The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies
Ques. Who was Deucalion?
Ans. He was king of Thessaly, and son of Prometheus. During his reign, there occurred so great a flood that the whole earth was covered with the waters. Of the entire human race, only Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, were saved. When the waters abated, the ship in which they were carried rested upon Mount Parnassus, and they consulted the oracle of Themis, to know by what means the earth might again be peopled. The oracle directed that they should cast behind them the bones of their Great Mother. Understanding by this expression the earth, which is the common mother of all, they gathered stones which they cast behind them, as they had been commanded, when a great prodigy ensued. The stones thrown by Deucalion assumed human form and became men, and those thrown by Pyrrha were changed into women.
Ques. How is this fable explained?
Ans. It is supposed that Deucalion and Pyrrha were remarkable for their piety and virtue; and that by precept and example, they subdued the ferocity of their subjects. In this manner they [Pg 137] softened those who before were hard like stones, so that gentleness and humanity began to reign among them.
Ques. Who was Dæd´alus?
Ans. He is said to have been a native of Athens, eminent for his skill in architecture and statuary. His nephew Perdix wrought with him, and showed much inventive genius. Having observed the teeth of a serpent, or, according to some, the backbone of a fish, Perdix invented the carpenter’s saw, and applied it to the cutting of timber. By this and other efforts of skill, the young man excited the jealousy of Dæd´alus, who killed him by casting him down from the summit of the Acropolis. Perdix was transformed into a partridge, a timid bird which seems still mindful of its fall, and keeps to low coverts, avoiding high places and lofty flights. For this murder, Dæd´alus was sentenced to banishment by the Court of the Areop´agus. He found an asylum with Minos, king of Crete, for whom he constructed the famous Labyrinth. Having incurred the displeasure of Minos, Dæd´alus was imprisoned in a lofty tower. As there seemed no other means of escape, he resolved on attempting a flight through the air. For this purpose, he made wings for himself and his son Ic´arus, which were so skilfully contrived, that, by their aid, they mounted boldly in the air, [Pg 138] and directed their flight over the sea. Ic´arus disregarded his father’s instructions, and approached so near the sun that its heat melted the wax which united the feathers of his wings. He could no longer sustain himself, and was drowned in that sea which is called Icarian, from his name. Dæd´alus arrived in Sicily, where he was employed by Coc´alus, king of that island, in the erection of many splendid edifices.
Various explanations have been given of the fable of Dæd´alus. The most probable opinion is that there really existed an architect of that name, whose fame was such that all the improvements made in those early times in architecture and sculpture were attributed to him by popular tradition. He introduced the use of masts and sails in ships, and he is said to have been the first who represented statues in natural and lifelike attitudes, and with open eyes. Dæd´alus is also mentioned as the inventor of the axe, plumb-line and augur.
CEYX—HALCYONE—THE HALCYON BIRDS.
Ques. Who was Ceyx?
Ans. He was a king of Trachinia, who married Halcy´one, a daughter of the god Æolus. Ceyx was drowned on his way to consult the oracle of Claros. Halcy´one was apprised of the sad event in a dream, in which she saw her husband stand [Pg 139] before her, with pallid countenance and dripping garments. She hastened to the strand at break of day, and gazing over the waters, beheld the body of Ceyx borne towards her by the waves. In her despair, she cast herself into the sea, but the gods took pity on the faithful pair, and transformed them into halcyons. According to the poets, it was decreed that the sea should remain calm while these birds built their nests upon it. Notwithstanding the querulous, lamenting note of the halcyon, it was regarded by the ancients as a symbol of tranquillity, and as it seemed to make its home upon the waters, it was consecrated to Thetis. Pliny tells us that these birds constructed their floating nests during the seven days immediately preceding the winter solstice, and laid their eggs in the seven days succeeding. These are the “halcyon days” of antiquity, and this expression is still used to denote a period of bright and tranquil happiness.
The only bird of modern times which at all resembles the halcyon described by Pliny and Aristotle, is the Alcedo Ispida, a species of martin called by the French, martin-pêcheur. This martin, however, makes its nest on shore, lays its eggs in the spring, and has no connection with calm weather. The large sponge-like ball which was taken by the ancients for the floating nest of the halcyon, was in reality a zoöphyte, of the class named by Linnæus, halcyonium.
MELEAGER—THE CALYDONIAN HUNT.
Ques. What was the story of this prince?
Ans. Meleager was the son of Œneus and Althea, king and queen of Calydon. After his birth, the Fates entered the chamber of Althea, and foretold that the life of the child should expire with a billet of wood then burning on the hearth. Althea immediately seized and quenched the brand, which she secured in an oaken chest. Meleager had already attained the years of manhood when he took part in the expedition generally known as the Calydonian hunt. Œneus had, upon one occasion, in offering sacrifice to the gods, neglected the honors due to Diana, and the goddess, in revenge, sent a wild boar of enormous size to lay waste the fields of Calydon. The boldest hunters feared to attack the monster, whose eyes shone with fire, while its bristles stood erect like spears, and its tusks resembled those of an Indian elephant. The cornfields and vineyards were trampled down in its path, and the terrified husbandmen everywhere fled in dismay. At length Meleager called on the heroes of Greece to join in a hunt and destroy the common foe. [Pg 141] There came on the appointed day, Castor and Pollux, Theseus and his friend Pirothous, Peleus, afterwards father of Achil´les, Telamon, father of Ajax, Nestor, then a youth, and many others of heroic fame. All eyes were, however, attracted by the fair huntress Atalanta. Her girdle was of burnished gold, an ivory quiver hung from her shoulder, and she carried a bow in her left hand.
They soon reached the monster’s lair. Roused by the baying hounds, he rushed forth, trampling down and slaying the nearest huntsmen. In vain Jason threw his spear, praying that Diana might guide his arm. It glanced aside, and the weapon of Telamon proved equally harmless, while Nestor was obliged to seek safety in the branches of a tree. The first wound was inflicted by an arrow from the bow of Atalanta. Meleager, following up this advantage, despatched the monster with his spear. The heroes crowded around to congratulate the victor, who offered the head of the boar and the bristling hide to Atalanta. The huntress accepted the trophies, but the uncles of Meleager, indignant that a woman should bear off the honors of the day, snatched them rudely from her. Meleager forgot, in his anger, the ties of kindred, and slew the offenders on the spot.