An Introduction to Mythology
Among the goddesses of the Greek pantheon Hera, the Juno of the Romans, was paramount because of her status as wife and sister of Zeus. She is the divine prototype of the wife and mother and the special patroness of marriage.
Pallas Athene, the Minerva of the Romans, is another composite deity. She seems to have been a queen of the air or a storm-goddess, and probably became a war-goddess through her possession of the lightning-spear. In peace she was looked upon as a patroness of useful crafts and even of abstract wisdom. She is often depicted with the owl and the[Pg 285] serpent, both emblems of wisdom. It is unusual to discover a war-or storm-deity posing as the patron of learning, and the exact manner in which Athene attained to the latter position is extremely obscure.
Aphrodite or Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, was probably a deity of Asiatic origin, and her birth from the sea-foam and home in Cyprus, where her cult was very strong, confirm the identification of her myth with that of Ashtaroth or Astarte.
A good deal has been said in this volume about the mythology of Egypt, and in especial Osiris, Thoth, and Ptah have already been considered, so that we may say more here of some other important gods of the Nile country. The reader is reminded that no definite Egyptian pantheon ever existed, for as dynasties rose and fell, and as the various priestly colleges throughout the land came into favour in turn, the deities whose cults they represented rose and fell in popularity—that is, at no time was there a fixed divine hierarchy like that of Greece.
Ra, the great god of the sun, figured as the head of a hawk, voyaged daily across the heavenly expanse in his bark. For many dynasties he was regarded as the greatest of all the gods of Egypt. He is by no means an intricate mythological figure, and it is plain that he is neither more nor less than a personification of the sun.
Anubis, the jackal, or dog-headed protector of the dead, presides over the process of embalming. He seems to have evolved from the dog who among many primitive people accompanies the deceased in the journey to the Otherworld.
Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, was a sun-god with many shapes, some perhaps local, but most of which typified the various stages of the sun's journey—its rising, its midday strength, its evening decline. He was the eternal enemy of Set, the night-god, a deity of darkness with whom he waged constant combat. From being a god of night and darkness pure and simple, Set came to be regarded as a deity of evil, and was placed in dualistic opposition to Horus, Ra, or Osiris, who thus symbolize moral good, the emblem of which is light.
Among the most important Egyptian goddesses is Isis, sister and wife of Osiris, probably, like her husband, connected with the corn-plant, although there are also indications that she is a wind-goddess. She is the great corn-mother of Egypt, perhaps only because of her connexion with Osiris, and she has the wings of a wind deity, restoring Osiris to life by fanning him with them. She is a great traveller, and unceasingly moans and sobs. At times she shrieks so loudly as to frighten children to death. She typifies not only the dreaded blast, but the revivifying power of the spring wind wailing and sobbing over the grave of the sleeping grain.
Nephthys, her sister, is the female counterpart of Set and the personification of darkness. As such she is also a funerary goddess.
As with Egyptian religion, the faith of the Babylonians and Assyrians varied with dynasties, for it depended upon the rise to power of a certain city or province, whose god then became temporarily supreme. Thus we find Merodach regarded as the chief god in Babylonia, while farther north in Assyria Asshur held sway, and Merodach had a fairly long line of predecessors whose powers and dignities he had taken over. Indeed, we find that he actually appropriated their myths. For example, in the creation myth cited in our chapter on cosmogony, Merodach is[Pg 287] the hero-god who succeeded in slaying Tiawath, the monster of the abyss; but in an older version of the story her slayer is the god En-lil, whose place Merodach usurped later. Round the figure of Merodach, alluded to as the Bel, the Babylonian title for the highest divinity, are grouped the other deities in descending degrees of importance, for, as in the worldly State, the king of the gods was surrounded by officials of diverse rank.