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(4) Historians of Mythology. — The earliest narrators in prose of the myths, legends, and genealogies of Greece lived about 600 B.C. Herodotus, the "father of history" (484 B.C.), embalms various myths in his account of the conflicts between Asia and Greece. Apollodorus (140 B.C.) gathers the legends of Greece later incorporated in the Library of Greek Mythology. That delightful traveller Pausanias makes special mention in his Tour of Greece, of the sacred customs and legends that had maintained themselves as late as his time (160 A.D.). Lucian, in his Dialogues of the Gods and Dialogues of the Dead, awakens'inextinguishable laughter' by his satire on ancient faith and fable.
$ 12. Roman Poets of Mythology. – Vergil, called also by his surname, Maro, from whose poem of the Æneid we have taken the story of Æneas, was one of the great poets who made the age of the Roman emperor, Augustus, celebrated. Vergil was born in Mantua in the year 70 B.C. His great poem is ranked next to those of Homer, in that noble class of poetical composition, the epic. Vergil is inferior to Homer in originality and invention. The Æneid, written in an age of culture and science, lacks that charming atmosphere of belief which invests the naive, or popular, epic. The myths concerning the founding of Rome, which Vergil has received from earlier writers, he has here fused into a literary epic. But what the Æneid lacks of epic simplicity, it makes up in patriotic spirit, in lofty moral and civic ideals, in correctness of taste, and in stylistic form.
Ovid, often alluded to in poetry by his other name, Naso, was born in the year 43 B.C. He was educated for public life, and held some offices of considerable dignity; but poetry was his delight, and he early resolved to cultivate it. He accordingly sought the society of contemporary poets, and was acquainted with Horace and saw Vergil, though the latter died when Ovid was yet too young and undistinguished to have formed his acquaintance. Ovid spent an easy life at Rome in the enjoyment of a competent income. He was intimate with the family of Augustus, the emperor; and it is supposed that some serious offence given to a member of that family was the cause of an event which reversed the poet's happy circumstances, and clouded the latter portion of his life. At the age of fifty he was banished from Rome, and ordered to betake himself to Tomi, on the borders of the Black Sea. His only consolation in exile was to address his wife and absent friends. His letters were all in verse. They are called the “ Tristia,” or Sorrows, and Letters from Pontus. The two great works of Ovid are his “Metamorphoses,” or Transformations, and his “ Fasti,” or Poetic Calendar. They are both mythological poems, and from the former we have taken most of our stories of Grecian and Roman mythology. These poems have thus been characterized :
“The rich mythology of Greece furnished Ovid, as it may still furnish the poet, the painter, and the sculptor, with materials for his art. With exquisite taste, simplicity, and pathos he has narrated the fabulous traditions of early ages, and given to them that
appearance of reality which only a master-hand could impart. · His pictures of nature are striking and true; he selects with care
that which is appropriate; he rejects the superfluous, and when he has completed his work, it is neither defective nor redundant. The 'Metamorphoses' are read with pleasure by the young and old of every civilized land.”
In an incidental manner, Horace, the prince of Roman lyric poets, and the lyric and elegiac writers, Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius, have liberally increased our knowledge of Greek and Roman myth.
Seneca, the teacher of Nero, is best known for his philosophical treatises; but he wrote, also, tragedies, the materials of which are well known Greek legends. Apuleius, born in Africa, 114 A.D., interests us as the compiler of a clever romance, The Golden Ass ;2 the most pleasing episode of which, the story of Cupid and Psyche, will hereafter be related.
i With regard to translations of these and other Latin poets, see Commentary, $ 12. 2 Based upon Lucian's Lucius or the Ass' and other Greek stories.
3 Translation in Walter Pater's Marius the Epicurean.
Y ENGLISH LITERATURE
30 CLASSIC MYTHS IN ENGLISH LITERATURE.
$ 13. Records of Norse Mythology. – A system of mythology of especial interest, - as belonging to the race from which we, through our English ancestors, derive our origin, - is that of the Norsemen, who inhabited the countries now known as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. Their mythological lore has been transmitted by means of Runes, Skaldic poems, the Eddas, and the Sagas.
The Runes. — The earliest method of writing prevalent among the Norsemen was by runes. The word means hidden lore, or mystery. The earliest runes were merely fanciful signs supposed to possess mysterious power. As a synonym for writing, the term was first applied to the Northern alphabet, itself derived from ancient Greek and Roman coins. Of the old Scandinavian runes several specimens have been found — one an inscription on a golden horn of the third or fourth century A.D., which was dug up in Schleswig a hundred and sixty years ago; another, on a stone at Tune in Norway. From such an alphabet the AngloSaxon runes were derived. Inscriptions in later Scandinavian runes have been discovered in Sweden, Denmark, and the Isle of Man. The characters are of the stiff and angular form necessitated by the materials on which they were inscribed : tombstones, spoons, chairs, cars, and so forth. It is doubtful whether mythological poems were ever written in this way; dedications to pagan deities, ditties of the eleventh century, and love-spells have, however, been found.
