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

Page: 187


In the myths of the wind, Mercury (or Hermes) was one of the principal personifications. According to the ancients, he was born of the sky (Jupiter) and the plains (Maia), and after a very few hours’ existence assumed gigantic proportions, stole away the cattle of the sun (the clouds), and, after fanning up a great fire in which he consumed some of the herd, glided back into his cradle at dawn. With a low, [400] mocking chuckle at the recollection of the pranks he had played, he sank finally into rest. His name, derived from the Sanskrit Sarameias, means “the breeze of a summer morning;” and it is in his capacity of god of the wind that he is supposed to waft away the souls of the dead; for “the ancients held that in the wind were the souls of the dead.” Mercury is the “lying, tricksome wind god who invented music,” for his music is but “the melody of the winds, which can awaken feelings of joy and sorrow, of regret and yearning, of fear and hope, of vehement gladness and utter despair.”


Another personification of the wind was Mars (or Ares), born of the sky (Jupiter) and of the heavenly light (Juno) in the bleak land of Thrace, rejoicing in din and in the noise of warfare. His nature is further revealed by his inconstancy and capriciousness; and whenever he is overcome, he is noted for his great roar. His name comes from the same root as Maruts, the Indian god, and means the “grinder” or “crusher.” It was first applied “to the storms which throw heaven and earth into confusion, and hence the idea of Ares is confined to mere disorder and tumult.”

Otus and Ephialtes.

Otus and Ephialtes, the gigantic sons of Neptune, were also at first merely personifications of the wind and hurricanes. The name of the latter indicates “one who leaps.” Although very short-lived, these giants were supposed to increase rapidly in size, and assume colossal proportions, which inspired the hearts of men and gods with terror, until they saw them finally slain by the unfailing arrows of the sun.

Pan, Æolus, and the Harpies.

Pan, Æolus, his numerous progeny, and the Harpies, were also wind divinities who never entirely lost their original character with the Greeks, and were therefore worshiped merely as personifications of the elements.


Cerberus and Pluto.

The myths of drought, darkness, and of the underworld have sufficiently been dwelt upon as personified by Python, the Hydra, [401] Geryones, the Gorgons, Grææ, Minotaur, Sphinx, Chimæra, etc.; but their main personifications were Cerberus (the grim three-headed guardian of the nether world) and Pluto (or Aïdes), whose name means “the wealth-giver,” or “the unseen,” who greedily drew all things down into his realm, never to relinquish his grasp upon them.

Such is the physical explanation of the various poetical myths which form the staple of classic literature, and which have been a fount of inspiration for poets and artists of all ages.



Genealogical table showing relationships between mythological figures


Chaos (M) married Nyx (F).
Their child was Erebus (M).

Erebus (M) married Nyx (F).
Their children were Hemera (F), Æther (M), Charon (M), Eris (F), Somnus (M) and Mors (M).

Hemera (F) married Æther (M).
Their children were Gæa (F), Eros (M) and Pontus (M).

Gæa (F) had a child,