An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 124

What was that snaky-headed Gorgon shield
That wise Minerva wore, unconquered virgin,
Wherewith she freez'd her foes to congeal'd stone,
But rigid looks of chaste austerity,
And noble grace that dash'd brute violence
With sudden adoration and blank awe?[5]

Shelley has a wonderful and not often quoted poem on this Gorgon head, torn from the body of the monster Medusa to front the ægis of the goddess of divine wisdom:

It lieth, gazing on the midnight sky,
Upon the cloudy mountain peak supine;
Below, far lands are seen tremblingly;
Its horror and its beauty are divine.
Upon its lips and eyelids seem to lit
Loveliness like a shadow, from which shine,
Fiery and lurid, struggling underneath,
The agonies of anguish and of death.

Yet it is less the horror than the grace
Which turns the gazer's spirit into stone,
Whereon the lineaments of that dead face
Are graven, till the characters be grown
Into itself, and thought no more can trace;
'Tis the melodious hues of beauty thrown
Athwart the darkness and the glare of pain,
Which humanise and harmonise the strain.

Vulcan, or Hephæstus, was the god of fire, both in its forms of lurid conflagration and the more kindly glow of the domestic hearth, and his story is occasionally sung by our British poets. He was a craftsman of marvellous excellence in all the arts, and made the thunderbolts wielded by Jupiter. He was also the husband of Venus. His mother Juno having quarrelled with[Pg 280] the King of Heaven, Vulcan took her part and was cast from Olympus by his enraged sire. He took an entire day to fall to earth, and at last alighted in the island of Lemnos:

From morn
To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,
A summer's day, and with the setting sun
Dropped from the zenith like a falling star
On Lemnos, th' Ægean isle.[6]

In his amusing "Execration upon Vulcan," which was occasioned by the fire which destroyed his library and manuscripts, Ben Jonson alludes to Vulcan as the "lame lord of fire," and continues:

'Twas Jupiter that hurled thee headlong down,
And Mars that gave thee a lanthorn for a crown.
Was it because thou wert of old denied,
By Jove, to have Minerva for thy bride;
That since, thou tak'st all envious care and pain
To ruin every issue of the brain?

Venus, goddess of love, has ever been a theme of delight to poets. She was the daughter of Jupiter, but is sometimes referred to as springing from the foam of the sea, as, for example, in the enchanting lines of Swinburne's "Hymn to Proserpine":

White rose of the rose-white water, a silver splendour, a flame.

Lord de Tabley also refers to the foam-birth of Venus in the following stanza:

Uranian Aphrodite, fair,
From ripples of the ocean spray;
Sweet as the sea-blooms in thy hair
Rosed with the blush of early day,
O hear us from thy temple steep
Where Eryx crowns the Dorian deep.

The attributes and symbols of Venus are neatly described[Pg 281] by Ben Jonson in his masque of Loves Triumph through Callipolis. Venus is supposed to say: