A Book of Myths
Against Heav’n’s hand or will, nor bate a jot
Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer
So spoke Milton, the blind Titan of the seventeenth century; and Shakespeare says:
Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings.”
Upon the earth, and on the children of men who were as gods in their knowledge and mastery of the force of fire, Jupiter had had his revenge. For Prometheus he reserved another punishment. He, the greatly-daring, once the dear friend and companion of Zeus himself, was chained to a rock on Mount Caucasus by the vindictive deity. There, on a dizzy height, his body thrust against the sun-baked rock, Prometheus had to endure the torment of having a foul-beaked vulture tear out his liver, as though he were a piece of carrion lying on the mountain side. All day, while the sun mercilessly smote him and the blue sky turned from red to black before his pain-racked eyes, the torture went on. Each night, when the filthy bird of prey that worked the will of the gods spread its dark wings and flew back to its eyrie, the Titan endured the cruel mercy of having his body grow whole once more. But with daybreak there came again the silent shadow, [Pg 9] the smell of the unclean thing, and again with fierce beak and talons the vulture greedily began its work.
Thirty thousand years was the time of his sentence, and yet Prometheus knew that at any moment he could have brought his torment to an end. A secret was his—a mighty secret, the revelation of which would have brought him the mercy of Zeus and have reinstated him in the favour of the all-powerful god. Yet did he prefer to endure his agonies rather than to free himself by bowing to the desires of a tyrant who had caused Man to be made, yet denied to Man those gifts that made him nobler than the beasts and raised him almost to the heights of the Olympians. Thus for him the weary centuries dragged by—in suffering that knew no respite—in endurance that the gods might have ended. Prometheus had brought an imperial gift to the men that he had made, and imperially he paid the penalty.
And moments aye divided by keen pangs
Till they seemed years, torture and solitude,
Scorn and despair,—these are mine empire.
More glorious far than that which thou surveyest
From thine unenvied throne, O, Mighty God!
Almighty, had I deigned to share the shame
Of thine ill tyranny, and hung not here
Nailed to this wall of eagle-baffling mountain,
Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured; without herb,
Insect, or beast, or shape or sound of life.
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!”
The sufferings of mortality
Seen in their sad reality,
[Pg 10] Were not as things that gods despise;
What was thy pity’s recompense?
A silent suffering, and intense;
The rock, the vulture, and the chain,
All that the proud can feel of pain,
The agony they do not show,
The suffocating sense of woe,
Which speaks but in its loneliness,
And then is jealous lest the sky
Should have a listener, nor will sigh
Until its voice is echoless.”
By years of solitude,—that holds apart
The past and future, giving the soul room
To search into itself,—and long commune
With this eternal silence;—more a god,
In my long-suffering and strength to meet
With equal front the direst shafts of fate,
Than thou in thy faint-hearted despotism ...
Therefore, great heart, bear up! thou art but type
Of what all lofty spirits endure that fain
Would win men back to strength and peace through love:
Each hath his lonely peak, and on each heart
Envy, or scorn or hatred tears lifelong
With vulture beak; yet the high soul is left;
And faith, which is but hope grown wise, and love
And patience, which at last shall overcome.”
In days when the world was young and when the gods walked on the earth, there reigned over the island of Cyprus a sculptor-king, and king of sculptors, named Pygmalion. In the language of our own day, we should call him “wedded to his art.” In woman he only saw the bane of man. Women, he believed, lured men from the paths to which their destiny called them. While man walked alone, he walked free—he had given no “hostages to fortune.” Alone, man could live for his art, could combat every danger that beset him, could escape, unhampered, from every pitfall in life. But woman was the ivy that clings to the oak, and throttles the oak in the end. No woman, vowed Pygmalion, should ever hamper him. And so at length he came to hate women, and, free of heart and mind, his genius wrought such great things that he became a very perfect sculptor. He had one passion, a passion for his art, and that sufficed him. Out of great rough blocks of marble he would hew the most perfect semblance of men and of women, and of everything that seemed to him most beautiful and the most worth preserving.