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

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The greater part of the dawn myths have been explained simultaneously with the sun myths, with which they are inextricably interwoven. One personification of the dawn, however, stands apart. It is Minerva, whose Greek name, Athene, is derived, like Daphne, from the Sanskrit Dahana, or ahana (meaning “the light of daybreak”), and we are thus enabled to understand why the Greeks described her as sprung from the forehead of Zeus (the heavens). She gradually became the impersonation of the illuminating and knowledge-giving [396] light of the sky; for in Sanskrit the same word also means “to wake” and “to know,” while the Latins connected her name of Minerva with mens, the same as the Greek ménos and the English mind.


Diana, Io, and Circe.

In the moon myths the most important personification is first Diana, the horned huntress, “for to the ancients the moon was not a lifeless ball of stones and clods.” Diana, like Apollo, her twin brother, was also a child of the sky (Jupiter) and of night (Latona), and, like him, was born in the “bright land” (Delos). She also possessed bright and unerring arrows, and in the course of her nightly journey she looked lovingly down upon the sleeping face of the setting sun (Endymion).

Io and Circe, already mentioned, are also personifications of the moon, and Io’s wanderings represent its journeys across the sky.


Gæa and Rhea.

In the earth myths, beside those already mentioned in connection with the sun myths, we have Gæa and Rhea, the mothers and consorts of the Sky and of Time, who swallows his own children, “the Days, as they come each in order.”

Ceres and Proserpina.

We have also Ceres or Demeter, “the mother of all things,” and more particularly of “the maiden” Cora (or Proserpina), whose loss she grievously mourned; for she had been carried away by Pluto to the underworld, whence she could only emerge at the command of Jupiter. During the time of Ceres’ mourning, the earth remained barren, and it seemed as though all mortal things must die. But when Proserpina (the spring or vegetation) returned from her sojourn under the ground, people said “that the daughter of the earth was returning in all her beauty; and when summer faded into winter, they said that the beautiful child had been stolen away [397] from her mother by dark beings, who kept her imprisoned beneath the earth.” The sorrow of Ceres was therefore merely a poetical way of expressing “the gloom which falls on the earth during the cheerless months of winter.”

Danae, as a personification of the earth, was quickened by the golden shower, the light of the morning, which streamed in upon the darkness of the night. Semele has also been interpreted as the earth, the chosen bride of the sky, who brings forth her offspring in the midst of the thunder and lightning of a summer storm.


The myths of the sea comprise, of course, Oceanus and Neptune (the earth-shaker), whose name is connected with such words as “potent” and “despot,” and whose “green hair circles all the earth.” We are further informed that he loves the earth (Ceres), whom he embraces, and that he marries the graceful undulating Amphitrite, whose gliding charms appeal to him. Neptune’s palace is beneath the deep waters near Greece, and he is said to ride about his realm in a swift chariot drawn by golden or white maned steeds.