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Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 139

Flora and Zephyrus.

The fairest among all the lesser gods was doubtless Flora, goddess of flowers, who married Zephyrus, the gentle god of the south wind, and wandered happily with him from place to place, scattering her favors with lavish generosity. She was principally worshiped by young girls, and the only offerings ever seen on her altars were fruits and garlands of beautiful flowers. Her festivals, generally celebrated in the month of May, were called the Floralia.

[302]

Refer to caption

“A FAVORABLE OPPORTUNITY.”—Thumann. (Vertumnus and Pomona.)

[303] “Crowds of nymphs,
Soft voiced, and young, and gay,
In woven baskets bringing ears of corn,
Roses and pinks and violets to adorn
The shrine of Flora in her early May.”
Keats.

Vertumnus and Pomona were the special divinities of the garden and orchard. They are represented with pruning knives and shears, gardening implements, and fruits and flowers. Pomona was very coy indeed, and had no desire to marry. Vertumnus, enamored of her charms, did his best to make her change her mind, but she would not even listen to his pleadings.

At last the lover had recourse to stratagem, disguised himself as an aged crone, entered Pomona’s garden, and inquired how it happened that such a very charming young woman should remain so long unmarried. Then, having received a mocking answer, he began to argue with her, and finally extracted an avowal, that, among all the suitors, one alone was worthy of her love, Vertumnus. Vertumnus seized the favorable opportunity, revealed himself, and clasped her to his breast. Pomona, perceiving that she had hopelessly betrayed herself, no longer refused to wed, but allowed him to share her labors, and help her turn the luscious fruit to ripen in the autumn sunshine.

Sea deities.

The lesser divinities of the sea were almost as numerous as those of the land, and included the lovely Oceanides and Nereides, together with their male companions the Tritons, who generally formed Neptune’s regal train.

Story of Glaucus.

One of the lesser sea gods, Glaucus, was once a poor fisherman, who earned his daily bread by selling the fish he caught in his nets. On one occasion he made an extra fine haul, and threw his net full of fish down upon a certain kind of grass, which the flapping fish immediately nibbled, and, as if endowed with extraordinary powers, bounded back into the waves and swam away.

[304] Greatly surprised at this occurrence, Glaucus began chewing a few blades of this peculiar grass, and immediately felt an insane desire to plunge into the sea,—a desire which soon became so intense, that he could no longer resist it, but dived down into the water. The mere contact with the salt waves sufficed to change his nature; and swimming about comfortably in the element, where he now found himself perfectly at home, he began to explore the depths of the sea.

“‘I plung’d for life or death. To interknit
One’s senses with so dense a breathing stuff
Might seem a work of pain; so not enough
Can I admire how crystal-smooth it felt,
And buoyant round my limbs. At first I dwelt
Whole days and days in sheer astonishment;
Forgetful utterly of self-intent;
Moving but with the mighty ebb and flow.
Then, like a new fledg’d bird that first doth show
His spreaded feathers to the morrow chill,
I try’d in fear the pinions of my will.
’Twas freedom! and at once I visited
The ceaseless wonders of this ocean-bed.’”
Keats.

Glaucus was worshiped most particularly by the fishermen and boatmen, whose vessels he was supposed to guard from evil, and whose nets were often filled to overflow through his intervention.

[305]

CHAPTER XXVII.

THE TROJAN WAR.

Jupiter, father of the gods, once fell deeply in love with a beautiful sea nymph named Thetis, the daughter of Nereus and Doris,—

Thetis of the silver feet, and child
Of the gray Ancient of the Deep.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).
Jupiter and Thetis.

He was very anxious indeed to marry her, but, before taking such an important step, deemed it prudent to consult the Fates, who alone could inform him whether this union would be for his happiness or not. It was very fortunate for him that he did so, for the three sisters told him that Thetis was destined to be the mother of a son who would far outshine his father.

Jupiter carefully pondered this reply, and concluded to renounce the marriage rather than run any risk of being forced to surrender his power to one greater than he. Thetis’ hand he then decreed should be given in marriage to Peleus, King of Phthia, who had loved her faithfully, and had long sued in vain.

Thetis, however, was not at all anxious to accept the hand of a mere mortal after having enjoyed the attention of the gods (for Neptune also had wooed her), and demurred, until Jupiter promised his own and the gods’ attendance at the marriage feast. The prospect of this signal honor reconciled the maiden, and the wedding preparations were made in the coral caves of her father, Nereus, beneath the foam-crested waves.

[306] Thither, mindful of his promise, came Jupiter, with all the gods of Olympus.

“Then, with his Queen, the Father of the gods
Came down from high Olympus’ bright abodes;
Came down, with all th’ attending deities.”
Catullus.

The guests took their seats, and pledged the bride and groom in brimming cups of wine,—Bacchus’ wedding gift to Thetis. All was joy and merriment, when an uninvited guest suddenly appeared in the banquet-hall. All present immediately recognized Eris, or Discordia, goddess of discord, whose snaky locks, sour looks, and violent temper had caused her to be omitted from the wedding list,—

“The Abominable, that uninvited came
Into the fair Peleian banquet-hall.”
Tennyson.

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