Auster, the south; and Eurus, the east. The first two have been
chiefly celebrated by the poets, the former as the type of
rudeness, the latter of gentleness. Boreas loved the nymph
Orithyia, and tried to play the lover's part, but met with poor
success. It was hard for him to breathe gently, and sighing was
out of the question. Weary at last of fruitless endeavors, he
acted out his true character, seized the maiden and carried her
off. Their children were Zetes and Calais, winged warriors, who
accompanied the Argonautic expedition, and did good service in an
encounter with those monstrous birds the Harpies.
Zephyrus was the lover of Flora. Milton alludes to them in
"Paradise Lost," where he describes Adam waking and contemplating
Eve still asleep.
"... He on his side
Leaning half raised, with looks of cordial love,
Hung over her enamored, and beheld
Beauty which, whether waking or asleep,
Shot forth peculiar graces; then with voice,
Mild as when Zephyrus on Flora breathes,
Her hand soft touching, whispered thus: 'Awake!
My fairest, my espoused, my latest found,
Heaven's last, best gift, my ever-new delight.'"
Dr. Young, the poet of the "Night Thoughts," addressing the idle
and luxurious, says:
"Ye delicate! who nothing can support
(Yourselves most insupportable) for whom
The winter rose must blow, ...
... and silky soft
Favonius breathe still softer or be chid!"
ACHELOUS AND HERCULES - ADMETUS AND ALCESTIS - ANTIGONE - PENELOPE
ACHELOUS AND HERCULES
The river-god Achelous told the story of Erisichthon to Theseus
and his companions, whom he was entertaining at his hospitable
board, while they were delayed on their journey by the overflow of
his waters. Having finished his story, he added, "But why should I
tell of other persons' transformations when I myself am an
instance of the possession of this power? Sometimes I become a
serpent, and sometimes a bull, with horns on my head. Or I should
say I once could do so; but now I have but one horn, having lost
one." And here he groaned and was silent.
Theseus asked him the cause of his grief, and how he lost his
horn. To which question the river-god replied as follows: "Who
likes to tell of his defeats? Yet I will not hesitate to relate
mine, comforting myself with the thought of the greatness of my
conqueror, for it was Hercules. Perhaps you have heard of the fame
of Dejanira, the fairest of maidens, whom a host of suitors strove
to win. Hercules and myself were of the number, and the rest
yielded to us two. He urged in his behalf his descent from Jove
and his labors by which he had exceeded the exactions of Juno, his
stepmother. I, on the other hand, said to the father of the
maiden, 'Behold me, the king of the waters that flow through your
land. I am no stranger from a foreign shore, but belong to the
country, a part of your realm. Let it not stand in my way that
royal Juno owes me no enmity nor punishes me with heavy tasks. As
for this man, who boasts himself the son of Jove, it is either a
false pretence, or disgraceful to him if true, for it cannot be
true except by his mother's shame.' As I said this Hercules
scowled upon me, and with difficulty restrained his rage. 'My hand
will answer better than my tongue,' said he. 'I yield to you the
victory in words, but trust my cause to the strife of deeds.' With
that he advanced towards me, and I was ashamed, after what I had
said, to yield. I threw off my green vesture and presented myself
for the struggle. He tried to throw me, now attacking my head, now
my body. My bulk was my protection, and he assailed me in vain.
For a time we stopped, then returned to the conflict. We each kept
our position, determined not to yield, foot to foot, I bending
over him, clenching his hand in mine, with my forehead almost
touching his. Thrice Hercules tried to throw me off, and the
fourth time he succeeded, brought me to the ground, and himself
upon my back. I tell you the truth, it was as if a mountain had
fallen on me. I struggled to get my arms at liberty, panting and
reeking with perspiration. He gave me no chance to recover, but
seized my throat. My knees were on the earth and my mouth in the
"Finding that I was no match for him in the warrior's art, I
resorted to others and glided away in the form of a serpent. I
curled my body in a coil and hissed at him with my forked tongue.
He smiled scornfully at this, and said, 'It was the labor of my
infancy to conquer snakes.' So saying he clasped my neck with his
hands. I was almost choked, and struggled to get my neck out of
his grasp. Vanquished in this form, I tried what alone remained to
me and assumed the form of a bull. He grasped my neck with his
arm, and dragging my head down to the ground, overthrew me on the
sand. Nor was this enough. His ruthless hand rent my horn from my
head. The Naiades took it, consecrated it, and filled it with
fragrant flowers. Plenty adopted my horn and made it her own, and
called it 'Cornucopia.'"
The ancients were fond of finding a hidden meaning in their
mythological tales. They explain this fight of Achelous with
Hercules by saying Achelous was a river that in seasons of rain
overflowed its banks. When the fable says that Achelous loved
Dejanira, and sought a union with her, the meaning is that the
river in its windings flowed through part of Dejanira's kingdom.
It was said to take the form of a snake because of its winding,
and of a bull because it made a brawling or roaring in its course.
When the river swelled, it made itself another channel. Thus its
head was horned. Hercules prevented the return of these periodical
overflows by embankments and canals; and therefore he was said to
have vanquished the river-god and cut off his horn. Finally, the
lands formerly subject to overflow, but now redeemed, became very
fertile, and this is meant by the horn of plenty.
There is another account of the origin of the Cornucopia. Jupiter
at his birth was committed by his mother Rhea to the care of the
daughters of Melisseus, a Cretan king. They fed the infant deity
with the milk of the goat Amalthea. Jupiter broke off one of the
horns of the goat and gave it to his nurses, and endowed it with
the wonderful power of becoming filled with whatever the possessor
The name of Amalthea is also given by some writers to the mother
of Bacchus. It is thus used by Milton, "Paradise Lost," Book IV.:
"... That Nyseian isle,
Girt with the river Triton, where old Cham,
Whom Gentiles Ammon call, and Libyan Jove,
Hid Amalthea and her florid son,
Young Bacchus, from his stepdame Rhea's eye."
ADMETUS AND ALCESTIS
Aesculapius, the son of Apollo, was endowed by his father with
such skill in the healing art that he even restored the dead to
life. At this Pluto took alarm, and prevailed on Jupiter to launch
a thunderbolt at Aesculapius. Apollo was indignant at the
destruction of his son, and wreaked his vengeance on the innocent
workmen who had made the thunderbolt. These were the Cyclopes, who
have their workshop under Mount Aetna, from which the smoke and
flames of their furnaces are constantly issuing. Apollo shot his
arrows at the Cyclopes, which so incensed Jupiter that he
condemned him as a punishment to become the servant of a mortal
for the space of one year. Accordingly Apollo went into the
service of Admetus, king of Thessaly, and pastured his flocks for
him on the verdant banks of the river Amphrysos.
Admetus was a suitor, with others, for the hand of Alcestis, the
daughter of Pelias, who promised her to him who should come for
her in a chariot drawn by lions and boars. This task Admetus
performed by the assistance of his divine herdsman, and was made
happy in the possession of Alcestis. But Admetus fell ill, and
being near to death, Apollo prevailed on the Fates to spare him on
condition that some one would consent to die in his stead.
Admetus, in his joy at this reprieve, thought little of the
ransom, and perhaps remembering the declarations of attachment
which he had often heard from his courtiers and dependents fancied
that it would be easy to find a substitute. But it was not so.
Brave warriors, who would willingly have perilled their lives for
their prince, shrunk from the thought of dying for him on the bed
of sickness; and old servants who had experienced his bounty and
that of his house from their childhood up, were not willing to lay
down the scanty remnant of their days to show their gratitude. Men
asked, "Why does not one of his parents do it? They cannot in the
course of nature live much longer, and who can feel like them the
call to rescue the life they gave from an untimely end?" But the
parents, distressed though they were at the thought of losing him,
shrunk from the call. Then Alcestis, with a generous self-
devotion, proffered herself as the substitute. Admetus, fond as he
was of life, would not have submitted to receive it at such a
cost; but there was no remedy. The condition imposed by the Fates
had been met, and the decree was irrevocable. Alcestis sickened as
Admetus revived, and she was rapidly sinking to the grave.
Just at this time Hercules arrived at the palace of Admetus, and
found all the inmates in great distress for the impending loss of
the devoted wife and beloved mistress. Hercules, to whom no labor
was too arduous, resolved to attempt her rescue. He went and lay
in wait at the door of the chamber of the dying queen, and when
Death came for his prey, he seized him and forced him to resign
his victim. Alcestis recovered, and was restored to her husband.
