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

Page: 94

Dreams and Nightmares.

All around the bed and over it hovered throngs of exquisite spirits, the Dreams, who stooped to whisper their pleasant messages in his ear; while in the distant corners of the apartment lurked the hideous Nightmares. The Dreams were often dispatched to earth under Mercury’s charge, to visit mortals.

Two gates led out of the valley of sleep,—one of ivory, and the other of horn. The Dreams which passed through the glittering gates of ivory were delusive, while those which passed [211] through the homely gate of horn were destined to come true in the course of time.

“Of dreams, O stranger, some are meaningless
And idle, and can never be fulfilled.
Two portals are there for their shadowy shapes,
Of ivory one, and one of horn. The dreams
That come through the carved ivory deceive
With promises that never are made good;
But those which pass the doors of polished horn,
And are beheld of men, are ever true.”
Homer (Bryant’s tr.).

Dreams were also frequently sent through the gates of horn to prepare mortals for misfortunes, as in the case of Halcyone.

Story of Ceyx and Halcyone.

Ceyx, King of Thessaly, was once forced to part from his beloved wife, Halcyone, to travel off to Delphi to consult the oracle. With many tears this loving couple parted, and Halcyone watched the lessening sail until it had quite vanished from sight; then she returned to her palace to pray for her husband’s safe return. But, alas! the gods had decreed they should never meet again on earth; and, even while Halcyone prayed, a tempest arose which wrecked Ceyx’s vessel, and caused him and all his crew to perish in the seething waves.

Day after day the queen hastened down to the seashore, followed by her attendants, to watch for the returning sails of her husband’s vessel; and night after night she lay on her couch, anxiously expecting the morrow, which she ever fancied would prove auspicious. The gods, seeing her anxiety, and wishing to prepare her to receive the news of his death, and especially to view with some composure his corpse, which they had decided should be washed ashore, sent a Dream to visit her.

After assuming the face and form of Ceyx, the Dream glided away through the gate of horn, hastened to Halcyone’s bedside, and whispered that her husband was dead, and that his body was even now being cast up on the smooth, sandy beach by the salt sea waves. With a wild cry of terror and grief, Halcyone awoke, [212] and hastened to the seashore to convince herself that the dream had been false; but she had no sooner reached the beach, than the waves washed her husband’s corpse to her feet.

To endure life without him seemed too great a task for poor Halcyone, who immediately cast herself into the sea, to perish beside him. Touched by grief so real and intense, the gods changed both bodies into birds, since known as Halcyon birds, and decreed they should ever live on the waters. These birds were said to build their nests and hatch their young on the heaving billows, and to utter shrill cries of warning to the seamen whenever a storm threatened, bidding them prepare for the blast, and hasten to shelter in port, if they would not encounter the mournful fate of poor Ceyx.