The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies
Page: 15Ans. As clothed in complete armor. She has a golden helmet on her head, holds a lance in her right hand, and her left rests upon a shield to which is affixed the head of Medusa. The cock and the owl are also represented on the shield.
Ques. Why was Minerva said to have sprung full armed from the head of Jupiter?
Ans. The poets signify by this, that wisdom comes direct from the deity.
Ques. Why is Minerva sometimes crowned with olive?
Ans. Because the olive is the emblem of peace, and war should only be made that a secure peace may follow; also because she bestowed the olive on men.
[Pg 46] Ques. On what occasion did Minerva give the olive to men?
Ans. When Cecrops built a new city, Neptune and Minerva contended about its name; and it was resolved that whichever of the two deities should confer the most useful gift on man, might give a name to the city. Neptune struck the ground with his trident, and a horse appeared; but Minerva caused an olive to spring out of the earth. The latter was judged the more useful gift; and Minerva named the city, calling it Athe´na or Athens, after her own name in Greek.
Ques. What was the Palladium?
Ans. When the Trojans were building the temple and castle of Minerva in Troy, a statue of the goddess fell from heaven into the castle, which was still unroofed. The oracle of Apollo declared that Troy would be safe so long as this statue, called Palladium, from Pallas, a name of Minerva, remained within the walls. When the Greeks besieged Troy, they found that all their efforts to take the city were of no avail; they determined, therefore, to steal the Palladium. Ulysses and Diome´des crept into the city through the common sewers, and brought away the image. Troy was soon afterwards taken and destroyed. Minerva was a virgin, and was the patroness of modest and virtuous women.
Ques. Did Minerva excel only in the art of war?
Ans. No; she invented the distaff and spindle, [Pg 47] and excelled in every branch of female industry. The fate of Arach´ne shows how much she prized her reputation for skill in embroidery.
Ques. Who was Arach´ne?
Ans. She was a maiden of Lydia, who had the presumption to challenge Minerva to a trial of skill in weaving. The goddess wrought into her work the most beautiful designs, but it would seem that Arach´ne’s performance surpassed hers: for Minerva, seeing it, was fired with envy, and struck the unhappy maiden on the face with her shuttle. Arach´ne could not endure this insult, and hung herself from a beam. Minerva immediately changed her into a spider, and permitted her to live only that she might weave unceasingly.
Ques. Why was the owl chosen as the bird of Minerva?
Ans. Because this bird sees in the dark; and wisdom distinguishes what is hidden from common eyes.
Ques. What is the story of Medu´sa’s head?
Ans. Medusa was one of three sisters, the daughters of Phorcus. These maidens were called Gorgons, and were all immortal, except Medu´sa. The latter was at one period distinguished for her personal beauty, and particularly for her flowing hair; but having offended Minerva, that goddess changed her locks into serpents, and rendered her appearance so frightful that all who beheld her were changed to stone. The [Pg 48] hero Perseus undertook an expedition against the Gorgons, and as he saw the whole country around covered with figures of men and animals changed into stone by the sight of the monster, he was obliged to use great precaution to avoid the same misfortune. He looked, therefore, not at Medu´sa, but at her reflection in his polished shield, and when he perceived that she was asleep, Minerva guiding his sword, he struck off her head. Mercury had lent Perseus his wings, and as he flew over the Lybian desert bearing Medu´sa’s head, the blood fell upon the burning sands, and produced the serpents which have ever since infested that region. From the blood of Medu´sa, also, when her head was cut off, sprang the famous winged horse called Peg´asus. This wonderful steed flew to Mount Helicon, the residence of the Muses, where, by striking the earth with his foot, he produced the fountain Hippocre´ne. All who drank of its waters were inspired by the Muses with a poetic spirit. Perseus went through many other adventures in which Medu´sa’s head did him good service, by changing his enemies into stone. He afterwards gave the head to Minerva, who fixed it on her shield.
Ques. Who was Venus?
Ans. She was the goddess of love and beauty. She sprang from the froth of the sea; for this reason the Greeks called her Aphrodi´te, from Aphros, meaning foam. As soon as she was born, she was placed like a pearl in a shell instead of a cradle, and the god Zephyrus (the west wind) wafted her to the shores of Cyprus.
Ques. By whom was she educated?
Ans. She was educated and adorned by the Horæ or Hours, who carried her to heaven as soon she became of age. All the gods were astonished at the beauty of Venus, and many demanded her in marriage; but Jupiter betrothed her to Vulcan, an ugly and deformed divinity.
Ques. How is Venus represented?
Ans. Sometimes as a young virgin rising from the sea, or riding on the waves in a shell, while Cupids, Nereids and Dolphins are sporting around her—again, she is pictured as traversing the heavens in an ivory chariot drawn by doves. [Pg 50] She wears a wonderful girdle called the Cestus, her doves are harnessed with golden chains, and Cupids flutter around her on silken wings. Venus is always crowned with roses.
Ques. What was there remarkable in the Cestus of Venus?
Ans. It had the property of conferring grace, beauty, and irresistible attractions on the wearer.
Ques. Where had Venus temples?
Ans. In many places. The most celebrated were at Paphos, Cytherea, Idalia and Cnidos.
Ques. Who were the companions of Venus?
Ans. The Graces were her attendants, and she was generally accompanied by her son Cupid, who was the god of love.
Ques. How is Cupid represented?
Ans. As a beautiful boy with wings, carrying a bow and arrows; he has sometimes a band over his eyes to show that love is blind.
Ques. What do you say of the festivals of Venus?
Ans. They were various, and accompanied by much that was disgraceful and immoral. The swan, the dove, and the sparrow were sacred to this goddess; and among plants, the rose, the myrtle and the apple. Incense, fruits and flowers were the ordinary sacrifices laid on her altars but birds were sometimes offered.
Ques. What remarkable temple was raised to Venus in Rome?
Ans. There was a temple dedicated to Venus [Pg 51] Calva, or the Bald; because when the Gauls besieged Rome, the inhabitants made ropes for their military engines with the long hair of the Roman women.
Ques. On what occasion was the prize of beauty adjudged to Venus?
Ans. All the gods and goddesses had been invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, Discordia, or Discord being the only one excluded. This goddess was determined to revenge the slight; she entered secretly, when all were assembled, and threw among them a golden apple on which was written: “For the fairest.” A violent quarrel immediately arose between the goddesses, for each believed herself to be the most beautiful. Juno, Minerva, and Venus disputed so eagerly, that Jupiter himself was not able to bring them to an agreement. He resolved, therefore, to refer the matter to the decision of Paris, who was then feeding his sheep on Mount Ida. This prince was the son of Priam, king of Troy. An oracle had foretold before his birth that he was destined to cause the destruction of his native city. He was, therefore, exposed on Mount Ida, where he was found and cared for by some shepherds. After he had grown up, he acquired a great reputation for the prudence with which he settled the most difficult disputes; hence the difference between the goddesses was referred to his decision. When they appeared before him, they began to court his [Pg 52] favor with promises. Juno offered him great power; Minerva, wisdom; but Venus promised to give him for a wife the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris then pronounced Venus the fairest. He was soon after acknowledged by his father, King Priam; and Venus fulfilled her engagement by aiding him to carry off Helen, the beautiful wife of Menela´us, king of Sparta. This gave rise to the total destruction of Troy; and the prediction of the oracle with regard to Paris was accomplished.
Ques. What was the story of Hippo´menes and Atalanta?
Ans. Atalanta was the daughter of King Cœneus, and was equally renowned for her beauty and her swiftness in running. As an oracle had declared that marriage would be fatal to her, she freed herself from the importunity of her suitors by a singular expedient. She caused it to be proclaimed that any one who sought her hand should contend with her in running, with the understanding that she would marry him who should excel her in the race, but that those who were beaten should suffer death. Hard as were these conditions, many suitors presented themselves, but they were all unsuccessful, and were put to death without mercy. Hippo´menes determined to undertake the race, but first, he had recourse to Venus. This goddess gave him three golden apples gathered in the garden of the Hesper´ides, and directed him as to their use. When Hippo´menes [Pg 53] saw that Atalanta was going to outstrip him in the race, he threw down a golden apple; the princess paused to admire and take up the glittering fruit, while Hippo´menes passed on. A second and a third time did he try the same expedient, and with such success that he reached the goal and won his bride. Hippo´menes was ungrateful to Venus, who revenged herself by changing him into a lion, and the beautiful Atalanta into a lioness.
Ques. Who was Adonis?
Ans. He was a beautiful youth, the son of Cin´yras, king of Cyprus, and was beloved by Venus. He was killed by a wild boar, while hunting with that goddess. Venus grieved much for her favorite. To commemorate his cruel fate she caused the flower anemone to spring from his blood.
According to the poets, the rose was formerly white. When Venus was hastening to the assistance of Adonis, her foot was wounded by a thorn, and some drops of blood fell upon that flower, which then assumed its present crimson hue.
Ques. Who were the Graces?
Ans. They were inferior goddesses, who presided over the banquet, the dance and all social enjoyments and elegant arts.
Ques. How many were there?
Ans. They were three in number. Their names were Euphro´syne, Agla´ia and Thalia. They are represented as beautiful young women, standing in graceful attitudes with their hands joined.
Ques. Who was Latona?
Ans. She was the daughter of Phœbe and Cœus the Titan. When she was driven from heaven by the jealousy of Juno, she found an asylum in the island of Delos, where she gave birth to Apollo and Diana. Terra (the earth) had promised Juno to give no shelter to her rival, but the island of Delos formerly floated in the sea, and was at that time hidden under the waters. Neptune, pitying the forlorn state of Latona, caused it to emerge from the sea, when it became fixed and immovable for her use.
Ques. Relate the transformation of Lycian peasants into frogs.
