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you that Hercules purified a marsh, I traordinary event having really taken wished you to understand that he con- place, or the unquestionable light which it tended with the venom and vapor of will cast upon the character of the perenvy and evil ambition, whether in other son by whom it was frankly believed. men's souls or in his own, and choked And to deal with Greek religion honthat malaria only by supreme toil—I estly, you must at once understand that might tell you that this serpent was this literal belief was, in the mind of the formed by the Goddess whose pride was general people, as deeply rooted as ours in the trial of Hercules; and that its in the legends of our own sacred book; place of abode was by a palm-tree; and and that a basis of unmiraculous event that for every head of it that was cut was as little suspected, and an explanaoff, two rose up with renewed life; and tory symbolism as rarely traced, by them, that the hero found at last he could not as by us. kill the creature at all by cutting its You must, therefore, observe that I heads off or crushing them; but only by deeply degrade the position which such a burning them down; and that the mid- myth as that just referred to occupied in most of them could not be killed even the Greek mind, by comparing it (for that way, but had to be buried alive. fear of offending you) to our story of St. Only in proportion as I mean more, I George and the Dragon. Still, the shall certainly appear more absurd in my analogy is perfect in minor respects; and statement; and at last, when I get unen- though it fails to give you any notion of durably significant, all practical persons the vitally religious earnestness of the will agree that I was talking mere non- Greek faith, it will exactly illustrate the sense from the beginning, and
manner in which faith laid hold of its meant anything at all.
objects. 3. It is just possible, however, also, 4. This story of Hercules and the that the story-teller may all along have | Hydra, then, was to the general Greek meant nothing but what he said ; and, mind, in its best days, a tale about a real that, incredible as the events may appear,
hero and a real monster. Not one in a he himself literally believed—and ex- thousand knew anything of the way in pected you also to believe-all this about which the story had arisen, any more than Hercules, without any latent moral or the English peasant generally is aware of history whatever. And it is very neces- the plebian origin of St. George; or supsary, in reading traditions of this kind, poses that there were once alive in the to determine, first of all, whether you are world, with sharp teeth and claws, real listening to a simple person, who is re- and very ugly, flying dragons. On the lating what, at all events, he believes to other hand, few persons traced any moral be true (and may, therefore, possibly have or symbolical meaning in the story, and been so to some extent), or to a reserved the average Greek was as far from philosopher, who is veiling a theory of the imagining any interpretation like that I universe under the grotesque of a fairy have just given you, as an average Engtale. It is, in general, more likely that lishman is from seeing in St. George the the first supposition should be the right Red Cross Knight of Spenser, or in the one :-simple and credulous persons are, Dragon the Spirit of Infidelity. But, for perhaps fortunately, more common than all that, there was a certain undercurrent philosophers: and it is of the highest of consciousness in all minds, that the importance that
should take their in- figures meant more than they at first nocent testimony as it was meant, and not showed; and according to each man's efface, under the graceful explanation own faculties of sentiment, he judged and which your cultivated ingenuity may sug- read them; just as a Knight of the Gargest, either the evidence their story may ter reads more in the jewel on his collar contain (such as it is worth) of an ex- than the George and Dragon of a publichouse expresses to the host or to his cus- myths, we shall find, not only a literal tomers. Thus, to the mean person the story of a real person-not only a paralmyth always meant little; to the noble lel imagery of moral principle-but an person, much: and the greater their fa- underlying worship of natural phenomemiliarity with it, the more contemptible na, out of which both have sprung it became to the one, and the more sacred and in which both for ever remain to the other: until vulgar commentators rooted. Thus, from the real sun, rising explained it entirely away, while Virgil and setting—from the real atmosphere, made it the crowning glory of his choral calm in its dominion of unfading blue, hymn to Hercules:
and fierce in its descent of tempest-the
Greek forms first the idea of two entirely Around thee, powerless to infect thy soul, personal and corporeal gods, whose limbs Rose, in his crested crowd, the Lerna worm.
are clothed in divine Alesh, and whose Non te rationis egentem
brows are crowned with divine beauty; Lernæus turbâ capitum circumstetit anguis. yet so real that the quiver rattles at their
shoulder, and the chariot bends beneath And although, in any special toil of the their weight. And, on the other hand, hero's life, the moral interpretation was collaterally with these corporeal images, rarely with definiteness attached to its and never for one instant separated from event, yet in the whole course of the life, them, he conceives also two omnipresent not only a symbolical meaning, but the spiritual influences, of which one illuminwarrant for the existence of a real spirit- ates, as the sun, with a constant fire, ual power, was apprehended of all men. whatever in humanity is skilful and wise; Hercules was no dead hero, to be remem- and the other, like the living air, breathes bered only as a victor over monsters of the calm of heavenly fortitude, and the past-harmless now, as slain. He strength of righteous anger, into every was the perpetual type and mirror of human breast that is pure and brave. heroism, and its present and living aid 6. Now, therefore, in nearly every against every ravenous form of human myth of importance, and certainly in trial and pain.
every one of those of which I shall speak 5. But, if we seek to know more than to-night, you have to discern these three this, and to ascertain the manner in which structural parts the root and the two the story first crystallized into its shape, branches :- the root, in physical existwe shall find ourselves led back generally ence, sun, or sky, or cloud, or sea; then to one or other of two sources either to the personal incarnation of that; becomactual historical events, represented by ing a trusted and companionable deity, the fancy under figures personifying with whom you may walk hand in hand, them; or else to natural phenomena simi- as a child with its brother or its sister; larly endowed with life by the imagina- and lastly, the moral significance of the tive power, usually more or less under the image, which is in all the great myths influence of terror. The historical myths eternally and beneficially true. we must leave the masters of history to 7. The great myths; that is to say, follow; they, and the events they record, myths made by great people. For the being yet involved in great, though at- first plain fact about myth-making is one tractive and penetrable, mystery. But which has been most strangely lost sight the stars, and hills, and storms are with of-that you cannot make a myth unus now, as they were with others of old; less you have something to make it of. and it only needs that we look at them You cannot tell a secret which you don't with the earnestness of those childish eyes know. If the myth is about the sky, it to understand the first words spoken of must have been made by somebody who them by the children of men. And then, had looked at the sky. If the myth is in all the most beautiful and enduring | about justice and fortitude, it must have been made by some one who knew what it complete itself to the fulfilled thoughts of was to be just or patient. According to the nation, by attributing to the gods, the quantity of understanding in the per- whom they have carved out of their fanson will be the quantity of significance in tasy, continual presence with their own his fable; and the myth of a simple and souls; and their every effort for good is ignorant race must necessarily mean finally guided by the sense of the companlittle, because a simple and ignorant ionship, the praise, and the pure will of race have little to mean. So the Immortals, we shall be able to follow great question in reading a story is them into this last circle of their faith always, not what wild hunter dreamed, or only in the degree in which the better what childish race first dreaded it; but parts of our own beings have been also what wise man first perfectly told, and stirred by the aspects of nature, or what strong people first perfectly lived strengthened by her laws. It may be by it. And the real meaning of any myth easy to prove that the ascent of Apollo is that which it has at the noblest age of in his chariot signifies nothing but the risthe nation among whom it is current. ing of the sun. But what does the sunThe farther back you pierce, the less sig- rise itself signify to us? If only languid nificance you will find, until you come return to frivolous amusement, or fruitto the first narrow thought, which, in- less labor, it will, indeed, not be easy for deed, contains the germ of the accom- us to conceive the power, over a Greek, plished tradition; but only as the seed of the name of Apollo. But if, for us contains the flower. As the intelligence also, as for the Greek, the sunrise means and passion of the race develop, they daily restoration to the sense of passioncling to and nourish their beloved and ate gladness and of perfect life-if it sacred legend ; leaf by leaf it expands un- means the thrilling of new strength der the touch of more pure affections, and through every nerve-the shedding over more delicate imagination, until at last us of a better peace than the peace of the perfect fable burgeons out into sym- night, in the power of the dawn-and metry of milky stem, and honied bell. the purging of evil vision and fear by
8. But through whatever changes it the baptism of its dew ;-if the sun itmay pass, remember that our right read- self is an influence, to us also, of spiritual ing of it is wholly dependent on the ma- good and becomes thus in reality, not terials we have in our own minds for an in imagination, to us, also, a spiritual intelligent answering sympathy. If it power—we may then soon over-pass the first arose among a people who dwelt narrow limit of conception which kept under stainless skies, and measured their that power impersonal, and rise with the journeys by ascending and declining stars, Greek to the thought of an angel who rewe certainly cannot read their story, if we joiced as a strong man to run his course have never seen anything above us in the whose voice, calling to life and to labor, day, but smoke; nor anything round us in rang round the earth, and whose going the night but candles. If the tale goes forth was to the ends of heaven. on to change clouds or planets into living 9. The time, then, at which I shall creatures to invest them with fair forms take up for you, as well as I can decipher —and inflame them with mighty passions, it, the tradition of the Gods of Greece, we can only understand the story of the shall be near the beginning of its central human-hearted things, in so far as we and formed faith-about 500 B.C.-a ourselves take pleasure in the perfectness faith of which the character is perfectly of visible form, or can sympathize, by an
represented by Pindar and Aeschylus, effort of imagination, with the strange
who are both of them outspokenly repeople who had other loves than that of ligious, and entirely sincere men; while wealth, and other interests than those of we may always look back to find the less commerce. And, lastly, if the myth developed thought of the preceding epoch given by Homer, in a more occult, subtle, ground.” Then, side by side with this half-instinctive and involuntary way. queen of the earth, we find a demigod of
10. Now, at that culminating period agriculture by the plow—the lord of of the Greek religion we find, under one grain, or of the thing ground by the mill. governing Lord of all things, four sub-And it is a singular proof of the simordinate elemental forces, and four spirit- plicity of Greek character at this noble ual powers living in them, and command-time, that of all representations left to us ing them. The elements are of course of their deities by their art, few are so the well-known four of the ancient world frequent, and none perhaps so beautiful, -the earth, the waters, the fire, and the as the symbol of this spirit of agriculture. air; and the living powers of them are 12. Then the dominant spirit of the Demeter, the Latin Ceres; Poseidon, the element of water is Neptune, but subLatin Neptune; Apollo, who has retained ordinate to him are myriads of other always his Greek name; and Athena, the water spirits, of whom Nereus is the Latin Minerva. Each of these are de- chief, with Palæmon, and Leucothea, the scended from, or changed from, more "white lady' of the sea; and Thetis, and ancient, and therefore more mystic deities nymphs innumerable, who, like her, could of the earth and heaven, and of a finer ele- "suffer a sea change," while the river ment of æther supposed to be beyond the deities had each independent power, acheavens; but at this time we find the four cording to the preciousness of their quite definite, both in their kingdoms and streams to the cities fed by them-the in their personalities. They are the
They are the "fountain Arethuse, and thou, honored rulers of the earth that we tread upon, flood, smooth sliding Mincius, crowned and the air that we breathe; and are with vocal reeds.” And, spiritually, this with us as closely, in their vivid humanity, king of the waters is lord of the strength as the dust that they animate, and the and daily flow of human life-he gives it winds that they bridle. I shall briefly de- material force and victory; which is the fine for you the range of their separate meaning of the dedication of the hair, as dominions, and then follow, as far as we the sign of the strength of life, to the have time, the most interesting of the river of the native land. legends which relate to the queen of the 13. Demeter, then, over the earth, and air.
