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Charlotte Mary Yonge (11 August 1823 – 24 May 1901) was an English novelist known for her huge output, now mostly out of print.
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by Charlotte M. Yonge
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In this little book the attempt has been to trace Greek History so as to be intelligible to young children. In fact, it will generally be found that classical history is remembered at an earlier age than modern history, probably because the events are simple, and there was something childlike in the nature of all the ancient Greeks. I would begin a child’s reading with the History of England, as that which requires to be known best; but from this I should think it better to pass to the History of Greece, and that of Rome (which is in course of preparation), both because of their giving some idea of the course of time, and bringing Scripture history into connection with that of the world, and because little boys ought not to begin their classical studies without some idea of their bearing. I have begun with a few of the Greek myths, which are absolutely necessary to the understanding of both the history and of art. As to the names, the ordinary reading of them has been most frequently adopted, and the common Latin titles of the gods and goddesses have been used, because these, by long use, have really come to be their English names, and English literature at least will be better understood by calling the king of Olympus Jupiter, than by becoming familiar with him first as Zeus.
CHARLOTTE M. YONGE.
II.Light and Dark
III.The Peopling of Greece
IV.The Hero Perseus
V.The Labours of Hercules
VII.The Success of the Argonauts
VIII.The Choice of Paris
IX.The Siege of Troy
X.The Wanderings of Ulysses
XI.The Doom of the Atrides
XII.After the Heroic Age
XIV.Solon and the Laws of Athens. b.c. 594–546.
XVI. The Battle of Marathon. b.c. 490.
XVII.The Expedition of Xerxes. b.c. 480.
XVIII.The Battle of Platæa. b.c.479-460.
XIX.The Age of Pericles. b.c. 464-429.
XX.The Expedition to Sicily. b.c. 415-413
XXI.The Shore of the Goat’s River. b.c. 406-402.
XXII. The Retreat of the Ten Thousand. b.c. 402-399
XXIII. The Death of Socrates. b.c. 399.
XXIV.The Supremacy of Sparta. b.c. 396.
XXV.The Two Theban Friends. b.c. 387-362
XXVI. Philip of Macedon. b.c. 364.
XXVII.The Youth of Alexander. b.c. 356-334
XXVIII.The Expedition to Persia. b.c. 334.
XXIX.Alexander’s Eastern Conquests. b.c. 331-328.
XXX. The End of Alexander. b.c 328.
XXXI.The Last Struggles of Athens. b.c. 334-311.
XXXII.The Four New Kingdoms. b.c. 311-287.
XXXIII.Pyrrhus, King of Epirus. b.c. 287
XXXIV.Aratus and the Achaian League. b.c. 267.
XXXV.Agis and the Revival of Sparta. b.c. 244-236.
XXXVI.Cleomenes and the Fall of Sparta. b.c. 236-222
XXXVII.Philopœmen, the Last of the Greeks. b.c. 236- 184.
XXXVIII. The Fall of Greece. ..c. 189-146.
XXXIX. The Gospel in Greece. b.c. 146-a.d. 60
XL.Under the Roman Empire
XLI.The Frank Conquest. 1201–1446
XLII.The Turkish Conquest. 1453–1670
XLIII.The Venetian Conquest and Loss. 1684–1796
XLIV.The War of Independence. 1815
XLV.The Kingdom of Greece. 1822–1875
I am going to tell you the history of the most wonderful people who ever lived. But I have to begin with a good deal that is not true; for the people who descended from Japhet’s son Javan, and lived in the beautiful islands and peninsulas called Greece, were not trained in the knowledge of God like the Israelites, but had to guess for themselves. They made strange stories, partly from the old beliefs they brought from the east, partly from their ways of speaking of the powers of nature—sky, sun, moon, stars, and clouds—as if they were real beings, and so again of good or bad qualities as beings also, and partly from old stories about their forefathers. These stories got mixed up with their belief, and came to be part of their religion and history; and they wrote beautiful poems about them, and made such lovely statues in their honour, that nobody can understand anything about art or learning who has not learnt these stories. I must begin with trying to tell you a few of them.
