1855 - BULFINCH'S MYTHOLOGY:
THE AGE OF FABLE OR STORIES OF GODS AND HEROES
by Thomas Bulfinch
JUNO AND HER RIVALS, IO AND CALLISTO- DIANA AND
ACTAEON LATONA AND THE RUSTICS.
JUNO one day perceived it suddenly grow dark, and immediately suspected that her
husband had raised a cloud to hide some of his doings that would not bear the light. She brushed away the cloud, and saw her husband on the banks of a glassy river, with a beautiful heifer standing near him. Juno
suspected the heifer's form concealed some fair nymph of mortal mould- as was, indeed, the case; for it was Io, the daughter of the river god Inachus, whom Jupiter had been flirting with, and, when he became aware
of the approach of his wife, had changed into that form.
Juno joined her husband, and noticing the heifer praised its beauty, and asked whose
it was, and of what herd. Jupiter, to stop questions, replied that it was a fresh creation from the earth. Juno asked to have it as a gift. What could Jupiter do? He was loath to give his mistress to his wife; yet
how refuse so trifling a present as a simple heifer? He could not, without exciting suspicion; so he consented. The goddess was not yet relieved of her suspicions; so she delivered the heifer to Argus, to be
Now Argus bad a hundred eyes in his head, and never went to sleep with more than two
at a time, so that he kept watch of Io constantly He suffered her to feed through the day, and at night tied her up with a vile rope round her neck. She would have stretched out her arms to implore freedom of Argus,
but she had no arms to stretch out, and her voice was a bellow that frightened even herself. She saw her father and her sisters, went near them, and suffered them to pat her back, and heard them admire her beauty.
Her father reached her a tuft of grass, and she licked the outstretched hand. She longed to make herself known to him and would have uttered her wish; but, alas! words were wanting At length she bethought herself of
writing, and inscribed her name- it was a short one- with her hoof on the sand. Inachus recognized it, and discovering that his daughter, whom he had long sought in vain, was hidden under this disguise, mourned over
her, and, embracing her white neck, exclaimed, "Alas! my daughter, it would have been a less grief to have lost you altogether!" While he thus lamented, Argus, observing, came and drove her away, and took
his seat on a high bank, from whence he could see all round in every direction.
Jupiter was troubled at beholding the sufferings of his mistress, and calling,
Mercury told him to go and despatch Argus. Mercury made haste, put his winged slippers on his feet, and cap on his head, took his sleep-producing wand, and leaped down from the heavenly towers to the earth. There he
laid aside his wings, and kept only his wand, with which he presented himself as a shepherd driving his flock. As he strolled on he blew upon his pipes. These were what are called the Syrinx or Pandean pipes. Argus
listened with delight, for he had never seen the instrument before. "Young man," said he, "come and take a seat by me on this stone. There is no better place for your flocks to graze in than
hereabouts, and here is a pleasant shade such as shepherds love." Mercury sat down, talked, and told stories till it grew late, and played upon his pipes his most soothing strains, hoping to lull the watchful
eyes to sleep, but all in vain; for Argus still contrived to keep some of his eyes open though he shut the rest.
Among other stories, Mercury told him how the instrument on which he played was
invented. "There was a certain nymph, whose name was Syrinx, who was much beloved by the satyrs and spirits of the wood; but she would have none of them, but was a faithful worshipper of Diana, and followed the
chase. You would have thought it was Diana herself, had you seen her in her hunting dress, only that her bow was of horn and Diana's of silver. One day, as she was returning from the chase, Pan met her, told her
just this, and added more of the same sort. She ran away, without stopping to hear his compliments, and he pursued till she came to the bank of the river, where be overtook her, and she had only time to call for
help on her friends the water nymphs. They heard and consented. Pan threw his arms around what he supposed to be the form of the nymph and found he embraced only a tuft of reeds! As he breathed a sigh, the air
sounded through the reeds, and produced a plaintive melody. The god, charmed with the novelty and with the sweetness of the music, said, 'Thus, then, at least, you shall be mine.' And he took some of the reeds, and
placing them together of unequal lengths, side by side, made an instrument which he called Syrinx, in honour of the nymph." Before Mercury had finished his story he saw Argus's eyes all asleep. As his head
nodded forward on his breast, Mercury with one stroke cut his neck through, and tumbled his head down the rocks. O hapless Argus! the light of your hundred eyes is quenched at once! Juno took them and put them as
ornaments on the tail of her peacock, where they remain to this day.
