power. She waited
with impatience for him to speak first, and had her answer ready.
One day the youth, being separated from his companions, shouted
aloud, "Who's here?" Echo replied, "Here." Narcissus looked
around, but seeing no one called out, "Come." Echo answered,
"Come." As no one came, Narcissus called again, "Why do you shun
me?" Echo asked the same question. "Let us join one another," said
the youth. The maid answered with all her heart in the same words,
and hastened to the spot, ready to throw her arms about his neck.
He started back, exclaiming, "Hands off! I would rather die than
you should have me!" "Have me," said she; but it was all in vain.
He left her, and she went to hide her blushes in the recesses of
the woods. From that time forth she lived in caves and among
mountain cliffs. Her form faded with grief, till at last all her
flesh shrank away. Her bones were changed into rocks and there was
nothing left of her but her voice. With that she is still ready to
reply to any one who calls her, and keeps up her old habit of
having the last word.

Narcissus's cruelty in this case was not the only instance. He
shunned all the rest of the nymphs, as he had done poor Echo. One
day a maiden who had in vain endeavored to attract him uttered a
prayer that he might some time or other feel what it was to love
and meet no return of affection. The avenging goddess heard and
granted the prayer.

There was a clear fountain, with water like silver, to which the
shepherds never drove their flocks, nor the mountain goats
resorted, nor any of the beasts of the forest; neither was it
defaced with fallen leaves or branches; but the grass grew fresh
around it, and the rocks sheltered it from the sun. Hither came
one day the youth, fatigued with hunting, heated and thirsty. He
stooped down to drink, and saw his own image in the water; he
thought it was some beautiful water-spirit living in the
fountain. He stood gazing with admiration at those bright eyes,
those locks curled like the locks of Bacchus or Apollo, the
rounded cheeks, the ivory neck, the parted lips, and the glow of
health and exercise over all. He fell in love with himself. He
brought his lips near to take a kiss; he plunged his arms in to
embrace the beloved object. It fled at the touch, but returned
again after a moment and renewed the fascination. He could not
tear himself away; he lost all thought of food or rest, while he
hovered over the brink of the fountain gazing upon his own image.
He talked with the supposed spirit: "Why, beautiful being, do you
shun me? Surely my face is not one to repel you. The nymphs love
me, and you yourself look not indifferent upon me. When I stretch
forth my arms you do the same; and you smile upon me and answer my
beckonings with the like." His tears fell into the water and
disturbed the image. As he saw it depart, he exclaimed, "Stay, I
entreat you! Let me at least gaze upon you, if I may not touch
you." With this, and much more of the same kind, he cherished the
flame that consumed him, so that by degrees he lost his color, his
vigor, and the beauty which formerly had so charmed the nymph
Echo. She kept near him, however, and when he exclaimed, "Alas!
alas!" she answered him with the same words. He pined away and
died; and when his shade passed the Stygian river, it leaned over
the boat to catch a look of itself in the waters. The nymphs
mourned for him, especially the water-nymphs; and when they smote
their breasts Echo smote hers also. They prepared a funeral pile
and would have burned the body, but it was nowhere to be found;
but in its place a flower, purple within, and surrounded with
white leaves, which bears the name and preserves the memory of

Milton alludes to the story of Echo and Narcissus in the Lady's
song in "Comus." She is seeking her brothers in the forest, and
sings to attract their attention:

"Sweet Echo, sweetest nymph, that liv'st unseen
Within thy aery shell
By slow Meander's margent green,
And in the violet-embroidered vale,
Where the love-lorn nightingale
Nightly to thee her sad song mourneth well;
Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair
That likest thy Narcissus are?
O, if thou have
Hid them in some flowery cave,
Tell me but where,
Sweet queen of parly, daughter of the sphere,
So may'st thou be translated to the skies,
And give resounding grace to all heaven's harmonies."

Milton has imitated the story of Narcissus in the account which he
makes Eve give of the first sight of herself reflected in the

"That day I oft remember when from sleep
I first awaked, and found myself reposed
Under a shade on flowers, much wondering where
And what I was, whence thither brought, and how.
Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound
Of waters issued from a cave, and spread
Into a liquid plain, then stood unmoved
Pure as the expanse of heaven; I thither went
With unexperienced thought, and laid me down
On the green bank, to look into the clear
Smooth lake that to me seemed another sky.
As I bent down to look, just opposite
A shape within the watery gleam appeared,
Bending to look on me. I started back;
It started back; but pleased I soon returned,
Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks
Of sympathy and love. There had I fixed
Mine eyes till now, and pined wi vain desire,
Had not a voice thus warned me: 'What thou seest,
What there thou seest, fair creature, is thyself;'" etc.

--Paradise Lost, Book IV.

No one of the fables of antiquity has been oftener alluded to by
the poets than that of Narcissus. Here are two epigrams which
treat it in different ways. The first is by Goldsmith:


"Sure 'twas by Providence designed,
Rather in pity than in hate,
That he should be like Cupid blind,
To save him from Narcissus' fate."

The other is by Cowper:


"Beware, my friend, of crystal brook
Or fountain, lest that hideous hook,
Thy nose, thou chance to see;
Narcissus' fate would then be thine,
And self-detested thou would'st pine,
As self-enamoured he."


Clytie was a water-nymph and in love with Apollo, who made her no
return. So she pined away, sitting all day long upon the cold
ground, with her unbound tresses streaming over her shoulders.
Nine days she sat and tasted neither food nor drink, her own tears
and the chilly dew her only food. She gazed on the sun when he
rose, and as he passed through his daily course to his setting;
she saw no other object, her face turned constantly on him. At
last, they say, her limbs rooted in the ground, her face became a
flower [Footnote: The sunflower.] which turns on its stem so as
always to face the sun throughout its daily course; for it retains
to that extent the feeling of the nymph from whom it sprang.

Hood, in his "Flowers," thus alludes to Clytie:

"I will not have the mad Clytie,
Whose head is turned by the sun;
The tulip is a courtly quean,
Whom therefore I will shun;
The cowslip is a country wench,
The violet is a nun;--
But I will woo the dainty rose,
The queen of every one."

The sunflower is a favorite emblem of constancy. Thus Moore uses

"The heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close;
As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets
The same look that she turned when he rose."


Leander was a youth of Abydos, a town of the Asian side of the
strait which separates Asia and Europe. On the opposite shore, in
the town of Sestos, lived the maiden Hero, a priestess of Venus.
Leander loved her, and used to swim the strait nightly to enjoy
the company of his mistress, guided by a torch which she reared
upon the tower for the purpose. But one night a tempest arose and
the sea was rough; his strength failed, and he was drowned. The
waves bore his body to the European shore, where Hero became aware
of his death, and in her despair cast herself down from the tower
into the sea and perished.

The following sonnet is by Keats:


"Come hither all sweet maidens soberly,
Down looking aye, and with a chasten'd light
Hid in the fringes of your eyelids white,
And meekly let your fair hands joined be
As if so gentle that ye could not see,
Untouch'd, a victim of your beauty bright,
Sinking away to his young spirit's night,
Sinking bewilder'd'mid the dreary sea.
'Tis young Leander toiling to his death
Nigh swooning he doth purse his weary lips
For Hero's cheek, and smiles against her smile
O horrid dream! see how his body dips
Dead-heavy; arms and shoulders gleam awhile;
He's gone; up bubbles all his amorous breath!"

The story of Leander's swimming the Hellespont was looked upon as
fabulous, and the feat considered impossible, till Lord Byron
proved its possibility by performing it himself. In the "Bride of
Abydos" he says,

"These limbs that buoyant wave hath borne."

The distance in the narrowest part is almost a mile, and there is
a constant current setting out from the Sea of Marmora into the
Archipelago. Since Byron's time the feat has been achieved by
others; but it yet remains a test of strength and skill in the art
of swimming sufficient to give a wide and lasting celebrity to any
one of our readers who may dare to make the attempt and succeed in
accomplishing it.

In the beginning of the second canto of the same poem, Byron thus
alludes to this story:

"The winds are high on Helle's wave,
As on that night of stormiest water,
When Love, who sent, forgot to save
The young, the beautiful, the brave,
The lonely hope of Sestos' daughter.

O, when alone along the sky
The turret-torch was blazing high,
Though rising gale and breaking foam,
And shrieking sea-birds warned him home;
And clouds aloft and tides below,
With signs and sounds forbade to go,
He could not see, he would not hear
Or sound or sight foreboding fear.
His eye but saw that light of love,
The only star it hailed above;
His ear but rang with Hero's song,
'Ye waves, divide not lovers long.'
That tale is old, but love anew
May nerve young hearts to prove as true."




Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, was the daughter of Jupiter. She
was said to have leaped forth from his brain, mature, and in
complete armor. She presided over the useful and ornamental arts,
both those of men--such as agriculture and navigation--and those
of women,--spinning, weaving, and needlework. She was also a
warlike divinity; but it was defensive war only that she
patronized, and she had no sympathy with Mars's savage love of
violence and bloodshed. Athens was her chosen seat, her own city,
awarded to her as the prize of a contest with Neptune, who also
aspired to it. The tale ran that in the reign of Cecrops, the
first king of Athens, the two deities contended for the possession
of the city. The gods decreed that it should be awarded to that
one who produced the gift most useful to mortals. Neptune gave the
horse; Minerva produced the olive. The gods gave judgment that the
olive was the more useful of the two, and awarded the city to the
goddess; and it was named after her, Athens, her name in Greek
being Athene.

There was another contest, in which a mortal dared to come in
competition with Minerva. That mortal was Arachne, a maiden who
had attained such skill in the arts of weaving and embroidery that
the nymphs themselves would leave their groves and fountains to
come and gaze upon her work. It was not only beautiful when it was
done, but beautiful also in the doing. To watch her, as she took
the wool in its rude state and formed it into rolls, or separated
it with her fingers and carded it till it looked as light and soft
as a cloud, or twirled the spindle with skilful touch, or wove the
web, or, after it was woven, adorned it with her needle, one would
have said that Minerva herself had taught her. But this she
denied, and could not bear to be thought a pupil even of a
goddess. "Let Minerva try her skill with mine," said she; "if
beaten I will pay the penalty." Minerva heard this and was
displeased. She assumed the form of an old woman and went and gave
Arachne some friendly advice "I have had much experience," said
she, "and I hope you will not despise my counsel. Challenge your
fellow-mortals as you will, but do not compete with a goddess. On
the contrary, I advise you to ask her forgiveness for what you
have said, and as she is merciful perhaps she will pardon you."
Arachne stopped her spinning and looked at the old dame with anger
in her countenance. "Keep your counsel," said she, "for your
daughters or handmaids; for my part I know what I say, and I stand
to it. I am not afraid of the goddess; let her try her skill, if
she dare venture." "She comes," said Minerva; and dropping her
disguise stood confessed. The nymphs bent low in homage, and all
the bystanders paid reverence. Arachne alone was unterrified. She
blushed, indeed; a sudden color dyed her cheek, and then she grew
pale. But she stood to her resolve, and with a foolish conceit of
her own skill rushed on her fate. Minerva forbore no longer nor
interposed any further advice. They proceed to the contest. Each
takes her station and attaches the web to the beam. Then the
slender shuttle is passed in and out among the threads. The reed
with its fine teeth strikes up the woof into its place and
compacts the web. Both work with speed; their skilful hands move
rapidly, and the excitement of the contest makes the labor light.
Wool of Tyrian dye is contrasted with that of other colors, shaded
off into one another so adroitly that the joining deceives the
eye. Like the bow, whose long arch tinges the heavens, formed by
sunbeams reflected from the shower, [Footnote: This correct
description of the rainbow is literally translated from Ovid.] in
which, where the colors meet they seem as one, but at a little
distance from the point of contact are wholly different.

Minerva wrought on her web the scene of her contest with Neptune.
Twelve of the heavenly powers are represented, Jupiter, with
august gravity, sitting in the midst. Neptune, the ruler of the
sea, holds his trident, and appears to have just smitten the
earth, from which a horse has leaped forth. Minerva depicted
herself with helmed head, her Aegis covering her breast. Such was
the central circle; and in the four corners were represented
incidents illustrating the displeasure of the gods at such
presumptuous mortals as had dared to contend with them. These were
meant as warnings to her rival to give up the contest before it
was too late.

Arachne filled her web with subjects designedly chosen to exhibit
the failings and errors of the gods. One scene represented Leda
caressing the swan, under which form Jupiter had disguised
himself; and another, Danae, in the brazen tower in which her
father had imprisoned her, but where the god effected his entrance
in the form of a golden shower. Still another depicted Europa
deceived by Jupiter under the disguise of a bull. Encouraged by
the tameness of the animal Europa ventured to mount his back,
whereupon Jupiter advanced into the sea and swam with her to
Crete. You would have thought it was a real bull, so naturally was
it wrought, and so natural the water in which it swam. She seemed
to look with longing eyes back upon the shore she was leaving, and
to call to her companions for help. She appeared to shudder with
terror at the sight of the heaving waves, and to draw back her
feet from the water.

Arachne filled her canvas with similar subjects, wonderfully well
done, but strongly marking her presumption and impiety. Minerva
could not forbear to admire, yet felt indignant at the insult. She
struck the web with her shuttle and rent it in pieces, she then
touched the forehead of Arachne and made her feel her guilt and
shame. She could not endure it and went and hanged herself.
Minerva pitied her as she saw her suspended by a rope. "Live," she
said, "guilty woman! and that you may preserve the memory of this
lesson, continue to hang, both you and your descendants, to all
future times." She sprinkled her with the juices of aconite, and
immediately her hair came off, and her nose and ears likewise. Her
form shrank up, and her head grew smaller yet; her fingers cleaved
to her side and served for legs. All the rest of her is body, out
of which she spins her thread, often hanging suspended by it, in
the same attitude as when Minerva touched her and transformed her
into a spider.

Spenser tells the story of Arachne in his "Muiopotmos," adhering
very closely to his master Ovid, but improving upon him in the
conclusion of the story. The two stanzas which follow tell what
was done after the goddess had depicted her creation of the olive

"Amongst these leaves she made a Butterfly,
With excellent device and wondrous slight,
Fluttering among the olives wantonly,
That seemed to live, so like it was in sight;
The velvet nap which on his wings doth lie,
The silken down with which his back is dight,
His broad outstretched horns, his hairy thighs,
His glorious colors, and his glistening eyes."

"Which when Arachne saw, as overlaid
And mastered with workmanship so rare,
She stood astonied long, ne aught gainsaid;
And with fast-fixed eyes on her did stare,
And by her silence, sign of one dismayed,
The victory did yield her as her share;
Yet did she inly fret and felly burn,
And all her blood to poisonous rancor turn."

[Footnote: Sir James Mackintosh says of this, "Do you think that
even a Chinese could paint the gay colors of a butterfly with more
mmute exactness than the following lines: 'The velvet nap,'
etc.?"--Life, Vol. II, 246.]

And so the metamorphosis is caused by Arachne's own mortification
and vexation, and not by any direct act of the goddess.

The following specimen of old-fashioned gallantry is by Garrick:


"Arachne once, as poets tell,
A goddess at her art defied,
And soon the daring mortal fell
The hapless victim of her pride.

"O, then beware Arachne's fate;
Be prudent, Chloe, and submit,
For you'll most surely meet her hate,
Who rival both her art and wit."

Tennyson, in his "Palace of Art," describing the works of art with
which the palace was adorned, thus alludes to Europa:

"... sweet Europa's mantle blew unclasped
From off her shoulder, backward borne,
From one hand drooped a crocus, one hand grasped
The mild bull's golden horn."

In his "Princess" there is this allusion to Danae:

"Now lies the earth all Danae to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me."


The fate of Arachne was noised abroad through all the country, and
served as a warning to all presumptuous mortals not to compare
themselves with the divinities. But one, and she a matron too,
failed to learn the lesson of humility. It was Niobe, the queen of
Thebes. She had indeed much to be proud of; but it was not her
husband's fame, nor her own beauty, nor their great descent, nor
the power of their kingdom that elated her. It was her children;
and truly the happiest of mothers would Niobe have been if only
she had not claimed to be so. It was on occasion of the annual
celebration in honor of Latona and her offspring, Apollo and
Diana,--when the people of Thebes were assembled, their brows
crowned with laurel, bearing frankincense to the altars and paying
their vows,--that Niobe appeared among the crowd. Her attire was
splendid with gold and gems, and her aspect beautiful as the face
of an angry woman can be. She stood and surveyed the people with
haughty looks. "What folly," said she, "is this!--to prefer beings
whom you never saw to those who stand before your eyes! Why should
Latona be honored with worship, and none be paid to me? My father
was Tantalus, who was received as a guest at the table of the
gods; my mother was a goddess. My husband built and rules this
city, Thebes, and Phrygia is my paternal inheritance. Wherever I
turn my eyes I survey the elements of my power; nor is my form and
presence unworthy of a goddess. To all this let me add I have
seven sons and seven daughters, and look for sons-in-law and
daughters-in-law of pretensions worthy of my alliance. Have I not
cause for pride? Will you prefer to me this Latona, the Titan's
daughter, with her two children? I have seven times as many.
Fortunate indeed am I, and fortunate I shall remain! Will any one
deny this? My abundance is my security. I feel myself too strong
for Fortune to subdue. She may take from me much; I shall still
have much left. Were I to lose some of my children, I should
hardly be left as poor as Latona with her two only. Away with you
from these solemnities,--put off the laurel from your brows,--have
done with this worship!" The people obeyed, and left the sacred
services uncompleted.

