Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 5

  "Now the gilded car of day
  His golden axle doth allay
  In the steep Atlantic stream,
  And the slope sun his upward beam
  Shoots against the dusky pole,
  Pacing towards the other goal
  Of his chamber in the east."

The abode of the gods was on the summit of Mount Olympus, in Thessaly. A gate of clouds, kept by the goddesses named the Seasons, opened to permit the passage of the Celestials to earth, and to receive them on their return. The gods had their separate dwellings; but all, when summoned, repaired to the palace of Jupiter [Or Zeus. The relation of these names to each other will be explained on the next page], as did also those deities whose usual abode was the earth, the waters, or the underworld. It was also in the great hall of the palace of the Olympian king that the gods feasted each day on ambrosia and nectar, their food and drink, the latter being handed round by the lovely goddess Hebe. Here they conversed of the affairs of heaven and earth; and as they quaffed their nectar, Apollo, the god of music, delighted them with the tones of his lyre, to which the muses sang in responsive strains. When the sun was set, the gods retired to sleep in their respective dwellings.

The following lines from the Odyssey will show how Homer conceived of Olympus:—

  "So saying, Minerva, goddess azure-eyed,
  Rose to Olympus, the reputed seat
  Eternal of the gods, which never storms
  Disturb, rains drench, or snow invades, but calm
 The expanse and cloudless shines with purest day.
  T here the inhabitants divine rejoice
  Forever.:" Cowper

Such were the abodes of the gods as the Greeks conceived them. The Romans, before they knew the Greek poetry, seem to have had no definite imagination of such an assembly of gods. But the Roman and Etruscan races were by no means irreligious. They venerated their departed ancestors, and in each family the worship of these ancestors was an important duty. The images of the ancestors were kept in a sacred place, each family observed, at fixed times, memorial rites in their honor, and for these and other religious observances the family hearth was consecrated. The earliest rites of Roman worship are supposed to be connected with such family devotions.

As the Greeks and Romans became acquainted with other nations, they imported their habits of worship, even in early times. It will be remembered that as late as St. Paul's time, he found an altar at Athens "to an unknown god." Greeks and Romans alike were willing to receive from other nations the legends regarding their gods, and to incorporate them as well as they could with their own. It is thus that in the poetical mythology of those nations, which we are now to study, we frequently find a Latin and a Greek name for one imagined divinity. Thus Zeus, of the Greeks, becomes in Latin with the addition of the word pater (a father) [The reader will observe that father is one of the words derived from an Ayan root. Let p and t become rough, as the grammarians say, let p become ph, and t th, and you have phather or father], Jupiter Kronos of the Greeks appears as "Vulcanus" of the Latins, "Ares" of the Greeks is "Mars" or Mavors of the Latins, "Poseidon" of the Greeks is "Neptunus" of the Latins, "Aphrodite" of the Greeks is "Venus" of the Latins. This variation is not to be confounded with a mere translation, as where "Paulos" of the Greek becomes "Paulus" in Latin, or "Odysseus" becomes "Ulysses," or as when "Pierre" of the French becomes "Peter" in English. What really happened was, that as the Romans, more cultivated than their fathers, found in Greek literature a god of fire and smithery, they transferred his name "Hephaistos" to their own old god "Vulcanus," who had the same duties, and in their after literature the Latin name was used for the stories of Greek and Latin origin.