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Bulfinch's Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch

Part 7 out of 19

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

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

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

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

--Il Penseroso.

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

[Footnote: Cowper's version is less elegant, but truer to the

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

And in the next stanza,

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

See this last allusion explained in Chapter XXVII.


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

The date assigned to Homer, on the authority of Herodotus, is 850


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


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

From Cowper's "Table Talk":

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


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

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

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

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

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




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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reader will, we apprehend, by this time have had enough of
absurdities, but still we can imagine his anxiety to know what a
cockatrice was like. The following is from Aldrovandus, a
celebrated naturalist of the sixteenth century, whose work on
natural history, in thirteen folio volumes, contains with much
that is valuable a large proportion of fables and inutilities. In
particular he is so ample on the subject of the cock and the bull
that from his practice, all rambling, gossiping tales of doubtful
credibility are called COCK AND BULL STORIES. Aldrovandus,
however, deserves our respect and esteem as the founder of a
botanic garden, and as a pioneer in the now prevalent custom of
making scientific collections for purposes of investigation and

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

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


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

The unicorn seems to have been a sad puzzle to the hunters, who
hardly knew how to come at so valuable a piece of game. Some
described the horn as movable at the will of the animal, a kind of
small sword, in short, with which no hunter who was not
exceedingly cunning in fence could have a chance. Others
maintained that all the animal's strength lay in its horn, and
that when hard pressed in pursuit, it would throw itself from the
pinnacle of the highest rocks horn foremost, so as to pitch upon
it, and then quietly march off not a whit the worse for its fall.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

"An undevout astronomer is mad!

"O, what a genius must inform the skies!
And is Lorenzo's salamander-heart
Cold and untouched amid these sacred fires?"




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

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

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

Wordsworth thus alludes to the worship of the Persians:

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

--Excursion, Book IV.

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

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

III., 91.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


There is another deity who is described as the calumniator of the
gods and the contriver of all fraud and mischief. His name is
Loki. He is handsome and well made, but of a very fickle mood and
most evil disposition. He is of the giant race, but forced himself
into the company of the gods, and seems to take pleasure in
bringing them into difficulties, and in extricating them out of
the danger by his cunning, wit, and skill. Loki has three
children. The first is the wolf Fenris, the second the Midgard
serpent, the third Hela (Death), The gods were not ignorant that
these monsters were growing up, and that they would one day bring
much evil upon gods and men. So Odin deemed it advisable to send
one to bring them to him. When they came he threw the serpent into
that deep ocean by which the earth is surrounded. But the monster
had grown to such an enormous size that holding his tail in his
mouth he encircles the whole earth. Hela he cast into Niffleheim,
and gave her power over nine worlds or regions, into which she
distributes those who are sent to her; that is, all who die of
sickness or old age. Her hall is called Elvidner. Hunger is her
table, Starvation her knife, Delay her man, Slowness her maid,
Precipice her threshold, Care her bed, and Burning Anguish forms
the hangings of the apartments. She may easily be recognized, for
her body is half flesh color and half blue, and she has a
dreadfully stern and forbidding countenance. The wolf Fenris gave
the gods a great deal of trouble before they succeeded in chaining
him. He broke the strongest fetters as if they were made of
cobwebs. Finally the gods sent a messenger to the mountain
spirits, who made for them the chain called Gleipnir. It is
fashioned of six things, viz., the noise made by the footfall of a
cat, the beards of women, the roots of stones, the breath of
fishes, the nerves (sensibilities) of bears, and the spittle of
birds. When finished it was as smooth and soft as a silken string.
But when the gods asked the wolf to suffer himself to be bound
with this apparently slight ribbon, he suspected their design,
fearing that it was made by enchantment. He therefore only
consented to be bound with it upon condition that one of the gods
put his hand in his (Fenris's) mouth as a pledge that the band was
to be removed again. Tyr (the god of battles) alone had courage
enough to do this. But when the wolf found that he could not break
his fetters, and that the gods would not release him, he bit off
Tyr's hand, and he has ever since remained one-handed. HOW THOR

Once on a time, when the gods were constructing their abodes and
had already finished Midgard and Valhalla, a certain artificer
came and offered to build them a residence so well fortified that
they should be perfectly safe from the incursions of the Frost
giants and the giants of the mountains. But he demanded for his
reward the goddess Freya, together with the sun and moon. The gods
yielded to his terms, provided he would finish the whole work
himself without any one's assistance, and all within the space of
one winter. But if anything remained unfinished on the first day
of summer he should forfeit the recompense agreed on. On being
told these terms the artificer stipulated that he should be
allowed the use of his horse Svadilfari, and this by the advice of
Loki was granted to him. He accordingly set to work on the first
day of winter, and during the night let his horse draw stone for
the building. The enormous size of the stones struck the gods with
astonishment, and they saw clearly that the horse did one-half
more of the toilsome work than his master. Their bargain, however,
had been concluded, and confirmed by solemn oaths, for without
these precautions a giant would not have thought himself safe
among the gods, especially when Thor should return from an
expedition he had then undertaken against the evil demons.

