The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies

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Ques. Who were the Demigods?

Ans. They were brave men, who had rendered themselves famous in life by illustrious actions. After their death, their countrymen believed that they were admitted among the gods, and gave them divine honors. The circumstance of a mortal taking his place among the gods, was called an Apotheosis.

Ques. Who was the most famous of the Demigods?

Ans. Hercules, the son of Jupiter and Alcmena. Juno hated him on his mother’s account, and resolved upon his destruction. For this purpose she sent two monstrous serpents to kill him as he was sleeping in his cradle. The infant hero awoke, and seizing the serpents in his hands, strangled them both. Juno was not discouraged, and when Hercules was grown up, devised new means to destroy him. She persuaded Jupiter to put Hercules under the authority of Eurys´theus, king of Mycenæ, who imposed upon the hero twelve Labors, or tasks, of great danger and [115] difficulty. Hercules was in doubt as to whether he should submit to this injustice, and consulted the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. The oracle told him that he must obey Eurys´theus, which he accordingly did. Hercules had been carefully instructed by the Centaur Chiron, and he was now equipped for his labors by the liberality of the gods. He received a sword from Mercury, a bow from Apollo, a golden breastplate from Vulcan, horses from Neptune, and a robe from Minerva.

Ques. Relate the Twelve Labors of Hercules.

Ans. They are briefly as follows:

First. He killed a terrible lion which raged in the Ne´mean forest. Hercules is usually represented as clothed in the skin of this animal, and leaning on the club which was his ordinary weapon.

Second. He destroyed the Hydra, a serpent with fifty heads, which lived in the marshes of Lerna, and ravaged the surrounding country.

Hercules noticed that where he cut off one of the heads of this serpent, two immediately sprang up. He commanded an attendant to burn the wound with a firebrand, and by this means he at length cut off the last head.

Third. He captured the savage wild boar of Mount Erymanthus, in Arcadia, and brought it bound to Eurys´theus. The tyrant was so frightened at the sight of the animal, that he shut himself up in a brazen apartment of his palace.

[116] Fourth. He caught, after a chase which lasted an entire year, a famous stag which was sacred to Diana. It had golden horns and brazen feet.

Fifth. He killed, or drove away from Lake Stympha´lus, certain voracious birds which fed on human flesh.

Sixth. He defeated the Amazons, and obtained as a spoil, the girdle of their queen, Hippol´yte.

Seventh. Three thousand oxen had been kept thirty years in the stables of Au´geas, which had never been cleaned during the entire period. Hercules was required to perform this task, which he effected by turning the course of a river through the stables.

Eighth. He tamed the wild bull of Crete, and brought him bound to Eurys´theus.

Ninth. He overcame Diome´des, tyrant of Thrace, who fed his horses with the flesh of his guests. Hercules caused him, in turn, to serve as food to these same horses.

Tenth. He overcame Ger´yon, who had three heads and three bodies. Hercules brought into Italy the oxen of this monster, which were accustomed to feed on human flesh.

Eleventh. He killed the dragon that watched the golden apple in the garden of the Hesper´ides, and bore away the precious fruit.

Twelfth. Hercules descended alive into the infernal regions, and brought from thence the three-headed dog, Cerberus.

[117] Ques. Did Hercules perform any other great actions?

Ans. A vast number of exploits are attributed to him. There is a plain near Narbonne, in France, covered with stones. The ancients said that Hercules was contending on this spot with two giants, when, his arrows becoming exhausted, he prayed to Jupiter for aid. The god sent down a shower of great stones, with which Hercules put the giants to flight.

Ques. Relate the death of Hercules?

Ans. This hero had slain the Centaur Nessus to revenge an insult offered to his wife, Deiani´ra. When the monster was dying, he gave Deiani´ra a charmed philter, telling her that if Hercules ever gave her cause to doubt his affection, she could secure his constancy by making him wear a garment which had been sprinkled with this potion. The credulous Deiani´ra accepted the philter, which was nothing else but the venom of the hydra which had been infused into the Centaur’s blood; and it was not long before her jealousy led her to use it as she had been directed. Hercules had plundered Œchalia, and carried off, among other captives, the beautiful I´ole, daughter of the king of that city. The hero, who wished to keep a festival, and to offer sacrifice in honor of his victory, sent for a splendid robe befitting the occasion. Deiani´ra’s jealousy was excited against I´ole by the reports of the messenger, and she sent her husband a tunic impregnated [118] with the venom of the hydra. The poison soon began to work, and Hercules endeavored in vain to tear off the tunic, which clung to his flesh and consumed even the marrow of his bones. In his fury he caught the youth who had brought him the garment, by the foot, and hurled him into the sea. He then fled in his agony to the summit of Mount Œta, where he erected a funeral pyre with forest trees which he tore up by the roots. On this he laid the skin of the Ne´mean lion and his famous club, after which he ascended the pile and directed his followers to set it on fire. All refused except Philocte´tes, who pitied the sufferings of the dying hero, and obeyed his command. He received the bow and arrows of Hercules as a reward for this service. While the pyre was blazing, Jupiter sent a thunder-cloud, in which Hercules was conveyed to Olympus. Here he was endowed with immortality, and, according to some accounts, was reconciled with Juno, who gave him her daughter Hebe in marriage.




