Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable
Page: 170AEneas and the Sybil then took leave of Anchises, and returned by some short cut, which the poet does not explain, to the upper world.
Virgil, we have seen, places his Elysium under the earth, and assigns it for a residence to the spirits of the blessed. But in Homer Elysium forms no part of the realms of the dead. He places it on the west of the earth, near Ocean, and described it as a happy land, where there is neither snow, nor cold, nor rain, and always fanned by the delightful breezes of Zephyrus. Hither favored heroes pass without dying, and live happy under the rule of Rhadamanthus. The Elysium of Hesiod and Pindar is in the Isles of the Blessed, or Fortunate Islands, in the Western Ocean. From these sprang the legend of the happy island Atlantis. This blissful region may have been wholly imaginary, but possibly may have sprung from the reports of some storm-driven mariners who had caught a glimpse of the coast of America.
James Russell Lowell, in one of his shorter poems, claims for the present age some of the privileges of that happy realm. Addressing the Past, he says,
"Whatever of true life there was in thee,
Leaps in our age's veins.
. . . . . .
"Here, 'mid the bleak waves of our strife and care,
Float the green 'Fortunate Isles,'
Where all thy hero-spirits dwell and share
Our martyrdoms and toils.
The present moves attended
With all of brave and excellent and fair
That made the old time splendid."
Milton alludes to the same fable in Paradise Lost, Book III., 1.568.
"Like those Hesperian gardens famed of old,
Fortunate fields and groves and flowery vales,
Thrice happy isles."
And in Book II. he characterizes the rivers of Erebus according to the meaning of their names in the Greek language:
"Abhorred Styx, the flood of deadly hate,
Sad Acheron of sorrow black and deep;
Cocytus named of lamentation loud
Heard on the rueful stream; fierce Phlegethon
Whose waves of torrent fire inflame with rage.
Far off from these a slow and silent stream.
Lethe, the river of oblivion, rolls
Her watery labyrinth, whereof who drinks
Forthwith his former state and being forgets,
Forgets both joy and grief, pleasure and pain."
As AEneas and the Sibyl pursued their way back to earth, he said to her, "Whether thou be a goddess or a mortal beloved by the gods, by me thou shalt always be held in reverence. When I reach the upper air, I will cause a temple to be built to thy honor, and will myself bring offerings." "I am no goddess," said the Sibyl; "I have no claim to sacrifice or offering. I am mortal; yet if I could have accepted the love of Apollo, I might have been immortal. He promised me the fulfilment of my wish, if I would consent to be his. I took a handful of sand, and holding it forth, said, 'Grant me to see as many birthdays as there are sand-grains in my hand.' Unluckily I forgot to ask for enduring youth. This also he would have granted, could I have accepted his love, but offended at my refusal, he allowed me to grow old. My youth and youthful strength fled long ago. I have lived seven hundred years, and to equal the number of the sand-grains, I have still to see three hundred springs and three hundred harvests. My body shrinks up as years increase, and in time, I shall be lost to sight, but my voice will remain, and future ages will respect my sayings."