Ans. Latona, while wandering with her babes in the country of Lycia, in Asia, arrived, exhausted by heat and fatigue, on the borders of a clear pool. She was about to quench her thirst in the cool waters, when some clowns rudely hindered her. She begged them to have compassion, and not deny her so small a refreshment; [Pg 55] but they mocked her prayers, and when she tried to approach they waded into the pool, and, stirring up the mud, defiled the waters so that it became unfit to drink. The goddess was so much incensed, that she changed the cruel rustics into frogs, and condemned them to dwell forever in the muddy pool.
The punishment of Niobe will be related in another place. The sufferings of the giant Tityus in hell, were also the penalty of an insult offered to this goddess.
The Greeks personified Night, under the name of Latona; hence she was said to have been the first wife of Jupiter, the mother of Apollo and Diana, (the sun and moon) and the nurse of the earth and stars. The Egyptians had the same allegory, with a little variation, as, according to them, she was grandmother and nurse of Horus and Bu´bastis, their Apollo and Diana.
This goddess is generally represented on ancient monuments, as a large and beautiful woman, wearing a veil. In paintings, the veil is always black; in cutting gems, artists sometimes availed themselves of a dark colored vein in the stone, to produce the same effect, and represent the shades of night. The veil is sometimes studded with stars.
Ques. Who was Aurora?
Ans. She was the goddess of the morning and sister of the sun and moon. She is represented as seated in a golden chariot drawn by milk-white horses; her countenance is brilliant, and her fingers are red like roses.
Ques. What did this represent?
Ans. The beauty of the morning heavens.
Ques. Relate the story of Ceph´alus and Procris.
Ans. Ceph´alus, a beautiful youth, was beloved by Aurora, who carried him with her to heaven; but he regarded the goddess with indifference, and insisted on returning to his young wife Procris. Aurora allowed him to depart, but prevailed on him to visit his house in disguise, that he might judge of the constancy of his bride. Ceph´alus found his wife lamenting his absence and refusing all consolation, but when she discovered her husband in the supposed stranger, she was so indignant at his suspicion that she fled from him and joined the attendants of Diana. She was [Pg 57] afterwards reconciled to Ceph´alus, and gave him two presents which she had received from Diana. These were, a dog that was always sure of its prey, and an arrow which never missed its aim, and returned immediately to the hand of the owner. Ceph´alus was extremely fond of hunting, and when fatigued, he often rested in the shade and invited the presence of “Aura,” or the refreshing breeze. This word was mistaken for the name of a nymph by some persons who carried the tale to Procris. Being jealous in her turn, she determined to watch, and discover her rival. When Ceph´alus returned from hunting, Procris concealed herself in the grove; she started upon hearing the name Aura, and caused a rustling among the leaves. Ceph´alus immediately threw his unerring dart, which returned to his hand stained with the blood of his beloved wife. He hastened to the spot, but it was too late, and Procris expired in his arms, acknowledging she had fallen a victim to her own groundless jealousy.
Ques. To whom was Aurora married?
Ans. She chose for her husband Titho´nus, the son of Laom´edon, king of Troy. This prince was endowed with wonderful beauty; but when Aurora begged of Jove that he might be exempted from death, she forgot to ask at the same time for the bloom of immortal youth. When Titho´nus became old and decrepit, Aurora still watched over him with the tenderest care, “giving him ambrosial food and fair garments.” When [Pg 58] Titho´nus could no longer move his aged limbs, and his feeble voice was scarcely heard, the goddess was moved with compassion, and changed him into a grasshopper.
Ques. Who was Memnon?
Ans. He was king of the Ethiopians, and son of Titho´nus and Aurora. When Troy was besieged, Memnon came with an army to aid the kindred of his father. In the first engagements he slew Antil´ochus, the son of Nestor, and threw the whole army of the Greeks into disorder. Achil´les, however, appeared on the field, and changed the fortune of the day. The Trojans were routed in their turn, and Memnon fell by the hand of the Grecian hero. Aurora watched the combat from the heavens, and when she saw Memnon fall she directed the winds to convey his body to the banks of the river Æse´pus in Paphlagonia. Here they raised his tomb in a sacred grove, and his obsequies were celebrated with solemn pomp. The sparks, as they rose from the funeral pyre, were changed into birds, which divided into two flocks, and fought together until they fell into the flames and were consumed. According to the poets, Aurora was never consoled for the loss of her son; she mourns unceasingly, and the drops which sparkle in the morning on the grass and flowers are the tears which the goddess continues to shed during the long hours of night. Ancient history mentions many persons of the name of Memnon, particularly a general who [Pg 59] distinguished himself in Persia against Alexander the Great. The Memnon of fable was in all probability an Egyptian, and not an Ethiopian king. His statue is still an object of curiosity to travellers.
Ques. Where is this statue, and for what is it remarkable?
Ans. It is one of two colossal figures which are directly opposite the great temple of Luxor. They are called by the Arabs, Shama and Dama. The statue of Memnon is the more northerly of the two, and was formerly celebrated for its vocal powers.
It is commonly asserted by ancient writers that when the first rays of the rising sun fell upon this statue, it acknowledged the presence of Aurora, and uttered a sound like the sudden breaking of a harp-string. By some, it was compared to a blow struck on hollow brass.
Ques. Was there any foundation for such a belief?
Ans. It appeared quite certain that the sounds of which we have spoken, were really heard from this statue at sunrise; the only question is as to the means by which they were produced. The Colossus, although in a sitting posture, measures fifty-two feet in height, and the throne on which it rests is thirty feet long and eighteen broad. These dimensions were sufficient to admit of any internal machinery that might be required to produce the mysterious sounds. Such was the supposition of the Persian king Cambyses, who [Pg 60] had the statue cleft asunder from the head to the middle of the body, but without discovering anything. Humboldt conjectured that the sound might be attributed to the nature of the stone, or to the action of the sun’s rays upon the air confined in the cavities of the statue. A much more reasonable solution of the mystery has been furnished by Mr. Wilkinson, an intelligent English traveller. He discovered in the lap of the statue a stone, which, on being struck, emits a metallic sound. There is a hollow space hewn in the block behind this stone, sufficiently large to admit of a person lying within it, entirely concealed from observation. Mr. Wilkinson tried the experiment, and was convinced that he had discovered the secret of this famous statue.
The face of the Memnon, like that of the Sphinx, has been mutilated by the Arabs; the positions of the figures which are yet uninjured show that the whole must have presented a beautiful and imposing appearance. The base of the throne is covered with ancient inscriptions in Greek and Latin, commemorating the visits of different illustrious persons, and testifying that they had heard the mysterious voice of Memnon.
Ques. Who was Saturn?
Ans. He was the son of Cœlum and Terra. He was married to Ops, or Rhea, and was the father of Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto. As we have already learned, Saturn devoured the rest of his male children.
Ques. How is he represented?
Ans. Saturn is represented as an old man armed with a scythe, which signifies that time mows down everything in its course; and he holds in his hands an infant which he is about to devour, because time destroys all that it brings forth.
Ques. How did Saturn lose his kingdom?
Ans. He was deposed by Jupiter, and was obliged to take refuge in Italy, where he taught the people the arts of civilized life. Janus, king of Italy, made Saturn partner of his kingdom, and that part of the country was called Latium, from a Latin word which meant to hide; it was sometimes also called Saturnia. Saturn’s government [Pg 62] was so wise and beneficial that his reign was called the Golden Age. The poets tell us that all men then lived on a perfect equality, property was held in common, and the earth brought forth its fruits without labor.
Ques. What sacrifices were offered to Saturn?
Ans. He was worshipped with human sacrifices, which seems strange when we consider that he was so mild a king. The planet Saturn was supposed by the ancients to exercise a malignant influence.
Ques. What were the Saturnalia?
Ans. They were solemnities instituted by Tullus Hostilius, king of Rome. In early times the festival lasted one day, but after Julius Cæsar, it was prolonged to three, four, or five days.
Ques. How were these days observed?
Ans. They were a season of general rejoicing; the Senate did not sit, schools gave holidays, and friends sent presents to one another. It was unlawful to proclaim war or execute criminals during this festival. Servants might, at this time, say what they pleased to their masters, who could not take offence; also, in memory of the freedom and equality enjoyed in Saturn’s reign, they sat at table while their masters served, and reproved the latter freely if they were guilty of any awkwardness. Lastly, servants and common people were allowed to wear purple cloaks, a distinction reserved at other times to the patricians. The [Pg 63] Saturnalia is probably represented in some degree by the modern Carnival. Saturn is thought by some persons to have been the same as Noah.
Ques. Who was Janus?
Ans. He was an ancient Italian deity, of whose origin very contradictory accounts are given. He was supposed to have reigned in Italy in the time of Saturn, and to have associated that god with him in the kingdom. He was generally represented with two faces, and was called hence, Janus Bifrons. He had many temples in Rome. The gates of the chief temple, that of Janus Quiri´nus, were always open in time of war, and closed when the Romans were at peace. It is a remarkable circumstance that the gates of Janus were closed but three times in seven hundred years. They were shut for the first time in the reign of Numa; again, after the first Punic war; and Augustus closed the temple the third time when he had given peace to the world. This occurred just before the coming of our Lord. The first month of the year is named from Janus.
Ques. Who was Vulcan?
Ans. He was the son of Jupiter and Juno, but was cast down from heaven on account of his deformed appearance. He landed in Lemnos, but broke his leg in the fall, and remained lame ever afterwards.
Ques. How was Vulcan represented?
Ans. As a smith standing by an anvil with tools in his hand.
Ques. What was his occupation?
Ans. He had a blacksmith shop in Lemnos, where he manufactured Jupiter’s thunderbolts, and the arms of the other gods. Vulcan was the god of fire, and the patron of blacksmiths and armorers.
Ques. What were the most celebrated works of Vulcan?
Ans. The armor of Achil´les and of Æne´as, the beautiful necklace of Hermi´one, the crown of Ariadne, and the brazen palace of the sun. The shield of Achil´les was enamelled with metals [Pg 65] of various colors, and embossed with beautiful historical designs.
Ques. To whom was Vulcan married?
Ans. Vulcan was married to Venus, but that goddess behaved treacherously towards him and attached herself to Mars.
Ques. Who were the servants of Vulcan?
Ans. The attendants of Vulcan were called Cyclops, because they had each one eye in the middle of the forehead; they were the offspring of Neptune and Amphitri´te.
Ques. How was Vulcan worshipped?
Ans. The Romans celebrated feasts in his honor called Vulcania. At these they sacrificed animals by throwing them into the fire to be burned to death. The Athenians also kept feasts of Vulcan, and there was in Sicily, upon Mount Etna, a famous temple dedicated to him.
Ques. What was peculiar about this temple?
Ans. The approach to it was guarded by dogs, whose scent was so keen that they could discover whether the persons coming to the temple were virtuous or wicked. To the servants of Vulcan might be added Cacus, who stole the oxen of Hercules; and the robber Cæ´culus, from whom the noble Roman family of the Cæcilii derived their name. He was the founder of the city of Præneste. One fable is, that certain shepherds found Cæ´culus, when an infant, lying unhurt in a glowing fire, from which circumstance he was supposed to be the son of Vulcan. The shepherd, Polyphemus, [Pg 66] resembled the Cyclops, and was, like them, a son of Neptune. The monster devoured several of the companions of Ulysses, but the hero, having made him drunk with wine, put out his single eye with a firebrand and escaped. He embarked in haste, pursued by the monster; his companions shouted defiance as they weighed anchor, and the blind Cyclops, directed by the sound of their voices, hurled a rock into the sea, by which their vessel was almost swamped. Warned by this danger, they rowed silently until they reached the open sea. Some writers have imagined that the Cyclops were a race of miners, who, descending into the deep recesses of the earth, and coming forth again, had a lamp attached to their foreheads, to give them light. This, at a distance, would appear like a large, flaming eye, and might give rise to the fable of one-eyed monsters. This explanation is, however, far fetched and improbable.
Ques. Can you name any works of Vulcan, beside those already mentioned?
Ans. Yes, he made for Alcinoûs, king of the Phæacians, gold and silver dogs which guarded his house. To Minos, king of Crete, he gave the brazen man Talus, who passed around the island three times every day, to guard it from invasion. For himself, Vulcan formed golden handmaidens, whom he endowed with reason and speech.
Ques. Who was Æ´olus?
Ans. He was the god of the winds; he could imprison them in a dark cave, or, by setting them free, create tempests.
Ques. What was the origin of this fable?
Ans. It is believed that Æ´olus was a skillful astronomer who dwelt in a volcanic island. By noticing the clouds of smoke, and how they rose, he was enabled to foretell storms a long time before they happened; hence the ignorant believed that he could bring high winds and tempests whenever he pleased.
Ques. Who was Momus?
Ques. Give an example?
[Pg 68] Ans. Neptune, Vulcan, and Minerva contended for the prize of skill; Neptune made a bull, Minerva a house, and Vulcan a man. Momus was called upon to decide their merits, but he blamed them all. He said that Neptune was imprudent in not placing the bull’s horns in his forehead, before his eyes, that he might give a stronger and surer blow. He found fault with Minerva’s house, because it was immovable and could not be carried away if it were placed among bad neighbors. He said that Vulcan was the worst of all, because he did not put a window in the man’s breast so that his thoughts might be seen. No god could escape the censure of Momus. When he could find nothing to criticise in the person of Venus, he complained of the noise made by her golden sandals. Momus was at length driven from Olympus.
Ques. Who was Vesta?
Ans. She was the daughter of Saturn and Ops or Rhea, and was, therefore, the sister of Jupiter. She was considered the guardian of homes and firesides, and was a household divinity. Statues of Vesta were placed by the Romans at the entrance of their houses; hence the word vestibule, which we still use.
Ques. How is Vesta usually represented?
Ans. As seated on the ground, and leaning upon a drum, while various domestic animals are grouped about her.
Ques. What was the character of this goddess?
Ans. She was esteemed very holy, and was the patroness of household virtues. When Jupiter asked her to choose whatever gift she would, Vesta desired that she might remain always a virgin, and receive the first oblations in all sacrifices. Fire was the emblem of this goddess, and in her temple, at Rome, a sacred fire was suspended in [Pg 70] the air, and watched by the Vestal Virgins. If this fire chanced to be extinguished, all public and private business was suspended until the accident had been expiated.
Ques. What laws existed with regard to the Vestal Virgins?