As the winter drew to a close, the building was far advanced, and
the bulwarks were sufficiently high and massive to render the
place impregnable. In short, when it wanted but three days to
summer, the only part that remained to be finished was the
gateway. Then sat the gods on their seats of justice and entered
into consultation, inquiring of one another who among them could
have advised to give Freya away, or to plunge the heavens in
darkness by permitting the giant to carry away the sun and the

They all agreed that no one but Loki, the author of so many evil
deeds, could have given such bad counsel, and that he should be
put to a cruel death if he did not contrive some way to prevent
the artificer from completing his task and obtaining the
stipulated recompense. They proceeded to lay hands on Loki, who in
his fright promised upon oath that, let it cost him what it would,
he would so manage matters that the man should lose his reward.
That very night when the man went with Svadilfari for building
stone, a mare suddenly ran out of a forest and began to neigh. The
horse thereat broke loose and ran after the mare into the forest,
which obliged the man also to run after his horse, and thus
between one and another the whole night was lost, so that at dawn
the work had not made the usual progress. The man, seeing that he
must fail of completing his task, resumed his own gigantic
stature, and the gods now clearly perceived that it was in reality
a mountain giant who had come amongst them. Feeling no longer
bound by their oaths, they called on Thor, who immediately ran to
their assistance, and lifting up his mallet, paid the workman his
wages, not with the sun and moon, and not even by sending him back
to Jotunheim, for with the first blow he shattered the giant's
skull to pieces and hurled him headlong into Niffleheim.


Once upon a time it happened that Thor's hammer fell into the
possession of the giant Thrym, who buried it eight fathoms deep
under the rocks of Jotunheim. Thor sent Loki to negotiate with
Thrym, but he could only prevail so far as to get the giant's
promise to restore the weapon if Freya would consent to be his
bride. Loki returned and reported the result of his mission, but
the goddess of love was quite horrified at the idea of bestowing
her charms on the king of the Frost giants. In this emergency Loki
persuaded Thor to dress himself in Freya's clothes and accompany
him to Jotunheim. Thrym received his veiled bride with due
courtesy, but was greatly surprised at seeing her eat for her
supper eight salmons and a full grown ox, besides other
delicacies, washing the whole down with three tuns of mead. Loki,
however, assured him that she had not tasted anything for eight
long nights, so great was her desire to see her lover, the
renowned ruler of Jotunheim. Thrym had at length the curiosity to
peep under his bride's veil, but started back in affright and
demanded why Freya's eyeballs glistened with fire. Loki repeated
the same excuse and the giant was satisfied. He ordered the hammer
to be brought in and laid on the maiden's lap. Thereupon Thor
threw off his disguise, grasped his redoubted weapon, and
slaughtered Thrym and all his followers.

Frey also possessed a wonderful weapon, a sword which would of
itself spread a field with carnage whenever the owner desired it.
Frey parted with this sword, but was less fortunate than Thor and
never recovered it. It happened in this way: Frey once mounted
Odin's throne, from whence one can see over the whole universe,
and looking round saw far off in the giant's kingdom a beautiful
maid, at the sight of whom he was struck with sudden sadness,
insomuch that from that moment he could neither sleep, nor drink,
nor speak. At last Skirnir, his messenger, drew his secret from
him, and undertook to get him the maiden for his bride, if he
would give him his sword as a reward. Frey consented and gave him
the sword, and Skirnir set off on his journey and obtained the
maiden's promise that within nine nights she would come to a
certain place and there wed Frey. Skirnir having reported the
success of his errand, Frey exclaimed:

"Long is one night,
Long are two nights,
But how shall I hold out three?
Shorter hath seemed
A month to me oft
Than of this longing time the half."

So Frey obtained Gerda, the most beautiful of all women, for his
wife, but he lost his sword.