Milton alludes to the story of Alcestis in his Sonnet "on his
"Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
Rescued from death by force, though pale and faint."
J. R. Lowell has chosen the "Shepherd of King Admetus" for the
subject of a short poem. He makes that event the first
introduction of poetry to men.
"Men called him but a shiftless youth,
In whom no good they saw,
And yet unwittingly, in truth,
They made his careless words their law.
"And day by day more holy grew
Each spot where he had trod,
Till after-poets only knew
Their first-born brother was a god."
A large proportion both of the interesting persons and of the
exalted acts of legendary Greece belongs to the female sex.
Antigone was as bright an example of filial and sisterly fidelity
as was Alcestis of connubial devotion. She was the daughter of
Oedipus and Jocasta, who with all their descendants were the
victims of an unrelenting fate, dooming them to destruction.
OEdipus in his madness had torn out his eyes, and was driven forth
from his kingdom Thebes, dreaded and abandoned by all men, as an
object of divine vengeance. Antigone, his daughter, alone shared
his wanderings and remained with him till he died, and then
returned to Thebes.
Her brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, had agreed to share the
kingdom between them, and reign alternately year by year. The
first year fell to the lot of Eteocles, who, when his time
expired, refused to surrender the kingdom to his brother.
Polynices fled to Adrastus, king of Argos, who gave him his
daughter in marriage, and aided him with an army to enforce his
claim to the kingdom. This led to the celebrated expedition of the
"Seven against Thebes," which furnished ample materials for the
epic and tragic poets of Greece.
Amphiaraus, the brother-in-law of Adrastus, opposed the
enterprise, for he was a soothsayer, and knew by his art that no
one of the leaders except Adrastus would live to return. But
Amphiaraus, on his marriage to Eriphyle, the king's sister, had
agreed that whenever he and Adrastus should differ in opinion, the
decision should be left to Eriphyle. Polynices, knowing this, gave
Eriphyle the collar of Harmonia, and thereby gained her to his
interest. This collar or necklace was a present which Vulcan had
given to Harmonia on her marriage with Cadmus, and Polynices had
taken it with him on his flight from Thebes. Eriphyle could not
resist so tempting a bribe, and by her decision the war was
resolved on, and Amphiaraus went to his certain fate. He bore his
part bravely in the contest, but could not avert his destiny.
Pursued by the enemy, he fled along the river, when a thunderbolt
launched by Jupiter opened the ground, and he, his chariot, and
his charioteer were swallowed up.
It would not be in place here to detail all the acts of heroism or
atrocity which marked the contest; but we must not omit to record
the fidelity of Evadne as an offset to the weakness of Eriphyle.
Capaneus, the husband of Evadne, in the ardor of the fight
declared that he would force his way into the city in spite of
Jove himself. Placing a ladder against the wall he mounted, but
Jupiter, offended at his impious language, struck him with a
thunderbolt. When his obsequies were celebrated, Evadne cast
herself on his funeral pile and perished.
Early in the contest Eteocles consulted the soothsayer Tiresias as
to the issue. Tiresias in his youth had by chance seen Minerva
bathing. The goddess in her wrath deprived him of his sight, but
afterwards relenting gave him in compensation the knowledge of
future events. When consulted by Eteocles, he declared that
victory should fall to Thebes if Menoeceus, the son of Creon, gave
himself a voluntary victim. The heroic youth, learning the
response, threw away his life in the first encounter.
The siege continued long, with various success. At length both
hosts agreed that the brothers should decide their quarrel by
single combat. They fought and fell by each other's hands. The
armies then renewed the fight, and at last the invaders were
forced to yield, and fled, leaving their dead unburied. Creon, the
uncle of the fallen princes, now become king, caused Eteocles to
be buried with distinguished honor, but suffered the body of
Polynices to lie where it fell, forbidding every one on pain of
death to give it burial.
Antigone, the sister of Polynices, heard with indignation the
revolting edict which consigned her brother's body to the dogs and
vultures, depriving it of those rites which were considered
essential to the repose of the dead. Unmoved by the dissuading
counsel of an affectionate but timid sister, and unable to procure
assistance, she determined to brave the hazard, and to bury the
body with her own hands. She was detected in the act, and Creon
gave orders that she should be buried alive, as having
deliberately set at naught the solemn edict of the city. Her
lover, Haemon, the son of Creon, unable to avert her fate, would
not survive her, and fell by his own hand.
Antigone forms the subject of two fine tragedies of the Grecian
poet Sophocles. Mrs. Jameson, in her "Characteristics of Women,"
has compared her character with that of Cordelia, in Shakspeare's
"King Lear." The perusal of her remarks cannot fail to gratify our
The following is the lamentation of Antigone over OEdipus, when
death has at last relieved him from his sufferings:
"Alas! I only wished I might have died
With my poor father; wherefore should I ask
For longer life?
O, I was fond of misery with him;
E'en what was most unlovely grew beloved
When he was with me. O my dearest father,
Beneath the earth now in deep darkness hid,
Worn as thou wert with age, to me thou still
Wast dear, and shalt be ever."
- Francklin's Sophocles.
Penelope is another of those mythic heroines whose beauties were
rather those of character and conduct than of person. She was the
daughter of Icarius, a Spartan prince. Ulysses, king of Ithaca,
sought her in marriage, and won her, over all competitors. When
the moment came for the bride to leave her father's house,
Icarius, unable to bear the thoughts of parting with his daughter,
tried to persuade her to remain with him, and not accompany her
husband to Ithaca. Ulysses gave Penelope her choice, to stay or go
with him. Penelope made no reply, but dropped her veil over her
face. Icarius urged her no further, but when she was gone erected
a statue to Modesty on the spot where they parted.
Ulysses and Penelope had not enjoyed their union more than a year
when it was interrupted by the events which called Ulysses to the
Trojan war. During his long absence, and when it was doubtful
whether he still lived, and highly improbable that he would ever
return, Penelope was importuned by numerous suitors, from whom
there seemed no refuge but in choosing one of them for her
husband. Penelope, however, employed every art to gain time, still
hoping for Ulysses' return. One of her arts of delay was engaging
in the preparation of a robe for the funeral canopy of Laertes,
her husband's father. She pledged herself to make her choice among
the suitors when the robe was finished. During the day she worked
at the robe, but in the night she undid the work of the day. This
is the famous Penelope's web, which is used as a proverbial
expression for anything which is perpetually doing but never done.
The rest of Penelope's history will be told when we give an
account of her husband's adventures.
ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE - ARISTAEUS - AMPHION - LINUS - THAMYRIS -
MARSYAS - MELAMPUS - MUSAEUS
ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE
Orpheus was the son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope. He was
presented by his father with a Lyre and taught to play upon it,
which he did to such perfection that nothing could withstand the
charm of his music. Not only his fellow-mortals but wild beasts
were softened by his strains, and gathering round him laid by
their fierceness, and stood entranced with his lay. Nay, the very
trees and rocks were sensible to the charm. The former crowded
round him and the latter relaxed somewhat of their hardness,
softened by his notes.
Hymen had been called to bless with his presence the nuptials of
Orpheus with Eurydice; but though he attended, he brought no happy
omens with him. His very torch smoked and brought tears into their
eyes. In coincidence with such prognostics, Eurydice, shortly
after her marriage, while wandering with the nymphs, her
companions, was seen by the shepherd Aristaeus, who was struck
with her beauty and made advances to her. She fled, and in flying
trod upon a snake in the grass, was bitten in the foot, and died.
Orpheus sang his grief to all who breathed the upper air, both
gods and men, and finding it all unavailing resolved to seek his
wife in the regions of the dead. He descended by a cave situated
on the side of the promontory of Taenarus and arrived at the
Stygian realm. He passed through crowds of ghosts and presented
himself before the throne of Pluto and Proserpine. Accompanying
the words with the lyre, he sung, "O deities of the underworld, to
whom all we who live must come, hear my words, for they are true.
I come not to spy out the secrets of Tartarus, nor to try my
strength against the three-headed dog with snaky hair who guards
the entrance. I come to seek my wife, whose opening years the
poisonous viper's fang has brought to an untimely end. Love has
led me here, Love, a god all powerful with us who dwell on the
earth, and, if old traditions say true, not less so here. I
implore you by these abodes full of terror, these realms of
silence and uncreated things, unite again the thread of Eurydice's
life. We all are destined to you and sooner or later must pass to
your domain. She too, when she shall have filled her term of life,
will rightly be yours. But till then grant her to me, I beseech
you. If you deny me I cannot return alone; you shall triumph in
the death of us both."
As he sang these tender strains, the very ghosts shed tears.
Tantalus, in spite of his thirst, stopped for a moment his efforts
for water, Ixion's wheel stood still, the vulture ceased to tear
the giant's liver, the daughters of Danaus rested from their task
of drawing water in a sieve, and Sisyphus sat on his rock to
listen. Then for the first time, it is said, the cheeks of the
Furies were wet with tears. Proserpine could not resist, and Pluto
himself gave way. Eurydice was called. She came from among the
new-arrived ghosts, limping with her wounded foot. Orpheus was
permitted to take her away with him on one condition, that he
should not turn around to look at her till they should have
reached the upper air. Under this condition they proceeded on
their way, he leading, she following, through passages dark and
steep, in total silence, till they had nearly reached the outlet
into the cheerful upper world, when Orpheus, in a moment of
forgetfulness, to assure himself that she was still following,
cast a glance behind him, when instantly she was borne away.
Stretching out their arms to embrace each other, they grasped only
the air! Dying now a second time, she yet cannot reproach her
husband, for how can she blame his impatience to behold her?
"Farewell," she said, "a last farewell," - and was hurried away, so
fast that the sound hardly reached his ears.
Orpheus endeavored to follow her, and besought permission to
return and try once more for her release; but the stern ferryman
repulsed him and refused passage. Seven days he lingered about the
brink, without food or sleep; then bitterly accusing of cruelty
the powers of Erebus, he sang his complaints to the rocks and
mountains, melting the hearts of tigers and moving the oaks from
their stations. He held himself aloof from womankind, dwelling
constantly on the recollection of his sad mischance. The Thracian
maidens tried their best to captivate him, but he repulsed their
advances. They bore with him as long as they could; but finding
him insensible one day, excited by the rites of Bacchus, one of
them exclaimed, "See yonder our despiser!" and threw at him her
javelin. The weapon, as soon as it came within the sound of his
lyre, fell harmless at his feet. So did also the stones that they
threw at him. But the women raised a scream and drowned the voice
of the music, and then the missiles reached him and soon were
stained with his blood. The maniacs tore him limb from limb, and
threw his head and his lyre into the river Hebrus, down which they
floated, murmuring sad music, to which the shores responded a
plaintive symphony. The Muses gathered up the fragments of his
body and buried them at Libethra, where the nightingale is said to
sing over his grave more sweetly than in any other part of Greece.
His lyre was placed by Jupiter among the stars. His shade passed a
second time to Tartarus, where he sought out his Eurydice and
embraced her with eager arms. They roam the happy fields together
now, sometimes he leading, sometimes she; and Orpheus gazes as
much as he will upon her, no longer incurring a penalty for a
The story of Orpheus has furnished Pope with an illustration of
the power of music, for his "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day" The
following stanza relates the conclusion of the story:
"But soon, too soon the lover turns his eyes;
Again she falls, again she dies, she dies!
How wilt thou now the fatal sisters move?
No crime was thine, if't is no crime to love.
Now under hanging mountains,
Beside the falls of fountains,
Or where Hebrus wanders,
Rolling in meanders,
He makes his moan,
And calls her ghost,
Forever, ever, ever lost!
Now with furies surrounded,
He trembles, he glows,
Amidst Rhodope's snows
See, wild as the winds o'er the desert he flies;
Hark! Haemus resounds with the Bacchanals' cries;
Ah, see, he dies!
Yet even in death Eurydice he sung,
Eurydice still trembled on his tongue:
Eurydice the woods
Eurydice the floods
Eurydice the rocks and hollow mountains rung"
The superior melody of the nightingale's song over the grave of
Orpheus is alluded to by Southey in his "Thalaba":
"Then on his ear what sounds
Of harmony arose'
Far music and the distance-mellowed song
From bowers of merriment,
The waterfall remote,
The murmuring of the leafy groves;
The single nightingale
Perched in the rosier by, so richly toned,
That never from that most melodious bird
Singing a love song to his brooding mate,