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Myths of Greece and Rome


The aim of this book is to present a complete and entertaining account of Grecian and Roman mythology in such a manner that the student will appreciate its great influence upon literature and art.

These myths, an inexhaustible fund of inspiration for the poets and artists of the past, have also inspired many noted modern works. To impress this fact forcibly upon the student, appropriate quotations from the poetical writings of all ages, from Hesiod's "Works and Days," to Tennyson's "Oenone," have been inserted in the text, while reproductions of ancient masterpieces and noted examples of modern painting and sculpture are plentifully used as illustrations.

The myths are told as graphically and accurately as possible, great care being taken, however, to avoid the more repulsive features of heathen mythology; and when two or more versions of the same myth occur, the preference has invariably been given to the most popular, that is to say, to the one which has inspired the greatest works.

Both the Latin and the Greek forms of proper names are given, but the Latin names are usually retained throughout the narrative, because more frequently used in poetry and art.


[Sidenote: Jupiter's titles.]

Jupiter, Jove, or Zeus, king of the gods, supreme ruler of the universe, the special deity of mankind, the personification of the sky and of all the phenomena of the air, and the guardian of political order and peace, was the most prominent of all the Olympian divinities: the others were obliged to submit to his will, and trembled at his all-powerful nod.

"He, whose all-conscious eyes the world behold, The eternal Thunderer sat, enthroned in gold. High heaven the footstool of his feet he makes, And wide beneath him all Olympus shakes."

"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 trembling the dread signal took, And all Olympus to the center shook."

Homer (Pope's tr.).

The Fates and Destiny alone dared oppose Jupiter's sovereign will, and they continued to issue their irrevocable decrees, even after he supplanted his father and began to rule over all.

In common with all other Greek and Roman divinities, Jupiter, though immortal, was subject to pleasure, pain, grief, and anger, and a prey to all the passions which rule the hearts of men.

It was he who presided at the councils held on the top of "many-peaked Olympus," and summoned the gods whenever he wished to discuss with them any matter of importance, or to indulge in a sumptuous repast, when they ate the celestial ambrosia and quaffed the fragrant nectar.

He is generally represented as a fine majestic figure, with long curling hair and beard, clad in flowing drapery, his redoubtable thunderbolts or scepter in one hand, and a statue of Victory in the other. The world is his footstool; and the eagle, emblem of strength and power, is generally seen close beside him.

[Sidenote: Jupiter's attendants.]

Jupiter had his own special attendants, such as Victoria, or Nice, the goddess of victory, who was ever ready to obey his slightest behest, and it is said her master loved her so dearly, that he generally held an image of her in his hand.

The hundred-tongued goddess of fame, Fama, trumpet in hand, proclaimed, at his bidding, anything he wished, never questioning whether it were true or false.

"Fame than who never plague that runs Its way more swiftly wins: Her very motion lends her power: She flies and waxes every hour. At first she shrinks, and cowers for dread: Ere long she soars on high: Upon the ground she plants her tread, Her forehead in the sky."

Virgil (Conington's tr.).

Close by Jupiter's side was sometimes seen Fortuna, goddess of fortune, poised on a constantly revolving wheel, whereon she journeyed throughout the world, scattering with careless hands her numerous gifts, and lavishing with indifference her choicest smiles; while Hebe, or Juventas, the goddess of youth, was ever ready at his wish to pour out the nectar, in which the gods were wont to pledge each other.

"Hebe, honored of them all, Ministered nectar, and from cups of gold They pledged each other."

Homer (Bryant's tr.).

But this fair goddess awkwardly tripped and fell on a solemn occasion, and was forced to resign her office. To replace her, the father of the gods was obliged to go in quest of another cup-bearer.

To facilitate his search, he assumed the form of an eagle, and winged his flight over the earth. He had not flown far, before he beheld a youth of marvelous beauty, alone on a neighboring hill. To swoop down, catch him up in his mighty talons, and bear him safely off to Olympus, was but a moment's work; and there the kidnapped youth Ganymede, the son of a king of Troy, was carefully instructed in the duties he was called upon to perform in the future.