This story, entitled "Skirnir For," and the one immediately
preceding it, "Thrym's Quida," will be found poetically told in
Longfellow's "Poets and Poetry of Europe."




One day the god Thor, with his servant Thialfi, and accompanied by
Loki, set out on a journey to the giant's country. Thialfi was of
all men the swiftest of foot. He bore Thor's wallet, containing
their provisions. When night came on they found themselves in an
immense forest, and searched on all sides for a place where they
might pass the night, and at last came to a very large hall, with
an entrance that took the whole breadth of one end of the
building. Here they lay down to sleep, but towards midnight were
alarmed by an earthquake which shook the whole edifice. Thor,
rising up, called on his companions to seek with him a place of
safety. On the right they found an adjoining chamber, into which
the others entered, but Thor remained at the doorway with his
mallet in his hand, prepared to defend himself, whatever might
happen. A terrible groaning was heard during the night, and at
dawn of day Thor went out and found lying near him a huge giant,
who slept and snored in the way that had alarmed them so. It is
said that for once Thor was afraid to use his mallet, and as the
giant soon waked up, Thor contented himself with simply asking his

"My name is Skrymir," said the giant, "but I need not ask thy
name, for I know that thou art the god Thor. But what has become
of my glove?" Thor then perceived that what they had taken
overnight for a hall was the giant's glove, and the chamber where
his two companions had sought refuge was the thumb. Skrymir then
proposed that they should travel in company, and Thor consenting,
they sat down to eat their breakfast, and when they had done,
Skrymir packed all the provisions into one wallet, threw it over
his shoulder, and strode on before them, taking such tremendous
strides that they were hard put to it to keep up with him. So they
travelled the whole day, and at dusk Skrymir chose a place for
them to pass the night in under a large oak tree. Skrymir then
told them he would lie down to sleep. "But take ye the wallet," he
added, "and prepare your supper."

Skrymir soon fell asleep and began to snore strongly; but when
Thor tried to open the wallet, he found the giant had tied it up
so tight he could not untie a single knot. At last Thor became
wroth, and grasping his mallet with both hands he struck a furious
blow on the giant's head. Skrymir, awakening, merely asked whether
a leaf had not fallen on his head, and whether they had supped and
were ready to go to sleep. Thor answered that they were just going
to sleep, and so saying went and laid himself down under another
tree. But sleep came not that night to Thor, and when Skrymir
snored again so loud that the forest reechoed with the noise, he
arose, and grasping his mallet launched it with such force at the
giant's skull that it made a deep dint in it. Skrymir, awakening,
cried out, "What's the matter? Are there any birds perched on this
tree? I felt some moss from the branches fall on my head. How
fares it with thee, Thor?" But Thor went away hastily, saying that
he had just then awoke, and that as it was only midnight, there
was still time for sleep. He, however, resolved that if he had an
opportunity of striking a third blow, it should settle all matters
between them. A little before daybreak he perceived that Skrymir
was again fast asleep, and again grasping his mallet, he dashed it
with such violence that it forced its way into the giant's skull
up to the handle. But Skrymir sat up, and stroking his cheek said,
"An acorn fell on my head. What! Art thou awake, Thor? Me thinks
it is time for us to get up and dress ourselves; but you have not
now a long way before you to the city called Utgard. I have heard
you whispering to one another that I am not a man of small
dimensions; but if you come to Utgard you will see there many men
much taller than I. Wherefore, I advise you, when you come there,
not to make too much of yourselves, for the followers of Utgard--
Loki will not brook the boasting of such little fellows as you
are. You must take the road that leads eastward, mine lies
northward, so we must part here."

Hereupon he threw his wallet over his shoulders and turned away
from them into the forest, and Thor had no wish to stop him or to
ask for any more of his company.

Thor and his companions proceeded on their way, and towards noon
descried a city standing in the middle of a plain. It was so lofty
that they were obliged to bend their necks quite back on their
shoulders in order to see to the top of it. On arriving they
entered the city, and seeing a large palace before them with the
door wide open, they went in, and found a number of men of
prodigious stature, sitting on benches in the hall. Going further,
they came before the king, Utgard-Loki, whom they saluted with
great respect. The king, regarding them with a scornful smile,
said, "If I do not mistake me, that stripling yonder must be the
god Thor." Then addressing himself to Thor, he said, "Perhaps thou
mayst be more than thou appearest to be. What are the feats that
thou and thy fellows deem yourselves skilled in, for no one is
permitted to remain here who does not, in some feat or other,
excel all other men?"