Head of Jupiter In the first place, the Greeks thought there were twelve greater gods and goddesses who lived in Olympus. There is really a mountain called Olympus, and those who lived far from it thought it went up into the sky, and that the gods really dwelt on the top of it. Those who lived near, and knew they did not, thought they lived in the sky. But the chief of all, the father of gods and men, was the sky-god—Zeus, as the Greeks called him, or Jupiter, as he was called in Latin. However, as all things are born of Time, so the sky or Jupiter was said to have a father, Time, whose Greek name was Kronos. His other name was Saturn; and as Time devours his offspring, so Saturn was said to have had the bad habit of eating up his children as fast as they were born, till at last his wife Rhea contrived to give him a stone in swaddling clothes, and while he was biting this hard morsel, Jupiter was saved from him, and afterwards two other sons, Neptune (Poseidon) and Pluto (Hades), who became lords of the ocean and of the world of the spirits of the dead; for on the sea and on death Time’s tooth has no power. However, Saturn’s reign was thought to have been a very peaceful and happy one. For as people always think of the days of Paradise, and believe that the days of old were better than their own times, so the Greeks thought there had been four ages—the Golden age, the Silver age, the Brazen age, and the Iron age—and that people had been getting worse in each of them. Poor old Saturn, after the Silver age, had had to go into retirement, with only his own star, the planet Saturn, left to him; and Jupiter was reigning now, on his throne on Olympus, at the head of the twelve greater gods and goddesses, and it was the Iron age down below. His star, the planet we still call by his name, was much larger and brighter than Saturn. Jupiter was always thought of by the Greeks as a majestic-looking man in his full strength, with thick hair and beard, and with lightnings in his hand and an eagle by his side. These lightnings or thunderbolts were forged by his crooked son Vulcan (Hephæstion), the god of fire, the smith and armourer of Olympus, whose smithies were in the volcanoes (so called from his name), and whose workmen were the Cyclops or Round Eyes—giants, each with one eye in the middle of his forehead. Once, indeed, Jupiter had needed his bolts, for the Titans, a horrible race of monstrous giants, of whom the worst was Briareus, who had a hundred hands, had tried, by piling up mountains one upon the other, to scale heaven and throw him down; but when Jupiter was hardest pressed, a dreadful pain in his head caused him to bid Vulcan to strike it with his hammer. Then out darted Heavenly Wisdom, his beautiful daughter Pallas Athene or Minerva, fully armed, with piercing, shining eyes, and by her counsels he cast down the Titans, and heaped their own mountains, Etna and Ossa and Pelion, on them to keep them down; and whenever there was an earthquake, it was thought to be caused by one of these giants struggling to get free, though perhaps there was some remembrance of the tower of Babel in the story. Pallas, this glorious daughter of Jupiter, was wise, brave, and strong, and she was also the goddess of women’s works—of all spinning, weaving, and sewing.
Jupiter’s wife, the queen of heaven or the air, was Juno—in Greek, Hera—the white-armed, ox-eyed, stately lady, whose bird was the peacock. Do you know how the peacock got the eyes in his tail? They once belonged to Argus, a shepherd with a hundred eyes, whom Juno had set to watch a cow named Io, who was really a lady, much hated by her. Argus watched till Mercury (Hermes) came and lulled him to sleep with soft music, and then drove Io away. Juno was so angry, that she caused all the eyes to be taken from Argus and put into her peacock’s tail.
Mercury has a planet called after him too, a very small one, so close to the sun that we only see it just after sunset or before sunrise. I believe Mercury or Hermes really meant the morning breeze. The story went that he was born early in the morning in a cave, and after he had slept a little while in his cradle, he came forth, and, finding the shell of a tortoise with some strings of the inwards stretched across it, he at once began to play on it, and thus formed the first lyre. He was so swift that he was the messenger of Jupiter, and he is always represented with wings on his cap and sandals; but as the wind not only makes music, but blows things away unawares, so Mercury came to be viewed not only as the god of fair speech, but as a terrible thief, and the god of thieves. You see, as long as these Greek stories are parables, they are grand and beautiful; but when the beings are looked on as like men, they are absurd and often horrid. The gods had another messenger, Iris, the rainbow, who always carried messages of mercy, a recollection of the bow in the clouds; but she chiefly belonged to Juno.
All the twelve greater gods had palaces on Olympus, and met every day in Jupiter’s hall to feast on ambrosia, a sort of food of life which made them immortal. Their drink was nectar, which was poured into their golden cups at first by Vulcan, but he stumbled and hobbled so with his lame leg that they chose instead the fresh and graceful Hebe, the goddess of youth, till she was careless, and one day fell down, cup and nectar and all. The gods thought they must find another cupbearer, and, looking down, they saw a beautiful youth named Ganymede watching his flocks upon Mount Ida. So they sent Jupiter’s eagle down to fly away with him and bring him up to Olympus. They gave him some ambrosia to make him immortal, and established him as their cupbearer. Besides this, the gods were thought to feed on the smoke and smell of the sacrifices people offered up to them on earth, and always to help those who offered them most sacrifices of animals and incense.
The usual names of these twelve were—Jupiter, Neptune, Juno, Latona, Apollo, Diana, Pallas, Venus, Vulcan, Mercury, Vesta, and Ceres; but there were multitudes besides—“gods many and lords many” of all sorts of different dignities. Every river had its god, every mountain and wood was full of nymphs, and there was a great god of all nature called Pan, which in Greek means All. Neptune was only a visitor in Olympus, though he had a right there. His kingdom was the sea, which he ruled with his trident, and where he had a whole world of lesser gods and nymphs, tritons and sea horses, to attend upon his chariot.
And the quietest and best of all the goddesses was Vesta, the goddess of the household hearth—of home, that is to say. There are no stories to be told about her, but a fire was always kept burning in her honour in each city, and no one might tend it who was not good and pure.
The god and goddess of light were the glorious twin brother and sister, Phœbus Apollo and Diana or Artemis. They were born in the isle of Delos, which was caused to rise out of the sea to save their mother, Latona, from the horrid serpent, Python, who wanted to devour her. Gods were born strong and mighty; and the first thing Apollo did was to slay the serpent at Delphi with his arrows. Here was a dim remembrance of the promise that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head, and also a thought of the way Light slays the dragon of darkness with his beams. Apollo was lord of the day, and Diana queen of the night. They were as bright and pure as the thought of man could make them, and always young. The beams or rays were their arrows, and so Diana was a huntress, always in the woods with her nymphs; and she was so modest, that once, when an unfortunate wanderer, named Actæon, came on her with her nymphs by chance when they were bathing in a stream, she splashed some water in his face and turned him into a stag, so that his own dogs gave chase to him and killed him. I am afraid Apollo and Diana were rather cruel; but the darting rays of the sun and moon kill sometimes as well as bless; and so they were the senders of all sharp, sudden strokes. There was a queen called Niobe, who had six sons and daughters so bright and fair that she boasted that they were equal to Apollo and Diana, which made Latona so angry, that she sent her son and daughter to slay them all with their darts. The unhappy Niobe, thus punished for her impiety, wept a river of tears till she was turned into stone.
Supposed Temple of Jupiter Panhellenius in Ægina
The moon belonged to Diana, and was her car; the sun, in like manner, to Apollo, though he did not drive the car himself, but Helios, the sun-god, did. The world was thought to be a flat plate, with Delphi in the middle, and the ocean all round. In the far east the lady dawn, Aurora, or Eôs, opened the gates with her rosy fingers, and out came the golden car of the sun, with glorious white horses driven by Helios, attended by the Hours strewing dew and flowers. It passed over the arch of the heavens to the ocean again on the west, and there Aurora met it again in fair colours, took out the horses, and let them feed. Aurora had married a man named Tithonus. She gave him ambrosia, which made him immortal, but she could not keep him from growing old, so he became smaller and smaller, till he dwindled into a grasshopper, and at last only his voice was to be heard chirping at sunrise and sunset.
Helios had an earthly wife too, and a son named Phaëton, who once begged to be allowed to drive the chariot of the sun for just one day. Helios yielded; but poor Phaëton had no strength nor skill to guide the horses in the right curve. At one moment they rushed to the earth and scorched the trees, at another they flew up to heaven and would have burnt Olympus, if Jupiter had not cast his thunderbolts at the rash driver and hurled him down into a river, where he was drowned. His sisters wept till they were changed into poplar trees, and their tears hardened into amber drops.