The goddess was indignant. On the Cynthian mountain top where she
dwelt she thus addressed her son and daughter: "My children, I who
have been so proud of you both, and have been used to hold myself
second to none of the goddesses except Juno alone, begin now to
doubt whether I am indeed a goddess. I shall be deprived of my
worship altogether unless you protect me." She was proceeding in
this strain, but Apollo interrupted her. "Say no more," said he;
"speech only delays punishment." So said Diana also. Darting
through the air, veiled in clouds, they alighted on the towers of
the city. Spread out before the gates was a broad plain, where the
youth of the city pursued their warlike sports. The sons of Niobe
were there with the rest,--some mounted on spirited horses richly
caparisoned, some driving gay chariots. Ismenos, the first-born,
as he guided his foaming steeds, struck with an arrow from above,
cried out, "Ah me!" dropped the reins, and fell lifeless. Another,
hearing the sound of the bow,--like a boatman who sees the storm
gathering and makes all sail for the port,--gave the reins to his
horses and attempted to escape. The inevitable arrow overtook him
as he fled. Two others, younger boys, just from their tasks, had
gone to the playground to have a game of wrestling. As they stood
breast to breast, one arrow pierced them both. They uttered a cry
together, together cast a parting look around them, and together
breathed their last. Alphenor, an elder brother, seeing them fall,
hastened to the spot to render assistance, and fell stricken in
the act of brotherly duty. One only was left, Ilioneus. He raised
his arms to heaven to try whether prayer might not avail. "Spare
me, ye gods!" he cried, addressing all, in his ignorance that all
needed not his intercessions; and Apollo would have spared him,
but the arrow had already left the string, and it was too late.

The terror of the people and grief of the attendants soon made
Niobe acquainted with what had taken place. She could hardly think
it possible; she was indignant that the gods had dared and amazed
that they had been able to do it. Her husband, Amphion,
overwhelmed with the blow, destroyed himself. Alas! how different
was this Niobe from her who had so lately driven away the people
from the sacred rites, and held her stately course through the
city, the envy of her friends, now the pity even of her foes! She
knelt over the lifeless bodies, and kissed now one, now another of
her dead sons. Raising her pallid arms to heaven, "Cruel Latona,"
said she, "feed full your rage with my anguish! Satiate your hard
heart, while I follow to the grave my seven sons. Yet where is
your triumph? Bereaved as I am, I am still richer than you, my
conqueror." Scarce had she spoken, when the bow sounded and struck
terror into all hearts except Niobe's alone. She was brave from
excess of grief. The sisters stood in garments of mourning over
the biers of their dead brothers. One fell, struck by an arrow,
and died on the corpse she was bewailing. Another, attempting to
console her mother, suddenly ceased to speak, and sank lifeless to
the earth. A third tried to escape by flight, a fourth by
concealment, another stood trembling, uncertain what course to
take. Six were now dead, and only one remained, whom the mother
held clasped in her arms, and covered as it were with her whole
body. "Spare me one, and that the youngest! O spare me one of so
many!" she cried; and while she spoke, that one fell dead.
Desolate she sat, among sons, daughters, husband, all dead, and
seemed torpid with grief. The breeze moved not her hair, no color
was on her cheek, her eyes glared fixed and immovable, there was
no sign of life about her. Her very tongue cleaved to the roof of
her mouth, and her veins ceased to convey the tide of life. Her
neck bent not, her arms made no gesture, her foot no step. She was
changed to stone, within and without. Yet tears continued to flow;
and borne on a whirlwind to her native mountain, she still
remains, a mass of rock, from which a trickling stream flows, the
tribute of her never-ending grief.

The story of Niobe has furnished Byron with a fine illustration of
the fallen condition of modern Rome:

"The Niobe of nations! there she stands,
Childless and crownless in her voiceless woe;
An empty urn within her withered hands,
Whose holy dust was scattered long ago;
The Scipios' tomb contains no ashes now:
The very sepulchres lie tenantless
Of their heroic dwellers; dost thou flow,
Old Tiber! through a marble wilderness?
Rise with thy yellow waves, and mantle her distress."

Childe Harold, IV. 79.

This affecting story has been made the subject of a celebrated
statue in the imperial gallery of Florence. It is the principal
figure of a group supposed to have been originally arranged in the
pediment of a temple. The figure of the mother clasped by the arm
of her terrified child is one of the most admired of the ancient
statues. It ranks with the Laocoon and the Apollo among the
masterpieces of art. The following is a translation of a Greek
epigram supposed to relate to this statue:

"To stone the gods have changed her, but in vain;
The sculptor's art has made her breathe again."

Tragic as is the story of Niobe, we cannot forbear to smile at the
use Moore has made of it in "Rhymes on the Road":

"'Twas in his carriage the sublime
Sir Richard Blackmore used to rhyme,
And, if the wits don't do him wrong,
'Twixt death and epics passed his time,
Scribbling and killing all day long;
Like Phoebus in his car at ease,
Now warbling forth a lofty song,
Now murdering the young Niobes."

Sir Richard Blackmore was a physician, and at the same time a very
prolific and very tasteless poet, whose works are now forgotten,
unless when recalled to mind by some wit like Moore for the sake
of a joke.




The Graeae were three sisters who were gray-haired from their
birth, whence their name. The Gorgons were monstrous females with
huge teeth like those of swine, brazen claws, and snaky hair. None
of these beings make much figure in mythology except Medusa, the
Gorgon, whose story we shall next advert to. We mention them
chiefly to introduce an ingenious theory of some modern writers,
namely, that the Gorgons and Graeae were only personifications of
the terrors of the sea, the former denoting the STRONG billows of
the wide open main, and the latter the WHITE-crested waves that
dash against the rocks of the coast. Their names in Greek signify
the above epithets.


Perseus was the son of Jupiter and Danae. His grandfather
Acrisius, alarmed by an oracle which had told him that his
daughter's child would be the instrument of his death, caused the
mother and child to be shut up in a chest and set adrift on the
sea. The chest floated towards Seriphus, where it was found by a
fisherman who conveyed the mother and infant to Polydectes, the
king of the country, by whom they were treated with kindness. When
Perseus was grown up Polydectes sent him to attempt the conquest
of Medusa, a terrible monster who had laid waste the country. She
was once a beautiful maiden whose hair was her chief glory, but as
she dared to vie in beauty with Minerva, the goddess deprived her
of her charms and changed her beautiful ringlets into hissing
serpents. She became a cruel monster of so frightful an aspect
that no living thing could behold her without being turned into
stone. All around the cavern where she dwelt might be seen the
stony figures of men and animals which had chanced to catch a
glimpse of her and had been petrified with the sight. Perseus,
favored by Minerva and Mercury, the former of whom lent him her
shield and the latter his winged shoes, approached Medusa while
she slept, and taking care not to look directly at her, but guided
by her image reflected in the bright shield which he bore, he cut
off her head and gave it to Minerva, who fixed it in the middle of
her Aegis.

Milton, in his "Comus," thus alludes to the Aegis:

"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!"

Armstrong, the poet of the "Art of Preserving Health," thus
describes the effect of frost upon the waters:

"Now blows the surly North and chills throughout
The stiffening regions, while by stronger charms
Than Circe e'er or fell Medea brewed,
Each brook that wont to prattle to its banks
Lies all bestilled and wedged betwixt its banks,
Nor moves the withered reeds ...
The surges baited by the fierce North-east,
Tossing with fretful spleen their angry heads,
E'en in the foam of all their madness struck
To monumental ice.

Such execution,
So stern, so sudden, wrought the grisly aspect
Of terrible Medusa,
When wandering through the woods she turned to Stone
Their savage tenants; just as the foaming Lion
Sprang furious on his prey, her speedier power
Outran his haste,
And fixed in that fierce attitude he stands
Like Rage in marble!"

--Imitations of Shakspeare.


After the slaughter of Medusa, Perseus, bearing with him the head
of the Gorgon, flew far and wide, over land and sea. As night came
on, he reached the western limit of the earth, where the sun goes
down. Here he would gladly have rested till morning. It was the
realm of King Atlas, whose bulk surpassed that of all other men.
He was rich in flocks and herds and had no neighbor or rival to
dispute his state. But his chief pride was in his gardens, whose
fruit was of gold, hanging from golden branches, half hid with
golden leaves. Perseus said to him, "I come as a guest. If you
honor illustrious descent, I claim Jupiter for my father; if
mighty deeds, I plead the conquest of the Gorgon. I seek rest and
food." But Atlas remembered that an ancient prophecy had warned
him that a son of Jove should one day rob him of his golden
apples. So he answered, "Begone! or neither your false claims of
glory nor parentage shall protect you;" and he attempted to thrust
him out. Perseus, finding the giant too strong for him, said,
"Since you value my friendship so little, deign to accept a
present;" and turning his face away, he held up the Gorgon's head.
Atlas, with all his bulk, was changed into stone. His beard and
hair became forests, his arms and shoulders cliffs, his head a
summit, and his bones rocks. Each part increased in bulk till he
became a mountain, and (such was the pleasure of the gods) heaven
with all its stars rests upon his shoulders.


Perseus, continuing his flight, arrived at the country of the
Aethiopians, of which Cepheus was king. Cassiopeia his queen,
proud of her beauty, had dared to compare herself to the Sea-
Nymphs, which roused their indignation to such a degree that they
sent a prodigious sea-monster to ravage the coast. To appease the
deities, Cepheus was directed by the oracle to expose his daughter
Andromeda to be devoured by the monster. As Perseus looked down
from his aerial height he beheld the virgin chained to a rock, and
waiting the approach of the serpent. She was so pale and
motionless that if it had not been for her flowing tears and her
hair that moved in the breeze, he would have taken her for a
marble statue. He was so startled at the sight that he almost
forgot to wave his wings. As he hovered over her he said, "O
virgin, undeserving of those chains, but rather of such as bind
fond lovers together, tell me, I beseech you, your name, and the
name of your country, and why you are thus bound." At first she
was silent from modesty, and, if she could, would have hid her
face with her hands; but when he repeated his questions, for fear
she might be thought guilty of some fault which she dared not
tell, she disclosed her name and that of her country, and her
mother's pride of beauty. Before she had done speaking, a sound
was heard off upon the water, and the sea-monster appeared, with
his head raised above the surface, cleaving the waves with his
broad breast. The virgin shrieked, the father and mother who had
now arrived at the scene, wretched both, but the mother more
justly so, stood by, not able to afford protection, but only to
pour forth lamentations and to embrace the victim. Then spoke
Perseus: "There will be time enough for tears; this hour is all we
have for rescue. My rank as the son of Jove and my renown as the
slayer of the Gorgon might make me acceptable as a suitor; but I
will try to win her by services rendered, if the gods will only be
propitious. If she be rescued by my valor, I demand that she be my
reward." The parents consent (how could they hesitate?) and
promise a royal dowry with her.

And now the monster was within the range of a stone thrown by a
skilful slinger, when with a sudden bound the youth soared into
the air. As an eagle, when from his lofty flight he sees a serpent
basking in the sun, pounces upon him and seizes him by the neck to
prevent him from turning his head round and using his fangs, so
the youth darted down upon the back of the monster and plunged his
sword into its shoulder. Irritated by the wound, the monster
raised himself in the air, then plunged into the depth; then, like
a wild boar surrounded, by a pack of barking dogs, turned swiftly
from side to side, while the youth eluded its attacks by means of
his wings. Wherever he can find a passage for his sword between
the scales he makes a wound, piercing now the side, now the flank,
as it slopes towards the tail. The brute spouts from his nostrils
water mixed with blood. The wings of the hero are wet with it, and
he dares no longer trust to them. Alighting on a rock which rose
above the waves, and holding on by a projecting fragment, as the
monster floated near he gave him a death stroke. The people who
had gathered on the shore shouted so that the hills reechoed the
sound. The parents, transported with joy, embraced their future
son-in-law, calling him their deliverer and the savior of their
house, and the virgin both cause and reward of the contest,
descended from the rock.

Cassiopeia was an Aethiopian, and consequently, in spite of her
boasted beauty, black; at least so Milton seems to have thought,
who alludes to this story in his "Penseroso," where he addresses
Melancholy as the

".... goddess, sage and holy,
Whose saintly visage is too bright
To hit the sense of human sight,
And, therefore, to our weaker view
O'erlaid with black, staid Wisdom's hue.
Black, but such as in esteem
Prince Memnon's sister might beseem,
Or that starred Aethiop queen that strove
To set her beauty's praise above
The sea-nymphs, and their powers offended."

Cassiopeia is called "the starred Aethiop queen" because after her
death she was placed among the stars, forming the constellation of
that name. Though she attained this honor, yet the Sea-Nymphs, her
old enemies, prevailed so far as to cause her to be placed in that
part of the heaven near the pole, where every night she is half
the time held with her head downward, to give her a lesson of

Memnon was an Aethiopian prince, of whom we shall tell in a future


The joyful parents, with Perseus and Andromeda, repaired to the
palace, where a banquet was spread for them, and all was joy and
festivity. But suddenly a noise was heard of warlike clamor, and
Phineus, the betrothed of the virgin, with a party of his
adherents, burst in, demanding the maiden as his own. It was in
vain that Cepheus remonstrated--"You should have claimed her when
she lay bound to the rock, the monster's victim. The sentence of
the gods dooming her to such a fate dissolved all engagements, as
death itself would have done." Phineus made no reply, but hurled
his javelin at Perseus, but it missed its mark and fell harmless.
Perseus would have thrown his in turn, but the cowardly assailant
ran and took shelter behind the altar. But his act was a signal
for an onset by his band upon the guests of Cepheus. They defended
themselves and a general conflict ensued, the old king retreating
from the scene after fruitless expostulations, calling the gods to
witness that he was guiltless of this outrage on the rights of

Perseus and his friends maintained for some time the unequal
contest; but the numbers of the assailants were too great for
them, and destruction seemed inevitable, when a sudden thought
struck Perseus,--"I will make my enemy defend me." Then with a
loud voice he exclaimed, "If I have any friend here let him turn
away his eyes!" and held aloft the Gorgon's head. "Seek not to
frighten us with your jugglery," said Thescelus, and raised his
javelin in act to throw, and became stone in the very attitude.
Ampyx was about to plunge his sword into the body of a prostrate
foe, but his arm stiffened and he could neither thrust forward nor
withdraw it. Another, in the midst of a vociferous challenge,
stopped, his mouth open, but no sound issuing. One of Perseus's
friends, Aconteus, caught sight of the Gorgon and stiffened like
the rest. Astyages struck him with his sword, but instead of
wounding, it recoiled with a ringing noise.

Phineus beheld this dreadful result of his unjust aggression, and
felt confounded. He called aloud to his friends, but got no
answer; he touched them and found them stone. Falling on his knees
and stretching out his hands to Perseus, but turning his head away
he begged for mercy. "Take all," said he, "give me but my life."
"Base coward," said Perseus, "thus much I will grant you; no
weapon shall touch you; moreover, you shall be preserved in my
house as a memorial of these events." So saying, he held the
Gorgon's head to the side where Phineus was looking, and in the
very form in which he knelt, with his hands outstretched and face
averted, he became fixed immovably, a mass of stone!

The following allusion to Perseus is from Milman's "Samor":

"As'mid the fabled Libyan bridal stood
Perseus in stern tranquillity of wrath,
Half stood, half floated on his ankle-plumes
Out-swelling, while the bright face on his shield
Looked into stone the raging fray; so rose,
But with no magic arms, wearing alone
Th' appalling and control of his firm look,
The Briton Samor; at his rising awe
Went abroad, and the riotous hall was mute."




Monsters, in the language of mythology, were beings of unnatural
proportions or parts, usually regarded with terror, as possessing
immense strength and ferocity, which they employed for the injury
and annoyance of men. Some of them were supposed to combine the
members of different animals; such were the Sphinx and Chimaera;
and to these all the terrible qualities of wild beasts were
attributed, together with human sagacity and faculties. Others, as
the giants, differed from men chiefly in their size; and in this
particular we must recognize a wide distinction among them. The
human giants, if so they may be called, such as the Cyclopes,
Antaeus, Orion, and others, must be supposed not to be altogether
disproportioned to human beings, for they mingled in love and
strife with them. But the superhuman giants, who warred with the
gods, were of vastly larger dimensions. Tityus, we are told, when
stretched on the plain, covered nine acres, and Enceladus required
the whole of Mount Aetna to be laid upon him to keep him down.

We have already spoken of the war which the giants waged against
the gods, and of its result. While this war lasted the giants
proved a formidable enemy. Some of them, like Briareus, had a
hundred arms; others, like Typhon, breathed out fire. At one time
they put the gods to such fear that they fled into Egypt and hid
themselves under various forms. Jupiter took the form of a ram,
whence he was afterwards worshipped in Egypt as the god Ammon,
with curved horns. Apollo became a crow, Bacchus a goat, Diana a
cat, Juno a cow, Venus a fish, Mercury a bird. At another time the
giants attempted to climb up into heaven, and for that purpose
took up the mountain Ossa and piled it on Pelion. [Footnote: See
Proverbial Expressions.] They were at last subdued by
thunderbolts, which Minerva invented, and taught Vulcan and his
Cyclopes to make for Jupiter.


Laius, king of Thebes, was warned by an oracle that there was
danger to his throne and life if his new-born son should be
suffered to grow up. He therefore committed the child to the care
of a herdsman with orders to destroy him; but the herdsman, moved
with pity, yet not daring entirely to disobey, tied up the child
by the feet and left him hanging to the branch of a tree. In this
condition the infant was found by a peasant, who carried him to
his master and mistress, by whom he was adopted and called
OEdipus, or Swollen-foot.

Many years afterwards Laius being on his way to Delphi,
accompanied only by one attendant, met in a narrow road a young
man also driving in a chariot. On his refusal to leave the way at
their command the attendant killed one of his horses, and the
stranger, filled with rage, slew both Laius and his attendant. The
young man was OEdipus, who thus unknowingly became the slayer of
his own father.

Shortly after this event the city of Thebes was afflicted with a
monster which infested the highroad. It was called the Sphinx. It
had the body of a lion and the upper part of a woman. It lay
crouched on the top of a rock, and arrested all travellers who
came that way proposing to them a riddle, with the condition that
those who could solve it should pass safe, but those who failed
should be killed. Not one had yet succeeded in solving it, and all
had been slain. OEdipus was not daunted by these alarming
accounts, but boldly advanced to the trial. The Sphinx asked him,
"What animal is that which in the morning gees on four feet, at
noon on two, and in the evening upon three?" OEdipus replied,
"Man, who in childhood creeps on hands and knees, in manhood walks
erect, and in old age with the aid of a staff." The Sphinx was so
mortified at the solving of her riddle that she cast herself down
from the rock and perished.

The gratitude of the people for their deliverance was so great
that they made OEdipus their king, giving him in marriage their
queen Jocasta. OEdipus, ignorant of his parentage, had already
become the slayer of his father; in marrying the queen he became
the husband of his mother. These horrors remained undiscovered,
till at length Thebes was afflicted with famine and pestilence,
and the oracle being consulted, the double crime of OEdipus came
to light. Jocasta put an end to her own life, and OEdipus, seized
with madness, tore out his eyes and wandered away from Thebes,
dreaded and abandoned by all except his daughters, who faithfully
adhered to him, till after a tedious period of miserable wandering
he found the termination of his wretched life.


When Perseus cut off Medusa's head, the blood sinking into the
earth produced the winged horse Pegasus. Minerva caught him and
tamed him and presented him to the Muses. The fountain Hippocrene,
on the Muses' mountain Helicon, was opened by a kick from his

The Chimaera was a fearful monster, breathing fire. The fore part
of its body was a compound of the lion and the goat, and the hind
part a dragon's. It made great havoc in Lycia, so that the king,
Iobates, sought for some hero to destroy it. At that time there
arrived at his court a gallant young warrior, whose name was
Bellerophon. He brought letters from Proetus, the son-in-law of
Iobates, recommending Bellerophon in the warmest terms as an
unconquerable hero, but added at the close a request to his
father-in-law to put him to death. The reason was that Proetus was
jealous of him, suspecting that his wife Antea looked with too
much admiration on the young warrior. From this instance of
Bellerophon being unconsciously the bearer of his own death
warrant, the expression "Bellerophontic letters" arose, to
describe any species of communication which a person is made the
bearer of, containing matter prejudicial to himself.

Iobates, on perusing the letters, was puzzled what to do, not
willing to violate the claims of hospitality, yet wishing to
oblige his son-in-law. A lucky thought occurred to him, to send
Bellerophon to combat with the Chimaera. Bellerophon accepted the
proposal, but before proceeding to the combat consulted the
soothsayer Polyidus, who advised him to procure if possible the
horse Pegasus for the conflict. For this purpose he directed him
to pass the night in the temple of Minerva. He did so, and as he
slept Minerva came to him and gave him a golden bridle. When he
awoke the bridle remained in his hand. Minerva also showed him
Pegasus drinking at the well of Pirene, and at sight of the bridle
the winged steed came willingly and suffered himself to be taken.
Bellerophon mounted him, rose with him into the air, soon found
the Chimaera, and gained an easy victory over the monster.

After the conquest of the Chimaera Bellerophon was exposed to
further trials and labors by his unfriendly host, but by the aid
of Pegasus he triumphed in them all, till at length Iobates,
seeing that the hero was a special favorite of the gods, gave him
his daughter in marriage and made him his successor on the throne.
At last Bellerophon by his pride and presumption drew upon himself
the anger of the gods; it is said he even attempted to fly up into
heaven on his winged steed, but Jupiter sent a gadfly which stung
Pegasus and made him throw his rider, who became lame and blind in
consequence. After this Bellerophon wandered lonely through the
Aleian field, avoiding the paths of men, and died miserably.

Milton alludes to Bellerophon in the beginning of the seventh book
of "Paradise Lost":

"Descend from Heaven, Urania, by that name
If rightly thou art called, whose voice divine
Following above the Olympian hill I soar,
Above the flight of Pegasean wing
Upled by thee,
Into the Heaven of Heavens I have presumed,
An earthly guest, and drawn empyreal air
(Thy tempering); with like safety guided down
Return me to my native element;
Lest from this flying steed unreined (as once
Bellerophon, though from a lower sphere),
Dismounted on the Aleian field I fall,
Erroneous there to wander and forlorn."

Young, in his "Night Thoughts," speaking of the sceptic, says:

"He whose blind thought futurity denies,
Unconscious bears, Bellerophon, like thee
His own indictment, he condemns himself.
Who reads his bosom reads immortal life,
Or nature there, imposing on her sons,
Has written fables; man was made a lie."

Vol II, p 12

Pegasus, being the horse of the Muses, has always been at the
service of the poets. Schiller tells a pretty story of his having
been sold by a needy poet and put to the cart and the plough. He
was not fit for such service, and his clownish master could make
nothing of him But a youth stepped forth and asked leave to try
him As soon as he was seated on his back the horse, which had
appeared at first vicious, and afterwards spirit-broken, rose
kingly, a spirit, a god, unfolded the splendor of his wings, and
soared towards heaven. Our own poet Longfellow also records an
adventure of this famous steed in his "Pegasus in Pound."

Shakspeare alludes to Pegasus in "Henry IV.," where Vernon
describes Prince Henry:

"I saw young Harry, with his beaver on,
His cuishes on his thighs, gallantly armed,
Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury,
And vaulted with such ease into his seat,
As if an angel dropped down from the clouds,
To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus,
And witch the world with noble horsemanship"


These monsters were represented as men from the head to the loins,
while the remainder of the body was that of a horse. The ancients
were too fond of a horse to consider the union of his nature with
man's as forming a very degraded compound, and accordingly the
Centaur is the only one of the fancied monsters of antiquity to
which any good traits are assigned. The Centaurs were admitted to
the companionship of man, and at the marriage of Pirithous with
Hippodamia they were among the guests. At the feast Eurytion, one
of the Centaurs, becoming intoxicated with the wine, attempted to
offer violence to the bride; the other Centaurs followed his
example, and a dreadful conflict arose in which several of them
were slain. This is the celebrated battle of the Lapithae and
Centaurs, a favorite subject with the sculptors and poets of

But not all the Centaurs were like the rude guests of Pirithous.
Chiron was instructed by Apollo and Diana, and was renowned for
his skill in hunting, medicine, music, and the art of prophecy.
The most distinguished heroes of Grecian story were his pupils.
Among the rest the infant--Aesculapius was intrusted to his charge
by Apollo, his father. When the sage returned to his home bearing
the infant, his daughter Ocyroe came forth to meet him, and at
sight of the child burst forth into a prophetic strain (for she
was a prophetess), foretelling the glory that he was to achieve
Aesculapius when grown up became a renowned physician, and even in
one instance succeeded in restoring the dead to life. Pluto
resented this, and Jupiter, at his request, struck the bold
physician with lightning, and killed him, but after his death
received him into the number of the gods.

Chiron was the wisest and justest of all the Centaurs, and at his
death Jupiter placed him among the stars as the constellation


The Pygmies were a nation of dwarfs, so called from a Greek word
which means the cubit or measure of about thirteen inches, which
was said to be the height of these people. They lived near the
sources of the Nile, or according to others, in India. Homer tells
us that the cranes used to migrate every winter to the Pygmies'
country, and their appearance was the signal of bloody warfare to
the puny inhabitants, who had to take up arms to defend their
cornfields against the rapacious strangers. The Pygmies and their
enemies the Cranes form the subject of several works of art.

