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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Ans. Trophonius, and his brother Agame´des were the architects of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. According to one legend, when the edifice was finished, they asked the god to reward them for their labor. Apollo promised that he would recompense them on the seventh day, and [185] bade them live happily during the interval. On the seventh night the brothers died in their sleep. The oracle is said to have been discovered on the following occasion: In a time of severe drought the Bœotians consulted Apollo at Delphi, and were directed to seek aid from Trophonius in Lebadea. They proceeded thither, and seeing a swarm of bees enter a chasm in the earth, they followed and discovered a deep cavern. Here they found the oracle of Trophonius, and the aid they sought.

Ques. What ceremonies were observed in consulting this oracle?

Ans. The votary was first purified by solemn ablutions; then, after offering sacrifice, and drinking of a water called Lethe, or oblivion, he descended by means of ladders into the first, or upper cavern. The opening into the lower cave was extremely narrow, and there was apparently nothing to aid the descent. Here, those who were courageous enough to advance, lay upon the ground with their feet within the entrance, taking care to hold in each hand a certain composition of honey. They were then carried downwards with great force, as by the current of a rapid river. In the mysterious depths of the lower cave, the future was revealed, but not to all in the same manner; some saw, others heard what they desired to know.

It has been frequently asserted that those who entered the cave of Trophonius never smiled [186] and we should judge, from the accounts given by ancient writers, that they were subjected to a treatment closely resembling what we now call animal magnetism, or mesmerism.

Ques. Where was the temple of Jupiter Ammon?

Ans. It was situated in an oasis of the Libyan desert, called by the ancients Ammon, and by the modern Arabs, Siwah. It is about five degrees west of Cairo.

The temple is said to have been founded by Bacchus under the following circumstances. While marching through the Libyan desert, Bacchus came to a barren waste of sand where his whole army was in danger of perishing for want of water. He called on Jupiter for aid, and a ram suddenly appeared, which guided them to a verdant oasis, in the midst of which sparkled a clear fountain. Bacchus erected on the spot, a temple which he dedicated to Jupiter. As the surrounding country was called Hammo´des from Hammon or Ammon, sand, the god was worshipped here under this title, and was always represented as having the head and horns of a ram. The temple soon became celebrated as an oracle, and was enriched, like that of Delphi, by splendid offerings. When Camby´ses invaded Egypt, he sent a large body of troops across the desert to seize its treasures. As nothing was ever heard of this expedition, it seems probable that the Persians were purposely misled by their Egyptian [187] guides, and thus perished in the desert. Alexander the Great visited the temple of Jupiter Ammon to question the oracle as to his parentage; and the priests, who were undoubtedly apprised of the object of his visit, did not wait to be questioned, but saluted the king as the son of Jupiter. The site of this temple was discovered in the last century by an English traveller, but the latest and best account is given by Belzoni, who visited it in 1816. The oasis is about six miles in length, with an average breadth of four miles. It is fertile and produces in abundance, rice, wheat and fruits. The ruins of the temple are not extensive; they are, however, interesting, as many pieces of sculpture, including figures of goats with rams’ heads, are found in a good state of preservation. In a beautiful grove of palms, towards the centre of the oasis, is the famous Fons Solis, or Fountain of the Sun, which does not, however, correspond with the description given by Herodotus. According to that historian, this fountain was always tepid at dawn, icy cold at noon; it grew warm again towards sunset, and was boiling hot at midnight. Belzoni says that this account is quite exaggerated, although the water of the fountain felt to him much warmer at midnight than at noon-day. The truth seems to be that little or no change takes place in the fountain, which is well shaded and very deep. The great change which really takes place in the atmosphere is probably the cause of the apparent [188] variation in the temperature of the fountain. Belzoni had no thermometer with him, so that he was unable to test the truth of this supposition.

Ques. Where was the oracle of Æsculapius?

Ans. This god was consulted by the sick in many places, but his most celebrated oracle was in his native city of Epidaurus in Argolis. This oracle was so famous that in the year 293 B. C., when a terrible pestilence was raging in Rome, the Senate sent a solemn embassy to Epidaurus to implore the aid of Æsculapius. The god was propitious, and accompanied the returning embassy in the form of a serpent. According to another account, the priests sent to Rome a sacred serpent which they nourished in the temple.

Ques. What was particularly remarkable in the oracles of Æsculapius?

Ans. It would seem that the priests, who had probably some skill in medicine, made use of every means calculated to encourage the votaries, and inspire them with a confident hope of recovery. They were obliged to sleep in the temple, and we should judge, from the accounts given by ancient writers, that they were subjected to a treatment closely resembling what we now call animal magnetism, or mesmerism.

The temple of Epidaurus was plundered by Sylla to defray the expenses of the war against Mithridates.

Ques. Where was the Castalian Fount?

Ans. There were two celebrated springs of that [189] name; one on Mount Parnassus, which was sacred to the Muses, and another near Daphne, in Syria. This last was believed to impart the knowledge of futurity to those who drank of its waters. The oracle of this fountain promised the empire to Hadrian, while he was yet in a private station. When he ascended the throne, he had the fountain shut up with stones.

Ques. What opinions did the early Christian writers hold with regard to the heathen oracles?

Ans. They believed that although the responses were to be attributed, as a general thing, to mere human jugglery and imposture, there were occasions in which it was impossible to doubt the direct agency of evil spirits. We read in Scripture that Satan spoke by the mouths of the possessed, and none were more likely to fall under this demoniac influence than the priests and other ministrants in these shrines of imposture. Many instances are recorded where Christians imposed silence on oracles by pronouncing the name of Jesus Christ, or by the sign of the cross; and sometimes the same effect was produced by their simple presence in the temple.

Ques. At what period did the oracles cease to give responses?

Ans. No exact date can be assigned; as Christianity spread, these impostures fell gradually into disrepute, and were at length entirely abandoned. It has been asserted that the oracles became silent at the birth of Christ, but this is an [190] error. Milton, however adopts this idea in his beautiful Hymn of the Nativity:

“The oracles are dumb;
No voice or hideous hum
Rings through the arched roof in words deceiving.
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
No nightly trance or breathed spell
Inspires the pale-eyed priest from the prophetic cell.”




Ques. Why is a notice of these games appropriate in this place?

Ans. Because they were closely connected with the religious observances of the Greeks. They were begun and ended with solemn sacrifices, and formed a part in the celebration of the principal festivals held in honor of the gods. These remarks apply also to the Greek drama.

Ques. What games were solemnized in Greece?

Ans. They were of four kinds: the Olympic, the Pythian, the Ne´mean, and the Isthmian.

Ques. Who instituted the Olympic games?

Ans. They were very ancient; their first institution was attributed by the Greeks to Hercules. They were revived by Iphitus, king of Elis, who obtained for them the solemn sanction of the Delphic oracle. The Olympian games were celebrated at intervals of forty-nine and fifty lunar months alternately, so that they fell sometimes in the month Apollonius, (July); sometimes in the [192] month Parthenius, (August). The time of their celebration was a period of sacred truce, sufficiently prolonged to enable persons to attend the games from every part of Greece, and return to their homes in safety. The interval between the celebrations was called an Olympiad, and the Greeks usually counted time in this manner. The Olympiads were reckoned only from the year 776, B. C., although the games had been revived by Iphitus more than a century earlier. The Olympic festival lasted five days. The games consisted of chariot, horse and foot races; leaping, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus or quoit, etc. All persons were admitted to contend in these games who could prove that they were free, of pure Hellenic blood, and that their characters had never been stained by any base or immoral act. So great was the importance attached to race, that even the kings of Macedon were obliged to prove their Hellenic descent before they were allowed to enter as competitors. It is almost impossible for us to realize the importance attached by the Greeks to a victory gained in any of these exercises. The prize itself was a crown of wild olive. This was cut from a tree in the sacred grove of Olympia, which was said to have been brought by Hercules from the land of the Hyperboreans. A palm branch was at the same time placed in the victor’s hand, and his name was proclaimed by the herald. On his return home, more distinguished honors awaited [193] him. He entered his native city, not by the gate, but through a breach made in the walls for his reception. Banquets were given to him by his friends, at which odes were sung in honor of his victory. The horse and chariot races held the highest rank, and singularly enough, the honor of the victory belonged to the owner of the horse or chariot, although he himself should not have been present at the games.

The Greek historians relate that three couriers were received by Philip of Macedon on the same day, each being the bearer of joyful tidings. The first announced that his general had gained a great victory; the second, that his horse had won the prize in the Olympic games; while the third brought news of the birth of his son, afterwards Alexander the Great. This passage is sufficient to show what importance was attached to such a victory, when we see it thus classed as an event of equal importance with the success of an army, and the birth of an heir to a great kingdom.