Ques. Who was Jason?

Ans. He was the son of Æson, king of Thessaly, and was celebrated on account of his expedition in search of the Golden Fleece. He is also known as the husband of the famous sorceress Mede´a.

Ques. What was the Golden Fleece?

Ans. Phryxus, son of Athamas, king of Thebes, received from his mother a ram of a golden color, or, according to fable, with a fleece of pure gold. Some time after, Phryxus and his sister Helle, to escape from their step-mother Ino, attempted to cross the sea on this ram. Helle became terrified, and was drowned in the straits which are called from her, Hellespont. Phryxus arrived in safety at Colchis, where he sacrificed the ram to Jupiter, who placed it among the signs of the Zodiac. The fleece was hung in a grove sacred to Mars, where it was guarded by bulls who breathed flame from their nostrils, and also by a sleepless dragon. When Jason demanded his [120] father’s throne, his uncle, who wished to continue in the government, persuaded him to undertake an expedition for the recovery of the Golden Fleece. Jason, with some brave companions, among whom were Hercules, Orpheus, Castor and Pollux, went on board a ship called the Argo, from which circumstance they were called Ar´gonauts. On arriving at Colchis, they demanded the fleece, which the king, Æetes, promised to Jason on condition that he would tame the wild bulls that guarded it, kill the dragon, sow his teeth in the ground, and afterwards destroy the soldiers who should spring from them. Jason accepted the conditions, but would inevitably have perished, had not Mede´a, the king’s daughter, saved him by her magical arts. Jason obtained the fleece, and fled by night from Colchis, carrying with him Mede´a, whom he married, in fulfilment of the engagement which he had made.

Ques. What else is related of Mede´a?

Ans. She lived for some time happily with Jason, upon whom she conferred an additional favor by restoring his aged and decrepit father to the vigor and beauty of youth. Jason was ungrateful for these benefits, and divorced Mede´a in order that he might marry Creusa, the daughter of the king of Corinth.

Ques. What was Mede´a’s revenge?

Ans. She murdered, in the sight of their father, the two children whom she had borne to Jason, and consumed his palace and bride in a conflagration [121] raised by her art. As Jason was about to rush upon the sorceress, she rose in the air in a flying chariot, and escaped to Athens.


Ques. Who was Theseus?

Ans. He was the son of Æ´geus, king of Athens. The Athenians were obliged to send every year, as tribute to Crete, seven of the noblest of their young men, and as many maidens. These were usually devoured by a horrible monster called Minotaur, whom Minos, the king of Crete, kept in the Labyrinth.

Ques. What was the Labyrinth?

Ans. It was a building with fifteen hundred rooms above ground, and as many underneath. These apartments had so many doors, and were connected by such intricate windings, that no one who was conducted a certain distance into the edifice, could find the entrance again.

Theseus resolved to deliver the Athenians from this dreadful tribute, and when the lots were about being cast for the fourth time, he offered himself as one of the victims. Æ´geus strove to dissuade the young hero, but in vain; and the tribute ship departed as usual under black sails, which Theseus promised his father to change for white, in case of his returning victorious.

When they arrived in Crete, the youths and maidens were exhibited before King Minos; and [122] Ariadne, the daughter of the king, was so much struck by the courage and generosity of Theseus that she resolved to save his life. For this purpose she gave him a ball of thread which she directed him to attach to the entrance of the Labyrinth, and to unwind as he proceeded. Theseus followed her instructions, and when he came to where the Minotaur lay, he slew him, and found his way out by the thread. The whole band then embarked for Athens.

Ques. What became of Ariadne?

Ans. She accompanied Theseus on his flight, but he was so ungrateful as to abandon her on the island of Naxos, where she had fallen asleep on the shore. Ariadne was afterwards married to Bacchus, who gave her a crown composed of seven stars, the same which we admire in the heavens as the Corona Borealis, or Northern Crown.

