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

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“A hunter once in that grove reclin’d,
To shun the noon’s bright eye,
And oft he woo’d the wandering wind,
To cool his brow with its sigh.
While mute lay ev’n the wild bee’s hum,
Nor breath could stir the aspen’s hair,
His song was still, ‘Sweet air, oh come!’
While Echo answer’d, ‘Come, sweet air!’”

Eos heard of this habit, and was fully aware that he merely addressed the passing wind; nevertheless she sought Procris, and informed her that her husband was faithless, and paid court to a fair maid, who daily met him at noonday in the forest solitudes. Procris, blinded by sudden jealousy, gave credit to the false story, and immediately resolved to follow her husband.

The morning had well-nigh passed, and the sun was darting its perpendicular rays upon the earth, when Cephalus came to his usual resort, near which Procris was concealed.

“Sweet air, oh come!” the hunter cried; and Procris, cut to the heart by what she considered an infallible proof of his infidelity, sank fainting to the ground. The rustle caused by her swoon attracted Cephalus’ attention. Under the mistaken impression that some wild beast was lurking there, ready to pounce upon him, he cast his unerring javelin into the very midst of the thicket, and pierced the faithful bosom of his wife. Her dying moan brought him with one bound to her side; ere she breathed her last, an explanation was given and received; and Procris died with the blissful conviction that her husband had not [72] deserved her unjust suspicions, and that his heart was all her own.

There are, of course, many other versions of these selfsame myths; but one and all are intended to illustrate the same natural phenomena, and are subject to the same interpretation.

Apollo’s principal duty was to drive the sun chariot. Day after day he rode across the azure sky, nor paused on his way till he reached the golden boat awaiting him at the end of his long day’s journey, to bear him in safety back to his eastern palace.

Helios all day long his allotted labor pursues;
No rest to his passionate heart and his panting horses given,
From the moment when roseate-fingered Eos kindles the dews
And spurns the salt sea-floors, ascending silvery the heaven,
Until from the hand of Eos Hesperos, trembling, receives
His fragrant lamp, and faint in the twilight hangs it up.”
Owen Meredith.

A fair young maiden, named Clytie, watched Apollo’s daily journey with strange persistency; and from the moment when he left his palace in the morning until he came to the far western sea in the evening, she followed his course with loving eyes, thought of the golden-haired god, and longed for his love. But, in spite of all this fervor, she never won favor in Apollo’s eyes, and languished until the gods, in pity, changed her into a sunflower.

Even in this altered guise, Clytie could not forget the object of her love; and now, a fit emblem of constancy, she still follows with upturned face the glowing orb in its daily journey across the sky.

“No, the heart that has truly lov’d never forgets,
But as truly loves on to the close;
As the sunflower turns on her god when he sets
The same look which she turn’d when he rose.”

A young shepherd, lying in the cool grass one summer afternoon, became aware of a distant sound of music, so sweet, so [73] thrilling, that he fairly held his breath to listen. These weird, delightful tones were produced by Minerva, who, seated by the banks of a small stream, was trying her skill on the flute. As she bent over the limpid waters, she suddenly beheld her puffed cheeks and distorted features, and impetuously threw the instrument into the water, vowing never to touch it again.

“Hence, ye banes of beauty, hence!
What? shall I my charms disgrace
By making such an odious face?”

The sudden break in the entrancing music caused the youth, Marsyas, to start from his abstraction and look about him. He then perceived the rejected flute sailing gently down the stream past his feet. To seize the instrument and convey it to his lips was the work of an instant; and no sooner had he breathed into it, than the magic strain was renewed. No recollection of his pastoral duties could avail to tear Marsyas away from his new-found treasure; and so rapidly did his skill increase, that he became insufferably conceited, and boasted he could rival Apollo, whom he actually challenged to a musical contest.

Intending to punish him for his presumption, Apollo accepted the challenge, and selected the nine Muses—patronesses of poetry and music—as umpires. Marsyas was first called upon to exhibit his proficiency, and charmed all by his melodious strains.

“So sweet that alone the south wind knew,
By summer hid in green reeds’ jointed cells
To wait imprisoned for the south wind’s spells,
From out his reedy flute the player drew,
And as the music clearer, louder grew,
Wild creatures from their winter nooks and dells,
Sweet furry things with eyes like starry wells,
Crept wanderingly out; they thought the south wind blew.
[74] With instant joyous trust, they flocked around
His feet who such a sudden summer made,
His eyes, more kind than men’s, enthralled and bound
Them there.”
H. H.