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

Page: 61

To Mercury was intrusted the charge of conducting the souls of the departed to Hades, and when occupied in this way he bore the name of Psychopompus, while, when addressed as conductor of Dreams, he was Oneicopompus.

“Gently as a kiss came Death to sever
From spirit flesh, and to the realm of gloom
The pallid shades with fearless brow descended
To Hades, by the winged god attended.”
Boyesen.

He was one of the twelve principal gods of Olympus, and was widely worshiped. Temples, altars, and shrines were dedicated to his service throughout the ancient countries. His statues were considered sacred boundary marks, and their removal punished by death. Solemn annual festivals were held in Rome in Mercury’s honor in the month of May, and from him received their name of Mercuralia.

[138]

CHAPTER IX.

MARS.

Mars’ character.

Mars (Ares), son of Jupiter and Juno, was the god of war, the personification of the angry clouded sky, and, although but little worshiped in Greece, was one of the principal Roman divinities. He is said to have first seen the light in Thrace, a country noted for its fierce storms and war-loving people.

“Infant Mars, where Thracia’s mountains rose,
Press’d with his hardy limbs th’ incrusted snows.”
Statius (Elton’s tr.).

Never sated with strife and bloodshed, this god preferred the din of battle to all other music, and found no occupation so congenial as the toils and dangers of war. No gentle deeds of kindness were ever expected from him; no loving prayers were ever addressed to him; and the ancients felt no love for him, but, on the contrary, shuddered with terror when his name was mentioned.

Mars was generally represented in a brilliant suit of armor, a plumed helmet on his proud young head, a poised spear in one muscular hand, and a finely wrought shield in the other, showing him ever ready to cope with a foe.

Mars’ attendants.

His attendants, or some say his children, sympathized heartily with his quarrelsome tastes, and delighted in following his lead. They were Eris (Discord), Phobos (Alarm), Metus (Fear), Demios (Dread), and Pallor (Terror).

Bellona, or Enyo, goddess of war, also accompanied him, drove [139] his chariot, parried dangerous thrusts, and watched over his general safety. Mars and Bellona were therefore worshiped together in the selfsame temple, and their altars were the only ones ever polluted by human sacrifices.

“And to the fire-ey’d maid of smoky war,
All hot and bleeding, will we offer them:
The mailed Mars shall on his altar sit,
Up to the ears in blood.”
Shakespeare.
Story of Otus and Ephialtes.

As strife was his favorite element, Mars was very active indeed during the war between the gods and giants, but in his martial ardor he frequently forgot all caution. On one occasion he was obliged to surrender to Otus and Ephialtes,—two giants, who, though but nine years of age, were already of immense stature, since they increased in height at the rate of nine inches each month.


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