"And godlike Ganymede, most beautiful Of men; the gods beheld and caught him up To heaven, so beautiful was he, to pour The wine to Jove, and ever dwell with them."

Homer (Bryant's tr.).

[Sidenote: Story of Philemon and Baucis.]

Solicitous for the welfare of mankind, Jupiter often visited the earth, taking great care to assume some disguise which would enable him to ascertain all he wished without any risk of detection. One day he and Mercury, his special messenger and favorite among the gods, took the forms of needy, belated travelers, and entered the lowly hut of a worthy old couple, Philemon and Baucis.

Eager to offer their best to the strangers, these poor people decided to kill their sole remaining goose; but their efforts to secure it were vain, and finally the persecuted fowl took refuge between Jupiter's knees. Touched with their zeal, yet anxious to prevent the death of the confiding goose, Jupiter revealed himself to his faithful worshipers, and in gratitude for their intended sacrifice bade them ask any boon, promising by the great river Styx--the most binding and solemn oath a god could utter--to grant their request.

Contrary to the custom current in similar cases, Philemon and Baucis made a modest and judicious choice, and proffered a timid request that they might serve the gods as long as life and strength endured, and finally die together. This most reasonable wish was immediately granted; and Jupiter, moreover, changed their humble abode into a superb temple, where they could offer daily sacrifices on his altars.

"Their little shed, scarce large enough for two, Seems, from the ground increased, in height and bulk to grow. A stately temple shoots within the skies, The crotches of their cot in columns rise; The pavement polish'd marble they behold, The gates with sculpture grac'd, the spires and tiles of gold."

Ovid (Dryden's tr.).

After many years of faithful service, when age had made them long for death, Philemon and Baucis were transformed into majestic oaks, which stood for many a century in front of the temple, monuments of the love and faith which had bound the pair through life.

Although married to Juno, Jupiter often indulged in love affairs with other goddesses, and even with mortal maidens. The ancients themselves did not practice polygamy, but their gods were supposed to be able to indulge all their passions with impunity. As the personification of the sky, Jupiter, therefore, consorted at times with Juno (the Atmosphere), with Dione (Moisture), with Themis (Justice), etc., without incurring any reproach; for these marriages, in their estimation, were all symbolical.

But Juno being of a jealous disposition, Jupiter was forced to conduct his courtships with great secrecy and circumspection, and therefore generally adopted the precaution of a disguise. To win Europa, the fair daughter of Agenor, for instance, he became a bull.

"The gods themselves, Humbling their deities to love, have taken The shapes of beasts upon them. Jupiter Became a bull, and bellow'd."


[Sidenote: Jupiter kidnaps Europa.]

One day Europa was playing in her father's meadows with her three brothers, Cadmus, Phoenix, and Cilix, when she suddenly saw a white bull coming towards her; not with fiery eyes and lowered horns, but gently, as if to express a mute request to be petted. The maiden, delighted, stroked the beast, and decked him with bright garlands of meadow-blossoms. Then, seeing him kneel, as if to invite her to mount, she lightly sprang upon his broad back, calling to her companions to follow her example; but, before they could do as she wished, the bull had risen to his feet, and galloped off towards the sea with his fair burden on his back.

Instead of turning when he saw the foam-crested waves, he plunged into the midst of them, and in a few minutes disappeared from view, so rapidly did he swim away. To reassure the frightened girl, the bull now spoke in gentle accents, bidding her dismiss all fear, for he was the great Jupiter in disguise.

"Take courage, gentle maid! nor fear the tide: I, though near-seen a bull, am heavenly Jove: I change my shape at will."

Moschus (Elton's tr.).

Pleased with the novelty of her situation, and flattered by the god's evident admiration, Europa ceased to struggle, wound her arms more closely around the bull's neck to prevent the waves from washing her off her perilous seat, and allowed herself to be carried away.

Jupiter finally deposited his fair burden upon the shores of a new land, to which he gallantly gave her name, Europe. He then resumed his wonted form, explained at length his reasons for so unceremoniously kidnapping her, and finally won her consent to their union. Their three sons were Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon. The two former were subsequently appointed judges in the Infernal Regions, while the third found an early but glorious death during the Trojan war.

[Sidenote: Search for Europa.]

All unconscious of their sister's fate, the young princes had returned in haste to their father's palace to announce her sudden involuntary departure. Agenor, whose favorite she had always been, rent his garments for grief, and bade his sons go forth and seek her, and not to return till they had found her. Accompanied by their mother, Telephassa, they immediately set out on their journey, inquiring of all they met if they had seen their sister. Search and inquiry proved equally fruitless.

At last, weary of this hopeless quest, Phoenix refused his further aid, and allowed his sorrowing relatives to continue without him, remaining in a land which from him was called Phoenicia. Cilix, too, soon followed his example, and settled in a fertile country which they had reached, hence called Cilicia; and finally Telephassa, worn out with grief and fatigue, lay down to die, charging her oldest son to go on alone.

Cadmus wandered on till he came to Delphi, where he consulted the oracle; but, to his great dismay, the only reply he received was, "Follow the cow, and settle where she rests."

In deep perplexity he left the temple, and, from force of habit, journeyed on, patiently questioning all he met. Soon he perceived a cow leisurely walking in front of him, and, mindful of the oracle, he ceased his search and followed her. Urged by curiosity, many adventurers joined him on the way, and, when the cow at last lay down in the land since called Boeotia, they all promised to aid Cadmus, their chosen leader, to found their future capital, which was to be called Thebes.

[Sidenote: Founding of Thebes.]

Parched with thirst after their long walk, the men then hastened to a neighboring spring, but, to Cadmus' surprise, time passed and still they did not return. Armed with his trusty sword, he finally went down to the spring to discover the cause of their delay, and found that they had all been devoured by a huge dragon, which lived in the hollow. The prince raised his sword to avenge their death, and dealt the dragon such a deadly blow upon the head, that he put an immediate end to its existence.

While Cadmus stood there contemplating his lifeless foe, a voice bade him extract the dragon's teeth, and sow them in the ground already broken for his future city. No human being was within sight: so Cadmus knew the order proceeded from the immortal gods, and immediately prepared to obey it. The dragon's teeth were no sooner planted, than a crop of giants sprang from the soil, full grown, and armed to the teeth. They were about to fall upon Cadmus, when the same voice bade him cast a stone in the midst of their close-drawn phalanx. Cadmus, seeing the giants were almost upon him, and that no time was to be lost, quickly threw a stone. The effect produced was almost instantaneous; for the giants, each fancying it had been thrown by his neighbor, began fighting among themselves. In a few minutes the number of giants was reduced to five, who sheathed their bloodstained weapons, and humbly tendered their services to Cadmus. With their aid, the foundations of the city were laid; but their labor was not very arduous, as the gods caused some of the public buildings to rise up out of the ground, all complete, and ready for use.

To reward Cadmus for his loving and painstaking search for Europa, Jupiter gave him the hand of the fair princess Harmonia, a daughter of Mars and Venus, in marriage. Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, is supposed to have invented the alphabet, and introduced its use into Greece. Although his career was very prosperous at first, he finally incurred the wrath of the gods by forgetting, on a solemn occasion, to offer them a suitable sacrifice; and, in anger at his dereliction, they changed him and Harmonia into huge serpents.

[Sidenote: Worship of Jupiter.]

Jupiter was, of course, very widely and generally worshiped by the ancients; and his principal temples--the Capitol at Rome, and the shrine of Jupiter Ammon in Libya--have been world-renowned. He also had a noted temple at Dodona, where an oak tree gave forth mysterious prophecies, which were supposed to have been inspired by the king of gods; this long lost shrine has recently been discovered.

"Oh, where, Dodona! is thine aged grove, Prophetic fount, and oracle divine? What valley echoed the response of Jove? What trace remaineth of the Thunderer's shrine? All, all forgotten!"


A magnificent temple at Olympia, on the Peloponnesus, was also dedicated to Jupiter; and here every fifth year the people of Greece were wont to assemble to celebrate games, in honor of Jupiter's great victory over the Titans. These festivals were known as the Olympian Games; and the Greeks generally reckoned time by olympiads, that is to say, by the space of time between the celebrations. Within the temple at Olympia stood a wonderful statue of gold and ivory, the work of Phidias.

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