Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art
In the story of Bellerophon, although the name originally came from Bellero (some “power of darkness, drought, winter, or moral evil”) and from phon or phontes (a word derived from the Sanskrit han-tâ, “the killer”), the Greeks, having forgotten the signification of the first part of the word, declared this hero was the murderer of Bellero, his brother, for which involuntary crime he was driven from home, and forced to wander about in search of shelter.
We find this hero, although enticed by Anteia (the dawn), virtuously hastening away, then sent against his will to fight [Pg 394] the Chimæra (the monster of drought), whom he overcomes, thanks to his weapon and to Pegasus (the clouds), born from the mist of the sea, beneath whose hoofs fresh fountains were wont to spring.
Bellerophon, after many journeys, is finally united to Philonoe, a personification of the twilight, and ends his career by being hurled from the zenith into utter darkness by one of Jupiter’s deadly thunderbolts.
“The fall of Bellerophon is the rapid descent of the sun toward evening, and the Alein plain is that broad expanse of somber light through which the sun sometimes seems to travel sullenly and alone to his setting.”
In the story of the Trojan war there are several sun myths; for Paris, Menelaus, Agamemnon, and Achilles have equal claims to be considered personifications of the sun. They love Œnone, Helen, Clytæmnestra, Briseis, various impersonations of the dawn, and forsake, or are forsaken by, their ladyloves, whom they meet again at the end of their career: for Paris sees Œnone, and expires with her on the burning pile; Menelaus recovers Helen, with whom he vanishes in the far west; Agamemnon rejoins Clytæmnestra, and dies by her hand in a bloody bath; while Achilles, after a period of sullen gloom, meets with an untimely death shortly after recovering the beautiful Briseis.
In this myth, Helen (the beautiful dawn or twilight), whose name corresponds phonetically with the Sanskrit Sarama, born of the sky (Jupiter) and of the night (Leda, derived from the same root as “Leto,” “Latmus,” and “Laius”), is carried away by Paris, whom some mythologists identify with the Hindoo Panis (or “night demons”) instead of the sun. In this character he entices away the fickle twilight (Helen) during her husband’s temporary absence, and bears her off to the far east, where, after struggling [Pg 395] for a while to retain possession of her and her treasures, he is finally forced to relinquish her, and she returns to her husband and her allegiance.
The siege of Troy has thus been interpreted to signify “a repetition of the daily siege of the east by the solar powers, that every evening are robbed of their brightest treasures in the west.”
Achilles, like several of his brother heroes, “fights in no quarrel of his own; his wrath is the sun hiding his face behind the clouds; the Myrmidons are his attendant beams, who no longer appear when the sun is hidden; Patroclus is the feeble reflection of the sun’s splendor, and stands to him in precisely the same relation as Phaeton to Helios,” and, like him, meets with an early death.
In the story of Ulysses we find a reproduction of the story of Hercules and Perseus: for Ulysses, early in life, after wedding Penelope, is forced to leave her to fight for another; and on his return, although longing to rejoin his morning bride, he cannot turn aside from the course marked out for him. He is detained by Circe (the moon), who weaves airy tissues, and by Calypso (the nymph of darkness); but neither can keep him forever, and he returns home enveloped in an impenetrable disguise, after having visited the Phæacian land (the land of clouds or mists). It is only after he has slain the suitors of Penelope (the weaver of bright evening clouds) that he casts aside his beggar’s garb to linger for a short time beside her ere he vanishes in the west.