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

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This compulsory union was anything but a happy one; for Venus never showed any affection for her deformed consort, and, instead of being a faithful wife, soon deserted him, and openly declared she would please herself.

Story of Alectryon.

Her first fancy was for Mars, the handsome god of war, who was not slow in reciprocating the fair goddess’s affections, and many and sweet were the secret interviews they enjoyed. Yet, fearful lest some of the gods passing by should discover them together, Mars always placed his attendant Alectryon on guard, bidding him give due warning of any one’s approach, and especially to call him before the sun rose, as the lovers were particularly anxious that Apollo should not witness their parting caresses.

All prospered according to their desires, until one night the unfortunate Alectryon fell asleep; and so profound were his [107] slumbers, that he did not even stir when Aurora flung open the gates of the east, and Apollo flashed forth to receive the melodious greetings of the feathered denizens of the forest.

The sun god drove rapidly on, glancing right and left, and taking note of all he saw. Nothing escaped his bright and piercing eye, as it flashed its beams hither and thither, and he was soon aware of the sleeping watchman and of the guilty lovers. As fast as his fleet-footed steeds could carry him, Apollo hastened to Vulcan, to whom he vividly described the sight which had greeted his eyes.

The irate husband lost no time, but, seizing a net of linked steel, went in search of his runaway wife. Stealthily he approached the lovers’ bower, and deftly flung the net over both sleepers, who were caught in its fine meshes, and could not escape; and there he kept them imprisoned, in spite of their entreaties, until all the gods had seen their humiliating plight, and turned them into ridicule. But when he at last set them free, Mars darted away, vowing vengeance upon the negligent sentinel, who was still blissfully sleeping. Pouncing upon him, Mars awakened him roughly, administered a sharp reproof, changed him into a cock, banished him into the barnyard, and condemned him to give daily warning of the sun’s approach.

“And, from out a neighboring farmyard,
Loud the cock Alectryon crowed.”
Venus’ children.

Several beautiful children were born to Mars and Venus. Hermione, or Harmonia, their daughter, married Cadmus, King of Thebes; and Cupid (Cupido, Eros, Amor), their little son, was appointed god of love. Although nursed with tender solicitude, this second-born child did not grow as other children do, but remained a small, rosy, chubby child, with gauzy wings and roguish, dimpled face. Alarmed for his health, Venus consulted Themis, who oracularly replied, “Love cannot grow without Passion.”

[108] In vain the goddess strove to catch the concealed meaning of this answer. It was only revealed to her when Anteros, god of passion, was born. When with his brother, Cupid grew and flourished, until he became a handsome, slender youth; but when separated from him, he invariably resumed his childish form and mischievous habits.