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

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The story of Diana and Endymion has also been interpreted as a sun myth, in which the name “Endymion” refers specially to the dying or setting sun, who sinks to rest on Mount Latmus (“the land of forgetfulness,” derived from the same root as “Leto”). Müller, the great authority in philology, tells us, that, in the ancient poetical and proverbial language of Elis, people said, “Selene loves and watches Endymion,” instead of saying, “It is getting late;” “Selene embraces Endymion,” instead of, “The sun is setting and the moon is rising;” “Selene kisses Endymion into sleep,” instead of, “It is night.”

These expressions remained long after their real meaning had [389] ceased to be understood; and, as the human mind is generally as anxious for a reason as ready to invent one, a story arose without any conscious effort, that Endymion must have been a young lad loved by a young maiden, Selene.

In the story of Adonis some mythologists find another sun myth, in which Adonis, the short-lived sun, is slain by the boar, the demon of darkness, and passionately mourned by the dawn or twilight (Venus), who utterly refuses to exist without him.

In the story of Tantalus (the sun), who in time of drought offers to Jupiter the flesh of his own offspring, Pelops (the withered fruits), and in punishment for his impiety is doomed to hunger and torturing thirst, we have again merely a story founded upon an expression used in time of drought, when the sun’s heat, becoming too intense, burns up the fruit his fostering rays had produced, and men exclaimed, “Tantalus is slaying and roasting his own child!”

In the same way the stone which Sisyphus painfully forced up a steep ascent, only to see it go rolling down and plunge into a dark abyss enveloped in a great cloud of dust, has been interpreted to represent the sun, which is no “sooner pushed up to the zenith, than it rolls down to the horizon.”

The name of Ixion has been identified with the Sanskrit word Akshanah, denoting one who is bound to a wheel, and has been proved akin “to the Greek axôn, the Latin axis, and the English axle.” This whirling wheel of fire is the bright orb of day, to which he was bound by order of Jupiter (the sky) because he dared insult Juno (the queen of the blue air); while Dia, his wife, is the dawn, the counterpart of Europa, Coronis, Daphne, Procris, Eurydice, and Venus, in the foregoing illustrations.

One of the greatest of all the solar heroes is doubtless the demigod Hercules, born at Argos (a word signifying “brightness”) from the sky (Jupiter) and the dawn (Alcmene), who, in [390] early infancy, throttles the serpents of darkness, and who, with untiring strength and patience, plods through life, never resting, and always on his journey performing twelve great tasks, interpreted to represent either the twelve signs of the Zodiac, or the twelve months of the solar year, or the twelve hours of daylight.

Like Apollo and Cadmus, Hercules is forced to labor for mankind against his will. We see him early in life united to Megara, and, like Tantalus, slaying his own offspring in a sudden fit of madness. He loves and is soon forced to leave Iole, the violet-colored clouds. He performs great deeds, slays innumerable demons of drought and darkness on his way, and visits the enchanted land of the Hesperides,—a symbol of the western sky and clouds at sunset.