Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art
Page: 180The sun, for the same reason, was supposed to wage continual warfare against cold, sickness, and disease, and to use his bright beams or arrows against the demon of drought, darkness, or illness (Python), which in some form or other inevitably appears in every solar myth.
In the story of Daphne, a name derived from Dahana, the Sanskrit dawn, we find another version of the same story, where the sun, although enamored with the dawn, causes her death. As some mythologists have interpreted it, Daphne is a personification of the morning dew, which vanishes beneath the sun’s hot breath, and leaves no trace of its passage except in the luxuriant verdure.
In Cephalus and Procris the sun again appears, and his unerring spear unwittingly causes the death of his beloved Procris “while she lingers in a thicket (a place where the dew lingers longest).” This interpretation has been further confirmed by philological researches, which prove that the name “Procris” originated from a Sanskrit word meaning “to sprinkle;” and the stories evidently arose from three simple phrases,—“‘the sun loves the dew,’ ‘the morning loves the sun,’ and ‘the sun kills the dew.’”
In the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, while some mythologists see in him a personification of the winds, which “tear up trees as they course along, chanting their wild music,” others see an emblem of “the morning, with its short-lived beauty.” Eurydice, whose name, like that of Europa, comes from a Sanskrit word denoting “the broad spreading flush of the dawn across the sky,” is, of course, a personification of that light, slain by “the serpent of darkness at twilight.”
Orpheus is also sometimes considered as the sun, plunging into an abyss of darkness, in hopes of overtaking the vanishing dawn, [Pg 388] Eurydice; and as the light (Eurydice) reappears opposite the place where he disappeared, but is no more seen after the sun himself has fairly risen, “they say that Orpheus has turned around too soon to look at her, and so was parted from the wife he loved so dearly.”
His death in the forest, when his strength had all forsaken him, and his severed head floated down the stream murmuring “Eurydice,” may also, perchance, have been intended to represent either the last faint breath of the expiring wind, or the setting of the sun in blood-tinged clouds.
In the story of Phaeton, whose name means “the bright and shining one,” a description of the golden palace and car of the sun is given us. We are told that the venturesome young charioteer, by usurping his father’s place, causes incalculable mischief, and, in punishment for his mismanagement of the solar steeds (the fleecy white clouds), is hurled from his exalted seat by a thunderbolt launched by the hand of Jupiter.
“This story arose from phrases which spoke of drought as caused by the chariot of Helios, when driven by some one who knew not how to guide his horses; and the smiting of Phaeton by the bolt of Zeus is the ending of the time of drought by a sudden storm of thunder.”