"The feat that I know," said Loki, "is to eat quicker than any one
else, and in this I am ready to give a proof against any one here
who may choose to compete with me."

"That will indeed be a feat," said Utgard-Loki, "if thou
performest what thou promisest, and it shall be tried forthwith."

He then ordered one of his men who was sitting at the farther end
of the bench, and whose name was Logi, to come forward and try his
skill with Loki. A trough filled with meat having been set on the
hall floor, Loki placed himself at one end, and Logi at the other,
and each of them began to eat as fast as he could, until they met
in the middle of the trough. But it was found that Loki had only
eaten the flesh, while his adversary had devoured both flesh and
bone, and the trough to boot. All the company therefore adjudged
that Loki was vanquished.

Utgard-Loki then asked what feat the young man who accompanied
Thor could perform. Thialfi answered that he would run a race with
any one who might be matched against him. The king observed that
skill in running was something to boast of, but if the youth would
win the match he must display great agility. He then arose and
went with all who were present to a plain where there was good
ground for running on, and calling a young man named Hugi, bade
him run a match with Thialfi. In the first course Hugi so much
out-stripped his competitor that he turned back and met him not
far from the starting place. Then they ran a second and a third
time, but Thialfi met with no better success.

Utgard-Loki then asked Thor in what feats he would choose to give
proofs of that prowess for which he was so famous. Thor answered
that he would try a drinking-match with any one. Utgard-Loki bade
his cup-bearer bring the large horn which his followers were
obliged to empty when they had trespassed in any way against the
law of the feast. The cupbearer having presented it to Thor,
Utgard-Loki said, "Whoever is a good drinker will empty that horn
at a single draught, though most men make two of it, but the most
puny drinker can do it in three."

Thor looked at the horn, which seemed of no extraordinary size
though somewhat long; however, as he was very thirsty, he set it
to his lips, and without drawing breath, pulled as long and as
deeply as he could, that he might not be obliged to make a second
draught of it; but when he set the horn down and looked in, he
could scarcely perceive that the liquor was diminished.

After taking breath, Thor went to it again with all his might, but
when he took the horn from his mouth, it seemed to him that he had
drunk rather less than before, although the horn could now be
carried without spilling.

"How now, Thor?" said Utgard-Loki; "thou must not spare thyself;
if thou meanest to drain the horn at the third draught thou must
pull deeply; and I must needs say that thou wilt not be called so
mighty a man here as thou art at home if thou showest no greater
prowess in other feats than methinks will be shown in this."

Thor, full of wrath, again set the horn to his lips, and did his
best to empty it; but on looking in found the liquor was only a
little lower, so he resolved to make no further attempt, but gave
back the horn to the cup-bearer.

"I now see plainly," said Utgard-Loki, "that thou art not quite so
stout as we thought thee: but wilt thou try any other feat, though
methinks thou art not likely to bear any prize away with thee

"What new trial hast thou to propose?" said Thor.

"We have a very trifling game here," answered Utgard-Loki, "in
which we exercise none but children. It consists in merely lifting
my cat from the ground; nor should I have dared to mention such a
feat to the great Thor if I had not already observed that thou art
by no means what we took thee for."

As he finished speaking, a large gray cat sprang on the hall
floor. Thor put his hand under the cat's belly and did his utmost
to raise him from the floor, but the cat, bending his back, had,
notwithstanding all Thor's efforts, only one of his feet lifted
up, seeing which Thor made no further attempt.

"This trial has turned out," said Utgard-Loki, "just as I imagined
it would. The cat is large, but Thor is little in comparison to
our men."

"Little as ye call me," answered Thor, "let me see who among you
will come hither now I am in wrath and wrestle with me."

"I see no one here," said Utgard-Loki, looking at the men sitting
on the benches, "who would not think it beneath him to wrestle
with thee; let somebody, however, call hither that old crone, my
nurse Elli, and let Thor wrestle with her if he will. She has
thrown to the ground many a man not less strong than this Thor

A toothless old woman then entered the hall, and was told by
Utgard-Loki to take hold of Thor. The tale is shortly told. The
more Thor tightened his hold on the crone the firmer she stood. At
length after a very violent struggle Thor began to lose his
footing, and was finally brought down upon one knee. Utgard-Loki
then told them to desist, adding that Thor had now no occasion to
ask any one else in the hall to wrestle with him, and it was also
getting late; so he showed Thor and his companions to their seats,
and they passed the night there in good cheer.

The next morning, at break of day, Thor and his companions dressed
themselves and prepared for their departure. Utgard-Loki ordered a
table to be set for them, on which there was no lack of victuals
or drink. After the repast Utgard-Loki led them to the gate of the
city, and on parting asked Thor how he thought his journey had
turned out, and whether he had met with any men stronger than
himself. Thor told him that he could not deny but that he had
brought great shame on himself. "And what grieves me most," he
added, "is that ye will call me a person of little worth."

"Nay," said Utgard-Loki, "it behooves me to tell thee the truth,
now thou art out of the city, which so long as I live and have my
way thou shalt never enter again. And, by my troth, had I known
beforehand that thou hadst so much strength in thee, and wouldst
have brought me so near to a great mishap, I would not have
suffered thee to enter this time. Know then that I have all along
deceived thee by my illusions; first in the forest, where I tied
up the wallet with iron wire so that thou couldst not untie it.
After this thou gavest me three blows with thy mallet; the first,
though the least, would have ended my days had it fallen on me,
but I slipped aside and thy blows fell on the mountain, where thou
wilt find three glens, one of them remarkably deep. These are the
dints made by thy mallet. I have made use of similar illusions in
the contests you have had with my followers. In the first, Loki,
like hunger itself, devoured all that was set before him, but Logi
was in reality nothing else than Fire, and therefore consumed not
only the meat, bat the trough which held it. Hugi, with whom
Thialfi contended in running, was Thought, and it was impossible
for Thialfi to keep pace with that. When thou in thy turn didst
attempt to empty the horn, thou didst perform, by my troth, a deed
so marvellous that had I not seen it myself I should never have
believed it. For one end of that horn reached the sea, which thou
wast not aware of, but when thou comest to the shore thou wilt
perceive how much the sea has sunk by thy draughts. Thou didst
perform a feat no less wonderful by lifting up the cat, and to
tell thee the truth, when we saw that one of his paws was off the
floor, we were all of us terror-stricken, for what thou tookest
for a cat was in reality the Midgard serpent that encompasseth the
earth, and he was so stretched by thee that he was barely long
enough to enclose it between his head and tail. Thy wrestling with
Elli was also a most astonishing feat, for there was never yet a
man, nor ever will be, whom Old Age, for such in fact was Elli,
will not sooner or later lay low. But now, as we are going to
part, let me tell thee that it will be better for both of us if
thou never come near me again, for shouldst thou do so, I shall
again defend myself by other illusions, so that thou wilt only
lose thy labor and get no fame from the contest with me."

On hearing these words Thor in a rage laid hold of his mallet and
would have launched it at him, but Utgard-Loki had disappeared,
and when Thor would have returned to the city to destroy it, he
found nothing around him but a verdant plain.




Baldur the Good, having been tormented with terrible dreams
indicating that his life was in peril, told them to the assembled
gods, who resolved to conjure all things to avert from him the
threatened danger. Then Frigga, the wife of Odin, exacted an oath
from fire and water, from iron and all other metals, from stones,
trees, diseases, beasts, birds, poisons, and creeping things, that
none of them would do any harm to Baldur. Odin, not satisfied with
all this, and feeling alarmed for the fate of his son, determined
to consult the prophetess Angerbode, a giantess, mother of Fenris,
Hela, and the Midgard serpent. She was dead, and Odin was forced
to seek her in Hela's dominions. This Descent of Odin forms the
subject of Gray's fine ode beginning,--

"Uprose the king of men with speed
And saddled straight his coal-black steed"

But the other gods, feeling that what Frigga had done was quite
sufficient, amused themselves with using Baldur as a mark, some
hurling darts at him, some stones, while others hewed at him with
their swords and battle-axes; for do what they would, none of them
could harm him. And this became a favorite pastime with them and
was regarded as an honor shown to Baldur. But when Loki beheld the
scene he was sorely vexed that Baldur was not hurt. Assuming,
therefore, the shape of a woman, he went to Fensalir, the man-
sion of Frigga. That goddess, when she saw the pretended woman,
inquired of her if she knew what the gods were doing at their
meetings. She replied that they were throwing darts and stones at
Baldur, without being able to hurt him. "Ay," said Frigga,
"neither stones, nor sticks, nor anything else can hurt Baldur,
for I have exacted an oath from all of them." "What," exclaimed
the woman, "have all things sworn to spare Baldur?" "All things,"
replied Frigga, "except one little shrub that grows on the eastern
side of Valhalla, and is called Mistletoe, and which I thought too
young and feeble to crave an oath from."

As soon as Loki heard this he went away, and resuming his natural
shape, cut off the mistletoe, and repaired to the place where the
gods were assembled. There he found Hodur standing apart, without
partaking of the sports, on account of his blindness, and going up
to him, said, "Why dost thou not also throw something at Baldur?"

"Because I am blind," answered Hodur, "and see not where Baldur
is, and have, moreover, nothing to throw."

"Come, then," said Loki, "do like the rest, and show honor to
Baldur by throwing this twig at him, and I will direct thy arm
towards the place where he stands."

Hodur then took the mistletoe, and under the guidance of Loki,
darted it at Baldur, who, pierced through and through, fell down
lifeless. Surely never was there witnessed, either among gods or
men, a more atrocious deed than this. When Baldur fell, the gods
were struck speechless with horror, and then they looked at each
other, and all were of one mind to lay hands on him who had done
the deed, but they were obliged to delay their vengeance out of
respect for the sacred place where they were assembled. They gave
vent to their grief by loud lamentations. When the gods came to
themselves, Frigga asked who among them wished to gain all her
love and good will. "For this," said she, "shall he have who will
ride to Hel and offer Hela a ransom if she will let Baldur return
to Asgard." Whereupon Hermod, surnamed the Nimble, the son of
Odin, offered to undertake the journey. Odin's horse, Sleipnir,
which has eight legs and can outrun the wind, was then led forth,
on which Hermod mounted and galloped away on his mission. For the
space of nine days and as many nights he rode through deep glens
so dark that he could not discern anything, until he arrived at
the river Gyoll, which he passed over on a bridge covered with
glittering gold. The maiden who kept the bridge asked him his name
and lineage, telling him that the day before five bands of dead
persons had ridden over the bridge, and did not shake it as much
as he alone. "But," she added, "thou hast not death's hue on thee;
why then ridest thou here on the way to Hel?"

"I ride to Hel," answered Hermod, "to seek Baldur. Hast thou
perchance seen him pass this way?"

She replied, "Baldur hath ridden over Gyoll's bridge, and yonder
lieth the way he took to the abodes of death"

Hermod pursued his journey until he came to the barred gates of
Hel. Here he alighted, girthed his saddle tighter, and remounting
clapped both spurs to his horse, who cleared the gate by a
tremendous leap without touching it. Hermod then rode on to the
palace, where he found his brother Baldur occupying the most
distinguished seat in the hall, and passed the night in his
company. The next morning he besought Hela to let Baldur ride home
with him, assuring her that nothing but lamentations were to be
heard among the gods. Hela answered that it should now be tried
whether Baldur was so beloved as he was said to be. "If,
therefore," she added, "all things in the world, both living and
lifeless, weep for him, then shall he return to life; but if any
one thing speak against him or refuse to weep, he shall be kept in

Hermod then rode back to Asgard and gave an account of all he had
heard and witnessed.

The gods upon this despatched messengers throughout the world to
beg everything to weep in order that Baldur might be delivered
from Hel. All things very willingly complied with this request,
both men and every other living being, as well as earths, and
stones, and trees, and metals, just as we have all seen these
things weep when they are brought from a cold place into a hot
one. As the messengers were returning, they found an old hag named
Thaukt sitting in a cavern, and begged her to weep Baldur out of
Hel. But she answered,

"Thaukt will wail
With dry tears
Baldur's bale-fire.
Let Hela keep her own."

It was strongly suspected that this hag was no other than Loki
himself, who never ceased to work evil among gods and men. So
Baldur was prevented from coming back to Asgard.

[Footnote: In Longfellow's Poems will be found a poem entitled
"Tegner's Drapa," upon the subject of Baldur's death.]

The gods took up the dead body and bore it to the seashore where
stood Baldur's ship "Hringham," which passed for the largest in
the world. Baldur's dead body was put on the funeral pile, on
board the ship, and his wife Nanna was so struck with grief at the
sight that she broke her heart, and her body was burned on the
same pile as her husband's. There was a vast concourse of various
kinds of people at Baldur's obsequies. First came Odin accompanied
by Frigga, the Valkyrie, and his ravens; then Frey in his car
drawn by Gullinbursti, the boar; Heimdall rode his horse Gulltopp,
and Freya drove in her chariot drawn by cats. There were also a
great many Frost giants and giants of the mountain present.
Baldur's horse was led to the pile fully caparisoned and consumed
in the same flames with his master.