Ans. The penalties for neglect of their duties were severe. If the sacred fire was extinguished through their negligence, they were sometimes cruelly punished, and if any Virgin infringed the rule which forbade her to marry, she was buried alive; being shut up in a vault underground, with a lamp, and a little bread, wine, water and oil. The sacred fire of Vesta was watched by these priestesses for nearly eleven centuries. We are told that during this period, twenty Vestals were condemned to death. Of these, seven were permitted to take their own lives, thirteen suffered the terrible punishment we have described. The last execution of this kind took place in the reign of the emperor Domitian.
Ques. What were the privileges of the Vestal Virgins?
Ans. In recompense for these severe laws, the Vestals were treated with extraordinary respect. They had the most honorable seats at games and festivals, and even the consuls and magistrates gave them precedence; their testimony was taken in trials without any form of oath, and if they happened to meet a criminal going to execution, he was immediately pardoned. Public documents [Pg 71] of great importance were generally entrusted to their care.
A striking instance of the respect felt for these Virgins, is related by a Roman historian. Appius Claudius Audax, a consul who had rendered himself obnoxious to the people, was attacked in the midst of a triumphal procession by the plebeian tribunes, who endeavored to pull him from his chariot. His daughter, who was a Vestal Virgin, ascended the triumphal car, and took her place by her father’s side. The tumult immediately subsided, and the procession proceeded quietly to the capital.
Ques. How many Vestal Virgins were there?
Ans. The number has been variously stated. Some authors mention six, others seven, as the number actually in office. They were chosen between the ages of six and ten; for ten years they were employed in learning their duty; they remained in office for ten, and ten other years were employed in instructing the novices. If there were seven Vestals always in office, the entire number must have been twenty-one. The thirty years being ended, the Vestals returned to their families. The law then permitted them to marry, but it was considered discreditable to do so.
Ques. Who was Cyb´ele?
Ans. This goddess, sometimes called by the Greeks, Rhea, and by the Latins, Ops, is considered to be a personification of the earth. She is goddess, not of cities only, but of all things which the earth contains. She was the daughter of Cœlum, and the wife of Saturn.
Ques. How was Cyb´ele represented?
Ans. Generally as riding in a chariot, drawn by lions. She wears a turreted crown, and is clothed in a many-colored mantle, on which are represented the figures of various animals. In her right hand she holds a sceptre, and in her left, a key. This last emblem seems to signify that the earth locks up her treasures in the winter season. Cyb´ele is always represented with the dignified and matronly air which distinguishes Juno and Ceres.
Ques. How was she worshipped?
Ans. Sacrifices were first offered to this goddess in Phrygia and Lydia. Her temples were generally [Pg 73] built on the summits of mountains; that on Mount Dindymus near Pessi´nus, in Galatia, was particularly celebrated. Her statue in this temple was simply a large aerolite which had fallen in the vicinity, and was regarded by the people as the heaven-sent image of their great goddess. At the close of the second Punic war, the Romans, directed, it is said, by the Sibylline books, sent an embassy to Attalus, king of Pergamus, requesting that he would permit the so-called image to be removed to Rome. The monarch consented, and the sacred stone was carried in triumph to the Italian capital. There it was placed in a stately temple built for the purpose, and a solemn festival, called Megalesia, was celebrated annually, in honor of Cyb´ele. During these solemnities, priests called Galli and Corybantes ran about like madmen, with cries and howlings, making, at the same time, a terrific noise with the clashing of cymbals, the sound of pipes and other instruments. In their frenzy, they cut their flesh with knives, and performed many other extravagances, but the people regarded them with reverence, as they were believed, while in this state, to possess the gift of prophecy.
The divinity worshipped by the Roman women under the name of Bona Dea, or Good Goddess, is believed to be the same as Cyb´ele.
Ancient writers relate an extraordinary incident connected with the arrival of the image of Cyb´ele in Rome. The ship which bore the sacred stone [Pg 74] was stranded on a shoal in the Tiber. Claudia, a Vestal Virgin who was suspected of having violated her vow, attached her girdle to the prow, and drew the ship safely into port. Her innocence was established by this prodigy.
Ques. Who was Ceres?
Ans. She was the daughter of Saturn and Ops, and was worshipped as the goddess of fruits and corn. It is supposed that she first invented and taught the art of tilling the earth, and sowing wheat and other grains, so that men ate wholesome bread, where before they had lived on roots and acorns.
Ques. How is Ceres represented?
Ans. As a beautiful and majestic woman, with golden hair, and crowned with ears of wheat; in her right hand she holds poppies and ears of corn, and in her left, a flaming torch.
Ques. Explain these emblems.
Ans. The hair of Ceres is golden, to represent the color of ripe corn; she holds a lighted torch, because when her daughter Proser´pine was stolen by Pluto, Ceres kindled a torch from the flames of Mount Etna, to light her on her search throughout the world. She holds a poppy, because when she was so grieved that she could [Pg 76] neither rest nor sleep, Jupiter gave her a poppy to eat.
Ques. Relate the story of Proser´pine (Perse´phone).
Ans. None of the goddesses were willing to marry Pluto, or share his gloomy kingdom. He determined, nevertheless, to obtain a wife, even if he had to do so by violence. Proser´pine, the daughter of Jupiter and Ceres, was gathering daffodils with her companions in the plains of Enna, when Pluto suddenly appeared among them in a chariot drawn by black horses. As the maidens fled in terror, he seized Proser´pine, and striking the waters of the fountain Cy´ane with his trident, he opened a passage, through which he descended with his prize. Ceres, ignorant of what had occurred, wandered through the world in search of her daughter. At length, arriving at the fountain of Cy´ane, she perceived the girdle of Proser´pine still floating on its waters; and the nymph Arethusa informed her of what had taken place. Ceres repaired immediately to Olympus, where she made her complaint to Jupiter, and demanded that Pluto should restore her daughter. Jupiter promised to grant her request, in case Proser´pine should not have tasted food in the infernal regions. Ceres descended thither, and Proser´pine prepared joyfully to accompany her mother, when Ascal´aphus reported that he had seen her eat some seeds of pomegranate. The hopes of Ceres were thus destroyed, but Proser´pine was so [Pg 77] indignant at the treachery of Ascal´aphus, that she changed him immediately into an owl. Jupiter endeavored to appease the resentment of Ceres by permitting Proser´pine to divide the year, spending six months with her mother on earth, the other six with Pluto in the infernal regions.
Ques. What were the most famous solemnities instituted in honor of Ceres?
Ans. The Eleusian or Eleusinian Mysteries. They were named from Eleusis, a town in Greece where they were celebrated.
Ques. What rites were practiced during these mysteries?
Ans. We cannot tell with any certainty. The penalty of death was decreed against any one who should betray the secret, or even witness the ceremonies without having been regularly initiated. Disclosures were made, however, which seem to prove that the person to be initiated was first introduced into a dark subterranean cave, where he was terrified with the most fearful sights and sounds. After this, if his courage did not fail, he was suddenly introduced into a lovely garden, and the ceremonies concluded with feasting and dancing.
Ques. Who were admitted to these rites?
Ans. Athenians only; but Hercules, to whom no one dared refuse anything, was initiated, and after him, other distinguished foreigners were admitted to what were called the Lesser Mysteries. The Athenians were eager to be admitted to these [Pg 78] rites, because they believed that the souls of those who had not been initiated were left to wallow in mud and filth in the lower regions.
Ques. What do the early Christian writers say of these mysteries?
Ans. They speak of them as being almost as immoral as the festivals held in honor of Bacchus.
Ques. Who is said to have instituted them?
Ans. Triptol´emus, the foster-child of Ceres.
Ques. Relate the story of Triptol´emus.
Ans. When Ceres was seeking Proser´pine by sea and land, she was kindly entertained by Celeus, king of Eleusis, in Attica. She rewarded his hospitality by taking care of his young son, whom she nourished during the day with celestial food; but in the night, she covered him with fire. Under this extraordinary treatment, the infant, in a few days, became a beautiful young man. His mother, Meganira, wondered at this, and resolved to discover the cause. She watched Ceres at night, and when she saw her covering Triptol´emus with living coals, she cried out in terror, and rushed into the room to save him. Ceres punished her curiosity with death, but she adopted Triptol´emus, and sent him through the world to teach mankind the use of corn. He executed the commands of Ceres, and wherever he went, instructed men in sowing, reaping, and other arts of husbandry. Triptol´emus is usually represented [Pg 79] as a young man, seated in a splendid chariot drawn by flying serpents.
Ques. What sacrifices were offered to Ceres?
Ans. Young heifers, swine and ears of corn, wine, milk and honey were used in the libations.
Ques. What were the Ambarvalia?
Ans. They were feasts kept in the beginning of harvest, preparatory to reaping. The animal to be offered in sacrifice, was led around the fields, the husbandmen and country rustics following with shouts and songs. Virgil says of these festivities:
And milk and honey mix with sparkling wine;
Let all the choir of clowns attend this show,
In long procession, shouting as they go;
Invoking her to bless their yearly stores,
Inviting plenty to their crowded floors.
Thus in the spring, and thus in summer’s heat,
Before the sickles touch the rip’ning wheat,
On Ceres call; and let the lab’ring hind
With oaken wreaths his hollow temples bind;
On Ceres let him call, and Ceres praise,
With uncouth dances, and with country-lays.
Ques. Who was Themis?
Ans. She instructed both gods and men, and was generally considered the goddess of law and justice. Her origin is uncertain; but she is said to have been a Titaness.
Ques. Who was Astræ´a?
Ans. She was also goddess of justice; according to some, she was the daughter of Jupiter and Themis. When the Titans took up arms against Jupiter, Astræ´a descended to earth, and mingled with the human race. This intercourse was uninterrupted during the Golden Age; in the Silver Age, Astræ´a dwelt in the mountains, and descended only amid the shades of evening, when she was unseen by men. When the Brazen Age commenced, she fled altogether from the human race, being the last among the Immortals to abandon the earth. Jupiter then changed her into the constellation Virgo, one of the signs of the zodiac. This constellation is represented by the figure of a woman holding scales in one hand, and a sword [Pg 81] in the other. The scales have been variously explained, but they are generally supposed to be an emblem of justice. According to some, Erigo´ne, a maiden who hung herself in despair, at the death of her father, was changed into the constellation Virgo.
