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Legendary Greece:







THE mythical world of the Greeks opens with the gods, anterior as well as superior to man: it gradually descends, first to heroes, and next to the human race. Along with the gods are found various monstrous natures, ultra-human and extra-human, who cannot with propriety be called gods, but who partake with gods and men in the attributes of freewill, conscious agency, and susceptibility of pleasure and pain,—such as the Harpies, the Gorgons, the Graeae, the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, Echidna, Sphinx, Chimaera, Chrysaor, Pegasus, the Cyclopes, the Centaurs, etc. The first acts of what may be termed the great mythical cycle describe the proceedings of these gigantic agents, the crash and collision of certain terrific and overboiling forces, which are ultimately reduced to obedience, or chained up, or extinguished, under the more orderly government of Zeus, who supplants his less capable predecessors, and acquires precedence and supremacy over gods and men—subject however to certain social restraints from the chief gods and goddesses around him, as well as to the custom of occasionally convoking and consulting the divine agora.

I recount these events briefly, but literally, treating them simply as myths springing from the same creative imagination, addressing themselves to analogous tastes and feelings, and depending upon the same authority, as the legends of Thebes and Troy. It is the inspired voice of the Muse which reveals and authenticates both, and from which Homer and Hesiod alike derive their knowledge—the one, of the heroic, the other, of the divine, foretime. I maintain, moreover, fully, the character of these great divine agents as Persons, which is the light in which they presented themselves to the Homeric or Hesiodic audience. Uranos, Nyx, Hypnos and Oneiros (Heaven, Night, Sleep and Dream), are Persons, just as much as Zeus and Apollo. To resolve them into mere allegories, is unsafe and unprofitable: we then depart from the point of view of the original hearers, without acquiring any consistent or philosophical point of view of our own. For although some of the attributes and actions ascribed to these persons are often explicable by allegory the whole series and system of them never are so: the theorist who adopts this course of explanation finds that, after one or two simple and obvious steps, the path is no longer open, and he is forced to clear a way for himself by gratuitous refinements and conjectures. The allegorical persons and attributes are always found mingled with other persons and attributes not allegorical; but the two classes cannot be severed without breaking up the whole march of the mythical events, nor can any explanation which drives us to such a necessity he considered as admissible. To suppose indeed that these legends could be all traced by means of allegory into a coherent body of physical doctrine, would be inconsistent with all reasonable presumptions respecting the age or society in which they arose. Where the allegorical mark is clearly set upon any particular character, or attribute, or event, to that extent we may recognize it; but we can rarely venture to divine further, still less to alter the legends themselves on the faith of any such surmises. The theogony of the Greeks contains some cosmogonic ideas; but it cannot be considered as a system of cosmogony, or translated into a string of elementary, planetary, or physical changes.

In the order of legendary chronology, Zeus comes after Kronos and Uranos; but in the order of Greek conception, Zeus is the prominent person, and Kronos and Uranos are inferior and introductory precursors, set up in order to be overthrown and to serve as mementos of the prowess of their conqueror. To Homer and Hesiod, as well as to the Greeks universally, Zeus is the great and predominant god, “the father of gods and men”, whose power none of the other gods can hope to resist, or even deliberately think of questioning.

All the other gods have their specific potency and peculiar sphere of action and duty, with which Zeus does not usually interfere; but it is he who maintains the lineaments of a providential superintendence, as well over the phenomena of Olympus as over those of earth. Zeus and his brothers Poseidon and Hades have made a division of power: he has reserved the ether and the atmosphere to himself —Poseidon has obtained the sea—and Hades the underworld or infernal regions; while earth, and the events which pass upon earth, are common to all of them, together with free access to Olympus.

Zeus, then, with his brethren and colleagues, constitute the present gods, whom Homer and Hesiod recognize as in full dignity and efficiency. The inmates of this divine world are conceived upon the model, but not upon the scale, of the human. They are actuated by the full play and variety of those appetites, sympathies, passions and affections, which divide the soul of man; invested with a far larger and indeterminate measure of power, and an exemption as well from death as (with some rare exceptions) from suffering and infirmity. The rich and diverse types thus conceived, full of energetic movement and contrast, each in his own province, and soaring confessedly above the limits of experience, were of all themes the most suitable for adventure and narrative, and operated with irresistible force upon the Greek fancy. All nature was then conceived as moving and working through a number of personal agents, amongst whom the gods of Olympus were the most conspicuous; the reverential belief in Zeus and Apollo being only one branch of this omnipresent personifying faith. The attributes of all these agents had a tendency to expand themselves into illustrative legends —especially those of the gods, who were constantly invoked in the public worship. Out of this same mental source sprang both the divine and heroic myths — the former being often the more extravagant and abnormous in their incidents, in proportion as the general type of the gods was more vast and awful than that of the heroes.

As the gods have houses and wives like men, so the present dynasty of gods must have a past to repose upon; and the curious and imaginative Greek, whenever he does not find a recorded past ready to his hand, is uneasy until he has created one. Thus the Hesiodic theogony explains, with a certain degree of system and coherence, first the antecedent circumstances under which Zeus acquired the divine empire, next the number of his colleagues and descendants.

Gaea (GAIA) mother of the Titans


First in order of time (we are told by Hesiod) came Chaos; next Gaea, the broad, firm, and flat Earth, with deep and dark Tartarus at her base. Eros (Love), the subduer of gods as well as men, came immediately afterwards.

From Chaos sprung Erebos and Nyx; from these latter Ether and Hemera. Gaea also gave birth to Uranos, equal in breadth to herself, in order to serve both as an overarching vault to her, and as a residence for the immortal gods; she further produced the mountains, habitations of the divine nymphs, and Pontus, the barren and billowy sea.

Then Gaea intermarried with Uranos, and from this union came a numerous offspring —twelve Titans and Titanides, three Cyclopes, and three Hekatoncheires or beings with a hundred hands each. The Titans were Oceanus, KoeosKrios, Hyperion, Iapetos, and Kronos: the Titanides, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, and Tethys. The Cyclopes were Brontes,Steropes, and Arges,—formidable persons, equally distinguished for strength and for manual craft, so that they made the thunder which afterwards formed the irresistible artillery of Zeus.

The Hekatoncheires were Kottos, Briareus, and Gyges, of prodigious bodily force.



Uranos contemplated this powerful brood with fear and horror; as fast as any of them were born, he concealed them in cavities of the earth, and would not permit them to come out. Gaea could find no room for them, and groaned under the pressure: she produced iron, made a sickle, and implored her sons to avenge both her and themselves against the oppressive treatment of their father. But none of them, except Kronos, had courage to undertake the deed: he, the youngest and the most daring, was armed with the sickle and placed in suitable ambush by the contrivance of Gaea. Presently night arrived, and Uranos descended to the embraces of Gaea: Kronos then emerged from his concealment, cut off the genitals of his father, and cast the bleeding member behind him far away into the sea. Much of the blood was spilt upon the earth, and Gaea in consequence gave birth to the irresistible Erinnys, the vast and muscular Gigantes, and the Melian nymphs. Out of the genitals themselves, as they swam and foamed upon the sea, emerged the goddess Aphrodite, deriving her name from the foam out of which she had sprung. She first landed at Cythera, and then went to Cyprus: the island felt her benign influence, and the green herb started up under her soft and delicate tread. Eras immediately joined her, and partook with her the function of suggesting and directing the amorous impulses both of gods and men.

Uranos being thus dethroned and disabled, Kronos and the Titans acquired their liberty and became predominant: the Cyclopes and the Hekatoncheires had been cast by Uranos into Tartarus, and were still allowed to remain there.

Each of the Titans had a numerous offspring: Oceanus, especially, marrying his sister Tethys, begat three thousand daughters, the Oceanic nymphs, and as many sons: the rivers and springs passed for his offspring. Hyperion and his sister Theia had for their children Helios, Selene, and Eos; Koeos with Phoebe begat Leto and Asteria ; the children of Krios were Astraeos, Pallas, and Perses , from Astraeos and Eos sprang the winds Zephyrus, Boreas, and Notus. Iapetos marrying the Oceanic nymph Clymene, counted as his progeny the celebrated Prometheus, Epimetheus, Menoetius, and Atlas. But the off spring of Kronos were the most powerful and transcendent of all. He married his sister Rhea, and had by her three daughters—Hestia, Demeter, and Here—and three sons, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus, the latter at once the youngest and the greatest.

But Kronos foreboded to himself destruction from one of his own children, and accordingly, as soon as any of them were born, he immediately swallowed them and retained them in his own belly. In this manner had the first five been treated, and Rhea was on the point of being delivered of Zeus. Grieved and indignant at the loss of her children, she applied for counsel to her father and mother, Uranos and Gaea, who aided her to conceal the birth of Zeus. They conveyed her by night to Lyktus in Crete, hid the new-born child in a woody cavern on Mount Ida, and gave to Kronos, in place of it, a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, which he greedily swallowed, believing it to be his child. Thus was the safety of Zeus ensured. As he grew up his vast powers fully developed themselves: at the suggestion of Gaea, he induced Kronos by stratagem to vomit up, first the stone which had been given to him,—next, the five children whom he had previously devoured. Hestia, Demeter, Here, Poseidon and Hades, were thus allowed to grow up along with Zeus; and the stone to which the latter owed his preservation was placed near the temple of Delphi, where it ever afterwards stood, as a conspicuous and venerable memorial to the religious Greek.


We have not yet exhausted the catalogue of beings generated during this early period, anterior to the birth of Zeus. Nyx, alone and without any partner, gave birth to a numerous progeny: Thanatos, Hypnos and Oneiros; Momus and Oizys(Grief); Klotho, Lachesis and Atropos, the three Fates; the retributive and equalizing Nemesis;Apate and Philotes;(Deceit and amorous Propensity), Germ (Old Age) and Eris (Contention). From Eris proceeded an abundant offspring, all mischievous and maleficent: Ponos(Suffering), Lethe, Limos (Famine),Phonos and Macke (Slaughter and Battle),Dysnomia and Ate (Lawlessness and reckless Impulse), and Horkos, the ever-watchful sanctioner of oaths, as well as the inexorable punisher of voluntary perjury

Gaea, too, intermarrying with Pontus, gave birth to Nereus, the just and righteous old man of the sea; to Thaumas,Phorkys and Keto. From Nereus and Doris, daughter of Oceanus, proceeded the fifty Nereids or Sea-nymphs. Thaumus also married Elektra daughter of Oceanus, and had by her Iris and the two Harpies, Allo and Okypete—winged and swift as the winds. From Phorkys and Keto sprung the Dragon of the Hesperides, and the monstrous Graeae and Gorgons: the blood of Medusa, one of the Gorgons, when killed by Perseus, produced Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus: Chrysaor and Kallirrhoe gave birth to Geryonas well as to Echidna—a creature half-nymph and hall-serpent, unlike both to gods and to men. Other monsters arose from the union of Echidna with Typhaon,—Orthros, the two-headed dog of Geryon; Cerberus, the dog of Hades, with fifty heads, and the Lernaean Hydra. From the latter proceeded the Chimaera, the Sphinx of Thebes, and the Nemean lion.

A powerful and important progeny, also, was that of Styx, daughter of Oceanus, by Pallas; she had Zelos and Nike (Imperiousness and Victory), and Kratos and Bia (Strength and Force). The hearty and early cooperation of Styx and her four sons with Zeus was one of the main causes which enabled him to achieve his victory over the Titans.

Zeus had grown up not less distinguished for mental capacity than for bodily force. He and his brothers now determined to wrest the power from the hands of Kronos and the Titans, and a long and desperate struggle commenced, in which all the gods and all the goddesses took part. Zeus convoked them to Olympus, and promised to all who would aid him against Kronos, that their functions and privileges should remain undisturbed. The first who responded to the call, came with her four sons, and embraced his cause, was Styx. Zeus took them all four as his constant attendants, and conferred upon Styx the majestic distinction of being the Horkos, or oath-sanctioner of the Gods— what Horkos was to men, Styx was to the Gods.

Still further to strengthen himself, Zeus released the other Uranids who had been imprisoned in Tartarus by their father—the Cyclopes and the Centimanes—and prevailed upon them to take part with him against the Titans. The former supplied him with thunder and lightning, and the latter brought into the fight their boundless muscular strength. Ten full years did the combat continue; Zeus and the Kronids occupying Olympus, and the Titans being established on the more southerly mountain-chain of Othrys. All nature was convulsed, and the distant Oceanus, though he took no part in the struggle, felt the boiling, the noise, and the shock, not less than Gaea and Pontus. The thunder of Zeus, combined with the crags and mountains torn up and burled by the Centimanes, at length prevailed, and the Titans were defeated and thrown down into Tartarus. Iapetos, Kronos, and the remaining Titans (Oceanus excepted) were imprisoned, perpetually and irrevocably, in that subterranean dungeon, a wall of brass being built around them by Poseidon, and the three Centimanes being planted as guards. Of the two sons of Iapetos, Menoetius was made to share this prison, while Atlas was condemned to stand for ever at the extreme west, and to bear upon his shoulders the solid vault of heaven.

Thus were the Titans subdued, and the Kronids with Zeus at their head placed in possession of power. They were not, however, yet quite secure; for Gaea, intermarrying with Tartarus, gave birth to a new and still more formidable monster called Typhoeus, of such tremendous properties and promise, that, had he been allowed to grow into full development, nothing could have prevented him from vanquishing all rivals and becoming supreme. But Zeus foresaw the danger, smote him at once with a thunder­bolt from Olympus, and burnt him up: he was cast along with the rest into Tartarus, and no further enemy remained to question the sovereignty of the Kronids.


The Fall of the Titans 


With Zeus begins a new dynasty and a different order of beings. Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades agree upon the distribution before noticed, of functions and localities: Zeus retaining the Ether and the atmosphere, together with the general presiding function; Poseidon obtaining the sea, and administering subterranean forces generally; and Hades ruling the underworld or region in which the half-animated shadows of departed men reside.

It has been already stated, that in Zeus, his brothers and his sisters, and his and their divine progeny, we find the present Gods; that is, those, for the most part, whom the Homeric and Hesiodic Greeks recognized and worshipped. The wives of Zeus were numerous as well as his offspring. First be married Metis, the wisest and most sagacious of the goddesses; but Gaea and Uranos forewarned him that if he permitted himself to have children by her, they would be stronger than himself and dethrone him. Accordingly when Metis was on the point of being delivered of Athena, he swallowed her up, and her wisdom and sagacity thus became permanently identified with his own being. His head was subsequently cut open, in order to make way for the exit and birth of the goddess Athena. By Themis, Zeus begat the Horae, by Eurynome, the three Charities or Graces; by Mnemosyne, the Muses; by Leto (Latona), Apollo and Artemis; and by Demeter, Persephone. Last of all he took for his wife Hera, who maintained permanently the dignity of queen of the Gods; by her he had Hebe, Ares, and Eileithyia. Hermes also was born to him by Maia, the daughter of Atlas: Hephaestus was born to Hera, according to some accounts, by Zeus; according to others, by her own unaided generative force. He was born lame, and Hera was ashamed of him: she wished to secrete him away, but he made his escape into the sea, and found shelter under the maternal care of the Nereids Thetis and Eurynome. Our enumeration of the divine race, under the presidency of Zeus, will thus give us:


1. The twelve great gods and goddesses of Olympus— Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Ares, Hephaestus, Hermes, Hera, Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hestia, Demeter.

2. An indefinite number of other deities, not included among the Olympic, seemingly because the number twelve was complete without them, but some of them not inferior in power and dignity to many of the twelve:—Hades, Helios, Hekate, Dionysos, Leto, Diane, Persephone, Selene, Themis, Eos, Harmonia, the Charities, the Muses, the Eilaithyia, the Moerae, the Oceanids and the Nereids, Proteus, Eidothea, the Nymphs, Leukothea, Phorkys, Eolus, Nemesis, etc.

3. Deities who perform special services to the greater gods:— Iris, Hebe, the Horae, etc.

4. Deities whose personality is more faintly and unsteadily conceived:—Ate, the Litae, Eris, Thanatos, Hypnos, Kratos, Bia, Ossa, etc. The same name is here employed sometimes to designate the person, sometimes the attribute or event not personified—an unconscious transition of ideas, which, when consciously performed, is called Allegory.

5. Monsters, offspring of the Gods:—the Harpies, the Gorgons, the Graeae, Pegasus, Chrysaor, Echidna, Chimaera, the Dragon of the Hesperides, Cerberus, Orthros, Geryon, the Lernaean Hydra, the Nemean lion, Scylla and Charybdis, the Centaurs, the Sphinx, Xanthos and Balios the immortal horses, etc.  


From the gods we slide down insensibly, first to heroes, and then to men; but before we proceed to this new mixture, it is necessary to say a few words on the theogony generally. I have given it briefly as it stands in the Hesiodic Theogonia, because that poem—in spite of great incoherence and confusion, arising seemingly from diversity of authorship as well as diversity of age—presents an ancient and genuine attempt to cast the divine foretime into a systematic sequence. Homer and Hesiod were the grand authorities in the pagan world respecting theogony; but in the Iliad and Odyssey nothing is found except passing allusions and implications, and even in the Hymns (which were commonly believed in antiquity to be the productions of the same author as the Iliad and the Odyssey) there are only isolated, unconnected narratives. Accordingly men habitually took their information respecting their theogonic antiquities from the Hesiodic poem, where it was ready laid out before them; and the legends consecrated in that work acquired both an extent of circulation and a firm hold on the national faith, such as independent legends could seldom or never rival. Moreover the scrupulous and skeptical Pagans, as well as the open assailants of Paganism in later times, derived their subjects of attack from the same source; so that it has been absolutely necessary to recount in their naked simplicity the Hesiodic stories, in order to know what it was that Plato deprecated and Xenophanes denounced. The strange proceedings ascribed to Uranos, Kronos and Zeus, have been more frequently alluded to, in the way of ridicule or condemnation, than any other portion of the mythical world.

Hercules Separates Mounts Calpe and Abylla


But though the Hesiodic theogony passed as orthodox among the later Pagans, because it stood before them as the only system anciently set forth and easily accessible, it was evidently not the only system received at the date of the poem itself. Homer knows nothing of Uranos, in the sense of an arch-God anterior to Kronos. Uranos and Gaea, like Oceanus, Tethys and Nyx, are with him great and venerable Gods, but neither the one nor the other present the character of predecessors of Kronos and Zeus. The Cyclopes, whom Hesiod ranks as sons of Uranos and fabricators of thunder, are in Homer neither one nor the other; they are not noticed in the Iliad at all, and in the Odyssey they are gross gigantic shepherds and cannibals, having nothing in common with the Hesiodic Cyclops except the one round central eye.

Of the three Centimanes enumerated by Hesiod, Briareus only is mentioned in Homer, and to all appearance, not as the son of Uranos, but as the son of Poseidon; not as aiding Zeus in his combat against the Titans, but as rescuing him at a critical moment from a conspiracy formed against him by Hera, Poseidon and Athena. Not only is the Hesiodic Uranos (with the Uranids) omitted in Homer, but the relations between Zeus and Kronos are also presented in a very different light. No mention is made of Kronos swallowing his young children: on the contrary, Zeus is the eldest of the three brothers instead of the youngest, and the children of Kronos live with him and Rhea: there the stolen intercourse between Zeus and Hera first takes place without the knowledge of their parents. When Zeus puts Kronos down into Tartarus, Rhea consigns her daughter Hera to the care of Oceanus: no notice do we find of any terrific battle with the Titans as accompanying that event. Kronos, Iapetos, and the remaining Titans are down in Tartarus, in the lowest depths under the earth, far removed from the genial rays of Helios; but they are still powerful and venerable, and Hypnos makes Hera swear an oath in their name, as the most inviolable that he can think of.


In Homer, then, we find nothing beyond the simple fact that Zeus threw his father Kronos together with the remaining Titans into Tartarus; an event to which he affords us a tolerable parallel in certain occurrences even under the presidency of Zeus himself. For the other gods make more than one rebellious attempt against Zeus, and are only put down, partly by his unparalleled strength, partly by the presence of his ally the Centimane Briareus. Kronos, likeLaertes or Peleus, has become old, and has been supplanted by a force vastly superior to his own. The Homeric epic treats Zeus as present, and, like all the interesting heroic characters, a father must be assigned to him: that father has once been the chief of the Titans, but has been superseded and put down into Tartarus along with the latter, so soon as Zeus and the superior breed of the Olympic gods acquired their full development.

That antithesis between Zeus and Kronos—between the Olympic gods and the Titans—which Homer has thus briefly brought to view, Hesiod has amplified into a theogony, with many things new, and some things contradictory to his predecessor; while Eumelus or Arktinus in the poem called Titanomachia (now lost) also adopted it as their special subject). As StasinusArktinus, Lesches, and others, enlarged the Legend of Troy by composing poems relating to a supposed time anterior to the commencement, or subsequent to the termination of the Iliad,—as other poets recounted adventures of Odysseus subsequent to his landing in Ithaca,—so Hesiod enlarged and systematized, at the same time that he corrupted, the skeleton theogony which we find briefly indicated in Homer. There is violence and rudeness in the Homeric gods, but the great genius of Greek epic is no way accountable for the stories of Uranos and Kronos—the standing reproach against Pagan legendary narrative.

How far these stories are the invention of Hesiod himself is impossible to determine. They bring us down to a cast of fancy more coarse and indelicate than the Homeric, and more nearly resembling some of the Holy Chapters of the more recent mysteries, such (for example) as the tale of Dionysos Zagreus. There is evidence in the Theogony itself that the author was acquainted with local legends current both at Crete and at Delphi; for he mentions both the mountain-cave in Crete wherein the new-born Zeus was hidden, and the stone near the Delphian temple—the identical stone which Kronos had swallowed—“placed by Zeus himself as a sign and wonder to mortal men”. Both these two monuments, which the poet expressly refers to, and had probably seen, imply a whole train of accessory and explanatory local legends — current probably among the priests of Crete and Delphi, between which places, in ancient times, there was an intimate religious connection. And we may trace further in the poem,  that which would be the natural feeling of Cretan worshippers of Zeus,  an effort to make out that Zeus was justified in his aggression on Kronos, by the conduct of Kronos himself both towards his father and towards his children: the treatment of Kronos by Zeus appears in Hesiod as the retribution foretold and threatened by the mutilated Uranos against the son who had outraged him. In fact the relations of Uranos and Gaea are in almost all their particulars a mere copy and duplication of those between Kronos and Rhea, differing only in the mode whereby the final catastrophe is brought about. Now castration was a practice thoroughly abhorrent both to the feelings and to the customs of Greece; but it was seen with melancholy frequency in the domestic life as well as in the religious worship of Phrygia and other parts of Asia, and it even became the special qualification of a priest of the Great Mother Cybele, as well as of the Ephesian Artemis. The employment of the sickle ascribed to Kronos seems to be the product of an imagination familiar with the Asiatic worship and legends, which were connected with and partially resembled the Cretan. And this deduction becomes the more probable when we connect it with the first genesis of iron, which Hesiod mentions to have been produced for the express purpose of fabricating the fatal sickle; for metallurgy finds a place in the early legends both of the Trojan and of the Cretan Ida, and the three Idaean Dactyls, the legendary inventors of it, are assigned sometimes to one and sometimes to the other.

As Hesiod had extended the Homeric series of gods by prefixing the dynasty of Uranos to that of Kronos, so the Orphic theogony lengthened it still further. First came Chronos, or Time, as a person, after him Ether and Chaos, out of whom Chronos produced the vast mundane egg. Hence emerged in process of time the first-born god Phone’s, or Metis, or Herikapaeos, a person of double sex, who first generated the Cosmos, or mundane system, and who carried within him the seed of the gods. He gave birth to Nyx, by whom he begat Uranos and Gaea; as well as to Helios and Selene.

From Uranos and Gaea sprang the three Moerae, or Fates, the three Centimanes and the three Cyclopes: these latter were cast by Uranos into Tartarus, under the foreboding that they would rob him of his dominion. In revenge for this maltreatment of her sons, Gaea produced of herself the fourteen Titans, seven male and seven female: the former were KaeosKriosPhorkys, Kronos, Oceanus, Hyperion and Iapetos; the latter were Themis, Tethys, Mnemosyne, Thera, Dione, Phoebe and Rhea. They received the name of Titans because they avenged upon Uranos the expulsion of their elder brothers. Six of the Titans, headed by Kronos the most powerful of them all, conspiring against Uranos, castrated and dethroned him: Oceanus alone stood aloof and took no part in the aggression. Kronos assumed the government and fixed his seat on Olympos; while Oceanus remained apart, master of his own divine stream. The reign of Kronos was a period of tranquility and happiness, as well as of extraordinary longevity and vigor.



Kronos and Rhea gave birth to Zeus and his brothers and sisters. The concealment and escape of the infant Zeus, and the swallowing of the stone by Kronos, are given in the Orphic Theogony substantially in the same manner as by Hesiod, only in a style less simple and more mystified. Zeus is concealed in the cave of Nyx, the seat of Phanes himself, along with Ride and Adrasteia, who nurse and preserve him, while the armed dance and sonorous instruments of the Kuretes prevent his infant cries from reaching the ears of Kronos. When grown up, he lays a snare for his father, intoxicates him with honey, and having surprised him in the depth of sleep, enchains and castrates him. Thus exalted to the supreme mastery, he swallowed and absorbed into himself Metis, or Phanes, with all the preexisting elements of things, and then generated all things anew out of his own being and conformably to his own divine ideas. So scanty are the remains of this system, that we find it difficult to trace individually the gods and goddesses sprung from Zeus beyond Apollo, Dionysos, and Persephone,—the latter being confounded with Artemis and Hekate.

But there is one new personage, begotten by Zeus, who stands preeminently marked in the Orphic Theogony, and whose adventures constitute one of its peculiar features. Zagreus, “the horned child”, is the son of Zeus by his own daughter Persephone: he is the favorite of his father, a child of magnificent promise, and predestined, if he grow up, to succeed to supreme dominion as well as to the handling of the thunderbolt. He is seated, whilst an infant, on the throne beside Zeus, guarded by Apollo and the Kuretes. But the jealous Hera intercepts his career and incites the Titans against him, who, having first smeared their faces with plaster, approach him on the throne, tempt his childish fancy with playthings, and kill him with a sword while he is contemplating his face in a mirror. They then cut up his body and boil it in a caldron, leaving only the heart, which is picked up by Athena and carried to Zeus, who in his wrath strikes down the Titans with thunder into Tartarus; whilst Apollo is directed to collect the remains of Zagreus and bury them at the foot of Mount Parnassus. The heart is given to Semele, and Zagreus is born again from her under the form of Dionysos.

Such is the tissue of violent fancies comprehended under the title of the Orphic Theogony, and read as such, it appears, by Plato, Isocrates and Aristotle. It will be seen that it is based upon the Hesiodic Theogony, but according to the general expansive tendency of Greek legend, much new matter is added: Zeus has in Homer one predecessor, in Hesiod two, and in Orpheus four.

The Hesiodic Theogony, though later in date than the Iliad and Odyssey, was coeval with the earliest period of what may be called Greek history, and certainly of an age earlier than 700 BC. It appears to have been widely circulated in Greece, and being at once ancient and short, the general public consulted it as their principal source of information respecting divine antiquity. The Orphic Theogony belongs to a later date, and contains the Hesiodic ideas and persons, enlarged and mystically disguised: its vein of invention was less popular, adapted more to the contemplation of a sect specially prepared than to the taste of a casual audience, and it appears accordingly to have obtained currency chiefly among purely speculative men. Among the majority of these latter, however, it acquired greater veneration, and above all was supposed to be of greater antiquity, than the Hesiodic. The belief in its superior antiquity (disallowed by Herodotus, and seemingly also by Aristotle, as well as the respect for its contents, increased during the Alexandrine Age and through the declining centuries of Paganism, reaching its maximum among the New-Platonists of the third and fourth century after Christ: both the Christian assailants, as well as the defenders, of paganism, treated it as the most ancient and venerable summary of the Grecian faith. Orpheus is celebrated by Pindar as the harper and companion of the Argonautic maritime heroes: Orpheus and Musaeus, as well as Painphos and Olen, the great supposed authors of theogonic, mystical, oracular, and prophetic verses and hymns, were generally considered by literary Greeks as older than either Hesiod or Homer: and such was also the common opinion of modern scholars until a period comparatively recent. It has now been shown, on sufficient ground, that the compositions which passed under these names emanate for the most part from poets of the Alexandrine Age, and subsequent to the Christian Era; and that even the earliest among them, which served as the stock on which the later additions were engrafted, belong to a period far more recent than Hesiod; probably to the century preceding Onomakritus (BC 610-510). It seems, however, certain, that both Orpheus and Musaeus were names of established reputation at the time when Onomakritus flourished; and it is distinctly stated by Pausanias that the latter was himself the author of the most remarkable and characteristic myth of the Orphic Theogony —the discerption of Zagreus by the Titans, and his resurrection as Dionysos.



The names of Orpheus and Musaeus (as well as that of Pythagoras, looking at one side of his character) represent facts of importance in the history of the Greek mind—the gradual influx of Thracian, Phrygian, and Egyptian, religious ceremonies and feelings, and the increasing diffusion of special mysteries schemes for religious purification, and orgies (I venture to anglicize the Greek word, which contains in its original meaning no implication of the ideas of excess to which it was afterwards diverted) in honor of some particular god—distinct both from the public solemnities and from the gentile solemnities of primitive Greece,—celebrated apart from the citizens generally, and approachable only through a certain course of preparation and initiation—sometimes even forbidden to be talked of in the presence of the uninitiated, under the severest threats of divine judgment. Occasionally such voluntary combinations assumed the form of permanent brotherhoods, bound together by periodical solemnities as well as by vows of an ascetic character: thus the Orphic life (as it was called) or regulation of the Orphic brotherhood, among other injunctions partly arbitrary and partly abstinent, forbade animal food universally, and on certain occasions, the use of woolen clothing. The great religious and political fraternity of the Pythagoreans, which acted so powerfully on the condition of the Italian cities, was one of the many manifestations of this general tendency, which stands in striking contrast with the simple, open-hearted, and demonstrative worship of the Homeric Greeks.

Festivals at seed-time and harvest—at the vintage and at the opening of the new wine—were doubtless coeval with the earliest habits of the Greeks; the latter being a period of unusual joviality. Yet in the Homeric poems, Dionysos and Demeter, the patrons of the vineyard and the cornfield, are seldom mentioned, and decidedly occupy little place in the imagination of the poet as compared with the other gods: nor are they of any conspicuous importance even in the Hesiodic Theogony. But during the interval between Hesiod and Onomakritus, the revolution in the religious mind of Greece was such as to place both these deities in the front rank. According to the Orphic doctrine, Zagreus, son of Persephone, is destined to be the successor of Zeus, and although the violence of the Titans intercepts this lot, yet even when he rises again from his discerption under the name of Dionysus, he is the colleague and coequal of his divine father.

This remarkable change, occurring as it did during the sixth and a part of the seventh century before the Christian Era, may be traced to the influence of communication with Egypt (which only became fully open to the Greeks about BC 660), as well as with Thrace, Phrygia, and Lydia. From hence new religious ideas and feelings were introduced, which chiefly attached themselves to the characters of Dionysius and Demeter. The Greeks identified these two deities with the great Egyptian Osiris and Isis, so that what was borrowed from the Egyptian worship of the two latter naturally fell to their equivalents in the Grecian system. Moreover the worship of Dionysus (under what name cannot be certainly made out) was indigenous in Thrace, as that of the Great Mother was in Phrygia, and in Lydia — together with those violent ecstasies and manifestations of temporary frenzy, and that clashing of noisy instruments, which we find afterwards characterizing it in Greece. The great masters of the pipe—as well as the dithyramb, and indeed the whole musical system appropriated to the worship of Dionysus, which contrasted so pointedly with the quiet solemnity of the Paean addressed to Apollo were all originally Phrygian.



From all these various countries, novelties, unknown to the Homeric men, found their way into the Greek worship: and there is one amongst them which deserves to be specially noticed, because it marks the generation of the new class of ideas in their theology. Homer mentions many persons guilty of private or involuntary homicide, and compelled either to go into exile or to make pecuniary satisfaction; but he never once describes any of them to have either received or required purification for the crime. Now in the time subsequent to Homer, purification for homicide comes to be considered as indispensable: the guilty person is regarded as unfit for the society of man or the worship of the gods until he has received it, and special ceremonies are prescribed whereby it is to be administered.

Herodotus tells us that the ceremony of purification was the same among the Lydians and among the Greeks: we know that it formed no part of the early religion of the latter, and we may perhaps reasonably suspect that they borrowed it from the former. The oldest instance known to us of expiation for homicide was contained in the epic poem of the Milesian Arktinus, wherein Achilles is purified by Odysseus for the murder of Thersites: several others occurred in the later or Hesiodic epic—Heracles, Peleus, Bellerophon, Alkmeon, Amphiktyim, Poemander, Triopas,—from whence they probably passed through the hands of the logographers to Apollodorus, Diodorus, and others. The purification of the murderer was originally operated, not by the hands of any priest or specially sanctified man, but by those of a chief or king, who goes through the appropriate ceremonies in the manner recounted by Herodotus in his pathetic narrative respecting Croesus and Adrastus.

The idea of a special taint of crime, and of the necessity as well as the sufficiency of prescribed religious ceremonies as a means of removing it, appears thus to have got footing in Greek practice subsequent to the time of Homer. The peculiar rites or orgies, composed or put together by OnomakritusMethapus, and other men of more than the ordinary piety, were founded upon a similar mode of thinking, and adapted to the same mental exigencies. They were voluntary religious manifestations, super­induced upon the old public sacrifices of the king or chiefs on behalf of the whole society, and of the father on his own family hearth — they marked out the details of divine service proper to appease or gratify the god to whom they were addressed, and to procure for the believers who went through them his blessings and protection here or hereafter—the exact performance of the divine service in all its specialty was held necessary, and thus the priests or Hierophants, who alone were familiar with the ritual, acquired a commanding position. Generally speaking, these peculiar orgies obtained their admission and their influence at periods of distress, disease, public calamity and danger, or religious terror and despondency, which appear to have been but too frequent in their occurrence.

The minds of men were prone to the belief that what they were suffering arose from the displeasure of some of the gods, and as they found that the ordinary sacrifices and worship were insufficient for their protection, so they grasped at new suggestions proposed to them with the view of regaining the divine favor. Such suggestions were more usually copied, either in whole or in part, from the religious rites of some foreign locality, or from some other portion of the Hellenic world; and in this manner many new sects or voluntary religious fraternities, promising to relieve the troubled conscience and to reconcile the sick or suffering with the offended gods, acquired permanent establishment as well as considerable influence. They were generally under the superintendence of hereditary families of priests, who imparted the rites of confirmation and purification to communicants generally; no one who went through the prescribed ceremonies being excluded. In many cases, such ceremonies fell into the hands of jugglers, who volunteered their services to wealthy men, and degraded their profession as well by obtrusive venality as by extravagant promises: sometimes the price was lowered to bring them within reach of the poor and even of slaves. But the wide diffusion, and the number of voluntary communicants of these solemnities, proves how much they fell in with the feeling of the time and how much respect they enjoyed—a respect, which the more conspicuous establishments, such as Eleusis and Samothrace, maintained for several centuries. And the visit of the Cretan Epimenides to Athens—in the time of Solon, and at a season of the most serious disquietude and dread of having offended the gods—illustrates the tranquillizing effect of new orgies and rites of absolution, when enjoined by a man standing high in the favor of the gods and reputed to be the son of a nymph. The supposed Erythraean Sibyl, and the earliest collection of Sibylline prophecies, afterwards so much multiplied and interpolated, and referred (according to Greek custom) to an age even earlier than Homer, appear to belong to a date not long posterior to Epimenides. Other oracular verses, such as those of Bakis, were treasured up in Athens and other cities: the sixth century before the Christian Era was fertile in these kinds of religious manifestations.

Amongst the special rites and orgies of the character just described, those which enjoyed the greatest Pan-Hellenic reputation were attached to the Idaean Zeus in Crete, to Demeter at Eleusis, to the Kabeiri in Samothrace, and to Dionysus at Delphi and Thebes. That they were all to a great degree analogous, is shown by the way in which they unconsciously run together and become confused in the minds of various authors: the ancient inquirers themselves were unable to distinguish one from the other, and we must be content to submit to the like ignorance. Bet we see enough to satisfy us of the general fact, that during the century and a half which elapsed between the opening of Egypt to the Greeks and the commencement of their struggle with the Persian kings, the old religion was largely adulterated by importations from Egypt, Asia Minor and Thrace. The rites grew to be more furious and ecstatic, exhibiting the utmost excitement, bodily as well as mental: the legends became at once more coarse, more tragical, and less pathetic. The manifestations of this frenzy were strongest among the women, whose religious susceptibilities were often found extremely unmanageable, and who had everywhere congregative occasional ceremonies of their awn, part from the men — indeed, in the ease of the colonists, especially of the Asiatic colonists, the women had been originally women of the country, and as such retained to a great degree their non-Hellenic manners and feelings. The god Dionysus, whom the legends described as clothed in feminine attire, and leading a troop of frenzied women, inspired a temporary ecstasy, and those who resisted the inspiration, being supposed to disobey his will, were punished either by particular judgments or by mental terrors; while those who gave full loose to the feeling, is the appropriate season and with the received solemnities, satisfied his exigencies, and believed themselves to have procured immunity from such disquietudes for the future. Crowds of women, clothed with fawn-skins and bearing the sanctified thyrsus, flocked to the solitudes of Parnassus, or Kithaeron, or Taygetus, during the consecrated triennial period, passed the night there with torches, and abandoned themselves to demonstrations of frantic excitement, with dancing and clamorous invocation of the god: they were said to tear animals limb from limb, to devour the raw flesh, and to cut themselves without feeling the wound. The men yielded to a similar impulse by noisy revels in the streets, sounding the cymbals and tambourine, and carrying the image of the god in procession. It deserves to be remarked, that the Athenian women never practiced these periodical mountain excursions, so common among the rest of the Greeks: they had their feminine solemnities of the Thesmophoria, mournful in their character and accompanied with fasting, and their separate congregations at the temples of Aphrodite, but without any extreme or unseemly demonstrations. The state festival of the Dyonysia, in the city of Athens, was celebrated with dramatic entertainments, and the once rich harvest of Athenian tragedy and comedy was thrown up under its auspices. The ceremonies of the Kuretes in Crete, originally armed dances in honor of the Idaean Zeus, seem also to have borrowed from Asia so much of fury, of self-infliction, and of mysticism, that they became at last inextricably confounded with the Phrygian Korybantes or worshippers of the Great Mother; though it appears that Greek reserve always stopped short of the irreparable self-mutilation of Atys.

The influence of the Thracian religion upon that of the Greeks cannot be traced in detail, but the ceremonies contained in it were of a violent and fierce character, like the Phrygian, and acted upon Hellas in the same general direction as the latter. And the like may be said of the Egyptian religion, which was in this case the more operative, inasmuch as all the intellectual Greeks were naturally attracted to go and visit the wonders on the banks of the Nile; the powerful effect produced upon them is attested by many evidences, but especially by the interesting narrative of Herodotus. Now the Egyptian ceremonies were at once more licentious, and more profuse in the outpouring both of joy and sorrow, than the Greek: but a still greater difference sprang from the extraordinary power, separate mode of life, minute observances, and elaborate organization of the priesthood. The ceremonies of Egypt were multitudinous, but the legends concerning them were framed by the priests, and as a general rule, seemingly, known to the priests alone: at least they were not intended to be publicly talked of, even by pious men. They were “holy stories”, which it was sacrilege publicly to mention, and which from this very prohibition only took firmer hold of the minds of the Greek visitors who heard them. And thus the element of secrecy and mystic silence — foreign to Homer, and only faintly glanced at in Hesiod — if it was not originally derived from Egypt, at least received from thence its greatest stimulus and diffusion. The character of the legends themselves was naturally affected by this change from publicity to secrecy: the secrets when revealed would be such as to justify by their own tenor the interdict on public divulgation: instead of being adapted, like the Homeric myth, to the universal sympathies and hearty interest of a crowd of hearers, they would derive their impressiveness from the tragical, mournful, extravagant, or terror-striking character of the incidents. Such a tendency, which appears explicable and probable even on general grounds, was in this particular case rendered still more certain by the coarse taste of the Egyptian priests. That any recondite doctrine, religious or philosophical, was attached to the mysteries or contained in the holy stories, has never been shown, and is to the last degree improbable though the affirmative has been asserted by many learned men.


Herodotus seems to have believed that the worship and ceremonies of Dionysus generally were derived by the Greeks from Egypt, brought over by Cadmus and taught by him to Melampus: and the latter appears in the Hesiodic Catalogue as having cured the daughters of Proteus of the mental distemper with which they had been smitten by Dionysus for rejecting his ritual. He cured them by introducing the Bacchic dance and fanatical excitement: this mythical incident is the most ancient mention of the Dionysiac solemnities presented in the same character as they bear in Euripides. It is the general tendency of Herodotus to apply the theory of derivation from Egypt far too extensively to Greek institutions: the orgies of Dionysus were not originally borrowed from thence, though they may have been much modified by connection with Egypt as well as with Asia. The remarkable myth composed by Onomakritus respecting the dismemberment of Zagreus was founded upon an Egyptian tale very similar respecting the body of Osiris, who was supposed to be identical with Dionysus: nor was it unsuitable to the reckless fury of the Bacchanals during their state of temporary excitement, which found a still more awful expression in the myth of Pentheus— torn in pieces by his own mother Agave at the head of her companions in the ceremony, as an intruder upon the feminine rites as well as a scoffer at the god. A passage in the Iliad (the authenticity of which has been contested, but even as an interpolation it must be old) also recounts how Lycurgus was struck blind by Zeus for having chased away with a whip “the nurses of the mad Dionysos” and frightened the god himself into the sea to take refuge in the arms of Thetis: and the fact, that Dionysus is so frequently represented in his myths as encountering opposition and punishing the refractory, seems to indicate that his worship under its ecstatic form was a late phenomenon and introduced not without difficulty. The mythical Thracian Orpheus was attached as Eponymous to a new sect, who seem to have celebrated the ceremonies of Dionysus with peculiar care, minuteness and fervor, besides observing various rules in respect to food and clothing. it was the opinion of Herodotus, that these rules, as well as the Pythagorean, were borrowed from Egypt. But whether this be the fact or not, the Orphic brotherhood is itself both an evidence, and a cause, of the increased importance of the worship of Dionysus, which indeed is attested by the great dramatic poets of Athens.

The Homeric Hymns present to us, however, the religious ideas and legends of the Greeks at an earlier period, when the enthusiastic and mystic tendencies had not yet acquired their full development. Though not referable to the same age or to the same author as either the Iliad or the Odyssey, they do to a certain extent continue the same stream of feeling, and the same mythical tone and coloring, as these poems—manifesting but little evidence of Egyptian, Asiatic, or Thracian adulterations. The difference is striking between the god Dionysus as he appears in the Homeric hymn and in the Bacchae of Euripides. The hymnographer describes him as standing on the sea-shore, in the guise of a beautiful and richly-clothed youth, when Tyrrhenian pirates suddenly approach: they seize and bind him and drag him on board their vessel. But the bonds which they employ burst spontaneously, and leave the god free. The steersman, perceiving this with affright, points out to his companions that they have unwittingly laid hands on a god—perhaps Zeus himself; or Apollo, or Poseidon. He conjures them to desist, and to replace Dionysus respectfully on the shore, lest in his wrath he should visit the ship with wind and hurricane: but the crew deride his scruples, and Dionysus is carried prisoner out to sea with the ship under full sail. Miraculous circumstances soon attest both his presence and his power. Sweet-scented wine is seen to flow spontaneously about the ship, the sail and mast appear adorned with vine and ivy-leaves, and the oar-peas with garlands, The terrified crew now too late entreat the helmsman to steer his course for the shore, and crowd round him for protection on the poop. But their destruction is at hand: Dionysus assumes the form of a lion—a bear is seen standing near him—this bear rushes with a loud roar upon the captain, while the crew leap overboard in their agony of fright, and are changed into dolphins. Then remains none but the discreet and pious steersman, to whom Dionysus addresses words of affectionate encouragement, revealing his name, parentage and dignity.

This hymn, perhaps produced at the Naxian festival of Dionysus, and earlier than the time when the dithyrambic chorus became the established mode of singing the praise and glory of that god, is conceived in a spirit totally different from that of the Bacchic Telattae, or special rites which the Bacchae of Euripides so abundantly extol,—rites introduced from Asia by Dionysus himself at the head of athiasus or troop of enthusiastic women,—inflaming with temporary frenzy the minds of the women of Thebes,—not communicable except to those who approach as pious communicants,—and followed by the most tragical results to all those who fight against the god. The Bacchic Teletae, and the Bacchic feminine frenzy, were importations from abroad, as Euripides represents them, engrafted upon the joviality of the primitive Greek Dionysia; they were borrowed, in all probability, from more than one source and introduced through more than one channel, the Orphic life or brotherhood being one of the varieties.

Strabo ascribes to this latter a Thracian original, considering Orpheus, Musaeus, and Eumolpus as having been all Thracians. It is curious to observe how, in the Bacchae of Euripides, the two distinct and even conflicting ideas of Dionysus come alternately forward; sometimes the old Greek idea of the jolly and exhilarating god of wine—but more frequently the recent and imported idea of the terrific and irresistible god who unseats the reason, and whose power can only be appeased by a willing, though temporary obedience. In the fanatical impulse which inspired the votaries of the Asiatic Rhea or Cybele, or of the Thracian Kotys, there was nothing of spontaneous joy; it was a sacred madness, during which the soul appeared to be surrendered to a stimulus from without, and accompanied by preternatural strength and temporary sense of power,—altogether distinct from the unrestrained hilarity of the original Dionysia, as we see them in the rural Attica, or in the gay city of Tarentum. There was indeed a side on which the two bore some analogy, inasmuch as, according to the religious point of view of the Greeks, even the spontaneous joy of the vintage feast was conferred by the favor and enlivened by the companionship of Dionysus. It was upon this analogy that the framers of the Bacchic orgies proceeded but they did not the less disfigure the genuine character of the old Greek Dionysia.

Dionysus is in the conception of Pindar the Paredros or companion in worship of Demeter: the worship and religious estimate of the latter has by that time undergone as great a change as that of the former, if we take our comparison with the brief description of Homer and Hesiod: she has acquired much of the awful and soul-disturbing attributes of the Phrygian Cybele. In Homer, Demeter is the goddess of the corn-field, who becomes attached to the mortal man Jason; an unhappy passion, since Zeus, jealous of the connection between goddesses and men, puts him to death. In the Hesiodic Theogony, Demeter is the mother of Persephone by Zeus, who permits Hades to carry off the latter as his wife: moreover Demeter has, besides, by Jason a son called Pintos, born in Crete. Even from Homer to Hesiod, the legend of Demeter, has been expanded and her dignity exalted; according to the usual tendency of Greek legend, the expansion goes on still further. Through Jason, Demeter becomes connected with the mysteries of Samothrace; through Persephone, with those of Eleusis. The former connection it is difficult to follow out in detail, but the latter is explained and traced to its origin in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.

Though we find different statements respecting the date as well as the origin of the Eleusinian mysteries, yet the popular belief of the Athenians, and the story which found favor at Eleusis, ascribed them to the presence and dictation of the goddess Demeter herself; just as the Bacchic rites are, according to the Bacchae of Euripides, first communicated and enforced on the Greeks by the personal visit of Dionysus to Thebes, the metropolis of the Bacchic ceremonies. In the Eleusinian legend, preserved by the author of the Homeric Hymn, she comes voluntarily and identifies herself with Eleusis; her past abode in Crete being briefly indicated. Her visit to Eleusis is connected with the deep sorrow caused by the loss of her daughter Persephone, who had been seized by Hades, while gathering flowers in a meadow along with the Oceanic Nymphs, and carried off to become his wife in the underworld. In vain did the reluctant Persephone shriek and invoke the aid of her father Zeus: he had consented to give her to Hades, and her cries were heard only by Hekate and Helios. Demeter was inconsolable at the disappearance of her daughter, but knew not where to look for her: she wandered for nine days and nights with torches in search of the lost maiden without success. At length Helios, the “spy of gods and men”, revealed to her, in reply to her urgent prayer, the rape of Persephone, and the permission given to Hades by Zeus. Demeter was smitten with anger and despair: she renounced Zeus and the society of Olympus, abstained from nectar and ambrosia, and wandered on earth in grief and fasting until her form could no longer be known. In this condition she came to Eleusis, then governed by the prince Keleos. Sitting down by a well at the wayside in the guise of an old woman, she was found by the daughters of Keleos, who came hither with their pails of brass for water. In reply to their questions, she told them that she had been brought by pirates from Crete to Thorikos, and had made her escape; she then solicited from them succor and employment as a servant or as a nurse. The damsels prevailed upon their mother Metaneira, to receive her, and to entrust her with the nursing of the young Demophoon, their late–born brother, the only son of Keleos. Demeter was received into the house of Metaneira, her dignified form still borne down by grief: she sat long silent and could not be induced either to smile or to taste food, until the maid-servant Iambe, by jests and playfulness, succeeded in amusing and rendering her cheerful. She would not taste wine, but requested a peculiar mixture of barley-meal with water and the herb mint. 

The child Demophoon, nursed by Demeter, throve and grew up like a god, to the delight and astonishment of his parents: she gave him no food, but anointed him daily with ambrosia, and plunged him at night in the fire like a torch, where he remained unburnt. She would have rendered him immortal, had she not been prevented by the indiscreet curiosity and alarm of Metaneira, who secretly looked in at night, and shrieked with horror at the sight of her child in the fire. The indignant goddess, setting the infant on the ground, now revealed her true character to Metaneira: her wan and aged look disappeared, and she stood  in the genuine majesty of her divine shape, diffusing a dazzling brightness which illuminated the whole house. “Foolish mother” she said, “thy want of faith has robbed thy son of immortal life. I am the exalted Demeter, the charm and comfort both of gods and men: I was preparing for thy son exemption from death and old age; now it cannot be but he must taste of both. Yet shall he be ever honored, since he has sat upon my knee and slept in my arms. Let the people of Eleusis erect for me a temple and altar on yonder hill above the fountain; I will myself prescribe to them the orgies which they must religiously perform in order to propitiate my favor”.

The terrified Metaneira was incapable even of lifting up her child from the ground; her daughters entered at her cries, and began to embrace and tend their infant brother, but be sorrowed and could not be pacified for the loss of his divine nurse. All night they strove to appease the goddess.

Strictly executing the injunctions of Demeter, Keleos convoked the people of Eleusis and erected the temple on the spot which she had pointed out. It was speedily completed, and Demeter took up her abode in it,—apart from the remaining gods, still pining with grief for the loss of her daughter, and withholding her beneficent aid from mortals. And thus she remained a whole year,— a desperate and terrible year: in vain did the oxen draw the plough, and in vain was the barley-seed cast into the furrow, Demeter suffered it not to emerge from the earth. The human race would have been starved, and the gods would have been deprived of their honors and sacrifice, had not Zeus found means to conciliate her. But this was a hard task; for Demeter resisted the entreaties of Iris and of all the other goddesses and gods whom Zeus successively sent to her. She would be satisfied with nothing less than the recovery of her daughter. At length Zeus sent Hermes to Hades, to bring Persephone away: Persephone joyfully obeyed, but Hades prevailed upon her before she departed to swallow a grain of pomegranate, which rendered it impossible for her to remain the whole year away from him.

With transport did Demeter receive back her lost daughter, and the faithful Hekate sympathized in the delight felt by both at the reunion. It was now an easier undertaking to reconcile her with the gods. Her mother Rhea, sent down expressly by Zeus, descended from Olympus on the fertile Rharan plain, then smitten with barrenness like the rest of the earth: she succeeded in appeasing the indignation of Demeter, who consented again to put forth her relieving hand. The buried seed came up in abundance, and the earth was covered with fruit and flowers. She would have wished to retain Persephone constantly with her, but this was impossible; and she was obliged to consent that her daughter should go down for one-third of each year to the house of Hades, departing from her every spring at the time when the seed is sown. She then revisited Olympus, again to dwell with the gods; but before her departure, she communicated to the daughters of Keleos, and to Keleos himself; together with Triptolemus, Diokles and Eumolpus, the divine service and the solemnities which she required to be observed in her honor. And thus began the venerable mysteries of Eleusis, at her special command: the lesser mysteries, celebrated in February, in honor of Persephone; the greater, in August, to the honor of Demeter herself. Both are jointly patronesses of the holy city and temple.

Such is a brief sketch of the temple legend of Eleusis, set forth at length in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. It is interesting not less as a picture of the Mater Dolorosa (in the mouth of en Athenian, Demeter and Persephone were always the Mother and Daughter, by excellence), first an agonized sufferer, and then finally glorified,—the weal and woe of man being dependent upon her kindly feeling,—than as an illustration of the nature and of Greek legend generally. Though we now read this Hymn as pleasing poetry, to the Eleusinians, for whom it was composed, it was genuine and sacred history. They believed in the visit of Demeter to Eleusis, and in the mysteries as a revelation from her, as implicitly as they believed in her existence and power as a goddess. The Eleusinian psalmist shares this belief in common with his countrymen, and embodies it in a continuous narrative, in which the great goddesses of the place, as well as the great heroic families, figure in inseparable conjunction Keleos is the son of the Eponymous hero Eleusis, and his daughters, with the old epic simplicity, carry their basins to the well for water. Eumolpus, Triptolemus, Diokles, heroic ancestors of the privileged families who continued throughout the historical times of Athens to fulfill their special hereditary functions in the Eleusinian solemnities, are among the immediate recipients of in­spiration from the goddess; but chiefly does she favor Metaneira and her infant son Demophoon, for the latter of whom her greatest boon is destined, and intercepted only by the weak faith of the mother. Moreover, every incident in the Hymn has a local coloring and a special reference. The well, overshadowed by an olive-tree near which Demeter had rested, the stream Kallichorus and the temple-hill, were familiar and interesting places in the eyes of every Eleusinian; the peculiar posset prepared from barley-meal with mint was always tasted by the Mysts (or communicants) after a prescribed fast, as an article in the ceremony, —while it was also the custom, at a particular spot in the processional march, to permit the free interchange of personal jokes and taunts upon individuals for the general amusement. And these two customs are connected in the Hymn with the incidents. that Demeter herself had chosen the posset as the first interruption of her long and melancholy fast, and that her sorrowful thoughts had been partially diverted by the coarse playfulness of the servant-maid Iambe. In the enlarged representation of the Eleusinian ceremonies, which became established after the incorporation of Eleusis with Athens, the part of Iambe herself was enacted by a woman, or man in woman’s attire, of suitable wit and imagination, who was posted on the bridge over the Kephissos, and addressed to the passers-by in the procession, especially the great men of Athens, saucy jeers, probably not less piercing than those of Aristophane’s on the stage. The torch-bearing Hekate received a portion of the worship in the nocturnal ceremonies of the Eleusinia: this too is traced, in the Hymn, to her kind and affectionate sympathy with the great goddesses.

Though all these incidents were sincerely believed by the Eleusinians as a true history of the past, and as having been the real initiatory cause of their own solemnities, it is not the less certain that they are simply myths or legends, and not to be treated as history, either actual or exaggerated. They do not take their start from realities of the past, but from realities of the present, combined with retrospective feeling and fancy, which fills up the blank of the aforetime in a manner at once plausible and impressive. What proportion of fact there may be in the legend, or whether there be any at all, it is impossible to ascertain and useless to inquire; for the story did not acquire belief from its approximation to real fact, but from its perfect harmony with Eleusinian faith and feeling, and from the absence of any standard of historical credibility. The little town of Eleusis derived all its importance from the solemnity of the Demetria, and the Hymn which we have been considering (probably at least as old as 600 BC) represents the town as it stood before its absorption into the larger unity of Athens, which seems to have produced an alteration of its legends and an increase of dignity in its great festival. In the faith of an Eleusinian, the religious as well as the patriotic antiquities of his native town were connected with this capital solemnity. The divine legend of the sufferings of Demeter and her visit to Eleusis was to him that which the heroic legend of Adrastus and the Siege of Thebes was to a Sikyenian, or that of Erechtheus and Athene to an Athenian grouping together in the same scene and story the goddess and the heroic fathers of the town. If our information were fuller, we should probably find abundance of other legends respecting the Demetria: the Gephyrai of Athens, to whom belonged the celebrated Harmodios and Aristogeiton, and who possessed special Orgies of Demeter the Sorrowful, to which no man foreign to their Gens was ever admitted, would doubtless have told stories not only different but contradictory; and even in other Eleusinian myths we discover Eumolpus as king of Eleusis, son of Poseidon, and a Thracian, completely different from the character which he bears in the Hymn before us. Neither discrepancies nor want of evidence, in reference to alleged antiquities, shocked the faith of a non-historical public. What they wanted was a picture of the past, impressive to their feelings and plausible to their imagination; and it is important to the reader to remember, while he reads either the divine legends which we are now illustrating or the heroic legends to which we shall soon approach, that he is dealing with a past which never was present—a region essentially mythical, neither approachable by the critic nor mensurable by the chronologer.

The tale respecting the visit of Demeter, which was told by the ancient Gens, called the Phytalids, in reference to another temple of Demeter between Athens and Eleusis, and also by the Megarians in reference to a Demetrion near their city, acquired under the auspices of Athens still further extension. The goddess was reported to have first communicated to Triptolemus at Eleusis the art of sowing corn, which by his intervention was disseminated all over the earth. And thus the Athenians took credit to themselves for having been the medium of communication from the gods to man of all the inestimable blessings of agriculture, which they affirmed to have been first exhibited on the fertile Marian plain near Eleusis. Such pretensions are not to be found in the old Homeric hymn. The festival of the Thesmophoria, celebrated in honor of Demeter Thesmophoros at Athens, was altogether different from the Eleusinia, in this material respect, as well as others, that all males were excluded, and women only were allowed to partake in it: the surname Thesmophorus gave occasion to new legends in which the goddess was glorified as the first authoress of laws and legal sanctions to mankind. This festival, for women apart and alone, was also celebrated at Paros, at Ephesus, and in many other parts of Greece.

Altogether, Demeter and Dionysus, as the Grecian counterparts of the Egyptian Isis and Osiris, seem to have been the great recipients of the new sacred rites borrowed from Egypt, before the worship of Isis in her own name was introduced into Greece: their solemnities became more frequently recluse and mysterious than those of the other deities. The importance of Demeter to the collective nationality of Greece may be gathered from the fact that her temple was erected at Thermopylae, the spot where the Amphiktyonic assemblies were held, close by the temple of the Eponymous hero Amphiktylin himself, and under the surname of the Amphiktyonic Demeter.

We now pass to another and not less important celestial personage—Apollo.


The legends of Delos and Delphi, embodied in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, indicate, if not a greater dignity, at least a more widely diffused worship of that god than even of Demeter. The Hymn is, in point of fact, an aggregate of two separate compositions, one emanating from an Ionic bard at Delos, the other from Delphi. The first details the birth, the second the mature divine efficiency, of Apollo; but both alike present the unaffected charm as well as the characteristic peculiarities of Greek mythical narrative. The hymnographer sings, and his hearers accept in perfect good faith, a history of the past; but it is a past, imagined partly as an introductory explanation to the present, partly as a means of glorifying the god. The island of Delos was the accredited birth-place of Apollo, and is also the place in which he chiefly delights, where the great and brilliant Ionic festival is periodically convened in his honor. Yet it is a rock narrow, barren, and uninviting: how came so glorious a privilege to be awarded to it? This the poet takes upon himself to explain. Leto, pregnant with Apollo, and persecuted by the jealous Hera, could find no spot wherein to give birth to her offspring. In vain did she address herself to numerous places in Greece, the Asiatic coast and the intermediate islands; all were terrified at the wrath of Hera, and refused to harbor her. As a last resort, she approached the rejected and repulsive island of Delos, and promised that, if shelter were granted to her in her forlorn condition, the island should become the chosen resort of Apollo as well as the site of his temple with its rich accompanying solemnities. Delos joyfully consented, but not without many apprehensions that the potent Apollo would despise her unworthiness, and not without exacting a formal oath from Leto,—who was then admitted to the desired protection, and duly accomplished her long and painful labor. Though Diane, Rhea, Themis and Amphitrite came to soothe and succor her, yet Hera kept away the goddess presiding over childbirth, Eileithyia, and thus cruelly prolonged her pangs. At length Eileithyia came, and Apollo was born. Hardly had Apollo tasted, from the hands of Themis, the immortal food, nectar and ambrosia, when he burst at once his infant bands, and displayed himself in full divine form and strength, claiming his characteristic attributes of the bow and the harp, and his privileged function of announcing beforehand to mankind the designs of Zeus. The promise made by Leto to Delos was faithfully performed: amidst the numberless other temples and groves which men provided for him, he ever preferred that island as his permanent residence, and there the Ionians with their wives and children, and all their “bravery”, congregated periodically from their different cities to glorify him. Dance and song and athletic contests adorned the solemnity, and the countless ships, wealth, and grace of the multitudinous Ionians had the air of an assembly of gods. The Delian maidens, servants of Apollo, sang hymns to the glory of the god, as well as of Artemis and Leto, intermingled with adventures of foregone men and women, to the delight of the listening crowd. The blind itinerant bard of Chios (composer of this the Homeric hymn, and confounded in antiquity with the author of the Iliad) had found honor and acceptance at this festival, and commends himself, in a touching farewell strain, to the remembrance and sympathy of the Delian maidens.

But Delos was not an oracular spot: Apollo did not manifest himself there as revealer of the futurities of Zeus. A place must be found where this beneficent function, without which mankind would perish under the innumerable doubts and perplexities of life, may be exercised and rendered available. Apollo himself descends from Olympus to make choice of a suitable site: the hymnographer knows a thousand other adventures of the god which he might sing, but he prefers this memorable incident, the charter and patent of consecration for the Delphian temple. Many different places did Apollo inspect; he surveyed the country of the Magnetes and the Perrhaebians, came to Iolkos, and passed over from thence to Euboea and the plain of Lelanton. But even this fertile spot did not please him: he crossed the Euripus to Boeotia, passed by Teumessus and Mykalessus, and the then inaccessible and unoccupied forest on which the city of Thebes afterwards stood. He next proceeded to Onchestos, but the grove of Poseidon was already established there; next across the Kephissus to OkaleaHaliartus, and the agreeable plain and much-frequented fountain of Delphusa, or Tilphusa. Pleased with the place, Apollo prepared to establish his oracle there, but Tilphusa was proud of the beauty of her own site, and did not choose that her glory should be eclipsed by that of the god. She alarmed him with the apprehension that the chariots which contended in her plain, and the horses and mules which watered at her fountain would disturb the solemnity of his oracle; and she thus induced him to proceed onward to the southern side of Parnassus, overhanging the harbor of Krissa. Here he established his oracle, in the mountainous site not frequented by chariots and horses, and near to a fountain, which however was guarded by a vast and terrific serpent, once the nurse of the monster Typhaon. This serpent Apollo slew with an arrow, and suffered its body to rot in the sun: hence the name of the place, Pythe, and the surname of the Pythian Apollo. The plan of his temple being marked out, it was built by Trophonios and Agamedes, aided by a crowd of forward auxiliaries from the neighborhood. He now discovered with indignation, however, that Tilphusa had cheated him, and went back with swift step to resent it. “Thou shalt not thus”, he said, “succeed in thy fraud and retain thy beautiful water; the glory of the place shall be mine, and not thine alone”. Thus saying, he tumbled down a crag upon the fountain, and obstructed her limped current: establishing an altar for himself in a grove hard by near another spring, where men still worship him as Apollo Tilphusios, because of his severe vengeance upon the once beautiful Tilphusa.

Apollo next stood in need of chosen ministers to take care of his temple and sacrifice, and to pronounce his responses at Pytho. Descrying a ship, “containing many and good men”, bound on traffic from the Minoian Knossos in Crete, to Pylus in Peloponnesus, he resolved to make use of the ship and her crew for his purpose. Assuming the shape of a vast dolphin, he splashed about and shook the vessel so as to strike the mariners with terror, while he sent a strong wind, which impelled her along the coast of Peloponnesus into the Corinthian Gulf, and finally to the harbor of Krissa, where she ran aground. The affrighted crew did not dare to disembark: but Apollo was seen standing on the shore in the guise of a vigorous youth, and inquired who they were, and what was their business. The leader of the Cretans recounted in reply their miraculous and compulsory voyage, when Apollo revealed himself as the author and contriver of it, announcing to them the honorable function and the dignified post to which he destined them. They followed him by his orders to the rocky Pytho on Parnassus, singing the solemn Io-Paian such as it is sung in Crete, while the god himself marched at their head, with his fine form and lofty step, playing on the harp. He showed them the temple and site of the oracle, and directed them to worship him as Apollo Delphinios, because they bad first seen him in the shape of a dolphin. “But how”, they inquired, “are we to live in a spot where there is neither corn, nor vine, nor pasturage?”. “Ye silly mortals”, answered the god, “who look only for toil and privation, know that an easier lot is yours. Ye shall live by the cattle whom crowds of pious visitors will bring to the temple: ye shall need only the knife to be constantly ready for sacrifice. Your duty will be to guard my temple, and to officiate as ministers at my feasts: but if ye be guilty of wrong or insolence, either by word or deed, ye shall become the slaves of other men, and shall remain so forever. Take heed of the word and the warning”.

Such are the legends of Delos and Delphi, according to the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. The specific functions of the god, and the chief localities of his worship, together, with the surnames attached to them, are thus historically explained, being connected with his past acts and adventures. Though these are to us only interesting poetry, yet to those who heard them sung they possessed all the requisites of history, and were fully believed as such, not because they were partially founded in reality, but because they ran in complete harmony with the feelings; and, so long as that condition was fulfilled, it was not the fashion of the time to canvass truth or falsehood. The narrative is purely personal, without any discernible symbolized doctrine or allegory, to serve as a supposed ulterior purpose: the particular deeds ascribed to Apollo grow out of the general preconceptions as to his attributes, combined with the present realities of his worship. It is neither history nor allegory, but simple myth or legend.


The worship of Apollo is among the most ancient, capital, and strongly marked facts of the Greek world, and widely diffused over every branch of the race. It is older than the Iliad or Odyssey, in the latter of which both Pytho and Delos are noted, though Delos is not named in the former. But the ancient Apollo is different in more respects than one from the Apollo of later times. He is in an especial manner the god of the Trojans, unfriendly to the Greeks, and especially to Achilles; he has, moreover, only two primary attributes, his bow and his prophetic powers, without any distinct connection either with the harp, or with medicine, or with the sun, all which in later times he came to comprehend. He is not only, as Apollo Karneius, the chief god of the Doric race, but also (under the surname of Patrous) the great protecting divinity of the gentile tie among the Ionians: he is moreover the guide and stimulus to Greek colonization, scarcely any colony being ever sent out without encouragement and direction from the oracle at Delphi: Apollo Archegetes is one of his great surnames. His temple lends sanctity to the meetings of the Amphiktyonic assembly, and he is always in filial subordination and harmony with his father Zeus: Delphi and Olympia are never found in conflict. In the Iliad, the warm and earnest patrons of the Greeks are Hera, Athena, and Poseidon: here too Zeus and Apollo are seen in harmony, for Zeus is decidedly well-inclined to the Trojans, and reluctantly sacrifices them to the importunity of the two great goddesses. The worship of the Sminthian Apollo, in various parts of the Troad and the neighboring territory, dates before the earliest periods of colonization: hence the zealous patronage of Troy ascribed to him in the Iliad. Altogether, however, the distribution and partialities of the gods in that poem are different from what they become in later times,—a difference which our means of information do not enable us satisfactorily to explain. Besides the Delphian temple, Apollo had numerous temples throughout Greece, and oracles at Abae in Phocis, on the Mount Ptoon, and at Tegyra in Boeotia, where he was said to have been born, at Branchidae near Miletus, at Klarus in Asia Minor, and at Patara in Lycia. He was not the only oracular god: Zeus at Dodona and at Olympia gave responses also: the gods or heroes Trophonius, Amphiaraus, Amphilochus, Mopsus, etc., each at his own sanctuary and in his own prescribed manner, rendered the same service.

The two legends of Delphi and Delos, above noticed, form of course a very insignificant fraction of the narratives which once existed respecting the great and venerated Apollo. They serve only as specimens, and as very early specimens, to illustrate what these divine myths were, and what was the turn of Greek faith and imagination. The constantly recurring festivals of the gods caused an incessant demand for new myths respecting them, or at least for varieties and reproductions of the old myths. Even during the third century of the Christian era, in the time of the rhetor Menander, when the old forms of Paganism were waning and when the stock of myths in existence was extremely abundant, we see this demand in great force; but it was incomparably more operative in those earlier times when the creative vein of the Grecian mind yet retained its pristine and unfaded richness. Each god had many different surnames, temples, groves, and solemnities; with each of which was connected more or less of mythical narrative, originally hatched in the prolific and spontaneous fancy of a believing neighborhood, to be afterwards expanded, adorned and diffused by the song of the poet. The earliest subject of competition at the great Pythian festival was the singing of a hymn in honor of Apollo: other agones were subsequently added, but the ode or hymn constituted the fundamental attribute of the solemnity: the Pythia at Sicyon and elsewhere were probably framed on a similar footing. So too at the ancient and celebrated Charitesia, or festival of the Charites, at Orchomenos, the rivalry of the poets in their various modes of composition both began and continued as the predominant feature; and the inestimable treasures yet remaining to us of Attic tragedy and comedy, are gleanings from the once numerous dramas exhibited at the solemnity of the Dionysia. The Ephesians gave considerable rewards for the best hymns in honor of Artemis, to be sung at her temple. And the early lyric poets of Greece, though their works have not descended to us, devoted their genius largely to similar productions, as may be seen by the titles and fragments yet remaining.

Both the Christian and the Mahomedan religions have begun during the historical age, have been propagated from one common centre, and have been erected upon the ruins of a different preexisting faith. With none of these particulars did Greek Paganism correspond. It took rise in an age of imagination and feeling simply, without the restraints, as well as without the aid, of writing or records, of history or philosophy: it was, as a general rule, the spontaneous product of many separate tribes and localities, imitation and propagation operating as subordinate causes; it was moreover a primordial faith, as far as our means of information enable us to discover. These considerations explain to us two facts in the history of the early Pagan mind: first, the divine myths, the matter of their religion, constituted also the matter of their earliest history; next, these myths harmonized with each other only in their general types, but differed incurably in respect of particular incidents. The poet who sung a new adventure of Apollo, the trace of which he might have heard in some remote locality, would take care that it should be agreeable to the general conceptions which his hearers entertained respecting the god. He would not ascribe the amorous influences to Athena, nor armed interference and the aegis to Aphrodite; but, provided he maintained this general keeping, he might indulge his fancy without restraint in the particular events of the story. The feelings and faith of his hearers went along with him, and there were no critical scruples to hold them back: to scrutinize the alleged proceedings of the gods was repulsive, and to disbelieve them impious. And thus these divine myths, though they had their root simply in religious feelings, and though they presented great discrepancies of fact, served nevertheless as primitive matter of history to an early Greek: they were the only narratives, at once publicly accredited and interesting, which he possessed. To them were aggregated the heroic myths (to which we shall proceed presently),—indeed the two are inseparably blended, gods, heroes and men almost always appearing in the same picture,—analogous both in their structure and their genesis, and differing chiefly in the circumstance that they sprang from the type of a hero instead of from that of a god.


We are not to be astonished if we find Aphrodite, in the Iliad, born from Zeus and Dione, —and in the Theogony of Hesiod, generated from the foam on the sea after the mutilation of Uranos; nor if in the Odyssey she appears as the wife of Hephaestus, while in the Theogony the latter is married to Aglaia, and Aphrodite is described as mother of three children by Ares. The Homeric hymn to Aphrodite details the legend of Aphrodite and Anchises, which is presupposed in the Iliad as the parentage of Aeneas: but the author of the hymn, probably sung at one of the festivals of Aphrodite in Cyprus, represents the goddess as ashamed of her passion for a mortal, and as enjoining Anchises under severe menaces not to reveal who the mother of Aeneas was; while in the Iliad she has no scruple in publicly owning him, and he passes everywhere as her acknowledged son Aphrodite is described in the hymn as herself cold and unimpressible, but ever active and irresistible in inspiring amorous feelings to gods, to men, and to animals. Three goddesses are recorded as memorable exceptions to her universal empire,—Athena, Artemis, and Hestia or Vesta. Aphrodite was one of the most important of all the goddesses in the mythical world; for the number of interesting, pathetic and tragical adventures deducible from misplaced or unhappy passion was of course very great; and in most of these cases the intervention of Aphrodite was usually prefixed, with some legend to explain why she manifested herself. Her range of action grows wider in the later epic and lyric and tragic poets than in Homer.

Athena, the man-goddess, born from the head of Zeus, without a mother and without feminine sympathies, is the antithesis partly of Aphrodite, partly of the effeminate or womanized god Dionysus—the latter is an importation from Asia, but Athena is a Greek conception—the type of composed, majestic and unrelenting force. It appears however as if this goddess had been conceived in a different manner in different parts of Greece. For we find ascribed to her, in some of the legends, attributes of industry and home-keeping; she is represented as the companion of Hephaestus, patronizing handicraft, and expert at the loom and the spindle: the Athenian potters worshipped her along with Prometheus. Such traits of character do not square with the formidable aegis and the massive and crushing spear which Homer and most of the myths assign to her. There probably were at first at least two different types of Athena, and their coalescence has partially obliterated the less marked of the two. Athena is the constant and watchful protectress of Heracles: she is also locally identified with the soil and people of Athens, even in the Iliad: Erechtheus, the Athenian, is born of the earth, but Athena brings him up, nourishes him, and lodges him in her own temple, where the Athenians annually worship him with sacrifice and solemnities. It was altogether impossible to make Erechtheus son of Athena,—the type of the goddess forbade it; but the Athenian myth-creators, though they found this barrier impassable, strove to approach to it as near as they could, and the description which they give of the birth of Erichthonios, at once un-Homeric and unseemly, presents something like the phantom of maternity.



The huntress Artemis, in Arcadia and in Greece proper generally, exhibits a well-defined type with which the legends respecting her are tolerably consistent. But the Ephesian as well as the Tauric Artemis partakes more of the Asiatic character, and has borrowed the attributes of the Lydian Great Mother as well as of an indigenous Tauric Virgin: this Ephesian Artemis passed to the colonies of Phocaea and Miletus. The Homeric Artemis shares with her brother Apollo in the dexterous use of the far-striking bow, and sudden death is described by the poet as inflicted by her gentle arrow. The jealousy of the gods at the withholding of honors and sacrifices, or at the presumption of mortals in contending with them,—a point of character so frequently recurring in the types of the Grecian gods,—manifests itself in the legends of Artemis: the memorable Calydonian boar is sent by her as a visitation upon Eneus, because he bad omitted to sacrifice to her, while he did honor to other gods. The Arcadian heroine Atalanta is however a reproduction of Artemis, with little or no difference, and the goddess is sometimes confounded even with her attendant Nymphs.

The mighty Poseidon, the earth-shaker and the ruler of the sea, is second only to Zeus in power, but has no share in those imperial and superintending capacities which the Father of gods and men exhibits. He numbers a numerous heroic progeny, usually men of great corporeal strength, and many of them belonging to the Aeolicrace: the great Neleid family of Pylus trace their origin up to him; and he is also the father of Polyphemus the Cyclops, whose well-earned suffering be cruelly revenges upon Odysseus. The island of Kalaureia is his Delos, and there was held in it an old local Amphiktyony, for the purpose of rendering to him joint honor and sacrifice: the isthmus of Corinth, Helike in Achaia, and Onchestos in Boeocia, are also residences which he much affects, and where he is solemnly worshipped. But the abode which he originally and specially selected for himself was the Acropolis of Athens, where by a blow of his trident he produced a well of water in the rock: Athena came afterwards and claimed the spot for herself, planting in token of possession the olive-tree which stood in the sacred grove of Pandrosos: and the decision either of the autochthonous Cecrops, or of Erechtheus, awarded to her the preference, much to the displeasure of Poseidon. Either on this account, or on account of the death of his son Eumolpus, slain in assisting the Eleusinians against Erechtheus, the Attic myths ascribed to Poseidon great enmity against the Erechtheid family, which he is asserted to have ultimately overthrown: Theseus, whose glorious reign and deeds succeeded to that family, is said to have been really his son. In several other places,—in Aegina, Argos and Naxos,—Poseidon had disputed the privileges of patron-god with Zeus, Hera and Dionysus: he was worsted in all, but bore his defeat patiently.

Poseidon endured a long slavery, in common with Apollo, gods as they were, under Laomedon, king of Troy, at the command and condemnation of Zeus: the two gods rebuilt the walls of the city, which had been destroyed by Heracles. When their time was expired, the insolent Laomedon withheld from them the stipulated reward, and even accompanied its refusal with appalling threats; and the subsequent animosity of the god against Troy was greatly determined by the sentiment of this injustice. Such periods of servitude, inflicted upon individual gods, are among the most remarkable of all the incidents in the divine legends. We find Apollo on another occasion condemned to serve Admetus, king of Pherae, as a punishment for having killed the Cyclops, and Heracles also is sold as a slave to Omphale. Even the fierce Ares, overpowered and imprisoned for a long time by the two Aloids, is ultimately liberated only by extraneous aid. Such narratives attest the discursive range of Greek fancy in reference to the gods, as well as the perfect commingling of things and persons, divine and human, in their conceptions of the past. The god who serves is for the time degraded: but the supreme god who commands the servitude is in the like proportion exalted, whilst the idea of some sort of order and government among these superhuman beings was never lost sight of. Nevertheless the myths respecting the servitude of the gods became obnoxious afterwards, along with many others, to severe criticism on the part of philosophers.



The proud, jealous, and bitter Hera,— the goddess of the once-wealthy Mycenae, the fax et focus of the Trojan war, and the ever-present protectress of Jason in the Argonautic expedition — occupies an indispensable station in the mythical world. As the daughter of Kronos and wife of Zeus, she fills a throne from whence he cannot dislodge her, and which gives her a right perpetually to grumble and to thwart him. Her unmeasured jealousy of the female favorites of Zeus, and her antipathy against his sons, especially against Heracles, has been the suggesting cause of innumerable myths: the general type of her character stands here clearly marked, as furnishing both stimulus and guide to the mythopoeic fancy. The “Sacred Wedding”, or marriage of Zeus and Hera, was familiar to epithalamic poets long before it became a theme for the spiritualizing ingenuity of critics.

Hephaestus is the son of Hera without a father, and stands to her in the same relation as Athena to Zeus: her pride and want of sympathy are manifested by her casting him out at once in consequence of his deformity. He is the god of fire, and especially of fire in its practical applications to handicraft, and is indispensable as the right-hand and instrument of the gods. His skill and his deformity appear alternately as the source HERMES of mythical stories: wherever exquisite and effective fabrication is intended to be designated, Hephaestus is announced as the maker, although in this function the type of his character is reproduced in Daedalos. In the Attic legends he appears intimately united both with Prometheus and with Athena, in conjunction with whom he was worshipped at Kolonus near Athens. Lemnos was the favorite residence of Hephaestus; and if we possessed more knowledge of this island and its town Hephaestias, we should doubtless find abundant legends detailing his adventures and interventions.

The chaste, still, and home-keeping Hestia, goddess of the family hearth, is far less fruitful in mythical narratives, it spite of her very superior dignity, than the knavish, smooth-torqued, keen, and acquisitive Hermes. His function of messenger of the gods brings him perpetually on the stage, and affords ample scope for portraying the features of his character. The Homeric hymn to Hermes describes the scene and circumstances of his birth, and the almost instantaneous manifestation, even in infancy, of his peculiar attributes; it explains the friendly footing on which he stood with Apollo,—the interchange of gifts and functions between them,—and lastly, the inviolate security of all the wealth and offerings in the Delphian temple, exposed as they were to thieves without any visible protection. Such was the innate cleverness and talent of Hermes, that on the day he was born he invented the lyre, stringing the seven chords on the shell of a tortoise: and he also stole the cattle of Apollo in Pieria, dragging them backwards to his cave in Arcadia, so that their track could not be detected. To the remonstrances of his mother Maia, who points out to him the danger of offending Apollo, Hermes replies, that he aspires to rival the dignity and functions of Apollo among the immortals, and that if his father Zeus refuses to grant them to him, he will employ his powers of thieving in breaking open the sanctuary at Delphi, and in carrying away the gold and the vestments, the precious tripods and vessels. Presently Apollo discovers the loss of his cattle, and after some trouble finds his way to the Kyllenian cavern, where he sees Hermes asleep in his cradle. The child denies the theft with effrontery, and even treats the surmise as a ridiculous impossibility: he persists in such denial even before Zeus, who however detects him at once, and compels him to reveal the place where the cattle are concealed. But the lyre was as yet unknown to Apollo, who has heard nothing except the voice of the Muses and the sound of the pipe. So powerfully is lie fascinated by hearing the tones of the lyre from Hermes, and so eager to become possessed of it, that he is willing at once to pardon the past theft, and even to conciliate besides the friendship of Hermes. Accordingly a bargain is struck between the two gods and sanctioned by Zeus. Hermes surrenders to Apollo the lyre, inventing for his own use the syrinx or panspipe, and receiving from Apollo in exchange the golden rod of wealth, with empire over flocks and herds as well as over horses and oxen and the wild animals of the woods. He presses to obtain the gift of prophecy, but Apollo is under a special vow not to impart that privilege to any god whatever: he instructs Hermes however how to draw information, to a certain extent, from the Moerae or Fates themselves; and assigns to him, over and above, the function of messenger of the gods to Hades.

Although Apollo has acquired the lyre, the particular object of his wishes, he is still under apprehension that Hermes will steal it away from him again, together with his bow, and he exacts a formal oath by Styx as security. Hermes promises solemnly that he will steal none of the acquisitions, nor ever invade the sanctuary of Apollo; while the latter on his part pledges himself to recognize Hermes as his chosen friend and companion, amongst all the other sons of Zeus, human or divine.


So came to pass, under the sanction of Zeus, the marked favor shown by Apollo to Hermes. But Hermes (concludes the hymnographer, with frankness unusual in speaking of a god “does very little good: he avails himself of the darkness of night to cheat without measure the tribes of mortal men”.

Here the general types of Hermes and Apollo, coupled with the present fact that no thief ever approached the rich and seemingly accessible treasures of Delphi, engender a string of expository incidents cast into a quasi-historical form and detailing how it happened that Hermes had bound himself by especial convention to respect the Delphian temple. The types of Apollo seem to have been different in different times and parts of Greece: in some places he was worshipped as Apollo Nomios, or the patron of pasture and cattle; and this attribute, which elsewhere passed over to his son Aristaeus, is by our hymnographer voluntarily surrendered to Hermes, combined with the golden rod of fruitfulness. On the other hand, the lyre did not originally belong to the Far-striking King, nor is he at all an inventor: the hymn explains both its first invention and how it came into his possession. And the value of the incidents is thus partly expository, partly illustrative, as expanding in detail the general preconceived character of the Kyllenian god.


To Zeus more amours are ascribed than to any of the other gods,—probably because the Grecian kings and chieftains were especially anxious to trace their lineage to the highest and most glorious of all—each of these amours having its representative progeny on earth. Such subjects were among the most promising and agreeable for the interest of mythical narrative, and Zeus as a lover thus became the father of a great many legends, branching out into innumerable interferences, for which his sons, all of them distinguished individuals, and many of them persecuted by Hera, furnished the occasion.

But besides this, the commanding functions of the supreme god, judicial and administrative, extending both over gods and men, was a potent stimulus to the mythopoeic activity. Zeus has to watch over his own dignity—the first of all considerations with a god: moreover as HorkiosXeniosKtesiosMeilichios, (a small proportion of his thousand surnames,) he guaranteed oaths and punished perjurers, he enforced the observance of hospitality, he guarded the family hoard and the crop realized for the year, and he granted expiation to the repentant criminal. All these different functions created a demand for myths, as the means of translating a dim, but serious, presentiment into distinct form, both self-explaining and communicable to others. In enforcing the sanctity of the oath or of the tie of hospitality, the most powerful of all arguments would be a collection of legends respecting the judgments of Zeus Horkios or Xenios; the more impressive and terrific such legends were, the greater would be their interest, and the less would any one dare to disbelieve them. They constituted the natural outpourings of a strong and common sentiment, probably without any deliberate ethical intention: the preconceptions of the divine agency, expanded into legend, form a product analogous to the idea of the divine features and symmetry embodied in the bronze or the marble statue.

But it was not alone the general type and attributes of the gods which contributed to put in action themythopoeic propensities. The rites and solemnities forming the worship of each god, as well as the details of his temple and its locality, were a fertile source of myths, respecting his exploits and sufferings, which to the people who heard them served the purpose of past history. The exegetes, or local guide and interpreter, belonging to each temple, preserved and recounted to curious strangers these traditional narratives, which lent a certain dignity even to the minutiae of divine service. Out of a stock of materials thus ample, the poets extracted individual collections, such as the “Causes” of Kallimachus, now lost, and such as the Fasti of Ovid are for the Roman religious antiquities.

It was the practice to offer to the gods in sacrifice the bones of the victim only, enclosed in fat: how did this practice arise?


The author of the Hesiodic Theogony has a story which explains it: Prometheus tricked Zeus into an imprudent choice, at the period when the gods and mortal men first came to an arrangement about privileges and duties. Prometheus, the tutelary representative of man, divided a large steer into two portions: on the one side he placed the flesh and guts, folded up in the momentum and covered over with the skin: on the other, he put the bones enveloped in fat. He then invited Zeus to determine which of the two portions the gods would prefer to receive from mankind. Zeus “with both hands” decided for and took the white fat, but was highly incensed on finding that he had got nothing at the bottom except the bones. Nevertheless the choice of the gods was now irrevocably made: they were not entitled to any portion of the sacrificed animal beyond the bones and the white fat; and the standing practice is thus plausibly explained. I select this as one amongst a thousand instances to illustrate the genesis of legend out of religious practices. In the belief of the people, the event narrated in the legend was the real producing cause of the practice: but when we come to apply a sound criticism, we are compelled to treat the event as existing only in its narrative legend, and the legend itself as having been, in the greater number of cases, engendered by the practice,—thus reversing the supposed order of production.

In dealing with Greek myths generally, it is convenient to distribute them into such as belong to the Gods and such at belong to the Heroes, according as the one or the other arc the prominent personages. The former class manifests, more palpably than the latter, their real origin, as growing out of the faith and the feelings, without any necessary basis, either of matter of fact or allegory: moreover, they elucidate more directly the religion of the Greeks, so important an item in their character as a people. But in point of fact, most of the myths present to us Gods, Heroes and Men, in juxtaposition one with the other and the richness of Grecian mythical literature arises from the infinite diversity of combinations thus opened out; first by the three class-types, God, Hero, and Man; next by the strict keeping with which each separate class and character is handled. We shall now follow downward the stream of mythical time, which begins with the Gods, to the Heroic legends, or those which principally concern the Heroes and Heroines; for the latter were to the full as important in legend as the former.







THE Hesiodic theogony gives no account of anything like a creation of man, nor does it seem that such an idea was much entertained in the legendary vein of Grecian imagination; which commonly carried back the present men by successive generations to some primitive ancestor, himself sprung from the soil, or from a neighboring river, or mountain, or from a god, a nymph, &c. But the poet of the Hesiodic “Works and Days” has given us a narrative conceived in a very different spirit respecting the origin of the human race, more in harmony with the sober and melancholy ethical tone which reigns through that poem.

First (he tells us) the Olympic gods made the golden race,—good, perfect, and happy men, who lived from the spontaneous abundance of the earth, in ease and tranquility, like the gods themselves: they suffered neither disease nor old-age, and their death was like a gentle sleep. After death they became, by the award of Zeus, guardian terrestrial demons, who watch unseen over the proceedings of mankind—with the regal privilege of dispensing to them wealth, and taking account of good and bad deeds.

Next, the gods made the silver race,—unlike and greatly inferior, both in mind and body, to the golden. The men of this race were reckless and mischievous towards each other, and disdainful to the immortal gods, to whom they refused to offer either worship or sacrifice. Zeus in his wrath buried them in the earth; but there they still enjoy a secondary honor, as the Blest of the underworld.

Thirdly, Zeus made the brazen race, quite different from the silver. They were made of hard ash-wood, pugnacious and terrible: they were of immense strength and adamantine soul, neither raising nor touching bread. Their arms, their houses, and their implements were all of brass: there was then no iron. This race, eternally fighting, perished by each other's hands, died out, and descended without name or privilege to Hades.

Next, Zeus made a fourth race, far juster and better than the last preceding. These were the Heroes or demigods, who fought at the sieges of Troy and Thebes. But this splendid stock also became extinct: some perished in war, others were removed by Zeus to a happier state in the islands of the Blest. There they dwell in peace and comfort, under the government of Kronos, reaping thrice in the year the spontaneous produce of the earth.

The fifth race, which succeeds to the Heroes, is of iron: it is the race to which the poet himself belongs, and bitterly does he regret it. He finds his contemporaries mischievous, dishonest, unjust, ungrateful, given to perjury, careless both of the ties of consanguinity and of the behests of the gods: Nemesis and Edo’s (Ethical Self-reproach) have left earth and gone back to Olympus. How keenly does he wish that his lot had been cast either earlier or later! This iron race is doomed to continual guilt, care, and suffering, with a small infusion of good; but the time will come when Zeus will put an end to it. The poet does not venture to predict what sort of race will succeed.

Such is the aeries of distinct races of men, which Hesiod, or the author of the “Works and Days”, enumerates as having existed down to his own time. I give it as it stands, without placing much confidence in the various explanations which critics have offered. It stands out in more than one respect from the general tone and sentiment of Grecian legend: moreover, the sequence of races is neither natural nor homogeneous,—the heroic race not having any metallic denomination, and not occupying any legitimate place in immediate succession to the brazen. Nor is the conception of the daemons in harmony either with Homer or with the Hesiodic theogony. In Homer, there is scarcely any distinction between gods and daemons: farther, the gods are stated to go about and visit the cities of men in various disguises for the purpose of inspecting good and evil proceedings. But in the poem now before us, the distinction between gods and demons is generic. The latter are invisible tenants of earth, remnants of the once happy golden race whom the Olympic gods first made: the remnants of the second or silver race are not daemons, nor are they tenants of earth, but they still enjoy an honorable posthumous existence as the Blest of the underworld. Nevertheless the Hesiodic daemons are in no way authors or abettors of evil: on the contrary, they form the unseen police of the gods, for the purpose of repressing wicked behavior in the world.

We may trace, I think, in this quintuple succession of earthly races, set forth by the author of the “Works and Days”, the confluence of two veins of sentiment, not consistent one with the other, yet both co-existing in the author’s mind. The drift of his poem is thoroughly didactic and ethical. Though deeply penetrated with the injustice and suffering which darken the face of human life, he nevertheless strives to maintain both in himself and in others, a conviction that on the whole the just and laborious man will come off well, and he enforces in considerable detail the lessons of practical prudence and virtue. This ethical sentiment, which dictates his appreciation of the present, also guides his imagination as to the past. It is pleasing to him to bridge over the chasm between the gods and degenerate man, by the supposition of previous races,—the first altogether pure, the second worse than the first, and the third still worse than the second; and to show further how the first race passed by gentle death-sleep into glorious immortality; how the second race was sufficiently wicked to drive Zeus to bury them in the underworld, yet still leaving them a certain measure of honor; while the third was so desperately violent as to perish by its own animosities, without either name or honor of any kind. The conception of the golden race passing after death into good guardian daemons, which some supposed to have been derived from a comparison with oriental angels, presents itself to the poet partly as approximating this race to the gods, partly as a means of constituting a triple gradation of post-obituary existence, proportioned to the character of each race whilst alive. The denominations of gold and silver, given to the two first races, justify themselves, like those given by Simonides of Amorgos and by Phokylides to the different characters of women, derived from the dog, the bee, the mare, the ass, and other animals; and the epithet of brazen is specially explained by reference to the material which the pugnacious third race so plentifully employed for their arms and other implements.

So far we trace intelligibly enough the moralizing vein: we find the revolutions of the past so arranged as to serve partly as an ethical lesson, partly as a suitable preface to the present. But fourth in the list comes “the divine race of Heroes” and here a new vein of thought is opened by the poet. The symmetry of his ethical past is broken up, in order to make way for these cherished beings of the national faith. For though the author of the “Works and Days” was himself of a didactic cast of thought, like Phokylides, or Solon, or Theognis, yet he had present to his feelings, in common with his country­men, the picture of Grecian foretime, as it was set forth in the current myths, and still more in Homer and those other epical productions which were then the only existing literature and history. It was impossible for him to exclude, from his sketch of the past, either the great persons or the glorious exploits which these poems ennobled; and even if he himself could have consented to such an exclusion, the sketch would have become repulsive to his bearers. But the chiefs who figured before Thebes and Troy could not be well identified either with the golden, the silver, or the brazen race: moreover, it was essential that they should be placed in immediate contiguity with the present race, because their descendants, real or supposed, were the most prominent and conspicuous of existing men. Hence the poet is obliged to assign to them the fourth place in the series, and to interrupt the descending ethical movement in order to interpolate them between the brazen and the iron race, with neither of which they present any analogy. The iron race, to which the poet himself unhappily belongs, is the legitimate successor, not of the heroic, but of the brazen. Instead of the fierce and self-annihilating pugnacity which characterizes the latter, the iron race manifests an aggregate of smaller and meaner vices and mischiefs, It will not perish by suicidal extinction—but it is growing worse and worse, and is gradually losing its vigor, so that Zeus will not vouchsafe to preserve much longer such a race upon the earth.




The Works and Days, earliest didactic poem.

I conceive that the series of races imagined by the poet of the “Works and Days” is the product of two distinct and incongruous veins of imagination,—the didactic or ethical blending with the primitive mythical or epical. His poem is remarkable as the most ancient didactic production of the Greeks, and as one of the first symptoms of a new tone of sentiment finding its way into their literature, never afterwards to become extinct. The tendency of the “Works and Days” is antiheroic: far from seeking to inspire admiration for adventurous enterprise, the author inculcates the strictest justice, the most unremitting labor and frugality, and a sober, not to say anxious, estimate of all the minute specialties of the future. Prudence and probity are his means,—practical comfort and happiness his end. But he deeply feels, and keenly exposes, the manifold wickedness and shortcomings of his contemporaries, in reference to this capital standard. He turns with displeasure from the present men, not because they are too feeble to hurl either the spear of Achilles or some vast boundary-stone, but because they are rapacious, knavish, and unprincipled.

The daemons first introduced into the religious atmosphere of the Grecian world by the author of the “Works and Days”—as generically different from the gods, but essentially good, and forming the intermediate agents and police between gods and men,—are deserving of attention. They are the seed of a doctrine which afterwards underwent many changes, and became of great importance, first as one of the constituent elements of pagan faith, then as one of the helps to its subversion. It will be recollected that the buried remnants of the half-wicked silver race, though they are not recognized as demons, are still considered as having a substantive existence, a name, and dignity, in the underworld.

The step was easy, to treat them as demons also, but as demons of a defective and malignant character: this step was made by Empedocles and Xenocrates, and to a certain extent countenanced by Plato. There came thus to be admitted among the pagan philosophizers daemons both good and bad, in every degree: and these daemons were found available as a means of explaining many phenomena for which it was not convenient to admit the agency of the gods. They served to relieve the gods from the odium of physical and moral evils, as well as from the necessity of constantly meddling in small affairs. The objectionable ceremonies of the pagan religion were defended upon the ground that in no other way could the exigencies of such malignant beings be appeased. The demons were most frequently noticed as causes of evil, and thus the name came insensibly to convey with it a bad sense,—the idea of an evil being as contrasted with the goodness of a god. So it was found by the Christian writers when they commenced their controversy with paganism. One branch of their argument led them to identify the pagan gods with demons in the evil sense, and the insensible change in the received meaning of the word lent them a specious assistance.

For they could easily show, that not only in Homer, but in the general language of early pagans, all the gods generally were spoken of as demons—and therefore, verbally speaking, Clemens and Tatian seemed to affirm nothing more against Zeus or Apollo than was involved in the language of paganism itself. Yet the audience of Homer or Sophocles would have strenuously repudiated the proposition, if it had been put to them in the sense which the word demon bore in the ago and among the circle of these Christian writers.

In the imagination of the author of the “Works and Days”, the demons occupy an important place, and are regarded as being of serious practical efficiency. When he is remonstrating with the rulers around him upon their gross injustice and corruption, he reminds them of the vast number of these immortal servants of Zeus who are perpetually on guard amidst mankind, and through whom the visitations of the gods will descend even upon the most potent evil-doers. His supposition that the demons were not gods, but departed men of the golden race, allowed him to multiply their number indefinitely, without too much cheapening the divine dignity.

As this poet, enslaved by the current legends, has introduced the heroic race into a series to which they do not legitimately belong—so he has under the same influence inserted in another part of his poem the myth of Pandora and Prometheus, as a means of explaining the primary diffusion, and actual abundance, of evil among mankind. Yet this myth can in no way consist, with his quintuple scale of distinct races, and is in fact a totally distinct theory to explain the same problem,—the transition of mankind from a supposed state of antecedent happiness to one of present toil and suffering. Such an inconsistency is not a sufficient reason for questioning the genuineness of either passage; for the two stories, though one contradicts the other, both harmonies with that central purpose which governs the author’s mind,—a querulous and didactic appreciation of the present. That such was his purpose appears not only from the whole tenor of his poem, but also from the remarkable fact that his own personality, his own adventures and kindred, and his own sufferings figure in it conspicuously. And this introduction of self-imparts to it a peculiar interest. The father of Hesiod came over from the Eolic Kyme, with the view of bettering his condition, and settled at Askra in Boeotia, at the foot of Mount Helicon. After his death his two sons divided the family inheritance: but Hesiod bitterly complains that his brother Perses cheated and went to law with him, and obtained through corrupt judges an unjust decision. He farther reproaches his brother with a preference for the suits and unprofitable bustle of the agora, at a time when he ought to be laboring for his subsistence in the field. Askra indeed was a miserable place, repulsive both in summer and winter. Hesiod had never crossed the sea, except once from Aulis to Euboea, whither he went to attend the funeral-games of Amphidamas, the chief of Chalcis: he sung a hymn, and gained as prize a tripod, which he consecrated to the muses in Helicon.

Probable age of the poem.

These particulars, scanty as they are, possess a peculiar value, as the earliest authentic memorandum respecting the doing or suffering of any actual Greek person. There is no external testimony at all worthy of trust respecting the age of the “Works and Days” Herodotus treats Hesiod and Homer as belonging to the same age, four hundred years before his own time; and there are other statements besides, some placing Hesiod at an earlier date than Homer, some at a later. Looking at the internal evidences, we may observe that the pervading sentiment, tone, and purpose of the poem is widely different from that of the Iliad and Odyssey, and analogous to what we read respecting the compositions of Archilochus and the Amorgian Simonides. The author of the “Works and Days” is indeed a preacher and not a satirist: but with this distinction, we find in him the same predominance of the present and the positive, the same disposition to turn the muse into an exponent of his own personal wrongs, the same employment of Aesopic fable by way of illustration, and the same unfavorable estimate of the female sex, all of which may be traced in the two poets above-mentioned, placing both of them in contrast with the Homeric epic. Such an internal analogy, in the absence of good testimony, is the best guide which we can follow in determining the date of the “Works and Days”, which we should accordingly place shortly after the year 700 BC. The style of the poem might indeed afford a proof that the ancient and uniform hexameter, though well adapted to continuous legendary narrative or to solemn hymns, was somewhat monotonous when called upon either to serve a polemical purpose or to impress a striking moral lesson. When poets, then the only existing composers, first began to apply their thoughts to the cut and thrust of actual life, aggressive or didactic, the verse would be seen to require a new, livelier, and smarter metre; and out of this want grew the elegiac and the iambic verse, both seemingly contemporaneous, and both intended to supplant the primitive hexameter for the short effusions then coming into vogue.







THE sons of the Titan god Iapetus, as described in the Hesiodic theogony, are Atlas, Mencetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus. Of these, Atlas alone is mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey, and even he not as the son of Iapetus: the latter himself is named in the Iliad as existing in Tartarus along with Kronos. The Homeric Atlas “knows the depths of the whole sea, and keeps by himself those tall pillars which hold the heaven apart from the earth”.

As the Homeric theogony generally appears much expanded in Hesiod, so also does the family of Iapetus, with their varied adventures. Atlas is here described, not as the keeper of the intermediate pillars between heaven and earth, but as himself condemned by Zeus to support the heaven on his head and hands; while the fierce Menoetius is pushed down to Erebus as a punishment for his ungovernable insolence. But the remaining two brothers, Prometheus and Epimetheus, are among the most interesting creations of Grecian legend, and distinguished in more than one respect from all the remainder.

First, the main battle between Zeus and the Titan gods is a contest of force purely and simply—mountains are hurled and thunder is launched, and the victory remains to the strongest. But the competition between Zeus and Prometheus is one of craft and stratagem: the victor does indeed remain to the former, but the honors of the fight belong to the latter. Secondly, Prometheus and Epimetheus (the fore-thinker and the after-thinker) are characters stamped at the same mint, and by the same effort, the express contrast and antithesis of each other. Thirdly, mankind are here expressly brought forward, not indeed as active partners in the struggle, but as the grand and capital subjects interested,—as gainers or sufferers by the result. Prometheus appears in the exalted character of champion of the human race, even against the formidable superiority of Zeus.

In the primitive or Hesiodic legend, Prometheus is not the creator or molder of man; it is only the later additions which invest him with this character. The race are supposed as existing, and Prometheus, a member of the dispossessed body of Titan gods, comes forward as their representative and defender. The advantageous bargain which he made with Zeus on their behalf, in respect to the partition of the sacrificial animals, has been recounted in a preceding chapter. Zeus felt that he had been outwitted, and was exceeding wroth. In his displeasure he withheld from mankind the inestimable comfort of fire, so that the race would have perished, had not Prometheus stolen fire, in defiance of the Supreme Ruler, and brought it to men in the hollow stem of the plant called giant-fennel.

Zeus was now doubly indignant, and determined to play off a still more ruinous stratagem. Hephaestus, by his direction, molded the form of a beautiful virgin; Athene dressed her, Aphrodite and the Charites bestowed upon her both ornament and fascination, while Hermes infused into her the mind of a dog, a deceitful spirit, and treacherous words. The messengers of the gods conducted this “fascinating mischief” to mankind, at a time when Prometheus was not present. Now Epimetheus had received from his brother peremptory injunctions not to accept from the hands of Zeus any present whatever; but the beauty of Pandora (so the newly-formed female was called) was not to be resisted. She was received and admitted among men, and from that moment their comfort and tranquility was exchanged for suffering of every kind. The evils to which mankind are liable had been before enclosed in a cask in their own keeping; Pandora in her malice removed the lid of the cask, and out flew these thousand evils and calamities, to exercise for ever their destroying force. Hope alone remained imprisoned, and therefore without efficacy, as before—the inviolable lid being replaced before she could escape. Before this incident (says the legend) men had lived without disease or suffering; but now both earth and sea are full of mischiefs. Maladies of every description stalk abroad by day as well as by night, without any hope fox man of relief to come.

The Theogony gives the legend here recounted, with some variations—leaving out the part of Epimetheus altogether, as well as the cask of evils. Pandora is the ruin of man, simply as the mother and representative of the female sex. And the variations are thus useful, as they enable us to distinguish the essential from the accessory circumstances of the story.



“Thus (says the poet, at the conclusion of his narrative) it is not possible to escape from the purposes of Zeus”. His myth, connecting the calamitous condition of man with the malevolence of the supreme god, shows, first, by what cause such an unfriendly feeling was raised; next, by what instrumentality its deadly results were brought about. The human race are not indeed the creation, but the protected flock of Prometheus, one of the elder or dispossessed Titan gods. When Zeus acquires supremacy, mankind along with the rest become subject to him, and are to make the best bargain they can, respecting worship and service to be yielded. By the stratagem of their advocate Prometheus, Zeus is cheated into such a partition of the victims as is eminently unprofitable to him; whereby his wrath is so provoked, that he tries to subtract from man the use of feeling of fire. Here, however, his scheme is frustrated by the theft of Prometheus: but his second attempt is more successful, and he in his turn cheats the unthinking Epimetheus into the acceptance of a present (in spite of the peremptory interdict of Prometheus) by which the whole of man’s happiness is wrecked. This legend grows out of two feelings; partly as to the relations of the gods with man, partly as to the relation of the female sex with the male. The present gods are unkind towards man, but the old gods, with whom man's lot was originally cast, were much kinder—and the ablest among them stands forward as the indefatigable protector of the race. Nevertheless, the mere excess of his craft proves the ultimate ruin of the cause which he espouses. He cheats Zeus out of a fair share of the sacrificial victim, so as both to provoke and justify a retaliation which he cannot be always at hand to ward off; the retaliation is, in his absence, consummated by a snare laid for Epimetheus and voluntarily accepted. And thus, though Hesiod ascribes the calamitous condition of man to the malevolence of Zeus, his piety suggests two exculpatory pleas for the latter; mankind have been the first to defraud Zeus of his legitimate share of the sacrifice—and they have moreover been consenting parties to their own ruin. Such are the feelings, as to the relation between the gods and man, which have been one of the generating elements of this legend. The other element, a conviction of the vast mischief arising to man from women, whom yet they cannot dispense with, is frequently and strongly set forth in several of the Greek poets—by Simonides of Amorgos and Phokylidis, not less than by Euripides.

Punishment of Prometheus

But the miseries arising from woman, however great they might be, did not reach Prometheus himself. For him, the rash champion who had ventured “to compete in sagacity” with Zeus, a different punishment was in store. Bound by heavy chains to a pillar, he remained fast imprisoned for several generations: every day did an eagle prey upon his liver, and every night did the liver grow afresh for the next day’s suffering. At length Zeus, eager to enhance the glory of his favorite son, Heracles, permitted the latter to kill the eagle and rescue the captive.

Such is the Promethean myth as it stands in the Hesiodic poems; its earliest form, as far as we can trace. Upon it was founded the sublime tragedy of Aeschylus, “The Enchained Prometheus”, together with at least one more tragedy, now lost, by the same author. Aeschylus has made several important alterations; describing the human race, not as having once enjoyed and subsequently lost a state of tranquility and enjoyment, but as originally feeble and wretched. He suppresses both the first trick played off by Prometheus upon Zeus respecting the partition of the victim—and the final formation and sending of Pandora—which are the two most marked portions of the Hesiodic story; while on the other hand he brings out prominently and enlarges upon the theft of fire, which in Hesiod is but slightly touched. If he has thus relinquished the antique simplicity of the story, he has rendered more than ample compensation by imparting to it a grandeur of ideal, a large reach of thought combined with appeals to our earnest and admiring sympathy, and a pregnancy of suggestion in regard to the relations between the gods and man, which soar far above the Hesiodic level, and which render his tragedy the most impressive, though not the most artistically composed, of all Grecian dramatic productions. Prometheus there appears not only as the heroic champion and sufferer in the cause and for the protection of the human race, but also as the gifted teacher of all the arts, helps, and ornaments of life, amongst which fire is only one: all this against the will and in defiance of the purpose of Zeus, who, on acquiring his empire, wished to destroy the human race and to beget some new breed. Moreover, new relations between Prometheus and Zeus are superadded by Aeschylus. At the commencement of the struggle between Zeus and the Titan gods, Prometheus had vainly attempted to prevail upon the latter to conduct it with prudence; but when he found that they obstinately declined all wise counsel, and that their ruin was inevitable, he abandoned their cause and joined Zeus. To him and to his advice Zeus owed the victory; yet the monstrous ingratitude and tyranny of the latter is now manifested by nailing him to a rock, for no other crime than because he frustrated the purpose of extinguishing the human race, and furnished to them the means of living with tolerable comfort. The new ruler Zeus, insolent with his victory over the old gods, tramples down all right, and sets at naught sympathy and obligation, as well towards gods as towards man. Yet the prophetic Prometheus, in the midst of intense suffering, is consoled by the foreknowledge that the time will come when Zeus must again send for him, release him, and invoke his aid, as the sole means of averting from himself dangers otherwise insurmountable. The security and means of continuance for mankind have now been placed beyond the reach of Zeus—whom Prometheus proudly defies, glorying in his generous and successful championship, despite the terrible price which he is doomed to pay for it.

As the Aeschylean Prometheus, though retaining the old lineaments, has acquired a new coloring, soul, and character, so he has also become identified with a special locality. In Hesiod there is no indication of the place in which he is imprisoned; but Aeschylus places it in Scythia, and the general belief of the Greeks supposed it to be on Mount Caucasus. So long and so firmly did this belief continue, that the Roman general Pompey, when in command of an army in Colchis, made with his companion, the literary Greek Theophanes, a special march to view the spot in Caucasus where Prometheus had been transfixed.