The Skaldic Poems. — The bards and poets of the Norsemen were the Skalds. They were the depositaries of whatever historic lore there was ; and it was their office to mingle something of intellectual gratification with the rude feasts of the warriors, by rehearsing, with such accompaniments of poetry and music as their skill could afford, the exploits of heroes living or dead. Such songs were called Drapas. The origin of Skaldic poetry is lost in mythic or prehistoric darkness, but the Skalds of Iceland continued to play a most important part in the literary development of the north as late as the end of the fourteenth century. Without their coöperation, the greater part of the songs and Sagas of genuine antiquity could hardly have reached us. The Skaldic diction which was polished to an artistic extreme, with its pagan metaphors and similes, retained its supremacy over literary form even after the influence of Christianity had revolutionized national thought.
1 Cleasby and Vigfusson's Icelandic-English Dictionary. See also Commen.
The Eddas. — The chief mythological records of the Norse are the Eddas and the Sagas. The word Edda has usually been connected with the Icelandic for great-grandmother;? it has also been regarded as a corruption of the High German Erda, Mother Earth, from whom, according to the lay in which the word first occurs, the earliest race of mankind sprang,' — or as the point or head of Norse poetry, or as a tale concerned with death, or as derived from Odde, the home of the reputed collector of the Elder Edda. But, of recent years, scholars have looked with most favor upon a derivation from the Icelandic öðr, which means mind, or poetry. There are two Icelandic collections called Eddas : Snorri's and Saemund's. Until the year 1643 the name was applied to a book, principally in prose, containing Mythical Tales, a Treatise on the Poetic Art and Diction, a Poem on Metres, and a Rhymed Glossary of Synonyms, with an appendix of minor treatises on grammar and rhetoric — the whole intended as a guide for poets. Although a note in the Upsala manuscript, of date about 1300 A.D., asserted that this work was "put together" by Snorri Sturlason, who lived 1178-1241, the world was not informed of the fact until 1609, when Arngrim Johnsson made the announcement in his Constitutional History of Iceland. While
1 F. W. Horn's Geschichte d. Literatur d. Skandinavischen Nordens, 27-42. 2 Cleasby and Vigfusson's Dictionary; Lüning's Die Edda, 1859.
8 The Lay of Righ in Snorri's Edda; Vigfusson and Powell's Corpus Poeticum Boreale, II. 514.
4 Jacob Grimm. 6 The Celtic aideadh : Professor Rhys, Academy, Jan. 31, 1880.
6 Arne Magnusson, see Morley's Eng. Writers, II. 336, and Murray's New Eng. Dictionary.
Corp. Poet. Boreale, I., XXVII., etc.
the main treatises on the poetic art are, in general, Snorri's, the treatises on grammar and rhetoric have been, with more or less certitude, assigned to other writers of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It is probable, too, that in the Mythical Tales, or the Delusion of Gylfi, Snorri merely enlarged, and edited with poetical illustrations, the work of earlier hands. The poets of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries do not speak of Snorri, but they refer continually to the "rules of Edda," and frequently to the obscurity and the conventionality of Eddic phraseology, figures, and art. Even at the present day, in Iceland, it is common to hear the term “ void of Eddic art,” or “a bungler in Eddic art.” A rearrangement of Snorri's Edda, by Magnus Olafsson (1574-1636), is much better known than the original work.
In 1642, Bishop Bryniolf Sveinsson discovered a manuscript of the mythological poems of Iceland. Misled by theories of his own and by a fanciful suggestion of the famous antiquary Biorn of Scardsa, he attributed the composition of these poems to Saemund the Wise, a historian who lived 1056-1133. Henceforth, consequently, Snorri's work is called the Younger, or Prose Edda, in contradistinction to Bryniolf's find, which is known as the Elder, the Poetical Edda, or the Edda of Saemund. The oldest manuscript of the Poetical Edda is of the thirteenth century. Its contents were probably collected not later than 1150. The composition of the poems cannot well be placed earlier than the ninth or tenth centuries after Christ; and a consideration of the habits, laws, geography, and vocabulary illustrated by the poems leads eminent scholars to assign the authorship to emigrants of the south Norwegian tribes who, sailing westward, “won Waterford and Limerick, and kinged it in York and East England.”] The poems are Icelandic, however, in their general character and history. They are principally of heroic and mythical import: such as the stories of Balder's Fate, of Skirnir's Journey, of Thor's Hammer, of Helgi the Hunding's Bane, and the twenty lays that
1 Corp. Poet. Boreale, I., LXXI.; LXIII.-LXIV.