Myths That Every Child Should Know A Selection Of The Classic Myths Of All Times For Young People
Page: 4As imaginative children personify the sounds they hear, so the men and women of an early time personified everything that lived or moved or gave any sign of life. They filled the earth, air, and sea with imaginary beings who had power over the elements and affected the lives of men. There were nymphs in the sea, dryads in the trees, kindly or destructive spirits in the air, household gods who watched over the home, and greater gods who managed the affairs of the world. When an intelligent man finds himself in new surroundings, he begins at once to study them and try to understand them. In every age this has been one of the greatest objects of interest to men, and every generation has endeavoured to explain the world, so as to satisfy not only its curiosity but its reason. The myths were explanations of the world created by people who had not had time to study that world closely nor to train themselves to study it in a scientific way. They saw the world with their imaginations quite as much as with their eyes, and as they put persons behind every kind and form of life, they told stories about the world instead of making accurate and matter-of-fact reports of it. The change of the seasons is not at all mysterious to us; but to the Norsemen it was a wonderful struggle between gods and giants. In the summer the gods had their triumph, but in the winter the giants had their way. Year after year and century after century this terrible warfare went on until a day should come when, in a last great battle, both gods and giants would be destroyed and a new heaven and earth arise. These same brave and warlike men believed that the most powerful fighter among the gods was Thor, and that it was the swinging and crashing of his terrible hammer which made the lightning and thunder.
The sun, which vanquished the darkness, put out the stars, drove the cold to the far north, called back the flowers, made the fields fertile, awoke men from sleep and filled them with courage and hope, was the centre of mythology, and appears and reappears in a thousand stories in many parts of the world, and in all kinds of disguises. Now he is the most beautiful and noble of the Greek gods, Apollo; now he is Odin, with a single eye; now he is Hercules, the hero, with his twelve great labours for the good of men; now he is Oedipus, who met the Sphinx and solved her riddle. In the early times men saw how everything in the world about them drew its strength and beauty from the sun; how the sun warmed the earth and made the crops grow; how it brought gladness and hope and inspiration to men; and they made it the centre of the great world story, the foremost hero of the great world play. For the myths form a poetical explanation of the earth, the sea, the sky, and of the life of man in this wonderful universe, and each great myth was a chapter in a story which endowed day and night, summer and winter, sun, moon, stars, winds, clouds, fire, with life, and made them actors in the mysterious drama of the world. Our Norse forefathers thought of themselves always as looking on at a terrible fight between the gods, who were light and heat and fruitfulness, revealed in the beauty of day and the splendour of summer, and the giants, who were darkness, cold and barrenness, revealed in the gloom of night and the desolation of winter. To the Norseman, as to the Greek, the Roman, the Hindu and other primitive peoples, the world was the scene of a great struggle, the stage on which gods, demons, and heroes were contending for supremacy; and they told that story in a thousand different ways. Every myth is a chapter in that story, and differs from other stories and legends because it is an explanation of something that happened in earth, sea, or sky.