Mercury gave his lyre to Apollo, who was the true god of music and poetry, and under him were nine nymphs—the Muses, daughters of memory—who dwelt on Mount Parnassus, and were thought to inspire all noble and heroic song, all poems in praise to or of the gods or of brave men, and the graceful music and dancing at their feasts, also the knowledge of the stars of earth and heaven.
Head of Pallas These three—Apollo, Diana, and Pallas—were the gods of all that was nobly, purely, and wisely lovely; but the Greeks also believed in powers of ill, and there was a goddess of beauty, called Venus (Aphrodite). Such beauty was hers as is the mere prettiness and charm of pleasure—nothing high or fine. She was said to have risen out of the sea, as the sunshine touched the waves, with her golden hair dripping with the spray; and her favourite home was in myrtle groves, where she drove her car, drawn by doves, attended by the three Graces, and by multitudes of little winged children, called Loves; but there was generally said to be one special son of hers, called Love—Cupid in Latin, Eros in Greek—whose arrows, when tipped with gold, made people fall in love, and when tipped with lead, made them hate one another. Her husband was the ugly, crooked smith, Vulcan—perhaps because pretty ornaments come of the hard work of the smith; but she never behaved well to him, and only coaxed him when she wanted something that his clever hands could make.
She was much more fond of amusing herself with Mars (Ares), the god of war, another of the evil gods, for he was fierce, cruel, and violent, and where he went slaughter and blood were sure to follow him and his horrid daughter Bellona. His star was “the red planet Mars;” but Venus had the beautiful clear one, which, according as it is seen either at sunrise or sunset, is called the morning or evening star. Venus also loved a beautiful young earthly youth, called Adonis, who died of a thrust from a wild boar’s tusk, while his blood stained crimson the pretty flower, pheasant’s eye, which is still called Adonis. Venus was so wretched that she persuaded Jupiter to decree that Adonis should come back and live for one-half of the year, but he was to go down to Pluto’s underground kingdom the other half. This is because plants and flowers are beautiful for one year, die down, and rise again.
Triptolemus But there is a much prettier story, with something of the same meaning, about Ceres (Demeter), the grave, motherly goddess of corn and all the fruits of the earth. She had one fair daughter, named Proserpine (Persephone), who was playing with her companions near Mount Etna, gathering flowers in the meadows, when grim old Pluto pounced upon her and carried her off into his underground world to be his bride. Poor Ceres did not know what had become of her darling, and wandered up and down the world seeking for her, tasting no food or drink, till at last, quite spent, she was taken in as a poor woman by Celeus, king of Eleusis, and became nurse to his infant child Triptolemus. All Eleusis was made rich with corn, while no rain fell and no crops grew on the rest of the earth; and though first Iris and then all the gods came to beg Ceres to relent, she would grant nothing unless she had her daughter back. So Jupiter sent Mercury to bring Proserpine home; but she was only to be allowed to stay on earth on condition that she had eaten nothing while in the under world. Pluto, knowing this, had made her eat half a pomegranate, and so she could not stay with her mother; but Ceres’s tears prevailed so far that she was to spend the summer above ground and the winter below. For she really was the flowers and fruit. Ceres had grown so fond of little Triptolemus that she wanted to make him immortal; but, as she had no ambrosia, this could only be done by putting him on the fire night after night to burn away his mortal part. His mother looked in one night during the operation, and shrieked so that she prevented it; so all Ceres could do for him was to give him grains of wheat and a dragon car, with which he travelled all about the world, teaching men to sow corn and reap harvests.
