The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies
Page: 41Ans. Yes; there was also an intellectual competition, which was perhaps more lively and ardent than any other, as the victory in such a contest was more highly esteemed. The best writers and poets of Greece repaired to the Olympic games, believing that the approbation of so illustrious an assembly was the most certain means of establishing a great reputation in a little time. It was thus that Herodotus read his history to assembled Greece. It was received with enthusiastic applause, and the names of the nine muses were immediately given to the nine books which compose the work. Dionysius was not so fortunate. [Pg 195] This prince believed himself the most excellent poet of the time, and employed professional readers to recite some of his pieces at Olympia. When they began to read these verses their clear and harmonious voices pleased the ear, and they were listened to at first with great attention, which gradually decreased as they went on, until the whole assembly burst forth into hooting and shouts of laughter, so absurd did the pretensions of the royal poet appear.
What we have said of the Olympic Games, may be applied with some little variation to those solemnized in other places.
Ques. By whom were the Pythian Games instituted?
Ans. According to Greek fable, by Apollo himself, in commemoration of his victory over the serpent Python; according to the more probable historic account, they originated at the time when the Delphic oracle had already gained some reputation. The Amphictyonic council was charged with the superintendence of the games, which were celebrated at first every ninth, and afterwards every fifth year. The crown bestowed was of bay.
Ques. Where were the Ne´mean games celebrated?
Ans. At Ne´mea, a city of Argolis, celebrated as the haunt of the lion slain by Hercules. They were said to have been restored by that hero, and were celebrated every third year. The crowns [Pg 196] bestowed on the victors were of parsley, because these were originally funeral games, and it was customary to lay chaplets of parsley on the tombs of the dead. The ruins of Ne´mea are to be seen near the modern village of Kutchumadi.
Ques. Why were the Isthmian Games so called?
Ans. They were named from the Isthmus of Corinth, where they were celebrated. They were instituted in honor of Melicertes, who was changed into a sea deity. After falling into neglect, these games were restored by Theseus. They were celebrated every five years, and continued to be solemnized even after the destruction of Corinth by the Romans. The victors were at first rewarded with garlands of pine leaves, but this custom was changed, and the pine was replaced by a crown of withered parsley.
Ques. Did the theatrical representations of the Greeks resemble those of modern times?
Ans. They differed widely, both in the arrangement of the drama, and the mode of representation. The greatest distinction lay, perhaps, in the structure of the theatre itself.
Ques. Describe the general plan of a Greek theatre?
Ans. It was quite open above, and the dramas were always acted in the light of day, beneath the bright canopy of a southern heaven. The Romans at a later period introduced awnings to screen the audience from the sun, but the Greeks would have regarded such a precaution as a mark of effeminacy; and it must be admitted that their milder climate rendered it almost unnecessary. If a storm or a shower came on, the play was, of course, interrupted; the gods and heroes disappeared, and the audience sought shelter in the lofty colonnade which always ran behind their seats. They chose to suffer these occasional [Pg 198] inconveniences, rather than shut themselves up in a close and crowded house, and forfeit the sunny brightness of what was to them a national, and even, in some sort, religious solemnity. To have covered in the stage itself, and imprisoned gods and heroes in a gloomy apartment artificially lighted, would have appeared to the ancients in the highest degree absurd.
The great theatre of Bacchus, at Athens, is the only structure of the kind of which a complete description has reached us. It may serve to give a general idea of these edifices.
