The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies

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Ques. Who was this deity?

Ans. He is generally reckoned as one of the rural divinities, and was worshipped as such by the ancient Sabines. The name comes from the Latin word verto, (to turn or change,) and was bestowed upon him in allusion to his power of taking any form he pleased. Vertumnus presided over the seasons; he was the husband of Pomona. Statues of this god were erected in every town of Italy. His festival called Vertumnalia, was kept in October.



Goddesses of the Woods.


Ques. Who was Diana?

Ans. She was the daughter of Jupiter and Latona, and the twin-sister of Apollo. This goddess had three names. On earth she was called Diana, and was honored as the goddess of woods and hunting; in heaven she was called Luna, and was identified with the moon, as her brother Apollo was with the sun. In hell, she was called Hec´ate, and as spirits were supposed to be subject to her, she was invoked under the latter name in all magical incantations.

Ques. What were the habits of Diana?

Ans. She shunned the society of men, and frequented the woods, attended by a train of virgins who had resolved, like her, never to marry.

Ques. Who were the attendants of Diana?

Ans. Sometimes the Ocean´ides or daughters of Ocean´us; sometimes the woodland nymphs. Diana often led a chorus of the Muses and Graces, and joined them in singing the praises of her mother Latona.

[88] Ques. How is Diana represented?

Ans. As a very stately and beautiful woman, dressed in the garb of a huntress; she holds a bow in her hand, and a quiver of arrows is hung across her shoulders. Her feet are covered with buskins, and a bright silver crescent glitters on her forehead. Sometimes she is represented as seated in a silver chariot drawn by hounds.

Ques. Who was Chi´one?

Ans. She was a nymph beloved by Apollo. She spoke scornfully of the beauty of Diana, and the goddess, in revenge, pierced her tongue with an arrow.

Ques. Relate the story of Ni´obe.

Ans. She was the daughter of Tan´talus, and the wife of Amphi´on, king of Thebes. She was enriched with all the gifts of nature and fortune, and being made insolent by prosperity, she insulted Latona, and refused to offer incense at her shrine. Ni´obe had seven beautiful sons, and as many lovely daughters, and had boasted of their number as rendering her superior to Latona. The indignant goddess called upon Apollo and Diana to revenge the insult offered to their mother, and humble the haughty Ni´obe. This they effected by slaying, in one day, all the children of the unhappy queen. Her sons expired by the arrows of Apollo, and her daughters by those of Diana. Amphi´on killed himself in despair, and the wretched Ni´obe, widowed and childless, wept without ceasing until the pitying gods [89] changed her into stone. This story has furnished the subject of a very beautiful group of statuary, in which Ni´obe is represented as vainly endeavoring to shelter, beneath her mantle, the youngest and last of her children.

Ques. Where was the most celebrated temple of Diana?

Ans. At Ephesus in Asia Minor; it was so beautiful that it was counted among the seven wonders of the world. Two hundred and twenty years were spent in the building, although an incredible number of workmen were employed. The entire length of the temple was 425 feet, and the breadth 220; the whole was supported by 127 superb columns, each the gift of a king. The statue of the goddess was of ebony, and the most skillful painters and sculptors were employed in the decorations of the edifice.

A man named Erostratus, who was anxious to make himself famous, by whatever means, set fire to this magnificent building. This event took place on the very day on which Alexander the Great was born.

The temple was but partially destroyed, and was soon afterwards restored to its former splendor. The inhabitants of Ephesus seem to have been particularly attached to the worship of Diana. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that when they began to make converts in that city, the people were very indignant; in their zeal for their goddess they ran about the streets for the space [90] of about two hours, crying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

This temple was despoiled by Nero, who removed many costly offerings and images, together with a large quantity of silver and gold. It was afterwards plundered by the Goths in the reign of Gallienus; and the materials of the building have been since used in the construction of other edifices. The great dome of Santa Sophia, in Constantinople, rests upon pillars of green jasper which were removed from the temple of Diana by order of Justinian.

Two pillars of the great church of Pisa were also taken from this temple, which has been so completely destroyed that the exact site is not known.


Ques. Who were the Nymphs?

Ans. They were graceful young women who attended on Diana and the greater goddesses. Some, also, had charge of certain fountains and rivers, and were called Na´iades; the nymphs of Ocean were Nere´ides and Ocean´ides. The Ore´ades were mountain nymphs, and others presided over groves and even single trees.

Ques. What were the woodland nymphs called?

Ans. Those who watched over the forests, and always lived among the trees, were called Dry´ades, from a Greek word which means an oak; the Hamadry´ades were so called because they were [91] attached, each to some particular oak. The Hamadryad was born with the tree, flourished and died with it. This belief lingered for a long time amid the German forests, as also the superstition about water spirits.

Ques. What was the story of Arethusa?

Ans. This nymph was the daughter of Ocean´us, and an attendant of Diana. She was admired by the god of the river Alphe´us, but refused to listen to his addresses. As she fled from his presence, he pursued. The terrified nymph had sped through all Arcadia; the shades of evening were gathering, and Alphe´us pressed close upon her fainting steps. In this extremity, Arethusa prayed to Diana for relief, and was immediately dissolved into a fountain. Alphe´us resumed his watery form, and sought to mingle his current with hers, but Diana opened for her a passage under the sea, and she rose in the island of Ortygia, in Sicily, still followed by the stream of the Alphe´us. In proof of this fable, and of the Grecian origin of this famous fount, it was asserted that a cup which fell into the river Alphe´us in Greece, rose in the fountain of Arethusa, and that its clear waters were reddened with the blood of the victims slain at the Olympic games.

Ques. Who was Echo?

Ans. Echo was a nymph, the daughter of Air and Tellus; she was one of Juno’s attendants, but offended that goddess by her talkativeness. She was so far deprived of speech, that she could [92] only repeat the last words of every sentence which she heard. Echo loved the youth Narcissus, and seeing that he despised her affection, she pined away till nothing remained of her but her voice and bones. The latter were changed into stones, but the voice is still heard among rocks and in solitary places, repeating always the last words that are spoken.

Ques. What was the fate of Narcissus?

Ans. One legend is that he saw his image reflected in a fountain, and, not perceiving that it was but his own shadow, gazed at it, lost in admiration, until he was changed into the flower that bears his name. According to another version, Narcissus had a twin-sister who resembled him closely in form and feature, and was his constant companion. This sister died young, and Narcissus, deeply lamenting her death, used to go to a neighboring fountain, and try to recall the image of his sister by gazing at his own reflection in the waters.

Ques. Were there many rural divinities?

Ans. Yes, a great number; but only a few were well known. Among those we may mention Pomona, the goddess of orchards, and Flora, the goddess of flowers. Pales was the goddess of shepherds and pastures. The Romans celebrated feasts, called Pallia, in her honor. They offered milk, and cakes of millet, that she might drive away the wolves, and prevent diseases among the cattle.



Gods of the Sea.


Ques. Who was Neptune?

Ans. He was the son of Saturn and Ops, and was worshipped as the god of the sea, and the father of rivers and fountains.

Ques. How is he represented?

Ans. As standing upright in a chariot made of a sea-shell; for a sceptre, he holds a trident, that is, a fork with three barbed tines; he is arrayed in a blue mantle, and is generally accompanied by his queen Amphitri´te. Neptune’s chariot is drawn by sea-horses, and his attendants, who swim on either side, are human only to the waist, the body terminating like that of a fish. Whenever Neptune’s chariot moved upon the waters, the sea grew calm, and tempests were appeased.

Ques. What were the offices of Neptune?

Ans. He conducted ships safely to port, and presided over horse-races.

Ques. Why was he supposed to preside over horses?

[94] Ans. In memory of his contest with Minerva, when he produced a horse by striking on the ground with his trident. Neptune was obliged by Jupiter to aid Apollo in building the walls of Troy.

Ques. How was Neptune worshipped?

