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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 34

THE GHASTLY PRIEST

"For these reasons, apparently, Statius calls the Arician grove profugis regibus aptum, a sanctuary of exiled princes, Orestes and Hippolytus. From Suetonius we learn that the ghastly priest was styled Rex Nemorensis King of the Wood, and that the envious Caligula, thinking the priest had held office long enough, set another athlete to kill him. The title of 'king,' borne by a priest, suggests, of course, the sacrificial king at Rome. Also Mr Frazer adduces African kings of fire and water, credited with miraculous powers over the elements. They kill nobody and nobody kills them. Then we have Jack-in-the-Green = May-tree = the Spirit of Vegetation—the May King and the Queen of the May. 'These titles,' as Mannhardt observes, 'imply that the spirit incorporate in vegetation is a ruler, whose creative power extends far and wide.' Possibly so. Now, the King of the Wood, the ghastly priest, lived in the grove of Diana, who (among other things) has the attributes of a tree-spirit. 'May not, then, the King of the Wood, in the Arician grove, have been, like the King of the May ... an incarnation of the tree-spirit, or spirit of vegetation?' Given a female tree-spirit, we should rather expect a Queen of the Wood; and we assuredly do not expect a priest of Diana to represent the supreme Aryan god, nay to incarnate him. But this Mr Frazer thinks probable. Again, 'since the King of the Wood could only be assailed by him who had plucked the Golden Bough, his life was safe from assault so long as the bough, or the tree on which it grew, remained uninjured.'


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