Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

But Melampus in the silence of the night heard from the woodworms in the timbers that the supports of the house were nearly eaten through and the roof would soon fall in. He told his captors. They took his warning, escaped destruction, rewarded the prophet, and held him in high honor.

Other famous soothsayers were Amphiaraus, who took part in the War of the Seven against Thebes; Calchas, who accompanied the Greeks during the Trojan War; Helenus and Cassandra, of King Priam's family, who prophesied for the Trojan forces; Tiresias, the blind prophet of Thebes; and Mopsus, who attended the Argonauts. The stories of these expeditions will follow in due course.

(2) Mythical Musicians and Poets. — Since the poets of antiquity sang their stories or hymns to an accompaniment of their own upon the harp or lyre, they were skilled in the art of music as well as in that of verse.

Orpheus, whose adventures are elsewhere narrated,' passes in tradition for the oldest of Greek lyrists, and the special favorite, even the son, of the god Apollo, patron of musicians. This Thracian bard is said to have taught mysterious truths concerning the origin of things and the immortality of the soul. But the fragments of Orphic Hymns which are attributed to him are probably the work of philosophers of a much later period in Greek literature.

Another Thracian bard, Thamyris, is said in his presumption to have challenged the Muses to a trial of skill. Conquered in the contest, he was deprived of his sight. To Musæus, the son of Orpheus, was attributed a hymn on the Eleusinian Mysteries, and other sacred poems and oracles. Milton couples his name with that of Orpheus :

“But O, sad virgin, that thy power
Might raise Musæus from his bower,
Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing
Such notes as warbled to the string,

i 107.

2 $ 106, and Commentary.

Drew iron tears down Pluto's cheek,
And made Hell grant what love did seek.” 1

Other legendary bards or musicians were Linus, Marsyas, and Amphion.

(3) The Poets of Mythology. — Homer, from whose poems of the Iliad and Odyssey we have taken the chief part of our chapters on the Trojan War and the return of the Grecians, is almost as mythical a personage as the heroes he celebrates.' The traditionary story is that he was a wandering minstrel, blind and old, who travelled from place to place singing his lays to the music of his harp, in the courts of princes or the cottages of peasants, - a dependant upon the voluntary offerings of his hearers. Byron calls him “the blind old man of Scio's rocky isle"; and a wellknown epigram, alluding to the uncertainty of the fact of his birthplace, runs :

“Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead,

Through which the living Homer begged his bread."

These seven places were Smyrna, Chios (now Scio), Colophon, Ithaca, Pylus, Argos, and Athens.

Modern scholars have doubted whether the Homeric poems are the work of any single mind. This uncertainty arises, in part, from the difficulty of believing that poems of such length could have been committed to writing in the age usually assigned to these, when materials capable of transmitting long productions were not yet in use. On the other hand, it is asked how poems of such length could have been handed down from age to age by means of the memory alone. This question is answered by the statement that there was a professional body of men whose business it was to commit to memory, and rehearse for pay, the national and patriotic legends.

Pisistratus of Athens ordered a commission of scholars (about

1 Il Penseroso, II. 103-108. 3 See $ 78 Linus, p. 447 Marsyas, § 64 Amphion; and Commentary.

537 B.c.) to collect and revise the Homeric poems; and it is probable that at that time certain passages of the Iliad and Odyssey, as we now have them, were interpolated. Beside the Iliad and the Odyssey, many other epics passed in antiquity under Homer's name. The so-called Homeric Hymns to the gods which were composed, by various poets, after the death of Homer, are a source of valuable information concerning the attributes of the divinities addressed.

The date assigned to Homer, on the authority of Herodotus, is 850 B.C. The preservation and further fashioning of myths fell, after Homer's time, into the hands of the Rhapsodists, who chanted epic songs, and of the Cyclic Poets, who elaborated into various epic circles, or completed wholes, neglected traditions of the Trojan War and myths of the two wars against Thebes."

