1000 Mythological Characters Briefly Described
Page: 4Anthropology may be defined as the study of man, considered in his entire nature. In explaining mythology, the anthropologists say that “it is man, it is human thought and human language combined, which naturally and necessarily produced the strange conglomerate of ancient fable.” Instead, therefore, of seeking the source of myths in language, the second class find it in the “condition of thought through which all races have passed.”
The argument of the anthropologists is that while all nations have come from one parent-stock, as is claimed also by the philologists, yet the various peoples, in their primitive or savage state, have passed through a like low intellectual condition and growth. The folk-lore of all countries shows that the savages consider themselves of the same nature as beasts, and regard “even plants, inanimate objects, and the most abstract phenomena as persons with human parts and passions.” Every religion antedating [Pg 12] Christianity has inculcated the worship of idols, which usually take the form of beasts, and it will be noted in the study of myths that the gods often assume the forms of birds and animals. If it were in our power mentally to become savages for a time, so as to look upon nature and our surroundings as do the Blackfeet Indians, or the Patagonians, or the South Africans, it would be a long step toward making clear this particular phase of the question.
From what has been stated, however, the young student will gain an idea of the meaning of the word “myth,” which may be termed a story whose origin can never be known with certainty. To most people it has the same significance as a fable, legendary tale, or fanciful falsehood. A collection of myths belonging to a particular age or people is “a mythology,” and the branch of inquiry which classifies and interprets them bears the same name.
E. S. E.
November 1st, 1895.
DICTIONARY OF MYTHOLOGY.
Absyrtus (Absy′rtus). After Jason had slain the dragon which guarded the golden fleece, he fled with Medea, the beautiful young sorceress, and daughter of Aeetes, who pursued with great energy, for Medea had taken with her the most precious treasure of the king, his only son and heir, Absyrtus. To delay the pursuit, Medea slew her little brother, cut the body in pieces, and dropped them over the side of the vessel. Thus the cruel daughter effected her escape.
Achelous (Achelo′us) was a river god, and the rival of Hercules in his love for Deianira. To decide who should have the bride, Hercules and Achelous had recourse to a wrestling bout, the fame of which extends through all the intervening centuries. In this fierce struggle, Achelous changed himself into the form of a [Pg 14] bull and rushed upon his antagonist with lowered horns, intending to hurl him aside. Hercules eluded the onset, and seizing one of the huge horns, held it so firmly that it was broken off by the furious efforts of Achelous to free himself. He was defeated, and finally turned himself into a river, which has since been known by his name.
Acheron (Ach′eron) (see “The Youth’s Classical Dictionary”). The current of the river Acheron, across which all souls had to pass to hear their decree from Pluto, was so swift that the boldest swimmer dare not attempt to breast it; and, since there was no bridge, the spirits were obliged to rely upon the aid of Charon, an aged boatman, who plied the only boat that was available. He would allow no soul to enter this leaky craft until he had received the obolus, or fare, which the ancients carefully placed under the tongue of the dead, that they might not be delayed in their passage to Pluto. Those who had not their fare were forced to wait one hundred years, when Charon reluctantly ferried them over without charge.
Into the burning lake their baleful streams
... Sad Acheron, of sorrow black and deep.”
Achilles (Achil′les) was the most valiant of the Greek heroes in the Trojan War. He was the son of Peleus, King of Thessaly. His mother, Thetis, [Pg 15] plunged him, when an infant, into the Stygian pool, which made him invulnerable wherever the waters had washed him; but the heel by which he was held was not wetted, and that part remained vulnerable. He was shot with an arrow in the heel by Paris, at the siege of Troy, and died of his wound.