But the vengeance of Juno was not yet satiated. She sent a gadfly to torment Io, who
fled over the whole world from its pursuit. She swam through the Ionian sea, which derived its name from her, then roamed over the plains of Illyria, ascended Mount Haemus, and crossed the Thracian strait, thence
named the Bosphorus (cowford), rambled on through Scythia, and the country of the Cimmerians, and arrived at last on the banks of the Nile. At length Jupiter interceded for her, and upon his promising not to pay her
any more attentions Juno consented to restore her to her form. It was curious to see her gradually recover her former self. The coarse hairs fell from her body, her horns shrank up, her eyes grew narrower, her mouth
shorter; hands and fingers came instead of hoofs to her forefeet; in fine there was nothing left of the heifer, except her beauty. At first she was afraid to speak, for fear she should low, but gradually she
recovered her confidence and was restored to her father and sisters.
In a poem dedicated to Leigh Hunt, by Keats, the following allusion to the story of
Pan and Syrinx occurs:
"So did he feel who pulled the bough aside,
That we might look into a forest wide,
. . . . . . . .
Telling us how fair trembling Syrinx fled
Arcadian Pan, with such a fearful dread.
Poor nymph- poor Pan- how he did weep to find
Nought but a lovely sighing of the wind
Along the reedy stream; a half-heard strain,
Full of sweet desolation, balmy pain."
Callisto was another maiden who excited the jealousy of Juno, and the goddess
changed her into a bear. "I will take away," said she, "that beauty with which you have captivated my husband." Down fell Callisto on her hands and knees; she tried to stretch out her arms in
supplication- they were already beginning to be covered with black hair. Her hands grew rounded, became armed with crooked claws, and served for feet; her mouth, which Jove used to praise for its beauty, became a
horrid pair of jaws; her voice, which if unchanged would have moved the heart to pity, became a growl, more fit to inspire terror. Yet her former disposition remained, and with continual groaning, she bemoaned her
fate, and stood upright as well as she could, lifting up her paws to be, for mercy, and felt that Jove was unkind, though she could not tell him so. Ah, how often, afraid to stay in the woods all night alone, she
wandered about the neighbourhood of her former haunts; how often, frightened by the dogs, did she, so lately a huntress, fly in terror from the hunters! Often she fled from the wild beasts, forgetting that she was
now a wild beast herself; and, bear as she was, was afraid of the bears.
One day a youth espied her as he was hunting. She saw him and recognized him as her
own son, now grown a young man. She stopped and felt inclined to embrace him. As she was about to approach, he, alarmed, raised his hunting spear, and was on the point of transfixing her, when Jupiter, beholding,
arrested the crime, and snatching, away both of them, placed them in the heavens as the Great and Little Bear.
Juno was in a rage to see her rival so set in honour, and hastened to ancient Tethys
and Oceanus, the powers of ocean, and in answer to their inquiries thus told the cause of her coming: "Do you ask why I, the queen of the gods, have left the heavenly plains and sought your depths? Learn that I
am supplanted in heaven- my place is given to another. You will hardly believe me; but look when night darkens the world, and you shall see the two of whom I have so much reason to complain exalted to the heavens,
in that part where the circle is the smallest, in the neighborbood of the pole. Why should any one hereafter tremble at the thought of offending Juno when such rewards are the consequence of my displeasure? See what
I have been able to effect! I forbade her to wear the human form- she is placed among the stars! So do my punishments result- such is the extent of my power! Better that she should have resumed her former shape, as
I permitted Io to do. Perhaps he means to marry her, and put me away! But you, my foster-parents, if you feel for me, and see with displeasure this unworthy treatment of me, show it, I beseech you, by forbidding
this couple from coming into your waters." The powers of the ocean assented and consequently the two constellations of the Great and Little Bear move round and round in heaven, but never sink, as the other
stars do, beneath the ocean.
Milton alludes to the fact that the constellation of the Bear never sets, when he
"Let my lamp at midnight hour
Be seen in some high lonely tower,
Where I may oft outwatch the Bear," etc.
And Prometheus, in J. R. Lowell's poem, says:
"One after one the stars have risen and set,
Sparkling upon the hoar frost of my chain;
The Bear that prowled all night about the fold
Of the North-star, hath shrunk into his den,
Scared by the blithesome footsteps of the Dawn."
The last star in the tail of the Little Bear is the Polestar, called also the
Cynosure. Milton says:
"Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures
While the landscape round it measures.
. . . . . . . .
Towers and battlements it sees
Bosomed high in tufted trees,
Where perhaps some beauty lies
The Cynosure of neighbouring eyes."
The reference here is both to the Polestar as the guide of mariners, and to the
magnetic attraction of the North. He calls it also the "Star of Arcady," because Callisto's boy was named Arcas, and they lived in Arcadia. In "Comus," the brother, benighted in the woods, says:
"...Some gentle taper!
Though a rush candle, from the wicker hole
Of some clay habitation, visit us
With thy long levelled rule of streaming light,
And thou shalt be our star of Arcady,
Or Tyrian Cynosure."
DIANA AND ACTAEON
Thus in two instances we have seen Juno's severity to her rivals; now let us learn
how a virgin goddess punished an invader of her privacy.
It was midday, and the sun stood equally distant from either goal, when young
Actaeon, son of King Cadmus, thus addressed the youths who with him were hunting the stag in the mountains:
"Friends, our nets and our weapons are wet with the blood of our victims; we
have had sport enough for one day, and to-morrow we can renew our labours. Now, while Phoebus parches the earth, let us put by our implements and indulge ourselves with rest."
There was a valley thick enclosed with cypresses and pines, sacred to the huntress
queen, Diana. In the extremity of the valley was a cave, not adorned with art, but nature had counterfeited art in its construction, for she had turned the arch of its roof with stones, as delicately fitted as if by
the hand of man. A fountain burst out from one side, whose open basin was bounded by a grassy rim. Here the goddess of the woods used to come when weary with hunting and lave her virgin limbs in the sparkling water.
One day, having repaired thither with her nymphs, she handed her javelin, her
quiver, and her bow to one, her robe to another, while a third unbound the sandals from her feet. Then Crocale, the most skilful of them, arranged her hair, and Nephele, Hyale, and the rest drew water in capacious
urns. While the goddess was thus employed in the labours of the toilet, behold Actaeon, having quitted his companions, and rambling without any especial object, came to the place, led thither by his destiny. As he
presented himself at the entrance of the cave, the nymphs, seeing a man, screamed and rushed towards the goddess to hide her with their bodies, but she was taller than the rest and overtopped them all by a head.
Such a colour as tinges the clouds at sunset or at dawn came over the countenance of Diana thus taken by surprise. Surrounded as she was by her nymphs, she yet turned half away, and sought with a sudden impulse for
her arrows. As they were not at hand, she dashed the water into the face of the intruder, adding these words: "Now go and tell, if you can, that you have seen Diana unapparelled." Immediately a pair of
branching stag's horns grew out of his head, his neck gained in length, his ears grew sharp-pointed, his hands became feet, his arms long legs, his body was covered with a hairy spotted hide. Fear took the place of
his former boldness, and the hero fled. He could not but admire his own speed; but when he saw his horns in the water, "Ah, wretched me!" he would have said, but no sound followed the effort. He groaned,
and tears flowed down the face which had taken the place of his own. Yet his consciousness remained. What shall he do?- go home to seek the palace, or lie hid in the woods? The latter he was afraid, the former he
was ashamed to do. While he hesitated the dogs saw him. First Melampus, a Spartan dog, gave the signal with his bark, then Pamphagus, Dorceus, Lelaps, Theron, Nape, Tigris, and all the rest, rushed after him swifter
than the wind. Over rocks cliffs, through mountain gorges seemed impracticable, he fled and they followed. Where he had often chased the stag and cheered on his pack, his pack now chased him, cheered on by his
huntsmen. He longed to cry out, "I am Actaeon; recognize your master!" but the words came not at his will. The air resounded with the bark of the dogs. Presently one fastened on his back, another seized
his shoulder. While they held their master, the rest of the pack came up and buried their teeth in his flesh. He groaned,- not in a human voice, yet certainly not in a stag's,- and falling on his knees, raised his
eyes, and would have raised his arms in supplication, if he had had them. His friends and fellow-huntsmen cheered on the dogs, and looked everywhere for Actaeon calling on him to join the sport. At the sound of his
name he turned his head, and heard them regret that he should be away. He earnestly wished he was. He would have been well pleased to see the exploits of his dogs, but to feel them was too much. They were all around
him, rending and tearing; and it was not till they had torn his life out that the anger of Diana was satisfied.
