Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 189

In Cowper's poem of Yardley Oak there are some beautiful mythological allusions. The former of the two following is to the fable of Castor and Pollux; the latter is more appropriate to our present subject. Addressing the acorn he says,

  "Thou fell'st mature; and in the loamy clod,
  Swelling with vegetative force instinct,
  Didst burst thine egg, as theirs the fabled Twins
  Now stars; two lobes protruding, paired exact;
  A leaf succeeded and another leaf,
  And, all the elements thy puny growth
  Fostering propitious, thou becam'st a twig.
  Who lived when thou was such? Oh, couldst thou speak
  As in Dodona once thy kindred trees
  Oracular, I would not curious ask
  The future, best unknown, but at thy mouth
  Inquisitive, the less ambiguous past."

Tennyson in his Talking Oak alludes to the oaks of Dodona in these lines:

  "And I will work in prose and rhyme,
  And praise thee more in both
  Than bard has honored beech or lime,
  Or that Thessalian growth
  In which the swarthy ring-dove sat
  And mystic sentence spoke."

Byron alludes to the oracle of Delphi where, speaking of
Rousseau, whose writings he conceives did much to bring on the
French revolution, he says,

  "For then he was inspired, and from him came,
  As from the Pythian's mystic cave of yore,
  Those oracles which set the world in flame,
  Nor ceased to burn till kingdoms were no more."

Chapter XXVIII

Origin of Mythology Statues of Gods and Goddesses Poets of

Having reached the close of our series of stories of Pagan mythology, an inquiry suggests itself. "Whence came these stories? Have they a foundation in truth, or are they simply dreams of the imagination?" Philosophers have suggested various theories on the subject of which we shall give three or four.

1. The Scriptural theory; according to which all mythological legends are derived from the narratives of Scripture, though the real facts have been disguised and altered. Thus Deucalion is only another name for Noah, Hercules for Samson, Arion for Jonah, etc. Sir Walter Raleigh, in his History of the World, says, "Jubal, Tubal, and Tubal-Cain were Mercury, Vulcan, and Apollo, inventors of Pasturage, Smithing, and Music. The Dragon which kept the golden apples was the serpent that beguiled Eve. Nimrod's tower was the attempt of the Giants against Heaven. There are doubtless many curious coincidences like these, but the theory cannot without extravagance be pushed so far as to account for any great proportion of the stories.

2. The Historical theory; according to which all the persons mentioned in mythology were once real human beings, and the legends and fabulous traditions relating to them are merely the additions and embellishments of later times. Thus the story of AEolus, the king and god of the winds, is supposed to have risen from the fact that AEolus was the ruler of some islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, where he reigned as a just and pious king, and taught the natives the use of sails for ships, and how to tell from the signs of the atmosphere the changes of the weather and the winds. Cadmus, who, the legend says, sowed the earth with dragon's teeth, from which sprang a crop of armed men, was in fact an emigrant from Phoenicia, and brought with him into Greece the knowledge of the letters of the alphabet, which he taught to the natives. From these rudiments of learning sprung civilization, which the poets have always been prone to describe as a deterioration of man's first estate, the Golden Age of innocence and simplicity.