This theatre stood on the southeastern side of the eminence which was crowned by the noble buildings of the Acropolis. From the level of the plain below, a semicircular excavation ascended far up on the slope of the hill. Round the concavity, seats for an audience of thirty thousand persons arose, range above range; higher still, the whole was enclosed by a lofty portico adorned with statues and surmounted by a balustraded terrace. For the convenience of entering and leaving, the tiers of benches were divided at intervals, by passages extending around the theatre, and again transversely, into wedge-like masses, by flights of steps which radiated from the lowest tier to the portico above. The lower seats, being more conveniently placed for seeing and hearing, were esteemed the most honorable, and were reserved for the high magistrates, the priests and the Senate. Below, was the semicircular orchestra, [Pg 199] or pit, which was generally occupied by the chorus. Elevated above the orchestra, and opposite the lower seats, was the stage itself. This had a very wide front and but little depth. The actors usually spoke in the central part, called logeum, or pulpitum. Behind this, the stage grew deeper, and formed a quadrangle called the proscenium. This was enclosed by lofty buildings of stone-work, representing externally a palace-like mansion, and containing within withdrawing rooms for the actors, and receptacles for the stage machinery. When the nature of the play rendered it necessary, these buildings were concealed by painted scenes. In the greater number of tragedies, however, the whole action might be carried on appropriately enough in the portico or court of a palace. There were also contrivances by which a portion of the interior might be exposed to view. The rank of the personages was generally indicated by the particular door at which they entered; that in the centre of the proscenium being reserved for royalty. Wonderful effects were produced by the use of the machinery which was disposed behind the walls of the stage. Supported by ropes, or iron cranes, carefully concealed, gods appeared in the air, descended on the stage, and performed their allotted part in the drama. Heroes also ascended to Olympus, and were hidden at length from view by scenic clouds. In the Prometheus of Æschylus, Oceanus passes through the air, [Pg 200] mounted on a griffin, and a choir of fifteen ocean nymphs is introduced in a flying chariot. In another piece, Aurora descends and carries off the dead body of Memnon. Ghosts and infernal deities ascended from beneath the stage, where there were appropriate contrivances for their introduction. When it was necessary to conceal the stage, the curtain was not dropped, but drawn up from beneath the floor.
Ques. Was there anything peculiar in the dress of the actors?
Ans. The costumes were splendid, and carefully adapted to the rank and character of the personages represented. The actors wore masks which covered the entire head. When gods or heroic personages were represented, the masks were larger than life, and the disproportion of the size of the head with the rest of the body, was obviated by two different contrivances. The cothurnus, or buskin, was soled with several layers of cork, which added at least three inches to the height of the actor, and the dress was judiciously padded, so as to give the whole figure the necessary heroic dimensions. Women were not admitted on the Greek stage; the female parts were always performed by men, wearing appropriate wigs and masks.
It has been supposed that the use of masks must have embarrassed the actors, and made them appear stiff and unnatural. This may have been true to a certain extent, but we must remember [Pg 201] that, at the distance at which the actors were placed from the greater part of their audience, the changes of expression, and the play of feature would have been quite lost, while the large and finely colored masks may have had a very good effect. Nothing would have seemed more out of place to the Greeks, than to see the part of Apollo or Hercules performed by an actor with strongly marked or ordinary features.
The masks were lined with brass, and so constructed that instead of muffling the voice, they gave it depth and volume, almost as a speaking trumpet would have done.
Ques. What was the Chorus?
Ans. It was a choir of singers, varying in number from fifteen to fifty. In the intervals between the acts of the drama, the chorus chanted verses corresponding to the action of the piece, sometimes pouring forth hymns of thanksgiving or supplication to the gods; sometimes chanting odes on the instability of human affairs as exemplified in the scenes which they had just witnessed. At other times the chorus broke forth into lamentations over the untimely fate of some personage of the drama, or denounced the anger of the gods on the head of a tyrant. Besides this more legitimate action of the chorus, it was occasionally permitted to take part in the dialogue. Even in this case they always remained in the orchestra.
The singing was always accompanied by dances which varied according to the nature of the piece. [Pg 202] All the movements of a tragic chorus were slow and grave, while in the lighter pieces, the music and the measures of the dance were quick and lively. The dress of the chorus varied in the same manner. In certain tragedies, these singers personated the Eumenides or Furies. These were generally robed in black, with purple girdles. They brandished whips, wreathed with serpents, in their fleshless hands, and their aspect was rendered still more terrible by the frightful masks which appeared beneath their snaky tresses. We are told that when Æschylus introduced such a chorus in one of his tragedies, the terror of the spectators was such that many fainted, and several children died of fright.
In this connection we have an interesting story. Ibycus, a lyric poet, was on his way to the Isthmian games, when he was waylaid by two robbers. The unhappy bard called in vain for aid; no human help was near; but his last, despairing cry was echoed by the hoarse scream of a flock of cranes which was passing overhead. The dying poet heard, and looking upwards, prayed the birds to discover and avenge the crime which they alone had seen. The murderers heard this appeal, to which, however, they paid no heed at the time. The body of Ibycus was found and recognized, and the multitude assembled to witness the Isthmian games were sorely disappointed and dismayed at the sad tidings of his death. They crowded the tribunals and demanded [Pg 203] vengeance on the murderers, but no trace could be found which might lead to their discovery. The festival proceeded, the fate of Ibycus being still on every tongue. The assembled people were assisting at a dramatic representation, when the dread chorus of the Furies advanced with measured step, and made the circuit of the Theatre. The sound of instruments was heard no more as their choral hymn swelled and rose, thrilling the hearts of all who heard. They sang of the happiness enjoyed by the pure of heart, of the good man whose dwelling was never darkened by their shadow. Then the blood of the listeners grew cold with fear as they told of the vengeance which it was theirs to wreak on the secret murderer, on him whose crime had been vainly hidden from mortal eye. Thus they sang in measured cadence, and passed from view, while a solemn stillness settled on the vast assembly. At this moment a voice was heard from the upper benches, exclaiming, as if in sudden terror, “Behold, comrade! yonder are the cranes of Ibycus!” and a flight of cranes was seen passing directly over the Theatre. The name of the murdered poet caught the ears of the multitude. Each one asked what this exclamation might mean, and what had the cranes to do with him. A cry was raised to seize the man who had spoken, and the one to whom his speech had been addressed. The wretched murderers, thus betrayed by their own guilty fears, confessed the crime, and suffered [Pg 204] the punishment they had deserved. Attempts have been made by French and German tragedians, to revive the ancient chorus, but without success, as it is entirely unsuited to the modern drama.
Ques. Were dramatic entertainments as frequent in ancient times as in our own?
Ans. No; but they took place several times in the year, forming a necessary part in the celebration of the principal festivals. The best actors were engaged long beforehand, and were subject to heavy fines if they failed to appear on the appointed day. When such an entertainment was about to take place, the people hastened to the theatre at the dawn of day, that they might secure good seats, as the performance commenced at a very early hour. There were three or four distinct representations during the day, divided by short intervals of repose. During these, the audience walked in the neighboring groves, amused themselves, and partook of the refreshments which they brought with them. When different dramatic poets contended for the prize of excellence, they generally presented two or three pieces each, so that twelve complete dramas were sometimes performed on the same day.
Ques. Were these theatres free to all?
Ans. No; each person was obliged to pay a small sum for admission. When Pericles wished to gain the favor of the Athenians, he reduced the entrance fee to two oboli, and obtained a decree [Pg 205] that even this trifling sum should be furnished by the magistrates to the poorer class of citizens. The theatres themselves were erected, and in a great measure maintained at the expense of the state. The cost of the entertainments must have been heavy, if we are to judge by the descriptions given of the scenic arrangements. It is even said that when groves were required, living trees from the forest were planted on the stage.
Whatever may have been the faults of the Greek drama, there is no doubt that it was intended to inculcate principles of religion and morality.
The theatrical entertainments of the Greeks, and their public games, form a striking contrast to the inhuman sports of the Roman amphitheatre.
Ques. What are the most celebrated statues of the heathen divinities?
Ques. What was the Olympian Jupiter?
Ans. This statue, now lost, was forty feet in height, on a pedestal of twelve feet. It was considered the finest work of art of the great Athenian sculptor, Phidias, and there are still in existence busts taken from it, which are remarkable for their calm majesty of expression. The material was what the Greeks called chryselephantine; that is, the flesh was composed of plates of ivory skillfully laid on; but the drapery and ornaments were pure gold. This circumstance is sufficient to account for the destruction of the statue. It was executed for the temple of Jupiter at Olympia, which was worthy of such an adornment, being one of the most magnificent edifices in Greece.
Ques. Describe the Minerva of the Parthenon?
[Pg 207] Ans. The statue was of the same dimensions and was composed of the same materials as the Olympian Jupiter; it was also the work of Phidias. The Parthenon was one of the most beautiful of the Greek temples, and was enriched by the hand of Phidias with statues and other ornaments. This magnificent temple would have been sufficient in itself to confer immortal glory on the administration of Pericles. It existed in its full beauty for more than a century after his death. It was first despoiled by Lachares, who stripped the statue of Minerva of its golden adornments. It is said he obtained in this manner an amount of precious metal equal to nearly half a million of dollars. The temple itself resisted the attacks of time; it was used successively as a Christian church and a Turkish mosque, and was still entire when the Venetians besieged the citadel of Athens in the year 1687. The Turks converted the Parthenon into a powder magazine; it was unfortunately struck by a bomb, and the entire edifice was reduced to its present ruinous condition. Some of the sculptures and bas-reliefs which once adorned this temple may now be seen in the British Museum. They are called “Elgin Marbles,” because they were brought from Greece by Lord Elgin.
