Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 11

The Lares, or Lars, were also household gods, but differed from the Penates in being regarded as the deified spirits of mortals. The family Lars were held to be the souls of the ancestors, who watched over and protected their descendants. The words Lemur and Larva more nearly correspond to our word Ghost.

The Romans believed that every man had his Genius, and every woman her Juno; that is, a spirit who had given them being, and was regarded as a protector through life. On birthdays men made offerings to their Genius, women to their Juno.

Macaulay thus alludes to some of the Roman gods:—

  "Pomona loves the orchard,
  And Liber loves the vine,
  And Pales loves the straw-built shed
  Warm with the breath of kine;
  And Venus loves the whisper
  Of plighted youth and maid
  In April's ivory moonlight,
  Beneath the Chestnut shade."
  "Prophecy of Capys."

N.B. It is to be observed that in proper names the final e and es are to be sounded. Thus Cybele and Penates are words of three syllables. But Proserpine and Thebes have been so long used as English words, that they may be regarded as exceptions, to be pronounced as if English. Hecate is sometimes pronounced by the poets as a dissylable. In the Index at the close of the volume, we shall mark the accented syllable, in all words which appear to require it.


Prometheus and Pandora

The Roman poet Ovid gives us a connected narrative of creation. Before the earth and sea and the all-covering heaven, one aspect, which we call Chaos, covered all the face of Nature,— a rough heap of inert weight and discordant beginnings of things clashing together. As yet no sun gave light to the world, nor did the moon renew her slender horn month by month,— neither did the earth hang in the surrounding air, poised by its own weight,— nor did the sea stretch its long arms around the earth. Wherever there was earth, there was also sea and air. So the earth was not solid nor was the water fluid, neither was the air transparent.

God and Nature at last interposed and put an end to this discord, separating earth from sea, and heaven from both. The fiery part, being the lightest, sprang up, and formed the skies; the air was next in weight and place. The earth, being heavier, sank below, and the water took the lowest place and buoyed up the earth.

Here some god, no man knows who, arranged and divided the land. He placed the rivers and bays, raised mountains and dug out valleys and distributed woods, fountains, fertile fields and stony plains. Now that the air was clear the stars shone out, the fishes swam the sea and birds flew in the air, while the four-footed beasts roamed around the earth. But a nobler animal was needed, and man was made in the image of the gods with an upright stature [The two Greek words for man have the root an, "up], so that while all other animals turn their faces downward and look to the earth, he raises his face to heaven and gazes on the stars [Every reader will be interested in comparing this narrative with that in the beginning of Genesis. It seems clear that so many Jews were in Rome in Ovid's days, many of whom were people of consideration among those with whom he lived, that he may have heard the account in the Hebrew Scriptures translated. Compare JUDAISM by Prof. Frederic Huidekoper.]