Later writers tell of an army of Pygmies which finding Hercules
asleep made preparations to attack him, as if they were about to
attack a city. But the hero, awaking, laughed at the little
warriors, wrapped some of them up in his lion's skin, and carried
them to Eurystheus.

Milton uses the Pygmies for a simile, "Paradise Lost," Book I.:

"... like that Pygmaean race
Beyond the Indian mount, or fairy elves
Whose midnight revels by a forest side,
Or fountain, some belated peasant sees
(Or dreams he sees), while overhead the moon
Sits arbitress, and nearer to the earth
Wheels her pale course; they on their mirth and dance
Intent, with jocund music charm his ear.
At once with joy and fear his heart rebounds."


The Griffin is a monster with the body of a lion, the head and
wings of an eagle, and back covered with feathers. Like birds it
builds its nest, and instead of an egg lays an agate therein. It
has long claws and talons of such a size that the people of that
country make them into drinking-cups. India was assigned as the
native country of the Griffins. They found gold in the mountains
and built their nests of it, for which reason their nests were
very tempting to the hunters, and they were forced to keep
vigilant guard over them. Their instinct led them to know where
buried treasures lay, and they did their best to keep plunderers
at a distance. The Arimaspians, among whom the Griffins
flourished, were a one-eyed people of Scythia.

Milton borrows a simile from the Griffins, "Paradise Lost," Book

"As when a Gryphon through the wilderness,
With winged course, o'er hill and moory dale,
Pursues the Arimaspian who by stealth
Hath from his wakeful custody purloined
His guarded gold," etc.




In very ancient times there lived in Thessaly a king and queen
named Athamas and Nephele. They had two children, a boy and a
girl. After a time Athamas grew indifferent to his wife, put her
away, and took another. Nephele suspected danger to her children
from the influence of the step-mother, and took measures to send
them out of her reach. Mercury assisted her, and gave her a ram
with a GOLDEN FLEECE, on which she set the two children, trusting
that the ram would convey them to a place of safety. The ram
vaulted into the air with the children on his back, taking his
course to the East, till when crossing the strait that divides
Europe and Asia, the girl, whose name was Helle, fell from his
back into the sea, which from her was called the Hellespont,--now
the Dardanelles. The ram continued his career till he reached the
kingdom of Colchis, on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, where
he safely landed the boy Phryxus, who was hospitably received by
Aeetes, king of the country. Phryxus sacrificed the ram to
Jupiter, and gave the Golden Fleece to Aeetes, who placed it in a
consecrated grove, under the care of a sleepless dragon.

There was another kingdom in Thessaly near to that of Athamas, and
ruled over by a relative of his. The king Aeson, being tired of
the cares of government, surrendered his crown to his brother
Pelias on condition that he should hold it only during the
minority of Jason, the son of Aeson. When Jason was grown up and
came to demand the crown from his uncle, Pelias pretended to be
willing to yield it, but at the same time suggested to the young
man the glorious adventure of going in quest of the Golden Fleece,
which it was well known was in the kingdom of Colchis, and was, as
Pelias pretended, the rightful property of their family. Jason was
pleased with the thought, and forthwith made preparations for the
expedition. At that time the only species of navigation known to
the Greeks consisted of small boats or canoes hollowed out from
trunks of trees, so that when Jason employed Argus to build him a
vessel capable of containing fifty men, it was considered a
gigantic undertaking. It was accomplished, however, and the vessel
named "Argo," from the name of the builder. Jason sent his
invitation to all the adventurous young men of Greece, and soon
found himself at the head of a band of bold youths, many of whom
afterwards were renowned among the heroes and demigods of Greece.
Hercules, Theseus, Orpheus, and Nestor were among them. They are
called the Argonauts, from the name of their vessel.

The "Argo" with her crew of heroes left the shores of Thessaly and
having touched at the Island of Lemnos, thence crossed to Mysia
and thence to Thrace. Here they found the sage Phineus, and from
him received instruction as to their future course. It seems the
entrance of the Euxine Sea was impeded by two small rocky islands,
which floated on the surface, and in their tossings and heavings
occasionally came together, crushing and grinding to atoms any
object that might be caught between them. They were called the
Symplegades, or Clashing Islands. Phineus instructed the Argonauts
how to pass this dangerous strait. When they reached the islands
they let go a dove, which took her way between the rocks, and
passed in safety, only losing some feathers of her tail. Jason and
his men seized the favorable moment of the rebound, plied their
oars with vigor, and passed safe through, though the islands
closed behind them, and actually grazed their stern. They now
rowed along the shore till they arrived at the eastern end of the
sea, and landed at the kingdom of Colchis.

Jason made known his message to the Colchian king, Aeetes, who
consented to give up the golden fleece if Jason would yoke to the
plough two fire-breathing bulls with brazen feet, and sow the
teeth of the dragon which Cadmus had slain, and from which it was
well known that a crop of armed men would spring up, who would
turn their weapons against their producer. Jason accepted the
conditions, and a time was set for making the experiment.
Previously, however, he found means to plead his cause to Medea,
daughter of the king. He promised her marriage, and as they stood
before the altar of Hecate, called the goddess to witness his
oath. Medea yielded, and by her aid, for she was a potent
sorceress, he was furnished with a charm, by which he could
encounter safely the breath of the fire-breathing bulls and the
weapons of the armed men.

At the time appointed, the people assembled at the grove of Mars,
and the king assumed his royal seat, while the multitude covered
the hill-sides. The brazen-footed bulls rushed in, breathing fire
from their nostrils that burned up the herbage as they passed. The
sound was like the roar of a furnace, and the smoke like that of
water upon quick-lime. Jason advanced boldly to meet them. His
friends, the chosen heroes of Greece, trembled to behold him.
Regardless of the burning breath, he soothed their rage with his
voice, patted their necks with fearless hand, and adroitly slipped
over them the yoke, and compelled them to drag the plough. The
Colchians were amazed; the Greeks shouted for joy. Jason next
proceeded to sow the dragon's teeth and plough them in. And soon
the crop of armed men sprang up, and, wonderful to relate! no
sooner had they reached the surface than they began to brandish
their weapons and rush upon Jason. The Greeks trembled for their
hero, and even she who had provided him a way of safety and taught
him how to use it, Medea herself, grew pale with fear. Jason for a
time kept his assailants at bay with his sword and shield, till,
finding their numbers overwhelming, he resorted to the charm which
Medea had taught him, seized a stone and threw it in the midst of
his foes. They immediately turned their arms against one another,
and soon there was not one of the dragon's brood left alive. The
Greeks embraced their hero, and Medea, if she dared, would have
embraced him too.

It remained to lull to sleep the dragon that guarded the fleece,
and this was done by scattering over him a few drops of a
preparation which Medea had supplied. At the smell he relaxed his
rage, stood for a moment motionless, then shut those great round
eyes, that had never been known to shut before, and turned over on
his side, fast asleep. Jason seized the fleece and with his
friends and Medea accompanying, hastened to their vessel before
Aeetes the king could arrest their departure, and made the best of
their way back to Thessaly, where they arrived safe, and Jason
delivered the fleece to Pelias, and dedicated the "Argo" to
Neptune. What became of the fleece afterwards we do not know, but
perhaps it was found after all, like many other golden prizes, not
worth the trouble it had cost to procure it.

This is one of those mythological tales, says a late writer, in
which there is reason to believe that a substratum of truth
exists, though overlaid by a mass of fiction. It probably was the
first important maritime expedition, and like the first attempts
of the kind of all nations, as we know from history, was probably
of a half-piratical character. If rich spoils were the result it
was enough to give rise to the idea of the golden fleece.

Another suggestion of a learned mythologist, Bryant, is that it is
a corrupt tradition of the story of Noah and the ark. The name
"Argo" seems to countenance this, and the incident of the dove is
another confirmation.

Pope, in his "Ode on St. Cecilia's Day," thus celebrates the
launching of the ship "Argo," and the power of the music of
Orpheus, whom he calls the Thracian:

"So when the first bold vessel dared the seas,
High on the stern the Thracian raised his strain,
While Argo saw her kindred trees
Descend from Pelion to the main.
Transported demigods stood round,
And men grew heroes at the sound."

In Dyer's poem of "The Fleece" there is an account of the ship
"Argo" and her crew, which gives a good picture of this primitive
maritime adventure:

"From every region of Aegea's shore
The brave assembled; those illustrious twins
Castor and Pollux; Orpheus, tuneful bard;
Zetes and Calais, as the wind in speed;
Strong Hercules and many a chief renowned.
On deep Iolcos' sandy shore they thronged,
Gleaming in armor, ardent of exploits;
And soon, the laurel cord and the huge stone
Uplifting to the deck, unmoored the bark;
Whose keel of wondrous length the skilful hand
Of Argus fashioned for the proud attempt;
And in the extended keel a lofty mast
Upraised, and sails full swelling; to the chiefs
Unwonted objects. Now first, now they learned
Their bolder steerage over ocean wave,
Led by the golden stars, as Chiron's art
Had marked the sphere celestial," etc.

Hercules left the expedition at Mysia, for Hylas, a youth beloved
by him, having gone for water, was laid hold of and kept by the
nymphs of the spring, who were fascinated by his beauty. Hercules
went in quest of the lad, and while he was absent the "Argo" put
to sea and left him. Moore, in one of his songs, makes a beautiful
allusion to this incident:

"When Hylas was sent with his urn to the fount,
Through fields full of light and with heart full of play,
Light rambled the boy over meadow and mount,
And neglected his task for the flowers in the way.

"Thus many like me, who in youth should have tasted
The fountain that runs by Philosophy's shrme,
Their time with the flowers on the margin have wasted,
And left their light urns all as empty as mine."


Amid the rejoicings for the recovery of the Golden Fleece, Jason
felt that one thing was wanting, the presence of Aeson, his
father, who was prevented by his age and infirmities from taking
part in them. Jason said to Medea, "My spouse, would that your
arts, whose power I have seen so mighty for my aid, could do me
one further service, take some years from my life and add them to
my father's." Medea replied, "Not at such a cost shall it be done,
but if my art avails me, his life shall be lengthened without
abridging yours." The next full moon she issued forth alone, while
all creatures slept; not a breath stirred the foliage, and all was
still. To the stars she addressed her incantations, and to the
moon; to Hecate, [Footnote: Hecate was a mysterious divinity
sometimes identified with Diana and sometimes with Proserpine. As
Diana represents the moonlight splendor of night, so Hecate
represents its darkness and terrors. She was the goddess of
sorcery and witchcraft, and was believed to wander by night along
the earth, seen only by the dogs, whose barking told her
approach.] the goddess of the underworld, and to Tellus the
goddess of the earth, by whose power plants potent for enchantment
are produced. She invoked the gods of the woods and caverns, of
mountains and valleys, of lakes and rivers, of winds and vapors.
While she spoke the stars shone brighter, and presently a chariot
descended through the air, drawn by flying serpents. She ascended
it, and borne aloft made her way to distant regions, where potent
plants grew which she knew how to select for her purpose. Nine
nights she employed in her search, and during that time came not
within the doors of her palace nor under any roof, and shunned all
intercourse with mortals.

She next erected two altars, the one to Hecate, the other to Hebe,
the goddess of youth, and sacrificed a black sheep, pouring
libations of milk and wine. She implored Pluto and his stolen
bride that they would not hasten to take the old man's life. Then
she directed that Aeson should be led forth, and having thrown him
into a deep sleep by a charm, had him laid on a bed of herbs, like
one dead. Jason and all others were kept away from the place, that
no profane eyes might look upon her mysteries. Then, with
streaming hair, she thrice moved round the altars, dipped flaming
twigs in the blood, and laid them thereon to burn. Meanwhile the
caldron with its contents was got ready. In it she put magic
herbs, with seeds and flowers of acrid juice, stones from the
distant east, and sand from the shore of all-surrounding ocean;
hoar frost, gathered by moonlight, a screech owl's head and wings,
and the entrails of a wolf. She added fragments of the shells of
tortoises, and the liver of stags,--animals tenacious of life,--
and the head and beak of a crow, that outlives nine generations of
men. These with many other things "without a name" she boiled
together for her purposed work, stirring them up with a dry olive
branch; and behold! the branch when taken out instantly became
green, and before long was covered with leaves and a plentiful
growth of young olives; and as the liquor boiled and bubbled, and
sometimes ran over, the grass wherever the sprinklings fell shot
forth with a verdure like that of spring.

Seeing that all was ready, Medea cut the throat of the old man and
let out all his blood, and poured into his mouth and into his
wound the juices of her caldron. As soon as he had completely
imbibed them, his hair and beard laid by their whiteness and
assumed the blackness of youth; his paleness and emaciation were
gone; his veins were full of blood, his limbs of vigor and
robustness. Aeson is amazed at himself, and remembers that such as
he now is, he was in his youthful days, forty years before.

Medea used her arts here for a good purpose, but not so in another
instance, where she made them the instruments of revenge. Pelias,
our readers will recollect, was the usurping uncle of Jason, and
had kept him out of his kingdom. Yet he must have had some good
qualities, for his daughters loved him, and when they saw what
Medea had done for Aeson, they wished her to do the same for their
father. Medea pretended to consent, and prepared her caldron as
before. At her request an old sheep was brought and plunged into
the caldron. Very soon a bleating was heard in the kettle, and
when the cover was removed, a lamb jumped forth and ran frisking
away into the meadow. The daughters of Pelias saw the experiment
with delight, and appointed a time for their father to undergo the
same operation. But Medea prepared her caldron for him in a very
different way. She put in only water and a few simple herbs. In
the night she with the sisters entered the bed chamber of the old
king, while he and his guards slept soundly under the influence of
a spell cast upon them by Medea. The daughters stood by the
bedside with their weapons drawn, but hesitated to strike, till
Medea chid their irresolution. Then turning away their faces, and
giving random blows, they smote him with their weapons. He,
starting from his sleep, cried out, "My daughters, what are you
doing? Will you kill your father?" Their hearts failed them and
their weapons fell from their hands, but Medea struck him a fatal
blow, and prevented his saying more.

Then they placed him in the caldron, and Medea hastened to depart
in her serpent-drawn chariot before they discovered her treachery,
or their vengeance would have been terrible. She escaped, however,
but had little enjoyment of the fruits of her crime. Jason, for
whom she had done so much, wishing to marry Creusa, princess of
Corinth, put away Medea. She, enraged at his ingratitude, called
on the gods for vengeance, sent a poisoned robe as a gift to the
bride, and then killing her own children, and setting fire to the
palace, mounted her serpent-drawn chariot and fled to Athens,
where she married King Aegeus, the father of Theseus, and we shall
meet her again when we come to the adventures of that hero.

The incantations of Medea will remind the reader of those of the
witches in "Macbeth." The following lines are those which seem
most strikingly to recall the ancient model:

"Round about the caldron go;
In the poisoned entrails throw.

Fillet of a fenny snake
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing:

Maw of ravening salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digged in the dark," etc

--Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1

And again:

Macbeth.--What is't you do?
Witches,--A deed without a name.

There is another story of Medea almost too revolting for record
even of a sorceress, a class of persons to whom both ancient and
modern poets have been accustomed to attribute every degree of
atrocity. In her flight from Colchis she had taken her young
brother Absyrtus with her. Finding the pursuing vessels of Aeetes
gaining upon the Argonauts, she caused the lad to be killed and
his limbs to be strewn over the sea. Aeetes on reaching the place
found these sorrowful traces of his murdered son; but while he
tarried to collect the scattered fragments and bestow upon them an
honorable interment, the Argonauts escaped.

In the poems of Campbell will be found a translation of one of the
choruses of the tragedy of "Medea," where the poet Euripides has
taken advantage of the occasion to pay a glowing tribute to
Athens, his native city. It begins thus:

"O haggard queen! to Athens dost thou guide
Thy glowing chariot, steeped in kindred gore;
Or seek to hide thy damned parricide
Where peace and justice dwell for evermore?"



One of the heroes of the Argonautic expedition was Meleager, son
of OEneus and Althea, king and queen of Calydon. Althea, when her
son was born, beheld the three destinies, who, as they spun their
fatal thread, foretold that the life of the child should last no
longer than a brand then burning upon the hearth. Althea seized
and quenched the brand, and carefully preserved it for years,
while Meleager grew to boyhood, youth, and manhood. It chanced,
then, that OEneus, as he offered sacrifices to the gods, omitted
to pay due honors to Diana; and she, indignant at the neglect,
sent a wild boar of enormous size to lay waste the fields of
Calydon. Its eyes shone with blood and fire, its bristles stood
like threatening spears, its tusks were like those of Indian
elephants. The growing corn was trampled, the vines and olive
trees laid waste, the flocks and herds were driven in wild
confusion by the slaughtering foe. All common aid seemed vain; but
Meleager called on the heroes of Greece to join in a bold hunt for
the ravenous monster. Theseus and his friend Pirithous, Jason,
Peleus, afterwards the father of Achilles, Telamon the father of
Ajax, Nestor, then a youth, but who in his age bore arms with
Achilles and Ajax in the Trojan war,--these and many more joined
in the enterprise. With them came Atalanta, the daughter of
Iasius, king of Arcadia. A buckle of polished gold confined her
vest, an ivory quiver hung on her left shoulder, and her left hand
bore the bow. Her face blent feminine beauty with the best graces
of martial youth. Meleager saw and loved.