Ques. Describe the Venus de Medicis?
Ans. This statue, still perfect, is so called from having been in the possession of the Medicis family. An inscription on its base informs us [Pg 208] that it was carved by Cleomenes, an Athenian sculptor, 200 B. C. The artist has succeeded in producing a figure quite perfect in form; but there is nothing spiritual about the Venus, which is, therefore, far inferior to the Jupiter and Minerva.
Ques. Describe the Apollo Belvidere?
Ans. This statue is so called from the Belvidere gallery of the Pope’s palace. The artist is unknown, but it is believed to be a Roman work. The god is represented as having just discharged an arrow from his bow against the monster Python. The form and attitude are perfect, but the face is particularly admired for its expression of majesty and power.
Ques. Describe the Diana à la Biche?
Ans. This beautiful statue, now at the Louvre, is considered the counterpart of the Apollo. The goddess is engaged in the chase, and a hind is running by her side. One hand is lifted to draw an arrow from the quiver.
Ques. Who was Osiris?
Ans. Osiris, Apis and Serapis, are three different names of one and the same god. Osiris was the son of Jupiter and of Niobe, the daughter of Phoroneus. He conquered Egypt, which he governed so well and wisely as to receive divine honors from his subjects even during his life. He married, as we have already learned, Io, the daughter of Inachus, who was more generally known to the Egyptians by the name of Isis.
Osiris was cruelly murdered by his brother Typhon. Isis, after a long search, found his body, which she laid in a monument in an island near Memphis. Osiris became from that time the tutelar deity of the Egyptians. He was [Pg 210] regarded as identical with the sun, while Isis was supposed, like Cybele, to personify the earth.
Ques. How was this goddess represented?
Ans. As a woman with the horns of a cow, sometimes, also, as crowned with lotus. Heads of Isis are common among the decorations of Egyptian temples. After the worship of this goddess was introduced into Rome, her image was adorned with different emblems. The mysterious rites of Isis became a cloak for much secret vice, and were repeatedly forbidden at Rome. Tiberius caused the images of the goddess to be thrown into the Tiber; her worship was, however, afterwards revived. The abuses attending it are mentioned with indignation by the poet Juvenal.
Ques. Who was Apis?
Ans. He was the sacred bull of Memphis. The Egyptians maintained that the soul of Osiris passed after death into the body of Apis; and that as often as the sacred animal died, the soul passed into the body of its successor.
Sacrifices were offered to this strange divinity; his birth-day was celebrated with great magnificence, and it was believed that during this festival the crocodiles forgot their usual ferocity, and became harmless. A temple, two chapels, and a court for exercise, were assigned to this god, whose food was always served in vessels of gold. It may be doubted whether the poor animal was [Pg 211] capable of appreciating these extraordinary honors; he was not permitted, however, to enjoy them beyond a stated period. If he attained the age of twenty-five years, he was drowned by the attendant priests in the sacred cistern; his body was then carefully embalmed, and buried in the temple of Serapis.
On the death of Apis, whether it occurred in the course of nature or by violence, the whole country was plunged into mourning, which lasted until his successor was found. The animal into whom the divinity had passed, was known by many extraordinary marks; a square white spot on the forehead, the figure of an eagle on the back, a white crescent on the right side, and the mark of a beetle under the tongue. The priests always succeeded in finding an animal with these extraordinary marks, and the happy event was immediately celebrated throughout Egypt.
Ques. How did the people obtain replies from the oracle of Apis?
Ans. By various signs: the votary having proposed a question, offered food to the sacred animal; if he ate, it was considered a favorable omen. It was also a good augury if he entered, of his own accord, a particular stall. When Germanicus offered food to Apis, the animal refused to eat, and this circumstance was afterwards considered as ominous of the early fate of the Roman prince.
[Pg 212] Ques. Who was Harpocrates?
Ans. Horus or Harpocrates was the son of Osiris. He was worshipped as the god of Silence, and is represented as a boy, seated on a lotus-flower, with his finger on his lips.
Besides the gods we have mentioned, the Egyptians worshipped the dog, the wolf, the crocodile, the ibis, and many other animals. They even attributed divinity to certain plants and roots. Juvenal, in one of his Satires, thus ridicules their superstition: