The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies
Page: 26The poems of Ovid, however beautiful otherwise, are all more or less objectionable on account of their immoral tendency; the corruption of the author’s private character has left its impress on all his works.
The claim of Ovid to be numbered among the poets of mythology, rests chiefly on his Metamorphoses. This is a collection of legends of all the transformations said to have taken place in heathen mythology, beginning with the earliest times, and closing with the changing of Julius Cæsar into a star. The stories are not themselves original; [Pg 151] they are principally Greek and Oriental fictions, interspersed, perhaps, with a few Latin or Etruscan fables. There are, in all, two hundred and fifty of these stories. Ovid was engaged in correcting this, his greatest work, when he was surprised by the sentence of banishment. In a fit of impatience and despair, he threw it into the flames. Some of his friends possessed copies, and the poem was thus preserved.
If the Metamorphoses had been destroyed by this rash act, we would have lost many interesting fables which have been rendered immortal by the beauty of Ovid’s verse and his graceful fancy.
The Tristia are not so generally admired. They turn principally on the poet’s personal misfortunes; and this subject, however absorbing to himself, soon becomes wearisome to the reader. Ovid composed a poem in the harsh dialect spoken by the Getæ who dwelt on the borders of the Euxine Sea. The barbarians listened with delight to his recitations, until their anger was excited by his constant complaints of their rude manners and inhospitable climate.
Heroes Celebrated by the Poets.
Ques. Who was Agamemnon?
Ans. He was king of Mycenæ, and commander-in-chief of the Grecian forces during the siege of Troy. The combined fleet was detained for a long time at Aulis, owing to the wrath of Diana, whom Agamemnon had offended by killing one of her favorite deer. Calchas, the soothsayer, was consulted; he declared that the goddess could only be appeased by the sacrifice of Iphige´nia, the oldest daughter of the monarch. She was accordingly led to the altar, but Diana was moved with pity, and carried the maiden with her to Tauris, leaving a hind in her place. The quarrel of Agamemnon with Achil´les, and the troubles that resulted, form the principal subject of Homer’s Iliad. In the division of captives, after the taking of Troy, Cassandra, one of the daughters of Priam, fell to the lot of Agamemnon. This princess had been endowed by Apollo with the gift of prophecy, but as she refused afterwards to [Pg 153] listen to the suit of that god, he decreed that no one should attach any credit to her predictions. It was so in the present instance. Clytemnestra, the queen of Agamemnon, believing, and perhaps hoping, that her husband would not return, had given a promise of marriage to Ægisthus, who already considered himself king of Mycenæ. Cassandra warned Agamemnon against returning thither, but her prediction was disregarded. Agamemnon was assassinated immediately on his arrival at Mycenæ; according to the tragic poets, it was Clytemnestra who dealt the fatal blow.
Ques. Who was Achil´les?
Ans. He was the son of Peleus, king of Phthio´tis in Thessaly; his mother was Thetis, a sea-goddess. Many incredible stories are told concerning the manner in which the hero was nursed in his infancy. According to one account, his mother designed to make him immortal, and for that purpose anointed him with ambrosia during the day, and laid him in the fire at night. The fears of Peleus interrupted this strange treatment, and Achil´les remained subject to death. Calchas had declared that Troy could not be taken without his aid, and Thetis, who was aware that her son was destined to perish if he joined the expedition, disguised him in female attire, and concealed him among the daughters of King [Pg 154] Lycome´des. Ulysses was sent to discover his retreat, which he effected by the following stratagem. Attired as a travelling merchant, he presented himself at court, and displayed before the queen and her maidens, various articles of female attire. Some pieces of armor were disposed among the merchandise; by the order of Ulys´ses, a trumpet was suddenly blown, when the disguised Achil´les betrayed himself by seizing the armor. The young warrior was then obliged to join the expedition. During the siege, Achil´les had a dispute with Agamemnon, concerning some female captives; considering himself wronged, he withdrew from the contest, and no entreaties could induce him to return to the field. The death of his friend Patroclus, who fell by the hand of Hector, at length aroused him to action. Achil´les’ armor, which he had lent to Patroclus, had become the spoil of Hector, and it was upon this occasion that Vulcan fabricated for the hero, the famous suit which is described in the Iliad. Arrayed in this Achil´les performed prodigies of valor, and at length killed Hector, after a desperate combat. According to Homer, Achil´les took an ignoble revenge on the dead body of his foe, which he dragged at his chariot-wheels, three times around the tomb of Patroclus. The corpse of the Trojan hero was yielded at last, to the tears and supplications of Priam, and a truce was granted to the Trojans, for the performance of the funeral rites. Achil´les was himself slain soon after; his ashes [Pg 155] were mingled in a golden urn with those of Patroclus, and a tomb was erected to both heroes, on the promontory of Sigœum.