Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art
Apollo, having attained manhood, could not avoid the usual lot of the gods, as well as of mortal men,—the pangs of love. They were first inspired by Coronis, a fair maiden, who kindled within his breast an ardent flame. The sun god wooed the girl warmly and persistently, and at length had the deep satisfaction of seeing his affections returned. His bliss, however, proved but fleeting; for Coronis, reasoning, that, if one lover were so delightful, two would be doubly so, secretly encouraged another suitor.
(So at least the story goes)
And was wont to meet him slyly,
Underneath the blushing rose.”
[Pg 63] Although so cleverly managed, these trysts could not escape the bright eyes of Apollo’s favorite bird, the snowy raven,—for such was his hue in those early times,—so he flew off in haste to his master to report the discovery he had made. Desperate with love and jealousy, Apollo did not hesitate, but, seizing his bow and deadly arrows, shot Coronis through the heart.
The deed was no sooner accomplished, than all his love returned with tenfold power; and, hastening to Coronis’ side, he vainly tried all his remedies (he was god of medicine) to recall her to life.
Had no antidote; alack!
He who took her off so deftly
Couldn’t bring the maiden back!”
Bending over the lifeless body of his beloved one, he bewailed his fatal haste, and cursed the bird which had brought him the unwelcome tidings of her faithlessness.
‘Wanton babbler! see thy fate!
Messenger of mine no longer,
Go to Hades with thy prate!
Hither, monster, come not back;
And—to match thy disposition—
Henceforth be thy plumage black!’”
The only reminder of this unfortunate episode was a young son of Apollo and Coronis, Æsculapius (Asklepios), who was carefully instructed by Apollo in the healing art. The disciple’s talent was so great, that he soon rivaled his master, and even, it is said, recalled the dead to life. Of course, these miracles did not long remain concealed from Jupiter’s all-seeing eye; and he, fearing lest the people would [Pg 64] forget him and worship their physician, seized one of his thunderbolts, hurled it at the clever youth, and thus brought to an untimely end his brilliant medical career.
From darkness to the upper skies,
The leech that wrought such healing hurled
With lightning down to Pluto’s world.”
Virgil (Conington’s tr.).
Æsculapius’ race was not entirely extinct, however, for he left two sons—Machaon and Podalirius, who inherited his medical skill—and a daughter, Hygeia, who watched over the health of man.
Maddened with grief at the unexpected loss of his son, Apollo would fain have wreaked his vengeance upon the Cyclopes, the authors of the fatal thunderbolt; but ere he could execute his purpose, Jupiter interfered, and, to punish him, banished him to earth, where he entered the service of Admetus, King of Thessaly. One consolation alone now remained to the exiled god,—his music. His dulcet tones soon won the admiration of his companions, and even that of the king, who listened to his songs with pleasure, and to reward him gave him the position of head shepherd.
Pure taste by right divine,
Decreed his singing not too bad
To hear between the cups of wine:
Into a sweet half sleep
Three times his kingly beard he smoothed
And made him viceroy o’er his sheep.”
Time passed. Apollo, touched by his master’s kindness, wished to bestow some favor in his turn, and asked the gods to grant Admetus eternal life. His request was complied with, but only on [Pg 65] condition, that, when the time came which had previously been appointed for the good king’s death, some one should be found willing to die in his stead. This divine decree was reported to Alcestis, Admetus’ beautiful young wife, who in a passion of self-sacrifice offered herself as substitute, and cheerfully gave her life for her husband. But immortality was too dearly bought at such a price; and Admetus mourned until Hercules, pitying his grief, descended into Hades, and brought her back from the tomb.
Wrest from the guardian Monster of the tomb
Alcestis, a reanimated Corse,
Given back to dwell on earth in vernal bloom?”