Ques. Of what negligence was Theseus guilty on his return to Athens?

Ans. He forgot his promise to his father with regard to the color of his sails, and Æ´geus, who watched every day for his son’s return, saw the black sails in the distance. He believed from this that his son was dead. In his despair he cast himself into the sea, which was called Æge´an from his name. Theseus, after performing many other wonderful actions, was banished from his country, and died in obscurity.




Ques. Who were Castor and Pollux?

Ans. They were twin brothers, the sons of Jupiter and Leda. Castor was mortal like his mother, and when he died, Pollux grieved so much that Jupiter permitted him to share his immortality with his brother. It was arranged, therefore, that they should live every alternate day.

Ques. What Constellation is named from these brothers?

Ans. Gemini, or the Twins, the third sign of the Zodiac.


Ques. Who was Prometheus?

Ans. He was the son of Iapetus and Clymene, one of the Oceanides. He formed a man out of clay, and gave it life by means of fire which he stole from heaven.

Ques. What pretty fable is connected with this?

Ans. The poets tell us that Jupiter was so [124] much displeased at the theft, that he sent Pando´ra to Prometheus with a mysterious box, in which were imprisoned all the evils which have since afflicted the human race. Prometheus, suspecting something wrong, refused to touch the box, upon which Pando´ra carried it to his brother Epimetheus. He was less cautious, and opening the casket, set free the evils and miseries which flew abroad through the world. When he saw what he had done, he shut the box quickly, and prevented Hope, which was lying at the bottom, from escaping also. This signifies that in the midst of all human miseries, hope yet remains. The fable may have been derived from some ancient tradition of Eve’s curiosity, the fall of man, and the hope left him amid so many misfortunes.

Ques. How was Prometheus punished?

Ans. Jupiter commanded Mercury to chain him to a rock on Mount Caucasus; there an eagle fed on his liver, which was continually renewed. Prometheus had, at one time, rendered Jupiter a service. The king of the gods remembered this, and permitted that after a certain time, Hercules should kill the eagle and set him free.




Ques. Who was Orpheus?

Ans. He was the son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope. He played so sweetly on the lyre accompanying the music with his voice, that he tamed wild beasts, stayed the course of rivers, and drew the very trees to gather around him as he sung. Orpheus married the beautiful nymph Eury´dice; but on the very day of their nuptials she was stung in the foot by a venomous serpent, and died, leaving Orpheus overwhelmed with grief. Trusting to the magic of his lyre, he repaired to the infernal regions. Here, “at the music of his golden shell,” the wheel of Ixion stopped; Tantalus forgot his thirst; the vulture ceased to prey on the vitals of Tityus; Cerberus fawned at the musician’s feet, Proserpine was melted to tears, and the stern king of Hell was moved to pity. Eury´dice was permitted to return to the upper world, but only on condition that Orpheus did not look upon her before they passed the confines [126] of Pluto’s kingdom. Orpheus forgot this in his eagerness, and Eury´dice vanished from his sight. In his despair, he now shunned all intercourse with mankind, and retired to woods and solitary grottoes, endeavoring to forget his misfortune in the charms of music. Orpheus was murdered during the orgies of Bacchus, by the Thracian women, who were incensed at the coldness with which he had treated them. After tearing him to pieces, they threw his head into the river Hebrus, and were surprised to hear its murmur, “Eury´dice, Eury´dice!” as it was carried down the stream to the Ægean Sea. Bacchus was indignant at the cruelty of the Thracian women, and changed them into trees.


Ques. Who was Arion?

Ans. He was a famous musician who resided at the court of Periander, king of Corinth. Impelled by a minstrel’s love of wandering, he felt desirous of visiting foreign countries, and departed from Corinth, notwithstanding the earnest solicitations of Periander, who warned him in vain of the danger to which he might be exposed. After some time spent in Italy and Sicily, Arion desired to return to Corinth, and embarked for this purpose at Sarentum, taking with him the riches that he had amassed. During the voyage the mariners agreed among themselves that they [127] would murder Arion, and seize his treasures. The unhappy musician offered in vain to abandon everything to their cupidity, if they would but spare his life. The only favor he could obtain was the choice of a grave. If he desired to be laid on shore under the green turf, they would carry his lifeless body to land, and give it sepulture. If he cared not for this, he must immediately cast himself into the sea. Arion chose the latter alternative, but begged that he might die as became a bard, after having played for the last time upon his lyre, and sung his own death-song. The mariners granted his request, not from pity, but they desired to hear so famous a minstrel; music had charms even for their rude hearts.