Hesiod is, like Homer, one of the most important sources of our knowledge of Greek mythology. He is thought by some to have been a contemporary of Homer, but concerning the relative dates of the two poets there is no certainty. Hesiod was born in Ascra in Baotia; he spent his youth as a shepherd on Mount Helicon, his manhood in the neighborhood of Corinth, and wrote two great poems, the Works and Days, and the Theogony, or Genealogy of the Gods. From the former we obtain a connected account of Greek traditions concerning the primitive commodities of life, the arts of agriculture and navigation, the sacred calendar, and the various prehistoric ages. From the latter poem we learn the Greek mythology of the creation of the world, the family of the gods, their wars, and their attitude toward primæval man. While Hesiod may have written at a somewhat later period than Homer, it is noteworthy that his stories of the gods have more of the savage or senseless element than Homer's. The artist of the Iliad and the Odyssey seems to have refined the stories into poetic gold; Hesiod has gathered them in the ore like so many speci. mens for a museum. A company of Lyric Poets, of whom Stesichorus (620 B.c.),

1 $$ 163–164 a.

Alcæus (611 B.C.), Sappho (610 B.C.), Arion (600 B.C.), Simonides of Ceos (556 B.C.), Ibycus (540 B.C.), Anacreon (530 B.C.), and Pindar (522 B.c) are the most prominent, have contributed much to our knowledge of mythology. They have left us hymns to the gods, references to mythical heroes, and accounts of more or less pathetic legendary adventures.

Of the works of Sappho few fragments remain, but they establish her claim to eminent poetical genius. Her story is frequently alluded to. Being passionately in love with a beautiful youth named Phaon, and failing to obtain a return of affection, she is said to have thrown herself from the promontory of Leucadia into the sea, under a superstition that those who should take that “ Lover's-leap” would, if not destroyed, be cured of their love.

Of Arion the greatest work was a dithyramb or choral hymn to the god of wine. It is said that his music and song were of such sweetness as to charm the monsters of the sea; and that when thrown overboard on one occasion by avaricious seamen, he was borne safely to land by an admiring dolphin. Spenser represents Arion, mounted on his dolphin, accompanying the train of Neptune and Amphitrite :

“Then was there heard a most celestial sound

Of dainty music which did next ensue,
And, on the floating waters as enthroned,
Arion with his harp unto him drew
The ears and hearts of all that goodly crew;
Even when as yet the dolphin which him bore
Through the Ægean seas from pirates' view,
Stood still, by him astonished at his lore,
And all the raging seas for joy forgot to roar.”

Simonides was one of the most prolific of the early poets of Greece, but only a few fragments of his compositions have descended to us. He wrote hymns, triumphal odes, and elegies, and in the last species of composition he particularly excelled. His genius was inclined to the pathetic ; none could touch with

truer effect the chords of human sympathy. The Lamentation of Danaë, the most important of the fragments which remain of his poetry, is based upon the tradition that Danaë and her infant son were confined by order of her father Acrisius in a chest and set adrift on the sea. The myth of her son, Perseus, will be found in a later chapter of this book.'

Myths received their freest and perhaps most ideal treatment at the hands of the greatest lyric poet of Greece, Pindar (522 B.C.). In his hymns and songs of praise to gods and in his odes composed for the victors in the national athletic contests, he was accustomed to use the mythical exploits of Greek heroes as a text from which to draw morals appropriate to the occasion.

The three great Tragic Poets of Greece have handed down to us a wealth of mythological material. From the plays of Æschylus (525 B.C.) we gather, among other noble lessons, the fortunes of the family of Agamemnon, the narrative of the expedition against Thebes, the sufferings of Prometheus — benefactor of men. In the tragedies of Sophocles (495 B.c.) we have a further account of the family of Agamemnon, myths of Edipus of Thebes and his children, stories connected with the Trojan War, and the last adventure and the death of Hercules. Of the dramas of Euripides (480 B.C.) there remain to us seventeen, in which are found stories of the daughters of Agamemnon, the rare and beautiful narrative of Alcestis, and the adventures of Medea. All of these stories will be recounted in their proper places.

The Comedies of Aristophanes, also, are replete with matters of mythological import.

Of the later poets of mythology, only two need be mentioned here, - Apollonius of Rhodes (194 B.C.), who wrote in frigid style the story of Jason's Voyage for the Golden Fleece ; and Theocritus of Sicily (270 B.C.), whose rural idylls are at once charmingly natural and romantic.?

1 $$ 133-137.

2 For other authorities, and for a few standard translations of the Greek Classics, see Commentary, 11.

« НазадПродовжити »