Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 149

But Orestes was not yet relieved from the vengeance of the Erinnyes. At length he took refuge with Minerva at Athens. The goddess afforded him protection, and appointed the court of Areopagus to decide his fate. The Erinnyes brought forward their accusation, and Orestes made the command of the Delphic oracle his excuse. When the court voted and the voices were equally divided, Orestes was acquitted by the command of Minerva.

Byron, in Childe Harold, Canto IV, alludes to the story of

  "O thou who never yet of human wrong
  Left the unbalanced scale, great Nemesis!
  Thou who didst call the Furies from the abyss,
  And round Orestes bade them howl and hiss,
  For that unnatural retribution, just,
  Had it but been from hands less near, in this,
  Thy former realm, I call thee from the dust!"

One of the most pathetic scenes in the ancient drama is that in which Sophocles represents the meeting of Orestes and Electra, on his return from Phocis. Orestes, mistaking Electra for one of the domestics, and desirous of keeping his arrival a secret till the hour of vengeance should arrive, produces the urn in which his ashes are supposed to rest. Electra, believing him to be really dead, takes the urn, and embracing it, pours forth her grief in language full of tenderness and despair.

Milton, in one of his sonnets, says:

  "The repeated air
  Of sad Electra's poet had the power
  To save the Athenian walls from ruin bare."

This alludes to the story that when, on one occasion, the city of Athens was at the mercy of her Spartan foes, and it was proposed to destroy it, the thought was rejected upon the accidental quotation, by some one, of a chorus of Euripides.


After hearing so much about the city of Troy and its heroes, the reader will perhaps be surprised to learn that the exact site of that famous city is still a matter of dispute. There are some vestiges of tombs on the plain which most nearly answers to the description given by Homer and the ancient geographers, but no other evidence of the former existence of a great city. Byron thus describes the present appearance of the scene:

  "The winds are high, and Helle's tide
  Rolls darkly heaving to the main;
  And night's descending shadows hide
  That field with blood bedewed in vain,
  The desert of old Priam's pride,
  The tombs, sole relics of his reign,
  All save immortal dreams that could beguile
  The blind old man of Scio's rocky isle."
  Bride of Abydos.

Chapter XXII

Adventures of Ulysses. The Lotus-Eaters. Cyclopes. Circe.
Sirens. Scylla and Charybdis. Calypso

The romantic poem of the Odyssey is now to engage our attention. It narrates the wanderings of Ulysses (Odysseus in the Greek language) in his return from Troy to his own kingdom of Ithaca.

From Troy the vessels first made land at Ismarus, a city of the Ciconians, where, in a skirmish with the inhabitants, Ulysses lost six men from each ship. Sailing thence they were overtaken by a storm which drove them for nine days along the sea till they reached the country of the Lotus-eaters. Here, after watering, Ulysses sent three of his men to discover who the inhabitants were. These men on coming among the Lotus-eaters were kindly entertained by them, and were given some of their own food, the lotus-plant to eat. The effect of this food was such that those who partook of it lost all thoughts of home and wished to remain in that country. It was by main force that Ulysses dragged these men away, and he was even obliged to tie them under the benches of his ship. (Tennyson in the Lotus-eaters has charmingly expressed the dreamy languid feeling which the lotus-food is said to have produced: