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

Page: 64

A Roman general, ere setting out on any warlike expedition, always entered the sanctuary of Mars, touched the sacred shield with the point of his lance, shook the spear in the hand of the god’s effigy, and called aloud, “Mars, watch over us!”

Worship of Mars.

A common superstition among the Roman soldiery was, that Mars, under the name of Gradivus, marched in person at the head of their army, and led them on to victory. Mars’ principal votaries were therefore the Roman soldiers and youths, whose exercising ground was called, in his honor, the Campus Martius, or Field of Mars. All the laurel crowns bestowed upon victorious generals were deposited at the foot of his statues, and a bull was the customary thank offering after a successful campaign.

“The soldier, from successful camps returning
With laurel wreath’d, and rich with hostile spoil,
Severs the bull to Mars.”
Prior.

[144]

CHAPTER X.

VULCAN.

Vulcan’s fall.

Vulcan, or Hephæstus, son of Jupiter and Juno, god of fire and the forge, seldom joined the general council of the gods. His aversion to Olympus was of old standing. He had once been tenderly attached to his mother, had lavished upon her every proof of his affection, and had even tried to console her when she mourned Jupiter’s neglect. On one occasion, intending to punish Juno for one of her usual fits of jealousy, Jupiter hung her out of heaven, fast bound by a golden chain; and Vulcan, perceiving her in this plight, tugged at the chain with all his might, drew her up, and was about to set her free, when Jupiter returned, and, in anger at his son’s interference in his matrimonial concerns, kicked him out of heaven.

The intervening space between heaven and earth was so great, that Vulcan’s fall lasted during one whole day and night, ere he finally touched the summit of Mount Mosychlus, in the Island of Lemnos.

“From morn
To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,
A summer’s day; and with the setting sun
Dropt from the zenith like a falling star,
On Lemnos th’ Ægean isle.”
Milton.

Of course, to any one but a god such a terrible fall would have proved fatal; and even Vulcan did not escape entirely unharmed, for he injured one of his legs, which accident left him lame and somewhat deformed for the remainder of his life.

Vulcan’s forge.

[145] Now, although Vulcan had risked so much and suffered so greatly in taking his mother’s part, she never even made the slightest attempt to ascertain whether he had reached the earth in safety. Hurt by her indifference and ingratitude, Vulcan vowed never again to return to Olympus, and withdrew to the solitudes of Mount Ætna, where he established a great forge in the heart of the mountain, in partnership with the Cyclopes, who helped him manufacture many cunning and useful objects from the metals found in great profusion in the bosom of the earth.


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