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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: 55

Ques. What deities were worshipped by the ancient Peruvians?

Ans. Like most of the races inhabiting the American continent, the Peruvians believed in one Supreme God, immaterial and infinite. This sublime doctrine did not, however, lead to the practical results that might have been expected.

Ques. What name did the Peruvians give to this Supreme deity?

Ans. He was adored under the different names of Pachacamac and Viracocha. They raised no temples in his honor; that which stood near the present site of Lima, having been erected before the country came under the sway of the Incas. It seems probable, therefore, that the worship of this Great Spirit did not originate with the Peruvians. Their entire system of religion was directed to the adoration of the heavenly bodies. The Sun was adored as the father of the world, the source of light and life. The Moon was honored as his sister-wife, and the [285] Stars were worshipped as her heavenly train. The planet known to us as Venus was an especial object of devotion. The Peruvians named it Chasca, or “the Youth with the long and curling locks;” they worshipped it as the page of the Sun, whom he attends in his rising and setting.

The Sun was honored also as the father of the royal Inca race; and, connected with this belief, we have one of the few legends worthy of note in the barren mythology of the Peruvians.

Ques. Relate this legend.

Ans. According to tradition, there was a time when the ancient races of the continent were plunged in the most complete barbarism: the will of the strongest was the only law; war was their pastime; they worshipped the vilest objects in nature, and feasted on the flesh of their slaughtered enemies. The Sun, the great parent of mankind, took compassion on their degraded state, and sent two of his children, Manco-Capac, and Mama Oello Huaco, to form men into regular communities, and teach them the arts of civilized life. The celestial pair advanced along the high plains in the neighborhood of Lake Titicaca, as far as the sixteenth degree of south latitude. They bore with them a golden wedge, and were directed to take up their abode wherever the sacred emblem should sink into the earth of its own accord. This prodigy took place in the valley of Cuzco, where the wedge sank into the ground, and disappeared forever. Here the [286] children of the Sun entered upon their benevolent mission; Manco-Capac instructing the men in the arts of agriculture, while Mama Oello initiated the women into the mysteries of weaving and spinning. The rude, but simple-hearted natives were not slow to appreciate the benefits conferred by the messengers of heaven: a large community was gradually formed, and the city of Cuzco was founded in the valley. The monarchy thus formed, was governed by the Incas, who claimed descent from Manco-Capac and Mama Oello, and always styled themselves, Children of the Sun.

Ques. What was the origin of this legend?

Ans. It was evidently a fiction, invented at a later period to gratify the vanity of the Incas, by attributing to their race a celestial origin. The extensive ruins on the shores of Lake Titicaca prove that this region was inhabited by a powerful, and comparatively civilized people, long before the foundation of the Peruvian monarchy.

Ques. Are there any other Peruvian legends?

Ans. Among the traditions of this race, is one of the deluge, which resembles in one or two curious particulars the Mexican legend on the same subject. According to both these traditions, seven persons took refuge in caves, in which they were preserved from the universal destruction; and from these, the earth was re-peopled. The Peruvians maintained that white and bearded men from the east had visited the country in ancient times, and instructed the natives in the [287] arts of civilized life. This legend recalls the Mexican story of Quetzalcoatl, and the coincidence is singular, because no communication is believed to have existed between the two countries.

Ques. Where were the most celebrated temples of the Sun?

Ans. The most ancient of these edifices was in the island of Titicaca, whence the founders of the Inca dynasty were said to have proceeded. Everything belonging to this sanctuary was held in particular veneration. Even the fields of maize which were attached to the temple were supposed to partake of its sanctity; and the yearly produce was distributed in small quantities through all the public granaries, to bring a blessing on the rest of the store.

A Peruvian esteemed himself happy in securing even a single ear of the sacred grain.

Ques. Describe the temple of Cuzco.

Ans. This edifice was constructed of stone, and covered a large extent of ground in the heart of the city. The interior of the temple has been described, by those who saw it in its glory, as being literally a mine of precious metals. It was called by the natives Coricancha, or “Place of Gold.” On the western wall was the image of the Sun; this was a massive golden plate, of enormous dimensions, on which was emblazoned a human countenance darting forth rays on every side. The image was richly ornamented with emeralds [288] and precious stones. It fronted the eastern portal of the temple in such a manner that the first rays of the morning Sun fell directly on his golden image, and were reflected from the rich ornaments with which the walls and ceiling were encrusted. Every part of the temple glowed with the precious metal, and even the exterior was encompassed with a broad frieze of gold set in the solid stone-work of the edifice. Adjoining the principal structure was the temple of the Moon. Her effigy was of silver, but otherwise resembled that of the Sun. The same metal was used in all the decorations of the building, as resembling in its pale lustre the milder radiance of the beautiful planet.

One chapel was dedicated to the stars, another to thunder and lightning, and a third to the rainbow. This last was decorated with a many-colored arch of resplendent hues. Attached to the temple of Cuzco were the celebrated gardens, sparkling with flowers of gold and silver. Animals also were represented in precious ore, and the classic fable of the golden fleece was realized in the llama of this fairy garden.

Ques. Does anything now remain of this magnificent temple?

Ans. No; its riches became the prey of the conquerors, and the desecrated shrine offered an inexhaustible supply of material for the erection of other buildings. Fields of maize are now waving where the golden gardens once sparkled in [289] the sun, and the church of St. Dominic, one of the most magnificent buildings of the New World, occupies the site of the famous Coricancha. The temples of Peru were many and magnificent; but Cuzco was to the Inca noble what Mecca is to the devout follower of Mahomet, and he would consider that he had neglected a sacred duty, if he had not made at least one pilgrimage to the holy shrine.

Ques. From what class were the Peruvian priests generally chosen?

Ans. They were all, without exception, Inca nobles, and therefore children of the Sun. The High Priest, called Villac Vmu, was second only to the Inca, and was chosen from among his brothers or nearest kindred.

Ques. What sacrifices were offered to the Sun?

Ans. Animals, ripe maize, flowers and sweet-scented gums. Human sacrifices were rare, and were only offered on great occasions, such as a coronation, a victory, etc. A child or a beautiful maiden was then selected as the victim; but the cannibal repasts of the Mexicans were unknown among the more refined Peruvians.

Ques. What were the principal festivals of the Sun?

Ans. The solstices and equinoxes were celebrated by four great festivals; but the most solemn was the feast of Raymi, held at the period of their summer solstice. This festival lasted many days. The animals offered in sacrifice were [290] served at the tables of the Inca and of his nobles; but of the flocks belonging to the temple, a vast number were slaughtered and distributed among the people.

Ques. What points of resemblance have been noticed between the religious observances of the Peruvians and those of the ancient Romans?

Ans. In the mode of procuring the sacred fire, the obtaining of omens from the animals offered in sacrifice, and in some of the laws with regard to the Virgins of the Sun. At the festival of Raymi, the sacred fire was obtained, as under the reign of Numa, by means of a concave mirror of polished metal. The sun’s rays were in this manner collected in a focus of sufficient intensity to ignite dried cotton. When the sky was overcast, which was esteemed a very bad omen, the fire was obtained by means of friction. This fire was watched by the Virgins of the Sun.

Ques. Who were these?

Ans. They were maidens of noble birth who were dedicated to the service of the Sun. They were taken from their families at an early age, and placed under the care of elderly matrons, who instructed them in their religious duties, and in every branch of female industry. They spun garments, which they were taught to embroider with exquisite skill. They also wove, of the fine hair of the vicuña, the hangings of the temples and the garments worn by the Inca and his household. They were completely secluded, even [291] from their own nearest relatives. The wives of the Inca, and they were numerous, were chosen from among the Virgins of the Sun. With this exception, they were forbidden to marry. The unhappy maiden who ventured to form in secret a less exalted alliance, was condemned to the cruel punishment decreed in like circumstances against the Roman Vestal. She was buried alive; her accomplice was strangled, and the village to which he belonged was razed to the ground and sowed with stones.

Ques. How did the Peruvians bury their dead?

Ans. The body was embalmed, not, as in Egypt, with gums and spices, but by simple exposure to the cold, dry and rarefied atmosphere of the mountains. The mummies are generally in a sitting posture. As the Peruvians imagined that the wants and occupations of men would be the same beyond the grave as in this life, costly apparel, arms, utensils and sometimes treasures were placed in the tomb of a deceased noble. That he might not lack attendance and society, his favorite wives and domestics were sacrificed on his tomb.

The Peruvians believed in an evil spirit whom they called Cupay, but they did not attempt to propitiate him by any form of worship. Cupay seems, in fact, to have been only a personification of sin.

[292]

SUPPLEMENT.

A BRIEF NOTICE OF AUTHORS, ETC., MENTIONED IN THIS VOLUME.

ÆSCHYLUS,

The earliest of the Greek dramatists, was born at Eleusis in Attica, 525 B. C. He distinguished himself in the battles of Marathon, Salamis and Platæa. Æschylus has been called the father of Grecian tragedy, as he was the first to give rules to the dialogue, and define the duties of the chorus; he also planned the dress of the actors, the scenery and the whole mechanism of the stage. Æschylus wrote sixty-six dramas, in thirteen of which he obtained the victory over all his competitors. He was at length defeated by a younger rival, Sophocles. He retired the same year to the court of Hiero, king of Syracuse, and some writers attribute this step to the mortification felt by the poet on this occasion. Others say that he was accused as guilty of profanity in exhibiting on the stage certain things connected with the Eleusinian mysteries. The people were about to stone him, when he was saved by the presence of mind of his brother Aminias. The latter had [293] won much glory in the Persian war, and now, while interceding for his brother he dexterously dropped his mantle so as to expose the stump of the arm he had lost at Salamis. The silent appeal was not without its effect on the impulsive Athenians, and Æschylus was pardoned. He deemed it prudent, however, to retire to Sicily, where he was kindly entertained by Hiero. His death is said to have occurred in a very extraordinary manner.

As he slept in the fields, an eagle which was flying over him with a tortoise in his claws, mistook the bald head of the poet for a stone. The bird dropped the tortoise for the purpose of breaking the shell, and he was killed by the blow, thus verifying a prophecy that his death would come from on high.

Of the dramas written by Æschylus, but seven remain. Of these, the most admired is the “Prometheus Chained.” The subject is the punishment of Prometheus on Mount Caucasus; the scenery is grand and terrific, and all the persons of the drama are divinities.


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