Ques. Who was Nem´esis?
Ans. She was the daughter of Night, and the goddess of just vengeance. It was her office to follow and punish guilty men. She had wings, but generally went on foot, which signifies that the punishment of crime, although sure, is generally slow. An ancient poet says:
The slower is its pace, the surer is its blow.”
Ques. What do you say of the temple of Nem´esis at Rhamnus?
Ans. This temple was but a short distance from the plain of Marathon. The Persians had brought with them a great block of Parian marble for the trophy which they intended to erect in honor of their expected victory. This marble fell into the hands of the Athenians, and a sculptor, said by some to have been Phidias, afterwards carved from it a beautiful statue of Nem´esis, which was placed in the temple of Rhamnus. A fragment was found in the ruins of this edifice, which is supposed to be the head of this statue; and has been presented as such to the British Museum.
Ques. Who were the Muses?
Ans. They were the daughters of Jupiter and Mnemo´syne, and were supposed to preside over the liberal arts and sciences.
Ques. How many Muses were there?
Ans. They were nine in number, and each presided over some particular department of literature, art or science. Their names were:
Calli´ope, who was the Muse of epic poetry, she holds in her hand a roll of parchment, or a trumpet.
Clio presided over history. She holds a half opened scroll.
Melpo´mene was the Muse of tragedy. She leans on a club, and holds a tragic mask.
Euter´pe was the patroness of music. She holds two flutes.
Er´ato inspired those who wrote of love. She plays on a nine-stringed lyre.
Terpsich´ore presided over choral dance and song. She appears dancing, and holds a seven-stringed lyre.
Polyhym´nia presided over eloquence. She holds her fore-finger to her lips, or carries a scroll.
The Muses are sometimes represented as crowned with palms, and seated in the shade of an arbor, playing upon different instruments; or again, as dancing in a circle with joined hands, while Apollo is seated in their midst.
Ques. How have some writers accounted for the number of Muses?
Ans. They say that in ancient times there were but three Muses. The citizens of Sicyon employed three sculptors to execute statues of these goddesses, promising to choose from among the nine images, those which they should consider the most beautiful. When the statues were finished, they were found to be so skillfully wrought, that it was impossible to make a choice. They were all placed in the temple, and the poet Hesiod afterwards assigned them names and attributes.
Ques. What punishment did the Muses inflict on the nine daughters of Pierus, king of Æmathia?
Ans. These maidens challenged the Muses to a contest in music; they were defeated and transformed into magpies by the indignant goddesses. Tham´yris, a musician of Thrace, was struck blind for the same offence.
Gods of the Woods, and Rural Deities.
Ques. Who was Pan?
Ans. He was a woodland deity, and was honored by the Romans as the god of shepherds and the patron of fishing and fowling. The Latins sometimes called him Incubus or the “Nightmare,” and at Rome he was worshipped as Lupercus, or Lynceus. His origin is uncertain, but he is said by some authors to have been a son of Mercury and a nymph of Arcadia.
Ques. How is Pan represented?
Ans. As half man, and half goat, having a human head ornamented with horns, and a garland of pine: he holds in one hand a crooked staff, and in the other a pipe of uneven reeds. The music which he made on this rude instrument was so sweet as to cheer the gods.
Ques. What famous action is related of Pan?
Ans. When the Gauls, under their King Brennus, made an irruption into Greece, and were about to plunder the temple of Apollo at Delphi, Pan suddenly showed himself, and so terrified them [Pg 85] that they fled in disorder. Hence it comes that any sudden and unreasonable terror which spreads through an assemblage of persons, particularly an army, is called a panic.
Ques. What was the origin of Pan’s reeds?
Ans. A beautiful nymph, named Syrinx, was so persecuted by this god, that she prayed the water-nymphs to help her, and change her into reeds, which they did. Pan saw the transformation, and was much grieved. He took some of the reeds away for a remembrance. On applying them to his lips, he found they produced the most melodious sounds, so that he formed them into a rustic pipe. Milk and honey were offered to Pan.
SATYRS AND FAUNS.
Ques. Who were these?
Ques. Who was Terminus?
Ans. He was the god of boundaries. His statue was only a square stone, or a painted log of wood. It is probable that the Romans did not suppose Terminus to be a person, but only used the name as another term for justice, which forbids any one to trespass on another’s boundaries.
[Pg 86] Landmarks and boundary stones were considered sacred by the Romans; they were crowned with garlands on festivals, offerings were laid upon them, and it was death for any one to remove one. When Constantine embraced Christianity, and placed the cross on his standard, he replaced these Terminal stones by the Christian emblem, and the custom of erecting wayside crosses, which became afterwards almost universal, is said to date from this epoch.