In Shelley's poem "Adonais" is the following allusion to the story of
"Midst others of less note came one frail form,
A phantom among men: companionless
As the last cloud of an expiring storm,
Whose thunder is its knell; he, as I guess,
Had gazed on Nature's naked loveliness,
Actaeon-like, and now he fled astray
With feeble steps o'er the world's wilderness;
And his own Thoughts, along that rugged way,
Pursued like raging hounds their father and their prey."
The allusion is probably to Shelley himself.
LATONA AND THE RUSTICS.
Some thought the goddess in this instance more severe than was just, while others
praised her conduct as strictly consistent with her virgin dignity. As usual, the recent event brought older ones to mind, and one of the bystanders told this story: "Some countrymen of Lycia once insulted the
goddess Latona, but not with impunity. When I was young, my father, who had grown too old for active labours, sent me to Lycia to drive thence some choice oxen, and there I saw the very pond and marsh where the
wonder happened. Near by stood an ancient altar, black with the smoke of sacrifice and almost buried among the reeds. I inquired whose altar it might be, whether of Faunus or the Naiads, or some god of the
neighbouring mountain, and one of the country people replied, 'No mountain or river god possesses this altar, but she whom royal Juno in her jealousy drove from land to land, denying her any spot of earth whereon to
rear her twins. Bearing in her arms the infant deities, Latona reached this land, weary with her burden and parched with thirst. By chance she espied in the bottom of the valley this pond of clear water, where the
country people were at work gathering willows and osiers. The goddess approached, and kneeling on the bank would have slaked her thirst in the cool stream, but the rustics forbade her. "Why do you refuse me
water?" said she; "water is free to all. Nature allows no one to claim as property the sunshine, the air, or the water. I come to take my share of the common blessing. Yet I ask it of you as a favour. I
have no intention of washing my limbs in it, weary though they be, but only to quench my thirst. My mouth is so dry that I can hardly speak. A draught of water would be nectar to me; it would revive me, and I would
own myself indebted to you for life itself. Let these infants move your pity, who stretch out their little arms as if to plead for me;" and the children, as it happened, were stretching out their arms.
"'Who would not have been moved with these gentle words of the goddess? But
these clowns persisted in their rudeness; they even added jeers and threats of violence if she did not leave the place. Nor was this all. They waded into the pond and stirred up the mud with their feet, so as to
make the water unfit to drink. Latona was so angry that she ceased to mind her thirst. She no longer supplicated the clowns, but lifting her hands to heaven exclaimed, "May they never quit that pool, but pass
their lives there!" And it came to pass accordingly. They now live in the water, sometimes totally submerged, then raising their heads above the surface or swimming upon it. Sometimes they come out upon the
bank, but soon leap back again into the water. They still use their base voices in railing, and though they have the water all to themselves, are not ashamed to croak in the midst of it. Their voices are harsh,
their throats bloated, their mouths have become stretched by constant railing, their necks have shrunk up and disappeared, and their heads are joined to their bodies. Their backs are green, their disproportioned
bellies white, and in short they are now frogs, and dwell in the slimy pool.'"
This story explains the allusion in one of Milton's sonnets, "On the detraction
which followed upon his writing certain treatises."
"I did but prompt the age to quit their clogs
By the known laws of ancient liberty,
When straight a barbarous noise environs me
Of owls and cuckoos, asses, apes and dogs.
As when those hinds that were transformed to frogs
Railed at Latona's twin-born progeny,
Which after held the sun and moon in fee."
The persecution which Latona experienced from Juno is alluded to in the story. The
tradition was that the future mother of Apollo and Diana, flying from the wrath of Juno, besought all the islands of the AEgean to afford her a place of rest, but all feared too much the potent queen of heaven to
assist her rival. Delos alone consented to become the birthplace of the future deities. Delos was then a floating island; but when Latona arrived there, Jupiter fastened it with adamantine chains to the bottom of
the sea, that it might be a secure resting-place for his beloved. Byron alludes to Delos in his "Don Juan":
"The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!"
Bulfinch's Mythology Table of Contents