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

Page: 24

As Althea was going to the temple to return thanks for her son’s victory she beheld the bodies of her murdered brothers. When she learned that they had fallen by the hand of Meleager, the Furies took possession of her soul. Entering [142] hastily into the palace, she snatched the fatal brand, so long preserved, and cast it into the flames. At the same moment Meleager started with sudden pain, his strength ebbed away, and as the brand fell to ashes, the soul of the hero was breathed forth on the light winds.

When the deed was accomplished Althea killed herself in despair. The sisters of Meleager wept his loss, until Diana, pitying their sorrow, changed them into birds called Meleagrides.

NISUS AND SCYLLA.

Ques. Relate the story of their transformation?

Ans. Nisus was king of Megara; this city was closely besieged by Minos, but all his efforts were vain, as the Fates had decreed that it should not be taken, so long as a purple lock which grew on the head of Nisus, remained uncut. Scylla, the daughter of this prince, admired the majestic person of Minos, and the valor which he displayed. Believing that he would reward her treachery by making her his queen, she cut the fatal lock while her father slept. Minos received the gift with horror, and, when the city was taken, refused to permit Scylla to accompany him to Crete. In despair, she clung to the prow of his ship; but Nisus, who had just been transformed into a hawk, swooped down upon her from the sky. Scylla cast herself into the sea, and was transformed at the same moment into a lark.

[143]

ERISICHTHON.

Ques. Who was Erisichthon?

Ans. He was a profane person and a despiser of the gods. There stood in a grove sacred to Ceres, a stately oak which overtopped the trees around as they did the garden shrubs. Erisichthon commanded his attendants to fell the tree, and when they hesitated, he snatched an axe himself, and struck the sacred wood. Blood flowed from the wounded trunk, and a voice from the Dryad dwelling in the oak, warned him of the punishment which awaited his impiety. Erisichthon persisted in his crime, and at length the tree, severed by repeated blows, and drawn with ropes, sunk to the ground, prostrating half the grove in its fall. The indignant Dryades went to Ceres in mourning garb, and invoked vengeance on the head of their impious foe. The goddess was moved, and delivered Erisichthon into the power of Famine. As the Fates had decreed that this goddess and Ceres should never meet, an Oread was sent to the ice-clad plains of Scythia, where Famine chiefly dwelt. Arriving at Mount Caucasus, the nymph found her in a stony field, tearing up with teeth and claws the scanty herbage. The pale goddess obeyed the command of Ceres, and visiting the dwelling of Erisichthon, she breathed upon him as he slept. Awaking he craved food, but the more he consumed, the more [144] his hunger raged. In vain the unhappy man spent all his substance to obtain relief; he was reduced to misery and famished as before. He had one daughter called Mestra, an only child, whom he sold to procure food. The maiden scorned to be a slave, and standing with her purchaser on the sea-shore, she lifted her hands, and invoked the aid of Neptune. The god immediately changed her form, so that she appeared to be an aged fisherman mending nets.

The master, strangely surprised at the sudden disappearance of his slave, questioned the supposed fisherman. Mestra replied that she had seen no one, and he proceeded to search for the fugitive elsewhere. She then resumed her own form, and returned to her father, who was well pleased to find that he had still both his daughter and the money for which he had sold her. He again resorted to this base expedient, but as often as Mestra was sold, she was transformed, by the favor of Neptune, now into a horse, now an ox, and now a stag; and so escaped from her purchaser.

All means proved insufficient to supply the wants of the unhappy Erisichthon, who was compelled by hunger to devour his own flesh before death came to end his misery.

[145]

CHAPTER XXXIII.

Poets of Classic Fable.

HOMER—HESIOD—VIRGIL—OVID.

Ques. Who was Homer?

Ans. Everything relating to this poet is involved in obscurity. The two biographies of him which were formerly attributed to Herodotus and Plutarch, are evidently fabulous; their real authors are not known. Nothing is known certainly regarding Homer’s parentage, his birth-place, or even the exact era in which he lived. Seven cities contended for the honor of having given this great poet to the world; these were Smyrna, Chios, Col´ophon, Sal´amis, Rhodes, Argos and Athens.

Smyrna appears to have the best claim, and it is considered certain that the poet was by birth an Ionian; the Ionic is the dialect employed in his works, with a slight mixture, however, of the Æolic, and other forms. With regard to the time in which Homer lived, there is much difference of opinion among the learned, some placing him in [146] the ninth, others in the tenth century before our era. The latter opinion is the more probable.

According to the account generally given, Homer was for many years a schoolmaster in Smyrna. He afterwards abandoned this occupation, and spent some time in travelling.

He made several voyages in the company of a sea captain named Mentes; but at length his sight became so much affected that he was obliged to remain on shore at Ithaca. While in this island, he was kindly entertained by a wealthy man named Mentor, who related to him the traditionary tales on which he afterwards founded the Odyssey.


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