But Loki did not escape his deserved punishment. When he saw how
angry the gods were, he fled to the mountain, and there built
himself a hut with four doors, so that he could see every
approaching danger. He invented a net to catch the fishes, such as
fishermen have used since his time. But Odin found out his hiding-
place and the gods assembled to take him. He, seeing this, changed
himself into a salmon, and lay hid among the stones of the brook.
But the gods took his net and dragged the brook, and Loki, finding
he must be caught, tried to leap over the net; but Thor caught him
by the tail and compressed it, so that salmons ever since have had
that part remarkably fine and thin. They bound him with chains and
suspended a serpent over his head, whose venom falls upon his face
drop by drop. His wife Siguna sits by his side and catches the
drops as they fall, in a cup; but when she carries it away to
empty it, the venom falls upon Loki, which makes him howl with
horror, and twist his body about so violently that the whole earth
shakes, and this produces what men call earthquakes.


The Edda mentions another class of beings, inferior to the gods,
but still possessed of great power; these were called Elves. The
white spirits, or Elves of Light, were exceedingly fair, more
brilliant than the sun, and clad in garments of a delicate and
transparent texture. They loved the light, were kindly disposed to
mankind, and generally appeared as fair and lovely children. Their
country was called Alfheim, and was the domain of Freyr, the god
of the sun, in whose light they were always sporting.

The Black or Night Elves were a different kind of creatures. Ugly,
long-nosed dwarfs, of a dirty brown color, they appeared only at
night, for they avoided the sun as their most deadly enemy,
because whenever his beams fell upon any of them they changed them
immediately into stones. Their language was the echo of solitudes,
and their dwelling-places subterranean caves and clefts. They were
supposed to have come into existence as maggots produced by the
decaying flesh of Ymir's body, and were afterwards endowed by the
gods with a human form and great understanding. They were
particularly distinguished for a knowledge of the mysterious
powers of nature, and for the runes which they carved and
explained. They were the most skilful artificers of all created
beings, and worked in metals and in wood. Among their most noted
works were Thor's hammer, and the ship "Skidbladnir," which they
gave to Freyr, and which was so large that it could contain all
the deities with their war and household implements, but so
skillfully was it wrought that when folded together it could be
put into a side pocket.


It was a firm belief of the northern nations that a time would
come when all the visible creation, the gods of Valhalla and
Niffleheim, the inhabitants of Jotunheim, Alfheim, and Midgard,
together with their habitations, would be destroyed. The fearful
day of destruction will not, however, be without its forerunners.
First will come a triple winter, during which snow will fall from
the four corners of the heavens, the frost be very severe, the
wind piercing, the weather tempestuous, and the sun impart no
gladness. Three such winters will pass away without being tempered
by a single summer. Three other similar winters will then follow,
during which war and discord will spread over the universe. The
earth itself will be frightened and begin to tremble, the sea
leave its basin, the heavens tear asunder, and men perish in great
numbers, and the eagles of the air feast upon their still
quivering bodies. The wolf Fenris will now break his bands, the
Midgard serpent rise out of her bed in the sea, and Loki, released
from his bonds, will join the enemies of the gods. Amidst the
general devastation the sons of Muspelheim will rush forth under
their leader Surtur, before and behind whom are flames and burning
fire. Onward they ride over Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, which
breaks under the horses' hoofs. But they, disregarding its fall,
direct their course to the battlefield called Vigrid. Thither also
repair the wolf Fenris, the Midgard serpent, Loki with all the
followers of Hela, and the Frost giants.

Heimdall now stands up and sounds the Giallar horn to assemble the
gods and heroes for the contest. The gods advance, led on by Odin,
who engages the wolf Fenris, but falls a victim to the monster,
who is, however, slain by Vidar, Odin's son. Thor gains great
renown by killing the Midgard serpent, but recoils and falls dead,
suffocated with the venom which the dying monster vomits over him.
Loki and Heimdall meet and fight till they are both slain. The
gods and their enemies having fallen in battle, Surtur, who has
killed Freyr, darts fire and flames over the world, and the whole
universe is burned up. The sun becomes dim, the earth sinks into
the ocean, the stars fall from heaven, and time is no more.

After this Alfadur (the Almighty) will cause a new heaven and a
new earth to arise out of the sea. The new earth filled with
abundant supplies will spontaneously produce its fruits without
labor or care. Wickedness and misery will no more be known, but
the gods and men will live happily together.


One cannot travel far in Denmark, Norway, or Sweden without
meeting with great stones of different forms, engraven with
characters called Runic, which appear at first sight very
different from all we know. The letters consist almost invariably
of straight lines, in the shape of little sticks either singly or
put together. Such sticks were in early times used by the northern
nations for the purpose of ascertaining future events. The sticks
were shaken up, and from the figures that they formed a kind of
divination was derived.

The Runic characters were of various kinds. They were chiefly used
for magical purposes. The noxious, or, as they called them, the
BITTER runes, were employed to bring various evils on their
enemies; the favorable averted misfortune. Some were medicinal,
others employed to win love, etc. In later times they were
frequently used for inscriptions, of which more than a thousand
have been found. The language is a dialect of the Gothic, called
Norse, still in use in Iceland. The inscriptions may therefore be
read with certainty, but hitherto very few have been found which
throw the least light on history. They are mostly epitaphs on

Gray's ode on the "Descent of Odin" contains an allusion to the
use of Runic letters for incantation:

"Facing to the northern clime,
Thrice he traced the Runic rhyme;
Thrice pronounced, in accents dread,
The thrilling verse that wakes the dead,
Till from out the hollow ground
Slowly breathed a sullen sound."


The Skalds were the bards and poets of the nation, a very
important class of men in all communities in an early stage of
civilization. They are the depositaries of whatever historic lore
there is, and it is their office to mingle something of
intellectual gratification with the rude feasts of the warriors,
by rehearsing, with such accompaniments of poetry and music as
their skill can afford, the exploits of their heroes living or
dead. The compositions of the Skalds were called Sagas, many of
which have come down to us, and contain valuable materials of
history, and a faithful picture of the state of society at the
time to which they relate.


The Eddas and Sagas have come to us from Iceland. The following
extract from Carlyle's lectures on "Heroes and Hero Worship" gives
an animated account of the region where the strange stories we
have been reading had their origin. Let the reader contrast it for
a moment with Greece, the parent of classical mythology:

"In that strange island, Iceland,--burst up, the geologists say,
by fire from the bottom of the sea, a wild land of barrenness and
lava, swallowed many months of every year in black tempests, yet
with a wild, gleaming beauty in summer time, towering up there
stern and grim in the North Ocean, with its snow yokuls
[mountains], roaring geysers [boiling springs], sulphur pools, and
horrid volcanic chasms, like the waste, chaotic battlefield of
Frost and Fire,--where, of all places, we least looked for
literature or written memorials,--the record of these things was
written down. On the seaboard of this wild land is a rim of grassy
country, where cattle can subsist, and men by means of them and of
what the sea yields; and it seems they were poetic men these, men
who had deep thoughts in them and uttered musically their
thoughts. Much would be lost had Iceland not been burst up from
the sea, not been discovered by the Northmen!"


In the mythology of Germany proper, the name of Odin appears as
Wotan; Freya and Frigga are regarded as one and the same divinity,
and the gods are in general represented as less warlike in
character than those in the Scandinavian myths. As a whole,
however, Teutonic mythology runs along almost identical lines with
that of the northern nations. The most notable divergence is due
to modifications of the legends by reason of the difference in
climatic conditions. The more advanced social condition of the
Germans is also apparent in their mythology.


One of the oldest myths of the Teutonic race is found in the great
national epic of the Nibelungen Lied, which dates back to the
prehistoric era when Wotan, Frigga, Thor, Loki, and the other gods
and goddesses were worshipped in the German forests. The epic is
divided into two parts, the first of which tells how Siegfried,
the youngest of the kings of the Netherlands, went to Worms, to
ask in marriage the hand of Kriemhild, sister of Gunther, King of
Burgundy. While he was staying with Gunther, Siegfried helped the
Burgundian king to secure as his wife Brunhild, queen of Issland.
The latter had announced publicly that he only should be her
husband who could beat her in hurling a spear, throwing a huge
stone, and in leaping. Siegfried, who possessed a cloak of
invisibility, aided Gunther in these three contests, and Brunhild
became his wife. In return for these services, Gunther gave
Siegfried his sister Kriemhild in marriage.

After some time had elapsed, Siegfried and Kriemhild went to visit

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