Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 93

In the garden of her temple, in her own island of Cyprus, is a tree with yellow leaves and yellow branches, and golden fruit. Hence Venus gathered three golden apples, and, unseen by all else, gave them to Hippomenes, and told him how to use them. The signal is given; each starts from the goal, and skims over the sand. So light their tread, you would almost have thought they might run over the river surface or over the waving grain without sinking. The cries of the spectators cheered on Hippomenes: "Now, now do your best! Haste, haste! You gain on her! Relax not! One more effort!" It was doubtful whether the youth or the maiden heard these cries with the greater pleasure. But his breath began to fail him, his throat was dry, the goal yet far off. At that moment he threw down one of the golden apples. The virgin was all amazement. She stopped to pick it up. Hippomenes shot ahead. Shouts burst forth from all sides. She redoubled her efforts, and soon overtook him. Again he threw an apple. She stopped again, but again came up with him. The goal was near; one chance only remained. "Now, goddess," said he, "prosper your gift!" and threw the last apple off at one side. She looked at it, and hesitated; Venus impelled her to turn aside for it. She did so, and was vanquished. The youth carried off his prize.

But the lovers were so full of their own happiness that they forgot to pay due honor to Venus; and the goddess was provoked at their ingratitude. She caused them to give offence to Cybele. That powerful goddess was not to be insulted with impunity. She took from them their human form and turned them into animals of characters resembling their own: of the huntress-heroine, triumphing in the blood of her lovers, she made a lioness, and of her lord and master a lion, and yoked them to her ear, there they are still to be seen in all representations, in statuary or painting, of the goddess Cybele.

Cybele is the Latin name of the goddess called by the Greeks Rhea and Ops. She was the wife of Cronos and mother of Zeus. In works of art, she exhibits the matronly air which distinguishes Juno and Ceres. Sometimes she is veiled, and seated on a throne with lions at her side, at other times riding in a chariot drawn by lions. She sometimes wears a mural crown, that is, a crown whose rim is carved in the form of towers and battlements. Her priests were called Corybantes.

Byron in describing the city of Venice, which is built on a low island in the Adriatic Sea, borrows an illustration from Cybele:

  "She looks a sea-Cybele fresh from ocean,
  Rising with her tiara of proud towers
  At airy distance, with majestic motion,
  A ruler of the waters and their powers."
  Childe Harold, IV

In Moore's Rhymes on the Road, the poet, speaking of Alpine scenery, alludes to the story of Atalanta and Hippomenes, thus: