Myths That Every Child Should Know A Selection Of The Classic Myths Of All Times For Young People
Page: 2When a man sneezes, people still say in some countries, "God bless you." They do not know why they say it; they simply repeat what they heard older people say when they were children, and do not know that every time they use these words they recall the age when people believed that evil spirits could enter into a man, and that when a man sneezed he expelled one of these spirits. It is a very old and widely spread superstition that when a dog howls at night someone not far away is dying or will soon die. Many people are uncomfortable when they hear a dog howling after dark, not because they believe that dogs have any knowledge that death is present or coming, but because their ancestors for many centuries believed that the howling of a dog was ominous, and the habits of our ancestors leave deep traces in our natures.
Now, every time the melancholy howling of a dog at night makes a child uncomfortable, he recalls the old superstition which identified the roaring or wailing of the wind with a wolf or dog into which a god or demon had entered, with power to summon the spirits of men to follow him as he rushed along in the darkness. In the old homes in the forests, thousands of years ago, children crowded about the open fire and trembled when a great blast shook the house, for fear that the gigantic beast who made the sound would call them and they would be compelled to follow him. We think of wind as air in motion; they thought of it as the breath and sound of some living creature. When we say that the wind "whistled in the keyhole," or "kissed the flowers," or "drove the clouds" before it, we are using poetically the language our forefathers used literally.
We speak of "the siren voice of pleasure," "the blow of fate," "the smile of fortune," and do not remember, often do not know, that we are recalling that remote past when people believed that there were Sirens on the coast of Crete whose voices were so sweet that sailors could not resist them and were drawn on to the rocks and drowned; that fate was a terrible, relentless, passionless person with supreme power over gods and men; that fortune was a being who smiled or frowned as men smile or frown, but whose smile meant prosperity and her frown disaster.
There are few poems which have interested children more than Robert Browning's "Pied Piper of Hamelin." The story runs that long ago, in the year 1284, the old German town of Hamelin was so overrun with rats that there was no peace for the people living in it. When things were at their worst a strange man appeared in the place and offered, for a sum of money, to clear it of these pests. The bargain was made and the stranger began to pipe; and straightway, from every nook and corner in the old town, the rats came in swarms, followed him to the river Weser and jumped in and were drowned.