An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 123

A marvellous picture of shattered power! The grey quiet of the soundless vale, the unnatural stillness of leaf, and the noiseless stream, symbolize the inertia of the divinity who was once creative.

In the catalogue of gods in the first book of Paradise Lost, Milton summarizes the usurpation of the heavenly sceptre first by Saturn and then by Jupiter in four telling lines:

Titan, Heaven's first born,
With his enormous brood, and birthright seized
By younger Saturn, he from mightier Jove,
His own and Rhea's son like measure found;
So Jove usurping reigned.

An effective picture of the vanquished and fallen Titans is also drawn by Keats, who says of them:

Scarce images of life, one here, one there,
Lay vast and edgeways; like a dismal cirque
Of Druid stones, upon a forlorn moor.

The simile of the giant and fallen forms to the lightning-shattered monoliths of some deserted Druid circle is magnificent. Such passages show how great are the themes which bring forth those stupendous images, the mightiest offspring of imagination. A great poet might sing of the things of to-day throughout a lifetime, and yet never so thrill the imagination as with the dead things which have the glamour of ages upon them.

Jupiter, as we know, was in the habit of abducting mortals from the earth, and transferring those who were very beautiful to the bright clime of Olympus. For this reason he seized[Pg 278] upon the shepherd lad Ganymede, whom he made cup-bearer to the gods, and Asteria, the mother of Hecate, one of the infernal deities. To effect these captures he usually took the shape of an eagle. Spenser in The Faerie Queene says of him:

Twice was he seen in soaring Eagle's shape,
And with wide wings to beat the buxom air:
Once, when he with Asterie did scape;
Again, when as the Trojan boy so fair
He snatched from Ida bill, and with him bare:
Wondrous delight it was there to behold
How the rude Shepherds after him did stare.
Trembling through fear lest down he fallen should,
And often to him calling to take surer hold.[4]

Spenser has another beautiful passage upon one of the captures made by Jupiter:

Behold how goodly my fair love does lie,
In proud humility!
Like unto Maia, when as Jove her took
In Tempe, lying on the flowery grass,
'Twixt sleep and wake, after she weary was
With bathing in the Acidalian brook.

In the second book of Paradise Lost Milton makes Sin spring from the head of Satan, and it is reasonably conjectured that when he composed it he must have had in mind the myth of the marvellous birth of the goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athene. It is Sin who addresses the fallen archangel:

All on a sudden miserable pain
Surprised thee, dim thine eyes and dizzy swum
In darkness, while thy head flames thick and fast
Threw forth, till on the left side opening wide,
Likest to thee in shape and countenance bright,
Then shining heavenly fair, a goddess armed
Out of thy head I sprung.

in times of peace Minerva assisted mankind in the manual crafts, and she also presided over the fortunes of war. She possessed a shield called the ægis, bearing the severed head of a [Pg 279] monster named the Gorgon, which possessed the magical property of changing into stone anyone who beheld it. Milton renders her more spiritually formidable by conceiving that her purity and chastity, not the horrid head of the Gorgon, froze the hearts of evil-doers into terror: