The literature of our time, as of all the centuries of
Christendom, is full of allusions to the gods and goddesses of
the Greeks and Romans. Occasionally, and, in modern days, more
often, it contains allusions to the worship and the superstitions
of the northern nations of Europe. The object of this book is to
teach readers who are not yet familiar with the writers of Greece
and Rome, or the ballads or legends of the Scandinavians, enough
of the stories which form what is called their mythology, to make
those allusions intelligible which one meets every day, even in
the authors of our own time.
The Greeks and Romans both belong to the same race or stock. It
is generally known in our time as the Aryan family of mankind;
and so far as we know its history, the Greeks and Romans
descended from the tribes which emigrated from the high table-
lands of Northern India. Other tribes emigrated in different
directions from the same centre, so that traces of the Aryan
language are found in the islands of the Pacific ocean.
The people of this race, who moved westward, seem to have had a
special fondness for open air nature, and a willingness to
personify the powers of nature. They were glad to live in the
open air, and they specially encouraged the virtues which an
open-air people prize. Thus no Roman was thought manly who could
not swim, and every Greek exercised in the athletic sports of the
The Romans and Grecian and German divisions of this great race
are those with which we have most to do in history and in
literature. Our own English language is made up of the dialects
of different tribes, many of whom agreed in their use of words
which they had derived from our Aryan ancestry. Thus our
substantive verb I AM appears in the original Sanscrit of the
Aryans as ESMI, and m for ME (MOI), or the first person singular,
is found in all the verbal inflections. The Greek form of the
same verb was ESMI, which became ASMI, and in Latin the first
and last vowels have disappeared, the verb is SUM. Similar
relationships are traced in the numerals, and throughout all the
languages of these nations.
The Romans, like the Etruscans who came before them, were neither
poetical nor imaginative in temperament. Their activity ran in
practical directions. They therefore invented few, if any
stories, of the gods whom they worshipped with fixed rites. Mr.
Macaulay speaks of these gods as "the sober abstractions of the
Roman pantheon." We owe most of the stories of the ancient
mythology to the wit and fancy of the Greeks, more playful and
imaginative, who seized from Egypt and from the East such
legends as pleased them, and adapted them in their own way. It
often happens that such stories, resembling each other in their
foundation, are found in the Greek and Roman authors in several
To understand these stories, we will here first acquaint
ourselves with the ideas of the structure of the universe, which
the poets and others held, and which will form the scenery, so to
speak, of the narratives.
The Greek poets believed the earth to be flat and circular, their
own country occupying the middle of it, the central point being
either Mount Olympus, the abode of the gods, or Delphi, so famous
for its oracle.
The circular disk of the earth was crossed from west to east, and
divided into two equal parts by the SEA, as they called the
Mediterranean, and its continuation the Euxine.
Around the earth flowed the RIVER OCEAN, its course being from
south to north on the western side of the earth, and in a
contrary direction on the eastern side. It flowed in a steady,
equable current, unvexed by storm or tempest. The sea, and all
the rivers on earth, received their waters from it.
The northern portion of the earth was supposed to be inhabited by
a happy race named the Hyperboreans [this word means "who live
beyond the north" from the word "hyper," beyond, and boreas, the
north wind], dwelling in everlasting bliss and spring beyond the
lofty mountains whose caverns were supposed to send forth the
piercing blasts of the north wind, which chilled the people of
Hellas (Greece). Their country was inaccessible by land or sea.
They lived exempt from disease or old age, from toils and
warfare. Moore has given us the "Song of a Hyperborean,"
"I come from a land in the sun-bright deep,
Where golden gardens glow,
Where the winds of the north, becalmed in sleep,
Their conch-shells never blow."
On the south side of the earth, close to the stream of Ocean,
dwelt a people happy and virtuous as the Hyperboreans. They were
named the AEthiopians. The gods favored them so highly that they
were wont to leave at times their Olympian abodes, and go to
share their sacrifices and banquets.
On the western margin of the earth, by the stream of Ocean, lay a
happy place named the Elysian Plain, whither mortals favored by
the gods were transported without tasting of death, to enjoy an
immortality of bliss. This happy region was also called the
"fortunate fields," and the "Isles of the Blessed."
We thus see that the Greeks of the early ages knew little of any
real people except those to the east and south of their own
country, or near the coast of the Mediterranean. Their
imagination meantime peopled the western portion of this sea with
giants, monsters, and enchantresses; while they placed around the
disk of the earth, which they probably regarded as of no great
width, nations enjoying the peculiar favor of the gods, and
blessed with happiness and longevity.
The Dawn, the Sun, and the Moon were supposed to rise out of the
Ocean, on the western side, and to drive through the air, giving
light to gods and men. The stars also, except those forming
Charles' Wain or Bear, and others near them, rose out of and sank
into the stream of Ocean. There the sun-god embarked in a winged
boat, which conveyed him round by the northern part of the earth,
back to his place of rising in the east. Milton alludes to this
in his "Commmus."
"Now the gilded car of day
His golden axle doth allay
In the steep Atlantic stream,
And the slope sun his upward beam
Shoots against the dusky pole,
Pacing towards the other goal
Of his chamber in the east."
The abode of the gods was on the summit of Mount Olympus, in
Thessaly. A gate of clouds, kept by the goddesses named the
Seasons, opened to permit the passage of the Celestials to earth,
and to receive them on their return. The gods had their separate
dwellings; but all, when summoned, repaired to the palace of
Jupiter [Or Zeus. The relation of these names to each other will
be explained on the next page], as did also those deities whose
usual abode was the earth, the waters, or the underworld. It was
also in the great hall of the palace of the Olympian king that
the gods feasted each day on ambrosia and nectar, their food and
drink, the latter being handed round by the lovely goddess Hebe.
Here they conversed of the affairs of heaven and earth; and as
they quaffed their nectar, Apollo, the god of music, delighted
them with the tones of his lyre, to which the muses sang in
responsive strains. When the sun was set, the gods retired to
sleep in their respective dwellings.
The following lines from the Odyssey will show how Homer
conceived of Olympus:--
"So saying, Minerva, goddess azure-eyed,
Rose to Olympus, the reputed seat
Eternal of the gods, which never storms
Disturb, rains drench, or snow invades, but calm
The expanse and cloudless shines with purest day.
There the inhabitants divine rejoice
Such were the abodes of the gods as the Greeks conceived them.
The Romans, before they knew the Greek poetry, seem to have had
no definite imagination of such an assembly of gods. But the
Roman and Etruscan races were by no means irreligious. They
venerated their departed ancestors, and in each family the
worship of these ancestors was an important duty. The images of
the ancestors were kept in a sacred place, each family
observed, at fixed times, memorial rites in their honor, and
for these and other religious observances the family hearth was
consecrated. The earliest rites of Roman worship are supposed to
be connected with such family devotions.
As the Greeks and Romans became acquainted with other nations,
they imported their habits of worship, even in early times. It
will be remembered that as late as St. Paul's time, he found an
altar at Athens "to an unknown god." Greeks and Romans alike
were willing to receive from other nations the legends regarding
their gods, and to incorporate them as well as they could with
their own. It is thus that in the poetical mythology of those
nations, which we are now to study, we frequently find a Latin
and a Greek name for one imagined divinity. Thus Zeus, of the
Greeks, becomes in Latin with the addition of the word pater (a
father) [The reader will observe that father is one of the words
derived from an Ayan root. Let p and t become rough, as the
grammarians say, let p become ph, and t th, and you have
phather or father], Jupiter Kronos of the Greeks appears as
"Vulcanus" of the Latins, "Ares" of the Greeks is "Mars" or
Mavors of the Latins, "Poseidon" of the Greeks is "Neptunus" of
the Latins, "Aphrodite" of the Greeks is "Venus" of the Latins.
This variation is not to be confounded with a mere translation,
as where "Paulos" of the Greek becomes "Paulus" in Latin, or
"Odysseus" becomes "Ulysses," or as when "Pierre" of the French
becomes "Peter" in English. What really happened was, that as
the Romans, more cultivated than their fathers, found in Greek
literature a god of fire and smithery, they transferred his
name "Hephaistos" to their own old god "Vulcanus," who had the
same duties, and in their after literature the Latin name was
used for the stories of Greek and Latin origin.
As the English literature came into being largely on French and
Latin models, and as French is but a degraded Latin and retains
Latin roots largely, in our older English poets the Latin forms
of these names are generally used. In our own generation, with
the precision now so much courted, a fashion has come in, of
designating Mars by his Greek name of "Ares," Venus by her name
of "Aphrodite," and so on. But in this book, as our object is to
make familiar the stores of general English literature which
refer to such subjects, we shall retain, in general, the Latin
names, only calling the attention of the reader to the Greek
names, as they appear in Greek authors, and in many writers of
the more recent English schools.
The real monarch of the heavens in the mythology of both Greece
and Rome is Jupiter (Zeus-pater, father-Jove) [Jove appears to be
a word derived from the same root as Zeus, and it appears in the
root dev of the Sanscrit, where devas are gods of different
forms. Our English word devil probably comes from the French
diable, Italian diavolo, Latin diabolus, one who makes division,-
- literally one who separates balls, or throws balls about,--
instead of throwing them frankly and truly at the batsman. It is
not to be traced to the Sanscrit deva.]
In the mythological system we are tracing Zeus is himself the
father of many of the gods, and he is often spoken of as father
of gods and men. He is the father of Vulcan [In Greek
Hephaistos], of Venus [in Greek Aphrodite], of Minerva [in Greek
Pallas Athene, or either name separately], of Apollo [of
Phoebus], Diana [in Greek Artemis], and of Mercury [in Greek
Hermes], who are ranked among the twelve superior gods, and of
many inferior deities. But Jupiter himself is not the original
deity in these systems. He is the son of Saturnus, as in the
Greek Zeus is the son of Kronos. Still the inevitable question
would occur where did Saturnus or Kronos come from. And, in
forms and statements more and more vague, the answer was that he
was born from Uranus or Ouranos, which is the name of the Heaven
over all which seemed to embrace all things. The Greek name of
Saturn was spelled Kronos. The Greek name of Time was spelled
Chronos. A similarity between the two was imagined. And the
whole statement, when reduced to rationalistic language, would be
that from Uranus, the infinite, was born Chronos, Time,-- that
from Time, Zeus or Jupiter was born, and that he is the only
child of Time who has complete sway over mortals and immortals.
"The will of Jove I own,
Who mortals and immortals rules alone."
Jupiter was son of Saturn (Kronos) [The names included in
parentheses are the Greek, the others being the Roman or Latin
names] and Ops (Rhea in Greek, sometimes confounded with the
Saturn and Rhea were of the race of Titans, who were the children
of Earth and Heaven, which sprang from Chaos, of which we shall
give a further account in our next chapter.
In allusion to the dethronement of Ouranos by Kronos, and of
Kronos or Saturnus by Zeus or Jupiter, Prometheus says in
"You may deem
Its towers impregnable; but have I not
already seen two monarchs hurled from them."
Thee is another cosmogony, or account of the creation, according
to which Earth, Erebus, and Love were the first of beings. Love
(Eros)_ issued from the egg of Night, which floated on Chaos. By
his arrows and torch he pierced and vivified all things,
producing life and joy.
Saturn and Rhea were not the only Titans. There were others,
whose names were Oceanus, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Ophion, males;
and Themis, Mnemosyne, Eurynome, females. They are spoken of as
the elder gods, whose dominion was afterwards transferred to
others. Saturn yielded to Jupiter, Oceanus to Neptune, Hyperion
to Apollo. Hyperion was the father of the Sun, Moon, and Dawn.
He is therefore the original sun-god, and is painted with the
splendor and beauty which were afterwards bestowed on Apollo.
"Hyperion's curls, the front of Jove himself." Shakespeare
Ophion and Eurynome ruled over Olympus till they were dethroned
by Saturn and Rhea. Milton alludes to them in Paradise Lost. He
says the heathen seem to have had some knowledge of the
temptation and fall of man,--
"And fabled how the serpent, whom they called
Ophion, with Eurynome (the wide-
Encroaching Eve perhaps), had first the rule
Of high Olympus, thence by Saturn driven."
The representations given of Saturn are not very consistent, for
on the one hand his reign is said to have been the golden age of
innocence and purity, and on the other he is described as a
monster who devoured his own children [This inconsistency arises
from considering the Saturn of the Romans the same with the
Grecian deity Chronos (Time), which, as it brings an end to all
things which have had a beginning, may be said to devour its own
offspring.] Jupiter, however, escaped this fate, and when grown
up espoused Metis (Prudence), who administered a draught to
Saturn which caused him to disgorge his children. Jupiter, with
his brothers and sisters, now rebelled against their father
Saturn, and his brothers the Titans; vanquished them, and
imprisoned some of them in Tartarus, inflicting other penalties
on others. Atlas was condemned to bear up the heavens on his
On the dethronement of Saturn, Jupiter with his brothers Neptune
(Poseidon) and Pluto (Dis) divided his dominions. Jupiter's
portion was the heavens, Neptune's the ocean, and Pluto's the
realms of the dead. Earth and Olympus were common property.
Jupiter was king of gods and men. The thunder was his weapon,
and he bore a shield called AEgis, made for him by Vulcan. The
eagle was his favorite bird, and bore his thunderbolts.
Juno (Hera)[pronounce He-re, in two syllables] was the wife of
Jupiter, and queen of the gods. Iris, the goddess of the
rainbow, was her attendant and messenger. The peacock was her
Vulcan (Hephaistos), the celestial artist, was the son of Jupiter
and Juno. He was born lame, and his mother was so displeased at
the sight of him that she flung him out of heaven. Other
accounts say that Jupiter kicked him out for taking part with his
mother, in a quarrel which occurred between them. Vulcan's
lameness, according to this account, was the consequence of his
fall. He was a whole day falling, and at last alighted in the
island of Lemnos, which was thenceforth sacred to him. Milton
alludes to this story in Paradise lost, Book I.
To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,
A summer's day; and with the setting sun
Dropped from the zenith, like a falling star,
On Lemnos, the AEgean isle."
Mars (Ares), the god of war, was the son of Jupiter and Juno.
Phoebus Apollo [this is a Greek name of a Greek divinity, who
seems to have had no Roman resemblance], the god of archery,
prophecy, and music, was the son of Jupiter and Latona, and
brother of Diana (Artemis). He was god of the sun, as Diana, his
sister, was the goddess of the moon.
Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of love and beauty, was the
daughter of Jupiter and Dione. Others say that Venus sprang from
the foam of the sea. The zephyr wafted her along the waves to
the Isle of Cyprus, where she was received and attired by the
Seasons, and then led to the assembly of the gods. All were
charmed with her beauty, and each one demanded her for his wife.
Jupiter gave her to Vulcan, in gratitude for the service he had
rendered in forging thunderbolts. So the most beautiful of the
goddesses became the wife of the most ill-favored of the gods.
Venus possessed an embroidered girdle called the Cestus, which
had the power of inspiring love. Her favorite birds were swans
and doves, and the plants sacred to her were the rose and the
Cupid (Eros), the god of love, was the son of Venus. He was her
constant companion; and, armed with bow and arrows, he shot the
darts of desire into the bosoms of both gods and men. There was
a deity named Anteros, who was sometimes represented as the
avenger of slighted love, and sometimes as the symbol of
reciprocal affection. The following legend is told of him:--
Venus, complaining to Themis that her son Eros continued always a
child, was told by her that it was because he was solitary, and
that if he had a brother he would grow apace. Anteros was soon
afterwards born, and Eros immediately was seen to increase
rapidly in size and strength.
Minerva (Pallas Athene), the goddess of wisdom, was the offspring
of Jupiter, without a mother. She sprang from his head,
completely armed. Her favorite bird was the owl, and the plant
sacred to her the olive.
Byron, in "Childe Harold," alludes to the birth of Minerva thus:-
"Can tyrants but by tyrants conquered be,
And freedom find no champion and no child,
Such as Columbia saw arise, when she
Sprang forth a Pallas, armed and undefiled?
Or must such minds be nourished in the wild,
Deep in the unpruned forest, 'midst the roar
Of Cataracts, where nursing Nature smiled
On infant Washington? Has earth no more
Such seeds within her breast, or Europe no such shore?"
Mercury (Hermes), was the son of Jupiter and Maia. He presided
over commerce, wrestling and other gymnastic exercises; even over
thieving, and everything, in short, which required skill and
dexterity. He was the messenger of Jupiter, and wore a winged
cap and winged shoes. He bore in his hand a rod entwined with
two serpents, called the Caduceus.
Mercury is said to have invented the lyre. Four hours after his
birth he found the shell of a tortoise, made holes in the
opposite edges of it, and drew cords of linen through them, and
the instrument was complete [From this origin of the instrument,
the word "shell" is often used as synonymous with :"lyre," and
figuratively for music and poetry. Thus Gray, in his ode on the
"Progress of Poesy," says,-- "O Sovereign of the willing soul,
Parent of sweet and solemn-breathing airs, Enchanting shell! The
sullen Cares And Frantic Passions hear thy soft control."] The
cords were nine, in honor of the nine Muses. Mercury gave the
lyre to Apollo, and received from him in exchange the caduceus.
Ceres (Demeter) was the daughter of Saturn and Rhea. She had a
daughter named Proserpine (Persephone), who became the wife of
Pluto, and queen of the realms of the dead. Ceres presided over
Bacchus (Dionysus)_, the god of wine, was the son of Jupiter and
Semele. He represents not only the intoxicating power of wine,
but its social and beneficent influences likewise; so that he is
viewed as the promoter of civilization, and a lawgiver and lover
The muses were the daughters of Jupiter and Mnemosyne (Memory).
They presided over song, and prompted the memory. They were nine
in number, to each of whom was assigned the presidency over some
particular department of literature, art, or science. Calliope
was the muse of epic poetry, Clio of history, Euterpe of lyric
poetry, Melpomene of tragedy, Terpischore of choral dance and
song, Erato of love-poetry, Polyhymnia of sacred poetry, Urania
of astronomy, Thalia [Pronounced Tha-lei-a, with the emphasis on
the second syllable] of comedy.
Spenser described the office of the Graces thus:--
"These three on men all gracious gifts bestow
Which deck the body or adorn the mind,
To make them lovely or well-favored show;
As comely carriage, entertainment kind,
Sweet semblance, friendly offices that bind,
And all the compliments of courtesy;
They teach us how to each degree and kind
We should ourselves demean, to low, to high.
To friends, to foes; which skill men call Civility."
The Fates were also three Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Their
office was to spin the thread of human destiny, and they were
armed with shears, with which they cut it off when they pleased.
They were the daughters of Themis (Law), who sits by Jove on his
throne to give him counsel.
The Erinnyes, or Furies, were three goddesses who punished crimes
by their secret stings. The heads of the Furies were wreathed
with serpents, and their whole appearance was terrific and
appalling. Their names were Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megaera.
They were also called Eumenides.
Nemesis was also an avenging goddess. She represents the
righteous anger of the gods, particularly towards the proud and
Pan [the name Pan means everything, and he is sometimes spoken of
as the god of all nature] was the god of flocks and shepherds.
His favorite residence, as the Greeks describe him, was in
The Satyrs were deities of the woods and fields. They were
conceived to be covered with bristly hair, their heads decorated
with short, sprouting horns, and their feet like goats' feet.
Momus was the god of laughter, and Plutus the god of wealth.
The preceding are Grecian divinities, though received also by the
Romans. Those which follow are peculiar to Roman mythology.
Saturn was an ancient Italian deity. The Roman poets tried to
identify him with the Grecian god Kronos, and fabled that after
his dethronement by Jupiter, he fled to Italy, where he reigned
during what was called the Golden Age. In memory of his
beneficent dominion, the feast of Saturnalia was held every year
in the winter season. Then all public business was suspended,
declarations of war and criminal executions were postponed,
friends made presents to one another, and the slaves were
indulged with great liberties. A feast was given them at which
they sat at table, while their masters served them, to show the
natural equality of men, and that all things belonged equally to
all, in the reign of Saturn.
Faunus [there was also a goddess called Fauna, or Bona Dea], the
grandson of Saturn, was worshipped as the god of fields and
shepherds, and also as a prophetic god. His name in the plural,
Fauns, expressed a class of gamesome deities, like the Satyrs of
Quirinus was a war god, said to be no other than Romulus the
founder of Rome, exalted after his death to a place among the
Bellona, a war goddess.
Terminus, the god of landmarks. His statue was a rude stone or
post, set in the ground to mark the boundaries of fields.
Pales, the goddess presiding over cattle and pastures.
Pomona presided over fruit trees.
Flora, the goddess of flowers.
Lucina, the goddess of childbirth.
Vesta (the Hestia of the Greeks) was a deity presiding over the
public and private hearth. A sacred fire, tended by six virgin
priestesses called Vestals, flamed in her temple. As the safety
of the city was held to be connected with its conservation, the
neglect of the virgins, if they let it go out, was severely
punished, and the fire was rekindled from the rays of the sun.
Liber is another Latin name of Bacchus; and Mulciber of Vulcan.
Janus was the porter of heaven. He opens the year, the first
month being named after him. He is the guardian deity of gates,
on which account he is commonly represented with two heads,
because every door looks two ways. His temples at Rome were
numerous. In war time the gates of the principal one were always
open. In peace they were closed; but they were shut only once
between the reign of Numa and that of Augustus.
The Penates were the gods who were supposed to attend to the
welfare and prosperity of the family. Their name is derived from
Penus, the pantry, which was sacred to them. Every master of a
family was the priest to the Penates of his own house.
The Lares, or Lars, were also household gods, but differed from
the Penates in being regarded as the deified spirits of mortals.
The family Lars were held to be the souls of the ancestors, who
watched over and protected their descendants. The words Lemur
and Larva more nearly correspond to our word Ghost.
The Romans believed that every man had his Genius, and every
woman her Juno; that is, a spirit who had given them being, and
was regarded as a protector through life. On birthdays men made
offerings to their Genius, women to their Juno.
Macaulay thus alludes to some of the Roman gods:--
"Pomona loves the orchard,
And Liber loves the vine,
And Pales loves the straw-built shed
Warm with the breath of kine;
And Venus loves the whisper
Of plighted youth and maid
In April's ivory moonlight,
Beneath the Chestnut shade."
"Prophecy of Capys."
N.B. It is to be observed that in proper names the final e and
es are to be sounded. Thus Cybele and Penates are words of three
syllables. But Proserpine and Thebes have been so long used as
English words, that they may be regarded as exceptions, to be
pronounced as if English. Hecate is sometimes pronounced by the
poets as a dissylable. In the Index at the close of the volume,
we shall mark the accented syllable, in all words which appear to