But now already they were near the monster's lair. They stretched
strong nets from tree to tree; they uncoupled their dogs, they
tried to find the footprints of their quarry in the grass. From
the wood was a descent to marshy ground. Here the boar, as he lay
among the reeds, heard the shouts of his pursuers, and rushed
forth against them. One and another is thrown down and slain.
Jason throws his spear, with a prayer to Diana for success; and
the favoring goddess allows the weapon to touch, but not to wound,
removing the steel point of the spear in its flight. Nestor,
assailed, seeks and finds safety in the branches of a tree.
Telamon rushes on, but stumbling at a projecting root, falls
prone. But an arrow from Atalanta at length for the first time
tastes the monster's blood. It is a slight wound, but Meleager
sees and joyfully proclaims it. Anceus, excited to envy by the
praise given to a female, loudly proclaims his own valor, and
defies alike the boar and the goddess who had sent it; but as he
rushes on, the infuriated beast lays him low with a mortal wound.
Theseus throws his lance, but it is turned aside by a projecting
bough. The dart of Jason misses its object, and kills instead one
of their own dogs. But Meleager, after one unsuccessful stroke,
drives his spear into the monster's side, then rushes on and
despatches him with repeated blows.

Then rose a shout from those around; they congratulated the
conqueror, crowding to touch his hand. He, placing his foot upon
the head of the slain boar, turned to Atalanta and bestowed on her
the head and the rough hide which were the trophies of his
success. But at this, envy excited the rest to strife. Plexippus
and Toxeus, the brothers of Meleager's mother, beyond the rest
opposed the gift, and snatched from the maiden the trophy she had
received. Meleager, kindling with rage at the wrong done to
himself, and still more at the insult offered to her whom he
loved, forgot the claims of kindred, and plunged his sword into
the offenders' hearts.

As Althea bore gifts of thankfulness to the temples for the
victory of her son, the bodies of her murdered brothers met her
sight. She shrieks, and beats her breast, and hastens to change
the garments of rejoicing for those of mourning. But when the
author of the deed is known, grief gives way to the stern desire
of vengeance on her son. The fatal brand, which once she rescued
from the flames, the brand which the destinies had linked with
Meleager's life, she brings forth, and commands a fire to be
prepared. Then four times she essays to place the brand upon the
pile; four times draws back, shuddering at the thought of bringing
destruction on her son. The feelings of the mother and the sister
contend within her. Now she is pale at the thought of the proposed
deed, now flushed again with anger at the act of her son. As a
vessel, driven in one direction by the wind, and in the opposite
by the tide, the mind of Althea hangs suspended in uncertainty.
But now the sister prevails above the mother, and she begins as
she holds the fatal wood: "Turn, ye Furies, goddesses of
punishment! turn to behold the sacrifice I bring! Crime must atone
for crime. Shall OEneus rejoice in his victor son, while the house
of Thestius is desolate? But, alas! to what deed am I borne along?
Brothers forgive a mother's weakness! my hand fails me. He
deserves death, but not that I should destroy him. But shall he
then live, and triumph, and reign over Calydon, while you, my
brothers, wander unavenged among the shades? No! thou hast lived
by my gift; die, now, for thine own crime. Return the life which
twice I gave thee, first at thy birth, again when I snatched this
brand from the flames. O that thou hadst then died! Alas! evil is
the conquest; but, brothers, ye have conquered." And, turning away
her face, she threw the fatal wood upon the burning pile.

It gave, or seemed to give, a deadly groan. Meleager, absent and
unknowing of the cause, felt a sudden pang. He burns, and only by
courageous pride conquers the pain which destroys him. He mourns
only that he perishes by a bloodless and unhonored death. With his
last breath he calls upon his aged father, his brother, and his
fond sisters, upon his beloved Atalanta, and upon his mother, the
unknown cause of his fate. The flames increase, and with them the
pain of the hero. Now both subside; now both are quenched. The
brand is ashes, and the life of Meleager is breathed forth to the
wandering winds.

Althea, when the deed was done, laid violent hands upon herself.
The sisters of Meleager mourned their brother with uncontrollable
grief; till Diana, pitying the sorrows of the house that once had
aroused her anger, turned them into birds.


The innocent cause of so much sorrow was a maiden whose face you
might truly say was boyish for a girl, yet too girlish for a boy.
Her fortune had been told, and it was to this effect: "Atalanta,
do not marry; marriage will be your ruin." Terrified by this
oracle, she fled the society of men, and devoted herself to the
sports of the chase. To all suitors (for she had many) she imposed
a condition which was generally effectual in relieving her of
their persecutions,--"I will be the prize of him who shall conquer
me in the race; but death must be the penalty of all who try and
fail." In spite of this hard condition some would try. Hippomenes
was to be judge of the race. "Can it be possible that any will be
so rash as to risk so much for a wife?" said he. But when he saw
her lay aside her robe for the race, he changed his mind, and
said, "Pardon me, youths, I knew not the prize you were competing
for." As he surveyed them he wished them all to be beaten, and
swelled with envy of any one that seemed at all likely to win.
While such were his thoughts, the virgin darted forward. As she
ran she looked more beautiful than ever. The breezes seemed to
give wings to her feet; her hair flew over her shoulders, and the
gay fringe of her garment fluttered behind her. A ruddy hue tinged
the whiteness of her skin, such as a crimson curtain casts on a
marble wall. All her competitors were distanced, and were put to
death without mercy. Hippomenes, not daunted by this result,
fixing his eyes on the virgin, said, "Why boast of beating those
laggards? I offer myself for the contest." Atalanta looked at him
with a pitying countenance, and hardly knew whether she would
rather conquer him or not. "What god can tempt one so young and
handsome to throw himself away? I pity him, not for his beauty
(yet he is beautiful), but for his youth. I wish he would give up
the race, or if he will be so mad, I hope he may outrun me." While
she hesitates, revolving these thoughts, the spectators grow
impatient for the race, and her father prompts her to prepare.
Then Hippomenes addressed a prayer to Venus: "Help me, Venus, for
you have led me on." Venus heard and was propitious.

In the garden of her temple, in her own island of Cyprus, is a
tree with yellow leaves and yellow branches and golden fruit.
Hence she gathered three golden apples, and, unseen by any one
else, gave them to Hippomenes, and told him how to use them. The
signal is given; each starts from the goal and skims over the
sand. So light their tread, you would almost have thought they
might run over the river surface or over the waving grain without
sinking. The cries of the spectators cheered Hippomenes,--"Now,
now, do your best! haste, haste! you gain on her! relax not! one
more effort!" It was doubtful whether the youth or the maiden
heard these cries with the greater pleasure. But his breath began
to fail him, his throat was dry, the goal yet far off. At that
moment he threw down one of the golden apples. The virgin was all
amazement. She stopped to pick it up. Hippomenes shot ahead.
Shouts burst forth from all sides. She redoubled her efforts, and
soon overtook him. Again he threw an apple. She stopped again, but
again came up with him. The goal was near; one chance only
remained. "Now, goddess," said he, "prosper your gift!" and threw
the last apple off at one side. She looked at it, and hesitated;
Venus impelled her to turn aside for it. She did so, and was
vanquished. The youth carried off his prize.

But the lovers were so full of their own happiness that they
forgot to pay due honor to Venus; and the goddess was provoked at
their ingratitude. She caused them to give offence to Cybele. That
powerful goddess was not to be insulted with impunity. She took
from them their human form and turned them into animals of
characters resembling their own: of the huntress-heroine,
triumphing in the blood of her lovers, she made a lioness, and of
her lord and master a lion, and yoked them to her car, where they
are still to be seen in all representations, in statuary or
painting, of the goddess Cybele.

Cybele is the Latin name of the goddess called by the Greeks Rhea
and Ops. She was the wife of Cronos and mother of Zeus. In works
of art she exhibits the matronly air which distinguishes Juno and
Ceres. Sometimes she is veiled, and seated on a throne with lions
at her side, at other times riding in a chariot drawn by lions.
She wears a mural crown, that is, a crown whose rim is carved in
the form of towers and battlements. Her priests were called

Byron, in describing the city of Venice, which is built on a low
island in the Adriatic Sea, borrows an illustration from Cybele:

"She looks a sea-Cybele fresh from ocean,
Rising with her tiara of proud towers
At airy distance, with majestic motion,
A ruler of the waters and their powers."

--Childe Harold, IV.

In Moore's "Rhymes on the Road," the poet, speaking of Alpine
scenery, alludes to the story of Atalanta and Hippomenes thus:

"Even here, in this region of wonders, I find
That light-footed Fancy leaves Truth far behind,
Or at least, like Hippomenes, turns her astray
By the golden illusions he flings in her way."


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