its giving and receiving of life. Nep11. The rule of the first spirit, tune over the waters, and the flow and Demeter, the earth mother, is over the force of life-always among the Greeks earth, first, as the origin of all life-the typified by the horse, which was to them dust from whence we were taken: sec- a crested sea-wave, animated and ondly, as the receiver of all things back bridled. Then the third element, fire, at last into silence—“Dust thou art, and has set over it two powers; over earthly unto dust shalt thou return." And, fire, the assistant of human labor, is set therefore, as the most tender image of Hephæstus, lord of all labor in which is this appearing and fading life, in the the flush and the sweat of the brow; and birth and fall of flowers, her daughter over heavenly fire, the source of day, is Proserpine plays in fields of Sicily, set Apollo, the spirit of all kindling, puriand thence is torn away into darkness, fying, and illuminating intellectual wisand becomes the Queen of Fate-not dom; each of these gods having also their merely of death, but of the gloom which subordinate or associated powers-sercloses over and ends, not beauty only, but vant, or sister, or companion muse. sin; and chiefly of sins the sin against the 14. Then, lastly, we come to the myth life she gave; so that she is, in her high- which is to be our subject of closer inest power, Persephone, the avenger and quiry—the story of Athena and of the purifier of blood—"The voice of thy deities subordinate to her. This great brother's blood cries to me out of the goddess, the Neith of the Egyptians, the
Athena or Athenaia of the Greeks, and, robe of indignation is worn on her breast with broken power, half usurped by and left arm only, fringed with fatal serMars, the Minerva of the Latins, is, pents, and fastened with Gorgonian cold, physically, the queen of the air; having turning men to stone; physically, the supreme power both over its blessing of lightning and the hail of chastisement by calm, and wrath of storm; and spiritually, storm. Then in her fortitude she wears she is the queen of the breath of man, first the crested and unstooping helmet; and of the bodily breathing which is life to lastly, in her temperance, she is the queen his blood, and strength to his arm in bat- of maidenhood-stainless as the air of tle; and then of the mental breathing, or heaven. inspiration, which is his moral health and 16. But all these virtues mass themhabitual wisdom; wisdom of conduct and selves in the Greek mind into the two of the heart, as opposed to the wisdom of main ones of Justice, or noble passion, imagination and the brain; moral, as dis- and Fortitude, or noble patience; and of tinct from intellectual; inspired, as dis- these, the chief powers of Athena, the tinct from illuminated.
Greeks had divinely written for them, and 15. By a singular, and fortunate, for all men after them, two mighty though I believe wholly accidental coin- songs,'-one, of the Menis, men's pascidence, the heart-virtue, of which she ission, or zeal, of Athena, breathed into a the spirit, was separated by the ancients mortal whose name is “Ache of heart," into four divisions, which have since ob- and whose short life is only the incarnate tained acceptance from all men as rightly brooding and burst of storm; and the discerned, and have received, as if from other is of the foresight and fortitude of the quarters of the four winds of which Athena, maintained by her in the heart of Athena is the natural queen, the name of a mortal whose name is given to him from "Cardinal" virtues: namely, Prudence, a longer grief, Odysseus, the full of sor(the right seeing, and foreseeing, of row, the much-enduring, and the longevents through darkness); Justice, (the suffering. righteous bestowal of favor and of in- 17. The minor expressions by the dignation); Fortitude, (patience under Greeks in word, in symbol, and in retrial by pain); and Temperance, (pa- ligious service, of this faith, are so many tience under trial by pleasure). With and so beautiful, that I hope some day respect to these four virtues, the attri- to gather at least a few of them into a butes of Athena are all distinct. In her separate body of evidence respecting the prudence, or sight in darkness, she is power of Athena, and its relations to the "Glaukopis," "owl-eyed.” In her jus- ethical conception of the Homeric poems, tice, which is the dominant virtue, she or, rather, to their ethical nature; for they wears two robes, one of light and one of are not conceived didactically, but are darkness; the robe of light, saffron color, didactic in their essence, as all good art or the color of the daybreak, falls to her is. There is an increasing insensibility to feet, covering her wholly with favor and this character, and even an open denial love-the calm of the sky in blessing; it of it, among us, now, which is one of the is embroidered along its edge with her most curious errors of modernism—the victory over the giants, (the troublous peculiar and judicial blindness of an age powers of the earth), and the likeness of which, having long practised art and it was woven yearly by the Athenian poetry for the sake of pleasure only, has maidens and carried to the temple of become incapable of reading their langtheir own Athena—not to the Parthenon, uage when they were both didactic: and that was the temple of all the world's also, having been itself accustomed to a Athena—but this they carried to the temple of their only one, who loved them, 1 The Iliad and the Odyssey. and stayed with them always. Then her 2 Achilles, the hero of the Iliad.