Ans. Neptune had an altar in the Circus at Rome where sacrifices were offered, and plays were acted, representing the carrying off of the Sabine women. The solemn games in honor of this god were called Consualia, and were celebrated in the month of March. While these lasted, horses were released from work, and mules were adorned with garlands.

Ques. Who were the most remarkable of Neptune’s children?

Ans. Triton, and Phorcus or Proteus.

Ques. What is told of Phorcus?

Ans. He was vanquished by Atlas, and drowned in the sea; after which the people worshipped him as a god. There was another Phorcus who had three daughters, concerning whom a remarkable circumstance is related. The sisters had but one eye for their common use; each one wore it in turn, in the middle of her forehead. They were the guardians of the Gorgons, of whom Medusa was one. The hero Perseus, when about to attack Medusa, visited them, and, watching his opportunity, while one of the sisters was handing the eye to the other, he snatched it from her, and left all three in darkness.

[95] Ques. For what was Proteus remarkable?

Ans. For his power of transforming himself instantaneously into any shape he wished.

Ques. Who was Triton?

Ans. He was the son of Neptune and Amphitri´te, and was his father’s companion and trumpeter. The upper half of his body was like that of a man, but below the waist he resembled a fish; his tail was cleft and crooked, and his hair resembled wild parsley.

Ques. What other sea-monsters were celebrated?

Ans. The Sirens, also Scylla, and Charybdis.

Ques. Who were the Sirens?

Ans. They were monsters who had the faces of women, but the bodies of flying-fish; they dwelt near the promontory of Peloris, or in islands called Sirenusæ, south of Italy. By the magical sweetness of their singing, they allured all who sailed by those coasts; and after they had lulled them into a trance, drowned them in the sea.

Ques. What was there remarkable in the songs of the Sirens?

Ans. They blended the notes of different musical instruments with their voices, and adapted the style and matter of their songs to the inclination of their hearers. They had bold and stirring strains to entice the ambitious, softer melodies for the lovers of pleasure, and with still different notes, they drew on the covetous to their destruction.

[96] Ques. Did any escape who passed those coasts?

Ans. History mentions only two; Ulys´ses and Or´pheus. The first was warned against the danger by the enchantress Circe; he therefore stopped the ears of his companions with wax, and had himself firmly bound to the mast of the ship, by which means he passed the fatal coasts in safety. Or´pheus overcame them in their own art; for he sang the praises of the gods, accompanying himself upon his lyre, and made such divine melody that the music of the Sirens attracted no attention. The Fates had decreed that the Sirens should live until some one who passed by, had listened to their songs unmoved. When they saw themselves overcome by Or´pheus, they knew that their hour had come, and flung themselves headlong into the sea, where they were transformed into rocks.

Ques. Who was Circe?

Ans. She was a skillful enchantress. Having poisoned her husband, the king of the Sarmatians, she was obliged to fly into Italy, where she fixed her dwelling on the promontory Circæum. She presented to all travellers an enchanted cup; and after they had drunk, transformed them into wolves, swine or other animals. Ulys´ses escaped by throwing an herb into the cup, which rendered it powerless; he then rushed upon the sorceress with his sword, and forced her to restore his companions whom she had transformed. After this, Circe entertained Ulys´ses in a friendly manner.

[97] Ques. What did the poets endeavor to teach by the fables of the Sirens’ song, and the cup of Circe?

Ans. They wished to signify by the singing of the Sirens, the allurements of vice, and the dangers of listening to its seductions; by the story of Circe, they showed that when men drink of the cup of sensual pleasure, they become soon degraded to the level of the beasts.

Ques. Who was Scylla?

Ans. The fable relates that she was the daughter of Phorcus, and that she was transformed by the jealousy of Circe, into a frightful monster. Scylla was so much grieved by this transformation, that she cast herself into the sea, where she was changed into a rock, made famous by the many shipwrecks that occurred upon it. Over against this rock is the whirlpool of Charybdis, about which the poets relate a similar fable. They say that Charybdis was a very ravenous woman, who stole Hercules’s oxen. For this theft, Jupiter struck her dead with a thunderbolt, and changed her into the whirlpool which bears her name. The ancients placed Scylla and Charybdis in the straits of Messina. It was considered a great feat to steer successfully between them.

