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Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 190

3. The Allegorical theory supposes that all the myths of the ancients were allegorical and symbolical, and contained some moral, religious, or philosophical truth or historical fact, under the form of an allegory, but came in process of time to be understood literally. Thus Saturn, who devours his own children, is the same power whom the Greeks called Kronos (Time), which may truly be said to destroy whatever it has brought into existence. The story of Io is interpreted in a similar manner. Io is the moon, and Argus the starry sky, which, as it were, keeps sleepless watch over her. The fabulous wanderings of Io represent the continual revolutions of the moon, which also suggested to Milton the same idea.

  "To behold the wandering moon
  Riding near her highest noon,
  Like one that had been led astray
  In the heaven's wide, pathless way."
  Il Penseroso

4. The Astronomical theory supposes that the different stories are corrupted versions of astronomical statements, of which the true meaning was forgotten. This theory is pushed to its extreme by Dupuis, in his treatise "Sur tous les cultes."

5. The Physical theory, according to which the elements of air, fire, and water, were originally the objects of religious adoration, and the principal deities were personifications of the powers of nature. The transition was easy from a personification of the elements to the notion of supernatural beings presiding over and governing the different objects of nature. The Greeks, whose imagination was lively, peopled all nature with invisible beings, and supposed that every object, from the sun and sea to the smallest fountain and rivulet, was under the care of some particular divinity. Wordsworth, in his Excursion, has beautifully developed this view of Grecian mythology.

  "In that fair clime the lonely herdsman, stretched
  On the soft grass through half a summer's day,
  With music lulled his indolent repose;
  And, in some fit of weariness, if he,
  When his own breath was silent, chanced to hear
  A distant strain far sweeter than the sounds
  Which his poor skill could make, his fancy fetched
  Even from the blazing chariot of the sun
  A beardless youth who touched a golden lute,
  And filled the illumined groves with ravishment.
  The mighty hunter, lifting up his eyes
  Toward the crescent Moon, with grateful heart
  Called on the lovely Wanderer who bestowed
  That timely light to share his joyous sport;
  And hence a beaming goddess with her nymphs
  Across the lawn and through the darksome grove
  (Not unaccompanied with tuneful notes
  By echo multiplied from rock or cave)
  Swept in the storm of chase, as moon and stars
  Glance rapidly along the clouded heaven
  When winds are blowing strong. The traveller slaked
  His thirst from rill or gushing fount, and thanked
  The Naiad. Sunbeams upon distant hills
  Gliding apace with shadows in their train,
  Might with small help from fancy, be transformed
  Into fleet Oreads sporting visibly.
  The Zephyrs, fanning, as they passed, their wings,
  Lacked not for love fair objects whom they wooed
  With gentle whisper. Withered boughs grotesque,
  Stripped of their leaves and twigs by hoary age,
  From depth of shaggy covert peeping forth
  In the low vale, or on steep mountain side;
  And sometimes intermixed with stirring horns
  Of the live deer, or goat's depending beard;
  These were the lurking Satyrs, a wild brood
  Of gamesome deities; or Pan himself,
  The simple shepherd's awe-inspiring god."


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