Proserpine seems to have been contented in her underground kingdom, where she ruled with Pluto. It was supposed to be below the volcanic grounds in southern Italy, near Lake Avernus. The entrance to it was guarded by a three-headed dog, named Cerberus, and the way to it was barred by the River Styx. Every evening Mercury brought all the spirits of the people who had died during the day to the shore of the Styx, and if their funeral rites had been properly performed, and they had a little coin on the tongue to pay the fare, Charon, the ferryman, took them across; but if their corpses were in the sea, or on battle-fields, unburied, the poor shades had to flit about vainly begging to be ferried over. After they had crossed, they were judged by three judges, and if they had been wicked, were sent over the river of fire to be tormented by the three Furies, Alecto, Megara, and Tisiphone, who had snakes as scourges and in their hair. If they had been brave and virtuous, they were allowed to live among beautiful trees and flowers in the Elysian fields, where Pluto reigned; but they seem always to have longed after the life they had lost; and these Greek notions of bliss seem sad besides what we know to be the truth. Here, too, lived the three Fates, always spinning the threads of men’s lives; Clotho held the distaff, Lachesis drew out the thread, and Atropos with her shears cut it off when the man was to die. And, though Jupiter was mighty, nothing could happen but by Fate, which was stronger than he.
Mars and Victory
You remember the Titans who rebelled against Jupiter. There was one who was noble, and wise, and kind, who did not rebel, and kept his brother from doing so. His name was Prometheus, which means Forethought; his brother’s was Epimetheus, or Afterthought; their father was Iapetus. When all the other Titans had been buried under the rocks, Jupiter bade Prometheus mould men out of the mud, and call on the winds of heaven to breathe life into them. Then Prometheus loved the beings he had made, and taught them to build houses, and tame the animals, and row and sail on the sea, and study the stars. But Zeus was afraid they would be too mighty, and would not give them fire. Then Prometheus climbed the skies, and brought fire down for them in a hollow reed.
The gods were jealous, and thought it time to stop this. So Jupiter bade Vulcan mould a woman out of clay, and Pallas to adorn her with all charms and gifts, so that she was called Pandora, or All Gifts; and they gave her a casket, into which they had put all pains, and griefs, and woes, and ills, and nothing good in it but hope; and they sent her down to visit the two Titan brothers. Prometheus knew that Jupiter hated them, and he had warned Epimetheus not to take any gift that came from Olympus; but he was gone from home when Pandora came; and when Epimetheus saw how lovely she was, and heard her sweet voice, he was won over to trust her, and to open the box. Then out flew all the evils and miseries that were stored in it, and began to torment poor mankind with war, and sickness, and thirst, and hunger, and nothing good was left but hope at the bottom of the box. And by-and-by there came spirits, called Prayers, but they were lame, coming after evil, because people are so apt not to begin to pray till harm has befallen them.
Pandora The gods undertook also to accept sacrifices, claiming a share in whatever animal man slew. Prometheus guarded his people here by putting the flesh of a bullock on one side, and the bones and inward parts covered with the fat on the other, and bidding Jupiter choose which should be his. The fat looked as if the heap it covered were the best, and Jupiter chose that, and was forced to abide by his choice; so that, whenever a beast was killed for food, the bones and fat were burnt on the altar, and man had the flesh. All this made Jupiter so angry, that, as Prometheus was immortal and could not be killed, he chained the great, good Titan to a rock on Mount Caucasus, and sent an eagle continually to rend his side and tear out his liver as fast as it grew again; but Prometheus, in all his agony, kept hope, for he knew that deliverance would come to him; and, in the meantime, he was still the comforter and counsellor of all who found their way to him.
Men grew very wicked, owing to the evils in Pandora’s box, and Jupiter resolved to drown them all with a flood; but Prometheus, knowing it beforehand, told his mortal son Deucalion to build a ship and store it with all sorts of food. In it Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha floated about for nine days till all men had been drowned, and as the waters went down the ship rested on Mount Parnassus, and Deucalion and Pyrrha came out and offered sacrifices to Jupiter. He was appeased, and sent Mercury down to ask what he should grant them. Their prayer was that the earth might be filled again with people, upon which the god bade them walk up the hill and throw behind them the bones of their grandmother. Now Earth was said to be the mother of the Titans, so the bones of their grandmother were the rocks, so as they went they picked up stones and threw them over their shoulders. All those that Deucalion threw rose up as men, and all those that Pyrrha threw became women, and thus the earth was alive again with human beings. No one can fail to see what far older histories must have been brought in the minds of the Greeks, and have been altered into these tales, which have much beauty in themselves. The story of the flood seems to have been mixed up with some small later inundation which only affected Greece.
The proper old name of Greece was Hellas, and the people whom we call Greeks called themselves Hellênes.  Learned men know that they, like all the people of Europe, and also the Persians and Hindoos, sprang from one great family of the sons of Japhet, called Arians. A tribe called Pelasgi came first, and lived in Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy; and after them came the Hellênes, who were much quicker and cleverer than the Pelasgi, and became their masters in most of Greece. So that the people we call Greeks were a mixture of the two, and they were divided into three lesser tribes—the Æolians, Dorians, and Ionians.
The World according to the Greeks
Now, having told you that bit of truth, I will go back to what the Greeks thought. They said that Deucalion had a son whose name was Hellên, and that he again had three sons, called Æolus, Dorus, and Xuthus. Æolus was the father of the Æolian Greeks, and some in after times thought that he was the same with the god called Æolus, who was thought to live in the Lipari Islands; and these keep guard over the spirits of the winds—Boreas, the rough, lively north wind; Auster, the rainy south wind; Eurus, the bitter east; and Zephyr, the gentle west. He kept them in a cave, and let one out according to the way the wind was wanted to blow, or if there was to be a storm he sent out two at once to struggle, and fight, and roar together, and lash up Neptune’s world, the sea. The Æolians did chiefly live in the islands and at Corinth. One of the sons of Æolus turned out very badly, and cheated Jupiter. His name was Sisyphus, and he was punished in Tartarus—Pluto’s world below—by having always to roll a stone up a mountain so steep that it was sure to come down upon him again.
Dorus was, of course, the father of the Dorians; and Xuthus had a son, called Iôn, who was the father of the Ionians. But, besides all these, there was a story of two brothers, named Ægyptus and Danaus, one of whom settled in Egypt, and the other in Argos. One had fifty sons and the other fifty daughters, and Ægyptus decreed that they should all marry; but Danaus and his daughters hated their cousins, and the father gave each bride a dagger, with which she stabbed her bridegroom. Only one had pity, and though the other forty-nine were not punished here, yet, when they died and went to Tartarus, they did not escape, but were obliged to be for ever trying to carry water in bottomless vessels. The people of Argos called themselves Danai, and no doubt some of them came from Egypt.
One more story, and a very strange one, tells of the peopling of Greece. A fair lady, named Europa, was playing in the meadows on the Phœnician coast, when a great white bull came to her, let his horns be wreathed with flowers, lay down, and invited her to mount his back; but no sooner had she done so, than he rose and trotted down with her to the sea, and swam with her out of sight. He took her, in fact, to the island of Crete, where her son Minos was so good and just a king, that, when he died, Pluto appointed him and two others to be judges of the spirits of the dead. Europe was called after Europa, as the loss of her led settlers there from Asia. Europa’s family grieved for her, and her father, mother, and brother went everywhere in search of her. Cadmus was the name of her brother, and he and his mother went far and wide, till the mother died, and Cadmus went to Delphi—the place thought to be the centre of the earth—where Apollo had slain the serpent Python, and where he had a temple and cavern in which every question could be answered. Such places of divination were called oracles, and Cadmus was here told to cease from seeking his sister, and to follow a cow till she fell down with fatigue, and to build a city on that spot. The poor cow went till she came into Bœotia, and there fell. Cadmus meant to offer her up, and went to fetch water from a fountain near, but as he stooped a fierce dragon rushed on him. He had a hard fight to kill it, but Pallas shone out in her beauty on him, and bade him sow its teeth in the ground. He did so, and they sprung up as warriors, who at once began to fight, and killed one another, all but five, who made friends, and helped Cadmus to build the famous city called Thebes. It is strange, after so wild a story as this, to be told that Cadmus first taught writing in Greece, and brought the alphabet of sixteen letters. The Greek alphabet was really learnt from the Phœnicians, and most likely the whole is a curious story of some settlement of that eastern people in Greece. Most likely they brought in the worship of the wine-god, Bacchus (Dionysos), for he was called Cadmus’s grandson. An orphan at first, he was brought up by the nymphs and Mercury, and then became a great conqueror, going to India, and Egypt, and everywhere, carrying the vine and teaching the use of wine. He was attended by an old fat man, named Silenus, and by creatures, called Fauns and Satyrs, like men with goats’ ears and legs; his crown was of ivy, and his chariot was drawn by leopards, and he was at last raised to Olympus. His feasts were called orgies; he-goats were sacrificed at them, and songs were sung, after which there was much drinking, and people danced holding sticks wreathed with vine and ivy leaves. The women who danced were called Bacchanals. The better sort of Greeks at first would not adopt these shameful rites. There were horrid stories of women who refused them going mad and leaping into the sea, and the Bacchanals used to fall upon and destroy all who resisted them.
Man in chariot
A hero means a great and glorious man, and the Greeks thought they had many such among their forefathers—nay, that they were sons of gods, and themselves, after many trials and troubles, became gods, since these Greeks of old felt that “we are also His offspring.”
Here is a story of one of these heroes. His mother was the daughter of an Argive king, and was named Danaë. He was named Perseus, and had bright eyes and golden hair like the morning. When he was a little babe, he and his mother were out at sea, and were cast on the isle of Seriphos, where a fisherman named Dictys took care of them. A cruel tyrant named Polydectes wanted Danaë to be his wife, and, as she would not consent, he shut her up in prison, saying that she should never come out till her son Perseus had brought him the head of the Gorgon Medusa, thinking he must be lost by the way. For the Gorgons were three terrible sisters, who lived in the far west beyond the setting sun. Two of them were immortal, and had dragon’s wings and brazen claws and serpent hair, but their sister Medusa was mortal, and so beautiful in the face that she had boasted of being fairer than Pallas. To punish her presumption, her hair was turned to serpents, and whosoever looked on her face, sad and lovely as it was, would instantly be turned into stone.
But, for his mother’s sake, young Perseus was resolved to dare this terrible adventure, and his bravery brought help from the gods. The last night before he was to set out Pallas came and showed him the images of the three Gorgons, and bade him not concern himself about the two he could not kill; but she gave him a mirror of polished brass, and told him only to look at Medusa’s reflection on it, for he would become a stone if he beheld her real self. Then Mercury came and gave Perseus a sword of light that would cleave all on whom it might fall, lent him his own winged sandals, and told him to go first to the nymphs of the Graiæ, the Gorgons’ sisters, and make them tell him the way.
So the young hero went by land and sea, still westwards, to the very borders of the world, where stands the giant of the west, Atlas, holding up the great vault of the skies on his broad shoulders. Beyond lay the dreary land of twilight, on the shores of the great ocean that goes round the world, and on the rocks on the shores sat the three old, old nymphs, the Graiæ, who had been born with grey hair, and had but one eye and one tooth among them, which they passed to one another in turn. When the first had seen the noble-looking youth speeding to them, she handed her eye on, that the next sister might look at him; but Perseus was too quick—he caught the one eye out of her hand, and then told the three poor old nymphs that he did not want to hurt them, but that he must keep their eye till they had told him the way to Medusa the Gorgon.
They told him the way, and, moreover, they gave him a mist-cap helmet from Tartarus, which would make him invisible whenever he put it on, and also a bag, which he slung on his back; and, thus armed, he went further to the very bounds of the world, and he took his mirror in his hand, and looked into it. There he saw the three Gorgon sisters, their necks covered with scales like those of snakes (at least those of two), their teeth like boar’s tusks, their hands like brass, and their wings of gold; but they were all fast asleep, and Perseus, still looking into his mirror, cleft Medusa’s neck with his all-cutting sword, and put her head into the bag on his back without ever seeing her face. Her sisters awoke and darted after him; but he put on his helmet of mist, and they lost him, while he fled away on Mercury’s swift-winged sandals. As he sped eastward, he heard a voice asking whether he had really killed the Gorgon. It was Atlas, the old heaven-supporting giant; and when Perseus answered that he had, Atlas declared that he must see the head to convince him. So Perseus put a hand over his shoulder, and drew it up by its snaky hair; but no sooner had Atlas cast his eyes on it than he turned into a mountain, his white beard and hair becoming the snowy peak, and his garments the woods and forests. And there he still stands on the west coast of Africa, and all our modern map-books are named after him.
