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

Page: 25

Becoming totally blind, Homer returned to Smyrna, where he probably composed the greater part of his poems. He afterwards led a wandering life, gaining wealth and fame by the recitation of his verses. He died at Ios, one of the Cyclades, where he was buried. The fame of Homer is founded on his two great poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The first of these has been always considered among the finest productions of human genius. Homer is distinguished not only for his sublimity, but for the high moral tone which pervades his works.

Ques. Who was Hesiod?

Ans. This poet flourished about half a century later than Homer. He was a Bœotian, and in his youth tended sheep upon Mount Helicon. He emigrated afterwards to Orchomenos, in western Bœotia, where he died.

[147] The only complete works of Hesiod now extant are the “Works and Days,” and the Theogony, or “Birth of the Gods.” The latter work consists of a long and rather tedious catalogue of the gods and goddesses; it is valued as containing an accurate account of the Grecian deities. The description of the Battle of the Titans and the Gods, at the close of the work, is considered one of the most sublime passages in classic poetry; Milton has borrowed from it in his Battle of the Angels.

Ques. When did Virgil flourish?

Ans. Publius Virgilius Maro was born near Mantua in the year 70, B. C. He received a liberal education, and inherited from his father a considerable estate. Of this he was deprived during the civil troubles which distracted Italy, but it was afterwards restored at the intercession of a powerful friend. His gratitude towards this kind benefactor, and the happiness felt by the poet in the peaceful possession of his patrimony, form the subject of his first pastoral poem or Eclogue. Virgil enjoyed the favor of Augustus, with the friendship of Mæcenas and other generous and powerful patrons; his life was, therefore, spent in ease and prosperity. He died at Brundusium, in the year 19, B. C.

The Eclogues, sometimes called also Bucolica or Bucolics, are ten short pastoral poems. The fourth, entitled Pollio, has given rise to much speculation on account of its striking coincidence with Scripture. Many suppose that the poet was acquainted with the prophecies of Isaiah.

[148] The Georgics treat of agriculture, the care of cattle, the raising of bees, etc. These peaceful arts had been much neglected in Italy during the civil wars; Virgil hoped to revive the taste for rural pursuits, by his beautiful descriptions of country life. The Æneid, the last and greatest of his works, is an epic poem in twelve books. It is a history of the wanderings of Æneas, and the settlement of the Trojans in Italy.

Virgil is considered inferior to Homer in sublimity, but he exceeds him in sweetness and in the beauty of his descriptions. The moral, and even to a certain extent the religious spirit which pervades his writings is beyond praise, and places him almost alone among the poets of antiquity.

Ques. When did Ovid write?

Ans. Ovidius Naso was born in the year 43, B. C., at Sulmo (now Sulmona), a town about ninety miles distant from Rome. The date of his birth is rendered memorable in history by the murder of the great Cicero. Ovid belonged to an equestrian family; he was educated at Rome, and enjoyed every advantage that splendid capital afforded. He showed his taste for poetry at an early age, but was dissuaded from cultivating this art by his father, who wished him to apply exclusively to the study of eloquence. Ovid gained some distinction as an orator; but when the death of his elder brother left him sole heir to an ample fortune, his natural inclination prevailed, and he gave himself up to literary pursuits. A career of [149] unexampled prosperity was now opened to the poet. He enjoyed the favor of Augustus, and the friendship of the most distinguished men in Rome; his verses were universally admired, they were sung in the streets and at entertainments, or were recited in the theatre amid bursts of applause. Ovid was not content with the nobler pleasures of fame and friendship, but plunged without restraint into all the vices and follies of which the Roman capital was the centre. This career of prosperity and pleasure was brought suddenly to a close. Ovid was banished by Augustus to Tomi, (now Temiswar) on the shores of the Euxine.

The decree was executed with the utmost severity. But one wretched night was allowed to the poet to deplore his fate, and take leave of his friends. His wife begged in vain to be allowed to accompany her husband in his exile. It is not known by what crime the unfortunate poet merited so severe a punishment. The immoral tendency of some of his poems, was the ostensible reason set forth by the emperor; but these verses had been written many years before. It is evident, therefore, that he must have offended Augustus in some manner which the latter did not choose to make public. Ovid wrote, in his exile, poems appropriately named “Tristia,” in which he bewails his hard fate, and describes the scenes by which he was surrounded. From the severity of the climate, and the inroads of the barbarians, the fields were without grain, the hills [150] without vines; no stately oaks clothed the mountain-side, no willows drooped along the banks; a scanty growth of wormwood alone covered the desolate plains. Spring brought with it neither birds nor flowers. In Summer, the sun was obscured by clouds; the Autumn shed no fruits, but through every season of the year, the wintry winds blew with prodigious violence, and lashed the waves of the boisterous Euxine on its desert shore. The only animated object was the wild Sarmatian driving his car, yoked with oxen, across the icy waste, himself wrapped in furs, his shaggy hair and beard sparkling with the hoar frost and flakes of snow. Such was the abode for which the poet was compelled to exchange the theatres, the porticoes and gardens of Rome, the court of Augustus, and the sunny skies of Italy. He died in the ninth year of his exile, and the sixty-first of his age.