An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 125

Here, here I present am,
Both in my girdle and my flame;
Wherein are woven all the powers
The Graces gave me, or the Hours,
My nurses once, with all the arts
Of gaining and of holding hearts.

[1] The title of which has also been translated The Book of the Coming Forth in Day.

[2] This movable 'life' or heart is known to students of tradition as the 'life-index.' This is a common incident in medieval romance.

[3] These were translated into English by Lady Charlotte Guest, and published in 1849. Eleven of them are taken from the Red Book of Hergest, a fourteenth-century manuscript in the library of Jesus College, Oxford. The tale of Taliesin is included with these, but is taken from a much later manuscript.

[4] Book III, canto xi, 34.

[5] Comus.

[6] Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I.

[Pg 282]



It is now time to review briefly the great mythic systems of the world and to examine and analyse as far as practicable their nature and outstanding figures. This résumé is added here merely for completeness, because exhaustive works dealing with the several mythological systems alluded to in these pages are included in this series, and to these the student can refer.


Starting with the mythic system practically common to Greece and Rome as that with which our readers are likely to be most familiar, we find a mythology a good deal more human than divine; although it would be untrue to say that it possessed no divine characteristics. However, we are not in this chapter dealing with the cults or religions underlying the mythologies we treat of, but with the mythologies themselves, or, as we have elsewhere named it, the theobiography, the gods, their lives and histories. What status did the gods of Greece occupy in the minds of those who believed in them? This, of course, differed with the centuries, but there is pretty good evidence that as they grew more enlightened the Hellenic people paid less and less reverence to Olympus, until at last it became almost a byword among them.

In Greece more than in any other country religion and mythology were two things separate and distinct. In Homer, the Greek gods, headed by Zeus, dwelt in a condition of society very much akin to that of mortals in the Homeric Age. Their government appears to have been modelled upon the social[Pg 283] polities of the various Hellenic city-states; and when republics became the fashion, the gods, partaking of the older order of affairs, fell somewhat into disrepute, just as the elder dynasties of Cronus and Uranus, who represented the tribal system of government, had given place to Zeus when a monarchical system came into vogue.


Zeus, the head of the Greek pantheon, was supposed to dwell on the summit of Mount Olympus, where he disposed of the affairs both of the gods and of men. He was probably originally a sky-god, symbolizing the bright, clear expanse of the heavens, being later, like many other sky-gods, anthropomorphized. The many stories told of his amorous adventures in animal form are obviously totemic and fetishistic legacies which as a great mythical figure he would undoubtedly attract to himself. As a sky-god he wields the thunder and lightning, conquers the Titans, and overcomes Gæa, probably the original Earth-Mother—just as in Babylonian myth Merodach conquered Tiawath. He had several spouses, the chief of whom was Hera. He was by no means a creative deity, but he won a wide popularity, and through this and other causes he came to be head of the pantheon, composed of other gods as well as of his parents, children, brothers, sisters, or wives. Lang points out that he may well have begun as a kindly supreme being, and his mythic character may have been ultimately swamped by the accumulation around his name of myths concerning older deities. The corresponding Roman god is Jupiter.