Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

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Zeus (or Jupiter), whose name is the same as the Hindoo Dyaus Pitar, the god and personification of the bright sky or the heavens, has likewise been traced to the Sanskrit root div or dyu, meaning “to shine;” and there is also a noun dyu in that language which means either “sky” or “day.” In early times the name was applied to the one God, and was therefore “retained by the Greeks and all other kindred people to express all they felt toward God;” but as the word also meant the visible sky, with its ever-changing aspect, some of the phrases used to describe it came, in the course of time, to denote vile and fickle actions, and apparently inconsistent behavior.


The name of Hera (or Juno), the heavenly light, and therefore the complement and consort of the sky, is supposed to be derived from the Sanskrit soar (“the bright sky”) and surya (“the sun”); and all the manifold changes which at first merely denoted the varying atmosphere, by being personified, gradually gave the impression of the jealous, capricious, vengeful person whom poets and writers have taken pleasure in depicting ever since.


Another personification of the sky, this time under the nocturnal and starry aspect, is Argus, whose many bright eyes never closed all at once, but kept constant watch over the moon (Io)—confided to his care by the heavenly light (Juno)—until at last their beams were quenched by the wind and rain (Mercury).



The myths of the sun, from which it is almost impossible to separate those of the dawn, are probably more numerous than any others, and have some main features of resemblance in all cases. The first sun myth mentioned in the course of this work is the story of Europa, in which Europa is “the broad spreading light,” born in Phœnicia (the “purple land of morn”), the child of Telephassa (“she who shines from afar”), carried away from her eastern birthplace by the sky (Jupiter), closely pursued by the sun (her brother Cadmus), who, after passing through many lands, slays a dragon (the usual demon of drought or darkness), and sets (dies) at last without having ever overtaken the light of dawn (Europa).

Apollo, whose name of Helios is pure Greek for “the sun,” had therefore not lost all physical significance for the Hellenic race, who worshiped in him the radiant personification of the orb of day. Another of his appellations, Phœbus (“the lord of life and light”), still further emphasizes his character; and we are informed that he was born of the sky (Jupiter) and of the dark night (Leto), in the “bright land” (Delos), whence he daily starts on his westward journey.

Like all other solar heroes, Apollo is beautiful and golden-haired, radiant and genial, armed with unerring weapons, which he wields for good or evil, as the mood sways him. He is forced to labor, against his will at times, for the benefit of man, as, for instance, when he serves Admetus and Laomedon; and the cattle, by which he evidently sets such store, are the fleecy clouds, pasturing “in the infinite meadows of heaven,” whose full udders drop down rain and fatness upon the land, which are stolen away either by the wind (Mercury), or the storm demon (Cacus), or the impious companions of Ulysses, who pay for their sacrilegious temerity with their lives.


The sun’s affinity for the dawn is depicted by his love for Coronis, who, however beloved, falls beneath his bright darts; [387] and, as “the sun was regarded naturally as the restorer of life” after the blighting influence of winter and disease, so their offspring (Æsculapius) was naturally supposed to have been endowed with marvelous curative powers.