Perseus and Andromeda
But Perseus’ adventures were not over. As he flew on by the Lybian coast he heard a sound of wailing, and beheld a beautiful maiden chained by her hands and feet to a rock. He asked what had led her to this sad plight, and she answered that she was Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, king and queen of Ethiopia, and that her mother had foolishly boasted that she was fairer than the Nereids, the fifty nymphs who are the spirits of the waves. Neptune was so much displeased that he sent a flood to overflow the land, and a sea-monster to devour the people and cattle. In an oasis or isle of fertility in the middle of the Lybian desert was a temple of Jupiter, there called Ammon, and the Ethiopians had sent there to ask what to do. The oracle replied that the evil should cease if Andromeda were given up to the monster. Cepheus had been obliged to yield her up because of the outcries of the people, and here she was waiting to be devoured. Perseus, of course, was ready. He heard the monster coming, bade Andromeda close her eyes, and then held up the Gorgon’s head. In an instant her foe had become a rock, and he cleft the maiden’s chains, brought her back to her father and mother, who gave her to him in marriage, and made a great feast; but here a former lover of hers insulted them both so much, that Perseus was forced to show him the Gorgon’s face, and turn him into stone.
Then Perseus, with Andromeda, took his way to Seriphos. Indeed it was high time that he should come back, for Polydectes, thinking that he must long ago have been turned into a rock at the sight of Medusa, had tried to take Danaë by force to be his wife, and she had fled into a temple, where no one dared to touch her, since it was always believed that the gods punished such as dragged suppliants away from their temples. So Perseus went to Polydectes, who was in the midst of a feast, and, telling him that his bidding was done, held up the head of Medusa, and of course the king and his whole court turned at once into stone. Now that the work of the Gorgon’s head was done, Perseus offered it to Pallas, who placed it upon her shield, or, as it is always called, her ægis; and he gave back the sword of light, cap of mist, and winged sandals to Mercury.
After this he returned to Argos, and there, at a game of quoits, he had the misfortune to throw the quoit the wrong way, and hit his grandfather, the king, so as to kill him. Perseus reigned afterwards, and, like all the nobler Greek heroes, kept out the worship of Bacchus and its foul orgies from his dominions; but he afterwards exchanged kingdoms with another king, and built the city of Tiryas. He lived happily with Andromeda, and had a great many children, whose descendants viewed him as a demi-god, and had shrines to him, where they offered incense and sacrifice; for they thought that he and all the family were commemorated in the stars, and named the groups after them. You may find them all in the North. Andromeda is a great square, as if large stars marked the rivets of her chains on the rock; Perseus, a long curved cluster of bright stars, as if climbing up to deliver her; her mother Cassiopeia like a bright W, in which the Greeks traced a chair, where she sat with her back to the rest to punish her for her boast. Cepheus is there too, but he is smaller, and less easy to find. They are all in the North, round the Great Bear, who was said by the Greeks to be a poor lady whom Juno had turned into a bear, and who was almost killed unknowingly by her own son when out hunting. He is the Little Bear, with the pole star in his tail, and she is the Great Bear, always circling round him, and, as the Greeks used to say, never dipping her muzzle into the ocean, because she is so far north that she never sets.
This story of Perseus is a very old one, which all nations have loved to tell, though with different names. You will be amused to think that the old Cornish way of telling it is found in “Jack the Giant-Killer,” who had seven-leagued boots and a cap of mist, and delivered fair ladies from their cruel foes.
One morning Jupiter boasted among the gods in Olympus that a son would that day be born in the line of Perseus, who would rule over all the Argives. Juno was angry and jealous at this, and, as she was the goddess who presided over the births of children, she contrived to hinder the birth of the child he intended till that day was over, and to hasten that of another grandson of the great Perseus. This child was named Eurystheus, and, as he had been born on the right day, Jupiter was forced to let him be king of Argos, Sparta, and Mycenæ, and all the Dorian race; while the boy whom he had meant to be the chief was kept in subjection, in spite of having wonderful gifts of courage and strength, and a kind, generous nature, that always was ready to help the weak and sorrowful.
Virtue and Vice
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