Ques. Who was Melicertes?

Ans. He was the son of Athamas, king of Thebes, and of Ino, the daughter of Cadmus and Hermi´one. Ino offended Juno, and the goddess, in revenge, deprived Athamas of reason. The king, in his frenzy, took the [98] queen and her children for wild beasts, and pursued them through the palace. He killed his son Learchus by dashing him against a wall, but Ino escaped, and threw herself into the sea with Melicertes in her arms. At the intercession of Venus, Neptune endowed them both with immortality. Ino became a sea-goddess under the name of Leucothea, while Melicertes was worshipped as Palæmon. He was supposed to have power in saving vessels from shipwreck, and was, therefore, invoked by mariners. The Romans called him Portunus, and honored him as the god of shores and harbors.

Ques. Who was Thetis?

Ans. She was a sea-goddess, the daughter of Nereus and Doris, and sister of the Nere´ides. She was endowed with such beauty that Jupiter himself sought her in marriage; but Prometheus, the Titan, prophesied that Thetis would give birth to a son who should be greater than his father. Jupiter thereupon desisted from his suit, and Thetis was betrothed to Peleus, king of Thessaly. Their marriage was celebrated with much pomp, all the deities of Olympus honoring the nuptial rites with their presence. Achilles, the son of Thetis, fulfilled the Titan’s prophecy by his heroic exploits.



Infernal Deities.


Ques. Who was Pluto?

Ans. He was the son of Saturn and Ops, and the brother of Jupiter and Neptune. In the division of his father’s kingdom, the infernal regions were allotted to him, and he is therefore called the king of Hell.

Ques. How is Pluto represented?

Ans. He is seated on a throne in the midst of clouds and darkness; he wears a crown of ebony, and holds a key in his hand instead of a sceptre.

Ques. What does the key signify?

Ans. It seems to imply, that when once the dead are received into Pluto’s kingdom, the gates are locked upon them and there is no escape.

Ques. What does Pluto’s name signify?

Ans. The Greek name Pluto, and the Latin word Dis, signify wealth, because this god is supposed to control the hidden treasures of the earth. The thunder that happens in the night time is attributed to Pluto, and he is often styled the Infernal Jupiter.

[100] Ques. Was Pluto the same as Plutus?

Ans. No; Plutus was the god of riches, and was supposed to be the son of Jason and Ceres. He is described as being blind and lame, injudicious, and timorous.

Ques. What does this mean?

Ans. Plutus is blind and injudicious, because he passes over the virtuous to heap riches on the wicked; he is lame because riches come slowly, and timorous, because the rich watch their treasures with great fear and anxiety.

Ques. To whom was Pluto married?

Ans. As we have learned before, Pluto was married to Proser´pine, daughter of Ceres.


Ques. How was Hell described?

Ans. The entrance to the infernal regions was by a wide, dark cave, through which the departed souls were obliged to pass; they next came to a gloomy grove, and a black lake, called Avernus; this was overhung with such poisonous vapors that no birds could fly over it. The ferryman, Charon, was always waiting on the shore to carry the dead to the other side of the lake. The ghosts of those who had not been buried with funeral rites, were obliged to wander for a hundred years by the gloomy waters of Avernus, before Charon could carry them to the other side. This superstition [101] made the ancients very careful about burying their dead.

Ques. What do you say of the rivers of Hell?

Ans. The Styx was the most remarkable. When any of the gods swore by the Styx, the oath was sacred; if any deity was guilty of breaking such an oath, he was deprived of nectar, and excluded from the table of the gods for a year and nine days. Lethe was also a river of Hell; the name means oblivion; it is so called, because when the dead drank of its waters, they forgot all that had passed upon this earth.

Ques. What monster kept the gate of Pluto’s palace?

Ans. Cer´berus; a three-headed dog, whose body was clothed with snakes instead of hair.


Ques. Who were the Fates?

Ans. They were three sisters, the daughters of Chaos, who were appointed to watch over the thread of human life. Their names were, Clotho, Lach´esis and At´ropos; Clotho drew the thread between her fingers; Lach´esis turned the wheel, and, at the appointed moment, At´ropos cut the thread with her scissors.

Ques. Who were the Furies?

Ans. They were three sisters, Alec´to, Tisi´phone, and Megæ´ra. They are called by the poets the Daughters of Night; their office was to torment the wicked during life and after death.

[102] Ques. How were they represented?

Ans. As hideous women with terrible countenances; they had twining serpents instead of hair, and carried snaky whips and lighted torches in their hands. They were often called by the Greeks Eumen´ides.

Ques. Of what were the Furies an emblem?

Ans. Of the evil passions of men, and the remorse which torments the wicked. When the ancients said of a man, that the Furies had taken up their abode with him, they meant that the remembrance of his crimes did not leave him any repose.


Punishments inflicted on the Condemned.

Ques. Besides Pluto, who were appointed judges of the dead?

Ans. Minos, Rhadamanthus and Æ´acus. These were princes, who governed so justly during life, that the fate of the dead was entrusted to them.

Ques. What offices were assigned to each?

Ans. Rhadamanthus judged the Asiatics, Æ´acus the Europeans; and when a very difficult case arose it was referred to Minos.

Ques. Who were the most famous among the condemned?

Ans. The giants whom Jupiter conquered. Typhon was the most enormous; when he was overthrown, Jupiter was obliged to lay the whole [103] Island of Sicily upon him to keep him down. Briareus was another giant, remarkable for having fifty heads and a hundred hands. According to the ancient poets, he is imprisoned under Mount Etna, and whenever he tries to move he causes terrible eruptions of the volcano. Tityus was still more cruelly punished. He was chained to the ground in the infernal regions, and such was his stature, that he covered nine acres. A frightful vulture fed continually upon his liver, which grew as fast as it was consumed, that his punishment might be eternal.

Ques. Who was Ixion?

Ans. He was the son of Phlegyas, or, according to some, of Mars. He boasted falsely that he had gained the affections of Juno. For this insolence Jupiter cast him down into hell, where he was fastened to a wheel which revolved continually.

Ques. Who was Sis´yphus?

Ans. He was a famous robber who was slain by Theseus. In hell, he was obliged to roll a huge stone up a steep mountain. When it touched the top it rolled down again, so that he was tormented with unceasing toil.

Ques. Who was Tan´talus?

Ans. He was the son of Jupiter. He invited the gods to a feast, at which he served up the flesh of his son Pelops to try their divinity. In hell he is tormented by continual hunger and thirst. He stands up to his lips in a cool fountain, [104] whose waters recede whenever he attempts to drink. Branches laden with tempting fruit hang over him, but they are carried out of reach by a sudden gust of wind whenever he attempts to pluck them.

Ques. Who were the Beli´des?

Ans. They were fifty maidens, daughters of Dan´aus and grand-daughter of King Belus, from whom they are called. They all murdered their husbands on the wedding night, for which crime they are obliged to draw water from a deep well until they have filled an immense sieve. Their labor is therefore perpetual.

Ques. Who was Salmo´neus?

Ans. Salmo´neus was king of Elis, and was cast into hell for imitating Jupiter’s thunder.

Ques. What became of the souls of good men?

Ans. After being purified from whatever slight offences they had committed in life, they were conducted to a place abounding in delights, called Elysium. When they had passed many ages in this blissful abode they returned to earth, but before doing so, they drank of the river Lethe, that they might forget the happiness they had enjoyed.




Ques. Were there any fabulous monsters besides those of Hell?

Ans. Yes, many; the Centaurs, who were half man and half horse; also Geryon, who was king of the three Balearic Islands, now known as Ivica, Minorca and Majorca. For this reason, he was said to have three heads and three bodies, and passed into fable as a monster. He was probably a wicked and cruel prince. There were also the Harpies, which had the faces of women and the bodies of birds.

Ques. What was the Chimæra?

Ans. A fabulous monster, which vomited fire. It had the head and breast of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a dragon.

Ques. What was intended by this fable?

Ans. Poets thus described a volcano in Lycia, on the summit of which were lions; in the middle was pasture-land frequented by goats; and the lowest part was infested by serpents. Bellerophon made this mountain inhabitable, and was therefore said to have killed the Chimæra. At present [106] anything which is quite imaginary is called a Chimæra.

Ques. What was the Sphinx?

Ans. It was a monster with the head and shoulders of a woman, the wings of a bird, and the paws of a lion. She infested the country about Thebes, so that the people, in their distress, went to consult the oracle of Apollo. An answer was given that no remedy could be found until some one should solve the riddle that the Sphinx had proposed, and which she had learned from the Muses. The question was this: “What animal is that which goes on four feet in the morning, on two at noon, and on three in the evening?” The Thebans often met to try their skill, and when they had failed, the Sphinx carried off and devoured one of their number. At length Hæmon, son of Creon, was destroyed by the monster, and the king made a public proclamation, that he would give the throne, with the hand of his sister Jocasta, to that man who should solve the riddle. Œdipus, who was then at Thebes, came forward and answered the Sphinx, that the animal was Man, because when an infant he creeps on all fours; in manhood, he walks on two feet, and when old uses a staff as a third foot. Upon hearing this answer, the Sphinx dashed her head against a rock, and expired.

Ques. Why is the story of the Sphinx interesting?

Ans. Because there still remains in Egypt an [107] enormous statue of the monster, carved in solid rock. Formerly, little was visible save the head and neck, but the sand which has been gathering around it for so many centuries, is now cleared away. The body is one hundred and twenty-five feet long; and the fore-paws extend about fifty feet more. The face has been much disfigured by the arrows and lances of the Arabs, who are taught by their religion to hold all images of men or animals in detestation.

Ques. What was the Phœnix?

Ans. A fabulous bird of which there never existed more than one at the same time. It excelled all other birds in beauty of plumage, and fed only on frankincense and sweet gums. When the Phœnix had attained the age of five hundred years, it built a funeral pile of odorous wood, on which it was consumed. A new Phœnix also immediately arose from the flames. The first care of the young bird was to collect the ashes of its parent, which it carried, enclosed in myrrh, to the temple of the Sun in Egypt.



Household Divinities.


Ques. What were the Pena´tes?

Ans. This name was given to a certain class of household deities, which were worshipped by the Romans in the penetralia, or innermost part of their dwellings. The greater Pena´tes governed kingdoms and provinces; others presided over cities; and the lesser Pena´tes watched over particular houses and families.

Ques. What were the Lares?

Ans. They were, according to some, the children of Mercury and the nymph Lara; they were domestic gods, and presided over houses, streets and roads. They warded off danger from without, while the Pena´tes watched over the interior of the dwelling. The spirits of ancestors sometimes watched as Lares, over the fortunes of families. This idea of the spirits of the deceased watching over their descendants, made the Romans wish to bury the dead within, or very near their dwellings. This custom was condemned by [109] the laws of the Twelve Tables. Besides the spirit which watched over the family, each individual was supposed to have his Lar, or familiar genius, who watched over him from his birth. In early times, children were sacrificed to the goddess Mania, who was supposed by some to be the mother of the Lares. After the expulsion of the Tarquins, Junius Brutus abolished this barbarous rite, and substituted little balls of wool, and heads of garlic and poppy, in place of the human heads which had been formerly offered. The ordinary altar of the Lares was the domestic hearth; hogs, sheep and steers were among the sacrifices offered to these divinities, but the first fruits of the season were always laid upon the hearth. No family repast was properly begun, unless some portion of the viands had been first cast into the fire; in the more solemn form of marriage, the bride always threw a piece of money on the hearth, to the Lares of her family, and another on the cross roads, that they might grant her free passage to her husband’s house. The Roman boy, on attaining the age of fifteen, put off his childish dress, and consecrated the golden bulla, which he had worn around his neck from infancy, to the domestic Lares.